Scout Hats and Berets

Cambridge District Scout Archives

Scout Hat

B-P wrote’…the broad brimmed khaki hat is a good protection from sun and rain’, and in his advice in Part 1 wrote ‘If your Patrol does not belong to any uniformed corps it should dress as nearly as possible thus:  Flat brimmed hat if possible, or wide awake hat’.  It was assumed that many existing uniformed corps such as the Boys Brigade, would start Scout patrols as a subset of their organisation.

Cambridgeshire Chronicle series 1921

Widely imitated by Scout associations in many countries the ‘wide awake’ hat was an expensive item.  In the very first issue of the Headquarters Gazette in 1909 an article on how to get a uniform as cheaply as possible achieved a sum of 1/10½d (one shilling, ten and a half pence) the hat was an irreducible 1/- (one shilling).  Average wages for an agricultural worker were 15/4d a week (fifteen shillings and four pence a week) in 1910 and spare money was scarce.  By 1915 the cost of a hat had risen to 2/6.

Many of the hats worn by younger scouts are old or battered with limp brims. They were probably a cheaper option. By contrast the Scouters generally wore a hat with a sharper brim and fittings.

C T Wood’s album

In 1931 the scout shop offered hats at five prices (in shillings and pence) and three grades of Cub cap (all prices as published).

Best quality2nd quality3rd quality
1930’s 23rd Cambridge Wolf Cubs anticipating… Cambridgeshire Collection

Cambridge Archives

Hats are often held in less formal photos, occasionally seen on the back held by the chinstrap, sometimes held at the belt presumably also by the chinstrap.

1920District Minute book ‘The D.C. gave a ruling that it was Cambridge custom to wear three dents in the hat for Scouts,  four for Patrol Leaders and Scoutmasters, but that this was not compulsory.’  Four dents became the standard format for all hats in later PORs.

4 dents and two threes? C T Wood’s album 1920’s 

1920’s Cambridge above

Circa 1926

Most Scout hats in the album (c. 1914 – 1928) were shapeless mounds, a few suggested three dents, but only two so clearly as to warrant copying here.

PoW 1921 Queens’ College

1923    District Minutes          ‘discussed if it was compulsory to wear a Scout Hat and came to a decision that ‘it was not compulsory to wear a Scout Hat on Association Parades’

1930    BP wrote in The Scouter ‘Those Hats’            ‘To be bareheaded was better than to be wrongly lidded, but at the same time left them incorrectly lidded’  ‘The hat is essentially the part of the Scout Uniform that distinguishes him as a Scout’.

1932      The Camp Rules for Abington Camping Grounds stated – ‘No. 18  DRESS.  All Scouts … but may wear any dress in camp, except fancy and highly coloured headgear such as berets.’  An attempt to overturn this later in the year narrowly failed.


55th in 1933

The above photograph shows the 55th Cambridge with what are possibly examples of camp headwear. Those on the left appear to be identical which may suggest association with another activity, possibly a sports team. That at the centre back may be beret pulled back rather than across. The bare head on the right might suggest a new member appearing younger.

1936 A photograph of the 60th atop Snowdon shows the need to carry the Scout hats.

1941        A Commission on Post War Scouting sought views including ‘are any changes (in uniform) desirable (e.g. hat)’.  The overall review included how to reduce the cost of the uniform.

1947      The Cambridge Scout Section minute book records a discussion initiated by IHQ concerning possible changes to uniforms. 

‘Hats    Considerable discussion took place, suggestions included; two hats, present for parade, beret for camp etc., Afrika Corp hat and berets.  On a proposal to abolish the current scout hat:           8 voted in favour         4 for its retention for ceremonial use

It was then unanimously agreed to recommend that a Tank Corp type beret be adopted.’

1948 44th Cambridge at Whipsnade Zoo

1949       In 1949 the new section ‘Senior Scouts’, the Rover Scouts and Scouters were given permission to wear a beret.  The beret was seen as practical, cheaper, came in any colour and was strongly associated with the more adventurous elements of the Allied Forces in the recent War – the black beret of the Royal Armoured Corps , the maroon of the Parachute Regiment  and the green  of the Commandos

2nd Cambridge 1950’s

1951 Ruling on hat cords (to be worn under the chin for inspection) reversed as this was against regulations. 44th Cambridge Court of Honour

1962 ‘When leaving the site (Abington) full uniform, including a beret, must…)

National Headgear Census – the Cambridge vote

1954        In 1954 Headquarters ran a census concerning a move to berets for those under 15.  Three questions were asked of Courts of Honour, Group Committees, DC’s and CC’s. 

Q.1      Should the Scout Hat be the only headgear permissible for Scouts under 15?

Q.2      Should Scouts under 15 be permitted to wear Scout Hats or Berets (provided that all in the Troop under 15 wear the same)?

Q.3      Should the Scout Hat be abolished and replaced by a beret?

Answers from Cambridge Groups;     (No change = 1,           Choice = 2,      Change = 3)

GroupCourt of HonourGroup Committee
Q. 1 Q.2 Q.3
DC’s Cambridgeshire 0 6 2

Comments attached to the DC’s replies suggested; ’berets for camping, hiking, orienteering etc’, ‘will come but not yet’; uniformity but not ‘some Troops with and some without as it is now…’ and ‘berets are cheaper’. The Cambridge DC voted for Q 2, that is, either/ or, by Troop. Numbers from Cambridgeshire Groups Scout Hat – 21,   Choice – 67,         Beret – 30          

A green beret became an option for the Boy Scout section in 1954. 

54th Cambridge Court of Honour records      

  • 1954    ‘It was decided that we wear Scout Hats and not berets’
    • 1955    ‘The matter of berets was raised and it was agreed that PL’s should have a vote in their patrols.’           ‘Pigeon and Owls agreed that they wished to continue in scout hats’          (two of three patrols, the third not mentioned)
    • 1956    ‘The troop will wear berets instead of scout hats from September’
    • 1956    ‘Skipper told us how to wear beret’s
The Scouter October 1955
23rd Cambridge 1957 Cubs and Scouts

Not all scouts were happy to abide by troop decisions. A P/L recalls that in c. 1961 his troop, 26th Cambridge, changed to berets. The Court of Honour had previously voted to stay with hats and it is not known if this later decision was a troop, Court of Honour or SM decision. The clear requirement to wear a beret at the St George’s Day parade was the point at which he left the troop.

Scouts (Green beret) and Senior Scouts (Maroon beret) are seen in a Pathe newsreel of 1963.  The Scout leader also wore a beret in this film.

An observation from outside Cambridge District in 2021 was that ‘the patrol stored their hats on the tent held in place by the (storm lashed) guys’ as there was no room in the tent. This had the advantage of keeping the brims flat. This practice has been recorded in Cambridge troop photo’s (see below) and is seen in the photograph of the 1951 World Scout Jamboree (People/ Individuals/ WSJ Participants). In the meeting rooms the pegs for the traditional hats would require considerable spacing. The space issue was resolved by berets.

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The Scout Hat was finally abolished in the Scout Association in 1967.

1974 5th Cambridge (Perse) kit lists stated ‘full uniform except beret’ for a very active camp in the Lakes.

1975    26th Cambridge were seeking to borrow 2nd hand berets for their trip to Jersey where it was compulsory for it to be worn.

For some the beret became marred by association with ‘Some Mothers do have em’, in which the hapless Frank Spencer wore a beret. Aired from 1973 the image persisted long beyond the run of the series. This observation, from a Facebook comment, drew another that the correspondent wore them ‘quite happily’ for formal wear in the 1970’s, something akin to my own memories. But my GSL was a Military Policeman and most certainly not one to cross with any such foolishness.

The beret was abolished in 1989.

Cub Caps

The first descriptions of Cub Caps were that they should be green, peaked with yellow piping.  B-P described them as a cricket cap.  Unlike the Scout ‘wide awake’ or lemon squeezer hat, caps were in common use when adopted in 1916.

14th Cambridge 1928

The style and colour remained throughout. 

1962, worn with service star

Hats were abolished for all sections, other than Sea Scouts and Air Scouts, in 1989

Both Sea Scouts and Air Scouts retain their headgear.

JWR Archivist Feb 2019