A naval petty officer is equivalent to an army sergeant and is the lowest of the Senior Rates in the Royal Navy. Petty Officers have a distinctive rank badge of crossed anchors beneath the sovereigns crown. Today this badge is usually worn in the form of a shoulder slide, however during the Second World War it was commonly worn as an embroidered badge on the sleeve. These were produced in gold thread for best uniforms and in red for everyday working uniform, this is an example of the latter:This has the king’s crown above the anchors, indicating a pre-1952 manufacture. The same badge is illustrated in the 1937 Seaman’s Handbook:The badge appears to be machine embroidered, and the loose threads can be seen on the back:Although today all petty officers wear ‘fore and aft’ rig, during the Second World War there were various grades of petty officer and those who had only qualified in the last year still wore the ratings’ ‘square rig’:Note the petty officer’s badge on his sleeve. However it is the double breasted monkey jacket that is most associated with the rank, again the crossed anchor badge is clearly visible:
A few years back we looked at a postcard of a group of men in civilian dress, wearing their old cap badges on their lapels as a sign they were old soldiers (see here). As can be seen from that photograph, old cap badges whilst easily available were too large to wear comfortably on the lapel of a civilian suit. Therefore smaller lapel badge versions of cap badges were produced by enterprising manufacturer’s for old soldiers to buy and wear in civvy street to show their regimental allegiance. This example is for the King’s Royal Rifle Corps:It is made of a bronzed metal and features a miniature representation of the cap badge to the front:The quality of this is actually quite remarkable as under a magnifying glass all the lettering can be read and the reproduction is excellent (the blurry-ness above is my poor camera rather than any issue with the badge). I suspect this badge dates from between the wars and would have been produced commercially, possibly for sale through the regiment’s Old Comrades Association. The back of the badge has a half-moon fixing that allows the badge to be fitted to the button hole of a blazer or jacket:These regimental lapel badges are still manufactured and worn today, however these days it is more likely they will be found with a pin fastening rather than a lapel hook- clothing has changed over the last eighty years and few today wear the sort of suits that can take this sort of fastening.
A few years back we looked at plastic cap badges, made during the Second World War as an economy measure. However these were not the only badges remade in plastic; metal was a strategic resource and if a badge could be moulded out of plastic then it saved brass or steel for more important duties. As well as military cap badges many civilian and Civil Defence badges were produced in plastic as well as badges for various youth organisations such as the cadets. It is a lapel badge for the Air Cadet Corps we are looking at tonight:This badge was worn on the lapel of a suit when the owner was out of uniform, allowing a discrete way of showing his role within the service and allowing other members of the cadet force to easily identify him as a member. It might seem strange today, but in the Second World War normal attire for teenagers was the same as for adults; shirt tie and jacket. As such they all had a lapel with a suitable button hole to attach the badge to. The rear of the badge has a straight post and a round top to it to allow it to fasten securely through a lapel:Small lettering on the back of the badge indicates it was made by Stanley’s of Walsall:This firm were a large manufacturer of badges and produced massive quantities for the armed forces. The badge itself is not made from Bakelite, but rather a form of cellulose. A larger circular cap badge was also produced in plastic for the Air Training Corps.
John Phillip Haseldine was a member of the ATC and recalls some of its activity:
From early 1940 I was going to the A.T.C. every evening and at weekends. We were shown how to recognise aircraft from all angles by black silhouettes – plus we did the normal square-bashing, of course. We used to be taught how to set a course allowing for wind speed and variation etc. and I was pretty good at all this sort of thing. Of course, nights in the winter especially were pitch dark and I remember two occasions in the black out. The first happened as I was riding my bicycle home when suddenly I flew through the air. For some reason a manhole cover in the road had been left off and my front wheel had gone into it. Luckily, being young, I was not badly hurt but my bicycle was a complete wreck. We used to have very bad smogs caused by all the coal fires, virtually the only kind of heating in houses. Added to the black out these smogs made it impossible to see even a yard ahead of you. On this one evening a group of us were going to A.T.C. training at a different venue than our usual place. We got completely lost, when a man bumped into us with his bicycle and said he lived in the road where we were going. He said if one of us held onto his bicycle and the rest joined in a line behind, he would walk there with us. We did this for a little way but then came to a dead stop as he had walked off the street into an air raid shelter. After this we groped about most of the evening and to this day I cannot remember whether we arrived.
