|This page is a sub
Colour (shoulder) patches
of the First AIF
6 Field Artillery
|There is a popular
misconception the the colour patch system was somehow unique to the AIF.
Not so. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) and the Canadian
Expeditionary Force (CEF) both had a similar system.
- Grey horizontally aligned
rectangular colour patch for Tropical Expeditionary Force, with a
horizontally aligned central green strip. Colour patch worn by Army
members of the 1st Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force
WW1 Colour Patch - 3rd Bn Australian
Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF)
Colour patches were
developed and used by the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) in World
War 1, as a means of rapid unit identification. In the absence of
regimental badges, they became a focal point of fierce unit loyalty and
or colour patch of 1st Machine Gun Battalion with the Anzac
"A" and the metal crossed Vickers badges that indicated
This colour patch
system was continued throughout the Australian Army between 1921 and
1945, but ceased during the early years of the post-World War 2 army.
During World War 2,
Australian Imperial Force unit colour patches were distinguished from
those of the first AIF by
the addition of a gray border or backing. This border, or backing, was
of a shape representing the division to which the battalion was
allotted, and not necessarily symmetrical with the battalion shape, for
example 2/19th Australian Infantry Battalion's colour patch was a
half-sized battalion patch diamond-shaped brown over mid-green, within
the gray horizontal oval of the 8th Australian Division.
the 2/13th and 2/11th Australian Infantry Battalion colour patches
were, in 1943, with others varied in shape to the 9th Australian
Division "T"-shaped patch, their colours respectively
black superimposed on mid-green, and white superimposed on
mid-green, both on a gray backing, all colours in
"T"-shape. The "T" shape was to indicate
involvement in the Siege of Tobruk.
Colour patches were
re-introduced in 1987 on a restricted scale, permitting active units
which could prove descent from a former unit which had an approved
colour patch and served either during World War 1 or World War 11, to
apply to wear the earliest version of that unit's colour patch. Policy
in the case of linked units is to wear the colour patch of the unit
taking precedence in the linked unit's designation.
Horse colour patches are of a horizontal rectangle shape, divided
diagonally, with the colour of the brigade nearer the front of the
wearer, the colour of the regiment towards the rear.
colour patches, with the exception of the 9th Australian Division, are
divided equally in the horizontal or vertical plane. In the former case,
the battalion colour is placed above the brigade colour. In the latter,
that portion of the colour patch nearer the front of the wearer is the
battalion colour, that to the rear the brigade colour. The shape of the
colour patch, with the exception of the battalions of 4th Brigade,
indicates the division to which the unit belonged in the Great War. The
4th Brigade, though wearing the 1st Division shape patch, was allotted
initially to the New Zealand and Australian Division for service at
Gallipoli. It was, after Gallipoli, allotted to 4th Division on its
being raised in Egypt in February 1916.
- A chart showing the "Tobruk
T" patches of the Australian units that took part in the siege
- Click image to enlarge it.
|For the Infantry and the corps that
supported it directly the basic Unit was a Division. This was broken
into Brigades, they into Battalions.
Each Division was allotted a shape. Each Brigade is
allotted a colour that is the senior (LOWER) colour of the patch. Each
Battalion is allotted a colour that is the junior (UPPER) colour of the
patch. Those colours remain the same in each brigade. If we take the 3rd
Division as an example the break-up is like this.
x 1.5" (62mm x 31mm)
As will fit into the same area as the rectangles
and Diamonds: 2" x 2" (51mm x 51mm)
Sub category index
It is thought that the Australian, NZ and Canadian Armies system's of colour patches may have been inspired
during the South African (Boer) War (1899-1902) where some British Army
units wore small cloth patches in colours or tartans, appropriate to
their regiments, on the puggarees of their pith helmets.
<<< Was this where our
colour patch system started?
In late 1914 an
AIF Order provided small flags, nine inches square (23 cm), to be used
to mark headquarters and unit lines. These different coloured flags,
with some minor changes, were to become the basis of the 1st Division's
- Before the introduction of
colour patches in 1915 (and for a short time after) small
brass numerals were worn on the epaulettes (shoulder straps)
of the jacket to identify the Battalion.
- They were similar to but
smaller than the numerals worn on the front of the slouch hat
by peace time Battalions.
A 1st Division Order issued in Egypt in March 1915 stated: 'In order to
better distinguish the several units of the Division, coloured patches
of cloth will be worn on the sleeve one inch below the shoulder seam.
Except in cases of Headquarters of Brigades and the Divisional
Artillery, the Engineers and Army Medical Corps, badges will consist of
two colours, the lower indicating the formation, the upper the unit etc.
Light Horse (4th Light Horse) and Artillery will be divided diagonally,
the others horizontally'.
Later the same year a Divisional Standing Order amended the patch detail
for the gunners to one patch for all Divisional artillery. Each brigade
within the Division was allocated an identifying colour patch, and this
system was then extended to other organisations within the Division. The
patches within the Division were worn at the top of both sleeves of the
uniform and, as other divisions of the AIF were formed, they too were
allocated distinctive divisional shape patches. Overall about 300 colour
patches were authorised for the Army in World War I. (partly
from the Dept of
Left & right
handed colour patches
tradition has always been to portray the right hand patch in
illustrations where only a single patch is shown.
The problem of 'handedness' in AIF colour patches must have arisen early
in the First World War. While the issues did not concern the First,
Second, Third or Fourth Infantry Divisions at all, and while the Fifth
and the (stillborn) Sixth Infantry Divisions needed only to turn one
patch upside down to produce a matching pair, other units, most
significantly Artillery and Light Horse, required further consideration.
The artillery tradition (not always adhered to) is that
of the flash of the gun)
should always precede blue
(the colour of the
smoke from the gun).
In the case of Light Horse Regiments, the leading
and lower colour on any shoulder should be the Brigade Colour (i.e. white
for 1 ALH Brigade). In order for the brigade colour to lead on both
sleeves, the two patches must be mirror images of each other.
- The crux
of the matter is that, in 1st AIF colour patches,
should always be the leading & lower
of the two, and
- in the case of
patches, the rear
of the two,
- no matter which sleeve they are worn upon.
Thus it will be seen that any patch in which the colours are separated
by a line which deviates from the horizontal will present an issue of
'handedness'. In the case of a vertical division, the problem can be
easily solved by turning one patch upside down, but a diagonal division
must require the production of two entirely separate colour patches.
Appendix 4 of 'To Benghazi', the first volume of the Second World War
Official History, contains some interesting notes on the problems which
were experienced in this context during that conflict.
- Men who had served in the AIF and
"went back for the Second Show" by joining the 2nd AIF
were able to wear a miniature version of their original patch above
the patch of their 2nd AIF unit.
Above. 2/20 Battalion
Below. 2/30 Battalion
units that served at Tobruk during the siege were allowed to change the
shape of their colour patches to the capital "T" as shown in
this illustration of the patch of the 2/32nd Battalion
|New units such
as the tank units came up with different patches as seen here in the
patch of the 2/7th Armoured Regiment >>>>
- Although the approved colour for
the backing felt was gray evidence exists to show that units used
what they could get at a time of wartime shortages, including light
blue and white.
Guinea Force Engineers
Troops II Corps
At the outbreak of World War II, and with the raising of the 2nd AIF, it
appears that many newly raised units may have initially been authorised
to adopt the patches of their numerical forebears of the Great War but
some units just went ahead and did so without authority.
|| This resulted
in a significant number of units, particularly the infantry battalions,
wearing colour patches completely unrelated to those of their 1st AIF
This problem was corrected in late 1940 with the issue of an
The colour patches of World War II were backed
by a grey or beige border.
As the War continued new shapes came into being;
for example, the T-shaped patches of units within the 9th Division in
1943 (which commemorated the major part played by the Division in the
siege of Tobruk).
By the end of 1944 some 800 colour patches had been
introduced into the Army during the War.
A small number of patches were
also approved for units of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force for
Japan in both 1945 and 1946, including the 34th Infantry Brigade and the
sub-units that made it.
- The Australian colour patch system was
discarded in 1949 in favour of the British Army style of shoulder
The colour patch was re-introduced into the Army in 1987 and the British
Army style shoulder title was phased out by the end of 1996. These
can be seen on Patches Current
could trace their lineage back to either World War I or World War II
were granted permission to adopt the appropriate patch (some claims are,
however, somewhat shaky).
These patches came to be referred to as the
'Series I' colour patch system, as it was then decided to put patches on
every unit and organisation within the Army.
In 1996 the 'Series II'
patches came into service; these were largely based on corps, and in
some cases unit, colours. The colour patches are no longer worn on both
shoulders, as was the case in the past, but are now positioned on the
right-hand side of the puggaree on the 'Slouch' Hat.
- A number of the
patches of both World Wars were worn on the shoulders as matched pairs;
particularly those of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery and the
Royal Australian Armoured Corps. The patches worn on both the left and
the right shoulders looked the same from the front. The patches seen on
colour patch charts, or on flags, banners, signs or on letter heads are
the patches worn on the left shoulder and the 'leading edge' is facing
to the left as seen by the observer.
- However, the patches that were worn
on the right-hand side of the body were a 'mirror image' of that worn on
the left. This means that any 'Series I' patch, that has a 'leading
edge', is (correctly) worn on the hat 'back-to-front' to that seen on
charts and signs etc (there is no 'leading edge' with the 'Series II'
patches). (partly from the Dept of