The Service Corps and Departments
1881 to 1902

At the culmination of the 1881 Cardwell and Childers Reforms, Great Britain was deeply divided into strata’s based on social class and associated perceptions of breeding and wealth. In general the landed gentry and the upper echelons of the middle class populated the cavalry and infantry with its officers, and the better educated provided a regiment of artillery and a corps of engineer staff. However, the services and departments that were necessary to support the fighting part of the army in the field were often divided into two.  

In part this was because before 1855 some elements had been organised by the Board of Ordnance, such as artillery and engineers and transport and storage, and some by the Treasury, such as the commissary services that kept a control on supply, and expenditure. While the artillery and engineers had now joined the cavalry and infantry under a single headquarters, and the latter had merged the hitherto separate engineer staff with the men of the sappers and miners, there was still a tendency to keep the ostensibly non-combatant support elements separate from the combatant arms.  

Another factor was formal qualification, with those holding professional credentials often placed in a separate department from the more menial functionaries who were also crucial to the creation of a coherent set of services, as had previously been the case with the engineers, and sappers and miners. In the case of supply and transport this led to officers being placed in a 'Commissariat and Transport Staff' and their men organised in a 'Commissariat and Transport Corps'. Even the rank titles of the Commissariat officers were entirely different to those of the rest of the army, as if to underline their non-combatant status. In a similar manner stores facilities were organised by officers within an 'Ordnance Department' while the men required did the hands-on work within an 'Ordnance Store Corps'. In a likewise manner the officers dealing with pay were organised in an Army Pay Department, whilst their clerical support was provided by the Corps of Military Staff Clerks , along with regimental clerks where appropriate. In the same pattern, surgeons below general rank equivalent and less those surgeons of the Horse and Foot Guards, were organised in an Army Medical Department, whereas the men needed to work under their instruction were a part of the Army Hospital Corps. The army was essentially a Christian one and spiritual needs were attended to by clerics of the Army Chaplains Department, who again had discrete titles to mark their status. In an almost mirror image of the medical services, veterinary surgeons and assistants were brought within an Army Veterinary Department, with the same exceptions relating to general officer equivalents, and those serving in the Horse Guard regiments, who remained separate.

As well as these larger services, there were smaller organisations that might be described as miscellaneous staff functions ranging from Provost, through Prison Governors, to Inspectors of Schools, Barracks Masters, Garrison Staff, Royal Hospitals, and the Unattached List, each of which contained officers wearing uniform and insignia.

This then was the background to a divided army that mirrored the social peccadillo’s and professional snobberies of their age, and the next section of this series focuses primarily on the foregoing organisations officer insignia at the time of the 1883 Dress Regulations. However, it was a period of great change and, as with the previous sections, alterations in pattern will be shown reflecting the further reorganisation of support services and departments up to the close of Queen Victoria's reign in 1902.

The Commissariat and Transport Staff
1881 to 1888

Before 1869, supply duties had been the responsibility of the Commissariat, a uniformed civilian body. In 1869, the civilian commissaries of the Commissariat and the military officers of the Military Train amalgamated into the Control Department. The following year the other ranks of the Military Train were re-designated as an Army Service Corps (ASC), destined to be the first, but not last use of this title, and officered by the Control Department. In November 1875, the Control Department was divided into the Commissariat and Transport Department and the Ordnance Store Department. In January 1880, the Commissariat and Transport Department was renamed the Commissariat and Transport Staff and the Army Service Corps was renamed the Commissariat and Transport Corps. At the time a new form of artistic expression known as the Art Nouveau movement was sweeping Victorian Britain and the principal motif of the Commissariat and Transport Staff was expressed in stylised, art nouveau lettering as a cypher in the centre of officers' helmet plate stars. Waist belt clasps were of typical 1855 pattern with the new title placed upon the circlet, and a standard British Army Crest of Lion and Crown in the centre. Perhaps as a foil for these relatively simple designs the gilt button was especially elegant, featuring a scalloped edge and horizontally ribbed dome, with the Army Crest embossed in the centre.

