18th June 2022

Royal Australian Engineers

Backmarks: Bentley Melb and Stokes Melb

The insignia on this button is called the ‘Flaming Bomb’ or the ‘Shell & Flame’ or simply the Grenade. It depicts an iron hand grenade loaded with a powder charge and a fuse that would be lit before throwing. The insignia’s use dates in Europe for several centuries, and was associated with varying corps, e.g. fusiliers, grenadiers, artillery and engineers. The grenadiers were the first associated with it, as they were the tall, strong troops who threw the heavy hand grenades in battle.  In America the insignia was used by the Ordnance Corps from 1832. In  Britain, according to the Corps of Royal Engineers Memoranda, 2017, “An embroidered Grenade was first worn on the tail of the Royal Engineer Officer Full Dress scarlet Coat of 1824. A brass Grenade was introduced for a similar purpose on the Rank and file Coattee of the Royal Sappers and Miners in 1825. The adoption of the Grenade as a Badge became associated with those who would routinely fight alongside the Grenadier (or assault) companies of the Army. Curiously, its adoption coincides with the withdrawal of the Grenade from British military service.”  This explains the use of this symbol by the Australian Engineers.

The  Australian colonial engineering corps were amalgamated as the Corps of  Australian Engineers in 1902. From 1903 until 1910, the uniform button had ERVII cypher surrounded by a garter and surmounted by the Crown. The motto within the garter reads “Hon Soit Qui Mal Pense” (Shame on him who thinks evil of it) which puzzles me as this did not get used on the hat badge until 1947, as an honour for their service during WW2.

Annual report upon the Military Forces of the Commonwealth of Australia. 1903. Page 65.

In 1907 the regular (permanent) engineers received permission to be called the Royal Australian Engineers (the militia engineers had to wait until 1936 for this honour). I cannot find out when they adopted the design of uniform buttons with the flaming bomb. This type are labelled in Cossum as 1920-1940.  Perhaps they wore the CMF button before then, or Cossum was in error?

In 1947 because the Corps was honoured with a new motto, from the original “Facimus et Frangimus” (We make and we break) to “Hon Soit Qui Mal Pense”  which appears on the buttons with a leather garter, surrounding the cypher EIIR (see below). Of course, this button dates from 1953, so maybe the button design did not change until then? Did the prior button stay in use until then (despite Cossum’s dating), or did the engineers revert to using a AMF button? So many questions, so few answers.



State Library SA #PRG 280/1/14/228  Royal Australian Engineers, 1914.

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