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Fighting ability of officers?


Alastair

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An example from Capt Wedwood Benn DSO (Middlesex Hussars) TF of the first experience of action by the men of the 2nd Mounted Div. The impression is one of men having no idea what was to hit them.. from the casual beginnings of their musical advance to the brutal horrors of war within an hour.....the last but one line is quite shocking....

21st August 1915. The next morning we were at leisure, having nothing to do but to wait in reserve to assist when required in the advance which was being made forward from Chocolate Hill. The objective, as I have explained, was the capture of Anafarta and progress to the Narrows. No better spot could have been found than the raised ground at Lala Baba from which to witness the battle, for the Salt Lake and the rest of the intervening terrain is on sea level, and we could see for miles to the hills against which the attack was being launched. I need not describe it in detail. The pith of the matter is that one brigade mistook its direction; another was stopped by a bush fire, which we also were to encounter, and in consequence of these checks the 29th Division could not get through. These few words summarise a fierce conflict rang for several hours. Meanwhile our men were standing equipped ready for their turn to go. In my troop we had been rather proud of a mouth-organ band which had produced some amazing orchestral effects at Moascar, and we had set our hearts on going into action on the first occasion to its music. Unfortunately, having to act as adjutant, I was unable to march with my men, but when the regiment was drawn up to take the lead as the first line of the reserve to sweep on towards Chocolate Hill, I was delighted to hear the sound of the familiar mouth organ. The chef d'orchestre was a certain trooper who rejoiced in the name of "Gunboat Smith," and enjoyed no small reputation in the regiment by reason of the fact that he had acted as trainer to the famous boxer of that name. "Gunboat" accordingly struck up, and it was positively to the sound of music, as I can aver, that this troop of the Middlesex Hussars went for the first time into battle. Thus were facts moulded to match the ideal. After about half-an-hour's progress we reached the enemy's shrapnel, through which, of course, we were bound to pass if we were to attain Chocolate Hill. As each line of the division advanced into the beaten zone, the shells did their part, being timed to burst just ahead of our march. Casualties began, but our orders were strict, and forbade us to stop for anyone. When men fell they had to be left for the stretcher parties which were following. As adjutant I was to and fro with Colonel "Scatters," who, though slightly injured in the foot, was marching in front of the line. Suddenly I saw with horror my troop hit by a shell and eight men go down. The rest were splendid. They simply continued to advance in the proper formation at a walk, and awaited the order, which did not come for another quarter-of-an-hour, before breaking into the double. Some men exhibited extraordinary calm. I remember one picked up a tortoise, surprised to see it running wild, and another, an N.C.O., observing a man drop his rations, bent and gathered them up for him, an act which just brought him in reach of a splinter which wounded him. Everyone was in tensely excited, but all were bravely self-controlled. Let me here insert Sir Ian Hamilton's most generous account of our first time in action. "Whilst this fighting was in progress the 2nd Mounted Division moved out from Lala Baba in open formation to take up a position of readiness behind Yilghin Burnu. During this march they came under a remarkably steady and accurate artillery fire. The advance of these English Yeomen was a sight calculated to send a thrill of pride through anyone with a drop of English blood running in their veins. Such superb martial spectacles are rare in modern war. Ordinarily it should always be possible to bring up reserves under some sort of cover from shrapnel fire. Here, for a mile and a half, there was nothing to conceal a mouse, much less some of the most stalwart soldiers England has ever sent from her shores. Despite the critical events in other parts of the field, I could hardly take my glasses from the Yeomen; they moved like men marching on parade. Here and there a shell would take toll of a cluster; there they lay; there was no straggling; the others moved steadily on; not a man was there who hung back or hurried." About five o'clock we reached Chocolate Hill, which gave shelter from the Turkish guns and behind which dressing stations had been pitched. It was here that one of our most gallant officers, Captain Bullivant, who was afterwards killed in Palestine, was first wounded. I smile at the old Harrovian's own account of the matter. "I was singing ' Forty Years On,' " said he, " and I had just got to the third verse