Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Muerrsich's facts



I recently opened my fat box-file entitled: Miscellaneous.

It had not been touched these last few years, and contains material that I harvested as scans, from Cambridge University Library and from various military magazines such as Soldier and Military Modelling.


The focus is on the period 1900 to 1920.


I will concentrate on facts and quote references: there is too much waffle regarding "this is the way it would have been 110 years ago" The truth is out there: the Victorians and Edwardians were meticulous book-keepers. The Blog is dedicated to the memory of a fact-finder par excellence, the late Martin Gillott.


  • I am currently working on the grey area of Good Conduct Badges for young soldiers, and can at last believe that I understand the matter. This will be the first offering on the blog.
  • Next in line will be the changes in extra pay in the period 1900 to 1910: Service Pay, Proficiency Pay, and extras for signalling and musketry prowess. I have, for example, the flow diagram [algorithm in modern terms] to help pay clerks decide who got what.
  • Engineer Pay is a very difficult subject: the rules appear to have reached us having been translated through Polish and Mandarin. These I will write a simplified guide to.



Fact File 1.





The general subject of Good Conduct Badges (GCBs) was covered in my article for the Military Historical Society in Bulletin 229, August 2007, subsequently expanded by Philip Haythornthwaite in Bulletin 230. One aspect not addressed was badges for young soldiers, and these notes attempt to fill the gaps. The various regulations use the words “Boy” and “Lad” without distinguishing between them.  King’s Regulations (KR) 1837 page 463 stated that no Boy was eligible for enlistment under the age of 14 years except under very special circumstances. That absolute limit appears to have been adhered to for many years to come. All applications for authority to enlist Boys were to be accompanied by a statement showing the number of Boys or Lads actually on the strength, not bearing arms, specifying in what manner they were employed. Queen’s Regulations (QR) 1844 repeated this.

A note of caution is needed regarding interpreting the authorities quoted. Warrants and Sovereign’s Regulations played a catching-up role for orders issued since the previous edition. Wikipedia has been used as a source for some post-Great War arrangements for enlisting and training young soldiers. The matter, although probably relevant, is beyond my library. Summarised Wikipedia material is italicised thus.

To avoid tedious footnoting all references are included in the relevant text.


Early Badges for soldiers.

Regimental (as opposed to army-wide) distinctions for well-behaved soldiers had been introduced by, among others, the Rifle Corps, then the 85th, followed in turn by the 35th, 72nd and 79th regiments between 1800 and 1835.  The Royal Warrant (RW) introducing army GCBs with financial incentives was issued by King William IV on 18th September 1836 and made no distinction between “Soldier” and young soldier. A soldier was officially as old as he said he was or had been accepted as such. Birth Certificates did not exist. The official GCB was a chevron, point up, to be worn on the lower right arm, and official patterns were sealed by 3rd January 1837.  A Warrant of the new Queen Victoria of 1839 defined the periods and awards as 7, 14, 21 and 28 years, each worth 1d per day. These periods were tied to the historical Terms of Engagement whereby a recruit signed either for “Life” or “Limited Service”, the latter being seven years with optional seven-year extensions.

The RW of 1848 gave the prices of distinguishing marks, with considerable price variations: Light Dragoons corporal marks were 1/- each, Heavy Dragoons corporals 9d, cavalry other ranks 3d, and infantry 2d. There was no specific mention of “boys” “lads” or “young soldiers”, but “…. the service may include former service in all ranks after the age of 18 years”, thus seemingly disqualifying young soldier service for those who had enlisted as such. Enlistment had been changed to ten years, and the GCB periods had been amended to 5, 10, 15, 20*, 25* and 30* years, awarded two years earlier for continuous qualification for the periods asterisked above thus (*). The regulations appear to have been applied rigorously, and always annotated on soldiers’ records in red ink. For example Private William Harrison, of the 105th regiment, was initially listed as “under age” for a month in 1846, that short period not being counted towards his GCB service.

War Office Regulations 1848 were informative. Boys were to be paid 10d per day “until they reach the age of 15 Years”. The implication is that they then went on the Privates’ pay of 1/-.  which, if true, is surprising. In a separate section, describing Levy Money, mention is made of “growing lads if under 19 years of age” for cavalry, and “under 18 years” for infantry.

