Badges of the Regular Infantry, 1914-1918. South Yorkshire, UK

David Bilton. Badges of the Regular Infantry, 1914-1918. South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword Military, 2021. Hardcover, illustrated, 302pp. ISBN: 1526758024.
Review by Peter L. Belmonte

The British Regulars, the “Old Contemptibles,” were professional soldiers who helped hold the line during the rapid advance of the German Army through Belgium and into France in the early days of World War I. They were later bolstered by other Regulars, Territorials, and by units composed of new wartime recruits. In this book, author and historian David Bilton records the various badges that served as identification insignia for British Regular infantry regiments during World War I. This book is much like his previous work on the badges of Kitchener’s New Army during the war, and the author’s goal is the same as for that book, that is, to record these badges for posterity, showing what they looked like and how they were worn. To do so, Bilton accessed the files of the Imperial War Museum. That museum, then called the National War Museum, canvassed British forces in 1917, requesting information, diagrams, or actual samples of badges being used by troops in the field. Incredibly, even though those forces were engaged in fighting at Passchendaele at the time, the museum received a large number of helpful responses. These examples, plus reminiscences from veterans whom the author interviewed or corresponded with, coupled with items from Bilton’s personal collection, form the basis for this work.

American readers might associate the word “badge” with a specifically metal device to pin on a uniform or hat. In this book, however, the word encompasses metal, cloth, and even painted emblems worn upon the uniform or hat, or painted upon helmets or vehicles.

The author covers each regiment of the British Regular Army, showing each cap badge and giving what can be called a thumbnail history. Within each regiment, Bilton covers each battalion, giving a list of brigade and divisional assignments, and then describing each badge, giving colors, material, size, and other pertinent information. There then follows color photographs of many, if not most, of the badges described, coupled with period photographs of soldiers wearing the badges. In some of the photographs, it is difficult to distinguish the actual badge; they are probably more evident under magnification. This slightly detracts from the book because we are left to rely on the author’s captions for an explanation of what’s in the photographs. Even so, the photographs are a wonderful record of the men and units of the British Army.

The badges illustrated here consist of metal and cloth badges; many regiments were assigned to brigades and divisions that had their own badges, and the regiments adopted these. Although most units adopted some sort of distinguishing badge, many didn’t. It is interesting to read that some officers and men saw no need for any distinguishing insignia other than the regulation cap badge and shoulder titles. This was mostly due to the fact that the units were Regular units and disdained the New Army for adopting these badges. For example, responding to the request made by the Imperial War Museum, one battalion commander replied, “no fancy badges are worn by this Battalion” (p. xii). Of course many battalions did, and this book is a wonderful record of those badges.

Along with badges and official samples, Bilton includes images of original sketches and correspondence to help flesh out the history of these badges. This book is important in understanding methods for identifying British units on the World War I battlefield and in garrison. The reader will appreciate the variety of uniforms and identifying badges, including badges signifying special duties such as runner, Lewis gunner, and pioneer. It is highly recommended for collectors, curators, re-enactors, historians of uniforms, and those interested in trying to identify soldiers in photographs. The general military historian and those interested in military heraldry will also enjoy the book, as will those who are interested in learning more about the fighting soldiers of World War I.

Peter L. Belmonte is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, author, and historian. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm, he holds a master’s degree in history from California State University, Stanislaus. He has published articles, book chapters, reviews, and papers about immigration and military history. Pete’s books include: Italian Americans in World War II (Arcadia, 2001), Days of Perfect Hell: The U.S. 26th Infantry Regiment in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, October-November, 1918 (Schiffer, 2015), Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys (with Alexander F. Barnes, Schiffer, 2018), Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball during the Great War (with co-authors Alexander F. Barnes and Samuel O. Barnes, Schiffer Books, 2019), and Chicago-Area Italians in World War I: A Case Study of Calabrians (Fonthill Media/Arcadia Publishing, 2019). He is also working on a multi-volume history of Italian Americans in World War I. You may see his books at his webpage: