Navy Recognition of Service Badges

by Dr Jozef Straczek

Every year on Anzac Day thousands of Australian men and women can be seen marching in the streets of Australia’s major cities and towns or gathered around small country town cenotaphs. On their chests they proudly display their or their family’s record of service and sacrifice to the nation. A day later these same people seem to melt into the crowd and disappear. Yet the signs are still there, though not as obvious as the shining medals and multi-coloured ribbons.

Since the First World War the Australian government has been presenting to individuals a variety of badges, for wearing in civilian clothing, reflecting the wearer’s status as having either returned from active service, volunteered for service or being a family member of a person on active service. The following represent the various badges issued to naval personnel or their relatives and merchant seamen by either the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defence since the First World War. British badges which RAN or merchant service personnel would be entitled to are also illustrated.

First World War Badges

Female Relative’s Badge

The Female Relative’s Badge was issued to the mother or nearest female, blood, relative of a person who had enlisted in the RAN or a naval member of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force which captured German New Guinea. Badges were also issued in respect of members of the RAN Brigade and the Auxiliary Services where these persons had enlisted for general active service at sea and had served in a seagoing warship. Service in training ships did not count.

Eligibility for the badge was also extended to the RAN Brigade Minesweeping Section where they had spent time at sea undertaking actual war minesweeping.

Female relatives of RAN Bridging Train personnel were required to apply for a badge through the Department of Defence as the Bridging Train was deemed to be part of the AIF.

Mothers were entitled to the award of an additional silver bar, suspended below the badge, in recognition of the service of a second son. In the case of where a husband enlisted and then a son a bar would also be awarded.


Mother’s and Widow’s Badge

The Mother’s and Widow’s badge was awarded to the mother and/or widow of all naval personnel who were killed in action, died of wounds or other causes while on active service. An award was also made if the individual died from war related causes after discharge. The badge was issued only after an application was submitted.

Each death was indicated by the addition of a federation star.


Home Service Badge

In November 1918 the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board decided that a service badge would be issued to members of the RAN Brigade and other members of the Naval Forces who had volunteered for overseas service with either the RAN or AIF but, for service requirements, had not been allowed to deploy overseas and were retained in Australia.


Returned Sailor’s Badge

A Returned Sailor’s Badge, also described as a Returned from Active Service Badge, was authorised for members of the RAN along a similar vein to the badge issued to the AIF. As the Navy was a permanent force all members of the sea-going forces who had served at sea between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 were eligible for the award. The exception to this were members who had been discharged either Services No Longer Required, for disciplinary reasons, or who as a result of their own neglect or misconduct had been discharged for medical reasons.

Personnel who had been discharged ‘at own request’, prior to the Armistice, for compelling personal or compassionate reasons had to have served afloat for at least 12 months.

Full eligibility criteria for this badge was promulgated in a number of Commonwealth Navy Orders (CNO) issued between 1918 and 1921. The later instruction, CNO 218/1921, expanded eligibility to include the RAN nurses who served onboard the hospital ship HMAS Grantala during the campaign in German New Guinea, and civilian canteen staff.

Initially these badges carried a numerical serial number on the back. In later badges the serial number is preceded by the letter N.

As overseas service chevrons were already worn on naval uniform this badge was only to be worn when not in uniform.


Transport Service Badge

The Transport Service Badge was issued to non-enlisted personnel, between the ages of 18 and 45, who were employed on board transports during the war. The initial issue of the badges was apparently made in 1917 through the Port of Melbourne Authority.


Transport Wireless Operator’s Badge

The Transport Wireless Operator’s badge was issued to non-enlisted personnel who served on board transports as wireless operators. They had to have served at sea for 12 months and in a ship that had sailed through a war zone. These badges were issued by the Director of Radio Service.

RAN wireless operators who served on transports received the Returned Sailor’s badge.


Mercantile Marine Torpedoed Badge


The gold badge was awarded to merchant seaman who, after serving on a ship which had been sunk or mined, made another voyage, of at least one month, on a British ship. Should the seaman suffer the misfortune of being sunk a second time and subsequently signed on for a third voyage, then he was awarded a bar. If the merchant seaman had survived six sinkings and signed on for another voyage he could exchange the previously awarded bars for a five pointed star.


The Mercantile Marine Torpedoed Badge with one bar, indicates that the vessel was sunk twice and returned to sea for a third time.

The badge was worn on the left cuff of either sea or shore rig. Initially it was of red worsted. On 12 December 1918 approval was given for the issue of gold wire badges to Masters and officers (holding Board of Trade Certificates) as well as junior officers, pursers, surgeons, wireless operators, apprentices, cadets and licensed pilots. Holders of red badges could exchange them for gold ones.

Australian merchant seamen who satisfied the criteria could receive this award.


Merchant Service War Badge


Officially known as the Mercantile Marine War Zone Badge, the badge was issued to officers and seamen of the mercantile marine who had served in a designated war zone. The badge is the equivalent to the Navy’s Returned Sailor’s Badge. Issue of the badges commenced in 1919.


Silver War Badge

The Silver War Badge was an Imperial award issued to those who had been honourably discharged as a result of wounds or injuries received during war service. The badges are numbered and those issued to Australians carry an A prefix.

If the recipient lost his badge a replacement was not officially issued. Though there are badges marked “REPLACEMENT” in existence.

Members of the RAN and Naval Reserves were entitled to the badge. Merchant seamen, medical and dental practioners who rendered full-time service on naval vessels or vessels under naval control were also eligible for the award. Unissued badges were eventually returned to the United Kingdom.


Second World War Badges

During the First World War the RAN and AIF were administered by separate departments, the Department of the Navy and the Department of Defence. As a consequence badges were issued by each department on behalf of their respective service. This was not the case for the Second World War where there was a single Department of Defence. Badges issued to naval personnel during the Second World War carried an N prefix before the badge'’s serial number.


Female Relative’s Badge

The Female Relative’s Badge was introduced in 1940 for issue to the nearest female relative of a serving person. In order for the female relative to receive the badge the serving individual also had to be eligible for the award of the Returned from Active Service Badge. This provision meant that female relatives of merchant seamen could not receive the badge.

The badge was issued by the Department of Defence and serially numbered. The serial number was preceded by the letters N (Navy), A (Army) or AF (Air Force). A small Federation Star for each eligible member was attached to a bar suspended from the badge.


Mother’s and Widow’s Badge

The Mother’s and Widow’s Badge was issued to the mother or widow of a member of the Navy, Army, Air Force or Merchant Navy who was killed or died on active service.

The badge was reintroduced as an award to cover the Korean War, Malay Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation and the Vietnam War. What is possibly the final recorded issued of this badge occurred in 1995 when several were presented to widows of official war correspondents from the Vietnam War.

A single star on the suspension bar represented the loss of a single family member. Additional stars were added for subsequent losses.


General Service Badge - Type 1

The General Service Badge was first introduced in 1940. Eligibility criteria for the badge required that the recipient had volunteered for overseas service but been retained in Australia or was waiting to deploy overseas.

The badge was also temporarily issued to members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve who were waiting to be called up for service.

Members of the Navy, Air Force and AIF who were discharged for medical reasons prior to deploying overseas could also receive this badge, provided the reason for their medical discharge was not as a result of misconduct or a pre-existing medical condition present on enlistment.


General Service Badge - Type 2

The General Service Badge was issued to persons who served full-time during the Second World War for a period of 28 days or more, continuously or in aggregate, and discharged without becoming eligible for the Returned from Active Service Badge. Persons who were discharged because of misconduct and those who were in a reserved occupation were not eligible for the badge. The badge was also issued to approved representatives of philanthropic bodies, as well as official press correspondents and official photographers who met the qualifying criteria.

Eligibility for the badge ceased on 2 September 1945. Because of manufacturing delays badges were not issued until the late 1940s. In the case of the Navy these badges carry the date 1947.

Badges were serially numbered and carried a service prefix. Badges issued to women had a brooch fitting while those issued to men had lugs.


