Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Review of
Rank and Rate – Royal Naval Officers’ Insignia Since 1856
By E C Coleman
ISBN 9781847971388
Published by The Crowood Press (
GBP £19.95

This publication identifies and comments upon the insignia Royal Naval officers have worn since the uniform regulations of 1856. He considers not only the RN but all of its divisions and related Forces such as the various Reserve formations. It provides an excellent reference work which can be used to date the uniforms worn by naval officers.

Often I find in the course of research that an image of a naval officer has been taken and the hard part is to identify the era of the photograph and to glean as much information as possible from the image. “Rank and Rate” will undoubtedly help to solve this issue as it carefully lists all commissioned branches of the navy and their various insignia.

The author has conducted an outstanding piece of research in order to produce this first rate reference work. He starts by considering the insignia on cuffs and their associated buttons. Then he refers to officers’ cocked hats from 1827 which are famous for identifying the wearer as an officer.

As the navy progressed to more modern headwear the cap badge was introduced and these are covered in their multitude of designs. The styles of peaked caps are also discussed and so too is the special insignia of senior officers worn on such hats.

The devices worn on shoulders are noted and these are the precursors to the modern day epaulettes (shoulder boards). Also, the various designs of the collars of tunics are described. Current naval officers wear swords on ceremonial occasions. These weapons were originally designed for fighting so the wearing of them was much more frequent and necessary. The different sword designs are illustrated and so too are sword belts and sword knots.

He devotes a chapter to Midshipmen, cadets and officers under training. These “officers” have had a multitude of insignia denoting their status and there is a section on Chaplains’ who carry no special rank but live with the officers.

The penultimate chapter deals with the problems of attaching insignia to nuclear, biological and chemical suits. These rank based badges are “stuck on” the NBC suit and are not very elaborate compared to their counterparts for other dress. The book closes with a listing of buttons worn by officers since 1748 and there are details about all the various designs.

This exceptional text identifies the various badges and dress of officers of our illustrious navy. It covers all the branches of the regular navy (the Royal Navy) and all its associated Reserves etc. The author’s research has been conducted to a very high standard and he should be given credit for this. I am sure that this book will become a necessity to researchers and naval genealogists and as such will be present in any important library regarding the navy.

October 2010