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History and Uniform of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, 1871 to 1970
by Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand

Dismounted Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Trumpeter in Review Order
(artist: R.J. Marrion - copyright :Canadian War Museum)

The following is an extract from the book Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970 by Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum, 1981) and is reproduced here by the kind permission of the Canadian War Museum. Reprinting or duplication of the text or illustration without permission from the Canadian War Museum is prohibited.


In November 1871, all British soldiers except the Halifax and Esquimalt garrisons withdrew from Canada, and Canada's most urgent defence priority became the maintenance of permanent fortifications. On 20 October 1871, the formation of two regular batteries of artillery was authorized for the "care, protection, and maintenance of Forts, Magazines, Armament and Warlike Stores recently, or about to be handed over to the Canadian Government in the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec." The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery is the direct descendant of these two regular batteries.

The two units were soon raised; A Battery was stationed at Kingston and B Battery at Quebec. Each battery was formed into two divisions: a mounted division serving as field gunners, and a dismounted division acting as garrison artillery. In addition to the heavy ordnance of the fixed fortifications, each battery was equipped with four 9-pounder smooth-bore muzzle-loading guns and two 24-pounder howitzers. The ancient 9-pounders were replaced in 1873 by new 9-pounder muzzle-loading rifled field guns.

In addition to performing normal garrison duties, the regular batteries functioned as schools of gunnery for the militia artillery. In February 1880, both schools were designated Royal Schools of Gunnery; three years later they were retitled Royal Schools of Artillery. A third battery of regulars was authorized; and, although C Battery was not formed until 1887, the three regular batteries were designated the Regiment of Canadian Artillery in 1883.

Both A and B batteries were sent West in 1885 on the outbreak of the Northwest Rebellion. A Battery, marching with General Middleton's main column, went into action at Fish Creek on 24 April, thereby becoming the first Canadian artillery unit since Confederation to fire at the enemy.
The Regiment was granted the coveted prefix Royal and titled The Royal Canadian Artillery in 1893. At the same time, it was also reorganized: the mounted divisions of the original units were formed into A and B batteries, Royal Canadian Field Artillery; the dismounted divisions and C Battery were organized as Nos. 1 and 2 companies, Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery.

The second Canadian contingent for South Africa, approved in December 1899, included a field-artillery brigade of three batteries, each armed with six 12-pounder breech-loading guns. One section of each battery was drawn from the regular gunners; the remainder was recruited from militia artillery units. The Canadian artillery gained a considerable measure of experience, prestige, and self-confidence from its very creditable performance in South Africa.

At the turn of the century, an effort was made to convertthe militia into a cohesive fighting formation. Units were grouped into brigades with supporting arms and services. A and B batteries were ordered to train as horse artillery to act with cavalry brigades. In 1905, these batteries became horse artillery in name as well as function. They were designated A and B batteries, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, and rearmed with the new 13-pounder quick-firing gun adopted by the Royal Horse Artillery of the British Army.

The reorganization, rearming, and retraining of the gunners came just in time to prepare them for the stern test of the First World War. The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Brigade was formed in late August and attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. As the cavalry formed part of the British Cavalry Corps, the RCHA Brigade supported various British formations as well as Canadian units.

The RCHA returned to peace-time soldiering in fine style when C Battery was reconstituted and stationed at Winnipeg; but in 1922, disaster loomed when it was proposed that all horse artillery units be converted and redesignated as field artillery. Ultimately sentiment prevailed and the horse gunners were permitted to retain their traditional designation, although it lost all practical significance when the regiment was mechanized in 1930.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, the three batteries of the RCHA were formed into the 1st Field Brigade, RCHA, of the 1st Canadian Division. Shortly after their arrival in England, the artillery brigades were reorganized into field regiments, and the 1st Field Brigade became the 1st Field Regiment, RCHA. The regiment remained with the 1st Canadian Division for the duration of the war, supporting operations in Sicily, Italy, and North-West Europe.

When the regular force was reorganized after the war, the 1st Field Regiment, RCHA was formed at Camp Shilo, Manitoba. In August 1950, the Canadian government authorized the formation of an infantry brigade group to serve with the United Nations force in Korea; and a new artillery unit, the 2nd Field Regiment, RCHA was formed.13 Two additional regiments of field artillery were raised in 1951, when Canada recruited the 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group for service with the NATO force in Europe. The new regiments, the 79th and 81st field regiments, were subsequently redesignated the 3rd and 4th field regiments, RCHA.

In 1971, The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery celebrated 100 years of unbroken service since the raising of A and B batteries in 1871. Today the regiment continues to serve in Canada, in Europe with Canada's NATO force, and as part of Canada's continuing contribution to UN peace-keeping operations.


