Selections @ Devlali

Those were the days when Selections ruled the roost at School of Artillery Devlali.  It was skimming at the highest level of the Regiment of Artillery.

When we passed out of Indian Military Academy in 1982, we were forced to return our Blue Patrols for mere Rs 100 – all because the Artillery version had a red stripe on the trousers’ side which was half an inch thicker than what was provided by Kapoor & Co at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. While officers commissioned to all other arms/ services retained their Blue Patrols, we the Gunners had to return them to Kapoor & Co.

On joining Young Officers Course at School of Artillery, Devlali, every student officer had to get a new pair of Blue Patrol and winter ceremonial uniform or Service Dress (SD) stitched – costing over a thousand rupees those days – only from Selections.  The reasons – obvious. A Second Lieutenant’s pay was much less than a thousand rupees a month then. Free rations was not entitled then and monthly mess bill ate into over half a month’s salary.

Service Dress is the style of khaki serge dress uniform introduced by the British Army for use in the field from the early 1902, following the experiences of a number of imperial wars and conflicts, including the Second Boer War. The uniform was originally issued as a field uniform, later designated as SD. Variant of this uniform continues to be worn today, although only in a formal role, as No. 2 Pattern dress by the British and the Commonwealth Armies. Indian Army too continued with a similar winter SD for the officers until 1990s. Today the Indian Army officers wear a similar uniform designated as Dress No. 5SD.

No. 1 Dress , sometimes referred to as ‘blues’ or ‘blue patrol,’ is a universal ceremonial uniform which is almost consistent throughout the Commonwealth Armies. For most regiments and corps, this No. 1 dress consists of dark blue tunic and trousers. Different units are distinguished by the colouring of the cap, piping on the tunic and of the welts or stripes on the trousers, as well as badges and in certain Cavalry Regiments by the colour of the collar.

Indian Army Blue Patrol consists of a ‘bandgala’ tunic and a trouser. The shoulder pips are embroidered along with ranks on the coat except for Armoured Corps officers who wear a chain mail along with their ranks on the shoulders.

Veteran Colonel SP Mudholkar. He now leads a retired life at Pune

It was not until 1981 when Second Lieutenant SP Mudholkar issued a show-cause notice and raised the issue with the School of Artillery against the order of getting the SD and Blue Patrl stitched only from Selections, inclusion of a private firm in the Offices’ Mess Bills for recovery .  In those days, Mess Bills of various messes at School of Artillery had a serial dedicated to Selections.  You can well imagine as to the patronage Selections enjoyed from the highest levels of the Regiment of Artillery – mostly occupied by officers belonging to the Khlan.

By the time we went to Devlali to attend our Young Officers’ Course in 1983, Blue Patrol and SD procurement was done away with – thanks to Second Lieutenant SP Mudholkar – else I too would have succumbed to the pressure from the Chief/ Senior Instructor.  In those good-old days, any Young Officer refusing to procure their SD and Blue Patrol were marched up to the Chief/ Senior Instructor until they relented. Another tactic was to blackmail the Young Officer with a poor grading, though most ended up with a C grading. The Great Good-Old Days!!! Who wants to begin their military career on the wrong foot?

Selections appeared on the Mess Bills during our course- luckily for us it remained at zero value.

Three years later, Lieutenant General Sood, Commandant, School of Artillery, was appointed the Director General of Artillery – and away went Selections.  The ‘baby‘ of the erstwhile higher-ups of Regiment of Artillery was thrown out with the tub, water, soap, and loofah to land in Devlali market. 

Disc Identity

Mortal remains of Lance Naik Chandra Shekhar of 19 Kumaon Regiment, who died in Siachen in May 1984 was found in an old bunker on August 13, 2022. 

He was part of a team that was tasked to capture Point 5965 in the glacier. This was one of the earliest actions by the Indian Army as part of Operation Meghdoot to occupy Siachen Glacier. The team, while halting for the night, was caught in an avalanche in which 18 soldiers led by Second Lieutenant PS Pundir, were killed.  Chandra Shekhar’s body was discovered on August 13 at an elevation of over 16,000 feet. It was identified with the help of a disc with the army number found on the skeletal remains. 

This incident goes to prove the necessity and functionality of the Disc Identity used by soldiers world over.

The Identity Discs bear the personal number, name, regiment, religion and blood group of the soldier and serve the twin purpose as both a recorded evidence of a soldier’s death in action as well as for the eventual recognition of the body, in case there is a need. When there are a large number of fatal casualties over a short duration, it serves a purpose of keeping a record of death.

On a philosophical note, the Discs remind every soldier that martyrdom is just around the corner. However, at the practical level, it has a specific purpose.

