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Origin of Artillery's Red, Blue and Gold

As these colours figure prominently in artillery uniform, badges of rank and other appurtenances it might be of interest to know how they originated.

In bygone times, whenever a 'train of artillery' was formed for active service it came directly under the Board of Ordnance, headed by the Master (Master-General from 1603) of the Office of Ordnance. The train was manned by a mixture of soldiers and civilians; Gunners made up the military component, professional engineers, miners, pioneers, other tradesmen and drivers the civilian. Gunners manned the guns, engineers designed and laid out field works, miners and pioneers did the digging, tradesmen the repairs, while the drivers looked after the horses. In the field they all lived and worked together.

Now the Board of Ordnance ran this organisation as a kind of private army independent of the War Department, or what passed for the latter in those days. Being a law unto itself as it were, the Board designed and issued its own uniforms which differed markedly from those worn by the other branches of the service, ie the infantry and cavalry.

Blue predominated in the early artillery uniform jackets, which featured scarlet facings, lapels and cuffs, and from about 1850 trousers were blue with a scarlet stripe down the outside. Officers and NCOs wore gold lace or braid in varying patterns, quantity and quality to denote their ranks. Present-day badges of rank did not come into use until the 19th century.

Uniform design has changed dramatically in the intervening years but the colours remain. Thus the modern No 1 dress (blues) is a direct descendant of the old Board of Ordnance uniform.

December 1988

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