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PhilB

The Swagger Stick

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PhilB

I was thinking about swagger sticks while cruising down the M6 in the slow lane. Very relaxing. I tried to work out why it`s only an Army thing - RAF/RN officers don`t carry them. But I couldn`t think of a good reason. And, assuming that the RFC officers carried them (Did they?), then when did they stop the practice after becoming RAF?

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centurion

Junior officers originally used to use canes to dress the line in the old flintlock musket period (not something a naval officer would need to do).

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Muerrisch

Some RAF officers carried black leather-covered canes during my time.

Station Warrant Officers had a black longer stick with embossed silver head.

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Ozzie

So I am not the only one to think of weird things while driving?

Have often wondered about the origins od the swagger stick and what it represents.

Cheers

Kim

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centurion

My late uncle who retired as Squadron Leader in the late 70s certainly had a swagger stick but I never ever saw him carrying it when he was in uniform, it seemed to live in his quarters (I believe that it was used as a means of chastising my cousins). Possibly it was something only used when in full dress order (ie special occasions)

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FROGSMILE

QUOTE (centurion @ Apr 21 2008, 05:12 PM) Junior officers originally used to use canes to dress the line in the old flintlock musket period (not something a naval officer would need to do).

My understanding is that officers used Spontoons (or other variations of pike) and before that Halberds to 'dress the line'. So-called 'swagger' sticks ( or parade or walking out canes) are and always have been 'short' in length and have changed in appearance and style over the years depending on regimental tradition and the diktats of military fashion. In the Regency period officers had long canes of the length used nowadays by SNCOs and these were sometimes sword sticks as well, although this was officially frowned upon.

The walking out canes as we think of them today were predominantly used by ORs only and generally short and thin with brass/nickel ends, often engraved with a regimental badge. They began and had their zenith in the Victorian Era when soldiers were encouraged to walk out in a smart uniform when out of barracks. The idea was to make the soldier feel good about himself but also to improve the standing of the soldier in society, which had for a long time not been good.

In WW1 and before officers usually carried walking sticks and it was not until between the wars that they started to carry either canes, or riding crops, with regimental adornment. This was generally in the 1920s and by the 1930s the fashion had changed again to either plain, (brown or black) leather covered canes or, (often in hot climates) bare and unadorned knobbly cane. This fashion later had a resurgence in the 1950s when a concerted attempt was made to brighten up the drab post war and utilitarian 'style' of battle dress uniform by dressing it up with coloured lanyards and badges and marking an officers status with a cane. This carried on when officers reverted to SD, but by the 1980s (when I was required to buy mine) the fashion had died out and was considered to be anachronistic and a left over from days when officers had batmen (in the Guards 'servants').

Today some cavalry regiments still carry riding crops to 'swagger' and some infantry units use blackthorn sticks, but the 'highwater' of canes is long gone. One personage who does still carry a parade cane (much different to a 'swagger stick') as his badge of office is the Provost Sergeant in each regiment and battalion.

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Tom A McCluskey

Like Frogsmile,

I am sure officers used to carry the halberd in the 1600s; then the half-pike (spontoon) in the mid 1700s; which was passed on to the serjeants in the late 1700s.

Aye

Tom McC

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geraint

My father, who became Lieutenant in REME in 1953 had a swagger stick - black leather cover with silver REME head. He was told by the SNCOs in officer training to "bash 'em around a bit Sir, though lightly" refering to the National Service men. He always thought of it as an 'extended finger'.

Geraint

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LANCER

As an N C O in the 60s in a Cavalry Reg we used to carry a Riding Crop when you were duty N C O.

Lancer

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FROGSMILE
My late uncle who retired as Squadron Leader in the late 70s certainly had a swagger stick but I never ever saw him carrying it when he was in uniform, it seemed to live in his quarters (I believe that it was used as a means of chastising my cousins). Possibly it was something only used when in full dress order (ie special occasions)

In the RAF they were carried in No1 Dress (best blues) only. They are now no longer required.

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nige

I also carry a "Swagger Stick", but its a bit shorter.

