Why these British infantry soldiers are allowed to sport beards and axes

A British Pioneer Sergeant. Photo Credit: Forces TV video below.

British Army Pioneer sergeants, the only soldiers in the Army allowed to sport a full beard on parade, certainly do stand out among the crowd.

Instead of a rifle, pioneer sergeants carry a battle ax.

Featured in a Forces TV (above) video – showing off his 14-month old beard—is a member of the first battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, an infantry regiment within the British Army. The sergeant says his wife is not crazy about the facial hair, but he seems quite proud of it.

And not just of the beard, his special Apron – or ‘stout’ a major source of pride for him too. Meant to protect the uniform while the soldier is out performing his duties, the apron may be used perhaps while cutting off a stricken horse’s legs, so that its rider could receive a new animal. Well, that really doesn’t go on that much anymore.

Traditionally, pioneers were the “largest, strongest and most imposing members” of the company. Back in the 1700s, one of their duties was to kill horses that had been wounded in battle. “Each had a number branded onto its hoof to prevent false claims, such as if a cavalryman had sold his mount.”

Nowadays, the Pioneer Sergeant is usually responsible for “carpentry, joinery and similar types of work.” Back in the olden days, the pioneer sergeant also acted as the unit blacksmith. So, the beard was allowed to help protect his face from the “heat of the forge.”

So, back to the modern-day military beards:  each service takes their facial hair policies very seriously – and they’re all very different.

The Royal Navy has always allowed full beards, as long as permission is “sought and granted.” Moustaches, which are permitted within the RAF, Army and Royal Marines are forbidden in the Navy.

When behind enemy lines or on covert missions, members of Special Forces may also wear beards.

There are exceptions to the rule for Army members as well. For example, soldiers can grow a beard for medical reasons, like in the case of a “temporary skin irritation.” More commonly, there are exceptions for religious reasons. Sikhs, who are prohibited from cutting their hair, are permitted to have beards while serving in the British Army.



  • Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.

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