NZ Army Berets -1938-1999
The beret is a type of cloth cap with a rich military history that originated in the Basque district of France. Since its adoption by the Royal Tank Regiment in 1924, the beret has become a symbol of military service across the globe. New Zealand is no exception, having adopted its first berets in 1938. The New Zealand military has a long and varied history of using this iconic headdress. In this article, we will explore the history of berets in New Zealand’s military and their significance in various corps and regiments of the New Zealand army.
The Royal Tank Regiment adopted this headdress on 5 May 1924. The decision to choose the beret was made during a dinner in 1917 when officers of the Tank Corps discussed the end of the war and what kind of uniform the corps would wear in peacetime. One of the officers suggested that the corps adopt a headdress of our allies, following the tradition of the British Army adopting some form of headdress belonging to its enemies after most wars.
Initially, the choice was between the Breton beret worn by the Tirailleurs Alpins and the Basque beret worn by the Chars d’ Assault, but neither of these patterns met with favour from the Tank Corps officers. After further consideration, they decided upon the pattern popular among English girls’ schools. Many girls were sent a letter explaining the situation, and many berets of various colours were received in reply. Eventually, the black beret was authorised after a stern contest with the War Office.
Berets were first used as a headdress in New Zealand in 1938 when new uniforms for the Territorial forces were introduced, including a black beret for motorcyclists of the Light Machine Gun Platoons and dispatch riders.
Motorcyclists discontinued the black beret in February 1942 when the NZ Tank Brigade was granted permission to use it as its official headdress.
On 17 February 1942, 2 NZ Tank Battalion Routine Orders posted the following notice, “H.M the King as Colonel in Chief, Royal Tank Regiment, has signified his informal approval to an alliance between this Bde and the Royal Tank Regiment”. The ONLY personnel now authorised to wear black berets and tank patch are Army Tank Bn personnel with the sole exception of AFV School instructors only.
Within the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF), The Divisional Cavalry in Egypt was the first to adopt the black beret. Later on, black berets were issued to most of the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade personnel in November 1942. A year later, soldiers serving in the 22 Battalion in Italy were issued a khaki beret to replace their field service cap.
In the years following World War II, the New Zealand Army expanded the use of berets to various units. The Royal New Zealand Army Nursing Service (RNZANS) was authorised to wear a light grey beret in 1946, and the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) was permitted to wear the khaki beret. However, the reintroduction of the traditional lemon squeezer as the official headdress of the New Zealand Army in February 1949 marked the end of the widespread use of berets by the NZ Army, with only the RNZAC, NZWRAC, and RNZANS authorised to use the beret as their headdress.
When Kayforce, the New Zealand military contribution to the Korean War, was mobilised, the khaki beret was reintroduced as the standard headdress for all of Kayforce. However, RNZAC personnel on secondment to British armoured units in Korea continued to wear the black beret. The khaki beret remained the headdress for Kayforce personnel until their withdrawal from Korea in 1955. Initial issues to Kayforce were from existing New Zealand Stocks, with an additional 10000 to provide adequate stocks for replacement and issue to Kayforce and NZWAC purchased from the United Kingdom in 1952.
In 1954, the New Zealand Army Board decided to replace the existing khaki uniform of the New Zealand Women’s Royal Army Corps (NZWRAC) with a new uniform of tartan green with black accessories. The new NZWRAC uniform included a tartan green beret, which was authorised for wear on informal occasions. This change in uniform and the beret helped distinguish the NZWRAC from other units and symbolised their unique role within the army. The tartan green beret became an iconic part of the NZWRAC uniform and was worn with pride by its members.
In 1954, the Cap Battledress (Cap BD), known as the Ski Cap, was introduced as the official army headdress in New Zealand to replace the lemon squeezer hat. However, this type of hat was not popular among the troops, particularly those in tropical climates. Despite the dissatisfaction, the Ski Cap remained the standard headdress until it was withdrawn from service in 1965.