Early in 1944 I went with other of the A.T.C. to a test centre in London. I cannot recall where it was but we were given medicals and things I remember we had to do was to blow into a tube that raised mercury to a certain level and hold it there for one minute; also a Japanese book which had numbers in it made up of all different colours. We were asked what numbers we saw when the pages were turned over. Then we were interviewed separately and asked questions, most of which I thought were crazy, by three R.A.F. officers. The only one I can remember was how a combustion engine works, which I knew.
I would have been coming up to 18 at this time. Some months later we were taken in R.A.F. trucks to airfields; we were not told where. I remember one we were taken to. There was a very large building with a ballroom-type floor, at one end of which was a dais with a seat and an aircraft joystick, in front of which was a flat board which you could lie on, with a bomber’s teat by the side. A map of Germany was projected on the whole of the floor which moved as if you were flying over it, both pilot and bomb-aimer were about 20’ above. Whoever was pilot was given a target on the map and as the map moved and you approached the target to get into the right position the bomb-aimer would give directions left or right of it until he thought you were in the right position. Then he would press the bomb teat and release the bombs. This was not as easy as it seems as you had to allow a time lag for bombs to drop. A bright spotlight would then show where your bombs had landed and the map would stop.
I am slowly building up a small collection of Home Front pin badges, tonight we have an example of one of the more common badges, a Rest Centre Service badge:The Rest Centre Service offered support to people’s and families bombed out of their homes, giving them shelter and helping them get their lives sorted after the trauma of enemy action. This little badge is stamped and then enamelled in white and blue with the letters ‘R’, ‘C’ and ‘S’ intertwined in the centre. The back has a simple pin fastening rather than a lapel button, reflecting the fact that many involved in this work were women where a pin was more appropriate for securing it to a dress:The Rest Centre Service did much valuable work, as described by William Reeks of Bethnal Green:
In the summer of 1940 I was an 18 year old working as a clerk for the London County Council in Bethnal Green, East London, and the only prospect I could see was waiting for my age group to be called up for military service. Our office was on stand-by for manning Rest Centres at a nearby school, which was equipped to receive bombed-out refugees if air raids on London started. Until the ” Blitz” in the autumn that meant sleeping in camp beds in the office on a rota basis, playing cards and deciding who was to be the cook.
Eventually on 20th October I was called to Rest Centre duty as bombed-out East Enders started arriving: for two months I worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off at Globe Road School in Stepney (empty as all the pupils had been evacuated to the country), tending to the needs of bombed-out families who trudged to the school with what they could salvage from their destroyed houses. The school, and many others had been stocked many months before with tea in chests, sugar in sacks, tinned food, blankets, mattresses etc. I remember the cheerfulness of the Cockneys, who quickly settled in and were soon even singing. Every morning we phoned J. Lyons caterers with the numbers of people and at lunchtime the desired number of hot meals arrived in an insulated van. The organisation and forethought was impressive and helped to alleviate the suffering of the refugees.
I mostly travelled the eight miles to and from my home by bicycle – with the disruption of public transport it was more reliable, though the rubble and broken glass everywhere meant frequent punctures. They were exciting times for young people, and I do not remember any down-heartedness or defeatism.
In December I enlisted in the Home Guard and left the Rest Centre Service to others, and resumed work in the office which enabled me to perform my Home Guard duties in the evenings and weekends.
We have looked at a few different examples of divisional patches on the blog over the years. Tonight we have a nice uncut pair of badges for XXX Corps:These badges are printed onto white cotton, note the small dots indicating where to fold and tuck the edges under when sewing them to a battledress. These were issued in facing pairs, so that the badge faced forward on both sleeves. XXX Corps chose a leaping wild boar as their badge, in black on a white circle on a black square. Examples can be found either embroidered on felt or printed onto cotton like this example. This was a much cheaper and easier way of producing these badges, turning the badges over we can see how the design has bled through from the front:XXX Corps were heavily involved in several hard fought campaigns throughout WW2, with service in North Africa in 1942, Tunisia and Sicily in 1943 and Normandy, Holland and Germany from June 1944 onwards. They saw service during Operation market Garden and were commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks for much of the Western European campaign.
