The RAF Heraldry Trust - An Update August 1998
|The RAF Heraldry Trust is entering the third year of its project to build up what will
become the definitive reference collection of the heraldic history of the RAF. Readers
will have first read about the work of the Trust and seen some of the paintings already
completed in past issues of Flypast. It is intended to paint every badge granted to a unit
of the Royal Air Force or the Commonwealth Air Forces because, unknown to most people,
these badges have never been fully described or recorded. To date, approximately 150
badges have been completed.
Public interest in the project has been immense and many people have asked for more information about the history of the RAF Badges, the rules governing their design and award and the meaning of some of the heraldic terms used. This article attempts to explain and answer some of these questions.
The Trust is often asked how badges came about. By the time the Royal Air Force was formed from the RFC and the RNAS on April 1, 1918, it had for some time been common practice for aircrew to paint unofficial emblems on their aircraft, a custom which peaked during World War One. The historical value of these emblems was soon recognised to be equally as important as those which had been assigned to units of the Royal Navy and the British Army and a decision was made to allow these designs to become official.
In 1935, the post of Inspector of RAF Badges at the College of Arms was created. The Inspector was responsible for advising the Air Council on matters concerning the design and issue of the Badges. The first officer to hold this post was Sir John Heaton-Armstrong MVO, Chester Herald of Arms Extraordinary, who designed the basic frame of the badge within which all devices have subsequently been placed. A badge appropriate to the unit would be designed and approved by the unit commander, then a description and illustration of how the unit would like it to appear would be sent to the Inspector. After he had confirmed that it was appropriate and conformed with heraldic rules, the RAF would then commission the College of Arms to paint the definitive version and this painting was then signed by the Sovereign. In May 1936 the first seven badges to be awarded were signed by King Edward VIII.
A common question is why some badges for different units show the same design. When a unit applied for a badge and submitted an original design, the badge was granted to the unit as a Unique Badge. Sometimes, however, the design of an original badge was copied. For example if a unit changed its name, it would often utilise the original design in an application for a new badge to be granted. In these cases, the only difference from the old badge would be the name of the unit in the circlet, the pale blue band around the badge. The new badge was known as a Close Copy and would not be signed by the Sovereign but by an Air Member for Personnel.
There are many instances of this. Second Tactical Air Force has a Unique badge, but when its name changed to RAF Germany a new badge was granted which was simply the old 2 TAF badge with RAF Germany replacing 2 TAF in the circlet. The badge of Air Support Command is a Close copy of Transport Command; 2 Squadron RAF Regiment is a Close copy of 2 Armoured Car Company and RAF Kemble is a Close copy of No 5 Maintenance Unit.
As might be imagined, the granting of badges is governed by strict rules, some laid down by the College of Arms and some by the RAF itself. Within the RAF, the rules were originally devised by the Air Council, now the Air Force Board. Prior to 1950, in order to qualify for the award of a badge the only rule was that the unit had to submit and have approved a design for its badge before the unit was disbanded.
There was a financial consideration in this rule; the first RAF badges were not paid for out of RAF funds but from the funds of the unit. It was eventually pointed out that the Royal Navy had all its badges funded by the Navy and from then on the RAF paid for the costs involved in the granting of a badge. Naturally, however, the RAF was not keen to become involved in the retrospective funding of badges for disbanded units, so the rule has always been applied rigorously. However, the sheer volume of work, coupled with the chaotic changes in the armed forces at the end of World War Two, meant that the King did not sign many wartime applications until 1946 and even 1947, well after some of the units had disbanded.
This resulted in a few cases where a unit may have been awarded a badge seemingly after its disbandment, because as long as the application had been made and approved before the disbandment, it was treated as though the unit had continued to exist. For example, 176 and 177 Squadrons were formed in January 1943. No.176 Squadron was disbanded in May 1946 and 177 Sqn in July 1946, yet both were granted their badges in November 1946. No. 582 Sqn was only in existence for 17 months, but was granted a badge one month after its disbandment.
The refusal to grant a badge after disbandment has over the years caused a great deal of distress to some former unit members. The best-known fight was that of Miss Jane Pelling and the 273 Squadron Association, whose members tried for nearly 30 years to have a badge awarded to the Squadron. There was no doubt over 273 Sqn's record in battle. It played a leading role in the RAF effort to help turn the Japanese out of Burma, later described by Earl Mountbatten as one of "the greatest achievements I know of in any theatre of War". Flying from airstrips hacked out of the jungle, the Mk8 Spitfires of 273 Sqn strafed and bombed Japanese positions with the loss of 14 pilots. Miss Pelling's brother Ian was invalided out of the Service with spinal meningitis and sandfly fever.
The problem with the badge arose when one of the pilots, Eddy Juzak, who was designing it, chose to include in the design a jade fylfot on top of a nearby Buddhist temple. The fylfot was a Buddhist symbol for peace dating back thousands of years but is was judged that it too closely resembled the Nazi swastika and the badge was not approved. By the time a revised design was submitted the war was over and the Squadron was disbanded. Even the cross-party efforts of MP's such as David Clark, the shadow defence secretary, Michael Mates, Tony Benn and Nicholas Soames, the Armed Forces Minister, were not enough to reverse the rule, but at least the Squadron Association won the right to have the badge awarded in its name, rather than that of the Squadron alone.
A similar end came to recent efforts by the remaining 81 members of 671 Squadron Association to have a badge retrospectively granted to its Squadron as a mark of respect for those who served with the Sqn during the war. During 1944, the Air Ministry called for volunteers to form with survivors of the Glider Pilot Regiment, six squadrons (Nos 668-673) totalling approximately 1,100 pilots to " carry out hazardous airborne operations against Japanese forces in South East Asia". Despite the fact that aircrew were aware of their likely fate should they fall into enemy hands, the response was as complete as it was immediate. No 671 Squadron was hastily despatched to India during 1944, but the proposed operations were never launched against the Japanese and the Squadron was subsequently disbanded on October 25, 1945. The 671 Squadron Association lobbied the RAF extensively to have the rule changed to allow it and other units in this situation to commission the retrospective design and award of a badge, but to no avail.
When the first badges were awarded in 1936, there was no rule about the amount of time a unit had been in existence before it could apply for a badge and this applied throughout World War Two. After 1950, a rule was introduced which specified that the unit must have existed for at least two years, which was increased to five years after Duncan Sandy's Review of Services in the mid-1950's. A further rule introduced at the same time was that the unit should have a strength of at least 150 personnel.
It appeared at times that the first thing a new Squadron did after being formed was to design and apply for a badge. For example, 615 (County of Surrey) Squadron was formed in June 1937 and granted its badge in December 1937. The actual life-span of some units was barely long enough to have a badge granted; 578 Squadron was formed in 1944, was granted its badge in February 1945 and was disbanded in April 1945.
However, it is a strange fact that, for reasons which are unknown, exceptions have been made to most of the rules. The School of Firefighting and Rescue was formed in August 1953 and granted its badge in October 1953, in apparent contravention of the rule in force at that time that the unit should have been in existence for at least two years. Despite the fact that there is now a five year rule, the Ulster Maritime Support Unit was formed in 1960 and granted its badge in 1963, while RAF Station Ascension Island was formed in 1982 and granted its badge in 1983.
The most extreme examples of bending the rules have been where a badge has been granted even before the unit existed. For example, Strike Command was formed in April 1968 but was granted its badge two months previously in February of that year, while Training Command was formed in June 1968 but granted its badge five months before in January 1968. This is not a modern phenomenon; Transport Command was formed in March 1943 and granted its badge the following month in April, so anticipation of the formation of the Command and application must have been made well before the Command existed, since the time taken by the College of Arms to scrutinise and approve the badge would normally not have allowed this.
It has also always been a rule that no unit should have more than one badge, but the famous case of 600 (City of London) Sqn is an exception. The Squadron had an unofficial badge depicting the badge of the City of London which the College of Arms refused to approve because it was heraldically incorrect. A new CO submitted a different design showing a moon and scimitar, appropriate for a night fighter squadron which it had now become and this was approved and the badge granted in 1944. However, when Queen Elizabeth, now the Queen Mother, became Honorary Air Commodore of the Squadron, some of the 'Old Guard' brought the matter to the unofficial but much loved original badge to her attention and she promised to bring the matter to the attention of the King. The result was that 600 Squadron uniquely now has two official Unique badges, although RAF Station Oakhangar, which originally used a Close copy of 90 Group, was subsequently granted its own Unique badge in 1974.
Another badge which broke the one badge rule and caused some complications along the way is that of 18 Group HQ. The unit was originally based at Pitreavie Castle, a northern station, so its badge was submitted showing a polar bear's head and this was granted as a unique badge. Pitreavie Castle eventually became the HQ of Northern Maritime Air Region, which was awarded a Close copy of the 18 Group Badge in 1968. Then it became the HQ of Air Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland, which in 1987 was then awarded a badge of its own, a Close copy of the Northern Maritime Air Region badge!
Finally, 18 Group was amalgamated with No 11 Group in 1995 and the new 11/18 Group HQ applied for and was awarded a Unique badge which showed the Fighter Command Portcullis and sword design on the original Coastal Command background of blue and white waves. However, they also wanted to keep the old motto from the 18 Group badge, which translated from the Latin to 'They shall not pass with impunity' but could not do so as this was officially the motto of a different unit. So, with great ingenuity, they enlisted the help of a Latin scholar who changed the ending of one word so that the motto meant the same as before but was technically different, and 11/18 Group got what they wanted.
Sometimes it has not been obvious whether or not a unit has a badge. For example, RAF Station West Kirby was granted a badge which was signed by HM Queen Elizabeth in April 1952, a mere two months after the death of King George VI. However, following investigation approval was withdrawn by the Air Ministry when it was realised that there was no actual station of the name but only a unit, No.5 School of Recruit Training in residence at West Kirby. Nevertheless, this badge will be included in the Trust collection as the badge did exist and was signed by the Sovereign and so is part of RAF history.
Finally, there was one case of a badge being awarded to a unit with a different name. Eastern Area Depot 5 was formed in 1926, changing its name to Home Aircraft Depot in 1936. It changed its name again to 13 Maintenance Unit in 1941 and was granted a Unique badge in 1948. However, the badge they received was in the name of Home Aircraft Depot, which the unit had ceased to be seven years earlier! No 13 MU finally became RAF Station Henlow, which in 1967 was awarded its own badge, a Close copy of the badge of home Aircraft Depot. No 13 MU never did get a badge in its own name.
Rules also apply to the award of Standards and Battle Honours which may be awarded to units of the RAF, RAuxAF, RAF Regiments and RNAS on certain qualifications. Standards can be awarded after 25 years of Service with an additional life expectancy of at least five years. However, at the discretion of the Sovereign, a Standard may be awarded before the time requirement has been achieved in appreciation of significant action in a theatre of war. The Standard of 617 Squadron was one such example, being awarded in 1959 only 16 years after the Squadron was formed. The only other Squadron so honoured was 120 Squadron, awarded its Standard in 1961 after 19 years service in recognition of outstanding anti-submarine action in World War Two.
The silk embroidered border of the RAF Standards is composed of the national emblems of the four home countries; the Thistle, Rose, Shamrock and Leek. Interestingly, some early Standards did not include the Leek in the border and this omission was brought to the attention of Parliament by a Welsh MP in 1953. This was duly amended and in 1954 the first Standard to include the Leek in the design was presented by Princess Margaret to 605 (County of Warwick) Sqn RAuxAF.
The Question of Battle Honours is also, inevitably, more complicated than might first be thought. The first thing to make clear is that even if a unit is entitled to a Battle Honour, it is not awarded until the unit has satisfied the requirements for the award of a Standard. Only then can the unit apply for the award of Battle Honours, which are presented by the Air Ministry/MOD after scrutiny of the Unit records. This has caused concern amongst some badge sponsors, who expected the painting of their unit badge to show honours reflecting its fighting history. For example, 82 Squadron was actually in existence for one month over the 25 years, but was never awarded a Standard, so unfortunately has no Battle Honours. It certainly had entitlement to Battle Honours, but those potential Honours could not be awarded until the Squadron had a Standard.
Once awarded, Battle Honours are divided into those with the right of emblazonment, i.e. with the right to be displayed on the Standard, and those with the right of entitlement but without the right of emblazonment. For right of emblazonment, the unit had to be involved in direct confrontation with the enemy, demonstrating gallantry and spirit under fire. Right of entitlement only was awarded when the unit took part in a campaign but not under direct fire. For example, the Honour 'South Atlantic 1982' was only awarded with right of emblazonment to No 1 Sqn flying Harriers, No 18 Sqn flying Chinooks and No 63 Sqn RAF Regiment operating the Rapier. Twelve other Squadrons were awarded the Honour without the right of emblazonment. The Honour 'Gulf 1991' was awarded to 20 units with the right of emblazonment. and to 22 others without, because they were either guard forces or in reserve and therefore not in direct confrontation with the enemy.
Having said that, there is also a group of Honours which may not be displayed on the Standard in any circumstances and were never awarded with right of emblazonment, no matter how active the unit had been in the campaign. For example, the Honour East Africa 1915-1917' was awarded for operations over German East Africa during its conquest from the enemy, whether by aircraft based in the country or operating from external seaplane bases, but may never be displayed on the Standard of units entitled to the Honour. Many of the numerous inter-war campaigns, especially in India, resulted in the award of Honours which could not be displayed because of a decision by the Air Council. RAF Squadrons were also entitled to claim Army Battle Honours if the squadron could prove to the Air Ministry that it had 'intimate participation in the land battle'.
However, that is not the end of the story. Even when a Standard had been awarded, Squadrons were only allowed to show a maximum of eight Honours on the Standard, even if they were entitled to more. A commander would have to indicate which eight of the Squadron's Honours were to be displayed and would have the unenviable task of having to decide which to leave out. No.11 Sqn decided to display the Honours Loos, Cambrian 1917, Somme 1918, Hindenburg Line, Egypt & Libya 1940-1942, Arakan 1943-1944, North Burma 1943-1944, and Burma 1944-1945. They left out Western Front 1915-1918, Somme 1916, Arras, Amiens, East Africa 1940, Greece 1941 and Syria 1941.
We are sometimes asked why an Army Regiment may display 20 to 30 Battle Honours on their Standard but an RAF Unit may only have eight. The reason is simple - The Standards of the RAF measure only 4ft by 2ft 8in (1.2m x 80cm) and it was thought that it would be an aesthetic disaster to crowd the Standard with too many Honours. Recently, however, the rule restricting the Standard to eight Honours has changed. When airmen returned from the Gulf War they were disappointed in some cases to be told that the conflict Honour could not be displayed on the Standard as it already had the full complement of eight. At the same time, it was realised that memories of those conflicts which were not marked on the Standard were slowly slipping out of general knowledge of the unit history. In consequence, the number of Honours which may now be displayed has risen to 15. The paintings of the Trust, however, include all the Honours on the Standard as they are displayed plus all the other Honours with the right of emblazonment to which the Squadron is entitled.
The RAF Heraldry Trust is progressing well - but still needs your support.
For further information on the Trust and details of how to sponsor a badge, please send a SAE (A5) to:
|© Griffon & Royal Air Force Heraldry Trust 1998-2009|