Category Archives: Insignia

Sergeant’s Rank Brassard

A brassard is a piece of cloth that goes over the shoulder and in military terms it is usually used to display rank and unit insignia. This allows more delicate embroidered badges to be separate from items of clothing that would frequently get dirty and need constant laundering, such as overalls. The brassard can be removed before washing and swapped from overall to overall. Tonight we have a fairly modern brassard for a sergeant:imageNote how dirty this brassard is, I removed it from a set of overalls and the oil is probably left over from the original owner’s work. Three white sergeants stripes are fitted to the front:imageInterestingly this was originally a corporal’s brassard that has been modified by adding an extra stripe. The original two stripes are sewn on, as seen on the reverse:imageThe extra stripe though has been glued onto the fabric, indicating that the original owner was promoted and just made the alteration with glue! This seems a fairly hap hazard arrangement, but it looks neat enough from the front and it is only on close in section that you can see how the change was made. A slot is cut in the top of the brassard for a shoulder strap to pass through:imageThis prevents the brassard from slipping down the shoulder. Velcro is fitted to allow the main body of the brassard to be secured around the arm- loops on the front:imageAnd hooks on the rear:imageWhen wrapped around the arm, these mate up to hold it securely:imageCombined with the top fastening this helps hold the brassard nice and secure, whilst still allowing flexibility and easy removal for washing. These sort of objects are very hard to date, but I would guess that this was produced in the 1970s or 1980s. One old soldier recalls regimental variations in brassards:

Household Div use to have brassards for No2 dress shirt (made from No2 dress shirt material) shirts hairy and woolly pulley(made out of denim/lightweights material) and startched to fcuk so they could stand up. Remember, Guards RSMs have a fcuk off big tate and lyle on the forearm on brassards, not cuff too.

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Civil Defence Corps Enamelled Badges

Civil Defence services had largely been wound up at the end of the Second World War. In 1949 however they were restarted, the impending threat of nuclear attack from the USSR and it’s vassal states requiring the introduction of some form of local support to civilians in case of war. This new Civil Defence service had a number of pieces of insignia, some of which we have looked at before. The designs of the post war Civil Defence service are different from wartime badges, but are frequently muddled up by collectors and dealers. Tonight we are looking at a number of little enamelled badges:imageThese badges have a central motif of a lion, surrounded by ‘Civil Defence Corps’ on a blue enamelled field. They are topped by a crown; either the King’s crown indicating they are from between 1949 and 1953, or the more bulbous Queen’s crown introduced after Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne:imageThe badges are offered with either lapel or brooch type fittings:imageThe lapel fittings were for men, fashions of the day meant most men wore suits with a button hole on the lapel for these badges. The women have a pin fastener that could be attached to a piece of clothing or a hat easily.

The Civil Defence Corps (CDC) was a civilian volunteer organisation established in Great Britain in 1949 to mobilise and take local control of the affected area in the aftermath of a major national emergency, principally envisaged as being a Cold War nuclear attack. By March 1956, the Civil Defence Corps had 330,000 personnel. It was stood down in Great Britain in 1968, although two Civil Defence Corps still operate within the British Isles, namely the Isle of Man Civil Defence Corps and Civil Defence Ireland (Republic of Ireland). Many other countries maintain a national Civil Defence Corps, usually having a wide brief for assisting in large scale civil emergencies such as flood, earthquake, invasion, or civil disorder.

You will note that the Queen’s crown example above has the letters ‘ICDS’. This stands for the ‘Industrial Civil Defence Service’ and were units based around factories and industry rather than civilian population centres.

The Industrial Civil Defence Service was a similar organisation to the Civil Defence Corps, but separate from it. Every industrial or commercial undertaking which employed two hundred or more people could form a civil defence unit to protect its own property and staff. These units were organised in a similar way to the Civil Defence Corps, with Headquarters, Warden, Rescue, First Aid and Fire Guard Sections. The Fire Guard Section manned fire points and smaller fire appliances. Each unit had its own control post, and groups of units could form a group control post. Group control posts and control posts in larger factories had the status of warden posts in their own right, whereas smaller units answered to their local Civil Defence Corps warden post.

Royal Navy Trade Patches (Part 5)- QARNNS

So far all the badges we have looked at have been blue on a white background. Tonight however we have a selection of badges that are red, including a medical trade badge:imageLeading hand’s rank badge:imageAnd a petty officer’s rank badge:imageThese badges were actually for use by the Queen Alexandria’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS), and were worn on the traditional blue nurses uniforms:CaptureIn 1883, a committee determined that improvements were needed in medical and nursing care in the Royal Navy. As such, in 1884, a uniformed Naval Nursing Service was introduced, staffed by trained nurses. These nurses served on shore, initially at Haslar and Plymouth.

In 1902, Alexandra of Denmark, the queen consort of Edward VII of the United Kingdom, became President of the Nursing Staff; in her honour, the Naval Nursing service was renamed Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service.

Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service Reserve was established on 13 October 1910.

In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, QARNNS was significantly expanded, with many volunteers from the British Red Cross and civilian hospitals; similarly, during the Second World War, many volunteer QARNNS nurses were deployed overseas.

In 1949 a nursing branch of the Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed; however, in 1960 these nurses were integrated into QARNNS, creating a single nursing service. In 1982 an integrated service was formed, allowing men to serve as nurses in QARNNS. The first man to join was Senior Nursing Officer Rajendrasen Purusrum, who was commissioned on 1 March 1983.

Although fully affiliated to the Royal Navy from 1977, QARNNS was technically a separate service until 31 March 2000, when it officially became part of the Royal Navy.

Queen Alexandra was President until her death in 1925. The following year she was succeeded by Queen Mary. Princess Alexandra became Patron in 1955.

The trade badge at the top was to indicate a QARNNS Auxiliary and the design was first introduced in the mid-1960s. The ratings badges were introduced in 1985, the service having its own distinctive rank insignia prior to that point. It was found that those outside the QARNNS did not recognise what the ranks and rates meant so there was a slow move over to more conventional badges. The officers were to follow, with ranks renamed in 1982 when men were permitted to join and in the mid-1990s with the use of conventional rank insignia, but surmounted by a red double ‘A’ badge to indicate their status as nursing officers.

Territorial Army Lapel Badge

During the late 1930s local Territorial Army units started pressurising the War Office for some form of recognition for those who had joined their ranks. It was suggested that members either be given a certificate they could frame and hang at home, or some sort of lapel badge that could be worn with civilian clothes to show the commitment of the man to the force. The War Office gauged the opinions of TA units and in 1935 it was clear most were in favour of the badge. It was finally in March 1937 that the War Office granted permission for a badge to be issued.

The design settled on was a based around the letters ‘TA’ with a kings crown above and a lion springing forward below:imageThis design was the brainchild of a Mr Coombes of the Royal Mint and was to be made of sterling silver. The badge was approved by the King in March 1938 and the order for the first 250,000 was placed on 19th March 1938.

The badges has a lapel fitting on the back and a number can be found stamped on them here:imageEach badge was uniquely numbered and a register was maintained by local TA associations. It was expected that if a man left the TA, the badge would be returned and struck off the list. Sadly it is unclear if these registers still survive, as it would be very interesting to be able to identify the original owners of these badges.

Naturally the badges numbered ‘1’ and ‘2’ were presented to the King and Queen as honorary colonels of the TA.

