This guide to WW1 wound stripes will explain:
- What a First World War wound stripe was and why it was awarded.
- How to find a wound stripe on a photograph and how it can be used to date a photograph.
- How a wound stripe or stripes can help you uncover a soldier’s service even if their service record has been destroyed by looking for them in a casualty list. This can often be done for free and at home by using your local library service.
I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.
What was a WW1 Wound Stripe?
The award of a stripe to soldiers who had been wounded during the war was authorised by Army Order 249, on 6 July 1916. The stripe allowed those who had appeared in a casualty list to wear a two-inch stripe of gold Russia braid sewn onto the left sleeve of their jacket. However, soldiers found that Russia braid quickly tarnished and was difficult to clean. In view of these difficulties, a number of companies produced brass versions, which could be quickly detached from the uniform and polished.
A soldier with a barely visible (click on the photo for a better view) wound stripe below his good conduct chevron on his left sleeve. He wears the general service cap badge, worn by soldiers in the Labour Corps. It is possible that the wound that led to the stripe caused him to be transferred to the Labour Corps as he was no longer fit for front line service. We will never know for certain as there is no name on the photograph.
The original Army Order is shown below, along with some amendments which appeared later. A soldier would be able to add an additional wound stripe for each subsequent appearance in the casualty list. An accidental injury did not count, nor did self-inflicted wounds.
6 July 1916, Army Order 249
The following distinctions in dress will be worn on the service dress jacket by all officers and soldiers who have been wounded in any of the campaigns since 4 August, 1914
Strips of gold Russia braid, No.1, two inches in length, sewn perpendicularly on the left sleeve of the jacket to mark each occasion on which wounded.
Army Council Instructions 1637 of 22 August 1916
… the term ‘wounded’ refers only to those officers and soldiers whose names have appeared, or may hereafter appear, in the Casualty Lists as ‘wounded’.
ACI 2075 of 3 November 1916
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.”
How to find a WW1 Wound Stripe in a Photograph
Wound stripes are not always as distinct on photographs as you would expect and this is especially so where a photograph has faded over the years. Look on a man’s left sleeve for a thin line, around the size of his finger. You may need to use a magnifying glass depending on the photograph. If you find a wound stripe on a photograph it will help you in your research in the following ways.
- The photograph was taken post-July 1916
- The soldier’s name should appear in one of the War Office Casualty Lists
- Though there will be a small number of exceptions, a wound stripe will indicate that a soldier served abroad which will enable you to start looking for their Medal Index Card
How to Find a Soldier with a WW1 Wound Stripe in the Official Casualty List
A soldier who was wearing a First World War wound stripe should appear in the Official Casualty List approximately one month after they were wounded. The daily casualty lists were printed in The Times newspaper until August 1917 and your local library often provides free online access. Many newspapers also reprinted the lists focusing on local casualties and if you’re searching for a Scottish casualty you can search The Scotsman on FindmyPast. I have written a separate article about WW1 Casualty Lists which explains what they are and how to search them here: WW1 Casualty Lists. FindmyPast has the official Weekly War Office Casualty Lists available to search as part of its newspaper collection and has a free trial period. Clicking on the banner below will take you to the website where you can find out more.