In 1740, the “French salute”, or greeting another by kissing them on the cheek, started to become fashionable in London. With the Seven Years War (AKA French and Indian War), the “French salute” quickly became controversial, being called unEnglish. Encouraged instead was the “old English” way of “pulling off a Hat. For the British, removing your hat became the socially acceptable salutation for the rest of the 18th century.
Similarly, when a common soldier, without arms, met an officer, it was common practice for the soldier to remove his hat with both hands and bow to the officer with eyes often downcast or averted. Concerned with this practice damaging the soldier’s hat, the 2nd Regiment of Foot Guards (Coldstream’s) in September 1745 ordered them “not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass by.” While there is no evidence this practice was widespread in the army, the problem of protecting the white lace and shape of the soldier’s hat from damage remained.
“As nothing disfigures the hats or dirties the lace more than taking off the hats, the men for the future are only to raise the backs of their hands to them with a brisk motion when they pass an officer. when at any time they have occasion to take off their hats entirely it must be with great care!!”
In 1781, the 62nd Regiment ordered each soldier to bring his right hand up “smart to the side of his Hat.” Using the right ensured the hand did not damage the cockade. It is uncertain whether the gesture was a touch of the hat to mimic removing it (like the French Army at the time) or was a palm-out salute. With this order came the introduction of a salute for soldiers wearing grenadier, drummer, or light infantry caps. Unlike the hat, the adoption of a proper hand salute for caps seemed universal — “when an officer passed by, soldiers wearing caps were to bring up the back of the hand that was furthest from the officer to the front of the cap with graceful motion.”
In 1778, the Nottingham Regiment of Marksmen explained the palm-out cap salute by using positions of drill as reference: “with a brisk motion bring the hand into the same position as for returning the Rammer in Exercise (with the elbow well raised) taking care only, that it may be so high as not to hide their eyes, and they look full at the officer.” For officers wearing caps, they also adopted the hand salute. The below illustrations show Light infantry officers using the palm-out hand salute during General review, as ordered in 1786. Grenadier officers did the same.
1786 standing and marching salute with fusil (published in 1795) It appears the hand salute was maintained for grenadier and light company officers throughout the Napoleonic Wars even when they were only armed with swords.
Since wearing a headdress different from the common soldier made hat-wearing infantry officers targets of French sharpshooters, in 1812 all infantry officers adopted caps and as a result “all officers dismounted, wearing caps, are to salute in the same manner as practiced by officers of the grenadiers and light infantry.”
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