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Structure, symbols and terminology

The Salvation Army has a long and significant history in Australia. We are known for our uniforms and brass bands in addition to work in the community. Our distinct style stems from a rich and diverse history that traces back to The Salvation Army’s foundation in nineteenth century London.


The administrative structure of The Salvation Army can best be described as being top-down and strongly hierarchical, based upon a military model. This military structure is a legacy of The Salvation Army’s beginnings in London in the mid-19th century. Learn more about the history of The Salvation Army

All official positions with the exception of the General are appointed, however many non-Salvationists are also employed in various capacities.


The Salvation Army currently operates in over 130 countries, with its work administered by The Salvation Army International Headquarters (IHQ) in London, United Kingdom.

The international leader of The Salvation Army is the General, who works with the administrative departments of IHQ to direct Salvation Army operations around the world. These administrative departments are headed by International Secretaries.

The Chief of the Staff, a commissioner appointed by the General to be second-in-command, is the Army’s chief executive whose function is to implement the General’s policy decisions and effect liaison between departments.

As well as the handling of day-to-day business and the allocation of resources, IHQ is concerned with strategic, long-range planning and acts as a resource centre for the worldwide Army and as a facilitator of ideas and policies.

The Salvation Army worldwide is split into five zones (Africa, Americas and the Caribbean, Europe, South Asia, and South Pacific and East Asia), which are headed up by International (Zonal) Secretaries.


The next level in The Salvation Army hierarchy is the territory and usually each country forms a single Salvation Army territory.

A territory is headed by the Territorial Commander who reports to International Headquarters. The Territorial Commander is assisted by a Chief Secretary, who is responsible for overseeing the Army’s operations and activities within that territory and is supported by Cabinet Secretaries.

Read more about The Salvation Army’s Australian leadership

The local Salvos


The local Salvation Army church is called a corps, and Salvation Army church members are known as ‘soldiers’, while clergy are known as ‘officers’ who hold varying ranks.

Those holding positions of leadership within the corps are called ‘local officers’. Such positions include leadership of the band, songster brigade (choir), or other groups. Local officer positions are voluntary, unpaid, and are open to both men and women.

Salvation Army officers are male or female, full-time ministers of religion, trained and commissioned (ordained) by The Salvation Army. Their work involves all the usual duties of a minister, and can also include diverse roles in Salvation Army social service programs or administration.

Officers have different ranks and wear uniform whenever they are ‘on duty’.

Community service centres

As well as corps, the Salvos run a range of community service centres, which provide aid and support to people in need within the community.

Learn more about our services.


The Red Shield

From its earliest days, The Salvation Army used the emblem of the shield. In its most common form it was a 45-millimetre silver brooch pierced with the words “Salvation Army” and engraved with the crest and crown.

In December 1915, a shield bearing the words “Salvation Army” attached to a British welfare hut was pictured in the English War Cry; and two years later it was claimed: The Salvation Army Shield has become the best known and most prominent sign in the military training camps [and] among the troops in France.1

These ad-hoc wartime shields were generally hand-lettered on a blue background.2 However, a War Cry report in July 1917 describes a large shield on enamelled sheet iron with a blood-red background.

At the war’s end in 1918, Major George Peacock (Territorial Young People’s Secretary, Canada) was involved in a committee of charitable organisations raising funds for returning Canadian soldiers. The committee’s chairman felt it imperative that The Salvation Army evolve a distinctive symbol, such as that of fellow campaigners, the Red Cross and the Red Triangle (YMCA).

Years later, Colonel Peacock recorded: "Mulling over in my mind the possible symbols we might use, I picked up some material from Australia and noted they were having a ‘Red Jersey Appeal’. This led me to think of the Red Crest … the Red Shield. The latter appealed to me because of the idea of shielding or protecting in the sense the Bible uses the shield of faith.”3

The Red Shield, the Army’s new “symbol of service”, was launched by Major Peacock and his assistant Captain Russel Clarke at a Calgary Rotary Club gathering in September 1918. That same day, Captain Clarke drew up what we considered a good shield, and that was the first Red Shield.4
The initial 1918 Calgary Red Shield Appeal was so successful that a national Canadian campaign using the Red Shield logo was launched in 1919.

Improvements were made to the design by renowned War Cry artist, Joseph Hoy, who recorded: “The design was made at the request of Colonel (later General) George Carpenter, then Literary Secretary to Bramwell Booth, after the end of the First World War to consolidate the image of the Army’s recreation huts, mobile canteens, etc., which had been serving the troops during the war years, and continued to do so in the military establishments in Britain. But soon it became the accepted symbol for The Salvation Army’s wide-spread activities in the service of humanity.”5

  1. The War Cry, 1 July 1917, p1.
  2. Correspondence: Lieutenant-Colonel R.E. Clarke to Brigadier D. Rody, 24 March 1959. (US National Archives.)
3. Correspondence: Colonel G.W. Peacock to Brigadier D. Rody, 19 March 1959. (US National Archives.)
4.  Correspondence: Lieutenant-Colonel R.E. Clarke to Brigadier D. Rody, 24 March 1959. (US National Archives.)
5. Correspondence: Joseph Hoy to Major D. Lorimer, 16 July 1988. (Australian Southern Territory Archives & Museum.)

The crest

While less recognisable than the Red Shield, the crest is a meaningful symbol of Salvation Army beliefs. English Salvation Army Captain William Ebdon designed the crest in 1878 and the only alteration to his original design was the addition of the crown. Its emblems set forth the leading doctrines of The Salvation Army as follows:

  • The sun (the surround) represents the light and fire of the Holy Spirit
  • The cross of Jesus stands at the centre of the crest and the Salvationist’s faith
  • The ‘S’ stands for Salvation from sin
  • The swords represent the fight against sin
  • The shots (seven dots on the circle) stand for the truths of the gospel
  • The crown speaks of God’s reward for His faithful people
  • “Blood and Fire” is the motto of The Salvation Army – this describes the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to save all people, and the fire of the Holy Spirit which purifies believers

The flag

Around the world, The Salvation Army flag is a symbol of the Army’s war against sin and social evil.

The red of the flag represents the blood of Christ, the blue border stands for purity, and the yellow star in the centre signifies the fire of the Holy Spirit.

The flag is used at special occasions such as marriages, funerals, marches, open-air meetings, enrolments of soldiers, farewells, and retirements.

The first Salvation Army flag was designed and presented to the Coventry Corps in England by Catherine Booth in 1878. At the time, the centre of the flag was a yellow sun representing the Light of Life. This was changed to the star in 1882.


The Salvation Army uniform reflects the military model upon which the Army is organised. Internally it provides a sense of identity and belonging. Externally it is a widely recognised symbol of availability and service, so we’re easily identified the world over.

As with many of our symbols, the uniform has its origins in 19th Century London. The first Captain of The Salvation Army, a former chimney sweep named Elijah Cadman, instigated the wearing of the military-style uniforms.

The original uniform was modelled on Victorian military garb, but has evolved over the years. From frock coats, tall hats and black ties for men and plain dresses and small Quaker-style bonnets for women, to the military-type uniform worn today, the uniform has adapted to fit the culture in which it finds itself.

In Australia, bonnets for women were replaced by felt hats in the 1970s and the high military-style collars were dropped for both men and women about the same time. Today, most Salvationists in Australia don’t wear hats and many people often wear a casual uniform. There is variation in uniform internationally because of climate and other circumstances.

Brass bands

The Salvation Army today is renowned worldwide for its brass bands and choirs, but the introduction of bands to the Army happened almost by chance.

The first Salvation Army band was launched in Salisbury, England, in 1878 and was made up of Charles Fry, a local builder and leader of the Methodist orchestra, and his three sons. Salvation Army evangelists in Salisbury were having trouble with local hooligans, so Fry and his sons offered to act as bodyguards while the Salvationists sang in the marketplace.

As an afterthought the Frys brought their instruments to accompany the singing. In this unwitting fashion the first Salvation Army band was born. Their immediate success led the Fry family to sell their business and become full-time musicians with the Army. Within the next few years, brass bands sprang up all over the country, leading to their prominent place in The Salvation Army of today.

The drum

To Salvationists, the drum has always been more than a musical instrument. From the first, the drum’s supreme function was as a ‘mercy seat’ in open-air meetings. Thousands of people have knelt at the drum and claimed Salvation from their sins.

When the Army drum made its first appearance, some people said its use in religious meetings was nothing less than sacrilege, but William Booth claimed it was just as proper to “beat” the people into a Salvation meeting as to “ring” them into church.

Of course, the drum is also very much a part of The Salvation Army musical tradition, playing as it does with the brass band.


Many common Salvation Army terms come from its military structure and heritage. Some of the most common are defined below. 

Adherent A person who regards The Salvation Army as their spiritual home but has not chosen to make the commitment of 'soldiership' in The Salvation Army
Articles of War (Soldier’s Covenant) The statement of beliefs and promises which every intending soldier is required to sign before enrolment
“Blood & Fire” The Salvation Army’s motto, referring to the symbolism of the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ and the purifying, illuminating fire of the Holy Spirit
Cadet A Salvationist undertaking theological and practical training for officership
Candidate A soldier who has been accepted to enter training as an officer
Chief of the Staff  The second in command leader of The Salvation Army worldwide. The Chief of the Staff is appointed by the General
Citadel The property or church building where Salvationists meet for worship. Other terms used are 'fortress' and 'temple'
Colonel A rank appointed to Salvation Army officers on merit by the General
Command A smaller type of Salvation Army territory directed by a designated 'Officer Commanding'
Commissioner The highest rank of a Salvation Army officer except General, appointed on merit by the General. Most Territorial Commanders are Commissioner in rank
Congress  Central gatherings held in divisions, regions, territories or internationally, attended by officers and their fellow Salvationists
Corps (pronounced ‘core’) A Salvation Army church, similar in concept to that of a parish, sometimes comprising several congregations
Corps Cadet A young Salvationist who undertakes a course of Bible study, Salvation Army doctrine and history, and practical training in their corps
Corps Officer A Salvation Army officer who is appointed leader of a corps
Corps Sergeant Major (CSM)  Similar to the chief 'elder' or lay leader in other Christian denominations, the CSM is the chief local officer for public work who assists the corps officer with meetings (worship services) and usually takes command and responsibility in the corps officer’s absence
Dedication Service The Salvation Army's equivalent to a christening service, it consists of a public presentation of infants to God. It differs from christening or infant baptism in that the main emphasis is upon specific vows made by the parent/s concerning the child's upbringing
Disposition of Forces (‘dispo’)  A directory of contact details used within The Salvation Army mainly for Army officers, programs and centres
Division A grouping of districts, similar to a diocese in the Anglican Church. Territories are divided into divisions, each of which has a number of corps and social centres which are mostly run by officers
Divisional Commander (DC) The leader of a Salvation Army division
Divisional Headquarters (DHQ) The administrative headquarters of a division