It must be sounding a bit eerie to the uninitiated.

These discs hanging close to the soldiers’ chests, remind them as to who they are. It gives the soldier facing death, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, the confidence that He will not be forgotten. Some spouses of US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq wore their soldier-spouse’s discs as a  reminder of their true love and commitment.

In the Indian Army we had to wear these Identity Discs while on operations and during various training exercises.  Actually, there are two discs – an oval disc with holes punched on either end and a round one with a single hole.  Our soldiers wore the oval disc on their left wrist and the round one around their neck.  On inquiry they said that it is to ensure that one disc will remain with the body even if the hand shears off.  The logic did not appeal to me at all, but I could not find any instructions regarding the proper way of wearing the discs. Surely we were not fighting a battle with swords to have either our heads or hands to shear off. I had no difficulty wearing the round disc around my neck, but the oval disc around my wrist was always a worry.  I lost them during most training exercises and had to get a new one made every time.  Obviously there was something amiss – I thought.

When we joined the Regiment, the Armourer had a punching set for punching the blank Identity Disc issued to soldiers with their particulars.  Of late, the soldiers got them engraved by the unit contractor who used the engraving tool he used to engrave steel vessels.

In 1988, I had to appear for a promotion examination in which ‘Military Administration’ was a subject.  Disposal of the mortal remains of a soldier killed in action was an issue on which I often had many questions.  Our Battery Commander was Major VN Singh, a 1971 Indo-Pak War veteran.  He was well known for his knowledge and meticulous military administration skills and had just been posted to our Regiment after a stint as an administration and logistics staff officer of an infantry brigade.  I approached him and he clarified the mystery and explained to me the procedure and the proper way of wearing Identity Discs.

The oval disc, through one hole a cord 24 inches long  is passed through and the chain is worn around the neck.  Using a small cord of about six inches, the round disc is attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc.  In case of death in war, the round disc is removed to identify the dead and the oval disc is left on the body for identifying it whenever the body is recovered.  The round disc along with the soldier’s personal belongings is despatched to the Depot Regiment of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.

Identity Discs of the Indian Army owe its origin to the British Army.  The first British ‘Disc Identity’ was introduced in 1907.  It was a single identity disc, fitted with a cord to be worn around the neck underneath the clothing.  The single-disc led to many postmortem problems in identification of the dead in that the disc was being removed for administrative purposes, leaving the body devoid of identification.

In May 1916 the second disc was introduced – octagonal in shape – known as “Disc, Identity, No.1, Green,” with the original disc becoming “Disc, Identity, No.2, Red.” The No.1 disc was to be attached to the long cord around the neck, with the No.2 being threaded on a 6 inch cord from this disc. No.1 Disc was intended to remain on the body whereas No.2 Disc was to be removed for administration.

US Army Identity Discs consist of two discs. One disc is on a 24 inch chain and the other is attached to the main chain by a four inch chain.

There is an interesting history to the US Army Discs. During WWII the discs were rectangular shaped with round ends and a notch at one end with name and details stamped by a machine. It was rumoured that the notch was put on the disc so that the disc could be placed in a dead soldier’s mouth and would hold it open so that the gasses would escape and prevent the body from bloating. In reality, the stamping machine required a notch to hold the blank disc in place while it was stamped. During the Vietnam War, new stamping machines were used and the notch was eliminated. Soldiers realised that the clinging of the metal discs gave away their location. Hence rubber covers were provided to keep the discs silent.

During the Vietnam War, some American soldiers tied one disc to their bootlaces. They believed that it could facilitate identification in case their body was dismembered.

Canadian soldiers’ Identity Disc is scored by a horizontal groove so that the lower portion may be detached. If the wearer becomes a fatal casualty, the lower portion of the disc shall be detached and returned to the Headquarters with the soldier’s personal documents. The chain and upper section of the disc shall not be removed from the body.

In the case of Lance Naik Chandra Sekhar, the Identity Disc helped identify his skeletal remains.  In future, Identity Discs may become more symbolic as technology advances in the days of DNA sampling to identify deceased soldiers.

In Canada and USA, some military spouses and fiancés wear their partner’s Identity Discs as a symbol of love towards their partner deployed in a far away land. Some Veterans post retirement continue to wear their Discs.

Having had a look at the Identity Discs worn by soldiers, isn’t it high time, Indian Army designed a meaningful Identity Disc worthy of being worn by the soldiers with pride – and even their spouses?

