Although Britain's armed forces came together in 1707, the ranks of officers within the armed forces were not established until 1760. In modern times, the badges, patches, and various forms of insignia that show an officer's rank are coveted collectibles. The Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and the Royal Marine Corps all have different ranks, rank insignia, and assorted militaria.
British Army Rank Insignia
The first rank insignia in the British army consisted of patterns of laces on the cuffs of the uniform. In 1810, Army rank badges for field officers came out. Worn on the shoulders, the insignia had crowns and stars in variations for each rank, similar to the insignia used in 2014. Around the mid-1800s, dress regulations changed to display rank on the collars of regimental officers like captains, colonels, and lieutenants. In 1880, shoulder boards took the place of other badges, although the patterns of crowns and stars remained. Cuff badges came out in the early 1900s but did not stay for long because they made officers more conspicuous in battle. Since 1921, rank insignia has taken the form of collar patches or rank slides worn on the chest.
Royal Air Force Rank Insignia Collectibles
Ranks for commissioned officers in the Royal Air Force consist of badges on the cuff. The badge has thin and thick braids in various numbers. The lowest rank, that of pilot officer, is a single thin braid, while the Marshal of the Air Force wears four thin braids above one thick braid. The very first braids were pale blue or gold on a grey background but later changed to pale blue on black. The only modern RAF uniform with gold braid is the mess dress. Apart from braids on the cuff, RAF officers wear shoulder boards of rank for special ceremonies, as well as cap badges and other rank badges. Other RAF ranks wear chevrons, eagles, and crowns on the sleeve.
Royal Navy and Marines Rank Collectibles
Naval officers have worn uniforms since 1748, but the first uniforms had no rank insignia. Over time, rank markings included embroidery on the cuffs, epaulettes, and different arrangements of buttons on a single-breasted coat. From 1795 onwards, rank badges on epaulettes ranged from a single foul anchor for lieutenants to a crown, crossed batons, and four stars for the Admiral of the Fleet. Officers also wear gold braid or lace on the cuffs with the characteristic "curl", with sub-lieutenants wearing a single curl and each successive rank wearing more or thicker laces with a curl at the top. Despite serving as a part of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines use almost the same ranks and insignia as the British Army. Officers used shoulder badges, cap or beret badges, collar badges, rank slides, and buttons to display rank depending on the uniform and time period.