The design was to be used for many years and examples can be found from the post-war period with a Queen’s crown at the top, these post war examples can also be found with a pin fastener rather than the lapel fastener. The badge was also used in printed form on a variety of leaflets and posters:imageBill Spry was a member of the TA during the 1930s:

I joined the T.A in 1932 at the suggestion of my uncle, Lionel Simpson, who was already a member. After an interview at the H.Q in Park St. Drill Hall, I was given a sealed envelope to take to a doctor’s house in Cathedral R.C Cardiff for my medical examination. The door was answered by a maid, she took the envelope and told me to return the next day. I did so and she gave me a sealed envelope back which I handed in to the H.Q office. I was told that I had passed the medical! I had to add a year on to my age to join, (I was fifteen) and for my first year was rated as “Boy Spry”. I also gave my name as “William James” Spry which I thought was correct, whereas it is actually “James William” Spry. Any eventual discharge papers included these particulars and caused me quite a few problems. My first camp 1932, was in Monmouth under canvas, very wet, very miserable, ablution and toilets in the open air. We slept in bell tents my place was under the flap so that anyone entering or leaving had to step over me. In the Mess tent eight men were assigned per table. Food was supplied in one big dish for each table. The senior men then divided the food onto plates. Guess who got the smallest portion and the stringiest piece of meat! In spite of this I got the prize for the “best recruit”. Incidentally, my pay as a “boy” was eight pence per day. The following year 1933, the annual camp was in Penally, near Tenby, in huts and fine weather. Each man was issued with three heavy blankets, (no sheets). Each morning these had to be folded neatly and laid out with the rest of the kit in the proscribed manner. Returning to my hut one morning I saw with dismay that one of my blankets was missing, stolen. I reported this to my sergeant. He said “No problem, go and take someone else’s”. I said that I couldn’t do that. He replied “That’s an order, do it”.

Waiting until the hut was empty I took the blanket from another bed and put it on mine. Returning to the hut later that day I was pleased to see that the bed I had robbed was back to three blankets! I attended camp each year until 1939. In 1933 I was rated signalman, pay 3/6d f.d. In 1934, I was promoted to lance corporal, 1935 Corporal, 1936 lance sergeant. Our uniform included bandolier, breeches and spurs (very smart). This was because until 1931 horses had been used to pull the cable wagons and the army had not got around to changing our uniforms.

Royal Navy Trade Badges (Part 4)- Mine Warfare

Continuing our survey of Royal Navy trade badges, tonight we are looking at that worn by Mine Warfare ratings:imageThis badge is a printed example and has a design based around an old fashioned contact sea mine, with a ring at the bottom where a real mine would be tethered to the sea bed and the horns sticking out that would detonate when hit by a ship.

Mine warfare was one of the areas where the post war Royal Navy led the world, with specialist ships and training that few other navies could match- indeed much of the sweeping and hunting for mines in the Gulf over the last thirty years have beeped by the British rather than the US Navy as they recognised the Royal Navy’s expertise.

A 1984 leaflet from the Third Mine Countermeasure Squadron explained:

A nation that depends on sea transport for the bulk of its trade is vulnerable to the threat of enemy mines. Mines are effective weapons in terms of the cost of production and sowing; compared with the amount of damage they do, the disruption they cause, and the effort required to clear them.

The most common minesweeper of the Cold War as the Ton Class, which cleared mines using a sweep that brought the mines to the surface to be destroyed. Mine warfare ratings on these ships were responsible for the sweeps and the paravanes that held the sweeping cables in the correct orientation to the ship:imageToday, mine clearance is done by hunting individual mines using sonar and dealing with them on the sea bed by exploding a mine disposal charge next to them. This fun cartoon from the early 1980s illustrates the difference:imageWhatever the method of mine clearance, serving as a mine warfare rating was hard work on small ships, with as much danger from the sea as anything else. This photo shows the sort of seas that tossed little minesweepers around- not an easy posting!image

Royal Navy Trade Patches (Part 3)- Cooks

This week’s Royal Naval trade badge is for a Petty Officer Cook:imageThe badge has a six pointed star in the centre, with a letter ‘C’, surmounted by a crown. The rear of the badge is sealed to prevent the threads from coming loose:imageHere we see a Leading Cook, wearing his version of the trade badge with two stars on it, but with the same central design:imageThe 1981 recruitment leaflet gives some helpful information on the branch:

With over 70,000 men and women to cater for, Navy cooks need to have a wide range of professional skills- and be able to work to the same high standards, whether on shore or at sea, or whether it’s egg and chips on the menu or a full banquet for VIPs.

