What are the Silver War Badge and the King’s Certificate of Discharge?
This small silver badge is a pin designed to be worn on civilian clothes after early discharge from the army. It was first issued in 1916, when it was also retrospectively awarded to those already discharged since August 1914. The Silver War Badge was initially called simply the ‘War Badge’; it has also been popularly known as the ’Silver Wound Badge’, ‘Services Rendered Badge’, ‘Discharged Soldiers Badge’, or ‘King’s Silver Badge’.
The certificate is an ornate printed scroll in which the number, names and unit of the discharged serviceman or woman were handwritten in a calligraphic script. The wording was ‘[…Number, rank, name, unit…] Served with honour and was disabled in the Great War. Honourably discharged on...’ There was a facsimile signature of King George V. There were different designs for the Army, Navy and Air Force, and for Imperial troops.
Who received the Silver War Badge and King’s Certificate?
The Silver War Badge was awarded to most servicemen and women who were discharged from military service during the First World War, whether or not they had served overseas. Expiry of a normal term of engagement did not count and the most common reason for award of the badge was King’s Regulations Paragraph 392 (xvi), meaning they had been released on account of being permanently physically unfit. This was as often a result of sickness, disease or uncovered physical weakness and war wounds. Soldiers discharged during the war because of disabilities they sustained after they had served overseas in a theatre of operations (an area where there was active fighting) could also receive a King’s Certificate. Entitlement to the Silver War Badge did not necessarily entitle a man to the award of a King’s Certificate, but those awarded a Certificate would have been entitled to the Badge.
What was the purpose of the Silver War Badge and King’s Certificate?
The main purpose of the badge was to prevent men not in uniform and without apparent disability being thought of as shirkers – it was evidence of having presented for military service, if not necessarily serving for long.
A closer look: The Silver War Badge
On the back of each badge is a unique number corresponding to the Silver War Badge rolls that survive at The National Archives (TNA). This means that each badge can be traced to an individual.
The Silver War Badge Roll, generally gives the date of enlistment, and why the discharge was granted. The Silver War Badge Roll is held at The National Archives and available online through Lives of the First World War.
The Silver War Badge Roll usually provides details of a specific unit served in – such as an infantry battalion, artillery battery, engineer field company, or service corps workshop - information that may not be in other sources and which can lead on to specific War Diaries at TNA, under the reference WO 95. However, this can mislead – many wounded men were posted to home service and disposal units immediately prior to discharge, and it is these units that the roll sometimes shows, not the one with which the main service was given.
For some soldiers, the Silver War Badge Roll may be the only official document where their military service is now recorded. This might include soldiers whose service papers were destroyed in 1940 when German incendiary bombs fell on a warehouse in London, at Arnside Street destroying 60% of First World War soldiers service papers) or soldiers who were not eligible for a medal because they did not serve overseas.
Useful websites and books for further research
The Long, Long Trail
This wide-ranging website has a useful introduction to the Silver War Badge, including a full expansion of the King’s Regulation paragraphs that can highlight the precise reason for discharge.
Lives of the First World War
You can search the Silver War Badge records here. The index is available for free and the digitised records are viewable to subscribers.
Copies of all these books can be freely consulted from open shelves at the Explore History Centre at IWM London.
Great War Medal Collectors Companion by Howard Williamson
(Anne Williamson, Harwich, Essex, 2011)
Detailed illustrated section on Silver War Badges p145–160 and King’s Certificates on Discharge p531–540