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