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  #1  
Old 01-06-20, 09:19 AM
Harlequin Harlequin is offline
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Default Curious 'AD'/ non-Spifire badge worn by ROC Observer


Many people will be familiar with the classic Spitfire embroidered badge worn by members of the Royal Observer Corps as the Master Observer (Ground) qualification.

However, this picture shows something quite-different being worn by a particular (pre-1947?) Observer.

My immediate thought was that it was a "Dakota" badge, being worn by someone on their ROC uniform as a former Air Dispatcher, but obtained through previous service, in a sense similar to the rare-but-occasional instances of para wings being spotted on ROC uniform.

The thinking I had was that perhaps this Observer had gained this 'qualification' through earlier service in the Royal Army Service Corps (the original predecessor AD service to the RCT in this role, nowadays RLC).

However: my understanding was that such badges were strictly formation identifiers rather than being, say, the formal Air Dispatcher half-wing (which would, fairly-unambiguously) have been a transferrable qualification badge onto ROC uniform (except it wouldn't: read on ☆).

There was also a thought at the back of my mind regarding similar formation badges perhaps having been worn by members of the Glider Pilot Regiment, but I'm unsure on this point.

But: it has been pointed-out to me by my more-observant former ROC comrades that on closer examination, this is NOT a Dakota twin-engined aircraft embroidered on the badge at all, but a squat single-engined fighter (even with the poor picture resolution I do now see I was wrong). So it looks like a Hurricane: and neither a Dak nor a Spit.

So what on earth is it? I am extremely puzzled.

(☆ ps my point about AD half-wing badges being worn on RAF/ROC uniform, on the shoulder....they're not meant to be, as many of you will already know. I've just been reading on the forum about that fascinating odd example of an AD wing badge having been found, made as a bullion RAF No5 mess brevet.....could this WW2/pre-1950s Observer have been AD-qualified through previous service, been told he was not allowed to wear his AD half-wing.....so got a privately-made badge that was worn as some kind of a hybrid Master Observer-cum-Air-Dispatcher....? A real mystery- which I hope someone here can help solve)
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Old 01-06-20, 10:34 AM
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This badge has long been a mystery. The original press picture you showed is the only one I have ever seen that shows this badge. It must have been that picture that was used to create the Osprey drawing shown below. Other ROC collectors are also stumped.
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Old 01-06-20, 10:51 AM
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A closer view of the badge in the photo. Possibly intended to represent a Hurricane?

Jon
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Old 01-06-20, 11:34 AM
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The image in the first post is from "War Illustrated" and the original photograph sold on eBay about 5 years ago for around 60 if i recall correctly.. This is the only known example of this badge that has ever existed, and it was only used in this picture.

It has no link outside of the ROC at all.

The observer in the image is wearing a "Head Observer Badge" on his left pocket, if this is strictly adhering to the rules of uniform wear then the image must date between April 1942 and March 1944. April 1942 is when the ROC were issued with that style of uniform and March 1944 is when Chief and Leading Observer rank badges were issued and Head Observers were required to remove the "Head Observer Badge" and replace it with the familiar sleeve rank badges.

My gut feeling is that it predated the end of 1943 though as the printed spitfire master test badges were introduced in Dec. 1943 so why go to the effort of making one of these when the 'correct badge' could be used?

I do have a copy of the war illustrated that this was published in, so can narrow the date down further, alas it is in lockdown 200(ish) miles away from me so I cannot find the exact date at the moment.

John's image is a screen shot from the original picture sold on eBay and Dave is correct (not that you need me to tell you that!) that the image in the Osprey book is based on this photograph - indeed the drawing was used on a Burundi postage stamp if I recall correctly.

Finally - there is a second image taken at the same time (same photo-shoot) by someone for Associated Press - this is much clearer and from a slightly better angle IMO. (I have attached it for reference).
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Old 01-06-20, 12:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dragon166 View Post
This badge has long been a mystery. The original press picture you showed is the only one I have ever seen that shows this badge. It must have been that picture that was used to create the Osprey drawing shown below. Other ROC collectors are also stumped.
Dave

Came across a thread on a "military model makers' site which mentioned this badge. The drawing is apparently from one of the Blandford Colour Series books on WW2 uniforms.

"I read up on the text accompanying the Blandford book. This 1944 figure is an observer status only, higher ranks insignia would have been seen on both sleeves. If he was a "master spotter", he would have a circular badge with a spitfire on his left sleeve (position not indicated)."

In " Royal Observer Corps: The 'Eyes and Ears' of the RAF in WWII" there is a section about training :

"Post Observers are encouraged to take higher tests , of which there are two:- an intermediate test and the master test. An Observer who has passed the master test can be regarded as an expert in aircraft recognition; he is entitled to wear a "Spitfire" Arm badge."

So perhaps the badge in question was a 'short lived' intermediate one ?
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Old 01-06-20, 12:55 PM
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Hi Mike, thanks for this - but I am not at all convinced.

I have seen that thread too (link here) and the statement:

"This 1944 figure is an observer status only, higher ranks insignia would have been seen on both sleeves. If he was a "master spotter", he would have a circular badge with a spitfire on his left sleeve (position not indicated)".

Is not accurate.

The badges were calico printed and square, although there is some evidence that over zealous observers slightly rounded the corners, but they remained predominantly square. He also clearly has the 'Head Observer Badge' on his left breast pocket, which assimilated over to Chief Observer when that rank was established. This is the highest rank that was allowed to wear Master Test badges on their uniforms, officers did not. (Indeed the only badge officially permitted for wear on the sleeve of an officers uniform was the Seaborne shoulder badge). So that bit is also inaccurate.

As a slight digression from the original thread - The Blandford book has other inaccuracies too - it states that seaborne observers wore a "...rectangular dark blue cloth badge with the letters RN in light blue on the upper left sleeve at elbow height". This is not true. Seaborne Observers were issued with RN Armbands using Red Letters on a Blue Cloth background with either white or black elastic straps. After use for a very short period of time (prior to D-Day) many found that they would not stay in place with the elastic only. Consequently there is evidence of them being cut up and simply sewn on the uniform sleeve instead. This also accounts for the irregular positioning of the RN badges in the sleeve when worn in this way and the variance in shape and indeed size of the blue badge itself. It has some inaccuracies in the dates it quotes - the Observer Corps was established in 1925 not 1918 (I think they are confusing that with the formation of the Metropolitan Observation Service in 1916 but that is a guess).

The hunt for answers (and a real example of this badge) goes on !!
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Old 01-06-20, 02:43 PM
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I am fortunate to own an original photo of this picture which includes on the back the original caption, sadly undated. Copy attached

However it makes it clear that the photo was published to illustrate that a new uniform was to be issued to the Corps which is described, along with the breast badge for Head Observer, in Air Ministry Order A64 dated 15th January 1942.

The photo was published in the War Illustrated of 20th February 1942.

But does all this not pre-date the tests and badge for Master Observer?

Jon
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Old 01-06-20, 03:35 PM
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Well done on that picture John - there are not many of them out there.. that is for sure!

My understanding is that the Master test was introduced in Dec 1943, those achieving a pass of 90%+ were awarded the spitfire badge and 5 in recognition of their achievement (Something which never changed from Dec 1943 to the stand down of the corps in 1991) and they were of course issued in pairs - so you are correct that the image (and badge) predate this by 18 months or thereabouts.
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Old 01-06-20, 03:39 PM
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To further add... Hansard shows this:

10 December 1941 (Volume 376)

Mr. Mander asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he has any announcement to make with regard to the issue of uniform to the Royal Observer Corps?

Captain Balfour Replied: A blue uniform of the battledress type has now been approved for wear by members of the Royal Observer Corps. It is expected that issues of this uniform will begin about the end of February.

So the image you have must be one of the very first batches of ROC Uniforms
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Old 02-06-20, 09:16 AM
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Hi Woofy , I was busy making my post that I didn't check if you had posted in the meantime but once I'd posted I saw the details in yours.

As the thread concerns the ROC I was expecting to be " shot down" when more experienced members (yourself and Jon) joined in.

At least now there is a reasonable timeline :

December 1941 - new uniform approved.

February 1942 - Photo of new uniform

July 1942 - Air Commodore Ambler submitted report about training:
"In his opinion , proficiency badges should be instituted , one for attainment of elementary and one for an advanced standard."

December 1943 - First Master Test.


So , a bit of "Mike's lateral thinking" , is it possible that the A.C's ideas were being formented at the time the new uniforn was being introduced and that there was mention of the "Spitfire" badge ?

When the photo was being set up perhaps a bit of 'artistic licence' was employed and a 'generic' badge was used for purely 'illustrative' purposes?


P.S - I'm happy to be 'shot down' again as it is part of the learning curve and also produces some excellent replies which contain first class information.
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Last edited by mike_vee; 02-06-20 at 11:38 AM. Reason: Spelling !
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Old 02-06-20, 12:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_vee View Post
So , a bit of "Mike's lateral thinking" , is it possible that the A.C's ideas were being formented at the time the new uniforn was being introduced and that there was mention of the "Spitfire" badge ?

When the photo was being set up perhaps a bit of 'artistic licence' was employed and a 'generic' badge was used for purely 'illustrative' purposes?
A response from me that relates to the above points: in the months following the publication of the above photograph with the mystery badge, the formation known as the "Royal Observer Corps Club" was wound-up.

What if the mystery badge happened to be a key emblem of the ROC Club, bearing in mind that the vast majority of the membership of that club were about to be going into these specific proper uniforms? (as opposed to just zebra armbands, berets & steel helmets).

I have now asked trustworthy contacts within the ROC Heritage Team to check & see if they have any information about the ROC Club's emblems.

My theory might genuinely explain why the badge exists only in this one known photograph....

But: I've another related variation on this theory; however, this forum is well-placed to reject it out of hand.

In my recent unstructured research attempts to solve the mystery of this badge (and becoming reminded about the previously-existing ROC Club) I'm struck by how evangelically and wide-ranging the aircraft recognition skill was being taught by the ROC Club across the whole public spectrum of Home Defence.