Specialist training: an eleven week course at HMS Pembroke at Chatham, Kent where you’ll learn a variety of skills including the preparation of stocks, sauces, fish, meat and vegetable dishes, salads and various hot and cold sweets; you’ll also be given instruction in bakery. When you leave HMS Pembroke you’ll go to a shore establishment to gain experience in a Naval shore galley for nine months before your first draft to a ship and the challenge of catering at sea. imageFurther progress: As a leading cook you’ll be entitled to City and Guilds 706/2 (Cookery for the Catering Industry). As a cookery instructor you would be awarded the Hotel and Catering Industry Board Teaching Certificate, and you can subsequently qualify for the City and Guilds Certificate 706/3 (Advanced Cookery for the Catering Industry).

Average time from joining the Royal Navy to first sea-going draft- 12 months

Civil Nursing Reserve Lapel Badge

One of the easiest home front enamelled lapel badges to find is that for the Civil Nursing Reserve:imageThis organisation was formed in 1939 by the government to help boost the numbers of trained medical staff available in a potential war. Originally it was envisaged they would work in hospitals and first aid posts and assist district nurses with any evacuation procedures. This role was quickly expanded to include nursing at medical aid posts in air raid shelters and rest centres.

In order to meet this requirement, three levels of staff were recruited:

  • Trained nurses
  • Partially trained assistant nurses who were already earning their living from nursing
  • Nursing auxiliaries who were civilian volunteers given two weeks of training.

The scheme was very helpful for hard pressed hospitals in wartime- by 1943 it was supplying hospitals with 3,200 nurses, 2,800 assistant nurses and 12,800 auxiliaries. So successful was the scheme that it was extended and remained in use into the post war period to deal with an acute shortage of nurses.

The badge was issued from June 1940 to be worn on the left side of the indoor uniform, and this was extended to the outdoor uniform in November 1940 where it was worn as a cap badge, as seen on this recruitment leaflet:imageMarjorie Ruddick joined the Civil Nursing Reserve aged 23:

I was 23 when required to register for active service, and was given several choices: the armed forces, the Land Army, munitions, and the Civil Nursing Reserve; after much thought I chose the last. An interview at the County Headquarters followed, and then on to an emergency hospital in Weymouth, where I spent two reasonably happy years. Happy, apart from being bombed out at the nurses’ home and hospital, losing all my possessions. We were housed in lodgings until they could get another house for us.

Yes, things were difficult, things like clothing coupons to get clothes together, but parents helped a lot you know. We coped, everyone had to in those war years, we all got together and got on with it — we didn’t think too much about it really.

A few of the girls that I worked with were Red Cross nurses, and some had been trained in St Johns, so they were very useful, but others like myself, and we were quite a bunch, were completely untrained, and we just had two lectures when we arrived at the hospital…two weeks’ lectures when we arrived at the hospital and then we were thrust on to the wards, and that was an eye opener I can tell you.

We must have been an awful headache for our matron, who was very strict, very different to the matrons of today, and we just had a trained sister in charge.

It was quite a big hospital, an emergency hospital, commandeered from…I’m not sure what it was before, but after the War it became a maternity hospital. But the premises were good, and we were well looked after really, considering that, you know, we were on war rations, and we had a chef and special waiting girls to serve us, and our food was very good really. We had 2ozs of butter, 2 ozs of meat (which of course the hospital took from our ration books, and yes, it wasn’t too bad really.

And the soldiers that we had, it was mainly army personnel, just one or two naval came in but not many. The soldiers had come from all over, and it wasn’t only wounded soldiers, it was…, I mean when you are dealing with hundreds of thousands of men, you get all sorts of complaints, operations, yes. I helped in the operating theatre for one stint, about four months at a time, and you had seven days’ leave, and came back and were put on to a different ward. The theatre was ever so (traumatic) — it was a completely different way of life at first, but as I say we coped, we just got on and did what we were told.