Click to escape. Subject to Crown Copyright
Category: Badges

Click to go up one level

This page is a sub category index

42nd Battalion

Colour (shoulder) patches

  of the First AIF and the

2nd AIF

6 Field Artillery

  • Each unit and sub-unit wore a shoulder patch for identification. As you will see there were various shapes, colours, combination of colours. All had a meaning. 

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.

Click to enlarge. This is a large poster so will take a little time to load.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


For Colour Patches of the AEF go to 

  • 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 (AN&MEF) to New Guinea. 

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 pride.

<<< Shoulder or colour patch of 1st Machine Gun Battalion with the Anzac "A" and the metal crossed Vickers badges that indicated special training.

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. 

Likewise, 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.

Light 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.

Infantry 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.

Click to enlarge
  • A chart showing the "Tobruk T" patches of the Australian units that took part in the siege of Tobruk.
  • 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.

  • Sizes: 
    • Rectangles:2.5" x 1.5" (62mm x 31mm)
    • Ovals: As will fit into the same area as the rectangles
      • Triangles and Diamonds: 2" x 2" (51mm x 51mm)
Divisional shape , oval
9th Brigade, colour Green
The first battalion in each Brigade got Black so.....the 33rd Bn was
The second battalion in each Brigade got Dark Blue so...the 34th Bn was
The third battalion in each Brigade got Brown so ...the 35th Bn was
and the fourth battalion in each Brigade got White so...the 36th Bn was
10th Brigade, colour Red
11th Brigade, colour Saxe Blue
Non infantry units in the Division used the same shape with a different way of displaying colours or with small additions
Artillery Machine guns
Engineers Pioneers
Trench Mortars Supply Column
and so will quickly pick up the drift if you choose a Division and have a look at all the colour patches.

Also the way a colour patch was worn altered it's meaning. . . for example

6th Field Artillery (Army) Brigade.

12th Field Artillery (Army) Brigade.

1st Remount Unit (Light Horse)
2nd Remount Unit  (Light Horse)

Some patches had to be issued & worn as mirror image pairs 

(for details see below)

Sub category index

Click to open sub category

World War 1  

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 colour patches.

  • 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 Defence site)

  • 1st A.I.F. Colour Patch single for 46th battalion - Rare woven type on tropical material as made in the Middle East during WW1.

Left & right handed colour patches

The 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 red (the colour 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, 
    • the Brigade colour should always be the leading & lower of the two, and 
    • in the case of vertical 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.

Colour patches (Shoulder Patches) of the Second AIF
The Second AIF used the same colour patches as the First AIF with the difference that the patch was mounted on an oval of gray or beige felt to distinguish it. Some examples are shown below...


  • 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

The 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.
New Guinea Force Engineers 2/28 Bn AIF 2/7 Cavalry Cdo Corps Troops II Corps
WW2. 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 namesakes.

 This problem was corrected in late 1940 with the issue of an appropriate instruction. 

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 titles. Details.


Post WW2  

  • 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

Units which 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 Defence site)

Click to open sub category

Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces