Silver fern emblem used in Boer War

Some who oppose the changing of the New Zealand flag claim that our current flag is an important symbol to troops who served the country in the World Wars.

A spokesperson for the RSA:

Existing flag holds ‘special status’

The head of the Returned Services Association says a change in New Zealand’s flag could fail to recognise soldiers who had been killed and buried under it.

MPs appeared to be overwhelmingly in favour of opening a national discussion around a new New Zealand flag.

But RSA president Don McIvor said for soldiers who had fought under the flag, it held a special status, and should not be changed.

“I think generally the large majority of RSA members would suggest that the flag shouldn’t be changed,” he said.

“The major reason is our veterans and ex-service people who have served their country under the flag we have now, and in addition to that, they have seen their comrades killed in action and buried under that flag.

“It has a significant emotional hold on our membership.”

This special status has been disputed – ‘greenjacket’ comments at Kiwiblog:

Duggledog wrote: “Not till the last man who fought under the flag in WW2 dies, then we can discuss it”

Umm, factually NZ troops fought under the British Union flag (or union jack), as NZ was just a Dominion. The flag featuring the southern cross became the national flag when NZ attained independent status after WW2.
Are you aware that the symbol of the famous NZ Division in WW1 and WW2 was a white fern on a black background? The symbol on every NZ army vehicle and on every sign to indicate the location of a NZ unit was black square with a white silver ferm emblem. In at least two operations, NZ troops were ordered to conceal their identities by concealing their white fern on a black background symbol, and NZ troops were loathe to do so as they were so proud of it, so the Germans were able to quickly identify where the crack NZ Division was moving. When NZ soldiers identified themselves, they did so with the silver fern on a black background. The NZ Army of today proudly carries on this tradition


The symbol of the NZ Division in WW1 and WW2 is the silver fern on a black background. You can check it in any book on military insignia or many photos of NZ troops in WW2. It was a symbol that NZ troops in WW1 and WW2 took considerable pride in. It wasn’t only just the official symbol of the NZ Division. Where the NZ Div went, soldiers would paint the famous white fernleaf on black symbol, and clubs/bars at which NZ troops congregated displayed the fernleaf and were nicknamed “fernleaf clubs”.
That said, the symbol of the NZ troops in the Pacific was a white kiwi on a black background!
The symbol of the RNZAF is a kiwi in a RAF roundel. Interestingly, when it was first introduced it was hated because it is a flightless bird!
But my main point is that some people have been claiming that NZ troops in WW1 and WW2 fought under the southern cross flag. That is untrue.

In fact the use of the silver fern emblem dates back to the Boer War (1899–1902).

This is a Boer War version of the Fern-leaf hat badge.

“Silver Fern” badge from WW1 with a star between the “N” and the “Z”.

This badge was specially designed for the New Zealanders resident in UK in the early stages of WW1. They formed a unit of the original New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF).

It later became recognised and accepted as the ‘universal’ badge and was worn by the NZ Contingent in the Empire Parade, 9th November 1915 in London

More at Digger History:

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  1. Good info thanks Pete. Though a relatively recent immigrant (3 years), I think the NZ flag is awesome and retains the heritage this country enjoys (the union jack) while it’s similarity with the Aussie flag is something to be celebrated. After all, Aussie is practically a region of New Zealand 😉 (If a little arid and full of strange people…).

  2. Lindsay Ross

     /  30th January 2014

    Hi Random, The West Island can keep the Pommy emblem in their flag it that what floats their boat but we Kiwis identify with, and have always identified with the Silver Fern. The SF is unique to this country as are her citizens. Both the Union Jack & the koru single out individual heritages whereas the fern encapsulates us all.

  3. Goldie

     /  30th January 2014

    New Zealand war graves have a silver fern insignia to distinguish the graves as those of New Zealand soldiers. Interestingly, Canadian war graves in WW1 and WW2 used a maple leaf, which became their national flag.

    I can’t think of a better way to honour our veterans than to adopt the silver fern as our national flag.

  1. Silver fern is NZ history | Your NZ
  2. Mixed poll responses on replacing the NZ flag | Your NZ

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