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Category: Colour patches

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Wherever possible I have included an authority or reference approving the design, manufacture, or wear of a colour patch. In many cases this is ~the initial approval and not the generally accepted form of authority which appeared as a General Routine Order, etc, or as an amendment to Standing Orders for Dress or Clothing, simply because a period of up to two years could elapse between the initial approval vide an LHQ or AHQ memo, and its appearance as a GRO or similar authority.

Fortunately the records of colour patches used during the 1915 to 1919 period are reasonably complete and this is due almost entirely to the efforts of Dr C.E.W. Bean,
(Dr Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean, 1879-1968: Official War Correspondent, AIF, 1914-1919; General editor of the Official War History, and author of six of its volumes, 1919-1942.) the Official Historian, and Lieutenant-Colonel J.L. Treloar, ( Lt.-Col. J.L. Treloar, OBE: Oi/c Aust. War Records Section, 1917-1920; OC Military History and Information Section AIF(ME), 1941-1942; OC Military History Section, DSD LHQ, 1942-1945; Director, Australian War Memorial, 1920-1952.) the Director of the Australian War Memorial. A similar situation exists regarding the colour patches in use with the Home Forces between 1921 and 1939 as issue and approval of designs was strictly controlled by the Military Board who had a policy of allocating wherever possible those designs which had been in use with the original AIF, even to the point of the ridiculous, as in the case of the 24th Light Horse Regiment.

The period 1939 to 1943 is a different story, complicated by a number of factors. The first of these concerned the fairly limited promulgation of approvals for new designs for both the Home Forces and the 2nd AIF. Security was a consideration, particularly in the case of the latter, it being considered that it was unwise to allow details of the patches of that force to become general knowledge until its units had deployed overseas. 

A second contributory factor was the failure of the Military Board to exercise complete control over the GOC 2nd AIF, Lieutenant-General T.A. Blamey, in regard to questions of dress, with the result that numerous colour patches were approved for AIF units in the Middle East and the United Kingdom without reference to the Military Board in Australia, for which no complete record now exists. From early 1943 stricter control was exercised over the approval and supply of new colour patch designs, the time lag between approval and actual promulgation in Orders was significantly reduced, and approvals were widely circulated through General Routine Orders and Unit Routine Orders Part I.

Where it has not been possible to locate the appropriate AIF Order, GRO, or similar authority, recourse has had to be made to a number of other references. For the Great War period, in addition to the numerous correspondence files held by the Australian War Memorial, there exists two attempts by HQ AIF to consolidate all approved AIF colour patches into a single reference. The first of these is "Distinguishing Marks and Badges AIF',
(AWM 13, item 6521/1/15.)showing in colour all patches approved in Egypt in early 1916. Although undated it was originally submitted for drafting on 14.3.1916 and on 2.5.1916 was held by the Map Section, Intelligence, Cairo. 

It is understood that the intention was for initial drafting to be carried out in Egypt, printing of which was then to be undertaken in Australia. The second reference comprises line drawings compiled by the AIF Administrative Headquarters for the information of GHQ BEF, dated 31.10.1916.  (AWM 13, item 6503/1/8.) In 1919 this was to be expanded to form a record of all colour patches used by the AIF, however this was never undertaken to completion. The first consolidated reference to AIF colour patches was actually undertaken in Australia in 1918 and was compiled by Warrant Officer R.K. Peacock, a Military Staff Clerk at AHQ, as a private project in his own time from AIF Orders received at AHQ. 

Unfortunately it contains a number of inaccuracies, however at the time it was the only official reference in existence and initially appeared in two forms; with unit designations added for use by District Commandants and military storekeepers, and without unit designations for issue to military outfitters and patriotic organizations.

The colour chart appearing in Volume III of the Official War History was commenced in 1921 with the intention that it would appear in Volume II, however it was not completed in time for the publication of that volume in 1924. Volume III was published in 1929 but in spite of Bean's insistence that only those patches for which an authority could be located were to be shown, it contains a number of inaccuracies, some of which can be directly attributed to printing errors, or undue reliance on information supplied by the Department of Defence, despite cautions to the contrary by the Director, AWM.

Standing Orders for Clothing Part 111, Standing Orders for Dress, and amendments to any of these have provided the sole authorities for the 1921 to 1939 period, although some correspondence files for this period held in the Australian Archives, Victorian Office, have provided some useful information on the development of the system and other details.

It has not been possible to locate the original authorities and much of the correspondence relating to the introduction of colour patches to the 2nd AIF during 1939 to 1941. A roneoed sheet of line drawings showing patches allotted to the 6th Division, attached Corps Troops, and the Overseas Base Sub-Area, undated but apparently circa February-May 1940, was located amongst miscellaneous papers relating to Australforce held in AWM 54, item 497/2/23. 

Despite the presentation of 'assumed authorities' in the Army Colour Patch Register there is in fact no evidence that authorities for patches for any of the 2nd AIF divisions, including 1st Aust. Armoured Division, were ever promulgated, and as late as November 1940 correspondence between Command headquarters and AHQ makes it quite clear that no such information had been received at formation headquarters level. It seems likely that the expansion of the AIF from February 1940, a perceived need for security, and the constant changes in the divisional organizations and the colour patch scheme prior to May 1941 delayed any proposed promulgation. 

Correspondence originating from AHQ in relation to the approved design of AIF patches during this period was generally undertaken directly with the headquarters of the AIF formation concerned. It was not until after January 1941 that correspondence between AHQ and Command headquarters in relation to the designs of colour patches for AIF formations and units still raising and training in Australia commenced, and it appears to have been restricted primarily to notification of MGO demands placed on the Commonwealth Clothing Factory for production.

In August 1940 the 2/1st Aust. Corps Field Survey Company RAE undertook preparation of colour plates showing the colour patches approved for corps, base and line of communication units of the 2nd AIF. Almost six hundred copies of this chart were distributed under cover of AHQ(DOS) Memo No. 70030, dated 21.10.1940. It was also stated that plates for the divisional troops would be prepared and distributed as soon as possible however there is no evidence that this was effected for the reasons listed in the previous paragraph. A restored example of the Corps Troops, etc, chart appears in the Army Colour Patch Register 1915-1949. Numerous correspondence files, primarily from the 1943 period onwards, are held by the Australian Archives, Victorian Office. Much of the correspondence prior to this period, comprising approvals and orders for supply placed with manufacturers, no longer exists, having been culled and destroyed, apparently indiscriminately, over the years.

Many of the records relating to the allocation of colour patches in the Middle East by HQ AIF(ME) were either lost at sea during transit to Australia, or were amongst those culled and destroyed in 1955.

There appears to have been little attempt to maintain a record of colour patches in use during the Second World War until at least 1943. In October 1943 the DOS refers to the "..Album of Colour Patches .." held at MGO Branch and acknowledges that it was incomplete.
( AHQ(DOS) memo No. 175681, 10.10.1943. AA(Vic.): MP742/ 1, item 61/13/178.) 

This is probably the basis of the MGO Branch line drawings referred to in the following paragraph. A more comprehensive record entitled " Distinguishing Colour Patches A.M.F - A.I.F Units" was maintained by the Directorate of Staff Duties, and is currently held by the AWM. It was undertaken at the instigation of the  Adjutant-General, Major-General C.E.M. Lloyd, in early 1943, the circumstances of which he refers to in a letter to Lieutenant-General Sir Leslie Morsehead dated 17.5.1943. (AA: MP 742/1, item 61/13/54.)

  • It does not however contain the 3,000 colour patches he states as having been approved for the AMF at that point.

In 1946 the Director of the Australian War Memorial, seeking a record of colour patches used during the 1939-1945 period, was advised that colour patches were to be covered by a set of line drawings then in the course of preparation. ( MGO memo B20379,14.6.1946. AWM 113, item 15/3/1. Drawings are referred to as 'line drawings prepared by M.G.O. Branch (Army 61/03/281, 14.6.1946; AWM File 449/9/23)'.

These were forwarded to the AWM on 10. 10. 1947. This reference comprises twenty three pages arranged by arm of service, totalling 648 line drawings of colour patches. It does not include colour patches superseded prior to March 1943, those approved for units and formations disbanded prior to March 1943, those approved after November 1945, nor those approved in the Middle East and the United Kingdom. In addition a further thirteen pages are dedicated to colour patches worn by armoured and motor formations of the AMF between 1941 and 1946, depicted as per the order of battle of each formation. A number of inaccuracies appear in this section and it is believed that some of the colour patches depicted actually have no basis in fact.

One of the most useful sources for this period has been the correspondence registers maintained at AHQ and various District headquarters. Not only do they in some cases provide a description of the colour patch approved but, amongst a wealth of other information, advised of the placement of an MGO Order with a manufacturer, generally the CCF, for the supply of the initial batch of the colour patch in question. Another reference currently available is the Army Colour Patch Register 1915-1949, issued as an in-service publication on 30.7.1993 in a belated attempt by the Australian Army to provide a consolidated reference source to colour patches for which an official authority or reference could still be located.

Finally, where confusion exists between the official authority and other photographic or documentary evidence as to what was actually worn, the unit association, if it existed, was consulted as the final arbitrator.

Details relating to units have been extracted from the various unit and Corps histories, dates of formation and/or disbandment have primarily been taken from the Army List or the publication of the unit's first Routine Order Part II by 2nd Echelon. In the former case the date on which the first Commanding Officer, Adjutant, or Quartermaster was posted to the unit has been accepted as the date of formation. Actual dates of disbandment vary for the same unit, as the procedure could take months from the date of the instruction notifying disbandment, with the winding down of unit affairs, posting of personnel from the 'X' List and Supernumerary List, return of stores, etc.

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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