when something hit me." After a short rest behind Chocolate Hill we were ordered out around the right foot to do our best to take " W " Hill, which, as I have already stated, was supposed to be our first objective. Up to that moment I can remember nothing but wild excitement and supreme buoyancy as of one living in oxygen. During the next advance we had no shell fire to meet, only rifle and machine-gun—a new experience for us, and one which inspired more fear than it really merited. We ran across the first field and jumped into a line of trenches—supports of our own, then out again and forward into the next trench, leaping in on top of the men of the division ahead of us, whose reserves we were. They nearly all, I recollect, shouted to us as we approached to take cover and get down, but almost always tried to wave us away from the particular part they themselves were occupying. The fact was they were packed tight, I should say one man to every fifteen inches. From here we got into a communication trench filled with men of the Irish Division whose gallant attempt earlier in the day had failed. We had to stand aside to let pass a pitiable, ghastly procession of maimed, most of whom had been half-stripped to have their wounds bound by their friends. The horror of that scene will bear no describing. Fearing the effect on the morale of our men if we stayed a moment longer, we decided to jump out of this trench altogether and run across the field in front to a small hill a little ahead of us. As far as we could see, it provided good cover, for there appeared to be a number of reserves lying therein perfect quiet and safety. Out we sprang with a shout and ran forward to the selected spot, only to find that it was under brisk machinegun fire. The reserves were quiet indeed—for they were dead! We lay down flat, and then crawled a little higher up the hill, hearing all the time the terrifying rattle of a Maxim which we, of course, thought was the cause of all the killing. We assured one another for our better comfort that it must be one of our own guns covering the advance, and this, in fact, turned out to be true. We saw nothing for it now but to get up and shift our position. For one thing, the bushes in front of us were alight and the fire was steadily advancing on to the corpses at our side. It was from this incident that the hill became known on the maps as "Burnt Hill." Having made up our minds, we rose, leaped over a low communication trench, across another field, and into the advance support trench we tumbled, despite the fact that it was already full. We were now behind the spot which came to be known later as "Yeomen's Knoll."This part of the day was so full of excitement that it was almost impossible to keep a count of time, or to notice incidents ; but three things I remember quite clearly On Burnt Hill I was certain that the man lying next me was " Gunboat Smith," who had led off the march with the mouth organ. Suddenly heard a deep groan, and saw my companion, shot clean through the head, roll over and expire. So convinced was I that it was "Gunboat Smith "that next day I reported him killed. And yet the fact was that he had never reached this point, having fallen out long before. Two other men I recall. During all the time we were Iying on that hill, crouching under cover; one old man was calmly fetching stretchers, binding up wounds and handing out anodynes to the poor wretches lying round him, apparently quite unmoved by fear. My other memory is of an Irish sergeant, standing in the shallow trench when we passed the procession of mutilated men returning from the first attack. He was bending over a boy who was lying half-naked oh the ground, looking the very colour of the earth itself, and as I passed I saw him whisper a few last words of comfort and give the lad a rough kiss—truly a sacred viaticum. By the time we reached the Yeomen's Knoll it was getting dark, and we began to arrange our forces on the left and right to try to make up the line in order to hold it for the night. Orders were received that our Colonel was to take command of the whole of this portion of the front. We were all in a state of the greatest uncertainty, not knowing who was who, or where the enemy was to be found. I can illustrate this by the following incident. I went with the officer commanding the Roughriders, who were on our left, to inspect the trench and see whether it continued round the front of Burnt Hill and joined with anything on that side. As we walked we found that the trench gradually became shallower and shallower, until it was nothing but a slight depression in the ground. It contained two or three wounded men, moaning horribly. We passed to our left up the hill in the moonlight to reconnoitre the position, when suddenly shots rang out from a bush only ten yards from us. I felt uncommonly foolish myself, as I had had no weapon all day. However, we called up two men with rifles, who wriggled forward and emptied a few charges into the bush, but we found no quarry.

