Ordnance Insignia of the British Army

Non-Commissioned Ranks & Appointments

So far in this book we have concentrated on the Conductor RAOC and his ascendants. Mainly because it is almost uniquely Ordnance in its history with its own insignia and customs. But we should not forget that other Warrant Officers and other-ranks existed with some interest to the Ordnance Collector/Researcher, Not least in trying to identify paintings or photographs. So a short description of Warrant Officer & Other-Ranks and Commissioned Officers on the next page will try to give a basic introduction. 

Serjeant, Lat. serviens servant to a knight in medieval times. The English borrowed the word sergeant from the French in about the Thirteenth Century. Meaning "non-commissioned military officer" first recorded 1548. Originally a much more important rank than today.

(The spelling of 'Serjeant' has changed to Sergeant in most but not all uses of the word. Both spellings are used in this article)

Originally referred to a reliable veteran called the capo de'squadra or head of the square. The title changed to caporale by the Sixteenth Century and meant the leader of a small body of soldiers. The French picked up the term in about the Sixteenth Century and pronounced it in various ways, one of them being corporal, which indicates a mixing with the Latin word corpus or French corps (body). The British adopted corporal in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century and it has been a part of the army ever since. The British gave the Corporal his two stripes when they started using chevrons in 1803.

Non-Commissioned Officers are soldiers who have been promoted to serve as leaders under the guidance of Commissioned Officers. The oldest recognised rank in the Army being that of Sergeant. The senior serjeant in the Colonel's Company became a Sergeant Major in c1680 (Major, meaning 'greater than') but not recognised or added to the establishment until 1797. It is from this beginning that a wider range of 'Senior Ranks' evolved as the Army did.

Any article on ranks in the British Army would be complex to say the least!
Here we will only look at its evolution and use within the Ordnance Corps.

The badges of Non-Commissioned Officers

The Chevron The origin of the chevron would seem to lie in the British Army's having adapted the French 'galons d'anciennte' of 1771 to serve as marks of rank. In their present form, they date from c1802. The single chevron only dates from 1815


Examples of Ordnance Ranks:
(Junior Ranks)
Lance Corporal - 1 Bar Chevron
2nd Corporal (Abolished in 1920)- 1 Bar Chevron
Corporal - 2 Bar Chevron
(Senior Ranks)
Lance Sergeant (Abolished in 1947) - 3 Bar Chevron (Qualified Corporal awaiting vacancy)
Sergeant - 3 Bar Chevron
Armourer Sergeant (Transferred to REME 1942) - 3 Bar Chevron with Hammer & Tongs
Artificer Sergeant (Transferred to REME 1942) - 3 Bar Chevron with Hammer & Tongs

Notes -
Up to 1920 there was a rank of Second Corporal mainly in the Royal Artillery & Ordnance Corps. This was a full rank unlike that of Lance Corporal which was then only classed as a local appointment, the holder wore a single chevron. On promotion a Second Corporal had to take down any good conduct badges he may have earned. Until the end of the W.W.I it was the custom that Second Corporals & Corporals in small units to be members of the Sergeants Mess (But not privileged to visit sergeants messes of other units) In 1920 by the rank of Second Corporal was abolished and replaced by Local Acting & Substantive Lance Corporal. A new rank of Lance Sergeant was introduced being a Substantive Corporal qualified both technically and regimentally after passing the exam for promotion to Sergeant, but awaiting a Sergeants vacancy. The Lance Sergeant wore 3 chevrons. The Lance Sergeant was permitted to use the Sergeants Mess in small units in the same way as the Corporals used to be admitted. (There was a strict quota of Lance Sergeants to unit size) The rank of Lance Sergeant was abolished in 1947.

Crown above a three-bar chevron The origin of the 'Staff Sergeants' badge would appear to be from the Colour Serjeants of the Foot Guards from around 1816. The only difference being that a crown was subtituted for Colours & swords.

Examples of Ordnance Ranks:
Staff-Sergeant - 3 Bar Chevron & Crown
Armourer Staff-Sergeant (Transfered to REME 1942) - 3 Bar Chevron with Hammer & Tongs & Crown
Artificer Staff Sergeant (Transfered to REME 1942) - 3 Bar Chevron with Hammer & Tongs & Crown

The four-bar chevron The four-bar chevron (with or without additional badges) was first worn by Serjeant-Majors point downwards above the elbow. But from 1881 it was ordered that throughout the Army, it would be worn point uppermost below the elbow. Ultimately, all Quartermaster-Sergeants (The last Staff-Serjeant, 1st Class to remain) were promoted to Warrant Officer, and the only use now is that of the various appointments of Music-Majors ranking as Staff-Sergeants.


Examples of Ordnance Ranks:
Staff Sarjeant Major First Class - 4 Bar Chevron
Quartermaster Sergeant - 4 Bar Chevron
Company Sergeant-Major - 4 Bar Chevron & Crown
Quartermaster Sergeant-Major - 4 Bar Chevron & Eight Pointed Star.
Workshop Sergeant-Major - 4 Bar Chevron & Hammor & Tongs
Armourer Sergeant-Major - 4 Bar Chevron & Crown above Hammor & Tongs

The ranks and appontments carrying the four-bar Chevron are considered to be the forrunners to the modern Warrant Officer.

Example of a Brass Quartermaster-Sergeants 8 pointed star with
rosette centre

Click here for Group photograph of Officers, Warrant Officers and Senior Ranks of the AOC c1902

The Badges of Warrant Officers

It was in January 1879 that an Army Circular announced the introduction of "a class of Warrant Officer to assist in the discharge of the subordinate duties of the Commissariat & Transport and Ordnance Stores Departments of the Army" See the History of Conductors of Stores for full details

The new rank of Warrant Officer was so successful, that the Adjutant-General in March 1879 a bare two months after the introduction of Conductors was suggesting its extension to include Sergeant-Majors and selected Staff Sergeants 1st Class, which were included in July 1881. Adding Regimental Sergeant Major and Staff Sergeant 1st Class, Ordnance Stores Corps (OSC) to the Warrant Officer role.

After 1881 Warrant Officers were graded into 2 distinct groups. 'Group 1' being Conductors, and later Master Gunners Class 1(followed later again by others) and 'Group 2' being Warrant Officers of lesser standing (The terms 'Group 1' & 'Group 2' are unoffical but will be used in this article for clarity)

The Large Crown (First Use 1882 - 1915) In 1882, an order introducing the badges to be worn by the second batch of Warrant Officers, stated that they would not wear chevrons. The final choice of the Crown as the badge of Warrant Officers within 'Group 2' was more than likley adopted due to the fact that the majority of Staff Serjeants Class 1 already wore one above a four-bar chevron. Virtually all that occurred was that the wearing of the chevrons was discontinued. It would seem however that it was not until 1900 that it was decreed that the Sub-Conductor AOC was to wear the Large Crown as his badge of rank.

All Staff Sergeants 1st Class were re-named Staff Sergeant Majors in 1889. The title Staff Sergeant now being used for Non-Commissioned Officers only (A term now used fo ranks below that of Warrant Officer)

On the formation of the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) in 1896, Staff Sergeant Major OSC became Sub-Conductor AOC.

The Crown, Lyre, and Wreath (Not illustrated) Bandmasters in the Royal Artillary wore a Crown above a Lyre (in place of a Crown) within a wreath as a badge of appointment (The Wreath being merely decorative in nature) But this is possibly the source of the Wreath used in the next badge.

The Crown within a Wreath (First Use 1901 - 1918) When Warrant Officers (Conductors) were first created, there was no need for them to have any distinguishing badge. Even after the introduction of Warrant Officer 'Group 2' the need for a distictive badge was not that great. The addition of a Wreath round the Crown already introduced for the junior 'Group 2' Warrant Officers seemed to be a very suitable increment by which to distinguish the senior 'Group 1' Warrant Officers. (By which time Conductors OSC & Staff Sergeant Majors Class 1 ASC had been joined by Master Gunners Class 1 Royal Artillary)

In 1915 the original 'Group 1 & 2' Warrant Officers were re-named Warrant Officers Class 1 (But still in two distinct groups) By the end of World War One all the remaining Staff-Sarjeants Class One had been promoted to Warrant Officer rank.

The Royal Arms (1915 onwards) When in 1915 the Warrant Officer Class 1 was extended and Class II created, There was a requirement to introduce a suitable rank badge, And the decision was made to extend the use of the Royal Arms already in use with Serjeant Majors in Foot Guards. The wearing of a smaller version of the badge below the elbow was in keeping with what was the practice when the Crown was the only badge of Warrant rank.

The Large Crown (Second Use 1915 - 1939) When the new class of Warrant Officer Class Two was introduced in 1915, and the introduction of the Royal Arms for Warrant Officer Class One 'Group 2' The use of the Crown was adopted by all Warrant Officers Class II.

Extracts from Army Order's 70 & 170
For clarity Warrant Officers Class One 'Group 1' are highlighted in Red, with 'Group 2' in Green

The Royal Arms in Wreath (1918 onwards) At the end of World War One it was decided to adapt the Royal Arms in the same way the Crown was in 1915 by adding a Wreath, as it was felt by some that the Crown in Wreath lacked a little in 'style' over the Royal Arms now in use by the 'Group 2' Warrant Officer Class One.

So at the close of World War One, Three badges were in use by Warrant Officers. The Royal Arms within a Wreath by 'Group 1' Warrant Officer Class 1. The Royal Arms by 'Group 2' Warrant Officer Class 1 and the Large Crown by Warrant Officers Class II. The Crown in Wreath no longer being in use.

The Crown within a Wreath (Second Use 1938 - 1947) In Army Council Instruction 398 of 1938 the Crown in Laurel Wreath was allocated to Warrant Officers Class II on the introduction of Warrant Officer Class III who in turn were allocated the Crown to wear. (This rank was placed in suspension in 1940, technically however this still remains as a rank)

The Crown & Crown within a Wreath (Final Use 1947 onwards) This was to continue untill 1947 (A.C.I. 991 of 1947) when it was decided that Warrant Officers Class II graded as Quartermaster-Sergeants would revert to wearing the Crown in Laurel Wreath and all other Warrant Officers Class II and any remaining Warrant Officers Class III would wear the Crown.

Examples of Ordnance Warrant Officer Ranks:
Warrant Officer - Later Warrant Officer Class 1
Staff Sergeant-Major, Ordnance Stores Corps (1882 - 1896) - Large Crown
Quartermaster Sergeant-Major, Ordnance Stores Corps (1882 - 1896) - Large Crown
Workshop (later Artificer) Sergeant-Major - Large Crown, later Royal Arms (Transfered to REME 1942)
Armourer Sergeant-Major - Large Crown, later Royal Arms (Transfered to REME 1942)
Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant-Major (RQMS) - Large Crown, later Royal Arms
Sub-Cunductor, (Royal) Army Ordnance Corps - Large Crown, later Royal Arms
Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) - Large Crown, later Royal Arms
Conductor AOC - Crown within a Wreath
Conductor RAOC - Royal Arms within a Wreath
Warrant Officer Class Two - From 1915
Company Sergeant Major (CSM) - Large Crown from 1915, Crown in Wreath from 1939 then Large Crown again in 1947
Company Quartermaster Sergeant-Major (CQMS or SQMS) - Large Crown from 1915, Crown in Wreath from 1939 then Large Crown again in 1947
Armourer Quartermaster Sergeant-Major (ArQMS) - Large Crown from 1915, Crown in Wreath from 1939 (Transfered to REME 1942)
Artificer Quartermaster Sergeant-Major (AtQMS) - Large Crown from 1915, Crown in Wreath from 1939 (Transfered to REME 1942)

RQMS & RSM posts were oftern held by Sub-Conductors in store holding units or by Artificer Sergeant-Majors in workshop units. In joint units by either.
At the Regimental Depots, CSM's & RSM's could be ex Infantry Warrant Officers or Staff Sergeants before transfer to the RAOC

M Comerford - August 2003 - HTML Revision 1

Publications as referanced within the article.
Rank and Badges in her Majesty's Army and Navy, William Clowes and Sons, London. 1888
The Navy and Army Illustrated Magazine, May 28th 1897
The Badges of Warrant and Non-Commissioned Rank in the British Army, by Major N.P. Dawnay, Socirty for Army Historical Research, Special Publication No 6, 1949
The British Army: Its History, Traditions and Records. Ian Swinnerton. Ian Swinnerton, Federation of Family History Societies. 1996
Identifying your World War 1 Soldier from Badges and Photographs, Ian Swinnerton, Federation of Family History Societies. 2001