The Army Service Corps
1889 to 1902

In December 1888, the Commissariat and Transport Staff and Commissariat and Transport Corps. amalgamated with the War Department Fleet of Army administered transport vessels to form a new, far more utilitarian, second Army Service Corps, and for the first time officers and other ranks served in a single, unified organisation. There had historically been constant friction between the old control officers and the combatant officers; the former were said to be not officers at all but civilians. The Royal Warrant transformed the 'mere clerks' into combatants and the department was no longer despised. Divided into Supply and Transport Branches, the Army Service Corps provided bakers, butchers, slaughter house men, staff clerks, packers and loaders, tailors, shoemakers, wagon/cart drivers, farriers, saddlers, horse collar makers and wheelers. Instead of art nouveau, a more traditional cursive script was used for the new central cypher in the helmet plate star and pouch belt badge, but this was later replaced with a more avant garde style monogram that became familiar over the next 70-years. Officers waist belt clasps retained their basic design, but with the new corps title on the circlet, and the gilt button bore the Royal cypher within a Garter surmounted by a crown.  The garter inscribed "ARMY SERVICE CORPS".
The Army Medical Services
1881 to 1902

In 1855 the Medical Staff Corps of men below officer rank employed as medical orderlies was formed in response to the needs of the Crimean War. These medical orderlies were Officered by long-standing Regimental Surgeons who wore the uniforms and insignia of their own regiments, but with unique features to make clear that they were non-combatant, medical members of the regimental staff. In 1857 the Medical Staff Corps was re-designated the Army Hospital Corps, which had a few officers in specialist, but non-surgical roles. Regimental employment ceased in 1873 and surgeons became members of the Army Medical Staff within an Army Medical Department and thus had to forego regimental uniform and adopt unified dress and insignia of special identity for the first time. In 1884, The Army Hospital Corps and the Army Medical Staff were merged to form a single Medical Staff Corps, which in 1898 was renamed Royal Army Medical Corps, thus creating an organization of all specialties and all ranks.
The Army Ordnance Services
1881 to 1902

“The English Ordnance Department goes back into an older history than the Army. There were Master Generals of the Ordnance and Boards of Ordnance centuries before there were Secretaries of State for War, or Commanders in Chief.”  The supply and repair of technical equipment, principally artillery and small arms, was the responsibility of the Master General of the Ordnance and the Board of Ordnance since the Middle Ages.  

Much of the Ordnance structure was tied to London, with a mixture of largely civilian staff and a small number of military specialists, neither of which were ordinarily geared to deploy into the field. Instead, they carried out their peacetime function day-to-day, but were organised into an ad hoc, deployable 'Ordnance Field Train' as and when essential. Although far from agile, this arrangement muddled through thirty campaigns of varying magnitude until being found entirely wanting during the Crimean War that ended in 1855. Following a number of inquiries that castigated both the Commissariat (see previous section) and almost all of the Field Train system, the Board of Ordnance was abolished and, along with the Royal Artillery and Engineers, its functional responsibilities were passed to the War Office.  

Following the Crimean War the Military Store Department (MSD) created in 1861 granted military commissions and provided officers to manage stores inventories. In parallel a subordinate corps of warrant officers and sergeants, the Military Staff Clerks Corps (MSC), was also created to carry out clerical duties. These very small corps, still based largely in London, were supplemented in 1865 by a Military Store Staff Corps (MSSC) to provide soldiers. In 1870 a further reorganisation, ostensibly to simplify management, resulted in the MSD, MSC and MSSC being grouped with the Army Service Corps (ASC) – previously covered in the Commissariat section of this series - under the Control Department. The officers remained a separate branch (Ordnance, or Military Stores) in the Control Department, but the soldiers were absorbed into the ASC. This arrangement lasted until 1876. The Control Department was disbanded in 1876. The Ordnance/Military Store officers joined a newly created Ordnance Stores Department (OSD). Five years later, following the Cardwell/Childers Reforms of 1881, the soldiers also left the ASC and became the Ordnance Store Corps (OSC). In 1894 there were further changes. The OSD was retitled the Army Ordnance Department (AOD) and absorbed the Inspectors of Machinery from the Royal Artillery (RA). In parallel the OSC was retitled the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) and at the same time absorbed the Corps of Armourers (of sergeant to warrant officer rank) and the RA's Armament Artificers. Once again, this convoluted organisation continued to be characterised by a divide between officers and their men, and what follows are the insignia and principal uniform accoutrements of the officer elements of the Army's Ordnance Services from 1883 until the close of Victoria's reign in 1902.