One of the oldest items of uniform in the British Army is the scarlet sash worn over the shoulder by NCOs. Amongst a variety of origin stories one of the most common is that the sash was originally worn by pikemen, they would wipe their hands on it to remove the blood of horses they impaled on their pikes so they did not lose grip of their weapon and it became a blood red colour. The longer they served and the higher the rank, the more their sash became a deep red colour and it became a badge of honour and rank. How true this story was is hard to establish, but it is true that the sash has been in use for many centuries. These items are very hard to date, but I expect my example dates from the last few decades rather than being any older:The sash is made of a heavily woven broad piece of scarlet fabric:The following description of their use comes from the 1914 dress regulations:
Shoulder sashes are worn over the right shoulder by warrant officers and sergeants of infantry (rifle regiments excepted). In the Somerset Light Infantry they are worn over the left shoulder. Sashes are worn in review order and when walking out, but not over the great-coat.
Originally the sash was only worn with dress uniform, not the field uniform, but this was changed in the 1920s as khaki serge service dress was now the standard dress for parades. The 1936 Territorial Army Regulations confirms that NCOs were to be issued at a scale of one per man, to be funded by their County Organisations. The end of the sash has a pair of tassels and a decorative knot (sewn together):The sash is still in use today, as explained in the relevant army publication:
DEFENCE SUPPLY CHAIN MANUAL JSP 336 (3rd Edition)
VOLUME 12 PART 3 PAMPHLET 4 SECTION 2
22. Accoutrements. The following accoutrements are worn with No 2 Dress:
d. Sashes. Red sashes should be worn by duty personnel only in infantry regiments and those with infantry dress traditions. When worn the fringe of the sash is to be level with the bottom of the No 2 Dress jacket. For all others a pouch belt would be a suitable substitute. For most units this would consist of a white belt with black pouch, but with Rifles both items would be black:
(1) By WOs 1 of the Guards Division, Infantry regiments (not RGJ and Brigade of Gurkhas), SAS, SASC and APTC:
(a) Ceremonial – crimson, cotton, shoulder with tassels.
(b) Non-ceremonial – scarlet, polyester, worsted, webbing with tassels.
(2) By WOs 2, SSgts and Sgts of the Guards Division, Infantry regiments (not RGJ and Brigade of Gurkhas), SAS, SASC and APTC on ceremonial and nonceremonial occasions – sash, scarlet, polyester, worsted, webbing with tassels.
(3) By duty WOs/SNCOs – sash, scarlet, polyester, worsted, webbing with tassels, when appropriate.