NZ FLAG FACT NUMBER 54
During the Boer (South African) War at the turn of the twentieth century, the silver fern appeared on the Glengarry (cap) and slouch hat badges of soldiers from New Zealand. The New Zealand Natives Association wanted to differentiate New Zealand troops from the soldiers of other British colonies and so produced 200 silver fern badges for the hats of the men shipped to South Africa in 1899.
The association was essentially interested in forging a unique New Zealand identity rather than having men from New Zealand seen as Britons living afar. Some New Zealand soldiers in World War I referred to themselves as ‘Fernleafs’ (New Zealand having been labelled as ‘Fernland’ and New Zealanders as ‘Fernlanders’ at the start of the 1900s).
In World War II, Lowndes Square in Knightsbridge, London, hosted a ‘Fernleaf Club’, a residential centre for the rehabilitation of troops, staffed by the New Zealand Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
All World War II New Zealand soldiers wore the badge called ‘Onward’. This ‘universal badge of the 2 NZEF was introduced in October 1939: the letters ‘NZ’ surrounded by fern fronds and surmounted by the King’s Crown, all above a scroll bearing the word ‘Onward’.
Hat and collar versions were worn on SD uniforms by all ranks …This was supposed to be the only badge worn, although this … [was] not strictly adhered to’.
The official address for the New Zealand Division Headquarters in Egypt in World War II was ‘Fernleaf Cairo’, and the New Zealand War Service Medal has the silver fern on the back. The silver fern also adorns the headstones of New Zealanders in the cemeteries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission throughout the world, thereby perpetuating the association between the military and the silver fern.
From New Zealand Flag Facts by historian Malcolm Mulholland. Read more at: