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Stars, Stripes and Chevrons

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Members Meurrisch and Toby Brayley write a series of illustrated notes on the various late Victorian to Great War "Stars, stripes and chevrons" which were awarded variously for good conduct, efficiency, proficiency and re-engagement.


Cover photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

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Stars, Stripes and Chevrons Chapter 1



The purpose of this article is to describe the history of stars, stripes and chevrons worn on British Army uniforms in Victorian times and until 1919. Their uses as rank badges are excluded except where essential for completeness. A chevron is taken to be as the French word intended: in the shape of rafters supporting a roof, and thus with the point uppermost. Where the sides “right” and “left” are used, these refer to the wearer, not as seen by the reader. References are included in the text as they occur, to avoid footnotes and endnotes. They are occasionally abbreviated; a full list will be included at the end of this article. The subject is treated chronologically, even though this means that photographs of garments and badges in any quantity only appear from about the time of the Crimean War. Contemporary photography was of very variable quality: some early examples provide superb detail, but most of the later ones have the inbuilt disadvantage of using an orthochromatic process. In such photographs the red end of the spectrum is rendered very dark grey, and the blue end much paler. Where slight exceptions to badge use existed, they will usually be discounted: there always were and are exceptions, and they often involve the Foot Guards, the Rifles or the cavalry.


Earliest uses of badges.


In the latter days of the 18th Century and the early days of the 19th the more enlightened military commanders (some of whom were not high ranking) of the principal European armies were beginning to absorb the lessons learned in the Americas and on the frontiers of Asia. The natures of the savage foes and the terrain sometimes made rigid formations and drill movements inappropriate. Small groups of soldiers, or individuals, often found themselves isolated and without an officer or non-commissioned officer (NCO) within sight or sound. Voltigeurs, Jaegers, Light Infantry and Riflemen, trained and trusted to use a modest degree of initiative, were one manifestation of adaptation. Another less obvious British reform was the invention of the unique Regimental Number to identify each soldier from enlistment to disbandment, retirement or the grave. Both evolutions gained pace around the time of the great European struggles and the American War of Independence, and it is in that period that the use of stars, stripes and chevrons was born.


Dawnay (Badges of Warrant and Non-Commissioned rank in the British Army) and Carman (Badges and Insignia of the British Armed Services) point to the original introduction by the French Army of ‘galons d’ancienneté,’ from 16th April 1771, as a sign worn on the left arm that a soldier had re-engaged for service once (one chevron) or twice (two chevrons) after eight or sixteen years respectively. There is pictorial evidence that at least one British Cavalry regiment was using chevrons (point down) as rank badges (Dawnay). The chevron was also introduced by General George Washington on 7th August 1782 for the Continental Army of the United States, as an “Honorary Badge of Distinction” to be conferred on veteran non-commissioned officers and soldiers who served more than three years with ‘bravery, fidelity and good conduct’. It was described as a narrow piece of cloth of an angular form, to be worn on the left sleeve.

As was often the case, regulation followed piecemeal introduction. Chevrons (point down) were introduced by the British as NCO badges by an Army Order of 1st July 1802 almost exactly at the time that Regulations for the Rifle Corps were introducing a “ring of white cloth” for the right arm as a badge for “chosen men”, who were, in modern terms, unpaid lance-corporals. After decades of threatening and using “stick” (flogging for many offences) the “carrot” of privileges was to be offered. A system of unpaid rewards for length of service or good conduct and increasing responsibility began to spread. Standing Orders of the 85th Light Infantry 1813 have chosen men with a white chevron (not ring) on the right sleeve. The Journal of the Military Historical Society (MHS)  notes the 72nd Regiment using regimental lace in 1816 around the top of each cuff for privates to signify 7, 14 and 21 years’ service;  the 35th using chevrons in the same place for the same service in 1821 and the 72nd to be the same as the 35th in 1824.  These periods were driven by the terms of enlistment, which were   “for life” or for “limited service” of seven years, with optional seven year extensions. To cloud the picture, Royal Marine defaulters were required to wear a white ring signifying bad conduct round the left sleeve in 1828. (MHS).


Two points to note: we have “rings” and “chevrons” co-existing, and we have them made variously of white cloth or regimental lace. Regimental lace adorned the infantry coats and was also used to make corporals’ rank badges (whereas sergeants had white lace, the most senior regimental ranks gold) Each chevron, point down, was made of double lace, mounted on a strip of facing cloth, and then sewn separately on cloth of the coat colour. Regimental lace ceased to be worn after 1836, a time of great change.


From top:

Soldier's coat 26th foot c. 1810

Detail of double lace.

Extract from Rifle Corps Regulations 1800/

Dawnay's sketch of corporals' rank lace.


















Rank and Appointment badges

Rank and Appointments for soldiers below commissioned rank in the Great War.




This series of notes will concentrate, but not exclusively, on the infantry of the regular army. In this context ‘regular’ includes all Special Reservists, all recalled Reservists, all volunteers in the New Armies, and, eventually, all conscripts.

On 4th August 1914 there were nine rank groupings. The King’s Regulations [KR] Para 282 list them as follows [i, ii, and vii below were not infantry ranks. For the purpose of this introduction I have simplified the list and excluded, for example, Household Cavalry ‘Corporal’-based equivalents].

Warrant Officer [not included in the rank numbering series]

i. Master Gunner 3rd class RA

ii. Army Schoolmaster when not a warrant officer

iii. Quartermaster -sergeant or serjeant

iv. Colour-serjeant

v. Serjeant

vi. Corporal

vii. Bombardier RA and 2nd Corporal RE

viii. Private.

Boy was the lowest of the low, any soldier before his 18th birthday, and he was included in the headcount of Privates for official purposes, Establishments etc. Boys could not smoke or swear without punishment, but could be appointed drummer etc before 18 if qualified and if a vacancy existed.

Essentially, rank determined the basic pay of the soldier, and he could not be deprived of it without a formal administrative process, such as Court Martial or other prescribed procedure. KR at this time maintained the old seniority structure whereby, rank for rank, a Regular was senior to a Special Reservist who in turn was senior to a member of the Territorial Force. This distinction was subsequently abolished.



Private and Boy.

A Boy could enlist for a specific ‘trade’ [for want of a better description] and was not allowed to transfer if engaged as a tailor, shoemaker or saddler. If he was taken as a trumpeter, drummer, bugler [Rifles and Light Infantry], piper or bandsman, transfers to other occupations were possible. The minimum age [Regulars] was 14 and they became army men at their 18th official birthday, which was the date they offered on enlistment. It was usual for Boys to be required to give proof of age and parental permission. Boys enlisted for nine years plus three years on the Regular Reserve, unless they were to be tailors or shoemakers, who undertook to serve twelve years with the colours and with no reserve liability. The maximum number of Boys allowed on the establishment of a battalion was 16 as band or drums, and four as tradesmen. No specific regulation has been traced that sanctions the wearing by Boys of ‘trade’ appointment badges, but they certainly did so. A Boy was paid 8d per day, 4d less than the minimum for a Private, so there was an incentive to lie about one’s age. Boys could and did go on Active Service in their trade/ appointment, with the Commanding Officer’s approval.

Privates held rank as:

Trooper [Cavalry], gunner RA, Driver RA, Sapper RE, and Pioneer RE. Note that the widespread ‘Rifleman’ had no official sanction until after the war, nor were modernisms such as Guardsman or Fusilier etc. listed.  Drummers ,pipers, buglers earned 1d more than privates.. Drummers were not officially ‘Rank and File’, which was up to full Corporal but excluded Drummers and their equivalents. In Line Infantry and the Foot Guards, a Drummer had to master drum, bugle and flute [fife] and usually carried two out of the three instruments.


A recruit would be sent to the Depôt where he was clothed and equipped and his training would begin with the recruits’ musketry course. After that he would usually be sent to the home service battalion in the first instance. The length of service to which he was initially committed was seven years with the colours and five years subsequently as a regular reservist. This total of twelve years commitment was called the ‘first term of engagement’. The ratio of colour to reserve service had been frequently altered: seven and five until May 1902 , then three and nine [AO 73/02 and 117/02] until November 1904, nine and three [AO 189/04] until September 1906 [AO 209/06] when it reverted to seven and five. Provided a soldier was of good character and had made a modicum of career progression he could extend both colour and reserve commitment, or opt to do all twelve years with the colours. When a soldier was due to pass to the Reserve or be discharged the Sovereign reserved the right, often exercised, to insist on an extra year’s service. This was legal if the soldier was serving overseas, or if a state of war existed. Assuming that a soldier’s services were wanted by his commanding officer [CO], he could go on to complete 21 years for pension. He could also buy himself out, cheaply if untrained, and at a cost of £25 later in his service. This was a large sum and beyond the means of most.