Nige

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PhilB
My father, who became Lieutenant in REME in 1953 had a swagger stick - black leather cover with silver REME head. He was told by the SNCOs in officer training to "bash 'em around a bit Sir, though lightly" refering to the National Service men. He always thought of it as an 'extended finger'.

Geraint

Exactly. It was for pointing at things and for poking an OR so that you didn`t have to actually touch him. RAMC doctors used it for moving er body parts around on short arm inspection.

I didn`t realize that the stick, for officers, was a post WW1 device but, thinking about it, I don`t recall seeing a WW1 photo of one. In fact, I don`t recall Lts carrying anything except a stick in some Scottish regts?

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truthergw

RSM used to carry a pace stick and sometimes actually use it.

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PhilB

I don`t think the pace stick counts as a swagger stick. It`s a tool of the trade, rather than being a style item? I think of an officer`s swagger stick as a short (up to 20 inches) cane or covered stick with little or no practical purpose.

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centurion

The earliest I can find an officer with a swagger stick is 1758 when a portrait of Col Nathan Whiling of the 2nd Connecticut Rgt painted just before he led his regiment at Ticonderoga shows him holding one. In this case it is of the short variety. In a plate of 1770 an officer of the25th Foot is shown with a longer stick tapered and with a large button or small knob on the top. A picture of a private in the 85th Royal Volunteers serving in Portugal in 1760 shows him with a similar stick. Plates showing various German regiments in the AWI show officers from Hesse Hanau and Brunswick with a similar stick. These German sticks look too thin to be used as a conventional walking stick. As well as a button these sticks also have a pair of small tassels. An Officer in the 2nd Queens Regiment in 1789 is shown with the same kind of stick. A corporal in the 3rd Foot Guard is shown in 1778 carrying a similar stick but without the tassels. A Sgt Major of the Buckingamshire Militia in 1798 holds a short swagger stick with tassels. So it would seem that swagger sticks were carried by both some officers and OR in the 18th century.

It would seem that swagger sticks were around as early as the 7 years war. There are pictures of officers with spontoons or half pikes at the same period so this may have represented a transitional period. These officers spontoons appear to have such thin shafts that they must have been relatively useless as a weapon.

Its worth noting that my Great Uncle Sidney's swagger stick (dating from when he was a Captain in the Royal Artillery in 1918) was a long stick not one of those short ones that are only carried tucked under the arm.

I carried out a small experiment with a stick of the thickness and length of an officers spontoon or half pike, holding it out at arms legnth as one might when dressing a line of musket men. Its impossible to hold it out level for very long. I have seen references to officers using their stick to dress the line with sergeant with their half pikes taking a line from his stick.

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FROGSMILE

QUOTE (centurion @ Apr 22 2008, 01:18 PM) The earliest I can find an officer with a swagger stick is 1758 when a portrait of Col Nathan Whiling of the 2nd Connecticut Rgt painted just before he led his regiment at Ticonderoga shows him holding one. In this case it is of the short variety. In a plate of 1770 an officer of the25th Foot is shown with a longer stick tapered and with a large button or small knob on the top. A picture of a private in the 85th Royal Volunteers serving in Portugal in 1760 shows him with a similar stick. Plates showing various German regiments in the AWI show officers from Hesse Hanau and Brunswick with a similar stick. These German sticks look too thin to be used as a conventional walking stick. As well as a button these sticks also have a pair of small tassels. An Officer in the 2nd Queens Regiment in 1789 is shown with the same kind of stick. A corporal in the 3rd Foot Guard is shown in 1778 carrying a similar stick but without the tassels. A Sgt Major of the Buckingamshire Militia in 1798 holds a short swagger stick with tassels. So it would seem that swagger sticks were carried by both some officers and OR in the 18th century.

It would seem that swagger sticks were around as early as the 7 years war. There are pictures of officers with spontoons or half pikes at the same period so this may have represented a transitional period. These officers spontoons appear to have such thin shafts that they must have been relatively useless as a weapon.

