Unit Colour Patches (or simply known as Colour Patches) are currently worn on the slouch hat in the Australian Army to identify the wearer's unit. Unit colour patches are approximately 40 millimetres (1.6 in) x 40 millimetres (1.6 in) in size and have a large variety of colours and shapes to distinguish them.
It is believed that the Australian system of colour patches is based upon the small patches of colours or tartan worn on the puggarees of their pith helmets by a number of British Army units during the South African War of 1899–1902. While some are recent creations many date back to World War I, when on 8 March 1915 1st Division Order No 81 was issued at Mena, Egypt authorising their creation by units of the First AIF. It was an extension of an order allowing the posting of distinctive colour flags to denote HQ and unit lines, and these flags were used as the basic design for 1st Division colour patches. These were worn on the sleeve, 1 inch (25 mm) below the shoulder seam.
Divisional Order 81 decreed a rectangular patch 1.25 inches (32 mm) by 2.75 inches (70 mm), and as further divisions created colour patches, the shape of the patch indicated the division:
- 1st Division had a rectangular patch,
- 2nd Division had a diamond-shaped patch,
- 3rd Division had a horizontal oval patch,
- 4th Division had a circular patch (except the 4th Brigade, formed independently of 4th Division, which used a rectangle),
- 5th Division had a vertical oblong patch, and
- 6th Division had a vertical oval patch.
Each Infantry Brigade within each Division was assigned a colour and the Brigade HQ colour patches were the Divisional shape in the Brigade colour. Each Battalion in each Brigade was then assigned a colour, and the patch was split horizontally with the Battalion colour across the top of the field and the Brigade across the bottom of the field. Light Horse, Artillery, Engineer and Medical units were also allocated colour patches. Light Horse patches were divided diagonally. In total over 300 individual patches were authorized during the war.
Citizen Military Forces
Military Order 206/21 in 1921 authorised the use of Unit Colour Patches for the Citizen Military Forces (CMF), which was raised in May, 1921. As this new organisation was based on the AIF, this order granted authority to the Citizen Military Forces to wear Regimental Colour Patches similar to those worn by corresponding units of the AIF. It also allowed for ex-members of the AIF serving in Citizen Military Forces to wear a miniature colour patch of the last AIF unit in which they served, worn above the CMF colour patch.
With the raising of the Second AIF in World War II, the unit colour patch was continued. A grey background of the same shape as the divisional patch was then included to denote a unit of the Second AIF, especially where that colourpatch had been used in the First AIF. Colour patches of World War I were generally larger than those of World War II, with the World War II square patch 38 millimetres (1.5 in) long on the sides, with an additional 5-millimetre (0.20 in) grey border if the colour patch had been used in the First AIF. New shapes were used, for example with the T-shaped patches instituted by the units of the 9th Division in 1943 representing their key role in the Siege of Tobruk. Over 800 separate patches were authorised during the war.
The original series of colour patches was discontinued in 1949, and a new system was introduced in 1987 known as Series I and Series II colour patches. The Series I range are known as the 'Heritage' patches and are the pre-1949 patches maintained in a register with the Series I 'Extended' and Series II range introduced during the 1990s. Both are used in the Australian Army due to some units tracing their lineage to the First AIF units. The register also includes the patches for the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy patches.
- "Colour Patches". Australian Army. Archived from the original on 19 July 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- "Australian Army Unit Colour Patches - A Brief History". colourpatch.com.au. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- "History of Australian Colour Patches". Encyclopedia. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- "Australians in World War 1 - Research Guides at State Library of Victoria". State Library of Victoria. 10 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- Bean 1941, pp. 968–968g.
- Jobson 2009, p. 35.
- Grey 2008.
- "Unit Colour Patch System" (PDF). Army Standing Orders for Dress: Volume 2: Part 6: Chapter 1. Australian Army. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- "Unit Colour Patch Register" (PDF). Army Standing Orders for Dress: Volume 2: Part 6: Chapter 3. Australian Army. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- Bean, Charles (1941) . "Colour Patches of the Australian Forces" (PDF). The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916. Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. Volume III (12th ed.). Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Australian War Memorial. pp. 968–968g. OCLC 220623454.
- Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (3rd ed.). Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69791-0.
- Jobson, Christopher (2009). Looking Forward, Looking Back: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Army. Wavell Heights, Queensland: Big Sky Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9803251-6-4.
- Blackwell, Phillip (2008). Australian Army Unit Colour Patches 1987–2008. Australian Military History Publications, Australia. ISBN 0-9578280-0-4.
- Department of Defence (1993). Army Colour Patch Register 1915–1949. Canberra: Defence Centre. OCLC 35701067.
- Glyde, Keith (1999). Distinguishing Colour Patches of the Australian Military Forces 1915–1951: A Reference Guide. Claremont, Tasmania: K Glyde. ISBN 0646366408.
- Hopkins, Ronald (1978). Australian Armour. A History of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps 1927–1972. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 978-0-642-99414-1.
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- All Units Colour Patches 1915–1951 - Digger History