Appointments for Privates.

By far the most important career move a soldier could make was to be appointed Lance-Corporal. This appointment was deliberately ephemeral: a Commanding Officer could revert the man to Private at the stroke of a pen. Soldiers’ records frequently show that a man went up and down and up and down in his early years, before he settled. Drink was often the reason given on his regimental conduct sheet. In the pre-war army, once the single chevron of the Lance-Corporal was sewn on the sleeve, a soldier was required to associate with men at that level and above, and never to mix with his old companions …… harsh, but certainly enforced in some regiments. Lance-Corporals were usually addressed as ‘Corporal’, and were not, in the first instance, paid any more than a Private. Thus they had responsibility, social exclusion, and no compensation until the Commanding Officer was satisfied, at which point the man could be made ‘paid Lance-Corporal’. These paid appointments were limited in number, and attracted an extra 3d per day. In the Foot Guards, a paid Lance-Corporal was slightly better off, at 1/4- per day, and wore two chevrons, not the single one in the remainder of the infantry. There was no permanence in being paid: again, the appointment could be removed immediately, and thus was not a ‘full rank’. In the Artillery, the single chevron was indeed a rank badge, bombardier, and the Engineers had their equivalent, a 2nd Corporal.


The full list of other appointments for Private soldiers was a very long one, and reflected all the specialisms that a modern army needed. Those with an associated badge, to be worn on the upper right sleeve, and made of gilding metal [“brass”] almost without exception since 1905, were as follows.[Combining the information in KR and Clothing Regulations 1914 [CR]].

Artificer, smith hammer and pincers

Bandsman crown over lyre with wreath*

Bugler bugle, or crossed bugles [Rifles and Light Infantry]

Drummer and Fifer drum

Pioneer, infantry crossed hatchets

Saddler bit*

Saddletree maker no badge specified, but might well have worn the bit

Shoeing and carriage-smith horseshoe [open end down]

Trumpeter trumpets crossed [bell up, usually but not invaraiably]

Wheeler wheel

[Layer, RA] not listed as an appointment, but officially it was, with a worsted badge of L in wreath

* not to be worn by cavalry

Note that Scouts 1st and 2nd class were also appointed to infantry and cavalry, and wore the fleur-de-lys badge except infantry in India, and that pipers, as far as can be ascertained, had no official badge ….. indeed, demi-official pipe badges only emerged late in the war.

Collar-maker, Farrier, and Carpenter are not listed as possible appointments for Privates, nor are the various assistant instructor posts or Rough Rider. These badges will be described for more senior rank appointments. The Geneva Cross was in the nature of an appointment badge for all Other Ranks of the RAMC, worn on both arms.

Illustrations to follow


Corporal and equivalent

Corporal was the first substantive [full] rank, except for RA and RE, who had the extra grading of Bombardier/ 2nd Corporal. Corporal rank was paid at 1/8- per day in the infantry, and the badge was 2 chevrons, to be worn on both arms. It was usually the lowest rank that could be appointed to the various Assistant Instructor [AI] posts, although Lance-Corporals could be A.I.-signalling, and wear the crossed flags badge over the chevrons. Corporals were disqualified from wearing Good Conduct Badges, being deemed above the fray.

Corporals in some regiments wore a badge of regimental design over the chevrons, particularly in the cavalry, although some regiments reserved this privilege for Sergeants and above. As examples, the Grenadier Guards had the grenade badge, and the Household Cavalry the crown. 


The Corporal appointments other than Lance-Sergeant that were badged were:



Farrier and Carriage-smith ASC



Saddle-tree maker





Rough Rider [not listed in KR] who wore a spur.

Gymnastics [not listed] crossed swords, hilt down

A.I Signalling [not listed] crossed signalling flags

And the job titles were either ‘Corporal ……..’ or ‘……. Corporal’ according to custom.

KR paragraph 282 states that the grant of an appointment conferred the appropriate rank. Thus a vacancy for a Cook-Corporal could either be filled by a pre-existing full rank, or by promoting into the appointment. KRs make clear that, under some circumstances, an Acting appointment could be made that conferred Acting Rank, not necessarily attracting the pay until confirmed. This might be particularly so on Active Service where essential posts have perforce to be filled without much ceremony.



Before looking at further career progression, it is worthwhile considering a soldier’s education and training. Staying with the infantryman, his basic military training syllabus lasted 6 months at the Depot, after which he was allocated - “posted” to a unit. Other arms of the service might need even longer, as the cavalry had to cope with the man and the horse, and the Artillery with man, horse and an artillery piece. Thereafter, he was subjected to an annual ritual of training which started at individual level, then groups of soldiers working under a Lance-Corporal or Corporal on drills such as “Fire and Movement”, then Platoon work under the Sergeant and/ or the Subaltern, then Company, then Battalion, and, occasionally, higher formations still. He was required to reclassify in Musketry each year. Some specialisms attracted the best recruits: signalling required a good degree of intelligence and literacy, scouting required an eye for country and endurance, pioneering a facility with tools. In each case, and in cookery, shoe mending and a dozen other skills, the army could teach a man and had schools of instruction.

It also wanted its soldiers to be literate and numerate, in stark contrast to the army as recently as the Crimean War.

This is a quotation from an earlier offering on the Forum, which summarises matters better than I can. When I can find it, I will acknowledge the original contributor!

Some further background on certificates of education

In 1861 a new inducement towards learning was the army certificate of education. On the recommendation of the Council of Military Education three levels or standards were set out and were linked with promotion in the ranks.

The third-class certificate specified the standard for promotion to the rank of corporal: the candidate was to read aloud and to write from dictation passages from an easy narrative, and to work examples in the four compound rules of arithmetic and the reduction of money.

A second-class certificate, necessary for promotion to sergeant, entailed writing and dictation from a more difficult work, familiarity with all forms of regimental accounting, and facility with proportions and interest, fractions and averages.

First-class certificates were a great deal more difficult and were required for commissions from the ranks. Successful candidates had to read and take dictation from any standard author; make a fair copy of a manuscript; demonstrate their familiarity with more complicated mathematics, except cube and square root and stocks and discount; and as well prepare for examination in at least one of a number of additional subjects. After 1887 candidates were examined in British history and geography in place of a special subject. First-class certificates were awarded on the results of periodic examinations held by the Council (later Director-General) of Military Education. Second and third-class certificates were presented on the recommendations of the Army schoolmaster.

• SKELLEY, A.R. The Victorian Army At Home: The Recruitment and Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859-1899. Mc Gill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 1977, p. 94, 95, and 311.

I would add that, from the introduction of Proficiency Pay in 1905/6, any soldier wishing to receive the enhanced rate needed at least the Third Class.

Our man, having reached Corporal by means of an Army Certificate, a period of minor responsibility as a Lance-Corporal, and acquiring some skills of man-management, fieldcraft, and endurance, might have taken many years to achieve this, or only a few months. It was possible for a Grammar School boy to whistle through the 3rd and 2nd class certificates and become, for example, a Corporal Assistant-Instructor Signalling in 18 months. Promotion to Sergeant would usually take rather longer, with some Commanding Officers being very conservative, and others progressive and always with an eye to having a unit with young and active Senior Non-Commissioned Officers {SNCOs].



Apart from the Foot Guards, this appointment for a full Corporal was abolished in 1946. In some units, it conferred a limited membership of the Sergeants’ Mess, enabling a young soldier to mix with, and learn from, his betters in a social setting. The Lance-Sergeant might be ‘paid’ or ‘unpaid’. If the latter, he received his basic pay as a full Corporal. If the former, he was paid an extra 4d, bringing him to 2/-, double that of the Private. He wore three chevrons on the upper arm, and on formal parades he could usually be distinguished only by the absence of a full Sergeant’s scarlet sash [Although, as ever, the Foot Guards had other distinctions]. He would expect to be addressed as Sergeant, and would do duty on Sergeants’ rosters such as Guard, Picquet, Orderly.

The Household Cavalry had no use for the noun Sergeant, and had only various grades of Corporal, which, of themselves, could form the basis of a separate article.

