A common question when looking at WW1 British photographs is “what is that stripe/bar on the lower left arm?” These vertical bars are known as Wound Stripes, and were awarded to those wounded during the Great War.
The Wound Stripes were first approved under Army Order 249 of 1916, published on the 6th July 1916. As they were only worn until 1922, they are really helpful for narrowing down the dates of photographs – If a soldier is wearing these wound stripes, the photo generally dates between 1916 and 1922.
The stripes issued to troops were made of gold Russia braid No.1, two inches in length and worn sewn onto the bottom of the left sleeve. If a soldier was wounded multiple times, he could wear a stripe for each occasion he was wounded.
The original order was vague as regards to eligibility, stating “all officers and soldiers who have been wounded in any of the campaigns since 4th August, 1914“.
Some clarity was given in Army Council Instruction 1637 of 22nd August 1916, which stated –
“…the term ‘wounded’ refers only to those officers and soldiers whose names have appeared, or may hereafter appear, in the Casualty Lists as ‘wounded’.”
This was furthered by Army Council Instruction 2075 of 3rd November 1916 –
“The term ‘wounded’ refers only to those officers and soldiers whose names have appeared or may hereafter appear in casualty lists rendered by the Adjutant General’s office at a base overseas, or by the G.O.C. any force engaged in active operations. Reports in hospital lists are not to be regarded as authoritative for this purpose. Officers and men reported ‘wounded – gas,’ or ‘Wounded – shock, shell,’ are entitled to the distinction. Accidental or self-inflicted wounds or injuries do not qualify.”
The nature of the Great War, meant that it was possible to be wounded by enemy action whilst still in the UK, with air raids and bombardments, as seen in places like Hartlepool and Scarborough. The eligibility was therefore updated as follows in Army Order 236 of August 1917.
“Approval is given for the award of the gold braid distinction to officers, soldiers, members of the Military Nursing Services, members of Voluntary Aid Detachments and special probationers employed in military hospitals who are wounded by the enemy whilst serving in this country.”
Issuing and Wearing
Stripes (made of Russia braid No.1) were supplied by the Army Ordnance Department at public expense (i.e. paid for by the Army). Each man was issued with enough stripes to be worn on two jackets.
The original instructions for how to wear the stripes were provided in the original Army Order as follows:
“… Sewn perpendicularly on the left sleeve of the jacket to mark each occasion on which wounded. In the case of officers the lower end of the first strip of gold braid will be immediately above the upper point of the flap on the cuff. Warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men will wear the gold braid on the left sleeve, the lower edge of the braid to be three inches from the bottom of the sleeve. The additional strips of gold braid, marking each subsequent occasion on which wounded, will be placed on either side of the original one at half-inch interval.”
As I always say when it comes to these things, soldiers didn’t always conform to these regulations!
Wound stripes were also approved for wear in civilian clothing by those who were entitled to them in Army Order 9 of 1918 on 30th December 1918.
Wound stripes were no longer worn after 1922. However, they were re-introduced during the Second World War. Army Council Instruction 233 of 16th February 1944 allowed for those who were issued wound stripes during WW1, to wear a single red stripe on the lower left arm, regardless of how many they had previously worn.
It is common to see Wound Stripes made out of gilded metal (i.e. brass), and these were often purchased and worn by men in place of the issued gold braid.
These gilded metal versions looked smarter, and were much easier to clean than the Russia braid. They could also be easily removed and did not required sewing onto the uniform.