Army Rank Insignia
Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s)
The wearing of chevrons (stripes) by sergeants and corporals serving with regiments of foot (infantry) dates back to just before the outbreak of war between Britain and Napoleonic France in 1803. The chevrons were (and are) worn on both upper arms of the service dress and point downward. Little has changed in the number of chevrons worn by NCO’s; that is, sergeants wore three and corporals wore two.
A few years after the wearing of chevrons became common practice the position of lance-corporal was identified by the wearing of a single chevron. Around 1840, the lance-sergeant appeared and that position also wore the same three chevrons that a ranked sergeant wore. Originally, there were no ranks or grades such as lance corporal and lance sergeant, rather they were temporary appointments granted by a commanding officer to selected privates and corporals who were required to ‘act-up’ for additional responsibilities. Those positions could be taken away at any time and for any infraction of duty unlike ranked sergeants and corporals who could only be demoted through an order of a court martial. However, there were other branches of the service that used the single chevron to identify an established rank, such as the Royal Artillery, which had the rank of bombardier. The bombardier, and acting bombardier, were below the rank of corporal and wore a single chevron. Also, the Royal Engineers and Army Ordnance Corps both had the additional rank of second corporal within their establishments and they too wore a single chevron. In February 1918 the acting bombardier was renamed lance-bombardier and the bombardier gained a second chevron in 1920 when the rank of corporal in the RA was abolished. Second corporals of the RE and AOC also disappeared at that time.
When the army’s four-company establishment was introduced in 1914, the pre-Great War infantry rank of colour-sergeant was generally replaced by the company sergeant-major and the quartermaster-sergeant. Both of these ranks and equivalents in other arms all wore three chevrons and a crown until 1915 when Army Order No.70 changed their rank designation to Warrant Officer Class II and were required to wear a single large crown on each forearm. Additionally, regimental quartermaster-sergeants, who originally wore four chevrons on the lower sleeve pointing upwards to a star above also adopted the crown when they too became Warrant Officer Class II in 1915. In their case however, the crown was surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves.
Regimental sergeant-majors, who before the Boer War had worn four chevrons with a crown, were given the insignia of a single large crown on the lower arm in 1902. In 1915, they were re-designated as warrant officers class I and adopted a smaller version of the Royal arms in place of the large crown. There were also other certain senior grades of warrant officer that were peculiar to specialist army branches, which ranked above regimental sergeant-majors. They were the conductors of the Army Ordnance Corps and the first-class staff sergeant-majors of the Army Service Corps and the Army Pay Corps; up to 1918 they also wore a large crown surrounded by a wreath on the lower arm, but after was replaced by the Royal Arms within a wreath. The Royal Artillery also had its Master Gunners in three classes, but these were technical specialists and not normally seen in the field.
Note: Readers of contemporary Great War material may have noticed that the rank we know as Sergeant is often spelt 'Serjeant'; this was the 'official' spelling, even during and after the Second World War (though not in the RAF) and appeared in such publications as The King's Regulations and The Pay Warrant, which defined the various ranks. However, in common/every day usage the modern spelling 'Sergeant' became more usual, as for example; in the volumes of the Official History which began to appear in the 1920s.
Examples of First World War NCO chevron and badges.
Corporal & Bombardier (R.A. from 1920)
Lance-Corporal; Bombardier & Acting/Lance-Bombardier (R.A.); 2nd Corporal (R.E. & A.O.C.)
Warrant Officer Class II (Company) from 1915. The crown was worn above three chevrons before 1915 for Company Sergeant-Majors and Quartermaster-Sergeants
In the 17th and 18th centuries British officers' ranks were denoted by the amount of lace or other decoration on their uniforms. The familiar crossed sword and baton insignia of general officers was first introduced in 1800, but up to the time of the Crimean War (1853 - 1856), the different grades of general was only distinguished by the grouping of the buttons on their jackets. In 1810, insignia with crowns and stars (pips) was employed by field officers and later extended for use by captains and subaltern officers in 1855. The badges of officer rank was then worn on the collar, but were moved to the shoulder cords (epaulettes) in 1880 when the ranking system of crowns and stars was reorganised.
Captains and below had one fewer star from 1880 until 1902 but otherwise, with one exception, the rank badges introduced in 1880 have remained unchanged to the present day. In addition to the shoulder badges, officers' ranks were also reflected in the amount and pattern of gold lace worn on the cuffs of the full-dress tunic.
The crown used in the officer’s badges of rank, (and general SD tunic buttons), during the First World War was the King's or Imperial pattern and is distinguished from today’s Queen’s Crown by its arches, which fall away in sweeping curves from the centre and not dipped in the centre as is the case with the Queen's crown.
The star or 'pip' worn by the greater majority of British officers is based upon the star of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. Certain regiments, notably the Guards, wore stars that have their origins in the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
All officers' badges on service dress were of gilding metal except for Rifle regiments and the Royal Army Chaplain's Department, which used bronze instead.
When service dress was introduced in 1902, a complex system of markings with bars and loops in thin drab braid above the cuff was used at first, but this was replaced in the same year by a combination of narrow rings of worsted braid around the cuff, with the full-dress style shoulder badges on a three-pointed cuff flap. To correspond with the equivalent naval ranks, colonels had four rings of braid, lieutenant-colonels and majors three, captains two and subalterns one. In the case of Scottish regiments, the rings were around the top of the gauntlet-style cuff and the badges on the cuff itself. General officers wore their badges on each shoulder cord.
During the Great War, many officers took to wearing SD tunics as worn by the other ranks with their badges of rank fixed to each shoulder cord. This was because their jacket styled tunics and cuff insignia made them too conspicuous to snipers. This practice was frowned on outside the trenches but was later given official sanction in 1917 as an optional alternative and was made permanent in 1920 when the cuff badges were abolished.
General officers (Shoulder Cords)
Field Marshal: Two crossed batons encircled with a wreath beneath a crown.
General: Crossed sword and baton beneath a crown and star.
Lieutenant-General: Crossed sword and baton beneath a crown.
Major-General: Crossed sword and baton beneath a star.
Brigadier-General: Crossed sword and baton.
General staff officers also wore a red patch on each collar.
General Lt. General Maj. General Brig. General
The rank of brigadier-general was actually a temporary appointment conferred on colonels and was replaced in 1920 by the rank of colonel commandant, renamed brigadier in 1928; his badge then became a crown over three stars.
Field officers (Shoulder Cords & Cuffs)
Colonel: Crown above two stars.
Lieutenant-Colonel: Crown above one star.
Colonel Lt. Colonel Major
General patterns cuffs
Scottish pattern cuffs
Company officers (Shoulder Cords & Cuffs)
Captain: Three stars.
Lieutenant: Two stars.
Second Lieutenant: One star.
Captain Lieutenant 2nd Lieutenant
General patterns cuffs
Scottish pattern cuffs
Good Conduct Chevrons
Good Conduct Chevrons were originally introduced in 1836. They were awarded to ORs below the rank of Sergeant and worn on the forearm of the right sleeve. The chevrons were similar to those worn by an NCO but with the point of the chevron facing upwards. On 1st March 1881 a General Order required them to be transferred from the right forearm to the left forearm. A man wearing them also received the relevant “good conduct” pay. However, because they were awarded for good conduct with a gratuity duly received it meant that they could also be forfeited for misconduct, and then had to be‘re-earned’. Once a man was promoted to Sergeant they had to be removed. In WW1 they were generally only worn by men below the rank of Corporal, 2nd Corporal and Bombardier.
They were awarded as follows;
1 chevron = 2 years
2 chevrons = 6 years
3 chevrons =12 years
4 chevrons =18 years
5 chevrons =23 years
6 chevrons =28 years
On 6th July 1916, the War Office issued Army Order (AO) No. 204 requiring all officers and men who had received wounds in any of the campaigns from the first day of declared war, i.e., 4 August, 1914, to wear a two inch strip of gold ‘Russia braid No.1’, sewn perpendicularly on the forearm in the centre of the left sleeve with subsequent stripes sewn either side of the first at half –inch intervals. For other ranks, including Warrant-Officers and non-commissioned officers, the lower edge of the braid was sewn three inches from the bottom of the sleeve. As Officers wore a different type jacket, the lower end of the first strip of gold braid was sewn immediately above the upper point of the flap on cuff.
On 22nd August 1916, the Army Council decided that it needed to define the term ‘wounded’ and so issued its instruction (ACI) No. 1637 clarifying the conditions for receiving a Wound Stripe. The term ‘wounded’ referred only to the officers and OR’s whose names actually appeared in the official Casualty Lists as ‘wounded’, but not those that were listed as;- ‘wounded – gassed’ and ‘wounded – shell-shock’. Obviously the men that suffered self-inflicted wounds were also excluded.
A subsequent ACI (2075) on 3rd November 1916 further clarified the conditions for the issue of Wound Stripes by stipulating that only those men that appeared in casualty lists rendered by an Adjutant’s office overseas, or by a GOC of any force engaged in active operations. That led to the interpretation that reports in hospital lists might not have been a trustworthy indication that a man was wounded by the enemy in battle.
Later ACI’s and AO’s widened the scope for those eligible to receive the stripes by including Military Nursing Services and Voluntary Aid Detachments. Also, extended the eligibility of those wounded in any campaign prior to 4th August 1914 where official casualty lists constituted the authority for the issue.
Wound stripes were discontinued in 1922.
Cloth Wound Stripe made with gold 'Russia Brade No.1'
on a piece of SD wool serge.
Later type metal Wound Stripes
Overseas Service Chevrons
These chevrons were created under Army Order no.4 in January 1918 and also by an amendment in Army Order No. 132(1918). nominal Rolls for the 'Chevrons for Overseas Service' were compiled for submission in April 1918 and commenced to be worn around June/July 1918. They were worn on the forarm of the right sleeve and were not limited to junior ranks as the good conduct stripes were. A blue chevron was worn for each year of service wit a red chevron indicating that the soldier had been overseas before the 31st December 1914. The red chevron was worn in the bottom most position; five blue chevrons and on red chevron were the maximum awarded (1914-1919). The awarding of oerseas stripes stopped in 1920 and ceased to be worn after 1922. However, they did appear for a brief period during the Second world War.