It was useful to have Lance-Sergeants scattered in the specialisms: the Signals often had one, and the Transport Section, and the Drums, thus assisting an orderly succession of leadership.



Sometimes ‘Serjeant’, which usage was being maintained in KR 1914.

A Sergeant had arrived, so to say. He belonged to a Mess, which enabled him to mix with his seniors and the Sergeant-Major . He had a specific job, a job-description in modern management terms, and was one of the 50 most senior Other Ranks in a battalion [at War Establishment] of about 1000.

He frequently commanded a Platoon [there were 16 Platoons, and there was always a shortage of qualified subalterns, even when the BEF sailed to war], he might be 2ic Signallers and Assistant Instructor, 2ic Transport, 2ic Machine Guns, 2ic Battalion Scouts. There were Sergeants in charge of battalion cooking, tailoring, shoemaking and repair, pioneering, the regimental police, and sundry other tasks. Some Sergeant posts carried Staff status exalted above Sergeant, with a more elaborate Full Dress scarlet tunic of better quality. They included the ‘Music Major’ ie. the Drum-, Bugle-, Trumpet-, or Pipe-Major, more correctly entitled the Sergeant Drummer etc. at that date. Such worthies carried a sword on formal parades, and wore the old Staff Sergeant First Class badge of 4 chevrons point up, on the cuff, with a suitable musical instrument badge above. The band Sergeant, under the Bandmaster, was also usually clothed to a higher standard in Full Dress, but had the conventional badges.

The basic pay of a Sergeant of infantry was 2/4- per day, and his badge, of three chevrons worn upper arm with point down had changed little since 1800. [strictly, it is an inverted chevron, as the heraldic chevron has the point uppermost]. The scarlet sash of full sergeants was of wool, whereas that of Warrant Officers was a deeper crimson and of superior material.


In the Household Cavalry, the rank at the Sergeant level was Corporal-of-Horse, three chevrons surmounted by the regimental crown badge, and in other cavalry there was usually a regimental badge in silver worn with the chevrons. The RA Sergeant wore a gun [called ‘the gun badge’] above his ranking, and the RE wore the traditional grenade. Grenadier Guards Sergeants were called ‘Gold Sergeants’ and wore the grenade above their ranking in service dress.

A man could expect to put some hard yards in as a Sergeant before earning any more promotion.


Sergeant appointments other than infantry.

These were many and various. In the Household Cavalry, C-o-H Trumpeter, Farrier-C-o-H, Paymaster-C-o-H, Saddler-C-o-H, all with equivalent ‘Sergeant’ titles in the line cavalry. The Gunners had no specific one other than sergeant artillery clerk, but each piece [gun] usually had a Sergeant as the commander; two guns under a subaltern, comprised a Section. There were many types of Sergeant-Instructor, there were Flight-Sergeants RFC [yes, one down on the present status], Fitters, smiths and Carriage-smiths ad infinitum.



Hitherto, a Colour-Sergeant had enjoyed the ‘honourable distinction of attending the Colours’ and getting shot at, in a role first defined in 1813. The badge had evolved [deteriorated, more like] from early forms depicting crossed swords and Colour and Crown to a utilitarian stripped-down version on SD of a small crown over three chevrons. Only on the scarlet tunic did the elaborate badge remain, and, after war was declared, even that became a rarity except on Foot Guards, where each regiment has a different design. The exception is the Grenadier Guards, whose Colour-Sergeants cling to a notional old badge on SD with, in sequence, three chevrons, grenade, crossed swords and crown above.

A Colour-Sergeant’s basic infantry pay was 3/6- per day, and his primary duty was to be the senior soldier in each [old] company of the [old] eight-company battalion, and to be the Pay-Sergeant. To this day, the Foot Guards call the Colour-Sergeant the Pay Sergeant. Private Frank Richards, famous author of Old Soldiers Never Die, wrote of his pre-war time in India:

“Although all gambling was strictly prohibited, even the most regimental of the N.C.O.s in the Second Battalion [RWF] always winked an eye at it. Most of them were fond of a gamble themselves and on the line of march every one of them had a flutter now and then - with the exception of the Regimental Sergeant-Major and the Colour-Sergeants, who had their dignity to keep up”.

The reorganisation of the infantry, begun in 1913 and not completed until 1915, meant that the four new double-companies would have had two Colour-Sergeants, clearly undesirable. There was, however, adequate precedent for an appointment called ‘Company Sergeant-Major’ in other arms of service [the Artillery and the Engineers and the Rifle Brigade, for example], so, without promoting any soldiers, and with only the slightest disbursement of extra pay to 4/0- , the senior four Colour-Sergeants were appointed Company Sergeant-Major and retained their rank badges as Colour-Sergeant. The junior four became Company Quartermaster-Sergeants, with no extra pay, and no change in badges. A very economical and unsatisfactory temporary fix.


Staff Corporal-of-Horse.

When it came to the Colour Sergeant tier of ranking, the Household Cavalry had painted themselves into a corner, in that their use of the crown as a regimental arm badge over all sets of chevrons had effectively 'used-up' the obvious combination with one tier down, at Corporal-of-Horse, the Sergeant equivalent.

In 1881 it had been ordained that any badge of 4 chevrons had to be lower sleeve, and points up 'like the hairs on a monkey's arm', whereby chevrons above the elbow point down, those below point up.

It would not do for the Household Cavalry to not include the crown, so the badge of their CSgt equivalent had to be four chevrons and crown, and the rank title had to reflect the increased responsibilities. It became Staff Corporal-of-Horse. A nice mouthful, and difficult to pronounce if in drink.

The remainder of the cavalry soldiered on happily with Squadron Sergeant-Majors at this level, badged as Colour-Sergeants, together with their Quartermaster-Sergeants. RA and RE Troop, Battery, Company Sergeant-Majors were at this level, the RA and RE men retaining their regimental SNCO badges respectively. There were the usual Farrier, Wheeler, Saddler, Smiths at this level. Clothing regulations do not describe the use of their special trade badges, but they were usually worn between the chevrons and the crown


The complicated subject of Staff-Sergeants

From 1813, the year in which the army introduced a new rank in the infantry, the essential grades were:

Sergeant Major [Four gold or silver chevrons]

Quartermaster-Sergeant [four silver or white chevrons]

Colour Sergeant [badge various, but always at least one chevron, crossed swords, Colour and crown

Sergeant [Three]

Corporal [Two]

And that was it. Surprisingly, the RA and RE also had Colour-Sergeants for a while but there was an increasing use of the term Staff-Sergeant, as much as anything to do with the quality of cloth and trim to be issued to distinguish senior NCOs. It was not disputed that Sergeant-Majors and Quartermaster Sergeants had First Class Staff status, but the dividing line between them and those of 2nd Class status has varied over the years, and the last echoes of this can be seen in AD 2020 in the clothing of ‘Music-Majors’ who look for all the world as if they are First Class in any order of dress, but are, in fact, fortunate to be even Second Class, being nominally only Sergeants with promotions to Colour Sergeant and WO II in due course.

In the infantry the dotted line was clearly drawn above Colour Sergeants of Second Class Staff status, but below such CSgts who had battalion staff appointments. In the heyday of Victorian and Edwardian pomp, such First Class worthies paraded with sword, better quality sash, extra lace to the tunic, and a very different and smart cap.



In the reign of Queen Victoria the Royal Crown design seems never to have been other than "more or less" a standard design, and, in later years, became almost a cartoon shape, with huge angular bulges like ears sticking up and out left and right.

Known by collectors as the QVC, it was bustled out with almost unseemly rapidity when the old lady died, because on 1st May 1901 the Royal Army Clothing Department ledger gives the most minute and careful description of a new crown to be adopted [the so=called "Kings' Crown" or KC] and said sternly that the new design was to be used for all purposes.

This coincided almost exactly with the need for new designs of badges for the new SD in drab. The nearest Priced Vocab in date that I have is 1907, when crowns large and crowns small were in the Vocab for SD. Clothing Regs do not seem to make the distinction clear, the large ones were for the greatcoat but adopted by Sergeant-Majors and equivalents, the small ones for the more junior ranks and regiments [such as the Household Cavalry] who used the crown as a regimental distinction.

