Queensland Remembers – Badges 1914-1918

When you think about war and its aftermath, it’s unlikely that badges will spring to mind. Yet in the Queensland Museum’s Anzac Legacy Gallery over a hundred badges and commemorative ribbons are on display. As former Social History Curator Tracy Ryan wrote about in her recent paper “Forgotten Organisations from the First World War”, the humble badge stands as one form of reminder of the costs of war. 

The Cost of War

“Forgotten Organisations from the First World War” explores the myriad of charitable organisations that were established in the First World War to raise funds for everything from orphans of the war to care for returned soldiers and sailors. Often the only remaining trace of these organisations are the badges that are retained in museums and private collections. And while the badges show the organisation names and sometimes even the cost for purchasing the badge, what can also be gleaned from them is the human cost of war. 

Queensland Museum holds a considerable number of badges from the First World War, many of which can be explored in our Collections Online. Here we present some of the badges from our collection that weren’t able to be included in Tracy’s article.

Fundraising activities such as Jack’s Day and the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ League fundraising day in 1918 were a regular part of the calendar. Sales of badges was part of the fundraising strategy, as were collections, performances and recreational events.

Button Badges for Jacks Day; Queensland Museum collection [Link to Jacks Day Badge N7056]
and RSS (Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ League) fundraising day in 1918:
Queensland Museum collection [Link to RSS Badge N6814]

The helping hand of the Red Cross

The Red Cross Society, established in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War, has continued as an association providing help and care in crisis for over 100 years. Well known to many, Red Cross badges with their easily identifiable symbol, have been around almost as long. In Queensland during the First World War the Red Cross Society’s contributions included fund-raising, knitting and sewing garments, collecting and delivering care packages and helping provide information to loved ones at home.

Fundraising badges for Red Cross from 1916 onwards.
Queensland Museum collection [Link to Red Cross badges N5820, N6790, N7162, N7171]

Peace and Beyond

After the war, fundraising continued to help aid returning servicemen. By 1925 the organisation Legacy was active in supporting injured servicemen as well as the families of servicemen who had been injured or killed, and has continued that work ever since. One well known aspect of Legacy fundraising has always been the sale of badges in Legacy week, an initiative that started after the Second World War in 1945.

Fundraising badges for Legacy.
Queensland Museum collection [Link to Red Cross badges N5775, N6789, N7061, N6877]

As Queenslanders were coming to terms with the aftermath of war, events that marked the sacrifice of war and the emergence of peace were also marked with badges, pins and medallions. These included the widespread distribution of a Peace Medallion to the school children of the Commonwealth of Australia.  In another event to recognise Australia’s contribution to the war, in 1920 Edward, Prince of Wales, toured across Australia. To mark his visit a badge with the heraldic emblem of the Prince of Wales was produced as a memento. 

Children’s Peace medallion.
Queensland Museum collection [Link to N7082]
Prince of Wales commemorative badge [Link to N7117]

The badges and medallions that are held in Queensland Museum’s collection speak to us about people’s enthusiasm for collecting, and the fundraising efforts from long ago that are still seen today, in buying a badge or wristband to support a worthy cause. But the badges of the First World War in their own small way also represent the huge scale, far reach and lasting impact of war.   

To find out more about the about the badges of First World War fundraising you can read Tracy Ryan’s article in the “Queensland Remembers” volume of the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture Volume 11 available to purchase from our on-line shop.

Dr Geraldine Mate
Principal Curator – History Industry and Technology