David Bilton. The Badges of Kitchener’s Army. South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword Military, 2018. Hardcover, illus., 351pp.
Review by Peter L. Belmonte
Kitchener’s Army was a term used to refer to the men who enlisted in the British Army beginning in August 1914 at the call of British Secretary of State for War, Herbert Kitchener. These men buttressed the British Regulars and Territorials who had borne the brunt of the British effort in France. In this book, author and historian David Bilton records the various badges that served as identification insignia for the units composing Kitchener’s Army. Bilton’s goal 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 Kitchener’s Army, showing each cap badge and giving what can be called a thumbnail recruiting 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 Kitchener’s Army.
Those who are unfamiliar with British army World War I unit organization and designations might be confused as they read about the composition of the various organizations. The British army—divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions, and companies—was organized in a different manner than, say, the United States army of the same period. Likewise, some of the organizational distinctions—Territorial Battalion, Service Battalion, Reserve Battalion, and Garrison Battalion, for example—will take some getting used to for some readers.
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 or enthusiast will also enjoy the book, as well 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: https://www.amazon.com/author/peter.belmonte.