Returned from Active Service Badge

The Second World War Returned from Active Service Badge was introduced in January 1941. The badge was issued to members of the Navy, Air Force, AIF (including the Australian Army Nursing Service), Voluntary Aid Detachments, approved members of philanthropic organisations, official press correspondents and official photographers on their return to Australia from active service overseas or specified areas within Australia that came under enemy attack.

The award was intended for wear by returned service personnel and for this reason it was not issued posthumously or to next of kin. Issue of the badge was typically made at the time of discharge or demobilisation.


Reserved Occupation Badge

Introduced in 1941, the Reserved Occupation Badge was issued to persons who had volunteered for overseas service but were employed in one of the essential wartime industries. The volunteers had to meet the medical and age requirements for enlistment.

The badge was also issued to members of the Navy, Air Force and AIF who were discharged because they were required to take up employment in a reserved occupation.


Merchant Navy - Australia Badge

The Merchant Navy - Australia Badge was issued to men of the Merchant Navy who signed on in Australia. Eligible service included overseas service, service in Australian waters or service onboard a deep-sea fishing vessel. Vessels operating in rivers or bays were excluded as was service onboard a pilot vessel. The service had to be rendered onboard a British flagged ship.

The intention of the badge was to indicate that the wearer was engaged in war service.


Merchant Navy Badge

The Mechant Navy Badge was a British badge issued to non-uniformed seaman serving on British ships. The badge was instituted, with Royal Assent, in January 1940.

Australian merchant seamen serving in British ships outside of Australian waters were eligible to receive this badge.


Post-Second World War

Returned from Active Service Badge

Issue of the 1940s style Returned from Active Service Badge continued during the post-war period.

Minor design changes were made to the badge during this period. The Kings crown was replaced by a Queen’s crown, pins and butterfly clips replaced the original lug fasteners and by the year 2000 the badges no longer carried a service identifier or serial number.

During the Vietnam War a small number of badges with the King’s Crown were issued to members of Clearance Diving Team Three and the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam.


Operational Service Badge - Military

In 2012 the Australian Government instituted the Australian Operational Service Medal. The introduction of this award means that the Australian Active Service Medal and Australian Service Medal will gradually phase out over time as each operation currently recognised with these awards draws to a close. The Australian Operational Service Medal will now be issued for all new Australian Defence Force operations where medallic recognition is warranted.

Also approved alongside the Australian Operational Service Medal is the Operational Service Badge. This is presented on the first occasion that a person qualifies for an Australian Operation Service Medal. There are two variants of the badge, one for service personnel and another for civilians who render operational service in support of an Australian Defence Operation that qualifies them for the Australian Operational Service Medal – Civilian.

Unlike the Returned from Active Service Badge, the Operational Service Badge can be presented to the next of kin of a deceased person.

One design feature of the badge is that it is surmounted by the Federation Star and not a monarch’s crown. This is the first badge awarded to service personnel to omit the crown.


Royal Australian Navy Reserve Badge and Brooch

Announced in 1951 by the Minister for the Navy, the Hon Josiah Francis MP, the RANR Badge was presented to members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, the Volunteer Reserve, the Fleet Reserve and the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Reserve. The badge was worn with civilian clothing.


Family Support Pin - Navy

Introduced in 2012 the ADF Family Support Pin recognises the invaluable support families of deployed service personnel provide to their loved ones overseas. The badge was initially conceived by Mr Milan Nikolic who had served in Rwanda as an Army medic. There are four different pins, one for each Service and one for Defence civilians.


RAN Bereavement Pin

Introduced in 2008 the RAN Bereavement Pin is presented to family members of Navy personnel who have lost their lives while serving in the RAN. The first pins were presented to families of those who lost their lives when HMAS Sydney was lost.

Entitlement to the badge is retrospective so that all family members of RAN personnel who died while serving in the Navy are eligible to receive the Navy Bereavement Pin. There is no restriction placed on the service, either war or peacetime service.




Image Sources

With the exception of the following all images were provided by the author.

  • Fig 2 - Australian War Memorial
  • Fig 3 - Mr Des Bayliss
  • Fig 5 - NAA
  • Fig 19 (Brooch) - Mr John Perryman