The GCB was officially a “distinguishing mark” and from about 1850 to 1865 it was frequently referred to as a “ring”, suggesting that the pointed chevron GCBs were not universally issued.  The Standing Orders of the 53rd regiment in 1851 noted that promotions to corporal were to be from “Ring Men”, who also enjoyed substantial privileges. Whether or not proper chevrons were described as rings is not clear: Veterans returned from the Crimea appeared in portraits with genuine chevrons.

In 1860, by War Office Circular 629, GCB periods were altered to 3, 8, 13, 18*, 23* and 28* years, without specific mention of young soldiers, but among those eligible were trumpeters, drummers, fifers, buglers and pipers. It was often the case that young soldiers qualified in these appointments and were established: music provision depended on a steady stream becoming trained.  However, the RW of 1860 limited GCB qualification periods to service after attaining the age of 18 years, so the position of young appointed “musicians” regarding badges and pay at that time is open to interpretation.


The mid-Victorian era.

In the 1860s a further complication arose: the newly formed Volunteer Force {VF} adopted rings as awards for annual efficiency (Volunteer Force Regulations 1863) to be worn on the right cuff, and these were undoubtedly plain silver braid or cloth rings. Portraits of young VF drummers and buglers exist they could be mistaken for young regulars with ring-type GCBs if it were not for other distinctive aspects of uniform. The use of “rings” as opposed to “badges” petered out in regular soldiers’ documents in this period, which may indicate that genuine chevrons were the norm.

There was a subtle improvement for young soldiers under RW 1870 if they had signed on under the Enlistment Acts of 1867 and 1870: their service from age 17 years became reckonable for GCBs and the associated pay. Regardless of the inherent confusions of the previous ten years, it was now possible for a soldier to receive his first GCB at age 19. Article 929 added that “Boys of 14 years of age and upwards specially enlisted under the Acts of 1867 and 1870 shall reckon only such portion of the service towards Good Conduct Pay as they may render after they shall have attained the age of 17 years”. The qualifying periods became 2, 6, 12, 18*, 23* and 28* years. In 1870 the Terms of Engagement were for 12 years, usually split into six with the colours and six on the reserve. Corporals (except those of Household Cavalry) still qualified, and periods for badges and pay remained unchanged. One feature of this era was the wearing of GCBs on both arms by Fusiliers, Light and Highland infantry who also were privileged to wear ranking on both sleeves. Thus corporals can be seen with eight or even more rank and GCB items on the uniform. RW 1878 amended nothing.


Major changes.

The Cardwell reforms were beginning, and substantial changes came into effect in 1881. Six years with the colours did not suit an army garrisoning the Empire: by the time a young recruit was fully trained, 20 years of age (the minimum) and shipped to India or south-east Asia, the clock on his useful time in post was ticking. Terms were therefore changed to seven with the colours and five on the reserve, with a specific clause to be able to enforce an extra (eighth) year overseas or in war. GCBs had to be moved to the left forearm to avoid confusion with some of the new rank badges, and all full ranks (corporals, bombardiers and second corporals) were excluded from benefiting. Young soldier service qualification for GCBs was not rigorously defined except (Article 918) a soldier enlisted after the 1879 Army Act “…. shall reckon all service with the Colours allowed to count towards discharge or transfer to the Reserve”. Terms of Engagement for Boys were confirmed in QR 1883. XIX. 20. as 12 years. By 1881, there would have been a substantial number of boys wearing the badges.

RW 1884: Article 918-I: “Boys enlisted before 25th July 1879 shall reckon service for GCBs from that date, irrespective of age.” Thus a 20-year-old could be sporting two badges, showing 6 years of service.

QR 1885. Section XIX. Part VI. gave great detail of the enlistment of boys. If of good character they were to be taken between 14 and 16 years for the purpose of being trained as trumpeters, drummers, buglers, musicians (sic) or tailors. Their numbers were allowed in excess of the unit establishments such that, for example, a Line infantry battalion could have four as tailors and a total of eight for the other appointments. If a boy showed as unlikely to have sufficient aptitude, he could be transferred to another of the appointments or trades. Parental or Guardian assent was necessary. There were special arrangements for enlistments Overseas and from the several Military Schools such as the Royal Hibernian. At age 18 all were to be taken off the roll of Boys.

