Military heraldry
November 2006 / December 2013

Military Health Service heraldry

THE South African Military Health Service, formerly called the SA Medical Service, was formed in 1968 by centralising the Army, Air Force, and Navy medical branches. It was given equal status with the other three services in 1979.

Unit coats of arms were adopted in 1970, and are worn on the sleeves, as shoulder flashes. Until the early 1980s, they were displayed on heater-shaped shields with convex upper edges, and most were the same design : two cobras entwined around a staff, with the unit's initials or number above the staff.

Since the 1980s, the shields have been the ordinary heater shape, and there has been a greater variety in designs. Murrey (maroon) is the predominant colour.


SAMHS unit arms SAMHS HQ - EP Medical Command.

SAMHS Headquarters' arms depict the Rod of Aesculapius on two crossed swords. Each of the former command headquarters differenced these arms by adding a chief bearing appropriate local charges, such as Eastern Province Medical Command's dolphins.


SAMHS unit arms 3 Medical Bn Gp - 5 Medical Bn Gp - 13 Field Ambulance - 1 Military Hospital - SAMHS Training Centre - Nursing College.

The arms of the SAMHS Training Centre are a variation on the standard pattern, with the cobras entwined around a flaming torch instead of a staff. Those of the SAMHS Nursing College combine a Maltese cross with an antique lamp, a widely used symbol of nursing.

Those of medical battalion groups, which were formed in the 1980s, are divided in various ways into murrey and argent, and display one or more Maltese crosses fitchy at the feet, corresponding to the number in the unit's name. Thus 3 Medical Battalion Group's arms have three crosses amd 5 Medical Battalion Group's have five.

Field ambulance units, which were the forerunners of the medical battalion groups, used the standard pattern for SAMS arms, differenced by means of the unit's number in green (which was not good heraldic practice). 13 Field Ambulance's arms are an example.

The military hospitals still use the old pattern, differencing the arms by adding the hospital's number in white. 1 Military Hospital's arms are shown.

References :
  • Bid or Buy website.
  • Owen, C.R.; Military Badges and Insignia of Southern Africa (1990).

This website has been created for interest and entertainment. It is unofficial and not connected with, or endorsed by, any authority or organisation. It is the product of the webmaster's research, and the content is his copyright. So are the illustrations on this page, unless stated otherwise. Additional information, and correction of errors, will be welcome.
© Arthur Radburn
Website hosted by Web Hosting