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This photo is of the officers of the 8th Hants (IoW Rifles)taken just before departure in the park at Watford, as you can see efforts are being made to make them look like Riflemen, as they are all wearing P14 equipment.

If you are interested I will put up the photo showing who was killed in this group, as I can't get it small enough to include here.

Gareth

post-890-0-74078100-1314041665.jpg

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Thank you for that very evocative rendition of the Gallipoli fighting, Martin.

I found it moving, and rather more harrowing on account of its understatement. It is more redolent of Pickett's Charge than of the warfare I have been trying to depict as typical of the later battles on the Western Front. And I note, of course, that the officer had not been carrying a weapon, and directed other men to shoot into the lethal bushes. So the tenor of this story does conform to the stereotyped image of the officer which I had refuted in my post.....

Edit : is this guy the father of our celebrated Tony Benn ?

Phil (PJA)

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Indulge me, please, in another anecdote from an earlier war, a half century before the fighting we're discussing :

I always shot at privates. It was they that did the shooting and killing....I always looked upon officers as harmless....

Thus wrote Sam Watkins, a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War.

I felt honour bound to cite that, as exemplifying the very notion that we're discussing regarding the Great War.....I can only point out that in both the American Civil War and the Great War, officers suffered disproportionately high casualties.

Come to think of it, I would suggest that we consider the record of Erwin Rommel in the Argonne in 1915. As an officer, he proved as zealous and effective in front line combat there as his future nemesis Montgomery had in Flanders the year before. I think that he actually wrote a book about infantry tactics.

Phil (PJA)

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Guest EdgarPreinfalk

Gentlemen,

this is my first entry after reading-only in the GW- forum since about half an year:

I want to mention this picture from another thread:

dhm0210.jpg

Battle of the Somme, the Attack of the Ulster Division by J P Beadle.

"A classic art print of the Ulster Division advancing into the German trenches during the Battle of the Somme. The officer shown leading the unit is Lt Francis Bodenham Thornley. During the Battle of the Somme he was wounded while serving with B company Royal Irish Rifles and while recuperating he was given the job to advise J P Beadle on the painting. In the painting the troops are shown with the SMLE Rifle which is fitted with the No. 1 Mk 1 pattern Sword bayonet. Also shown in the painting is a soldier carrying a Battalion marker, which is used to show the Battalions progress. The troops shown are of the 5th battalion Royal Irish Rifles (North Belfast Volunteers) a supporting unit to the 108th Infantry Brigade."