Mess Tin

During an outdoor tactical training exercise at the National Defence Academy, Captain Raj Mehta (now a Veteran Major General) was our instructor.  It was all about section tactics in defence and we were expected to dig a three-man trench – four feet long and in depth and two feet wide.  With the pickaxes and shovels, it was near impossible to dig on the stony mountains of Pune.

In the evening when Captain Mehta came on his rounds, he found our progress real slow.  We blamed it on our blunt pickaxes and shovels and on the hard surface.  Captain Mehta, not too pleased said “When bullets fly, you will dig down with your mess tins! Why? You will do it with your bare hands and dig much deeper than this rat hole in minutes!!

Now what is this wonder tool called a Mess Tin?

A mess tin is an item of a soldier’s mess kit, designed to be used over a portable cooking apparatus. It’s a pair of rectangular-shaped tins of similar depth, one fits inside the other, both having extendable handles that are fixed to the tins by brackets. Mess tins were originally a military design but are also popular among civilian campers.

Mess tins are generally rectangular with rounded-off edges as the rounded edges make it easier to clean inside than sharp corners. Most mess tins are supplied as a set, with one slightly larger than the other, allowing them to nestle together for easy packing. This arrangement is also useful when using the tins for boiling, as the smaller tin can be used to hold the liquid, with the larger tin placed on top to act as a lid. It also uses space as efficiently as possible, especially as the space and weight are premium in a soldier’s haversack. The nesting mess tins in use with the British Indian Army during World War II, making them one of the longest serving items of equipment in the Indian and British Army.  

The word ‘mess’ in the 14th Century meant ‘a supply or provision of food for one meal.’ The word came from Old French ‘mes’ meaning ‘portion of food, course at dinner,’ and was spelt ‘mes.’ By the 16th Century the word was spelt ‘mess’ with its meaning evolving from ‘a company of persons eating together at the same table’ to the current meaning ‘a communal eating place (especially a military one.)’

In a book published in 1916 ‘Camps, Billets, Cooking, Ceremonial,’ written by an Officer of the British Army and edited by Captain E John Solano lays out rules regarding health and hygiene; water supply; the inspection of food; preserving food, milk, and water from contamination; personal cleanliness and sanitation in billets, camps, and bivouacs. This is the most comprehensive document I read about camping and how to use the mess tin.  I followed it post-retirement during various camping trips we undertook with our children. An extract from the book says:-

‘It is especially useful that men and cadets should know how to cook various articles of food in their service mess -tins, which are so designed that, besides serving as a cup or dish and plate to eat from, they can also be used to cook certain rations in the same manner as in the camp kettle of the field-kitchen.

Cooking in Mess Tins. – The capacity of the mess tin is 1 quart, and it will cook sufficient food for one person if the diet consists of meat and vegetables cooked together, as in the case of Irish stew or sea- pie. Variety in diet is both essential and desirable, and it can be obtained to some extent when cooking in mess -tins by dividing up the rations of, say, two men, so that one mess -tin is used for cooking their meat, and another mess -tin is used for cooking their vegetables. It will be possible in this manner to vary the food slightly, provided such dishes as meat puddings, plain stews, stewed steak, or curry and rice, are given.  When this is done, the front -rank men prepare the meat, and the rear-rank men prepare the vegetables.’

As Cadets at the Academy, the mess tins were our best companions during tactical exercises as we collected our meals in them, ate in them, brewed our tea in them, etc.  It was the most sacred place for the smokers to hide the cigarette packs during tactical exercises. 

Mess Tin may be from the World War but is still popular with campers for similar reasons.  It is unbreakable, light and occupies minimum space.  You can use them to cook and eat out of, and they can be cleaned easily.  You can barbecue, fry and cook in it. 

Indian Army Water Bottle

Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants.  Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains  92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.

Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles.  An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.

My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle.  In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left  and the water-bottle on the right.  Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right.  In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.

Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran.  It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.

This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as  Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment.  Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and  the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body.  The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle  with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool.  These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.

The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen.  A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march.  This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937.  It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.

After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83.  This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002.  While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.

The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle  with a  screw-on cap.  It had a plastic cover on top with  handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer .  Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,

These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of  private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi.  Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste.  Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march.  That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks.  By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.

The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame.  The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water.  A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.

The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.

The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system.  A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier.  Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.

Identity Discs

As I watched the movie 1917, I made a mental note to write a post on the identity discs worn by the soldiers.

In Canada and USA, some military spouses and fiances wear their partner’s Identity Discs as a symbol of love towards their partner deployed in a far away land. Some Veterans post retirement continue to wear their Discs.

The movie 1917, based on the First World War, tells the story of two young British soldiers, Lance Corporals William Schofield and Tom Blake who are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie on the war-front, calling off a scheduled attack that could jeopardise the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother Lieutenant Joseph Blake.

