Ordnance Insignia of the British Army

History & Arms of the Board of Ordnance
(Ordnance Board)

This is the history of 'The Board of Ordnance' and today's 'Ordnance Board'. The Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers & Royal Army Ordnance Corps can all trace their history back to this same common starting point.

The Ordnance Board can trace its history back to 1414 when Henry V appointed Nicholas Merbury as the Master of Ordnance and John Louth as his Clerk of Works. The former was present at the Battle of Agincourt to provide expert advise on the engines of was used in that conflict. In 1518 the "Board of Ordnance" was constituted, with the addition of a Lieutenant as second-in-command, a Surveyor and a Storekeeper. It is evident that the traditional functions exercised by the Board until the middle of the 19th Century, that is, assessment of design, procurement, inspection to maintain standards, storage, stock-taking and accounting, were already being carried out. The offices of the Board were in the Tower of London, where they remained for many years. The Select Committee, part of the Board of Ordnance and progenitor of the present day Ordnance Board, was formed in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich in 1805. The title of "Master General of the Ordnance" appears to have been first used in 1603 and is used to this day, the present holder of the office still being responsible for the administration of the Board.

In 1683 the Board, having been an Army institution, were reconstituted as a Civil Department and were given responsibility for warlike stores for both the Navy and the Army. From this date the power of the Board increased greatly. Barracks, Land Survey (Ordnance Survey), Fortifications, Contracts and the control of Armament Factories came under their purview, and furthermore the Artillery (from 1682) Engineers and 'Ordnance' Field Train (1792) were all commanded and controlled by the Master General of the Ordnance who even commissioned their officers; only the chief Officers of the Board were appointed by the King or the Commander-in-Chief. By the beginning of the 19th Century, The Board of Ordnance was the second largest Department of State, next only to the Treasury, and the Master General had a seat in the Cabinet. Famous Masters General's included the Duke of Marlborough and Duke of Wellington: Load Raglan was the last Master General of the Board when he was also Commander-in-Chief in the Crimea.

However, this very power and size, plus the anomalous split in command of the armed forces between the Master General and the Secretary of State for War, were to lead to the Board's demise. In 1855, in the absence of Load Raglan, the Board, and the office of the Master General were abolished and the responsibilities were passed to the Secretary of State. Until 1881 the Ordnance Board, in a form close to that of today, was reconstituted, and since then there has been an unbroken succession of Boards and Committees.



The Board of Ordnance's service to the Nation, and the esteem in which they were held by successive Governments, was recognised by the grant of Armorial Bearing in 1806; the grant was confirmed in 1823.

When the Ordnance Board was re-formed in 1881 they took into use the same Arms. But it was not until 1980 that it was realised that they in fact had no right to do so, as the privilege had lapsed with the abolition of the Board of Ordnance in 1855.

In July 1896, Queen Victoria approved the War Office recommendation that the arms of the former Board of Ordnance, the shield of arms, but not the crest nor supporters of the motto, be used by the Army Ordnance Department (AOD) and Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) It was considered that granting the privilege of the use of the arms of their ancestors as the main motif of their emblem was very fitting. In 1918 when the Ordnance Services were granted the prefix ROYAL the Ordnance Arms were incorporated into the new badge of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) .At the same time the motto 'Sua Tela Tonanti' was approved and taken into use, but was not incorporated into the corps badge till 1947.

The Arms of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps - 1918

When the Ordnance Board realised that their entitlement to Armorial Bearings had lapsed, they decided to apply to the College of Arms for a re-grant. After some discussion as to whether the Arms were properly those of the present day Ordnance Board or of the Master General of Ordnance, which was resolved in the Board's favour. Her Majesty the Queen graciously approved the belated transfer of the Arms of the Board of Ordnance to the Ordnance Board.

The 1984 Exemplification of the Armorial Bearings of the Ordnance Board contains the following passage:
(such bearings and use in no ways affecting or inhibiting the display of a Shield of Arms of the former Board of Ordnance within the Garter and unsigned by her Majesty's Royal Crown as the Badge or Device of Her Majesty's Royal Army Ordnance Corps)

The 1984 Letters Patent of the Ordnance Board

Arms of the Ordnance Board at the Ministry of Defence

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M Comerford April 2011 - HTML Revision 2 (revised)