Submitted to our Ask an Historian page by a Grade 8 student from George Street Middle School in New Brunswick.
My soldier, William D. Brewer, was awarded a "good conduct badge" on completion of two years of good conduct on September 1st, 1916.
Where do we find out what soldiers were doing to earn a badge of good conduct?
The historian who responded to this question is Dr. Lee Windsor, Deputy Director of The Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick.
Private Brewer would have been awarded this badge – an upside-down chevron or strip worn on the lower sleeve– for serving his first two years without ever being charged or had a written reprimand against his name in the Regimental Orders. In other words, he showed up diligently on time (which suggests he minded his liquor), always followed orders, kept his uniform and weapon clean, kept his physical fitness up so he never fell out on a march, and did all his duties as assigned. It is the forerunner for today’s Canadian Forces Decoration for long service.
Your question about where to look to find more about this is difficult. The online version of Brewer’s unit War Diary does not include the Regimental Orders and detailed administrative note books that log this sort of thing. You can go personally to Library and Archives Canada and see those order books and find mention of his award.
There are some CEF online discussion groups that have discussions posted about Canadian Good Conduct Badges or Stripes as they’re sometimes called. But few of the people contributing refer to the actually Regulations and Orders that set out the criteria for the award. I think you’ll find them in the King’s Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Militia, 1914 Edition. An online version is available for the 1917 version. I don’t know for sure if the rules change much between them.