Regarding rank chevrons at that time, the PVCN offered 1, 2, 3, and 4 bar for the SD greatcoat, all with different catalogue numbers from the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 bar for the SD jacket, the latter two for Good Conduct badges only. As far as cost was concerned, the greatcoat 4 bar was a fraction more expensive. The greatcoat badges were slightly larger. Note that many badges were not for wear on the greatcoat, including 'trade', Good Conduct, and medal ribbons.

The other generalisation to make here is that, surprisingly, gilding metal ["brass"] badges were considerably cheaper than worsted, the latter requiring some hand finishing at that time. Between 1905 and 1907 there was a conscious effort to standardise trade and appointment into gilding metal, and 'prize' or 'skill at arms' badges into worsted. This was by no means slavishly followed, particularly in war time, nor indeed did large crowns fail to appear as part of the rank badge of many a Colour-Sergeant, of whom photos abound wearing the large crown.



This was a RANK.

In the simple days of rank, a QMS ranked immediately below the Sergeant-Major, with a very similar badge, 4 chevrons, but usually of inferior material. He needed to be literate, wise in the wicked ways of soldiers, and to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.

In time, he became dressed as a First Class Staff-Sergeant ..... sash, sword, extra trim on the tunic, different head dress.

In 1881 the 4 chevrons moved to the lower right cuff, displacing Good Conduct badges hitherto on the right cuff, and with points upwards.

In 1902 ranking was to be worn by all ranks on both cuffs ..... Good Conduct badges no problem because no soldier above Lance-Corporal could wear them.

In addition to his primary role, a QMS could also serve as Orderly Room Clerk [sometimes OR Sergeant and other titles], and so the man in the senior appointment added a star of 8 points to his ranking, while the lesser QMS in the Orderly Room did not. Either way, they were numbers 2 and 3 in the unit pecking order. The basic infantry pay was 4/-.


Above the QMS came the Warrant Officer


By the time of the Royal Warrant of 1879 granting warrants to conductors, the army practice of appointing subordinate officers by warrant for specialised tasks was well established but patchy in its application and continuity. Those warranted at one time or another before 1879 included surgeons’ mates, hospital mates, schoolmasters, master gunners of Coast Brigades and troop quartermasters of regular cavalry.


Warrant Officer badges in Service Dress.

In 1907 a policy decision was taken to use gilding metal in preference to worsted on cost grounds. The Priced Vocabulary for Clothing editions of 1911, 1913 and 1915, summarized below, show the provisions for the few badges needed for warrant officers on the drab service dress jacket. 

Bandmaster:  Crown, lyre and wreath in gilding metal with plate and pin, cost 4 ½ d.

(There was no recorded provision of a bronzed version for Rifles, nor the special lyre badge for the Royal Artillery, and no worsted variety).

Conductor & 1st Class Staff Sergeant-Major:  Crown and wreath in gilding metal with plate and pin, cost 2 d., also in worsted for the Greatcoat, cost 8 ½ d.

Other Warrant Officers:  Crown in gilding metal with plate and pin, cost ½ d., also in worsted for the Greatcoat, cost 5 ¼ d.

From 1902 until 1914 the RACD needed to maintain (or at least at least approve) three varieties of every badge: for full dress, service dress and mess dress, together with any hot weather khaki drill variants. Full dress (scarlet tunic for most infantry) provision included large and small crowns and, for the RA, their distinctive band lyre. Thereafter, most soldiers (other than Household Troops, the Riding Troop/ King’s Troop RHA, and regimental bands) were not issued with full dress. Photographs show that what was worn in practice might differ from the official priced items: sergeant majors wearing large crowns on the service dress jacket (as opposed to the greatcoat) being a prime example.


Precedence Revised.

The last complete edition of KRs before the Great War was of 1912, republished and amended to August 1914. There continued to be 26 appointments listed for the rank of warrant officer. The official precedence list was:

              i.         Conductor AOC, Master Gunner 1st Class, Schoolmaster (1st class warrant officer), Staff Sergeant-Major 1st Class

             ii.         Master Gunner 2nd Class

            iii.         Garrison Sergeant-Major

            iv.         All others except………….

             v.         …… Special Reserve warrant officers (in succession to those of the Militia since 1908).


Those in Groups (i) and (iv) were to rank with one another according to date of promotion or appointment.

The Army List of August 1914 gave the numbers of warrant officers holding each appointment. In Group (i) there were 44 conductors, 20 master gunners 1st Class, and 20 SSM 1st class in addition to the 41 schoolmasters 1st class. At the other end of the scale there were 74 Special Reserve sergeant-majors.


Company Sergeant-Majors.

On the eve of the Great War, the infantry began reorganisation from a battalion eight-company establishment to four “double companies” Army Orders 323 of 1913; 207 and 210 of 1914 refer. The Territorial Force and units in the colonies and India made the change in the course of the next year. The only warrant officers in the unit were the sergeant-major, the bandmaster, and the schoolmaster if 1st class. On active service only the sergeant-major mobilised. A new appointment was created, that of company sergeant-major (CSM), one for each company, paid an extra 6d per day on top of the colour-sergeant’s pay, with the badge remaining as crown and three chevrons on service dress.  It became necessary for infantry unit sergeant-majors to be retitled as “regimental”. CSMs had existed in 1800 in the Rifle Brigade, and from an early date in the RE and colonial infantry.


Warrant Officers Class II.

On 29th January 1915 a major innovation was announced in Army Order AO 70, the creation of Warrant Officers Class II. This was called a “new rank”, and was to apply to Regular Army, Special Reserve and Territorial Force alike. Essentially it represented a promotion for the bulging cohort of staff-sergeants 1st class, together with some very fortunate less senior soldiers at the colour-sergeant level. The pre-existing warrant officers were to become Class I. The Class numerals were Roman.

For the time being there were no badge or pay changes. Class II comprised:

Master Gunner 3rd Class

Army Schoolmaster if not a warrant officer

Garrison Quartermaster Sergeant

Quartermaster Corporal-Major

Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (RQMS)

Squadron Corporal-Major

Squadron Sergeant-Major (SSM)

Battery Sergeant-Major

Troop Sergeant-Major

Company Sergeant-Major (CSM)


When the necessary badges were promulgated by AO 174 of May 1915 they contained interesting novelties such as the crown in wreath for soldiers senior to those with the (new badge) Royal Arms, produced as a modest little item in worsted and also in gilding metal. The list was simplified by gathering all the “sergeant-major” appointments under that one heading. There was no badge at that date to distinguish the regimental quartermaster sergeant (RQMS) appointment from the CSM, both wore the crown.


The Canadian Expeditionary Force introduced warrant officers Class II, but the home-based Canadian Militia did not.


Precedence regarding Auxiliary Forces.


The official precedence of all officers (commissioned, warrant, and non-commissioned) of equal nominal rank placed Regular Army men before the Special Reserve (SR) before the Territorial Force (TF). This distinction became impossible to sustain in war (as an example, author Robert Graves as a SR war-commissioned officer became a Royal Welsh Fusilier SR captain very rapidly and was posted to the Regular second battalion where his contemporaries languished as second-lieutenants). This official precedence was soon cancelled.


Army Orders 240 and 277 of 1915 ended the anomaly of the non-warranted acting sergeant-majors of the TF, raised them to Warrant Officer Class I, and awarded them the royal arms badge. This was a large step for these regular colour- and staff-sergeants.


Warrant Officers Class II to be distinct from NCOs.


In 1917 (AO 279 of September) the War Office found it necessary to emphasize that Warrant Officers Class II were not NCOs within the meaning of the Army Act and thus could not be punished by a commanding officer. This was an echo of the brief hiatus of status from 1881 to 1883. Even today sources which should know better refer to warrant officers as NCOs.


There was a further expansion of warrant officer appointments in AO 194 of 24th June 1918, which added:

QM Sergeant

Squadron, Battery, Troop or Company Sergeant-Major or Corporal-Major Instructor

Squadron Corporal-Major, Roughrider (sic)

Squadron Sergeant-Major, Roughrider.


Military Cross (MC) or Military Medal (MM)?

The creation of these two awards by Royal Warrants dated respectively 1st January 1915 and 5th April 1916 caused a few headaches in practice. Warrant officers, by virtue of not being commissioned, have always been eligible for the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), which carried a pension or a lump sum payment. The MC was for captains, subalterns and warrant officers.  The MM was initially for NCOs and men, thus excluding all warrant officers. The Military Secretary’s Branch clarified that the award was to substantive or temporary rank, not acting, but the clarification seen was very late in the war.

