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Category: Colour Patches

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All Units Colour Patches 1915-1951

The colour patch system was used as a means of formation, unit, and arm of service identification on the uniform between 1915 and 1921 by Australian forces raised specifically for war service overseas, and then between 1921 and 1949 by the whole of the Australian Military Forces at home or abroad. Briefly summarised, the colour patch was a piece of cloth material, its geometrical shape identifying the formation to which the wearer's unit belonged. 

Unit identity was indicated by, in the case of infantry, armour, and light horse, a colour combination identifying the numerical seniority of the unit within its brigade, and of that brigade within its division. Units of other arms wore a colour, or combination of colours, representing the arm of service to which they belonged, all within the basic formation shape.

Introduced in early 1915 by a divisional commander of the A.I.F. as a simple but secure means of identification for units of his own formation, the system had by 1918 spread throughout a force which had expanded to comprise almost seven divisions, with additional corps, army, and L of C units, and had assumed such a status amongst the members of that force that Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash, GOC Australian Corps, was to record in mid 1918 that "...The badge is highly prized by the individual soldier as the only means of identifying him with his Unit or Service, and is a most powerful factor in esprit de corps and the pride of the soldier in his Regiment .... [it] is a most important factor in the maintenance of discipline and also in training .... organization before and during battle, and reorganization after battle are greatly facilitated .... The loyalty of the Australian soldier to his regimental badge is to be experienced in the Field in order to be fully appreciated .
See note

Note. From HQ Australian Corps Letter No. 20/75, 17.7.1918. AWM 25, item 187/4. Lt-Gen. Monash to the Commandant, AIF HQ, London, dealing with the unsatisfactory position regarding the supply of colour patches by the British authorities and their apparent misunderstanding of the importance to the AlF of this nature of distinction.

It was the desire, more than any other reason, to perpetuate the achievements and sacrifices of that Force which led to the introduction of the colour patch system to the reorganized Citizen Forces in 1921. ( The term 'privilege' used by MO 206/1921 was somewhat patronising considering that it was these same CMF units which had provided almost all of the original nucleus of the AIF in 1914, and that by 1921 the CMF was almost entirely officered by former AIF personnel.) 

The unit colour patch had by this stage assumed the same status as the regimental badge of the British Army, for instance the Programme of Drills for the 40th Battalion stated in 1939 that... "The colour patches you wear are similar [sic] to those worn by the 40th Battalion, A.I.F. Live up to the reputation of that battalion". Although a practical concept when first introduced, the factors which led to its success during the Great War could not be duplicated during subsequent reorganization and expansion of the Australian Army and by late 1942 it was recognized as becoming unworkable. 

A major overhaul of the scheme was begun in late 1944 but the end of the Second World War and the rapid demobilisation of the AMF led to its replacement in 1949 with a system of embroidered regimental and corps titles, and formation signs.

It is not the purpose of this book (site) to examine in detail the advantages and disadvantages of the colour patch system, its effectiveness in the purpose for which it was originally designed, i.e. unit identification, nor its contribution to morale and esprit-de-corps, which in any case varied from unit to unit. 

The primary aim is to provide, for the collector, dealer and researcher, as much information as possible to allow the identification of colour patches which were worn or manufactured, officially or otherwise, during the period 1915 to 195 1. 

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To this end details are included of every example of a colour patch noted in official or private collections, or which are referred to in official records or unit and Corps histories. In some cases colour patches have been deliberately omitted, generally because the only examples noted have been outright fakes, or because a verbal description could not be verified. It has also been considered necessary to include a brief history of the development of the system, and the factors leading to changes in it, as well as details relating to the various principles of wear.

In retrospect it is disappointing that an army which places so great a value on its heritage, and the colour patch is as much a part of that as the mess silver and regimental motto, should as early as 1947 be incapable of producing a reasonably complete record of the patches worn by its units, although records and memories were still fresh and millions of examples were still held in Ordnance depots. On that basis it is hardly surprising that no voice appears to have been raised at senior level against the wholesale destruction of records during the post war years, not only those maintained by the Department of the Army, but of the former Commonwealth Clothing Factory as well. 

I can sympathise with the frustration of the Army Colour Patch Project Officer, Colonel D.A. Chinn (Ret'd), tasked in the late 1980's, forty years after the demise of the system, with compiling a record of the colour patches approved for units during the 1915-1949 period. Even the Australian War Memorial was unsuccessful in its attempt to produce a record of those worn during the Second World War and in the first correspondence I undertook with them on the subject advised that..."Some years ago we spent some considerable time in an attempt to compile one but had to abandon the project due to the lack of reference material and the misleading and often conflicting information available". (Reply, AWM 449/9/23 to author dated 27.3.1975.)

This book makes no claim to being complete, or even to have succeeded where more competent authorities have not. The lack of official records on the subject, the proliferation of fakes and reproductions, for many of which collectors themselves are responsible, and the fading memories of many of the men and women that wore them, have all contributed to render the identification of some colour patches difficult. 

There are in addition numerous references in official records, particularly post war Ordnance holdings, to other colour patches that existed, for instance N.T. Force Provost, or the Proof and Experimental Section, amongst others, for which I have yet to locate a satisfactory explanation. It is hoped that the publication of this book will create an increased interest in the subject, leading to answers to many of the questions still outstanding. Any information which would lead to the expansion or correction of details contained in this book would be greatly appreciated by the author, provided that it can be substantiated by documentary or photographic evidence.

The material on this section of the site is drawn from "Distinguishing Colour Patches of the Australian Military Forces 1915-1951" by Keith Glyde. ISBN 0-6460-36640-8  

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