Divisional Signs first appeared early on during the Great War, and by the armistice in November 1918, nearly all British divisions had adopted one. They provided a quick and easy means of identifying units, without giving away the Order of Battle. The signs also provided an esprit de corps, sense of loyalty and belonging to the higher formation.
Those divisions that did not adopt signs were either on Home Service or Garrison Duties. The 43rd Division spent the war on garrison duties in India, with units being dispersed over a wide area. For this reason, coupled with the fact units did not serve all together as a division, they had no need to adopt a sign.
When war ended, mass demobilisation and the rapid reduction in the British Army saw divisional signs start to slowly disappear. Their tactical purpose was no longer required and many commanders were keen to return to peacetime soldiering, wanting all unofficially adopted wartime insignia abolished. This having been said, many others were keen that these signs were retained, as they meant so much to the men who fought under them.
The sentimental feeling regarding divisional signs and insignia used during the war, was particularly strong within Territorial Army formations. So much so, that Army Council Instruction (ACI) 487 of 1924 granted permission for Territorial Army units to wear the divisional sign they had served under during the war on the sleeve of jackets. For formations such as the 43rd Division, who hadn’t adopted a sign, they became excluded from this honour.
Major General Sir Edward Northey GCMG CB took over as commander of 43rd Division in 1924. In agreement with his territorial association, he wanted a divisional sign for the 43rd which could be worn on the sleeve. A proposed design of a red cloth W (W to represent Wessex) was submitted by the division for approval. This was agreed by Southern Command, who wrote a plea to the War Office on behalf of the division. Major General George Henry Basil Freeth, (i/c Administration, Southern Command) wrote on behalf of the division “As the fact that this Division was selected for service in India in 1914, owing to it’s readiness for mobilization, becomes forgotten, some stigma may be attached to it owing to its not possessing a War Badge“. (Letter to War Office 10/10/1924 – WO32/4884)
As this newly proposed sign had not been used during the war, it was quickly rejected by the War Office. The feeling was that the creation of a new badge was an entirely different proposition and did not fall under the remit of ACI 487 of 1924. From surviving records, it does not appear that the Division pushed very hard for the badge after the initial request, and simply accepted the War Office decision. Had it of been approved, we may never have seen the now famous Wessex Wyvern sign adopted in 1935 and as worn by the division during the Second World War, and by 43rd Wessex Brigade until it sadly disappeared from the British Army ORBAT in 2014.