In 1955, the New Zealand Special Air Service was formed, and they adopted the British airborne maroon beret as their official headgear. The adoption of the maroon beret by the NZSAS was a significant moment in the history of the New Zealand military. It reflected not only the elite status of the NZSAS but also the close relationship between New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In May 1955, an initial purchase was made to cover the issue of the maroon berets to selected personnel, as well as wastage and turnover, with the possibility of an increase in the size of the NZSAS. The purchase included 600 maroon berets, 500 anodised aluminium SAS badges, 60 embroidered SAS badges, and 60 sets of SAS collar badges. This move signalled a new era within the New Zealand military, and the maroon beret symbolised the high standards and specialised training of the NZSAS. Despite the British SAS adopting a beige sand-coloured beret in 1956 and several opportunities to change, the NZSAS retained the maroon beret until 1986.
In 1958, a review of beret stock in the New Zealand Army revealed that 3000 new and partially worn khaki berets were sitting idle in Ordnance stocks. The idea of utilising them as part of the No2 Other Ranks Service dress was considered. However, after some discussion by the Army Dress Committee, it was decided that the khaki beret did not match the No2 Other Ranks Service dress, and a Cap Service Dress was provided instead.
Following the reactivation of 16 Field Regiment (16 Fd Regt) after its service in Kayforce, there was a desire to acknowledge the regiment’s service in Korea. In 1960, it was proposed by the headquarters of the regiment to adopt the stock of 3000 khaki berets to maintain the traditions of the original regiment and for their suitability in appearance. However, the Chief of General Staff (CGS), Major General C.E. Weir, was focused on standardising and simplifying army dress and did not support the proposal. He wanted to eliminate multifarious kit and keep the headdress for the army as the Cap BD for walking out and a jungle hat for field service, with no other variations permitted. As a result, the application to wear khaki berets by 16 Fd Regt was declined, and they were asked to propose another way to commemorate their association with Korea.
In Malaya, the 2nd New Zealand Regiment (2NZ Regt) surveyed the suitability of the Cap BD as a headdress for the tropics and found that berets would be more suitable. In October 1960, 2 NZ Regt requested 50 berets of different sizes and styles to test their suitability as a tropical headdress. Concurrently, the Army Dress Committee agreed in principle that berets would replace the Cap BD as the army’s everyday headdress. In March 1961, it was suggested that a scarlet beret would be a suitable colour for the Infantry beret.
The Army Dress Committee reopened the discussion on berets in its 16 June 1961 meeting and recommended that Khaki berets be issued to all corps without berets to replace Caps BD. However, at the 15 June 1961 Infantry Conference, it was pointed out that if berets were to be introduced, the Infantry colour should not be scarlet but a Dark Green.
The Director of the Royal New Zealand Artillery (DRNZA) joined the conversation on 3 July 1961, stating that if the NZ Army adopted berets, the RNZA should adopt the distinctive style of headdress worn by other members of the Royal Regiment, such as the Royal Artillery (RS), Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA), and Royal Australian Artillery (RAA), and adopt a blue beret.
Up to this stage, the colours of berets, if adopted, had not formally been discussed as it was assumed that existing stocks of khaki berets would be utilised alongside the existing berets worn by them.
- RNZAC – Black
- NZSAS – Maroon
- RNZNC – Grey
- NZWRAC- Dark Green
- At some stage, the following were granted coloured berets
- Royal New Zealand Dental Corps – Dark Green
- Trentham PT Instructors – Blue
The QMG was concerned about the shortage of khaki berets in stock, as only 6000 were available. As a result, there were not enough berets to equip the entire army or even to dye some to meet the needs of coloured berets for the Infantry and Artillery. In response to the Infantry’s desire for a dark green beret, the QMG expressed confusion and suggested that red was the traditional Infantry colour. The QMG also commented that they could not understand why the Infantry would want to adopt a dark green beret, making them appear like members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) or the Dental Corps.
The Director of Infantry quickly replied that although red was the traditional Infantry colour, it was not traditional for Infantry to wear red berets. British Infantry, for example, wore an assortment of berets (of different colours) and bonnets, with the majority of British infantry regiments wearing berets of dark blue. Although Dark Green had been decided as the preferred Infantry colour, members of the Royal New Zealand Infantry did not wish to be confused with the NZWRAC or Dental Corps and the rifle green beret, as worn by the 3rd Green Jackets with whom the NZ Regt was in an alliance, was the preferred colour for the Infantry beret.
On 17 August 1961, the Dress Committee reconvened and approved using coloured berets to represent Corps distinctions. The committee instructed the secretary to consult with the Corps’ Directors to determine their preferred colours based on the British Colour Council Dictionary of Standards. The type of headband, whether it was to be black or brown, was also to be specified.
Reconvening on 14 November 1961, the Army Dress Committee examined the Corp’s preferences, but due to the DGMG dissenting on the proposed Rifle Green for the NZ Regt failed to reach an agreement. However, after further discussion with the Director Infantry on 16 November, the committee agreed to recommend the adopting of the following colours per the preferences of the various corps.
|Corps||Colour (BCC designation)||Headband|
|RNZA||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZE||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZ Sigs||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZASC||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZAOC||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZEME||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZDC||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RF CADETS||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZChD||Blue (Purple Navy – BCC192)||Black|
|RNZAC||Black (Jet Black – BCC 220)||Black|
|NZ Regt||Green (Rifle Green – BCC 27)||Black|
|NZSAS||Maroon (Maroon – BCC 39)||Black|
|RNZAMC||Dull Cherry (Ruby – BCC 38)||Black|
|RNZ Pro||Blue (Royal Blue – BCC 197)||Black|
|NZAEC||Khaki (Khaki – BCC 72)||Brown|
|RNZNC||Grey (Grebe – BCC 82)||Black|
|NZWRAC||Green (Tartan Green – BCC 26)||Black|
In September 1962, the Army Dress Committee met again and agreed that the recommendations made for coloured berets on 16 November 1961 should be cancelled and that the NZ Army should adopt a standard green beret for all corps except those whom Dress Regs already authorise to wear berets in other colours, i.e., Black (RNZAC), Maroon (NZSAS), Grey (RNZNC)and Green (NZWRAC). In support of this proposal, the justification was.
- The requirement for Corps distinctions in the form of headdress has diminished considerably with the introduction of shoulder titles.
- Green tones well with current and proposed Army uniforms and is ideal for training activities.
- Introducing berets in all the colours previously agreed upon would create an unnecessary provisioning problem.
The discussion on berets continued into 1963 with the decision made to retain the existing Black (RNZAC), Maroon (NZSAS), Grey (RNZNC)and Green (NZWRAC) but introduce blue berets for all other corps, including the Royal New Zealand Army Medic Corps (RNZAMC), NZ Provost and the New Zealand Army Education Corps (NZAEC) who initially requested Ruby, Royal Blue and Khaki berets.
By October 1964, sufficient stock was received, the policy surrounding the issue of Berets and the withdrawal of the Cap BD was finalised, and the Instruction for the distribution of Berets was released in February 1965.
New Zealand Army Air Corps
In 1963, the New Zealand Army Air Corps (NZAAC) was established, and it became affiliated with the UK Army Air Corps on 6 March 1964. Major General J.H. Mogg, the Colonel Commandant of the Army Air Corps, granted permission for the NZAAC to don the Army Air Corps Light Blue beret and AAC badges.
Regular Force Cadets
In July 1972, a submission was made to the Army Dress Committee to introduce scarlet Berets (BCC 209 – Post Office red) as the authorised headdress for Regular Force Cadets instead of the blue berets worn since 1965. The proposal represented an extension of the present colour distinction of RF Cadets as evidenced in lanyards, chevrons, badges of rank and shoulder titles. 
Redesign of Beret
As a result of questions raised at the 29 November 1983 Army Dress Committee meeting on the design of berets, a study was initiated to be undertaken by the Deputy Director of Ordnance Services and by Army R&D to examine standard samples of berets produced by Hills Hats for the Australian and Singaporean Armies to see if one was of a better design with less cloth in the crown than currently on issue in the NZ Army. This study resulted in introducing a redesigned beret with less cloth in the crown and a cloth headband instead of the traditional leather headband.
Royal New Zealand Military Police
Following the 1981 rebranding of the Royal NZ Provost Corps to the Corps of Royal New Zealand Military Police (RNZMP), a request for a distinctive RNZMP beret in the corps colour of Royal Blue was submitted to the Army Dress Committee in November 1983. This submission was approved, and by the end of 1984, all RF and most TF members of the RNZMP were wearing the new royal Blue beret. As a result of a 1986 CGS directive for the RNZMP to replace their blue regimental belt because of its similarity with the NZSAS belt, the RNZMP director raised a submission to introduce a red belt and beret. Opinion on introducing a red belt and beret for the RNZMP was evenly divided, principally because of the clash with the RF Cadet school belt and beret. This submission for the RNZMP to wear a red beret and belt was rejected by CGS, and the use of the royal blue beret remained extant.
Royal New Zealand Chaplains Department
The Army Dress Committee received a proposal on 31 August 1984 regarding the possibility of Royal New Zealand Chaplains Department (RNZChD) personnel wearing a Royal Purple beret. At that time, Chaplains and fourteen other Corps wore the blue beret, and there was a desire to establish a distinctive beret that would readily identify the Chaplains and align with the colours associated with the Chaplaincy. The proposal suggested using Royal Purple (BCC219), the traditional colour of the Chaplains’ Department. It was proposed that the black leather rim of the beret would remain unchanged. This initiative aimed to complete the rebranding of the RNZChD, which had already commenced with the approval and production of the specifically designed NZ Cap Badge.
However, on 27 November 1984, the recommendation to change the beret colour for the RNZChD was not approved. This decision was made due to the recent approval of a uniquely distinctive badge for the RNZChD, which was considered sufficient for identifying the Chaplains.
Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery
On St Barbara’s Day, 4 December 1984, the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery significantly changed by exchanging their blue berets for khaki ones. A departure from the tradition followed by gunners throughout the Commonwealth, who still wore blue berets. The decision to change the beret came from a feeling among gunners that, as the senior corps, they should have a distinctive headdress.
The Royal New Zealand Artillery believed that the khaki beret had already established a singular tradition since 1940 when 2NZEF wore it during World War II and by Kayforce in the Korean War. 16 Fd Reg, RNZA, was the principal army element of Kayforce, and the modern New Zealand gunners claimed the exclusive right to wear the khaki beret due to their association with this regiment.
New Zealand Special Air Service
Following at least two ‘show of hands’ votes by all available members of 1 NZSAS Group, with some resistance to change on historical principles by some unit members, a submission to change the colour of the beret to ‘sand’ was forwarded to the Army Dress Committee 24 May 1985 by the CO 1 NZSAS Group. Supported by the NZ SAS Colonel Commandant, Colonel Frank Rennie, the proposal was to remain consistent with the Australian SASR and UK 22 SAS and change the NZSAS beret colour from maroon to sand. While generally supported by the Army Dress Committee, there were reservations over the possible similarity in colour (should they change) with the new RNZA beret and over the fact that NZSAS, since its formation in the 1950s, had always had a maroon beret and it now considered a uniquely NZ item of dress. The chairman recommended the colour change to the CGS, noting the committee’s reservations.
Concurring with the committee’s reservations, the CGS Major General John Mace did not initially support the change proposal. An original troop commander in 1955 and a squadron commander in 1960-62 and 1965-66. CGS counted that the proposed beret was too similar to the new RNZA beret and that while “the change might serve a purpose overseas, the Gp are permanently NZ based. There is historical and traditional significance in the red beret for NZSAS. The only development that would change my mind would be the finalisation of an airborne element for the NZ Army or a request signed by all serving members of the Gp.”
