How we remember them: the slouch hat

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One of the most iconic symbols of the Australian Imperial Force is what the Army refers to as a ‘Hat khaki fur felt’ (HKFF) or as we would know it, the slouch hat. Today, it is worn with a khaki hat band, known as a puggaree, and the Rising Sun badge is displayed on the upturned left hand side.

A propaganda poster with a woman holding s slouch hat saying: 'mister - here's your hat!'The roots of the HKFF can be traced back to 1885, when the commanding officer of the Victorian Mounted Rifles, Colonel Tom Price, first adopted it for use, although it was worn with the right side looped up—making it easier for marching troops to perform drill movements including ‘eyes right’ command in parades and movement of weapons such as ‘shoulder arms’ to ‘order arms’. Five years later, it was agreed that all forces, with the exception of the artillery who were required to wear helmets, should adopt a felt hat.

New South Wales was first, introducing a felt hat—decorated with bird feathers and looped-up on the left side—for the NSW Lancers. Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia all followed the NSW preference of looping the hats on the left-hand-side, while Tasmania and Victoria looped the hats on the right-hand-side to allow for different drill movements. The HKFF had its overseas debut in the Boer War and as troops arrived in South Africa, the hat began to be more commonly worn with the left side turned up.

In 1912, when compulsory military training was introduced there were further changes, the first of which saw the puggaree replaced with a series of coloured woollen bands—each representing a different arm of the service. Metal numbers were also placed on the front of the hat, identifying the wearer’s unit.

When the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was raised two years later, the HKFF was standardised with plain khaki hat bands and the Rising Sun badge adorning the raised left hand side. All soldiers, with the exception of the siege artillery units, displayed the Rising Sun. Prior to heading overseas for the war, some Light Horse units added an emu plume to the hat, causing commotion on their arrival in Egypt. The Minister for Defence had to step in and ruled that as long as there was no cost to the Commonwealth, all Light Horse Regiments could wear the emu plume.

The 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, commanded by John Monash, also won approval to add newly-granted colour patches to the left side of their hat bands. Later, when in command of the 3rd Australian Division, Monash secured approval from General Birdwood to wear the brims of the hats flat and the badge fixed to the front.

Portrait of a RAAF bomber pilot wearing a slouch hat and a toy koala, on a cord around his neck, as a mascot in North Africa, 1942.

Portrait of a RAAF bomber pilot wearing a slouch hat and a toy koala, on a cord around his neck, as a mascot in North Africa, 1942 (AWM SUK14954).

In the decades after the First World War, many more changes were made. However, when the call for volunteers came for the 2nd AIF in 1939, the Rising Sun and plain khaki coloured puggaree were again chosen. Post-Second World War there were only ever minor changes and today, the felt hats are worn by Australian services. Only the Australian Army continues to wear it with the side turned up, as a symbol of distinction and pride.

Commemorative ceremonies such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day share many customs and traditions stemming from Australia’s long history of war service. In this series, we explore the origins of some of these customs and traditions to cement the importance of remembering our service men and women for future generations. To read more from this series visit the Anzac Centenary News page.