There are two distinct tiers within the British Army’s rank structure - officers and other ranks.
Officers are at the top of the hierarchy. Their ranks indicate that they hold positions of authority, granted through a commission - a formal document of appointment signed by the monarch.
Other ranks are the enlisted soldiers of the army. They do not have a commission and they do not hold positions of high command. However, separate tiers of authority - warrant officer (WO) and non-commissioned officer (NCO) - exist within their rank structure.
All soldiers’ ranks are denoted by a title and a set of insignia. Officers usually wear their insignia on their shoulders or chest. Other ranks wear theirs on their sleeves.
Field marshal is the highest rank in the British Army. Throughout the 20th century it was reserved for army and army group commanders in wartime, and retiring Chiefs of the General Staff. Peacetime promotions to the rank of field marshal have now been discontinued.
Insignia: Two crossed batons in a wreath beneath a crown
A brigadier commands a brigade in the field or holds a senior staff appointment. Originally, the rank was known as brigadier-general, the lowest general officer rank, but since the 1920s it has been a field officer rank.
Insignia: Three stars beneath a crown
The rank of colonel should not be confused with the colonel of a regiment. The latter role is usually performed by a retired general officer who has responsibility for the protection of a regiment’s interests. This dates back to the 17th century, when colonels owned and equipped their regiments.
A lieutenant colonel commands an infantry battalion, artillery regiment or cavalry regiment. They are responsible for the unit in the field and when stationed in barracks.
Insignia: Star beneath a crown
A captain is in charge of a company or serves as its second-in-command.
Insignia: Three stars
A second lieutenant is the lowest commissioned officer rank in the British Army.
Insignia: One star
This is the senior rank of warrant officer. WO1s are responsible for the discipline and equipment of officers and men. Appointments include bandmaster, conductor and regimental sergeant major (RSM).
Insignia: Royal coat of arms, sometimes surrounded by a wreath (depending on appointment)
This is a senior management role focused on the training, discipline and welfare of a unit. Appointments include company sergeant major (CSM) and troop sergeant major.
Insignia: Crown, sometimes surrounded by a wreath (depending on appointment)
The thing that distinguishes officers from other ranks is a commission. A warrant officer does not have a commission. Instead, their authority is granted through a warrant. Warrant officers must also be promoted to their position from a non-commissioned officer rank, like sergeant.
This is the highest rank of non-commissioned officer in the army. Staff sergeants play a senior role combining man and resource management, or commanding a platoon. They can also hold other appointments, such as company quartermaster sergeant. An infantry staff sergeant is always known as a colour sergeant.
Insignia: Three chevrons beneath a crown
In most units a corporal commands a section. A corporal in the Royal Artillery is called a bombardier.
Insignia: Two chevrons
This is the lowest rank of non-commissioned officer. A lance corporal usually serves as second-in-command of a section. It is also a rank held by specialists such as clerks, drivers, signallers, machine-gunners and mortarmen. A lance corporal in the Royal Artillery is called a lance bombardier.
Insignia: One chevron
Private is the lowest rank of trained soldier. Various regiments and corps have equivalent ranks such as trooper, gunner, guardsman, sapper, signalman, fusilier and rifleman.