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Stars, Stripes and Chevrons

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  • Muerrisch 8

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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Chapter 3 is in the pipeline. It will contain the Militia re-engagement/enlistment chevrons and their regulations, and cover the period from 1881 towards the end of the century.

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