National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Decoding Photos

Decoding Photos

The National Army Museum Heraldry collection consists not just of medals and trophies, but also the heraldic items found on uniforms such as rank insignia, cap badges, buttons, service chevrons and unit patches.

Visitors to the museum regularly ask how they can learn more about their ancestor from old photos – these identifying heraldic features can shed some light and open doors to further research.

Wound Badge

When you study your old family portraits you may see a light coloured bar on the lower left sleeve of their uniform, this two inch stripe of gold Russian Braid No. 1 is the distinct insignia of the wound stripe.

The Army Orders of August 1916 approved a distinction to be worn by all officers and soldiers who had been declared wounded in any campaign since the start of World War One (4 August 1914). For each additional wound, another stripe was placed on either side in 1/2 inch intervals.

During World War Two this practice continued, however now wounds from previous wars would be signified by a single stripe of red rayon braid (this was irrespective of the number of previous occasions when wounded). The wound stripe was not awarded for accidental injuries, neurosis or cases of physical exhaustion.

The wound stripe may seem a little macabre, but surely inspired confidence in the men as they could see how their comrades had suffered injury and still lived to fight another day.

Service Chevrons

Not to be confused with the wound stripe – service chevrons can often be seen in later photos from World War One on the right sleeve of uniforms. In September 1918 General Orders No. 430 approved the award of chevrons to show service overseas from the start of World War One (4 August 1914).

The chevrons were embroidered 1/4 inch wide by 1 and 1/4 inch long and worn inverted (pointing upwards) on the right forearm (4 inches above the cuff). Each chevron was used to denote 12 months service; a red chevron was used to show service on or before 31 December 1914, and a blue chevron indicated each 12 month period after 1 January 1915.

Again in World War Two this practice was continued however the embroidered design was replaced with a red chevron printed on a khaki background.

Picture: Left Hand Side – WWI service chevron, Right Hand Side – WWII service chevrons.

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New Zealand Medal

The New Zealand Medal was instituted on 1 March 1869 for service in the Colony by both Imperial and Colonial Troops during the New Zealand Wars of 1845-47 and 1861-66. The Colonial soldier had to prove he had faced enemy fire or have performed some distinguished service in order to qualify for the medal, whereas the Imperial soldier was awarded the medal if he had merely served in New Zealand.

Many local soldiers did not apply for their medal for a number of reasons. For a start, many of these men could not write. Colonial soldiers also had to provide written proof from their Commanding Officer that they had been under enemy fire. The medal was not available until many years after the wars had ended, which meant it was often difficult to locate these former Commanding Officers. Despite these difficulties, 4,879 medals were issued to members of the Colonial Volunteer units that served during the wars.

The front of the medal shows the profile of Queen Victoria with a veil covering the back of her head. This was the first medal struck after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, and therefore it shows the Queen in mourning.