In addition to the Air Force Tartan, there are other RCAF traditions:
The origin of the military uniform was a need for identification. In early wars, it was found that during the heat of battle, the fighting men could not recognize each other and often killed their own friends. In those days, everyone wore what they pleased and no one knew by sight alone who was friend and who ws foe. The clever Generals dressed all their men all the same or in ‘uniform dress’ and scored many victories before this new development in warfare became widely known.
The reason the Air Force needs a distinctive uniform is that while uniforms first started out to be only a means of identification, down through the centuries, the uniform has taken on a far greater meaning than just that of identification.
in the beginning, the uniform also set aside the fighting men from the public whom they protected from harm. As the fighting men in early days were selected for their courage and strength, the uniform became a mark of ‘that’ type of man. As warfare progressed, various regiments adopted different uniforms. The amount of honour and respect given to a regimental uniform depended on the amount of honours the regiment had won in previous battles. So the meaning of the uniform grew and military uniforms in countries around the world are richly endowed with tradition and honour.
The fathers of our modern day Air Force first fought in air force khaki with a change to ‘Air Force Blue’ in 1919. In the history of WWI air warfare, no one surpassed the exploits of Canadians. The tradition carried on into WWII. There were countless acts of bravery performed by the RCAF personnel wearing the air force uniform. These acts have not ceased and occur today on the many operations carried out by the Air Force. So, the uniform the Air Force personnel wear is deeply endowed with honour and tradition. The wearing of it makes the person a representative of one of Canada’s most honoured fighting services. It is expected to be worn with pride.
The ‘Air Force Blue’ represents the sky above. It is recognized as a badge of courage and bravery.
Present day dress regulations of the Canadian Forces include the “wedge, centered and worn on the right side of the head… one inch above the right eyebrow.” The wedge cap is a good example of how a tradition was born some 60 years ago and thrives to the present day. The Air Force affinity for this type of headdress is well known.
It all began when the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) was established prior to the start of WWI. The field service cap, as it was called then, was adopted by the RFC along with a tunic with a high, stand-up collar secured by buttons at the far right side of the chest. With the cap cocked well over to the right, this uniform with its jaunty air, became synonymous with the daring new fighting Air Force. This cap was designated the wedge cap in 1941; in days when goggles and leather helmets were worn in open cockpits, the wedge cap could easily be stored in a pocket, ready for use on return to base. When inclement weather occurred, the sides could be unhooked and pulled down to cover the ears, and the forward flap could be tucked under the chin. Today’s version is sewn in a slightly different manner, but continues to provide the officer and the NCM (Non Commissioned Member) that distinctive Air Force identity.
The RCAF March Past
All airmen in the Canadian Forces acknowledge a single tune known as “RCAF March Past” during parades and mess dinners. This musical score, know in Britain as the “Royal Air Force March Past”, was originally written by Sir Walford Davies shortly after the formation of the RAF in 1918. Later it was re-arranged by Sir George Dyson. In 1943, when the RCAF was so heavily engaged in the air war over Britain and Germany, permission was granted for the RCAF to use the march. Today the “RCAF March Past” continues to be the quick march of the air operations branch and air command.
The words composed for the tune are:
Through adversities we’ll conquer
Blaze into the stars.
A trail of glory
will live on land and sea
’till victory is won.
Men in blue the skies are winging
in each heart one thought is ringing.
Fight for the right!
God is our might!
We shall be free.
This year marks the 75th Anniversary of “High Flight”. Written by P/O John Gillespie Magee, Jr., September 3rd 1941, the work captures the adventure and thrill of aircraft flight. His few special words have become identified as the sonnet of the Air Force:
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings:
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence; hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while the silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
John Magee, RCAF, was killed on active service later that year (December 11, 1941). He was an American citizen born in Shanghai of missionary parents and educated in Britain’s famed Rugby School. He entered the United States in 1939 and at 18 years of age, won a scholarship to Yale University. But he felt he must aid the cause of freedom and instead enlisted in the RCAF in September of 1940. He served overseas with the RCAF Spitfire Squadron until his death.