Traditionally rank insignia was produced from on worsted fabric and embroidered. During the Second World War however shortages and manufacturing limitations saw many items of insignia replaced by printed examples. Whilst printed formation titles and divisional are fairly common, rank badges are more unusual to find today.
Printed rank chevrons were first approved for use in the Middle East in October 1940, although it was recognised that they were below normal standard and that their use would be discontinued once supplies of worsted insignia was restored.
Back in the UK the Ministry of Supply approved the manufacture of printed rank badges for other ranks in June 1943 and they were described as being ‘badges of rank (printed) decontamination reserve’. This suggests that they were designed for use with anti-gas uniform as they would be more easily decontaminated than traditional embroidered rank badges.
This example is for a corporal and the design of the printing closely resembles the embroidered versions then in use:
At first glance it looks very similar to the embroidered versions, but looking on the rear it can be seen that the fabric is of a very different weave to the embroidered examples as it is made of cotton rather than wool:
It seems that these items of insignia were rarely if ever issued, as the embroidered ones were hardly in short supply and gas was never used so there was not a need to issue examples that could be decontaminated. Printed rank badges were finally made obsolete in February 1950. Today these items of insignia are unusual and make a fascinating variation to add to a collection.