Britain's most awesome rank, the pioneer sergeant

The Royal Army, as well as the armies of some commonwealth nations, has a peculiar rank in its structure that allows the soldier to wear a full beard and apron and carry a large ax while on parade.

Pioneer sergeants, as they are known, date back to the 1700s when the men selected for this duty were expected to act as a unit blacksmith as well as a sort of early combat engineer, cutting the way through forests and other obstacles to allow other troops to move behind them with additional equipment and arms. They also had … other duties.

Fair notice to the horse lovers: This next duty of the pioneer sergeant makes the whole thing very dark, very fast. (Source: Pinterest)

One of the grislier duties of the pioneer sergeant was to cut the legs off of dead horses after they fell, whether in combat or due to some other injury or illness. The horses had one branded leg that would identify them. Collecting it prevented soldiers from selling their horse and claiming it had died to get a free replacement.

And while the apron would certainly have come in handy during that duty, it also served as protective gear when the pioneer sergeant was working at a forge. The beard worked with the apron to protect the soldier from the heat and slag.

British Army pioneer sergeant

(Photo: YouTube/Forces TV)

The Australian Army officially adopted the beard for pioneer sergeants in 1965 when a governor general suggested it for the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. The 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, pioneer sergeant was officially authorized a beard in 2007. As of 2009, only the 2nd Bn. was actually taking part in the tradition, as the 4th Bn. had re-flagged as a commando unit and had no pioneer sergeants.

In this video from Forces TV, a pioneer sergeant discusses the accoutrement of his position as well as what life is like for this rare and badass rank:

TOP ARTICLES
You can buy a civilian version of the Army's new sidearm system

Sig Sauer, maker of the Army's new M17, is planing to make and sell 5,000 civilian versions of the MHS 9mm pistol. There is no estimated price tag yet.

This is why old boats full of dead North Koreans keep floating to Japan

Hundreds of ghost ships, filled with skeletal remains and shrouded in mystery, have washed ashore in Japan in recent years. They may be from North Korea.

This Marine veteran uses this special ingredient to boost his men's morale

Bill Joerger, Marine veteran and South Philly firefighter, uses his culinary talents to help his men combat the stresses they face every day.

Now you can read about every single fallen US troop in the Vietnam War

The Virtual Wall has a searchable, browsable database with casualty information and tributes for every name on "The Wall," broken down by city and state.

10 places in the world where US influence has plummeted

As the U.S. burns bridges with allies left and right, China has been following behind, picking up the pieces, and forging stronger ties around the world.

Watch this WW2 pilot take to the skies in his old trainer aircraft

After the attack against Pearl Harbor, Capt. Jerry Yellin became a P-51 pilot to defend his country, serving until the last combat mission of World War 2.

Russia's biggest transport plane hauled the Soviet space shuttle

The Anotov An-225 can carry 275 tons of normal cargo in its hold, equivalent to a platoon of M1A2 Abrams tanks. Learn more about this Soviet aircraft.

Nobel Prize winner warns the world is 'one tantrum away' from nuclear crisis

While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons warned that we're just "one tantrum" away from nuclear war.

How Norway's high-speed missile boats pack a big punch

The Skjold can leave a Littoral Combat Ship in the dust, but still packs eight powerful Naval Strike Missiles that'll put some serious hurt on bad guys.

ISIS-inspired terror suspect injures himself with pipe bomb in NYC

The explosion of a pipe bomb in New York City's Port Authority Terminal, just a quarter mile from Time's Square, injured four people, including the bomber.