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<br>Thank you for that very evocative rendition of the Gallipoli fighting, Martin.<br><br>I found it moving, and rather more harrowing on account of its understatement.  It is more redolent of Pickett's Charge than of the warfare I have been trying to depict as typical of the later battles on the Western Front. And I note, of course, that the officer had not been carrying a weapon, and directed other men to shoot into the lethal bushes.  So the tenor of this story does conform to the stereotyped image of the officer which I had refuted in my post.....<br><br>Edit : is this guy the father of our celebrated Tony Benn ?<br><br><br>Phil (PJA)<br>
<br><br><br>Phil - I would agree with your general observation though. Although there were early examples of Officers going into battle unarmed I strongly suspect by 1916-1917 they were distinctly more attuned to self-preservation and adopted the tactics as you suggest. Lord Longford was another Yeomanry officer who died at the head of his Bde making a full frontal charge up Scimitar Hill at the time Capt Wedgwood Benn was coming under fire only a few hundred yards to the south. Brig Gen Lord Longford by all accounts was also armed with a cane. If that was not enough, he made himself even more conspicuous by carrying a large map. Again another tragic example of outmoded attitudes meeting the maxim machine gun at close quarters. <br><br>Ref Tony Benn - yes... he was later Lord Stansgate.  I thought that the most telling line was "<font size="2"><i>Thus were facts moulded to match the ideal"</i> which suggest to me that there was a deep rooted idea of how they were expected to conduct themselves, one based more in myth than in reality.  I don't detect any exaggeration in his writing. It is written in a very matter-of-fact way and stands up to scrutiny when compared with other accounts of the same event. I would also recommend the account by 'Juvenis' of his experience of War at Gallipoli as another example of young New Army officers going into action for the first time. He was shot and wounded but survived to write the tale. He has been identified by Philip Orr in Field of Bones as </font><font size="2">Lt OGE MacWilliam of the 5th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers</font><font size="2"> see <a href="http://www.archive.org/details/suvlabayafter00juve" class="bbc_url" title="External link" rel="nofollow external"><font color="#ff0000">link here</font></a> for the account. I think there is a distinct difference between the experiences of the units who were innocent to the ways of warfare from those more battle hardened men of later years. The Gallipoli experience is interesting as one is able to trace the rapid hardening of tactics and attitudes in the space of only a few weeks. There is an account of a very jingoistic officer in the border Regt who by the end of the campaign was totally sick of warfare and was fairly open with his anti-war views...a complete volte-face in the period of a few weeks. </font><br> <br><font size="2">Benn's description was very different to the later stages of the Western Front and coincidentally it was the last attempt at Gallipoli to engage on open mobile warfare - thereafter it quickly descended into stagnant trench warfare. Benn's account is very interesting. He was very intelligent and wrote well. His WWI experiences were published as "In the Side Shows" which is now available free on line <font color="#ff0000"><a href="http://www.archive.org/details/insideshows00stangoog" class="bbc_url" title="External link" rel="nofollow external">here</a>. </font><font color="#1c2837">It is often missed as the title does not allude to WWI in any way. There are some </font>very thought provoking chapters where he criticises the military machine and outmoded attitudes to warfare...</font><br> <blockquote><br><font size="2"><i>" I will turn to the attitude of mind of the regular cavalry officer towards the Gun-Section, which was part of the official establishment of a mounted regiment. He was utterly unsympathetic. Our allotment of guns at the time was two per regiment,and we had only just advanced a stage past the point when the machine-gun was carted about on a limbered wagon as if it had been a formidable piece oordnance. The section was at time frankly embarrassment to those who arranged our mimic battles. One day as a galloper I was privileged to take part in the conference collected to decide the plan of assault on a ridge of hills held by a 'skeleton' or 'flagged' enemy. "You will make a frontal attack: you will work round to the left: you will hold yourself in reserve , and you" turning to the unhappy machine-gun commander, "oh! You had better exercise the section separately to-day". The poor enthusiast incharge was a paraiah and his troop semi-outcasts. It almost became a formal threat against a man brought into the Orderly Room for some minor offence "If you are caught at it again you will be sent to the Gun-Section". There was one exceptional senior officer who at his own expense had doubled the equipment of machine-guns for the unit under his command. And I remember the broad smile of satisfaction which greeted the order that the surplus guns were to be handed in......</i></font><i>They were looking backward, never forward. In the Yeomanry we heard of nothing but the arme blanche and "shock tactics"; important I dare say and in the desert warfare in which we were ultimately engaged, a very useful accomplishment, but compared with the machine-gun for instance what did they matter?</i><br><i><br></i></blockquote>Lord Stansgate's papers are in the House of Lords library. He later served with distinction with Lt Cmdr Samson of the RNAS. MG
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Martin,

You're kind to proffer these fascinating accounts.

Let me say how much I appreciate both the information provided, and the pleasant tone of your posts.

Thank you.

Phil (PJA)

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Martin,

You're kind to proffer these fascinating accounts.

Let me say how much I appreciate both the information provided, and the pleasant tone of your posts.

Thank you.

Phil (PJA)

Double post, sorry.

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I think it likely that few of us actually "celebrate" AWB - Tory, Labour or Liberal!

I would encourage you to read his father's biography "In the Side Shows" especially the chapters on the Military and its organisation. You will see some fairly radical, insightful and sensible thoughts there, some of them way ahead of its time. He was a very compassionate leader. He was made an Peer by Churchill's Govt.

With regards to AWB I am not sure what you mean by "us". I know this is off topic so I expect the MODs will kill this, but whatever one's politics are, I think it only fair to very politely point out that the available public data shows some people did 'celebrate'...he was once the second longest serving Labour MP. When he was disbarred from running due to his peerage he still 'ran' for election and got more votes than any other legal candidate. He beat Thatcher in a 2006 BBC poll to find the most popular living politician. 20,600 votes cast . Benn 38%, Thatcher 35%. Also note that one of his family is a GWF member. I think Skindles is a better place for this.

Back to WWI.... and to keep this on-topic...more from Capt Benn on the fighting ability of Officers and styles of leadership at Gallipoli....