Taking the proposal back to the unit, the CO 1 NZSAS GP asked the unit members to vote in writing on whether or not they supported the change of beret colour. Cognisant that there were those within the unit who supported the change and those that favoured the traditional status quo. The CO asked the unit to consider the change based on the following considerations.
- All para, quasi-para or airborne forces, including the Australian female parachute packers, appear to wear the maroon beret.
- CGS had requested the preparation of a proposal to discuss the formation of an NZ airborne/para-trained force. This proposal would issue them a maroon beret once para qualified.
- 3 RAR had recently been issued the maroon beret.
- The sand beret and RNZA beret are similar in colour but easily distinguishable. The badge would be the current embroidered badge which would distinguish the NS SAS from the SASR, which used a metal badge.
In a vote undertaken by all badged serving members of the unit in which they indicated if they previously supported the change and if they now supported the change, the vote was unanimous in support of the change of beret colour. Eleven personnel who had previously not supported the change now supported the proposal. On 24 January 1986, CGS authorised the NZSAS to wear the sand-coloured beret.
Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals
At the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals (RNZSigs) September 1986 Triennial Conference at Hopuhopu Camp, seventy RNZ Sigs Officers and Warrant Officers displayed enthusiasm for a change of beret colour and indicated that the new colour they preferred was Rifle Green. The reasoning for this choice of beret colour was based on the RNZSigs corps colours, representing the three media of communications of air, land and sea as represented on the Corps stable belt,
- Dark Blue (the sea) – Royal Blue (BCC 197) (worn by RNZMP).
- Green (the land) – Rifle Green (BCC 27)
- Light Blue (the air) – Spectrum Blue (BCC 86)
A proposal requesting authority for RNZ Sigs pers to wear a Rifle Green beret was submitted to the Army Dress Committee on 29 September 1986.
The recommendation was that the RNZSigs wear a rifle green beret because:
- it would be a distinctive corps headdress
- all other ‘teeth’ arms less RNZE have a distinctive beret
- the colour is traditionally a ‘Signals’ colour
Although D Inf & SAS considered the colour too similar to that worn by RNZIR, most of the Dress Committee supported the change at the 3 November meeting of the Army Dress Committee. Notification of the CGS approval of the RNZSigs beret was noted in the 12 May 1987 minutes of the Army Dress Committee.
New Zealand Intelligence Corps
The New Zealand Intelligence Corps (NZIC) was initially formed as part of the Territorial Force in January 1942 but was disbanded in 1947 as part of the post-war reorganisation. On 15 March 1987, it was re-established as a Regular Force Corps and named the New Zealand Army Intelligence Corps, which later reverted to its original title. Prior to the formation of the NZIC, individuals posted to intelligence positions unofficially wore the British Army Intelligence Corps Cypress Green Beret. When the NZIC was re-established in 1987, the beret was adopted as the official headdress of the NZIC.
One Army Beret
The New Zealand Army boldly moved on 16 August 1999 when CGS Major General Maurice Dodson issued a directive to adopt a “one army” beret. The directive aimed to create a sense of unity and pride among all soldiers and to simplify the number of coloured berets in the NZ Army. This resulted in the rifle green beret, previously reserved for the RNZSigs, becoming the standard beret for all officers and soldiers, except for the NZSAS, who retained their sand beret.
However, the transition to the “one army” beret was met with resistance, with many officers, soldiers, and veterans opposing the change. They were attached to their former beret colours and saw the change as unnecessary. This dissatisfaction was mirrored in 2001 when the United States Army moved to a “one army” beret for all soldiers, highlighting the powerful effect that symbols such as coloured berets can have on morale and unit pride. The NZ Army “one army” beret has endured despite the initial resistance. The New Zealand Cadet Coprs continued to wear the Blue Beret.
 “New Army Uniforms and Modern Military Vehicles for Dominion Forces,” New Zealand Herald, Volume LXXV, Issue 23033, 10 May 1938.
 “New Zealand Army Instruction 164/1942,”(1942).
