One of my earliest memories is my father taking me to a Dawn Service in our home town. At the completion of the service one of the soldiers allowed me to wear his slouch hat. My father saw this and immediately told me to get it off and that you had to earn your right to wear that hat. Fast-forward ten or so years, it's day three of pre-week at Kapooka and I am at the Q-store signing for my equipment, including my slouch hat. I was so proud but also felt I had a long way to go to earn that right to wear it.
The purpose of this article is not to describe the origin of the Slouch Hat. That information can be found here. The purpose of this article is to discuss the importance of the Slouch Hat and create some constructive and positive discussion about it being the preferred headdress of the Australian Soldier.
We have been wearing the Slouch Hat since the late 1800s and in 1903 it became the standard issue headdress. Over time it has evolved and so has the way we have worn it. An example of this is that in my early years we wore our Corps badge on the brim instead of the Rising Sun. Regardless of the manufacturer or how we wear it, the Slouch Hat has, and always will be an object strongly associated with ours and the nation's identity.
In 2010 the then Chief of Army – Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie announced a ban on berets; ordering soldiers, with the exception of Special Forces, to wear the slouch hat instead, except on ceremonial occasions. The beret was banned as 'dress of the day' for a number of reasons, including ensuring the 'rightful place' of the Slouch Hat and to ensure proper sun protection for troops. This caused outrage amongst retired members especially those retired serviceman who had served in Armoured Corps and Special Forces. In late 2013 the beret was reinstated in the Army Dress Manual.
There is a long and proud history of the beret and it definitely has its place, but the Army Dress manual states, 'The signature headdress of the Australian Army is the Hat Khaki Fur Felt (Slouch Hat). The Slouch Hat is known and respected around the world and across the Australian community. Members should be proud to wear it and do so on every possible occasion.' Even though the Army Dress Manual states 'Baseball caps are not to be worn with any other order of dress including ceremonial, general duty, field or operational orders of dress' it is still worn, in particular by Special Forces and most recently by our COVID-19 Task Force; most likely due to health and hygiene reasons.
I myself am a strong advocate for the Slouch Hat. I love the history behind it and even today after 30 years of service, I am so proud to put it on everyday. Throughout my career I have heard some great excuses for not wearing it including – and my favourite is – that it is difficult to travel on a plane with. I agree, it is difficult, but did the ANZACs find it difficult when they were climbing the hills of Gallipoli wearing their slouch hat? Did the Diggers in World War Two find it difficult to wear a Slouch Hat when they were traversing the Kokoda Track? While I respect the traditions of Armoured Corps and them wearing a beret, I quite often hear that the reason they need to wear the beret is that there is no room in an armoured vehicle to wear a slouch hat. Do we still wear berets when operating and travelling in an armoured vehicle or do we now wear helmets? While I myself don't understand these reasons, I do understand there is a lot of history with the beret for Armoured Corps and Special Forces that I fully respect.
Recently, I am hearing reasons for the wearing of a baseball cap. Why, because Special Forces wear them? Some will say because they stay more secure on your head. I don't think there is anything more secure than a helmet with a chin strap and also the cord on your issued bush hat. Perhaps I am missing something and need to get with the times.
I believe there is a place for the beret and perhaps even the baseball cap in certain circumstances, but for me, the Slouch Hat should be our go to headdress everyday when we wear our uniform.
What are your thoughts?
As an example, sometime in around 2012 I observed a fellow digger be ‘gripped up’ by a SNCO for having too much bend in his slouch hat. How did the Diggers at Gallipoli or Kokoda Track keep their brims flat?
I argue that the slouch hat’s fall from favour is not from lack of utility, but from stringent ADM requirements and over-zealous enforcement.
Keep the flat brims for ceremonial duties, but let’s bring back the bashed up and ragged slouch hats that we see on the heads of past diggers, damaged from wear and actually formed to their heads. Then the slouch hat may regain that respect and culture that it deserves.
Bash your own hat like it means something, take pride in its heritage and stop trying to decrescendo our discipline.