The problem arose when the Warrant of 28th January 1915 creating WO II rank ruled that all pre-existing Royal Warrants referring to warrant officer were to be taken to refer to WO I only. Thus, according to the letter of the law, no WO II was eligible for an MC until a new amending Warrant dated 6th June 1916. Between 28th January 1915 and 6th  June  1916 a WO II was only eligible for a DCM, and from then until much later only a DCM or MC. It was as late as 13th August 1918 that a new Royal Warrant extended the MM to both classes of warrant officer.

The potential for confusion existed, particularly the granting of MMs to both classes of warrant officers, and MCs to WO IIs. This, added to promotions/demotions or deaths between meritorious deed and award, and the complications of temporary and acting rank, undoubtedly made for some anomalous decorations.


An Indian version of King’s Regulations.


In 1918 a version of KRs was published by the Superintendent Government Printing, India which was in error. Claiming to incorporate all amendments up to 31st December 1917 it failed to acknowledge the existence of any class II warrant officers. Except as an historical curiosity this version can be disregarded.


Pay Rise.


Late in 1917 came a modest rise in the pay of all NCOs and warrant officers of 3d per day, plus other small improvements (Royal Warrant issued as an Army Order of 4th December). It should be noted that there were many ways for warrant officers to obtain extra pay: “working pay”, “engineer pay”, “flying pay”, a Headquarters staff post and several others.

There were minor changes in WO II appointment titles in AO 195 of 1918. There was no difference from 1914 in the top group precedence for WOs Class I, and those in this group were to rank with each other according to date of promotion or appointment. The order added a precedence list for WOs Class II, with the master gunner 3rd class at the head.


New Badge structure.


A few weeks before the Armistice of 11th November 1918 an Army Order (Annex 13) was published which defined the badges of Warrant Officer Classes I and II that were to be recognisable with only a few modifications for the next hundred years.  AO 309 allotted the royal arms in Wreath (new badge) to the Group (i) appointments; the royal arms to all other Class I except the Bandmasters (special badge as hitherto). Class II retained the crown, but the RQMS and equivalent QM appointments were to be distinguished by a crown in wreath. This reinstated a recognition of the unique role of the pre-1915 quartermaster-sergeant (rank) soldier appointed as “Regimental” in contrast to a QMS appointed as Orderly Room Clerk. Warrant officers retained “trade” distinction additional badges as previously.


Cavalry Complications.


In addition to the RA with its gun and the RE with the grenade badge, the cavalry were entitled to unique to regiment arm badges for NCOs and Warrant Officers The standard work on the subject is by Lineker and Dine, on which this section relies. Cavalry arm badges are a very complicated subject. They have been worn from early times, before the warrant officer introductions in 1881, and made in hallmarked silver or German silver or white metal. Some were valuable and had to last for at least 8 years. In 1914 that for the 17th Lancers (“the motto”) cost 12/8d, more than two day’s pay for junior wearers. In some regiments they were for substantive corporals and above, in others for sergeants and above. The crown worn by all ranks above trooper in both regiments of Household Cavalry is a regimental arm badge, not ranking.

Many Yeomanry regiments distinguished their warrant officers and SNCOs differently from the regulars. The distinctions are too complex to pursue here. A useful source is by David J. Knight. He offers possible but not conclusive evidence of warrant officers as Quartermasters of Yeomanry before 1881.




The badges of rank and appointment of junior Non-Commissioned-Officers (NCOs) of the Foot Guards in the Great War.


For the purpose of these notes “junior” is taken to mean below full sergeant rank, otherwise known as gold sergeant. The first step up from Private (“Guardsman” status was introduced immediately after the war) was a large and risky one. Lance-corporals (LCpls) had no security in their appointment, in that their substantive rank remained Private and they could be reverted at the stroke of the Commanding Officer’s pen. A battalion was established for 49 LCpls. They were forbidden to associate with privates and were expected to fill corporals' (Cpls) rôles.  Each unit was allowed a fixed number of “paid LCpls” who earned 3d per day extra over that of the Private. The first advancement was usually to “unpaid LCpl”, who received all of the kicks and none of the ha’pence, as the saying went. Many reverted voluntarily, many were reduced as a result of misdemeanours. The paid posts were regulated by Army Council Instructions.


The Foot Guards had been anomalous regarding an appointment badge for LCpls since about 1882. Regulations required the badge to be a single white worsted double lace chevron on the blue facing colour, worn on the upper right arm.

Dawnay records a photograph of that date showing a soldier of the Grenadiers with the single chevron. He adds that there was a grenade above, but makes no comment on the other two regiments. There seems to be no logical need for the grenade (no other NCO except the pioneer sergeant wore one in scarlet tunic order) unless to mark “paid” status.


The Grenadiers in white drill order wore the grenade above two chevrons, three chevrons and as part of the colour sergeant badge.



By 1887 LCpls of Foot Guards were ordered to wear two chevrons, exactly the same as full Cpls. Dawnay avoids speculation on the rôle of the Sovereign in ordering this change.

To be made a Cpl was a promotion, to be senior to all privates and LCpls. Promotions could be substantive or acting (“local” was used interchangeably with “acting”). It was possible to be made a Cpl without ever having been a LCpl, and this was frequently the case in war. Substantive ranks could not be lost without administrative action. The Cpls’ badge was the same two chevrons as their juniors. At first sight strange, this was not entirely illogical, as both did the same jobs …….. there were never enough Cpls in any case. Both were referred to as corporal by all ranks.

Just as a unit was allowed privates to be appointed unpaid or paid LCpls, so was it allowed to appoint Cpls as unpaid or paid lance-sergeants (LSgts). A battalion was established for eight. The number of paid posts, which earned an extra 5d per day above Cpls’ pay, was regulated. Both LSgt appointments wore three white double lace chevrons, both were senior to all Cpls, and both did duty as sergeants.


Drab Service Dress {SD) from 1902.

Rank and appointment badges were ordered to be worn on both arms in SD, a sensible decision for active service. Scarlet tunics and their badges were retained until the declaration of war in 1914. The Coldstream and the Scots Guards, and the new Irish, transferred their badge system to SD with a minimum of fuss, so that a LCpl, whether unpaid or paid, wore two drab worsted chevrons, a full Cpl the same, a full Cpl appointed  LSgt three chevrons, and a full sergeant the same.


The Grenadier Guards chose to be different. No useful record of this appears to be in the public domain. Neither Dawnay, Walton, Barthorp nor other distinguished authors appear to have ventured to write about the introduction of the grenade as a SD rank distinction. The searchable index of the Military History Society database reveals nothing. It is not even certain if the addition of the grenade was made when SD was introduced, or later, or piecemeal. It does not appear to have been publicly funded or acknowledged in the early years. Neither Clothing Regulations nor Priced Vocabularies mention the matter of worsted grenades for SD before the Great War.

The grenade appeared above two chevrons, above three chevrons, and as part of the colour sergeants’ badge (exactly the same as the white drill jacket).  If the Grenadiers adopted it, why did not the other three regiments do similarly: each had a perfectly good regimental emblem to use, already worn by their pioneers? This article can shine no light on the matter.


The use of the grenade badge to amplify rank or appointment.

First a note on Good Conduct Badges (GCBs). These badges had each attracted 1d each per day, but the payments, but not wearing, were being phased out after 1906 when Proficiency Pay was introduced. Full corporals and above were deemed to be of good conduct by definition. They were not to wear GCBs. Thus, unless the Guards uncharacteristically and systematically broke the rules, the wearing of these badges should be by LCpls or below.


In the period of the Great War NCOs of the Grenadier Guards were photographed wearing the following badge combinations:


1.     Two chevrons, no grenade

2.     Two chevrons with grenade above, and GCBs

3.     Two chevrons with grenade above, no GCBs

4.     Three chevrons, no grenade, no GCBs

5.     Three chevrons with grenade above, no GCBs.


The photographs are placed in order at the foot of the blog


What might these distinctions signify? What is the order of precedence and what were the titles of the ranks and appointments? Assuming analogy with full dress, soldiers 1, 2 and 3, numbering from the left, are corporals of sorts, whereas 4 and 5 are sergeants. Soldier 2 wears GCBs, forbidden for full corporals, therefore he appears to be a LCpl, either unpaid or paid. Photographs of soldiers with this combination of badges are abundant. As collateral for LCpl recognition a commissioned portrait (The Grenadier Guards, Hanning), of soldier 6, in order below shows another example and this man is captioned as a lance-corporal.

