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Soldiers finally allowed to grow beards as British Army overturns century-old ban

Soldiers can finally grow beards while serving in the army in a historic rule change approved by the King.

For the first time in 100 years full beards will be permitted in the British Army, bringing rules in line with the Royal Navy and the RAF.

It comes after years of debate over facial hair rules with defence secretary Grant Shapps branding the century-old ban “ridiculous” last year.

Chief of general staff General Sir Patrick Sanders is said to have made the decision after a review of serving and reservist officers showed an “overwhelming majority” felt the army needed to change its policy.

However beards must be kept neat will be subject to review to ensure they meet the army’s regulations.

Beard length must be between 2.5mm and 25.5mm (one inch) and must be trimmed off the cheekbones and neck, while there must be “no patchy or uneven growth” and “no exaggerated colours”.

The King, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, reportedly signed off the new rules this week (Getty)
The King, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, reportedly signed off the new rules this week (Getty)

The new policy will come into effect immediately to allow soldiers to stop shaving over the Easter holidays – with troops told to expect their beards to be regularly inspected.

Announcing the rule change in a four-minute message, Warrant Officer Class 1 Paul Carney said: “Getting to an outcome has taken a bit longer than expected due to the larger number of stakeholders that were involved, including His Majesty the King, our politicians and our allies.

“CGS [chief of the general staff] has taken account of your views and has decided the appearance policy will change with our officers and soldiers being allowed to grow beards.”

However he insisted “standards can’t drop”, adding: “The Army has a reputation for professionalism and a smart turnout, with our allies and with the British public.

“We must maintain that reputation by continuing to look our best.”

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (PA) (PA)
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (PA) (PA)

It comes after Mr Shapps said it was time to modernise.

He told The Times that other armies around the world were “perfectly capable of fighting with beards” and criticised the army for taking so long to make the decision.

“The armed forces get terribly pernickety about whether people have beards or not. Nowadays people have beards. How is it we are still struggling with recruitment and then arbitrarily saying you can’t join [if you grow a beard]. It is ridiculous. It is time to modernise,” he said.

The Royal Navy has long permitted sailors to have full beards and moustaches, with their commanding officer’s consent, and the RAF changed its regulations in 2019 to allow beards.