CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum
CFB Esquimalt
Naval & Military Museum

The Badge Project: RCN Badges and Insignia, 1910-1948

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CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum
The Badge Project
RCN Badges and Insignia, 1910-1948

From 1910 to 1948, ships of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had no official badges or insignia. Choosing a ship's badge was left to the vessel's Commanding Officer, without Naval Service Headquarters (NSHQ) becoming involved.

But with the start of the Second World War in 1939 came a large increase in the number of RCN ships and personnel. NSHQ in Ottawa issued instructions clarifying its policy of no official badges, with an added promise that when the war came to an end, official badges would be issued.

Donald Duck featured in the gunshield graffiti of HMCS Snowberry
Disney's Donald Duck was a favourite of Canadian sailors. Donald is preparing to drop his depth charge on an enemy U-boat in this example of gunshield art from HMCS Snowberry.

Later in the war, due to certain badges and insignia meeting with disapproval from senior officers, Navy headquarters decided that designs for badges for shore establishments needed Ottawa's okay. Ships, on the other hand, could seek prior approval for a badge design from the particular Captain (D) in home port.

Out of all this arose the practice of decorating a ship's forward gun mounting with improvised and often humourous mottoes and pictures. Paintings of pin-up girls, popular cartoon characters, animals, even playing cards, all were used to help differentiate Canadian ships and create a sense of identity for the vessels and their crews. This irreverent gunshield art played an important role in boosting the morale of sailors fighting the long-drawn out Battle of the Atlantic.

With the introduction of rocket launchers attached to the gun shield, the artwork was often transformed into some form of badge or insignia and displayed on the ship's bridge instead. Towards the war's end, various types of blazer badge, jacket patches and other souvenir items appeared. These were often based on the original gun shield art.

Badge of HMCS Algonquin
This badge for Algonquin was designed in 1944 by her Executive Officer, Lt Latham B. Jenson. He retired as a Commander RCN and was a noted Nova Scotia writer and artist prior to his death in late 2004.

In 1948, Naval Service Headquarters introduced the first of the official badges, which have been thoroughly documented elsewhere. The purpose of this Badge Project is to capture photographic or digital images of all the badges worn by HMC ships before 1948. Unfortunately, no list was ever kept by Naval Services Headquarters - or elsewhere - of which ships designed and displayed badges and insignia during this period. Dave Freeman, who heads the Badge Project, hopes to fill this information gap. Over the years he has obtained images of badges wherever and whenever possible, often with the help of badge makers, collectors, museums and individual sailors of all ranks.

Freeman, a retired Lieutenant-Commander whose father and uncle served in the RCN throughout the Second World War, eventually plans to write a book on the subject.

Badge Project Information Need & Research Results

Anyone who can provide any details about badges prior to 1948 is asked to contact the Badge Project. The following is a guide to progress being made in this project and to areas where assistance is required.

For ease of identification, Freeman has divided his badges and insignia images collection into categories:

  1. Colour images - collected;
    more »
  2. Black and white images collected - looking for colour images;
    more »
  3. Badges and insignia known to exist - images wanted, black and white or colour;
    more »
  4. Ships without a badge;
  5. Missing information -
    ships for which no badge data is currently available;
    more »
  6. Unknown badges;
    more »
  7. Badges and designs not found;
    more »

For groups 2, 3 and 5 (above), the following information is required:

  1. To your knowledge, was there or wasn't there a badge or insignia for the ship?;
  2. Who designed the badge, or had a hand in its creation?
  3. Who painted the badge?
  4. When was the badge first designed?
  5. What is the significance of the design?
  6. Who organized having the badge made into another version, such as a jacket patch?
  7. Where on/in the ship was the badge displayed?
  8. Any other information......

For badges in group #2 (above), of which only black and white versions are currently held, details of the original design colours are requested.

Although the actual badges themselves are not being collected for the project, if you hold a badge or insignia - or a photograph in which the badge or insignia appears - arrangements can be made to copy it.

[There has been interest from the public in obtaining reproductions of the images being compiled for this project.    Please read the following message regarding access to reproductions from this collection.]

A detailed project is underway to capture photographic or digital images of all the badges worn by HMC ships before 1948. Dave Freeman heads the Badge Project and is in the process of completing a book on this subject.

Badge images are available by contacting museum staff via e-mail. There is a minimum charge for this service of $10 per image.

Please let us know if you would like to obtain images of any of the badges collected in connection with this project. Proceeds from this effort will be used to benefit the museum.


Dave Freeman's book is due for publication in the near future.

David J. Freeman, retired Lieutenant-Commander, is leading the the Badge Project. Also amongst his many pursuits, he is actively involved with the Museum and engaged in writing about Canada's naval traditions. He is the author of the book Canadian Warship Names (Vanwell Publishing Ltd., 2000).
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