Following the end of the Second World War, a number of changes were made to British Army uniforms to improve their smartness for post war operations, both as an aid to recruitment but also because now that austerity had been eased regimental pride could take a more prominent role. The unloved GS Cap, see here, was quickly dropped and in 1950 a midnight blue beret was adopted by most units in the British Army:This 6 7/8 example was made by Supak and is dated 1953:Supak were a major supplier of berets to the British Army throughout the Second World War and clearly continued for many years after. Supak Manufacturing Co were based at the Aintree Road Works, Perivale in Middlesex and in 1947 they described themselves as ‘Manufacturers of Berets for Men, Women and Children. Speciality of Basque Berets. Officers berets and Army Berets.’
This beret has a leather sweatband adjusted by a cord at the rear:Two vents are provided, reinforced by metal grommets:Unlike the GS cap where a hole was simple poked through the material for a cap badge, this beret has a pre-sewn channel to pass the slider of a cap badge into:Alan Crosskill joined the 17/21st lancers in the early 1950s and remembers:
On each shorn head was a seemingly huge navy blue beret; whilst in time we would learn how to shrink and shape this headgear, for some weeks these monstrosities would look like oversize cowpats.
Another evocative description of wearing berets in the early 1950s is quoted in “National Service, Elvis and Me” by David Fowler:
We all got berets. They were black shapeless things when issued. But the beret also quickly established its own particular personality. It too has to be broken in. When newly issued, the Army beret is fluffy and pansy. It perches on top of the head with its weight equally on either side. It announces ‘new recruit’ as clearly as the army number. When properly broken in, the beret denotes ‘manhood’ more than any other single piece of equipment. The shiny headband shoots horizontally across the forehead exactly one and a half inches above the eye. The main body of the beret is moulded to the shape of the soldier’s head. It is no surprise to anyone who has ever worn a beret in anger that the heroism of whole regiments is described by reference to this little garment. When Paras are referred to as ‘Red Berets’ there is legendary symbolism in the name. It takes an average of fifteen hours of steaming, ironing and cursing to get the shape of a beret right. Then, at last, with a bit of luck, the little black bugger will begin to look manly, sloping gently rightwards away from a gleaming cap badge. No-one can perform heroics with a thing on their head that looks like a cow-pat.
The use of the midnight blue beret has gradually declined over the years as more and more regiments gained permission for their own distinctive headgear, however it is still in widespread use in some regiments and with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines who have not completed commando training; modern berets however normally have a plastic inner to the crown and are of a slightly different shape to this one.