Farewell Orders

The transfer of officers to new appointments
Furlough Holidays for officers
General The General is the officer elected (by the High Council) to lead The Salvation Army worldwide, and is based at International Headquarters in London. All appointments are made, and all regulations issued, under the General's authority
High Council A group called together on a needs-basis, the High Council elects the General in accordance with The Salvation Army Act 1980.The High Council comprises the Chief of the Staff, all active (as opposed to retired) commissioners except the spouse of the General, and all territorial commanders
Holiness Table see Mercy Seat
International Headquarters (IHQ) The General directs Salvation Army operations throughout the world through the administrative departments of International Headquarters (IHQ) in London, which are headed by International Secretaries
International Secretary An officer appointed by the General to supervise administrative departments at International Headquarters representing various parts of Salvation Army work worldwide
Junior Soldier A boy or girl who, having come to faith in Christ and signed the Junior Soldier's Promise, is enrolled as a Salvationist
League of Mercy Now known as Community Care Ministries, League of Mercy commenced in 1892 to respond to spiritual and social needs through visitation in the local community
Lieutenant-Colonel This is a rank appointed to Salvation Army officers on merit by the General
Local Officer A soldier appointed to a position of responsibility and authority in the corps, who carries out the duties of the appointment without being separated from his/her regular employment/lifestyle and without receiving remuneration from The Salvation Army
Major The rank of a Salvation Army officer who has completed further studies and 15 years of service
Meeting Church service
Mercy Seat (penitent form, holiness table) A bench or table provided as a place where people can kneel to pray, seeking salvation or sanctification, or making a special consecration of their life to God's will and service
Officer Ordained Salvation Army clergy, who wear uniforms with red epaulettes indicating their rank
Orders and Regulations for The Salvation Army Effectively a 'Code of Conduct' for all Salvation Army soldiers and officers.
Order of the Founder (The) An order of merit marking meritorious Christian example and witness, and distinguished or memorable service
Order of the Silver Star (The) An order expressing gratitude to parents of commissioned officers in The Salvation Army
Outpost A locality in which Army work is carried on and where it is hoped a society or corps will develop
Penitent form see Mercy Seat
Promotion to Glory  The Army's description of the death of a Salvationist, with 'glory' symbolising life after death in God's presence
Quarters The house provided for Salvation Army officers, their spouses and their families
Ranks Officers in The Salvation Army have different ranks. These include Cadet, Captain, Major, Lieut-Colonel, Colonel and Commissioner
Red Shield  A widely recognised Salvation Army symbol of caring service for those in need
Red Shield Appeal An annual financial appeal to the general public to help fund The Salvation Army's extensive social program
Salvation The work of grace which God accomplishes in a repentant person whose trust is in Jesus Christ. The deeper experience of this grace, known as holiness or sanctification, is the outcome of wholehearted commitment to God. Read more in Our Faith
SAGALA Standing for 'Salvation Army Guards And Legion Association', a branch of work with children from The Salvation Army and the wider community, similar to girl guides/boy scouts
Salvationist Member of The Salvation Army, whether an officer, soldier, adherent or friend
Secretary Departmental head
Soldier A Christian person who has, with the approval of their corps' senior pastoral care council, been enrolled as a member of The Salvation Army after undertaking soldiership classes and signing the Articles of War (Soldier's Covenant). 
Songster Bridgade Salvation Army choir
Swearing-in The public enrolment of Salvation Army soldiers
Timbrel Musical instrument, similar to a tambourine, often used in Salvation Army worship
Territory For administrative purposes, The Salvation Army internationally is divided into world territories. Usually, each country forms a single Salvation Army territory, but some, where the Army is numerically strong, are divided into two or more
Territorial Commander (TC) The leader of a Salvation Army territory
Territorial Headquarters (THQ) The administrative headquarters for a territory
War Cry The Salvation Army's official flagship journal, many issues of which are published in many countries. The War Cry was first published in England in 1879. In Australia this is now known as Salvos Magazine
Young People’s Sergeant Major (YPSM)  A local officer responsible for the young people's work, under the commanding officer

The Salvation Army Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet and work and pay our respect to Elders past, present and future.

We value and include people of all cultures, languages, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and intersex status. We are committed to providing programs that are fully inclusive. We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of people of all ages, particularly children.

Diversity & Inclusion logo

The Salvation Army is an international movement. Our mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name with love and without discrimination.

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