Freemasonry is
The brown slouch hat

'Just a Brown Slouch Hat with the side turned up, but it means the world to me’ These were the words of a melody made popular in Australia especially during World War II and sung frequently by comedian and actor George Wallace.

Apart from Waltzing Matilda, Australian Soldiers are recognised by their headpiece, the Aussie Slouch Hat. Many Australians wrongly believe that the Slouch Hat is purely an Australian Invention.

US Civil War General J. E. B. Stuart, shown here holding his signature slouch hatUS Civil War General J. E. B. Stuart, shown here holding his signature slouch hatActually the name ‘Slouch Hat’ refers to the fact that one side droops down. This style of hat has been worn for many hundreds of years, especially during the English Civil War during the 17th century when it became associated with the forces of King Charles I, the Cavaliers, but it was also fashionable for the aristocracy throughout Europe during that time until it was superseded by the cocked hat which in modern times has been referred to as the tricorn or bicorn depending upon the depth of the forward peak.

There have been many styles of the slouch hat including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, The Singapore Guard Regiment, and The Royal Gurkha Regiment, the earlier dress of the Boy Scouts and of course the New Zealand Army. In the United States of America in the early nineteenth century cowboys were wearing a style of slouch hat and the US army issued a form of slouch hat to soldiers serving in the Western Plains in lieu of the shako and both sides during the Civil War especially the cavalry wore a slouch hat. It is interesting to students of the battle at Gettysburg that General Lee’s Commander of Cavalry J.E.B. Stuart who saw himself as a Cavalier and dressed accordingly with a fancy slouch hat may well have lost Gettysburg as he failed to inform Lee about Union Forces in the town of Gettysburg.

Light horse walersAustralian Light Horse troops wearing slouch hats, November 1914.In 1865 an American opened a hat factory in Philadelphia; John B. Stetson working from his own design invented what was to be called the ‘Boss of the Plains’ which was a slouch hat. Stetson hats, like Akubra became internationally known and his hats are worn by US Park Rangers so well known thanks to the Yogi Bear cartoons, the US Army, the Canadian Mounties and a ceremonial hat for the US Cavalry. The Seventh Cavalry rode into history at the battle of Little Bighorn wearing the Stetson and President Teddy Roosevelt wore a Stetson better known as a campaign hat when he stormed San Juan Hill during the Spanish–American War.

In 1870 Benjamin Dunkerley (who probably was not a relation to Thomas Dunkerley, a distinguished Freemason in 1768) with his family moved from Stockport, England to Tasmania where he set up a hat factory and later to Sydney opening a new factory and changing the name of the hat to ‘Akubra’. Perfecting a system of removing the hair tip from rabbit fur he used the so hair to manufacture slouch hats. The hats became very popular and in 1885 the hat was adopted by Colonel Tom Price who saw a similar hat worn by the Burmese Constabulary, for the newly-raised Victorian Mounted Rifles. The hat was soon adapted by other Colonial Volunteer Regiments aer a conference in 1890 with all Colony Military Commanders who agreed for all forces to wear the hat with the exception of the Artillery. In 1903, after Federation, the slouch hat became the standard army headgear with the left side of the hat turned up and a puggaree round the hat. The puggaree in its present style has seven folds representing the six states and one territory and in earlier days had three folds and a different coloured stripe for each Corps later dropped. In WWI slouch hats had a plain black band.

Soldiers of the 11th East African Division crossing the River Chindwin by ferry before moving towards the village of Shwegyin Burma East African troops in Burma, 1944 frequently wore slouch hats.New Zealand Soldiers have worn their slouch hat since 1911 when Colonel William George Malone issued the hat to the Taranaki Regiment, the style of the hat and its four dents shape representing Mount Taranaki and aectionally referred to as the Lemon Squeezer. The hat was adopted by the NZ Division in 1916 and is the Ceremonial headdress of the NZ Army.

Any history of the Australian slouch hat must include the Rising Sun hat badge which is as much an Australian icon as the slouch hat. There have been seven different patterns of the Rising Sun badge, the first in 1902. In 1901 Australian soldiers were serving in South Africa as part of the British forces in the war against the Boer Republic. The Australian forces were no longer members of the various colonial militia regiments but now were members of the new Commonwealth Defence Force. A badge was desperately needed to identify them as Australian soldiers. Major General Edward Hutton, recently appointed as Commander in Chief of Australian Forces remembered a shield of Martini Henry which had bayonets and swords mounted as a rising sun surrounding a crown. A badge was hastily made and issued to Australian soldiers, to be worn on the left turned up side of the slouch hat. The badge has gone through a number of changes including four different royal crowns and the title ‘Australian Commonwealth Horse’ to the present ‘The Australian Army.’

Australian soldiers (diggers) have worn the Rising Sun in at least sixteen countries since its inception in 1902.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, March 2015, pages 22 and 23.

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