The On War Service Badge

August 1914 saw the outbreak of the war to end all wars. On a wave of patriotism, many young able-bodied men flocked to enlist in the ranks, whilst those of military age who remained came under close scrutiny. Many of these were perceived to be shirking their duty and were liable to be treated harshly by their peers. It was therefore important that, of those remaining and who were working at home on vital war work, they could be readily identified somehow in the street. This need was recognised at an early stage by the Admiralty, War Office and the Ministry of Munitions, with the creation of the On War Service Badge.

The On War Service Badges fall into two categories – those issued officially and those issued unofficially. The latter type was often associated with individual firms. Official badges, when issued, were (after 1915) accompanied by a certificate signed by, either Kitchener (in the early stages of issue), Lloyd George, S. B. Von Donop (on behalf of the War Office) and O. W. Greene (on behalf of the Admiralty). The passing of the Military Services Acts placed a steadily increasing importance to the War Badge and its certificate in relation to military service. The badge itself was no protection against being conscripted into the army, the important factor being the certificate. To ensure the certificate remained in the hands of those to whom it was issued, it was ordered that it was to be initialled or stamped on the reverse every month. This stamping or initialling was to be carried out by a representative of the firm in whose employ the badge holder was.

It was the explosion of unofficial badges that had a huge bearing on the introduction of the On War Service 1915 badge and certification scheme. The original Admiralty badge was widely copied with the intention that the copy would be mistaken for an original official badge. The unofficial badges became so prolific that the War Office issued a memo on the original badges stating “These badges are the only recognised Official Badges”. Matters became so bad that Firms, who had produced their own badges, were instructed in August 1915 by the War Badge Committee, to immediately withdraw their unofficial badges, as they were now illegal and the subject of penalties if the Firms continued to use them.

William Foster & Co Ltd., of Lincoln was one such firm that issued its own War Service badge, an example of which can be seen in picture 1 below.

Picture 1:     War Service Badge

The circular badge was of blue enamel, with gold lettering around the edge reading “Employed on War Material *1915*”. In the centre of the badge, the gold inscription read “Issued by William Foster & Co Ltd.”. The author has never seen any evidence that William Foster & Co. Ltd., ever issued badges for the following years of the war i.e. 1916, 1917 and 1918. This can easily be explained by issue of the August 1915 instruction of the War Badge Committee referred to above.

Picture 2: Card from the William Foster & Co. Ltd’s records

Picture 2 shows a card from the William Foster & Co. Ltd’s records (from the collection of Richard Pullen) that identifies how many badged men the Firm had in relation to its contract OHMS I9. This was recorded at 96. The contract was clearly that for the production of the MK I tank now known to have been called the “Water Carrier for Mesopotamia”. The interesting fact shown on this record card is the date – 10th May 1916. Can one therefore conclude that the 1915 unofficial war badge issued by William Foster & Co. Ltd., was not issued to its employees on tank production but, more likely, those of its employees that were engaged in the production of the Artillery Tractors? Indeed, whatever the answer, it is clear that the issue of the badge in picture 1 was on a very limited basis, as examples are not seen on a regularly.

The official badges were issued in many variants but the basic principle was there were two types. The first type was of those that were issued to men. These badges were oval in shape surmounted by the king’s crown. In its centre the badge sported a shield upon which were depicted images of three canons. The second type of badge to be issued was triangular in shape and issued exclusively to women. That said, picture 3 shows a triangular badge (again from the collection of Richard Pullen) that was issued to a male employee of William Fosters!

Picture 3: Triangular badge that was issued to a male employee of William Fosters.

On a separate note Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day Ltd., another firm who was concerned with tank production in the Great War, issued, not only its own version of War Service Badge (picture 4) but also a rather differing type of badge. This firm was a leading member of the Associated Group of Tank Engine Builders, which carried out valuable work in connection with the development and construction of tank engines during the war. The group was composed of the principal firms of engine builders in the Manchester area. During the war years, 1914- 1918, this firms factory at Hazel Grove, near Stockport in Cheshire, in addition to producing their standard range of diesel engines, also developed a special type of oil engine for installation in the ‘tank’ which was first used in 1916 and revolutionised ideas in warfare. MKIV tanks were also manufactured from its Glasgow works. At the end of 1918, the firm commissioned a badge to celebrate the signing of the armistice, a copy of which can be seen in picture 5.

Picture 4: Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day Ltd – War Service Badge
Picture 5: Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day Ltd – signing of the armistice badge.