During the Great War of 1914 – 18 more than 8.6 million men and over 57,000 women served in the British Army. Many families were losing loved ones at the Front, so when men ended up being sent home due to sickness or injury they had suffered, although distressing, it was often somewhat of a relief to their relatives. Those young men, once at home, would come under the close scrutiny of the public, since many were perceived to be shying away from their duties to the country and were treated with contempt and sometimes violence. It had even been the practice of some women in England to send white feathers, a traditional symbol of cowardice within the British Empire, in an attempt to humiliate men not in uniform.
It was therefore important that those who had served their country and returned home due to sickness or injury could be identified in some way, and this was recognised by King George V. So, in 1916 the following order was given, though there were subsequent amendments, including the granting of the badge to eligible civilians, as well as members of the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) and nurses:
Army Order 316 of 1916 – His Majesty the King has approved the issue of the Silver War Badge to officers and men of the British, Indian and Overseas Forces, who have served at home or abroad since the 4th August, 1914, and who on account of age, or physical infirmary arising from wounds or sickness caused by military service have, in the case of officers, retired or relinquished their commissions, or, in the case of men, been discharged from the Army.
First issued in 1916 and continuing to 1920-22, the Silver War Badge, also known as the Services Rendered Badge, Discharge Badge or Wound Badge, was therefore issued to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds, disability or sickness (caused otherwise than by misconduct).
The causes of discharge are found in paragraph 392, Kings Regulations 1912, which lays down twenty-nine different possibilities. (full details can be found on our website here). Though most will come under the umbrella of cause number (xvi) ‘No Longer physically fit for war service’, other potential reasons for discharge include: (iii) ‘Not Likely to have become an efficient soldier’; (vi) ‘Having made a mis-statement about age on enlistment’; and (xiii) ‘Having been sentenced to be discharged with ignominy’.
The circular silver badge bears the Royal Cipher for GRI (for Georgius Rex Imperator; George, King and Emperor) in its centre, together with the inscriptions “For King and Empire” and “Services Rendered” around the boarder. It was to be attached by a pin and clasp to the right breast of civilian dress, and it was forbidden to wear it on military uniform, thus demonstrating that those who wore it were not avoiding service but had made a contribution to the war, and due to sickness, wound or disability etc were no longer able to do so.
It is stated that between 1916 and 1922 somewhere in the region of 1,150,000 badges were issued to service personnel, with each one being individually numbered on the reverse, thus making it possible to trace the recipient if the badge was lost and subsequently handed in to a Police station, though if it was permanently lost or stolen the War Office made it clear that they wouldn’t replace it. The individual numbering on the reverse of the badge also makes it possible to trace the recipients through the National Archives’ Medal Roll records series WO329, so that if a service record has been lost, a record of the Silver War Badge may be the only remaining evidence of service. These rolls contain extremely useful information such as: date of enlistment, number, rank, regiment, unit at time of discharge, Silver War Badge number, date and cause of discharge, whether served overseas, and sometimes age. Details can also be found on the Medal Index Cards/ Discharge Cards under the National Archives records series WO372, which are now available to download. These mention the ‘Silver War Badge’ list reference number along with other vital pieces of information.
Most Silver War Badges were also accompanied by a King’s Certificate of Discharge, which was designed by the talented ‘Punch’ cartoonist Sir Bernard Partridge in 1916, at the request of the War Office. The issue of certificates was unconnected with the issue of the Silver war Badge, although many qualified for both; details of the regulations were stated in Army Order 138 and 139 of May 1918. Some awarded the SWB were not entitled to the King’s Certificate on Discharge, since they had not served overseas in a recognised Theatre of War. The King’s Certificate on Discharge was issued to the following: Warrant Officers, NCO’s and men who served overseas in a Theatre of Operations with an Expeditionary Forces, and had been discharged under King’s Regulation 392 (xvi) “No longer physically fit for war service" or (xvi a) “Surplus to military requirements (having suffered impairment since entry into the service)”, including those who suffered disablement or ill-health caused by aggravated military service, provided it wasn’t due to misconduct, or else “on account of disablement certified to be directly attributable to the action of the enemy e.g. air or naval raids” or, in the case of those personnel serving with the flying services, “disablement certified to have been caused or aggravated by military service while engaged on flying duty in connection with operations against the enemy”. Therefore, entitlement to the Silver War Badge did not necessarily entitle a man to the award of the King’s Certificate of Discharge, whilst those awarded a certificate would most certainly have been entitled to a badge.
The certificate can found in a number of formats for the Services, as follows:
Army: red and black, with two soldiers (one Australian) shown presenting arms to a seated Britannia. Either side are two columns around which appears the wording “British Isles, Overseas Dominions, Indian Empire, Colonies, Protectorates.” In the bottom right hand corner is the soldier’s name, number and regiment, followed by “Served with honour and was disabled in the Great War. Honourably discharged on…” with the date of discharge written in ink. The Royal Navy format is blue and black with two sailors shown, while the RAF version is blue and black showing airmen with planes in the background. The certificates were posted to the recipient by registered post and packaged in special cardboard tubes, wrapped in brown paper using a special technique prescribed by the War Office.