The modern British Army identity disc, colloquially known as the ‘dog-tag’ is a surprisingly unusual find on the collectors’ market. I regularly come across World War Two identity discs, but very rarely find modern issue examples. The reason for this is that they are only issued to soldiers before they deploy on active service and once this is completed, they are supposed to return them for safe keeping. It was therefore very nice to find a set last month:
The identity discs are mounted on a piece of ball chain that is worn round the soldier’s neck and are issued in pairs. In the event of the soldier’s death, one disc can be removed and returned as proof of identity whilst the other remains with the body when it is interred so that it can be identified later if necessary.
The discs themselves are laser engraved with the soldier’s details; usually blood type, name, initial, service number and religion:
More recent examples have also added the soldier’s gender as both male and female troops are deployed to combat zones today. From the service number I suspect that this disc dates from perhaps the late 1990s or early 2000s.
Identity discs are quite loud as they clink against one another; one soldier explains how identity discs were actually used on operations and how they were silenced:
They were never ubiquitous as with the Americans (no scene from any American war film doesn’t feature dog tags swinging from around the cast members necks). A lot of lads used to stow them in the top left hand pocket of their smocks, looping it through the button hole to secure it. In Iraq I got hold of a “Dog Tag silencer kit” c/o an American PX (Post Exchange – the US version of our NAAFI, but more like an Ali Baba’s cave of tax free everything). The kit included the black rubber rings that fit around the edges of the disc as well as a plastic tube to feed the long ball-chain through. The last bit was tricky till some genius figured out that plonking the plastic tube in boiling water so as to expanded the opening (ooh er!).
Most guys never bothered, but the bloody clinking noise was driving me to distraction. As already mentioned, a lot of guys just black taped them up. Some didn’t even go that far, instead they they’d stash them in the plastic sealed document holders that they carried their other ID in, which most people stuffed behind their front armour plate on their body armour (that was on the old body armour – don’t know how the new one works).
The inclusion of gender would be as a result of the introduction of the Joint Personnel Administration system, in which there is there is no gender distinction in the service number format. Prior to that discs were issued to female service personnel, with gender being identified by the format of the service number, including the prefix letter or letters.
I bought my first set of silencers through a PX too, and at that time they were only available in black, but now, I note, they are available in many different colours and camouflage schemes.