Its worth noting that my Great Uncle Sidney's swagger stick (dating from when he was a Captain in the Royal Artillery in 1918) was a long stick not one of those short ones that are only carried tucked under the arm.

I carried out a small experiment with a stick of the thickness and length of an officers spontoon or half pike, holding it out at arms legnth as one might when dressing a line of musket men. Its impossible to hold it out level for very long. I have seen references to officers using their stick to dress the line with sergeant with their half pikes taking a line from his stick.

It is important here I think to qualify what reasonably constitutes a 'swagger stick' which is what this thread was originally about. They are always short in length and vary only slightly between those with a ferrule and cap and those leather covered or of bare bamboo/cane and are, as you say, tucked under the arm or swung in the hand. There are numerous pics of these true swagger sticks in Victorian prints, photographs and post cards and of course plenty of the later type in use even in such things as TV programmes ("It ain't half hot Mum" being one).

The longer types of stick are more commonly referred to as canes and are of a length commensurate with a walking stick, these are not, nor ever have been called 'swagger sticks' in the British Service. The sticks that you refer to carried by officers in your first paragraph are those I mentioned for the Regency period (purely as a 'Circa' marker), especially those with tassels and these merely reflect the fashion in genteel society rather than a miltary fashion per se.

Ergo - there is very little evidence that 'swagger' sticks were carried by officers before WW1, they carried canes or sticks instead (of varying sorts) and invariably of walking length. True 'swagger sticks' were a Victorian invention for the express use of soldiers and it is ironic that their use did not pass to officers until the demise of full dress and walking out dress uniforms during WW1. I would be delighted if you could show a photograph of 'swagger sticks' (as opposed to canes) carried by officers in the period before 1918.

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tjec

Courtesy of our Digger friends, link to page on swagger sticks (towards bottom of page)

http://diggerhistory.info/pages-equip/pace-stick.htm

Interesting note that WW1 Tank Corps Officers used to walk in front of the tanks to probe the ground when

testing for firmness. To commemorate this they now carry Ash Plant Sticks instead of the short cane.

Site also has other early equipment photos and comment.

Regards,

Norman

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FROGSMILE
Courtesy of our Digger friends, link to page on swagger sticks (towards bottom of page)

http://diggerhistory.info/pages-equip/pace-stick.htm

Interesting note that WW1 Tank Corps Officers used to walk in front of the tanks to probe the ground when

testing for firmness. To commemorate this they now carry Ash Plant Sticks instead of the short cane.

Site also has other early equipment photos and comment.

Regards,

Norman

Thanks for that Norman, an interesting article, although what is quoted as 3 Australian officers carrying swagger sticks is in fact the carriage of riding crops, which are a different thing, albeit carried in a similar way. I thought the piece by the USMC Colonel though, worthy of direct posting:

The Swagger Stick.

by Blackie Cahill, Colonel of Marines, USMC

Here is some information on the swagger stick. Probably the best description of it's function may be quoted from a British Regimental Sergeant Major instructing new officers. "Now gentlemen, the swagger stick is not for rattling along railings, cleaning out drains at home, or swiping the heads of poor innocent little flowers. Nor is it for poking into stomachs or for fencing duels in the mess line. No, gentlemen, it is to make you walk like officers and above all to keep your hands out of your pockets".

In the Marine Corps, the swagger stick came into vogue in the latter part of the 19th century, and was a required article of uniform until WWI. The first actual presentation of the swagger stick was made in 1569 when Charles IX of France made his brother Henry a Generalissimo and gave him one to signify his appointment.

"Swagger sticks" evolved from the "leading cane" prescribed for British officers in a General Order of 1702. On parade, this cane was used for leading men. But it was also used administering on-the-spot punishment of up to 12 strokes for minor violations of regulations. Examples of the latter were:

sneezing in ranks,

scratching the head, or

giving an officer a dirty look.

In 1959, the Marine Corps had a new commandant. General D. M. Shoup had changes on his mind when he took over the position. Most famous of these changes was the banishing of the swagger stick to a place on the closet shelf next to the "Sam Browne" belt . Shoup stated that a clean, neat, well fitted uniform with the Marine Corps emblem was tops. "There is one piece of equipment about which I have a definite opinion. It is the swagger stick.