The troops of the Corps seem to have regarded their boar badge with some affection, and when a memorial to those who had died in the corps was unveiled in Nienburg, Germany, it took the form of a large boar:A contemporary account recorded:
On December 15th on the eve of his relinquishing command of the Corps, Lieut. General Horrocks ceremonially unveiled in a square in Nienburg, the bronze boar acquired by Rear Corps at the time of the Rhine crossing. It had been mounted on a stone plinth, made by Corps RE, the design of which had been the subject of a competition, on which were engraved the battle honours 30 Corps in both the Mediterranean and European theatres together with the emblems of First Canadian Army, Second British Army and 21 Army Group.
Symbolically it was excellent in that it effectively portrayed the end of the 30 Corps war effort with the famous boar no longer rampant but at rest after his labours and his long journey along Club Route.
I am not really a collector of patches or insignia, however if a likely candidate comes up for a pound or two I will often take a punt and hope I have picked up something military later. Last week I found this little patch in a box for £1 and despite not having a clue what it was it came home with me:A few minutes research indicated that it is the brigade patch for the 73rd Independent Infantry Brigade. The brigade was activated during World War II, in late March 1941, and initially consisted of infantry battalions raised for hostilities-only and, aside from a few Regular and Territorial soldiers, was composed almost entirely of conscripts and wartime volunteers. In December 1942 the battalions were posted elsewhere and the brigade ceased to be an operational formation, although the headquarters remained in existence until 19 July 1943, when it was finally disbanded.
The brigade served under various commands throughout its short existence: GHQ Home Forces from 19 June and 2 July 1941, the Devon and Cornwall County Division between 3 July and 30 November 1941, VIII Corps between 1 December 1941 and 12 December 1942, and Southern Command from 13 December 1942 and 18 July 1943.
Order of battle
The 73rd Brigade was constituted as follows during the war:
- 18th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (from 27 March 1941, left 17 May 1941)
- 9th Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers (from 3 April 1941, left 17 May 1941)
- 6th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers (from 3 April 1941, left 17 May 1941)
- 7th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment (from 19 July 1941, left 21 September 1942)
- 6th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (from 19 July 1941, left 9 December 1942)
- 8th Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (from 19 July 1941, left 11 December 1942)
- 2nd Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment (from 22 September 1942, left 8 December 1942)
The following officers commanded the brigade during the war:
- Brigadier W. Robb (from 24 March 1941 until 18 June 1941)
- Brigadier J.A. Campbell (from 18 June 1941 until 10 October 1941)
- Brigadier A.de L. Cazenove (from 10 October 1941)
Fifteen gold bezants (small circles) on a black shield with a gold border superimposed on a vertically positioned white sword with gold hilt, point down, all on a blue ground.
The badge is based off the coat of arms of Cornwall, with the sword representing Excalibur from the legend of King Arthur.
It would be fair to say that there must be hundreds of different designs of rank slide to collect for the British military forces. Each regiment has a full set of ranks, each with the regiment’s name embroidered below, unique designs exist for cadet and university units and the RAF and Royal Navy have their own designs. On top of this, these rank slides can be found in a variety of camouflage colours and in gold on black for the RN. Tonight we are looking at a small selection of rank slides for ratings in the Royal Navy:These are all on the now obsolete desert DPM fabric and follow the traditional badges for Royal Navy rates, embroidered in khaki for a subdued design. The lowest RN rate is that of Able Seaman, for many decades there was no badge at all, however today ABs wear a rate slide with the words ‘ROYAL NAVY’ embroidered on it:The next rate a sailor can aspire to is that of ‘Leading Hand’, equivalent to a corporal in the army. This rate is indicated by a traditional fouled anchor:The leading hand is the last of the junior rates, the next rate is the first rung on the ladder of ‘senior rates’ and is the Petty Officer. This rate is represented by a pair of crossed fouled anchors, with a crown above:The Petty Officer is equivalent to a sergeant in the army. Here we can see an RN Petty Officer in a hospital in Afghanistan wearing the rate slide shown above:A Chief Petty Officer has a badge consisting of a fouled anchor, surrounded by a rope ring and a laurel wreath with a crown above:The most senior RN rate is the Warrant Officer and he wears a badge with the coat of arms of the monarch on it. It is worth mentioning here the quality of the embroidery on this rate badge for a very intricate design:These rate badges, like most others, are very cheap and available in large quantities, most can be found for no more than a couple of pounds and they make a good starting point for the young collector of militaria.