I'm maybe gleaning this impression totally without basis in fact (so British Badge Forum, please feel free to shoot me down) but what if the mystery badge was in fact a ROC Club-awarded aircraft recognition Master grade badge, awarded to Observers >and others< as a symbol of their capabilities?

If I'm right, this proto-Spitfire badge would've been emphatically NOT approved of by the Air Ministry (they were reportedly desperate to shut-down the ROC Clubs, and did so in the months following this picture) and may have been a short-lived calico printed rarity 1941-1942.

Which was then replaced by the regulated silhouette-style /RAF pattern Spitfire badge we are all so much more familiar with?

And before anyone tells me all this guesswork is a total impossibility, I refer you to the singular photograph that kicked all this off.....that badge is unlikely to have been a fantasy mockup, nor a propitious prediction. Maybe it was a forgotten 'War Economy' badge of pride, that disappeared in the blue-grey uniformed conformality that became the 'new' ROC.

I do intend to get to the bottom of this: regardless.
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Old 02-06-20, 02:37 PM
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My knowledge of the ROC is basically what I have read on the forum or picked up via Google but I enjoy digging around for information ...... and solving 'mysteries' !

As such , I tend to think "outside the box" and don't rule out anything until further evidence disproves a theory. Regarding the idea that the badge may be an ROC Club emblem/award , if these were commonly awarded why aren't there photos of these being worn or surviving badges available ?

I did find a 1941 clip of the ROC which I found interesting , you've probably already seen it but I'll post a link in case others want to see it.

Royal Observer Corps
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Old 02-06-20, 02:55 PM
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To follow on....

I know you'll get this Mike - my comments about your post were not intended to shoot you down - more calling into question Blandford's comments on the ROC which I would describe as Enthusiastic rather than accurate! I like the lateral thinking - and would love it to be correct and backed up somewhere in a long lost publication /report /AM order. (But I fear there is a very slim chance of that).

Harlequin - I like the thinking! I have in the past even tried to identify the person in the picture (to no avail) and looked at other options too. I do not discarded what you say, indeed the text on the front of the No.6 Group Museum webpage does elude to there being a badge in existence:

"By late 1942 there were 191 branches of the [Royal Observer Corps] club. Observers/Members were also lecturing/instructing the Army, Air Force, Navy, Home Guard, Air Training Corps, and Spotters Clubs in order to pass on their knowledge. Recognition tests were of three grades; Basic, Intermediate and Master. For the latter a badge showing the plain view of a Spitfire was awarded and worn on the arm. At the end of 1942 it was announced that the ROC club had to be disbanded and the journal to cease production, and recognition cards were to be stopped".

However my inclination is that badge referred to here is indeed the printed one instituted Dec 1942 for the ROC not one for the Royal Observer Corps Club itself.

Lawrence Holmes collated some information in 2010 for the ROCA Heritage Team (Notes and Papers for the Hearkers Club and the Royal Observer Corps Club). This might be a good starting point?
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Old 02-06-20, 04:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wooffy View Post
To follow on....

I know you'll get this Mike - my comments about your post were not intended to shoot you down - more calling into question Blandford's comments on the ROC which I would describe as Enthusiastic rather than accurate! I like the lateral thinking - and would love it to be correct and backed up somewhere in a long lost publication /report /AM order. (But I fear there is a very slim chance of that).
You should be aware that ex-gunners have 'selective deafness' and tend to ignore critical comments but are always open to constructive teachings !

I also think the badge mentioned in your link is the official one (slight spelling error) , the official 'spotter cards' published by the Air Ministry show four views of aircraft ;
"'General perspective view'; 'Front view'; 'Plan view'; 'Side view'."

I find it strange that if there were 191 branches of the club (how many members ???) there is no evidence of them having their own 'spotter' badges.

I eagerly await further developments .
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Old 02-06-20, 05:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_vee View Post
You should be aware that ex-gunners have 'selective deafness' and tend to ignore critical comments but are always open to constructive teachings !
I have noticed this on a number occasions for many years!!


Quote:
Originally Posted by mike_vee View Post
I also think the badge mentioned in your link
I find it strange that if there were 191 branches of the club (how many members ???) there is no evidence of them having their own 'spotter' badges.
Well, there is the collectiveone....for the National Association of Spotters Clubs


But I'm proposing that there MAY possibly have been a previous 'Spitfire' competency badge, issued by the former ROC Clubs during 1941/42, to indicate Master Observer status amongst members of their own organisation, and conceivably awarded by the ROC Clubs system to other Home Front civilians that attained (by examination) the same lofty level as they held.

As indicated via @Woofy's post, individuals such as ARP, ATC, Fire Wardens, Boy Scouts etc received rigorous training in aircraft recognition....the more I think about this, the more reasonable the suggestion that there was a Master Spotter Competency cloth badge issued by the ROC Clubs to recognise this, seems ever-more logical.

Annoyingly, the whole PDF online back-catalogue for 'Flight' (from the 1900s onwards, out of which lots of ROC information can be gleaned, which I will testify to) is now offline indefinitely, due to a planned future relaunch of Flight International (and a presumed relaunch of the entire present-day civil aviation sector, come to that)
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