By David Bilton
Pen & Sword, 2018
It was a revelation to me that in 1917, as the war raged on, the newly formed National War Museum (as it was then) was actively requesting details of units’ insignia. These were then collated by GHQ before being passed on to the museum. It seems they already had ideas about the information historians of the future might be seeking out.
Over a period of 30 years David Bilton has painstakingly combed through the IWM records as well as contacting regimental museums, collectors, and enthusiasts, and speaking to veterans, to bring us this immensely valuable resource.
The book focuses on ‘just’ the infantry (covering the other supporting units would have doubled the size of the book – and perhaps the research period), and features badges worn at company, battalion, brigade and division level. After a general background divisional and brigade signs are listed. The remainder of the book focus on the regiments, presented in order of army precedence. The different insignia are then broken down by the various battalions within each regiment.
Where this book comes into its own is with the accompanying pictures; to say they are copious is an understatement. Most of the badges mentioned in the text have an accompanied illustration – whether a photograph of the real thing, a picture from a cigarette card, or in some cases drawings. These are complemented by individual and group photographs of soldiers wearing (or in some cases not!) the relevant badges.
There are a couple of similar books available; Osprey’s ‘British Battle Insignia’ from 1986, and the more recent ‘WW1 British Battle Insignia Book’ from Military Mode publishing. However I use ‘similar’ in a loose sense, as the former is mainly an illustrated volume (with artwork as per Osprey’s usual format), and the latter, although also based on research into the IWM’s collection, appears to just contain graphical representations of the badges. Bilton and Pen & Sword must therefore be commended for the quality of this book and particularly the quantity of photographs it contains.
At a minimum this is an important addition to the ever-growing body of reference works about the war. However the book also offers much more than this; genealogists, military history enthusiasts, military modellers, collectors, and re-enactors will all benefit from consulting this invaluable record.
Buy this book from Amazon here:
The Badges of Kitchener’s Army