“Paying compliments is a fundamental requirement that is indispensable to service discipline.” The standard form of paying compliments is the salute from a soldier to an officer, or a junior officer to a more senior one. It is not an individual or personal acknowledgement, but part of the reinforcement of hierarchy — a “traditional demonstration of trust and respect,” soldiers are still told. And because courtesy goes both ways, “Salutes must be given and returned smartly and readily. Look directly at the person and remember that salutes are returned and not merely acknowledged.”
Sounds simple, right?
But it isn’t quite that simple, of course. The gesture itself varies depending upon the service and the nation to which the military service belongs. Headgear makes a difference. What if more than two individuals are involved, for example, a group passing an officer? Of if you encounter two officers of different ranks? Or if you have something in your hands?
The image above is a still from a National Film Board of Canada film about the Canadian Officer Training School at Bexhill, in Britain.(2) About three minutes into the film, a series of encounters is filmed on the seafront at Bexhill, drawing considerable interest from other strollers on the promenade. It is likely that the scenes were staged for training purposes — the officer cadets, wearing white bands on their caps, are easily identifiable. In addition to the salute, the film shows different forms of paying compliments, such as turning the eyes, checking arms to the side, and a “butt salute,” which is not as cheeky as it sounds.
(1) Customs and Traditions of the Canadian Military Engineers. 5-2
(2) National Film Board of Canada. Images of a Forgotten War.Films of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War.n.d.