The Lance And The Force

Photograph of crossed RCMP lances




The following is taken from the 1949 edition of the “Scarlet and Gold Magazine.” Author unknown.






The Force’s association with the lance, which it uses in tent-pegging, mounted sports, musical rides and other ceremonials, goes back to 1874. During the historic march across the [prairie that year, as the Force drew near the time-honoured battle grounds of the Plains Indians , a troop of well-mounted men was issued with lances. Headed by Sergeant R. Belcher, Reg #3, a former 9th Lancer, they put on a show to impress the Indians. That was their primary object, but they also acted as flankers and escort for the dismounted advance guard. It is believed lances were not issued in the Force again until the musical ride came into existence some years later after the North West Rebellion.


Frederic Remington’s famous depiction of the early North West Mounted Police.

The prefix “lance” to NCO appointment is peculiar to the British Army and is derived from the Italian words, “lancia spettza,” which mean literally “broken sword.” A man-at-arms who lost his horse in battle held that title temporarily while serving as a foot soldier. But in the wars between the Emperor Charles V and Francis I (1520-30), the qualifying lance rank was granted to a trooper who had broken his lance and lost his horse in an engagement: until mounted again this worthy was entertained by the Captain of a Foot Company.

Photograph of the traditional British red and white lance pennon.

Photograph of the traditional British red and white lance pennon.

Since the turn of the present century the lance as a weapon has been abolished at different times. After the South African war, for instance, where it was used with telling effect on October 21, 1899, at Elendslggte, War Office Army Order No 39., dated March 1, 1903 ruled that: Regiments of Cavalry will in the future be armed with the carbine (or rifle) and sword. Regiments if Lancers, Dragoon guards and Dragoons will retain the lance as at present, but it will only be carried on escort duty at reviews and other ceremonial parades; not on guard, in the field, at manoeuvres, or on active service.

Photograph of RCMP mounted member

Photograph of RCMP tent pegging with a lance (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

Photograph of

Photograph from the RCMP Centennial Review – 1973.

Photograph of RCMP

Photograph from the RCMP Centennial Review 1973.

Nevertheless the lance served as a weapon four French, German and British, including the Bengal Lancers of the Indian Army, regiments in France during World War I. And, as members of “A” Squadron, RNWMP Cavalry Draft, may remember, the Canadian Cavalry Regiments, though trained in lance exercises in England, never carried the lance in combat.

Finally on December 31, 1927, the lance as a weapon of war was abolished again, this time by Army Order No. 392 “it will not be carried,” the order reads, “on field training.” After it was retained by lancer regiments for ceremonial purposes only, and training in its handling and use for other functions discontinued.

The origin of the red and white lance pennon is interesting. The pennon supplied to the NWMP for its famed trek to the Rockies would be of British regulation pattern and therefore of these colours. The “journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol XXV at page 95 reads:

When the four light Light Dragoon Regiments were converted into Lancers in 1816 they were given a uniform borrowed from that of the Polish Lancers of Napoleon’s Guard, and it is noteworthy that the lance pennons of the British Army have always bee of the Polish national colours, red and white.

Corroboration of this authority that the source of the red and white pennon was the Poles are to be found in a brief description of an oil painting in His Majesty’s collection at Windsor Castle, titled “Sergeant Read, 9th or Queen’s Royal Lancers, 1832.” The light Dragoon regiments converted to Lancers in 1816 were the 9th, 12th, 16th and 17th. The 16th was the first to be quipped as lancers and to go into action thus armed. That regiment enjoyed the distinction of having its lance pennons “crimped” – an innovation dating from the British defeat f the Sikhs at Aliwal (N.W. India) on January 28, 1846, when its pennons got crumpled and blood-stained.

The lance used by knights of the middle Ages in tilting tournaments was heavier and longer that the bamboo pole we know and a hand guard prevented it from slipping when an object was struck with force. Its weight and length mad it awkward and unwieldy, and it time, as certain lancer units were designated, the handier and lighter weapon was devised.

The men wound rags round the shaft at the base of the steel point just before battle to guard against blood running down and rendering it slippery to the grip. When the action ended, so the legend goes, this cloth invariably was red and white half way through with the red part at the top. However, according to “Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary,” the lance’s point has a small pennon, intended to frighten the enemy’s horses.”

By act of Parliament the assignment of colours is a royal prerogative, and a royal proclamation dated November 21, 1921, assigned red and white to Canada as her national colours. So the Mounted man in his red serge and Stetson, as he straddles his horse on ceremonial occasions, could hold no more appropriate colours aloft on the lance pennon.”


Photograph the “crimped” pennon (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

The pennon controversy; to crimp or not to crimp? When looking at early picture of members carrying lances the pennons were un-crimped. Crimped pennons, with sixteen pleats, were authorized for the 16th Hussars by Queen Victoria to honour their comrades lost at the battle of Aliwal in 1846. It was during the Sikh Wars in January 1846 that the Regiment won one of its most cherished honours at the battle of Aliwal playing a vital part by a series of charges, to rout a Sikh force of 19,000. The Governor General’s dispatches describe the action: “HM 16th Lancers on this occasion have added to their former reputation acquired in various fields of battle in Asia by routing the enemies’ cavalry in every direction.

At some unknown point in time the Force decided to crimp their pennons. The Musical Ride over the years had been criticized by other Commonwealth countries for borrowing someone else’s hallowed tradition. After all we had never used the lance in battle, never drawn blood, unless accidently, with a lance. During Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee the crimping of pennons once again became an issue.

Sergeant Major William Stewart, of the Musical Ride, recommended to the Commissioner that the Force pennons should be un-crimped. They are now- un-crimped.


Photograph of “ukncrimped” pennons (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

Photograph of

Photograph of a future Ride member checks out his lance (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage