"Children you call them? They can pull a trigger just as well as veterans, and they have the spirit of a bull narthax. Call them children if you wish - I call them troops. Good troops."
- — Colonel Marus Cullen, 5th Pannonia Regiment
"Whiteshields" or Conscript Platoons are units of the Imperial Guard that consist of normal Imperial citizens with little or no military training, new Guard recruits who have not yet entered training, children of an already extant regiment's troops or standing Guardsmen who have not yet completed their training. Sometimes, in military emergencies, the Imperium's need for manpower is so great that normal Imperial citizens will simply find themselves conscripted by their local Imperial Guard regiment. These conscripts are officially designated in the Imperial military hierarchy as Probitors, but are better known by a variety of nicknames, such as "Cadets", "Probationers" or "Gun Babies", but the most common moniker from Feral or medieval homeworlds is "Whiteshield." This name is derived from a custom of the troops raised from the Fortress World of Cadia in that the Probitors of that world's Cadian Shock Troops regiments show no regimental, company or platoon markings until they have earned the right to do so after facing their first combat test on the battlefield. Only then will they be allowed to proudly display their regimental colours or the heraldry of their fathers, while others receive ritualistic scarring or tattoos to mark their entrance into full maturity. Their only identifying insignia before this is the display of a single white stripe on their helmets.
These reckless cadets are eager to prove their courage and earn the title of "Guardsman". To them, this is more than a simple promotion, it is considered a rite of passage for many amongst the Probitors, marking their entry into adulthood, particularly if they are Cadians who have spent their entire lives preparing to enter the military service of the Imperium. Whiteshields continue to perform menial and support duties, but combat training takes up an increasing proportion of their time until they are judged ready for action. Finally, they get a chance to prove their mettle in combat and to demonstrate that they are worthy of becoming true soldiers of the God-Emperor.
Rites of Passage
"Only in the Space Marines of the Legiones Astartes are courage and expertise perfectly blended. In other troops they are present in varying degrees and proportions, and many scholars have debated their relative merits. For my own part, I come down on the side of courage. For courage can sometimes make a virtue of inexperience. I myself have commanded Imperial Army troops whose probitor units have achieved great things, because they were too inexperienced to realise that their goal was impossible."
Only those Whiteshields who distinguished themselves in battle are allowed to become Guardsmen proper. Some regiments merely demand that a Whiteshield take part in a battle without giving way to fear. Others will only accept those who have drawn blood or killed an enemy, sometimes requiring the young soldier to collect a grisly trophy to prove his claim. After they have shown their worth, the Whiteshield has his blank, white helmet badge ceremoniously replaced with the regimental number and colours of his platoon; they take the shoulder motif of their company, and the helmet markings of the squad to which they are newly assigned. These rituals vary widely, as they are taken from the regiment's homeworld culture. Tattoos and ritual scarification are common and receiving these marks without crying out in pain is as much a test of the youngster's courage as his bravery on the battlefield.
Often these Imperial soldiers serve in dedicated Heavy Weapon Teams in their platoons. They are equipped with mortars, Heavy Bolters, Autocannons or Lascannons to offer long-range infantry support or anti-armour support to regular Guardsmen. These special heavy weapons sections bolster the battleline and provide close fire support. Unleashing a torrent of indiscriminate firepower, a Heavy Weapons Team can reduce the packed ranks of the enemy to nothing but a pile of bleeding corpses in the time it takes to pull the trigger. Those soldiers who demonstrate an affinity with specialised weaponry are gathered together into squads within a heavy weapons company. Generally, these teams are made up of two soldiers who crew a heavy weapon -- one crewman fires whilst the other hauls and loads the ammunition. Placed under the command of an officer, the Heavy Weapons Teams boost the firepower of the individual squads, allowing them to engage enemy armoured units or hold off alien hordes that outnumber them many times over.
Whiteshield Squads are issued with the same basic equipment as full Guardsmen. The Sergeant carries a Laspistol and Chainsword, eight of the trainees carry a Lasgun and the remaining squad member is armed with a Lascannon, the only heavy weapon available to Whiteshields. Unlike other Guard squads, Whiteshields must retain equipment they are issued with -- they may not replace any of their weapons with alternative armament or take additional equipment or extra grenades or missiles. Being green recruits and trainees, the Whiteshields are not permitted to draw on the full resources of the regiment. The only exception are the Whiteshield Squads that are included in a platoon of Rough Riders. These squads may have horses and explosive lances to match the other members of the platoon.
Whiteshields wear the normal official Imperial Guard uniform, but it is stripped of any insignia, including the unofficial gang or tribal symbols worn by many full Guardsmen. Whiteshields must prove themselves in battle before they are allowed to display the insignia of their regiment and their homeworld culture. The unit badges are plain white, with neither platoon colours nor regimental number. They have white helmet stripes to indicate the status of their squad, but no other helmet markings. Although themselves fully trained and accepted Guardsmen, Whiteshield sergeants wear the white badge and helmet stripe of their squad. They may, however, also wear the Imperial Aquila and various homeworld tribal or gang markings -- unlike the novices they accompany, Whiteshield sergeants have earned the right to these prestigious insignia. There are severe disciplinary measures for any Whiteshield who decorates his uniform with extra badges or slogans -- such presumption is despised by those who have earned in battle the right to call themselves true members of the Imperial Guard.
- Warhammer 40,000: Compendium (1st Edition), pp. 41, 44-45
- Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd Edition), pg. 39
- Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pg. 37