When the first regular batteries of Canadian artillery were formed in 1871, their commanding officers were faced with the task of clothing the new units on short notice. The commander of B Battery solved the problem by borrowing the uniforms of the Quebec Volunteer Artillery.

The dress prescribed for the Quebec corps was like that of the Royal Artillery. The dark sable busby with black leather chin-strap and brass buckle had a scarlet bag on the right side and a white hair plume with grenade and socket on the left. The skirts of the dark-blue cloth tunic were rounded in front and closed behind with a plait on each side. The front, skirts, and rear plaits were edged with scarlet cloth. There were eight brass buttons in front and two behind at the waist. Officers and senior NCOs had scarlet collars trimmed all around with gold cord; those of the remainder of the men were similarly trimmed with yellow cord. Field officers' collars were trimmed all around with gold lace; subaltern officers had gold lace only on the collar edge. Officers' badges of rank were worn on the collar.

The men's tunic cuffs were trimmed with an Austrian knot of yellow cord, while those of the officers were trimmed with gold cord and lace according to rank: field officers had a gold lace chevron with figured lace above and below; subaltern officers had a gold lace Austrian knot, laced in gold for captains and plain for lieutenants. Officers wore a gold cord loop on the shoulders. The men had blue cloth shoulder-straps edged with scarlet cloth.

Blue cloth trousers with a 2-in, scarlet stripe were worn over Wellington boots by all ranks; blue pantaloons were worn with riding boots and jack spurs for mounted duties. Officers' full-dress trousers were trimmed with a stripe of gold lace.

The full-dress officers' sword-belt and slings were of gold lace; the sword-knot was of gold cord with a gold acorn. A gold-lace pouch belt held leather pouch with blue cloth-covered flap. In undress, all these accoutrements were of white leather, except for the pouch, which was of black patent leather.

All ranks wore the round blue pillbox forage cap with black chin-strap. Those of officers, staff sergeants, and sergeants had a band of gold lace and gold button; the band and button on the men's caps were yellow. Corporals and bombardiers wore miniature rank badges in yellow on the front of the cap above the band.

By 1886, the busby had been replaced by the white helmet with gilt or brass ball. With other relatively minor changes, this uniform remained the full dress of the regular Canadian artillery for almost forty years.

When A and B batteries were converted to horse artillery in1905, a uniform similar to that of the British RHA was adopted. The cap was a black sable busby with red bag, black chin strap, and cap lines: gold cord for officers and yellow for other ranks. The plume worn on the front of the busby was white with a red base. Officers' plumes were made of feathers, and those of the men were of hair. The red base of the plume was the only feature that distinguished the dress of the RCHA from that of the RHA.

All ranks wore a dark-blue shell-jacket edged all around with gold or yellow cord, depending on rank, that formed a figure eight at the bottom of each back seam. The jacket front was ornamented with yellow or gold cord in fifteen to eighteen loops depending on the height of the wearer. The back seams were trimmed with similar cord in a crow's-foot at the top and an Austrian knot at the side of the waist. The scarlet collar was trimmed all around with gold or yellow cord. Officers' collars were trimmed with lace along the top, and were embroidered with a silver grenade and the word Canada in gold on the flame. Other ranks had loops of yellow cord at the shoulders, and officers wore braided gold-wire shoulder cords. Officers' cuffs were edged with an Austrian knot of gold lace; those of staff sergeants and sergeants were of gold cord, while the cuffs of the men had knots of yellow worsted cord.

For mounted duties all ranks wore blue cloth pantaloons with scarlet stripes, black riding boots, and steel jack spurs. At other times, dark-blue overalls were worn over black Wellingtons with box spurs.

Officers wore a gold lace pouch belt with black patent-leather pouch. The sword-belt, worn under the jacket, was supported by sword slings of gold lace; the sword-knot was of gold cord with gold acorn. Other ranks wore white slings and sword-knots.

Full dress was worn by all three batteries of The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery when performing the musical drive in the 1920s. The last performance of this spectacular ceremony was given by C Battery at Winnipeg in 1933.

After the Second World War, the striking full dress was again worn when four officers of the regiment were assigned to the Sovereign's Mounted Escort at Her Majesty's coronation in 1953.11 Full dress also was worn regularly by the RCHA band.

The plate depicts the commanding officer's trumpeter in dismounted review order.12 He carries both trumpet and bugle on the red, blue, and yellow cords of Royal corps. It was fitting that this trumpeter representing "the right of the line," i.e., Canada's senior regular regiment, appeared in full dress at numerous functions during the celebration of Canada's Centennial in 1967.

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