Schofield and Blake cross no man’s land to reach an abandoned farmhouse, where they witness a German plane being shot down.  They drag the burned pilot from the plane. However, the pilot stabs Blake and Schofield shoots the German pilot dead. Schofield promises Blake as he dies that he would complete the mission and to write to Blake’s mother.  He removes two rings from  Blake’s fingers  along with the round Identity Disc worn around his  neck.

Schofield succeeds in reaching Colonel Mackenzie, who reads the message and reluctantly calls off the attack. He meets Lieutenant Joseph who is upset to hear about his brother’s death, but thanks Schofield for his efforts. Schofield gives Joseph his brother’s rings and Identity Disc and requests him to write to their mother about Blake’s heroics.

On a philosophical note the Discs remind every soldier that martyrdom is just around the corner. However, at the practical level, it has a specific purpose. They bear the personal number, name, regiment, religion and blood group of the soldier and serve the twin purpose as both a recorded evidence of a soldier’s death in action as well as for the eventual recognition of the body, in case there is a need. When there are a large number of fatal casualties over a short duration, it serves a purpose of keeping a record of death.

It must be sounding a bit eerie to the uninitiated.

These discs hanging close to the soldiers’ chests, remind them as to who they are. It gives the soldier facing death, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, the confidence that He will not be forgotten. Some spouses of US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq wore their soldier-spouse’s disc as a a reminder of their true love and commitment.

In the Indian Army we had to wear these Identity Discs while on operations and during various training exercises.  Actually there are two discs – an oval disc with holes punched on either ends and a round one with a single hole.  Our soldiers wore the oval disc on their left wrist and the round one around their neck.  On inquiry they said that it is to ensure that one disc will remain with the body even if the hand shears off.  The logic did not appeal to me at all, but I could not find any instructions regarding the proper way of wearing the discs. Surely we were not fighting a battle with swords to have either our heads or hands to shear off. I had no difficulty wearing the round disc around my neck, but the oval disc around my wrist was always a worry.  I lost them during most training exercises and had to get a new one made every time.  Obviously there was something amiss – I thought.

In 1988, I had to appear for a promotion examination in which ‘Military Administration’ was a subject.  Disposal of the mortal remains of a soldier killed in action was an issue on which I often had many questions.  Our Battery Commander was Major VN Singh, a 1971 Indo-Pak War veteran.  He was well known for his knowledge and meticulous military administration skills and had just been posted to our Regiment after a stint as an administration and logistics staff officer of an infantry brigade.  I approached him and he clarified the mystery and explained to me the procedure and the proper way of wearing Identity Discs.

The oval disc, through one hole a cord 24 inches long  is passed through and the chain is worn around the neck.  Using a small cord of about six inches, the round disc is attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc.  In case of death in war, the round disc is removed to identify the dead and the oval disc is left on the body for identifying it whenever the body is recovered.  The round disc along with the soldier’s personal belongings is despatched to the Depot Regiment of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.

Identity Discs of Indian Army owe its origin to the British Army.  The first British ‘Disc Identity’ was introduced in 1907.  It was a single identity disc, fitted with a cord to be worn around the neck underneath the clothing.  The single-disc led to many postmortem problems in identification of the dead in that the disc was being removed for administrative purposes, leaving the body devoid of identification.

In May 1916 the second disc was introduced – octagonal in shape – known as “Disc, Identity, No.1, Green,” with the original disc becoming “Disc, Identity, No.2, Red.” The No.1 disc was to be attached to the long cord around the neck, with the No.2 being threaded on a 6 inch cord from this disc. No.1 Disc was intended to remain on the body whereas No.2 Disc was to be removed for administration.In the movie 1917, Lance Corporal Schofield is shown removing the Red Disc, leaving the Green Disc on  Lance Corporal Blake’s body. During World War II, British Army soldiers were issued with aluminum Identity Discs – oval and round.

US Army Identity Discs consist of two discs. One disc is on a 24 inch chain and the other is attached to the main chain by a four inch chain.

There is an interesting history to the US Army Discs. During WWII the discs were rectangular shaped with round ends and a notch at one end with name and details stamped by a machine. It was rumoured that the notch was put on the disc so that the disc could be placed in a dead soldier’s mouth and would hold it open so that the gasses would escape and prevent the body from bloating. In reality, the stamping machine required a notch to hold the blank disc in place while it was stamped. During the Vietnam War, new stamping machines were used and the notch was eliminated. Soldiers realised that the clinging of the metal discs gave away their location. Hence rubber covers were provided to keep the discs silent.

During the Vietnam War, some American soldiers tied one disc to their bootlaces. They believed that it could facilitate identification in case their body was dismembered.


Canadian soldiers’ Identity Disc is scored by a horizontal groove so that the lower portion may be detached. If the wearer becomes a fatal casualty, the lower portion of the disc shall be detached and returned to the Headquarters with the soldier’s personal documents. The chain and upper section of the disc shall not be removed from the body.

Identity Discs may become more symbolic in future as technology advances in the days of DNA sampling to identify deceased soldiers.

Soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they’ve been given.”   ― Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Morning Shave

Delivering the Commencement Address at University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Admiral William H McRaven, a retired United States Navy Admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014 said “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.”

‘Making the bed’ ritual was all important first task of the day one accomplished as a Cadet at Sainik (Military) School, from the age of nine to sixteen.  On joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), morning shave became the first important task of the day.  During early school days, one did not have any facial hair and in senior classes, shaving was a ritual only during weekly haircut, executed by the barber.  On joining NDA, morning shave became  mandatory  for all cadets and it continued through my over two decades of service with the Indian Army.


One winter morning in the eighties, I, a young Lieutenant and Senior Subaltern of the Regiment, received a message that an important political leader had passed away and the day was declared a holiday.  I had by then shaved and was changing.  I came out of my room, dressed in whites for physical training (PT) and I found all other Lieutenants also ready for PT.  “We have shaved and put on our PT dress.  Let us all go for a run.  Once you have shaved early morning, holiday or not, it makes no difference ” I said.

In the Army, being a uniformed service,  discipline is judged partly by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform or a dress, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance.  Thus a well-groomed appearance by all soldiers is fundamental to the Army and contributes to building pride and esprit-de-corps.  There is a need for every soldier to be self-disciplined and also be proud of being part of a noble profession.   It is the prime responsibility of all commanders to ensure that soldiers under their command present a smart and soldierly appearance. All  commanders have to ensure that soldiers take pride in their appearance at all times, in or out of uniform, on and off duty.  A properly shaved soldier, sporting a mustache if preferred, will surely give a soldierly appearance.

Soldiers sporting a clean shaven face can be attributed to  Alexander the Great.  It is believed  that he ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven so that the enemy might not grab them by their beard and throw them to ground.


In Indian Army, soldiers are expected to be clean shaven other than the Sikhs, who are allowed to grow their beard.  Mustache if worn must remain above the upper lip.  British Army, from where most traditions and regulations came for the Indian Army, orders regarding shaving can be traced back to the Eighteenth Century.  Until then, British soldiers were all clean shaven and did not wear a mustache.  Soldiers of Hussar Cavalry Regiments wore mustaches to intimidate their enemies. This mustache trend spread across British Army.   At this time, a mustache differentiated a soldier from a civilian.  Influence of Indian Royalty and Indian belief that mustache indicated manliness could have also played a role.  By late Eighteenth century, mustache became popular among British civilians, so also sideburns.


Sir Douglas Haig with his army commanders and their chiefs of staff – World War I – (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

During World War I, Commonwealth soldiers found it cumbersome to maintain their mustache, while fighting trench warfare.  Many soldiers and officers preferred to shave off their mustaches and it even led to some sort of a revolt.  A few soldiers were even court-martialed for not complying with the order of a mustache.  In 1913, General Nevil Macready investigated the matter and submitted a report that orders regarding mustaches be withdrawn.  No action was taken on this report and in 1915 King George reinforced the necessity of a mustache for a soldier. General Macready resubmitted his ‘mustache’ recommendations in 1916 and on 8 October, order was passed, doing away with a mandatory mustache for a soldier.


Iconic poster of World War I with Lord Kitchener, sporting a handlebar mustache, persuading everyone to join the army still stands out (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

It is a myth that hair tend to grow thicker and darker than before due to shaving.  Mildred Trotter, a forensic anthropologist debunked this myth back in 1928, when she asked three college students to shave their legs, ankle to knee, twice weekly for eight months. Using a microscope, she compared each student’s hair growth rate, color and thickness. She concluded that shaving had no impact on hair’s texture or growth.

Wrestlers are mostly clean shaven as Olympic rules require them to have either a full beard or none at all, as stubble can irritate an opponent’s skin.  Swimmers are mostly clean shaven – they remove all possible body hair – as body hair can slow them down a bit.

Married Amish men sport a beard with a trimmed mustache in place of wearing a wedding ring.

For reasons still unclear, Parliament fired the personal barber of Charles I of England. Famously slow to trust others, King Charles never shaved again, for fear that a new barber would try to kill him.