The Desert Rat

The Jerboa is well known now as the divisional sign for 7th Armoured Division, first seen in North Africa during the early stages of the Second World War. A donation to The Tank Museum Supporting Collection sheds a little extra light on the early years of the desert rat.

This Jerboa stencil was kindly donated on behalf of Mike Wareham, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who was attached to 5th Royal Tank Regiment.

Interviewed for a local newspaper article in 1990, Mike recounted that he had `created’ the Jerboa design in August 1941 after a request, relayed via his Captain, from Major General Gott and applied it to America M3 tanks. A later interview in the 2000s saw Mike give another account where he says he was asked by Colonel Carver to create a symbol. According to Mike, the Colonel’s wife had visited Cairo Zoo and suggested they use the Jerboa as 7th Armoured Division’s marking.

Using other reference material, specifically Jon Mill’s research in `Badges on Battle Dress’, it’s possible to unpick these two conflicting accounts where Mike appears to conflate dates and individuals.

Firstly, Major General Gott did not take command of 7th Armoured Division until 3rd September 1941, so wasn’t in command to issue an order for the Jerboa design. Secondly, Colonel Carver, presumably, Michael Carver, was OC of 1st RTR not 5th RTR and would never hold that command. Lt. Col. H.D. Drew OBE M.C. was commanding 5th RTR at the time Mike recounts the Jerboa design but had no role in the concept, as the design was already officially in existence.

Indeed, the design of 7th Armoured Division’s iconic `Desert Rat’ marking starts just before Germany’s invasion of Poland. In a War Office letter, dated 31st August 1939, it is confirmed that a white disc on a red square would be the unit marking for The Armoured Division, Egypt.

Jerboa stencil in red paint, in a white circle within a red square on The Tank Museum's Stuart tank
The Jerboa within a white circle and red square on The Tank Museum's Stuart tank.

Renamed 7th Armoured Division on 16th February 1940, the divisional sign was amended by adding a Jerboa to the existing white disc on a red square on 16th April 1940 and officially confirmed in May. A further official publication on GHQ, Corps and Divisional Signs, published in January 1941, describes the division’s vehicle sign as a `red Jerboa on a white circular disc on a square background’.

Jerboa stencilled in red paint on the side of a Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank
The Jerboa stencil on The Tank Museum's Challenger 1 tank

The actual Jerboa design was apparently originally drawn by the then division’s commander’s, Mrs Creagh, after she had seen a Jerboa during a visit to Cairo Zoo. The design was originally flown as a pennant from Major General Creagh’s vehicle in early 1940.

Consequently, whilst the evidence goes against Mike Wareham’s Jerboa origin account, it is likely that Mike, cut out the Jerboa Stencil from the tin with his grandmother’s nail scissors, to assist with stencilling the arriving M3 Light Tanks with the Jerboa design as the War Diary for 5th RTR confirms the arrival of M3s in August 1941.

The design would go on to be used on the vehicles of 7th Armoured Division units and would later appear as shoulder flashes. 4th Armoured Brigade would adopt a black Jerboa on a white disc, whilst 7th Armoured Brigade would adopt a Green Jerboa on a white disc with red external circle.

Post War 7th Armoured Division used the Jerboa `Desert Rat’ formation sign until it was disbanded in 1958. 4th Armoured Brigade and 7th Armoured Brigade continued to use their respective Jerboa formation signs during the Cold War, 1st Gulf War, Balkans, Ops Telic (Iraq) and Herrick (Afghanistan). In 2014 7th Armoured Brigade was reorganised into 7th Infantry Bde and HQ East, but retained the Jerboa `Desert Rat’ formation sign and name. In 2020 4th Armoured Bde also reorganised and became 4th Infantry Bde and HQ North East, retaining the black Jerboa formation design.

The Jerboa stencil is currently on display in The Tank Museum’s Orientation Zone.

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