The bearskin caps worn by the King’s guard date back to the early 19th century. They were designed to make the soldiers appear taller and more intimidating.
Now, in 2023, these hats are an iconic symbol of the UK, my home that I am proud to serve as a royal guardsman. Recently, however, I was made aware that majestic bears living freely in Canada are still being killed for “sport”, and that their fur is used to make our caps. Suddenly the uniform’s image is tarnished, and wearing it feels cruel and inhumane.
Serving in the foot guards, I often reflect on the allegiance of my position. Aside from protecting the royal family, of course, I am also protecting justice, unity, and honour. I am protecting what it means to be British. Certainly, wearing the skin of a dead animal on my head accomplishes none of that. That our Ministry of Defence (MoD) fails to recognise this and refuses to update our caps with readily available high-quality faux fur leads me to believe it is stuck in the 19th century.
It requires the skin of at least one black bear to produce a single cap, and I was shocked to learn about the gruesome reality of bear hunting in Canada. For a long time, the public was told that the fur used on the caps was sourced from “necessary” Canadian black-bear culling programmes. Recently, our government seems to have backtracked on this claim after campaigners from PETA pointed out that there is no evidence that any Canadian province has run such a programme.
Instead, recreational hunters – some of whom use primitive and painful bows and arrows – are given tags to shoot bears, who aren’t always killed immediately. They may escape wounded and endure a slow, agonising death from blood loss or starvation. When mother bears are shot, their orphaned cubs are also left to die, with no way to protect themselves from predators or find food.
This cruel exploitation contradicts my duties as a royal guard. Being a British soldier should be about protecting and saving others. What makes me and my country strong is compassion and empathy towards those who need us. This is how we appear tall. Ornamental hats born of needless bloodshed, on the other hand, are a sign of weakness – and that is not British.
For reasons unclear, the Ministry of Defence has refused requests to meet with the fashion company that developed a faux fur made from state-of-the-art synthetic material or to review the testing done on this fabric, even though the material has been offered to the King’s guard free of charge.
I have seen a cap made from this faux fur. It looks remarkably similar to the caps we have been wearing for over 200 years, and that isn’t even to mention the fact that it’s both waterproof and lighter! I have no doubt my fellow guards would approve of the switch to this new headgear.
We are all proud to be guards and to wear our uniform – but it is not real fur, the product of a blood sport, that we take pride in. If a superior faux fur is available, there is no logical reason not to embrace it.
Society changes and evolves. In order to best do our job, the military must modernise at the same pace. Change is happening – just recently, I saw a switch to cardboard over plastic in the kitchens on bases. And I know other uniforms have been changed from animal skin to synthetic fabrics. The military is not beyond evolving and changing to reflect societal concerns about sustainability and animal welfare.
I debated whether or not I should come forward with these thoughts. I love my country. I love my job. I love my uniform – and I take pride in putting it on. I have no interest in shaming our government or degrading our proud traditions. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to speak out. We are a compassionate nation, and bears are living, feeling beings – not fabric to make caps from.
I respect the Ministry of Defence – its importance, dedication, and willingness to listen and adapt. And I believe that making a simple move from cruelty to sustainability serves only to strengthen our traditions. Allow us caps worthy of a royal guardsman. Allow us caps worthy of the UK.
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