" Before I leave my account of August 21st and the ensuing weeks on Chocolate Hill, let me refer to the wonderful courage displayed by Captain Watson, who was in command of the squadron to which I belonged. I wish my pen could describe his sweet, unassuming character. He was easily the most beloved man in the regiment, but until we actually went into action no one could have conceived the unflinching devotion to duty of which he was capable. He led the squadron when we went forward from Chocolate Hill, and for a long time with a small body of men was missing when we were consolidating our position at Yeomen's Knoll. We all feared we had lost him, and unspeakable was our delight when he turned up at night with the few companions with whom he had been reconnoitering the trenches on our right. Despite the heavy fire all that night he was to and fro encouraging the living, comforting and succouring the many dying. I could give many instances of Captain Watson's courage. The very first evening we arrived in a new section of 'trenches our enthusiastic but very inexperienced men had improvised a listening patrol, going over the top and crawling through the high grass as near as they could get to the Turkish line with the view of bringing back information of what was going on. They were amateurs at the game. After about an hour one terrified fellow returned, explaining that the shots we had heard had been directed against them and that his companions were lying, he thought killed, somewhere out in the field; but he was quite too scared to give us any account of the direction. Further action at the moment was forbidden by the CO., but about an hour later, going along the trench, I perceived Captain "Watson slipping over the top unobserved, as he thought. For half an- hour I waited in the greatest anxiety for his reappearance. To my intense relief, he came back safely, having ascertained at the risk of his life that nothing more could be done for the ill-fated patrol. When we returned to Egypt, tired of inaction and determined to see fighting service, he volunteered for the Infantry and won the D.S.O. in an action in which he was maimed. He persisted, however, in remaining at the front, and gained the VC in circumstances described as follows by the Gazette. "The late Lt Col O C Watson, DSO, of KOYLI, who displayed the most conspicuous gallantry, self-sacrificing devotion to duty, and exceptionally gallant leading during a period when the enemy were continually attacking and trying to pierce our lines. The position was under constant rifle and machine-gun fire. Lt Col Watson led the remaining small reserve to the attack and organized bombing parties, he leading the attacks under intense fire. Being outnumbered he finally ordered a retirement, remaining himself to cover, facing almost certain death. The assault that Lt Col. Watson led saved the line. Lt Col Watson was killed while covering the withdrawal." His was the second VC in our regiment".

Regards MG

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Another "tiger" of an officer was by all accounts Lieut E J Brooman MC of the Lancashitre Fusiliers. On the 1st July 1916 he fought so ferociously during the assault on Thiepval that his company commander had to phyically restrain him. He survived that battle but was killed near St Quentin in 1917 and is buried in Savy Wood Military Cemetery.

May he rest in peace.

Harry

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  • 2 weeks later...

Edgar,

Just for clarity the picture of 'the attack of the Ulster Division' shows the 11th Btn not the 5th.

F.B.Thornley was an Officer of the 11th and the picture shows the orange half moon insignia of the 11th.

The 5th btn had nothing to do directly with the Ulster Division.

Rob

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From Sassoon's 'Memoirs Of An Infantry Officer' as well as Hesketh Pritchard's 'Sniping In France', it looks apparent that certain types of officer at least would get energetically involved in trench raiding, sniping or full battle, bombing and shooting as enthusiastically as the best of their men, as well as directing matters on the move.

Regards,

MikB

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.... certain types of officer at least would get energetically involved in trench raiding, sniping or full battle, bombing and shooting as enthusiastically as the best of their men, Regards,

MikB

Hello Mik

If you are saying that courage can and does manifest itself in people and has nothing to do with rank, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. Similarly, if the implication is that a lack of courage can also manifest itself in this way, I agree with that too.

Regards

Harry

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Hello Mik

If you are saying that courage can and does manifest itself in people and has nothing to do with rank, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. Similarly, if the implication is that a lack of courage can also manifest itself in this way, I agree with that too.

Regards

Harry

I wasn't especially trying to make any implications. But officers, especially clever ones who knew how to 'play the system', would find it easier than Other Ranks to inveigle themselves into positions where their courage wouldn't be so severely tested. Officers like Sassoon and H-P (and you could add very many others here - say Lawrence, and Beatty) would never entertain any such thought. The difference is that their names have come down to use, whereas the other sort can only be represented by fictitious sitcom characters like Captain Darling - but it would be naive to think they didn't exist.

It's astonishing to think what some of these people faced - especially for someone who's never had to face such a test.

Regards,

MikB

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I wasn't especially trying to make any implications. But officers, especially clever ones who knew how to 'play the system', would find it easier than Other Ranks to inveigle themselves into positions where their courage wouldn't be so severely tested. Regards,

MikB

Hello Mik,

I wonder if that's true. I suppose that it all depends on what you mean by "clever." If you are referring to the 'book larnin' sort that a lot of officers benefitted from by attending a top grammar, public school, or university I would have to agree with you. Similarly, the social connections, that some officers enjoyed would also give them an advantage not available to the ordinary squaddie. As a consequence of these things there is little doubt that some officers managed "to inveigle themselves into positions (perhaps on the staff) where their courage wouldn't be so severely tested"

I can't help thinking though that the sort of back street intelligence possessed by many soldiers for whom survival had become a day to day struggle in the towns and cities where they grew up might well have been of more use when in came to staying alive in the trenches of The Great War.

Regards,

Harry

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I can't help thinking though that the sort of back street intelligence possessed by many soldiers for whom survival had become a day to day struggle in the towns and cities where they grew up might well have been of more use when in came to staying alive in the trenches of The Great War.

Regards,

Harry

I don't know - I wasn't there. But a lot I've heard suggests that the majority of casualties were from artillery. Skill, courage and psychological endurance wouldn't normally help much in surviving, say, a counterbarrage on an assembly trench - whereas making sure you weren't under orders to be there at that time normally would.

Regards,

MikB

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Harry

I have a problem with educated officers 'inveigling' themselves out of the front line and into the 'staff'. Was it not one of the major problems, caused by the rapid expansion of the British Army, the shortage of trained Staff Officers to 'run the army'? Indeed many regular officers in 1914 who were 'psc' inveigled themselves back into their parent battalions to fight on the front line, all to the detriment of the overall 'fighting capacity' of the expanding army! The army needed officers, with education, to be staff officers, indeed the war could not be run without them and the war would not be won without their input either. Indeed it appears there is an implied sense that 'staff officers' were in a sense 'cowards' , which I am sure was not meant?

Mike

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Harry

I have a problem with educated officers 'inveigling' themselves out of the front line and into the 'staff'. Was it not one of the major problems, caused by the rapid expansion of the British Army, the shortage of trained Staff Officers to 'run the army'? Indeed many regular officers in 1914 who were 'psc' inveigled themselves back into their parent battalions to fight on the front line, all to the detriment of the overall 'fighting capacity' of the expanding army! The army needed officers, with education, to be staff officers, indeed the war could not be run without them and the war would not be won without their input either. Indeed it appears there is an implied sense that 'staff officers' were in a sense 'cowards' , which I am sure was not meant?

Mike

Of course you're right. There are no generalisations possible.

But people undoubtedly recognised a character spectrum type in 'Blackadder's' Captain Darling - most people have sometimes met self-serving individuals in most walks of life. And it is a spectrum - there is a vast greyscale between black and white - some of those who got themselves out of harm's way will only have known why they did it in the quiet of their own minds - and some will have had genuinely mixed motives which even they could never resolve. Even those who were, as you say, vital to the war effort may have felt meanly of themselves for not sharing the frontline risks and hardships. And even those whose primary motive was self-preservation may also have done good and important work where they were.

"What man can size or weigh another's woe ?

There are some things too bitter-'ard to bear..."

(Kipling - 'Wilful Missing')

Regards,

MikB

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I have utterly no idea where this conversation is heading, but I'm sure we've also all heard lots of stories about Quarter Master Sergeants nicking the rum, or old soldiers wangling cushy jobs at Battalion HQ.

As noted, there are no generalisations possible, but any person, in any walk of life, with the nouse and ability could find a cushy billet, I suspect. It happens in every walk of life - the good thing is that there are always more people (the psc officers getting themselves killed where they had no right to be, for example) who will, as they say "stand up and be counted".

It might also be worthwhile commenting on the number of men who were "officer material" serving in the ranks of TF and New Army units, and the large numbers of men who most certainly were not "officer material" pre-war, but who served well as officers (including up to Battalion CO or above) in the GW.

Frankly, I fear this thread is wandering a bit aimlessly on a tide of supposition, anecdote and the very genaralisations we have been warned against.

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Hello Mik,

I wonder if that's true. I suppose that it all depends on what you mean by "clever." If you are referring to the 'book larnin' sort that a lot of officers benefitted from by attending a top grammar, public school, or university I would have to agree with you. Similarly, the social connections, that some officers enjoyed would also give them an advantage not available to the ordinary squaddie. As a consequence of these things there is little doubt that some officers managed "to inveigle themselves into positions (perhaps on the staff) where their courage wouldn't be so severely tested"

I can't help thinking though that the sort of back street intelligence possessed by many soldiers for whom survival had become a day to day struggle in the towns and cities where they grew up might well have been of more use when in came to staying alive in the trenches of The Great War.

Regards,

Harry

I very much doubt that the lifeskills picked up in the streets would aid survival in a battle or in day to day trench warfare. I suspect that the struggle to survive in a boarding school may have been more akin to military operations. This notion that the average OR was some sort of ducking and diving, you ain't seen me, street urchin is very far from the truth. The distinguishing feature of the New Armies was the high standard of recruits as compared to the average full time professional of the Old Contemps. Many of the K1 men from London and Home Counties, were time served, skilled tradesmen or office workers who would have described themselves as lower middle class. The miners and heavy engineering workers from the Midlands and North were much more sophisticated than you seem to realise. Politically aware, with a growing representation in parliament and a complex network of trades and industrial unions . These were the backbone of the engineering industry that made Britain a world power.

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Harry

I have a problem with educated officers 'inveigling' themselves out of the front line and into the 'staff'. Was it not one of the major problems, caused by the rapid expansion of the British Army, the shortage of trained Staff Officers to 'run the army'? Indeed many regular officers in 1914 who were 'psc' inveigled themselves back into their parent battalions to fight on the front line, all to the detriment of the overall 'fighting capacity' of the expanding army! The army needed officers, with education, to be staff officers, indeed the war could not be run without them and the war would not be won without their input either. Indeed it appears there is an implied sense that 'staff officers' were in a sense 'cowards' , which I am sure was not meant?

Mike

Hello Mike,

Of course you're right. One cannot exaggerate the importance of educated and fully trained staff personnel. Indeed, as an officers' tutor in the Royal Army Educational Corps it was my job to prepare officers for the Staff College Entry Examinations so I would be one of the last people to criticise them. However, it would seem that that's precisely what I've led you to believe. All I can say in my own defence is that I was not implying that staff officers were, in any sense, cowards. I was simply trying to suggest two things. The first was that there were positions on the staff that didn't necessarily require the high level qualities you refer to and that these were perhaps filled using somewhat different criteria. The second point I was trying to make was that as a general rule and for obvious reasons, staff officers were sited in 'rear areas' and were therefore less likely to come under heavy fire. I don't think it's unrealistic therefore to suggest that this might have been an attraction for some and a source of envy for others.

Harry

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Harry

Thanks for that reply. I have worked with 'Staff Officers' and also supplied 'specialist advice', on a few occasions, during the exercises they had to do on the Senior Staff Officers Course at Camberley when I was a JNCO in the Army.

The late Richard Holmes has some comments on what happened to 'unreliable' officers in his 'Tommy', Trench Mortar units appeared to be a favourite place to send them (along with ORs a unit wanted to get rid of). Although I wonder if this is totally true as did that mean the Trench Mortar Units were not very good?

Mike

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Harry

..... did that mean the Trench Mortar Units were not very good?

Mike

quote.

Hello Mike,

Or the reverse perhaps? For most of the first fifteen years of my army service, I was an NCO in The Blues. It is a regiment in which standards are incredibly high and very often anyone failing to meet those standards were (in my day anyway) dealt with by the men themselves rather than through the usual NCO and officer led disciplinary channels. An example of this took place at Knightsbridge in the early sixties. A trooper had "let the side down" pretty badly in a number of ways including being caught stealing money belonging to his colleagues. Members of his troop waited until he returned, in full state kit, from Horse Guards at Whitehall with the Queen's Life Guard and troughed him !

Being thrown into a water filled trough and scrubbed with yard brooms whilst wearing a full state Household Cavalry uniform (see my avatar) was no laughing matter believe me. Needless to say, he didn't steal from his colleagues again.

Harry

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Needless to say, he didn't steal from his colleagues again.

Harry

One would hope that proper restorative justice led him never to steal from anyone. Roghing him up so he doesn't steal from his mates is all well and good, but one wonders if this type of justice would serve to divert the problem rather than cure it.

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