By the time QR 1889 was published, Recruiting Regulations had become a separate document. As this chapter is only concerned with young soldiers qualifying for badges during their “boy” service, RWs 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893 and 1896 are unhelpful beyond stating that “all service with the Colours allowed towards discharge or transfer to the Army Reserve” qualified for GCBs. Recruiting Regulations 1900 clarified the matter: Article 1010: “all boys will be enlisted for 12 years with the colours” and could be recruited between age 14 and 16 with written consent of parents or guardian. They were to be trained as trumpeters, drummers, buglers, musicians, tailors, shoemakers, telegraphists Royal Engineers (RE), bricklayers RE, artificers Army Service Corps (ASC) and clerks ASC. There were special rules for enlisting the “children of the regiment” overseas.


To summarise thus far, since at least 1870 a young soldier aged 19 years might have one badge. From 1884 there was the real prospect of 16-year-olds with one badge and 20-year-olds with two.

Skelley (The Victorian Army at Home) tells us that, in 1890, 36% of soldiers eligible had a single badge, 10% had two, and 1% each with three and four.  

QR 1899 changed nothing but Article 728 noted that boys were not to be trained as musicians unless this could be done without detriment to the drums and bugles. Drummers and buglers were paid a penny per day more than bandsmen and were clearly deemed more important.

The Boer War 1899-1902 and subsequent manning problems led to the general Terms of Engagement for the army being frequently modified: for Line Infantry three years with the colours, nine years reserve in May 1902, changing to nine and three in November 1904, and reverting to seven and five in September 1906. In every case career soldiers could opt for 12 years colour service and ask for extensions beyond to serve for pension. The need to keep units in India at Establishment prompted occasional inducements to either extend or to pass early to the Reserve. Militiamen who had served in the Boer War were awarded the GCBs as Regulars, so that their young drummers and buglers might well have gained one badge.

The 1d per badge incentive was in the process of withdrawal from 1903 to 1906, as part of a substantial revision of pay and conditions. The Treasury gave with one hand and took away with the other. “Service Pay” which placed as much emphasis on length of service as on military prowess was replaced by “Proficiency Pay” which was a little more demanding.

Mobilization (sic) Regulations 1909 required soldiers to be 20 years old before going on active service, but young trumpeters, buglers and drummers might be sent at the discretion of the O.C. (sic) the unit and the medical officer. By the Mobilization Regulations of 1914, Article 163, the general age limit was 19 years except for cavalry (20 years), with the same age relaxations for trumpeters etc. No soldier officially younger than 18 years was to go Overseas from 21st February 1915: Army Council Instruction (ACI).

RW 1906 Article 1085 made another change to GCB qualifying periods: 2, 5, 12, 18*, 23* and 28* years, implying that some 19-year-olds who enlisted at age 14 became able to wear two badges. The Warrants of 1907, 1909 and 1913 made no alterations.


Recruiting Regulations 1912 amended to 31st August 1914 made slight changes to Boy recruiting, nine years with the colours and three on the reserve for clerks, bandsmen, trumpeters, drummers, buglers or pipers (this is the first mention of pipers) and twelve years for tailors, shoemakers and artificers (except the Royal Flying Corps, who had special terms).

RW 1914 (Article 1080) reiterated “A good-conduct badge shall be a high distinction conferred on a soldier under the rank of corporal, 2nd corporal or bombardier as a token of our Royal approbation of good conduct, and shall be marked by a chevron worn on the left arm. (References to non-European soldiers are here omitted for clarity and brevity). The badges were not to be worn on greatcoats. All colour service counted. Territorial Force (TF) men were granted the badges after two years Embodied as had been the Militia previously (ACI 1582 of 13th August 1916).  Again, some young TF soldiers would have benefited by a badge but not extra pay.

Army Order 367 of 1918 allowed badges beyond six for each successive five years, although in practice the rules had been occasionally flouted from late Victorian times. Apart from the cost of the badge and tailoring, no further expense was involved.

RW 1922 made no change except 2nd Corporal had disappeared (this Royal Engineers and Royal Army Ordnance Corps full rank having been abolished in 1920 by Army Order 142); all colour service was to be reckoned. Recruiting Regulations for the period have not been traced, so that defining Boy soldiers’ “Colour Service” becomes difficult. The RW of 1926 was not helpful, but that of 1931 (Article 1002) has “A soldier shall reckon towards the grant of good conduct badges all service with the colours allowed to reckon towards discharge. In the case of soldiers enlisted for 12 years’ service from the date of attaining the age of 18, unforfeited service prior to attaining that age shall also be reckoned towards the grant of good conduct badges”. Without certainty of recruiting terms, it is not possible to be sure of the effect other than that very young-looking soldiers could be wearing at least one badge.


Training Schools.

The army was preparing to move away from enlisting all boys directly into formed units such as cavalry regiments or infantry battalions. Wikipedia informs that a Boys Technical School was opened at Chepstow in 1924 and renamed Army Technical School (Boys). In the 1930s increasing numbers of schools for the more technical Corps and Departments were founded, such as Royal Artillery, Royal Army Ordnance Corps and Royal Engineers.

RW 1940, issued in March of that year contained Article 1024 confirming that the periods for badges were unchanged, so that very old soldiers could accrue around a dozen if they had been recruited very young and were retained into their late sixties. A few were. A footnoted Army Council Instruction stated “After attaining 18 years of age enlisted boys will be awarded or reassessed for badges on total service since enlistment, without regard for any punishment made before attaining 18 years of age.

In 1946 the 1940 RW was amended but made no material change regarding boy service.

Wikipedia tells us that a year later the army Christened four Army Apprentices Schools for artificers and tradesmen, adding Royal Signals and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers courses. The teeth-arm units continued to take boys as “musicians” or tailors. The schools were again renamed, this time as Army Apprentices Colleges, in 1966.

QR 1955 broke new ground: Article 422. (a):

A boy is enlisted into the Regular Army in one of three categories: -

(i)              For training as a bandsman, trumpeter, drummer, bugler or tailor; or

(ii)            As an apprentice tradesman; or

(iii)           A regimental boy for general duties.


National Service ends.

At some date before Queen’s Regulations 1961 the qualifying period for GCBs was radically changed. The end of National Service (conscription) for male adults was in sight. The first badge was to be at 2 ½ years, the second at 5, and subsequent ones at 5-year intervals. How this was to be applied to soldiers already in possession of several badges was not defined. Articles 1098 and 1099 were poorly drafted but the effect appeared to be that material offences during boy service obviated the award of a badge during that service period, but that after 18 years all punishments during boy service were written off. Regardless of Recruiting Regulations, very young soldiers could qualify for badges.

Good Conduct Badges continue to be described in current (2021) official publications but are now in reality virtually extinct. A few veterans with half an armful clung for a while to the privilege but otherwise GCBs appear to have become unpopular with soldiers in an all-professional army, as drawing attention to the lack of rank after several years of service. The Foot Guards ceased to apply the badges to the scarlet tunic in the 1980s because they marked the sleeve such that the tunic was not fit to be reissued (Correspondence with the regiments concerned). Contemporary evidence is scarce but the  badges may have been retained for No.2 Dress by the Foot Guards and the Gurkhas.


Current Dress Regulations include:

Good conduct chevrons are embroidered in gold, silver or black lace on a backing of the same colour as the jacket on which they are being worn. They are not worn on the backing colour of the regimental rank chevrons. They are worn on the left forearm only according to the regulations contained in this section.

Also: Good conduct chevrons are to be worn point uppermost on the left forearm of Full Dress tunics and Nos 1, 2, 3 and 6 Dress jackets. Each of the lower outer points of the lowest chevron is to be 10.16cm from the bottom of the sleeve. They are not to be worn with combat dress or working dress.


Finally, the accompanying illustrations show young soldiers with, and without, GCBs. There are also a few illustrations showing apprentices and current or recent wear. They are not captioned: anyone interested enough to have read this far will be able to extract value from them. I acknowledge particular help from Sepoy and Toby Brayley, and I acknowledge using some illustrations whose ownership I have lost sight of.


More and better illustrations would be welcomed please.


David Langley

March 2021










Picture 2.jpg

Edited by Muerrisch

1 Comment

Recommended Comments

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...