Is soldier 1, Ernest Bailey in 1914, senior to, or junior to, the LCpls? We have a photograph, soldier 3, taken in 1916 showing Bailey with two chevrons and grenade above, so soldier 1 is almost certainly junior to the men identified as LCpls but is somehow senior to a Private. In turn, number 3. might be a full corporal (no GCBs), but we cannot be certain, because GCBs were lost for very minor misdemeanours. As in scarlet tunic order, so LCpls and Cpls in service dress are virtually indistinguishable from each other.


Acting Rank.


When war broke out there was an immediate problem in that reservists (who frequently made up half of war establishments) automatically retained their previous substantive rank on recall. Units found that they had many more corporals and sergeants than allowed, so that there could be no substantive promotions until all the reservist NCOs were assimilated. Nevertheless the expansion of the army demanded that extra NCOs were needed to train the New Armies. The solution was to appoint Acting ranks, with no job security such that when they were drafted to the Front they reverted to their lower substantive rank unless there was a vacancy. Soldier 1., Ernest Bailey, who is by his badge and his future career progression apparently junior to the grenade-badged LCpls, may have been Acting because his unit has its full establishment of 49 LCpls in the grade and needed more.


King’s Regulations 1912 amended to 1st August 1914, paragraph 294 refer:

The establishment of lance-sergeants, lance-corporals and acting-bombardiers is laid down in Peace Establisments  Part I. [Ed: and War Establishments]

Brigade commanders are authorised in cases of necessity to sanction the temporary appointment, in excess of the establishment, of a small number of unpaid lance-sergeants, lance-corporals and acting bombardiers.


Army Council Instruction 2105 of 1916 was one of several that returned to the subject, reminding Commanding Officers that:

The appointment will be given up as soon as the holder ceases to perform the specific duties for which the appointment was given.


The absence of a grenade badge signifies Bailey’s lowly Acting status; he performed extra duties for no extra pay. His career prospered and he died in 1918 as a substantice corporal, a lance-sergeant in the regiment.


The Sergeants.

Turning to the sergeants, soldier 7 in order below is identified as Lance-Sergeant Henderson (The Grenadier Guards), complete with three chevrons and a grenade. Given that the grenade is a much-prized artefact of the regiment, bestowed in 1815, it surely marks seniority over no grenade. This implies that soldier 4, with three chevrons but no grenade,  is junior to a lance-sergeant. He may therefor be an Acting unpaid Lance-Sergeant under KR 1912 , awaiting a vacancy on the Establishment, by analogy with Bailey. He may not even have attained any previous rank at all, because the exigencies of war made for extreme cases.

We are left with several questions unanswered, among them:


a.     When did the Grenadiers begin to use the grenade for rank distinctions in SD?

b.     Was it authorised?

c.      What were the rank/appointment titles, especially regarding Acting status?


I am greatly indebted to Frogsmile, who, on the British Badge Forum, has done the hard yards of research and finding illustrations. 

In addition to those references mentioned above, I consulted Brigade of Guards Standing Orders over the relevant period, and those for the Grenadier Guards.


On or before Brigade Standing Orders 1952 were issued, all substantive corporals were made lance-sergeants and admitted to the Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess, thus abolishing the title (but not the pay) of Cpl..




Chapter 7.


The Post-War years.

Other than for the regular army, our information is scanty. In general, stars, usually of five points have been used for a wide variety of purposes such as Tank Corps First Class Driver worn above the tank badge right upper arm (Priced Vocab 1923) and then by Driver Mechanics, corporal and above, finally all Drivers (ACI 164/1950). The four-point star was used for a variety of purposes, most recently for Cadet Forces, and even as a half badge version.


Good Conduct Badges.


GCBs at last came officially into line with what had become the practice of allowing veterans to sport more than the regulation six. The Royal Warrant (RW) of 1923 added one for every further five years, and this continued until 1945 at least, according to RW 1940 amended to 1945.


Major change to GCB conditions.


Queen’s Regulations 1961 paragraph 1086, issued as National Service was ending, awarded badges after 2 ½ years, 5, 10, 15, 20 etc without an upper limit. There has been no change since then to date, but there was a lack of enthusiasm to wear them after about 1970, both by units and by the soldiers themselves. In an all-professional army, good conduct was assumed, and to sport badges rather than rank was seen as stigmatising by some. The badges still appear in current Dress Regulations but they are in fact rarely seen. The Gurkhas wear them, but Household troops ceased to do so over a period in the 1980s. The regiments report (Private correspondence with regimental adjutants) that they mark the Home Service tunics permanently such that they cannot be re-issued, an important consideration in thrifty times.


A rather Grumpy LCpl Dutchy Pierce, who ended hi days as a Chelsea Pensioner.


and other soldiers who had to drink their pints with the right arm.











Chapter 6


1914 to 1919, The Great War


The first major uniform change to concern this article is the virtual abolition of full dress and the stars, stripes and chevrons adorning it. With it went the various undress frocks and equivalents. The surviving uses post-war were almost entirely by Household units and regimental bands.

To bring units to full War Establishment the regular army depended heavily on recalled reservists. Very soon it had to use the Special Reservists. The Foot Guards were even more dependant on recalled men as their Terms of Engagement were three years with the colours and nine with the reserve. The SR and the New Armies were now officially part of the regular army. The TF were different, with some minor eccentricities regarding stars.


Chevrons and Stars


Regulars went to war with their existing GCBs. Bandsmen, often very long-serving, deployed as stretcher bearers, and we can reasonably expect that among them would be veterans with the full six-bar set. This cost 8 ¼ d according to Clothing Regulations 1913. GCBs and medal ribbons were not provided for the greatcoat, a cause of some annoyance to veterans, indistinguishable from middle-aged hostilities-only men. The SR and the New Armies would have none. Five-point stars for distance judging could be seen on right cuffs, together with stars augmenting grades of skill-at-arms badges on the left cuff. These latter were to be worn above any GCBs. The TF had their five-point stars for each four-year efficiency period, but the lozenges and four-point stars had disappeared with the disbanding of the VF in 1908.

Precedent for granting a GCB after two years embodied service of auxiliaries had been set for the Militia in the Boer War, so in 1916 Instruction 1582 introduced them for the TF.  The SR and the New Armies were entitled by virtue of their regular army status. Men who went on active service very soon after declaration could even qualify for a second badge at five years, just in time for demobilisation or disembodiment. There were no changes in GCB qualifying periods.

All TF soldiers were officially junior to those of the same nominal rank in the SR, who in turn were junior to regulars. This led to great awkwardness and was rescinded soon. We have little doubt that four-year efficiency stars, unique to the ill-regarded TF, quietly disappeared from many right cuffs in 1914 and 1915. As an aside, in the Second World War the V. badge of the RAFVR tended to disappear for much the same reason.

A few stars appeared as part of Divisional badges, and notably the big white five-point star worn by the North Russia Expedition of 1918-1919.




North Russia GMGR group 1919 with white star and the exceptionally rare GMGR cap badge.



Militia with GCB: Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Militia



TF with GCB: Arthur Pitt 46th (1/1st Wessex) CCS RAMC


Illustrations To Follow:

Greatcoat on Royal Artillery man who might be either a Paid or Unpaid Acting Bombardier.... lance appointment, an Acting Full Bombardier or a Bombardier. In the first two cases he could have GCBs under the coat.

 TF with GCB: 2303 Pte Cecil Cottis 1/4th Essex Regt, renumbered 35066



1908 to Declaration of War 1914.

Regular Army

The Terms of Engagement for infantry remained seven years with the colours and five on the First-Class Army Reserve (other arms differed slightly, and the Brigade of Guards greatly so), but there was substantial flexibility for the army and the individual. Reserve service (usually Section B) provided half pay, and in difficult times many men extended liability for further periods of four years in Section D. Reserve service did not attract GCBs, but the individual retained existing ones if recalled to the colours. GCB pay, but not the badges, had ceased for many, being replaced by arm of service proficiency pay. Soldiers who had chosen reserved rights and continued with service pay continued to receive GCB pay for a short while. The six periods remained unchanged; some units allowed soldiers to add more, but not according to the book. Five-point stars continued for distance judging and had also cropped up over a long period denoting various levels of skills-at-arms, such as over crossed rifles and crossed swords.

The Militia.

The experience of the Boer War had demonstrated that the auxiliary forces, however valiant their contribution, had not been fit for purpose, leading to widespread reform. A reserve was needed capable of rapid reinforcement of an Expeditionary Force, equipped accordingly and tolerably well-trained. It is a simplification to say that the Militia became the Special Reserve (SR) in April 1908 because some individual units merged or ceased to exist, and individual militiamen had no obligation to enlist. Nevertheless, for practical purposes the militiamen on existing terms who did not volunteer for the SR were allowed to wither on the vine.

The SR.

Initial training was for six months or so. In each unit there was a substantial cadre of regular soldiers of all ranks, the junior ones sporting their GCBs and stars in regulation fashion. Special Reservists could not qualify. It is possible that they could earn the distance judging star, but no regulation has been traced.

The Volunteer Force.

As with the Militia, the VF ceased to exist in April 1908. Volunteers were invited to join newly constituted units of the Territorial Force (TF) whose prime responsibility was home defence.

The TF.

Regulations for the TF were published on 1st July 1908. Drab SD was compulsory, and as a second garment, units could choose the frock (or equivalent) or the full-dress tunic. The regulations heralded a major change in the various badges under consideration. There was to be no lozenge or any other badge for annual efficiency. The five-point star for continued efficiency was to be worn as hitherto, but qualification was reduced to four years. (paragraph 557). As an aside, one expects that if VF men transitioned virtually seamlessly into the TF they would be allowed to retain their existing badges at least until the old uniform wore out.

Subsequent issues in 1910 and 1912 were unchanged.


The Officer Training Corps (OTC)

Founded under the same innovations as the SR and the TF, the corps was designed to produce partly trained young officers for the army in time of war. There was a senior and junior division, the former essentially based on universities, the latter on Public Schools. We do not have their clothing regulations. They were dressed in SD. The OTC was a rationalisation of the existing (since 1860 in some cases) units. Haldane’s intention had been that a substantial number of OTC men would be commissioned in the SR or the TF on leaving school or university but by 1912 of the 18,000 or so who had completed their service in the OTC only 283 had joined the Special Reserve. Cadets were trained towards one of two qualifications: Certificate A, to fit them for promotion from second lieutenant to lieutenant in the TF [16% attained this certificate], signified by a red four-pointed star of the existing design on the upper right arm; Certificate B, to fit them for further promotion to TF captain, a gold four-pointed star (only 2%). AO 100 of 1908 refers.

Lord Reith, of subsequent BBC fame, was proud to qualify for the gold star in his youth.

Past membership of an OTC also had some benefit in the SR: efficient membership shortened probationary training to six months, Certificate A to five months and B to three months.


Members occasionally wore, probably outside regulations, the lozenge badge of the defunct VF. We do not know what it signified, but probably efficiency as previously in the VF.



OCF Gold Star






OCF Red Star


image.png.7fc47607b2996b35a814c113683be84b.png           image.png.c43983c3348479d897136813e2335d95.png



OCF Red Star                  London University OCF 1910 with lozenge.



Cavalry Scout, Mess Kit,  Distance Judging         



1st Devonshire c. 1908, crossed rifles with star as best shot in company, crossed rifles in wreath crown above for best SNCO shot in battalion, crossed rifles and star as SNCO of best shooting company




Irish Guards bandsman with five GCB.






Chapter 4.

1902 to 1908.

The Royal Army Clothing Department ledgers show that preparations were well in hand to supply worsted badges for the new Drab (often called Khaki) Service Dress (SD) introduced by Army Order 8 of 1902. The only unpreparedness was for headdress, not the fault of the RACD because policy was very confused for a few years after the Boer War. (There was a move towards gilding metal badges from 1907 but that need not concern this narrative). Chevrons for SD were identical to rank badges, and made up as singles, twos, threes and fours, in contrast to the gold on scarlet, and gold on blue, in multiples of up to six (Priced Vocab of 1907).



In 1902 the regular army had GCBs on the left sleeve, with 1d per chevron per day, for soldiers below full corporal and equivalent (Household Cavalry excepted); the Militia had Re-Enlistment badges worn similarly, with no financial benefit other than the Bounty; the Volunteer Force had Efficiency lozenges, also five-year, five-point stars, and SNCO Proficiency four-point stars, all worn on the right arm. Regular soldiers such as drummers attached to auxiliary forces continued to wear any badges earned, a point to note when considering Militia photographs.

The Royal Pay Warrant of 1893 had clarified the matter of GCBs for reserve service: there were to be none accrued, but a soldier recalled to, or rejoining, the colours was allowed to wear his old badges. This remained unchanged for many years.

Junior ranks of the Royal Army Medical Corps continued to be eligible for “dull cherry” rings on the right cuff, one to denote 2nd Class Orderly, two for 1st Class. They had been ordered for tunics in Clothing Regs 1881, and were retained for SD (and indeed Khaki Drill) although rarely seen in photographs.


Distance Judging.

A slight complication arose when Army Order 115 of 1902 introduced Distance Judging badges for regular infantry, cavalry and engineers. This and other musketry-related awards appears to have been driven by poor experiences in the Boer War. Unfortunately the emblem chosen was a five-point star, apparently the fall-back option whenever a new badge was needed for the next 100 years. It attracted no extra pay and was worn on the right cuff.


All Change.

In 1906 the Royal Pay Warrant (RACD), paragraph 1085, made the first change to GCB qualification periods for many years: the second badge was now for five years, not six. NCOs reduced to the ranks were allowed to retain all their badges actually and notionally accrued. More importantly, the regular army was embracing professionalism by phasing out pay rises for length of service - “Service Pay”, and introducing “Proficiency Pay”, tuned to the arm of service primary task. For the infantry, this included fitness to march fully equipped, and musketry. Consequently GCBs lost their penny pay rise for ever, except in “Native” corps. There is ample photographic evidence that the unofficial practice of wearing more than the theoretical maximum of six badges blossomed around this time. The four-bar cost 5d in 1907. GCBs (and many other badges) were not supposed to be worn on the greatcoat.


 The Militia.

Many militiamen served in the Boer War, and Militia Regulations 1904, paragraph 456 et seq awarded GCBs and pay to continue for those qualified after their return to peacetime soldiering. Usually only one badge could have been earned in the time available. The regulations are mute on the subject of the identical re-enlistment badges, creating a problem that was resolved in theory by an RACD entry of 3rd June 1907 which specified a small four-point star on the right cuff for each re-enlistment. Events overtook the badge when the Militia ceased to exist as such in April 1908. Unsurprisingly we have no photographs confirming the badge entering service. This badge later soldiered on for the Officer Cadet Force from 1908.


The Volunteer Force.

Many regiments had raised Volunteer Companies to be integrated in regular units in the Boer War. It is highly likely that they would have been awarded a GCB if on active service for the minimum qualifying period of two years. No order has been traced, and Volunteer Regulations 1901 are the last that we hold. These regulations retained all the three badges and their qualifications described in Chapter 3.




Buffs Regimental Police, GCB, Marksman and Distance Judging; RAMC 1st Class Orderly with two GCB



Buffs Regimental Police, GCB, Marksman and Distance Judging


Chapter 3.

General note.

Many of the illustrations are taken from GWF threads, and many of the identifications owe much to the knowledge and diligence of members. Nevertheless, any mistakes are ours and we welcome corrections.

Regulars from 1860.

The Good Conduct Badge (GCB) qualification periods changed to 3, 8, 13, 18, 23 and 28 years in 1860 (Circular 629) and the badges were called “rings” until 1866, when “stripe” was used in the Royal Warrant. Terms of Engagement became six years with the colours and six with the reserve in 1870 and GCB periods fell into line at 2, 6, 12, 18*, 23*, 28*, with acceleration by two years possible for (*) periods. A comparatively undocumented other incentive was offered to soldiers serving overseas. From time to time manning was smoothed and adjusted by inducements such as offering an early move to the reserve or temporary changes to length of engagement.

Militia badges.

There is a big void in available Militia Regulations until 1880, although earlier editions such as 1874 were issued. Militiamen are not readily identifiable as such unless illustrations are captioned, or unless there are clear depictions of unit badges. Sometimes context can help. The difficulty arises from the fact that their clothing was very similar to that of the regulars, unlike the Volunteer Force.

Here are the only three of which we are certain.




Details from 3rd Militia Battalion, Northamptonshires c. 1904

From a periodical, 1896, a mix of units but three chevrons and a “3” shoulder title


In the 1880 Regulations Militiamen were enlisted for six years and could opt to re-engage for a further four years (paragraph 128 et seq). Provided they fulfilled the age criteria this could be repeated. Re-enlistment was also permitted. The badges were called “Re-enlistment stripes” but from context they were also awarded for re-engagement. They were to be worn on the right cuff for each new commitment. Thus they could be earned after six, ten, fourteen years and so forth. Paragraph 952 does not describe the stripes, nor allow the award for re-enlistment, but this changed subsequently. It will be noted that regular soldiers also wore their GCBs on the right cuff until 1881.

1881 and all change.

Not least among the reforms culminating in 1881 was the positioning of chevrons. Badges of rank for regulars and auxiliaries were to be confined to the right arm, those of four chevrons (the most senior staff sergeants) were to be on the lower sleeve, points upwards. At the same time, all GCBs and re-enlistment badges had to move to the left cuff or risk, for example, an 18 year service private soldier being mistaken for a quartermaster sergeant. Terms of Engagement changed in 1881 to seven and five, and the GCB qualifications remained unchanged. Substantive corporals lost good conduct badges at the same time. Since 1878 NCOs reduced to the ranks could wear their notionally earned GCBs minus one badge. This continued all the way to 1900.

Chevrons were generally supplied as singles, pairs, threes, and fours, such as these Guards Pattern scarlet Home Service Tunic versions.

Royal Marine Artillery and Light Infantry followed army regulations for the badges.








Hussar pre- 1881 GCB right cuff

50th Regiment band corporal pre- 1881

1866. Private and corporal, the latter with three chevrons denoting at least 13 years service





Pre-1881 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteers tunic on QM sergeant with full panoply of stars and lozenge



Bandsman, Marksman, Berkshire Regiment. c. 1883 


Seaforth Highlander 1890





RA Trumpeter, Gunnery Prize, nine-button frock.

Long serving soldier of the Queen c. 1900

And a very long server: R. Inn. Fusiliers 1897, Tirah, LCpl 2293 Dutchy Pierce with one GCB more than regulation.





LCpl Pioneer, 2nd RWF c. 1902 wearing optional blue patrol jacket

Scots Guards Drummer showing unique Brigade inversion of chevrons

LCpl J Bricknell, Pte W Tector c. 1902 Green Howards



The Volunteer Force (VF) from 1879.

As the year began the VF had the cuff ring to denote annual efficient service for all ranks, and a four-point star for proficient sergeants. Army Circular Clause 37 was issued in February which introduced a lozenge shape for annual efficiency, and a five-point star for five years efficient service. The award of these new badges was apparently back dated. The badges were for the right cuff, with the lozenge below any stars. There was considerable freedom in the colour of the lozenge, the star was to be of the colour of the cuff knot design. Senior soldiers often decided not to wear the lozenge if they had a large number of stars ……. seven were not unknown. There were rules on positioning various multiples, rarely observed.

The badge to denote proficient and certificated senior NCOs was ordered to be worn above all other badges. This was not always adhered to: some colour sergeants preferred the crown to be uppermost.




Colour Sergeant Bell, 1902. Badges correctly worn.

Cambridgeshire VR, Proficiency badge in non-standard position

Royal Artillery QMS





Dorset IY c. 1903 with seven-point non-standard efficiency stars

Shropshire Light Infantry, six stars.

Black Watch c. 1903, seven stars, no lozenge, proficiency badge above rank


Efficient sappers of the RE Submarine Miners and Electrical Engineers sported a special grenade badge to denote efficiency (VR 1891).




RE Electrical Engineer Sapper with grenade efficiency and star

RE Submarine Miner, Piper, Tyne Division, c. 1900, with grenade efficiency

Royal Marine Light Infantry c. 1904, five GCB.



Chapter 4 will take the account on from 1902 and the introduction of service dress.



Stars, Stripes and Chevrons Chapter 2

Chapter 2


Good Conduct Badges.


The piecemeal adoption of conduct badges by regiments was regularised by a Royal Warrant of 18th August 1836, followed by a Circular Letter of 1st September, and by GO 526 of 10th October. The latter specified wear on the right arm, and a Circular Memorandum of 3rd January 1837 ordered “immediately above the cuff, the centre point uppermost”, with a pattern sealed for universal use. They were clearly simple heraldic chevrons in the correct sense. Good conduct would be rewarded throughout the regular army for all corporals and below with a “mark of distinction” and 1d per day for each seven year period up to a total of four badges and 4d..


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King’s Regulations 1837 refer to distinguishing marks but with no description. Queen Victoria, new to the throne, issued a further warrant in 1839 which made no significant changes to badges or pay The qualifying periods remained unchanged in 1844, according to a soldier’s Account Book (MHS) but had changed by 1848 to become 5, 10, 15, 20*, 25* and 30* years. The change was linked to new terms of engagement in 1847, whereby the initial period became 10 years with option to serve to pension at 21 years (Victorian army at Home, JR Skelley). The asterisked periods (*) denote that a very well conducted soldier could qualify two years early in each instance. Waterloo service from 1815 counted for two years, and in the West Indies two years counted as three. The material of the badges clearly differed between arms of service: those for corporals of Light Dragoons cost 1/-, of Heavy Dragoons 9d, cavalry other ranks 3d, and infantry 2d. Other arms were not specified.


It is worth underlining the fact that Sovereign’s Regulations and Pay Warrants were essentially playing catch-up by recording and summarising earlier decisions and innovations. Complete records of interim Orders are very difficult to find as they were essentially ephemeral.


The Standing Orders of the 53rd Regiment, then in India in 1851, leave no doubt that the “Ring Men” were privileged. Whereas the original design of the badge was a chevron, the use of “Ring” here, and in soldiers’ documents of 1853 (Corps of Armourers) and 1857 (6th Foot) suggests that a change had taken place. “Ring” is clearly circular, “chevron” is clearly not, and this usage persists until at least 1864 (41st Foot). Contemporary illustrations show variations such as Highland veterans of the Crimean War who appear to have curved conduct chevrons. Perhaps the chevron continued all the way round the cuff, or perhaps custom varied from regiment to regiment.  




Volunteer Rifle Corps and the Volunteer Force.

From 1859 the new Volunteer Rifle Corps movement introduced a complication. Locally raised units were formed under the auspices of county lord-lieutenants amid fears of French invasion. The first surviving central regulations of 1861 do not describe distinctive badges, but those of 1863 introduce a ring of silver lace, ¾ inch wide, on the cuff of the right sleeve for “efficient” members of the corps (Regulations for the Volunteer Force 1863 paragraph 67). Illustrations of soldiers wearing a cuff ring from this date might be of regular soldiers or volunteers.


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No ranking visible.


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Artillery Staff Sergeant with six point star.



Sergeant, ex-regular with campaign medals.



Stars appear.

There is now an unfortunate gap in the accessible Volunteer record until 1878. In addition to the ring badge for efficient soldiers (the qualification was based on attendance for “drills”) Volunteer Force Regulations 1878 paragraph 665 et seq) added that sergeants passed as “proficient” were to wear a star over the chevrons on the right arm, and over the crown if worn. The regulation did not define “proficient”. The star was to be of four points, but other shapes exist, notably six-point stars for some artillery.  It is considered highly likely that “the stars came out” over a period substantially earlier than 1878. See, for example, the Rifles sergeant illustrated, with an eight-point badge.


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Sergeant of Rifles with musketry badge, also an eight-point star over chevrons.


Chevrons on both sleeves.

Fusilier, Highland and Light Infantry regular soldiers enjoyed the privilege of wearing ranking on both arms, and in the 1870s some wore good conduct badges similarly. 

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Corporal, 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1868 pattern tunic and Pioneer, Northumberland Fusiliers, c1872



The Militia do not appear to have adopted any of the various badges described in this article until about 1880, and then for a different purpose. Militiamen were a good source of recruitment for the regular army and augmented them in times of war, whereby each man attracted a massive ten guinea bounty when enlisting for seven years. In the Napoleonic Wars substantial recourse was made to the Militia: 15,595 men in 1804, a similar figure in 1807 and double the number in 1811 (The Constitutional Force. GJ Hay).  Militia re-enlistment and re-engagement badges will be described in the third article.

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