 “Wearing of Black Beret & Tank Patch,” 2 NZ Tank Battalion R.O. 26/1943 (1942).
 Application for Financial Authority, Khaki Berets 14 November 1952. “Clothing – Head Dress – Berets: Povision,” Archives New Zealand No R17187783 (1952 -1965).
 Malcolm Thomas and Cliff Lord, New Zealand Army Distinguishing Patches, 1911-1991 (Wellington, N.Z.: M. Thomas and C. Lord, 1995, 1995), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 128-29.
 Army 213/6/7/Q Application for Financial Authority, Berets for Special Air Squadron 31 May 1955.Ibid.
 Minutes of the 17th meeting of the Army Dress Committee held at Army HQ on 9 October 1958.Ibid.
 Army 213/6/7/Arty Headdress – 16 Fd Regt 30 March 1960. Ibid.
 213/6/7/Arty Headdress – 16 Fd Regt 26 April 1960. Ibid.
 Q209 Copy from 213/7/40 HQ NZ Army Force GHQ FARELF Tropical Type Headdress 11 October 1960.Ibid.
 219/7/A4 Headdress: Berets 17 March 1960. Ibid.
 Minutes of the 28th meeting of the Army Dress Committee at Army HQ on 16 June 1961. Ibid.
 Army 213/6/7 Dress Committee Meeting – 16 June 1961 Berets. Ibid.
 Army 213/6/7/A4 Berets 4 July 1961.Ibid.
 213/6/7/DQ Berets 6 July 1961ibid.
 D Inf Reply to 213/6/7/DQ Berets. Ibid.
 Minutes of the 29th meeting of the Army Dress Committee held at Army HQ on 17 August 1961. Ibid.
 Minutes of the 32nd meeting of the Army Dress Committee held at Army HQ on 16 November 1961. Ibid.
 Minutes of the 37th meeting of the Army Dress Committee at Army HQ on 12 Sept 1962. “Conferences – New Zealand Army Dress Committee,” Archives New Zealand No R17188110 (1962-67).
 Minutes of the 37th meeting of the Army Dress Committee held at Army HQ on13 September 1962. “Clothing – Head Dress – Berets: Provision.”
 Army 213/6/7/Q(A) Army HQ 9 Feb 1965. Ibid.
 NZACC Submission 9/84 to Army Dress Committee 7 August 1984. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1984,” Archives New Zealand No R17311893 (1984).
 NC 8/2/2/ADC HQ Home Command Amendment to Army Clothing Scales Scarlet Berets: RF Cadets 21 July 1972. “Conferences – New Zealand Army Dress Committee,” Archives New Zealand No R9753141 (1970-73).
 Minutes of the Army Dress Committee, 29 November 1983. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1985-86,” Archives New Zealand No R17311895 (1985 – 1986).
 Minutes of the Army Dress Committee, 29 November 1983. Ibid.
 RNZMP Submission 3/87 to Army Dress Committee 30 September 1986. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1986-87,” Archives New Zealand No R17311897 (1986 – 1987).
 Minutes of the Army Dress Committee 3 November 1986. Ibid.
 RNZMP submission 3/87 to Army Dress Committee 30 September 1986.Ibid.
 RNZChD submission 11/84 to Army Dress Committee 31 August 1984. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1984.”
 Minutes of the Army Dress Committee 27 November 1984. Ibid.
 “St Barbaras Day,” The Press, 5 December 1984.
 Minutes of the Army Dress Committee, 24 May 1985. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1985-86.”
 NZSAS 5252 Change of Colour for NZSAS Beret 27 September 1985. Ibid.
 Correspondence CO SAS to DInf &SAS 15 December 1985.Ibid.
 Army 220/5/103 DRESS-NZSAS PERS 24 January 1986. Ibid.
 Signals Directorate 1000/1 Submission to Army Dress Committee 29 September 1986. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1986-87.”
 Minutes of the Army Dress Committee 3 November 1986. Ibid.
 Minutes of the Army Dress Committee, 12 May 1987. Ibid.