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Need more detail about the orderly room, mess sergeant, etc.


sneakyimp
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I've been reading an excellent book "A Tommy at Ypres: Walter's War" which is basically the personal diary of a private in the 6th Cheshires who becomes a signaller and subsequently a Lance Corporal in the orderly room. It would seem that the Orderly Room's duties involve lots of paperwork and the delivery of orders for the battalion. The Battalion Quartermaster also seems to factor. Can anyone give a concise definition of what the orderly room does?

I'm also wondering about what type of soldier (and how many) would be detailed to the Mess. There appears to be a mess Sergeant but no other details available.

And might there be other orthagonal organizational elements in the battalion aside from the 4 combat companies and the machine gun section? Who gets horses? Very curious. If anyone can recommend books or reading, I'd much appreciate it.

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The LT defines Orderly Room as "The administrative office of a unit. Here also Orders were held" So one assumes a Battalion would have an Orderly Room but so would a Division and the scope and size might be different in each case. Orders are defined as "The daily trial by the commander of a battalion, or other unit, of minor offences. So called because the punishments were listed the next day in Battalion Orders posted outside the Orderly Room"

Re Mess it would depend if it were the Sergeants' Mess or the Officers' Mess, if it were the formal out of line mess or an informal arrangement in the line

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The LT defines Orderly Room as "The administrative office of a unit. Here also Orders were held" So one assumes a Battalion would have an Orderly Room but so would a Division and the scope and size might be different in each case. Orders are defined as "The daily trial by the commander of a battalion, or other unit, of minor offences. So called because the punishments were listed the next day in Battalion Orders posted outside the Orderly Room"

Re Mess it would depend if it were the Sergeants' Mess or the Officers' Mess, if it were the formal out of line mess or an informal arrangement in the line

No need to assume - a battalion has an Orderly Room. Were it not so, the CO and Adjutant would have to make their own tea ! *

A larger formation HQ has a small administrative staff to look after the personnel of the headquarters, but I cannot think that this would be referred to as an Orderly Room.

In a Battalion(or similar size unit of arms other than infantry) the OR was the fiefdom of the ORS or ORQMS, (Orderly Room Sergeant or OR Quartermaster Sergeant). The latter is not part of the QM staff at all, but this may explain to sneakyimp where the apparent QM connection arises. It's a red herring.

As a matter of interest, Grenadier Guards used the term "memoranda" instead of "Orders" for the routine of doling out summary justice, and the Welsh Guards adopted the same term when they formed in 1915.

The admin office of sub-units (companies) would be called Company Office, except Grenadiers who refer to it as a "Company Bunk". Get your @**** over to the Company Bunk, you're on Memoranda" to a Grenadier means "Report to the Company Office sharpish, you're up before the Company Commander for your sins "

* I suppose I'd better point out that's a joke.

(Edited for accidental spelling mistake)

Edited by Stoppage Drill
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Given that I have found references to orderly room at company, brigade and division level as well as battalion - there is a need to assume! That's presumably why the LT written by WW1 veterans uses the term unit as in my quote

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Probably officially - Divisional HQ Company Orderly Room or Brigade HQ Company Orderly Room - a bit of a mouthful (or a lot of ink) and referred to as the Orderly Room

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Headquarters from Divisions upwards would I think have an Orderly Room where the daily routine of the various officers and soldiers that were needed for the efficient running of a Formation would be controlled.

The staff of the HQ would be a unit of about Company strength, with varios trades such as (Staff) Clerks. Drivers, Grooms, Officers Sservants(Batmen) Provost Staff (Military or "Regimental"Police) and Cooks. These would be administered. and discipline maintained, as Centurion says, by an Ordlerly Room Sergeant or OR Quatermaster Sergeant and probably a Warrant Officer with the duties of RSM/ CSM

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I have certainly seen a reference to an Army HQ Company Orderly Room. - However an Orderly Officer and/or an Orderly Sergeant do not appear to have been in charge of the orderly room - They were chosen by rota and had a 24 hour responsibility for certain battalion level inspections and acting as a person to whom complaints could be made. At the end of their 24 hour duty they could grab some sleep and someone else took on the duty. The LT states that this was not carried on when in line - only barracks and camps. Possibly there was also an Orderly Room Officer and Orderly Room Sergeant but whether this was their 'job title' I don't know.

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Mess sergeant although often a sergeant in reality may not be one as it is more a job title and the seniority of the person doing it may well depend on the size, type and location of the mess. The role is sometimes referred to as mess steward. In essence he is in charge of the food and its preparation and he may also be involved in its serving. In a small informal mess in the line he might be cook, waiter and head bottle washer all in one (and still carry a rifle) in a larger more formal arrangement (say the officers' mess in a battalion out of line) he will be the head chef and responsible for supervising the other cooks, waiters and 'kitchen police' - a sort of Gordon Ramsey in Khaki (but probably less foul mouthed).

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' - a sort of Gordon Ramsey in Khaki (but probably less foul mouthed).

So for reference to profanities etc,

delete "Barrackroom language"

insert "Kitchen/Ramsey" Language :hypocrite:

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Exact terminology undoubtedly varied between units of different regts and corps and over time. 'Orderly Room' and 'Orderly Room Sjt' may have been the terminology of most infantry but not necessarily other arms and services. Regt or Bde Office may have been used run by the Chief Clerk. Of course unit administration was the responsibility of the adjutant, or perhaps an 'adminstrative officer' if there wasn't an adjutant, although I suspect that in the case of 1* HQs (bde, CRA, etc) one of the junior staff officers got the guernsey as an additional responsibility.

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Exact terminology undoubtedly varied between units of different regts and corps and over time. 'Orderly Room' and 'Orderly Room Sjt' may have been the terminology of most infantry but not necessarily other arms and services. Regt or Bde Office may have been used run by the Chief Clerk. Of course unit administration was the responsibility of the adjutant, or perhaps an 'adminstrative officer' if there wasn't an adjutant, although I suspect that in the case of 1* HQs (bde, CRA, etc) one of the junior staff officers got the guernsey as an additional responsibility.

When the Adjutant was away the Orderly Officer of the day took over his responsibilities (see my earlier posting re orderly officer)

HQ companies encompassed more than admin as they included signallers, runners, drivers etc Support might be a better description than Admim.

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Hello again all

There were no such things as Divisional or Brigade HQ Companies in the Great War, nor were there battalion or equivalent HQ Companies (with the exception of the HQ Company of a Divisional Train, which looked after the baggage and supplies of the non-infantry troops, leaving Nos.2, 3 and 4 Cos to look after an infantry brigade (and a field ambulance) each.

Here are the establishments of Div and Bde HQs in 1914, 1916 and 1918:

August 1914 Headquarters of a Division
Commander, GSO1, GSO2, GSO3, AA&QMG, DAA&QMG, DAQMG, ADMS, DADMS, ADVS, DADOS, Field Cashier, Asst Provost Marshal, 2 ADC (one acts as Camp Cdt).
12 clerks, 4 staff-serjeants and serjeants, 51 rank and file.
August 1914 Headquarters of an Infantry Brigade
Commander, Brigade Major, Staff Captain (also acts as ADC), Vet Off.
1 clerk, 2 staff-serjeants and serjeants, 20 rank and file.

August 1916 Headquarters of a Division
Commander, GSO1, GSO2, GSO3, AA&QMG, DAA&QMG, DAQMG, ADMS, DADMS, ADVS, 5 Vet Officers, DADOS, Asst Provost Marshal, Liaison Officer, Chaplain (C of E), 2 ADC (one acts as Camp Cdt).
13 clerks, 7 staff-serjeants and serjeants, 80 rank and file.
August 1916 Headquarters of an Infantry Brigade
Commander, Brigade Major, Staff Captain (also acts as ADC),
3 Chaplains (C of E, RC, Pres).
3 clerks, 2 staff-serjeants and serjeants, 19 rank and file.

June 1918 Headquarters of a Division
Commander, GSO1, GSO2, GSO3, AA&QMG, DAAG, DAQMG, ADMS, DADMS (also acts as Med & San Officer), DADVS, DADOS, Asst Provost Marshal, 17 Chaplains, 2 ADC (one acts as Camp Cdt).
13 clerks, 6 staff-serjeants and serjeants, 2 artificers, 76 rank and file.
June 1918 Headquarters of an Infantry Brigade
Commander, Brigade Major, Staff Captain (also acts as ADC).
3 clerks, 2 staff-serjeants and serjeants, 16 rank and file.

You will note that in a division, one of the ADCs acted as "Camp Commandant", which made him responsible for the interior economy and discipline of the HQ itself, including the other ranks. I believe the Staff Captain of a Brigade, who also acted as ADC to the commander, had similar responsibilities. One of the staff-sergeants in each case was an "acting quartermaster-sergeant" who would have been the senior NCO in charge of the other ranks (though some clerks might be warrant officers).

Each infantry battalion had an Orderly Room Sergeant (ORS) and an Orderly Room Clerk (ORC), who could be either a sergeant or a corporal. On mobilisation the ORS stayed at GHQ 3rd Echelon at Rouen where he maintained the unit personnel records, and the ORC stayed with the battalion, keeping the battalion records there. Both ORS and ORC were definite appointments and attracted special rates of pay in the Pay Warrant.

There was no-one with the title "Orderly Room Officer": in effect this was the job of the adjutant. There would, as Centurion says, be an Orderly Officer or Officer of the Day, and probably an Orderly Sergeant of the Day as well, selected by roster (or in some cases, given as unofficial but effective "punishments" for anyone who had upset the CO or the RSM). The officer's duty would include inspecting guards and picquets and checking the cookhouse, latrines etc.

Armies and Corps had an Army/Corps HQ Signal Company and this would have had its own Orderly Room, so references to an Army HQ Company Orderly Room probably mean that, rather than a "Company Orderly Room for the Army HQ".

A Corps HQ had between 70 and 100 Other Ranks, and an Army HQ nearer 300 or so. These HQs also had a Camp Commandant and at least one acting QMS, so their administration probably mirrored that of the Div HQ in respect of discipline and interior economy. This would have been a distinct function from the office work of a HQ in the preparation and issue of operational and similar orders to subordinate formations and units.

Ron

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Centurion

I think I'm right, and that Grumpy is right in the thread you linked, and that (with respect to him) Charles is using the expression in mistake for "HQ details" or something similar.

There were over 2,000 amendments to War Establishments during the war, and I have been to Kew and looked at all of them. None of them mention a "HQ Company" except in relation to a divisional train.

The fact that some reports may refer to "HQ Company" does not mean that this was official (and therefore correct) nomenclature. It is in th nature of things that memoirs and reminiscences are written after the event, and may therefore apply later terminology to wartime practices.

Ron

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In fact, in early 1917, GHQ stated that "A Headquarters Company as such will not be formed."

The later OB./1919. Organisation of an Infantry Battalion, dated September 1918, also does not mention a headquarters company. It never existed.

post-671-0-45180900-1380211737_thumb.jpg

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The references to the Orderly Room Sergeant of a battalion being with the unit, in previous posts, is also misleading. He was located at Third Echelon, Rouen.

This memorandum from a Corps Headquarters in May, 1916 explains it well. As does Ron's post no. 13.

It has been represented that, in some instances, the N.C.O. holding the appointment of Orderly Room Clerk in a unit has been promoted to the rank of Staff-Sergeant.

It is pointed out that this procedure is contrary to the War Establishments, to Kings Regulations, and to the Royal Warrant (Pay and Promotion) dealing with the rank of Orderly Room Clerks, in which it is clearly laid down that, while the Orderly Room Sergeant must hold the rank of Sergeant or Staff Sergeant, the Orderly Room Clerk is granted an appointment the rank of Corporal and may subsequently be promoted to Sergeant. No higher rank is provided for the Orderly Room Clerk.

It should be definitely understood that the place of the N.C.O. holding the appointment of Orderly Room Sergeant is at the A.G.’s Office at the Base – and that he should be senior in rank to the Orderly Room Clerk who remains with the Unit in the Field.

Chris Henschke

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Thanks Chris. "Chapter and verse" is always useful!

Ron

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This book, although talking mainly about the period post-WW2, has some useful information on the role of the mess sergeant and other officers' servants, alongside some light-hearted stories and illustrations, and many other stories of regimental life.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Officers-Mess-Life-Customs-Regiments/dp/0859360946/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1380268795&sr=1-1&keywords=%22officers+mess%22

Ron

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thanks for information about mess sergeant. I have searched for it for a long time.

I research a story that has to do with a sergeant who is mentioned in a diary as the batallion "mess sergeant". I cannot find this title in the organization chart. Was mess sergeant an official position? Did the mess sergeant also have another job in the batallion?

Pehr Thermaenius

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I think I need to add that Mess Sergeant and Sergeant Cook were separate appointments.

And also that "staff sergeant" had no meaning in infantry other than to indicate those sergeants and colour-sergeants appointed to senior battalion staff posts [ie not in the rifle companies", and, in full dress, carrying swords, staff sgt, and wearing headdress, staff sergeant. The list varied with time but usually included:

ORQMS/ ORS, sergeant drummer/bugler, sgt piper,band sgt, C-Sgt instructor musketry

and usually excluded, mess, cook, pioneer, signalling, machine gun, transport, scout..

In general these were for a single rank, unlike modern times, when a "drum-major" can go up the ranks in post.

I have omitted those who were, or became in 1915, warrant officers.

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Peter

Sergeant-cook was an appointment recognised and paid as such by the Army generally. Mess sergeant was an appointment within the battalion, for battalion/regimental purposes only, and any extra pay he may have had came from regimental funds. As far as the Army in general was concerned, he was one of the ordinary sergeants of the battalion.

It also made it much easier for a CO to change the mess sergeant if he was unsatisfactory, or indeed if the sergeant wanted to go, without invoking all the panoply of the Army Act, King's Regu;lations etc. I don't know if some battalions operated a rotating system whereby mess sergeants served as such for a fixed period, say a year, and then someone else was given the chance (or drew the short straw) but that could also have been the case.

It may seem a subtle distinction, but the British Army had always jealously protected its regimental system and the measure of freedom it gave individual regiments to develop and preserve their own particular traditions. "The rest of the Army may do it that way, but we, the -----shires, do it this way" was, and is, a common attitude.

Ron

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Thanks Ron, for this information. I don't know where this sergeant had his place in the battalion organisation, but he seems to have been in the transport. At one point he drove a mess cart, that the officers had bought and filled with food at their own expense. So he can't have been with one of the companies. He survived the war, which also indicates that his place was not in the trenches or in attacks. I have heard a story about a group photograph of soldiers of some battalion who came to France in August 1914 and were still with the battalion in November 1918. Most of this handful of men were in support positions in the battalion, I have been told. Has anyone heard of this story or this picture? Which battalion was it? How many men, and what were their positions?

There is so much to find out.

Thanks all for your interesting input.

Pehr Thermaenius

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  • 5 months later...

I am still digesting all the information in this post. I have just purchased the book 'Officer's Mess' from amazon.com. Thanks so much for all the (really crazy) idiosyncratic detail here.

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Just for my clarification..

Battalion HQ ORs would be from the Battalion companies

Divisional and Brigade ORs would be from the Divisional Train?

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