It shall remain an optional item of interference, if you feel the need, carry it." The swagger stick almost disappeared over night. The fact that the carrying of a club denoted authority is almost as old as history itself. Despite the American prejudice against military show, swagger sticks appear from time to time with official sanction of local commanders.

Not only do they satisfy the human desire for something to occupy the hands, but they also help combat that horrible and most undesirable tendency of putting your hands in your pockets. I carried the swagger stick until just before I retired in 1978 when it was deleted from the Clothing Manual as an item.

At no time did any senior officer suggest to me that I put it on the shelf. I was definitely in the minority. Other Marines of equal and lower ranks would confide in me that they also would carry it, but didn't want to make a statement. To me it was a question of guts. On the bulkhead in my egomania room I have a plaque with four of my swagger sticks.

Two are official as officer and SNCO sticks. Another, with a .50 caliber cartridge at one end and the bullet at the other, I carried in Vietnam when I commanded a Marine Infantry Battalion, at Khe Sanh. I hope this will provide you with some of the information that you are looking for.

Blackie Cahill

Colonel of Marines, USMC

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PhilB

Right, can anyone show a photo of an officer`s swagger stick in WW1? Not a riding crop but a short swagger stick?

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truthergw

A pace stick may be a tool of the trade but it was seldom used. It was carried as a badge of office. It was in fact, just a bit of swagger, ergo, a swagger stick.

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PhilB

I wonder what the RSM would say to "Is that your swagger stick, then?" :P Stand well back!

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FROGSMILE
A pace stick may be a tool of the trade but it was seldom used. It was carried as a badge of office. It was in fact, just a bit of swagger, ergo, a swagger stick.

The thread diversifies!!!!!!

The Royal Regiment of Artillery in Britain claims to be the originator of the pace stick. Their field gun teams used the pace stick to ensure correct distances between the guns. At that time the artillery used the pace stick in an open position, like a pair of calipers, and not like the drill stick which is adjustable to various settings.

From the beginning the infantry used the pace stick as a drill aid. In 1982 Arthur Brand M.V.O. M.B.E. developed the drills for the pace stick. The stick he used is still carried by the Academy Sergeant Major at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

The objective of the pace stick drill is to provide uniformity in the use of the stick and a high standard of steadiness and cohesion amongst the instructors. The stick is used to determine the correct length of the pace, distance between the ranks and to check drill movement. The instructor marches with the stick open next to the squad. By using the stick he can check the length of the pace, and then lengthen or shorten the pace.

Hardly "seldom used", it is being used just outside my window right now and at other training establishments the length and breadth of the UK.

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squirrel

And keep an eye out for the Garrison Sergeant Major checking out the route for the Queen's Birthday Parade prior to the event using his pace stick.

All lovingly detailed in the Household Division handbook.

Use of said item was taught at the All Arms Drill Course at Pirbright by the Guards at one time IIRC.

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FROGSMILE
And keep an eye out for the Garrison Sergeant Major checking out the route for the Queen's Birthday Parade prior to the event using his pace stick.

All lovingly detailed in the Household Division handbook.

Use of said item was taught at the All Arms Drill Course at Pirbright by the Guards at one time IIRC.

It is still being taught but the All Arms Drill Course has moved from here (Pirbright) along with the 'All Arms Drill Wing' to the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick. Nevertheless, drill is stilll taught here (now the Army Training Centre) and pace sticks used.

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PhilB
The Royal Regiment of Artillery in Britain claims to be the originator of the pace stick. Their field gun teams used the pace stick to ensure correct distances between the guns. At that time the artillery used the pace stick in an open position, like a pair of calipers, and not like the drill stick which is adjustable to various settings.

Froggy, are you saying that, technically, a pace stick has one open setting while a drill stick has variable open settings?

Just a thought - pace/drill sticks never seem to come up at auction. What markings might they bear? Ordnance? Regimental?

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