Tattooing may be traditionally associated with sailors, but the Army also has a strong tradition of decorating their skin, and a fascinating new exhibition at the REME Museum looks at the stories behind some of these images.

Serving abroad and exposure to tattooing practices in exotic locations increased the popularity of tattooing amongst soldiers, and by the late 19th Century the practice was so widespread that soldiers of all ranks and officers might choose to have one. Even the Army’s last Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, Field Marshall Lord Roberts, was tattooed. He personally encouraged every man in his command to be tattooed with their regimental crests.

Military attitudes to the artform have varied over the years, but in 2014 regulations were relaxed allowing soldiers to bear non-offensive tattoos on their hands and the back of their necks which was previously not permitted.

REME Museum Curator Jennifer Allison has taken dozens of photographs of tattooed service personnel and veterans for the exhibition Military Ink, which opens on 3 July at REME Museum, Lyneham in Wiltshire.

Jennifer has been fascinated by the variety of tattoos borne nowadays and the changes in style and technique which have happened over the generations. These have included the traditional Corps’ crests and “from a book” designs, but also messages remembering fallen comrades and others with deeply personal meanings.

She asked serving and former REME men and women to share the story of their tattoos, and to have their pictures taken and be part of the exhibition.

Jennifer says:

“There have been some great stories coming out, from tattoos done in memory of other REME soldiers, to some done with family members to show relationships and shared memories. Of course, there are the stories of drunken nights and dares, which might not make it into the exhibition, but have still been great to hear about!”

Military Ink runs at the REME Museum, Prince Philip Barracks, Lyneham, near Chippenham, from 3 July to 8 December.

A tattooed REME soldier, working on his sewing machine. From the Museum's collection, E:06.0519.18. © Crown.