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

BIn 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".