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Stars, Stripes and Chevrons

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  • Muerrisch 9

Stars, Stripes and Chevrons Chapter 3



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.



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