Was your ancestor discharged from the military because wounds or illness left them unfit to continue service? They may have been among the 800,000 recipients of the Silver War Badge whose records are now available at Ancestry.com.
In September 1916, King George V authorized the Silver War Badge (SWB) to honor all military personnel who had served at home or overseas since 4 August 1914 and who had been discharged because of wounds or illness. The SWB was a small, circular badge made of sterling silver that bore the king’s initials, a crown, and the inscriptions ‘For King and Empire’ and ‘Services Rendered’. The badge could also be worn by personnel who were discharged because of age.
The SWB was not simply an honor; it also served a practical purpose. At the time, men of military age in England who were not obviously in the service were sometimes accosted or insulted by civilians presenting them with white feathers—a symbol of cowardice—for shirking their patriotic duty. The badge, which was worn with civilian dress, served as an outward symbol that the wearer’s duty to country had been honorably fulfilled.
Thousands of women appear on the rolls as well, serving overseas in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which provided cooking, mechanical, clerical, and other support services. Many others served as nurses.
One thing to keep in mind as you search for your own WWI ancestor. Millions were wounded in the war—some, like J.R.R. Tolkien, so severely that they never did return to the front—but unless they were discharged, they won’t be on the Silver War Badge rolls.
For those of you who do not have a subscription to Ancestry, check your local library to see if they have a library subscription. Ancestry Library Edition is available via our free public internet at all branches of Campaspe Regional Library.