The rank, or position, of lance corporal was inherited from the British Army, which had a chevron of one bar as early as 1795. When the chevron became the official rank badge of the British non-commissioned officer by about 1803, the badge for lance corporal was soon established throughout the army.
The USMC had lance corporals in 1833 and soon lance sergeants, as did the British, but not represented by a badge. While the U.S. Army made use of both lance sergeant and lance corporal in the 1800s and granted a single inverted chevron to the lance corporal in 1891, the USMC did not grant a chevron until 1912. Although the large 8”chevrons for the USMC dress uniform were to endure until 1922, when they assumed the width of the 1912 service dress chevrons at 3”, the dress chevron for lance corporal was 31/2” wide and only worn on the right arm.
In 1916 the chevron for lance corporal of both Army and USMC was disestablished by Congress. In its place the “chevron” for private 1st class was introduced in 1916 for the Army, consisting of a device, in the case of infantry, crossed rifles. In 1917 the Marines followed suite, creating the rank of PFC with crossed rifles as the rank badge. While the PFC changed from crossed rifles to a single chevron in 1920 for the Army, the USMC kept the crossed rifles until 1929, when the single chevron of the erstwhile lance corporal was reintroduced as PFC. Nonetheless, men continued to be appointed lance corporals in the USMC until 1937, but had no badge of office. The Army entertained the notion of introducing the lance corporal in 1965 as one chevron with one arc, but in 1968 this configuration was designated PFC, while the former PFC single chevron was designated as private.
The USMC introduced the lance corporal as a permanent rank in 1959, consisting of one chevron with crossed rifles, while the former PFC rank of one chevron remained as such.
The etymology of the word “Lance Corporal,” while not germane to either British or American rank structure, will be given in brief . The word is first recorded in the English language in 1786 and that of lance sergeant in 1844, although lancepezzades appears in 1578. It derived from Italian lancia spezzata, meaning “broken lance,” the conjecture being that, although a private soldier, having “broken” his lance in combat, he is experienced and valued enough to be given temporary assignments of minor command.
Indeed, the British also use the term “chosen man” for this position.
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