- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

LONDON For two centuries the Sovereign's Foot Guards have been distinguished by the foot-high bearskins that top their scarlet ceremonial uniforms.
But now, to appease animal-rights campaigners, defense officials are seeking an alternative to the traditional headgear, which dates to the Battle of Waterloo.
Complaints to the queen that her soldiers should switch to fake fur have resulted in a search for a synthetic bearskin, so far without success.
The bearskin, first worn by the Foot Guards in recognition of their 1815 defeat of the French Imperial Guard, who also wore bearskins, is made from the skins of Ursus Americanus, Canada's black bear. About 2,500 bearskins are in service with the Grenadier, Welsh, Irish, Scots and Coldstream Guards regiments.
But letters to the queen imploring her to stop using real bearskin have led to a rethinking of the issue. "We have tried artificial fibers to try and get away from using bearskins," said Lt. Col. Peter Dick-Peter.
"But nothing works. It either doesn't hold its shape, or it cannot withstand the weather, or it fails to retain the right color, or it stands up in a very surprised manner in the wrong electrical conditions," he said.
Artificial bearskins, using nylon and dyed sheepskin have failed. They have been found to look too red in strong sunlight, too spiky in wet weather, produce too much static electricity and distort in strong winds.
Col. Dick-Peter stressed that the bearskins were from culled bears.
"Because the black bear is running a bit rife in Canada, they have to cull them to keep the numbers down because they get too dangerous. We buy the culled pelts and use them for the caps. The industry is aware we are looking at alternatives to bearskin. There is no real reason why we shouldn't transfer to something which looked the same, did the same job, but wasn't made of bearskin."
Today's bearskin cap has its origins in the Grenadier Miter cap, which, in 1712, replaced the three-cornered hat when it was discovered that for a grenadier to throw his grenade, he had to sling his firelock across his back, which invariably resulted in his hat being knocked off.
A Royal Warrant in 1768 stipulated that the cap had to be made of black bearskin.
The female bear's glossier, smoother pelt usually provides the officers' bearskin, while the male's rougher pelt is used for other ranks.
Each bearskin is molded on a bamboo frame. Each cap is individual and so durable that many are passed from father to son.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide