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Remembered Today:

Officers demoted?


E Wilcock

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Does anyone else have an officer apparently demoted as inefficient?

In checking footnotes, I read a service file I found quite distressing.

Were officers often promoted above their capabilities? And how was this usually dealt with?

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I dont know if officers were demoted as such but if you look at the London Gazette there are numerous entries for officers who "relinquished acting or temporary rank". Some of these may have been for inefficiecy but the majority (no pun intended) would have relinquished their higher rank when an officer with that substansive rank was posted to the unit or they ceased to peform the duties of the higher rank if wounded or for some other resson.

Also more senior offficers were"Stelenbosched", from the town in South Africa were failed Boer War officers ended up, in WW1 it usualy meant an admin post in the UK or Half Pay.

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I have a TF lieutenant forced to relinquish his commission in June 1916 for being "incapable of exacting discipline and imposing his will on those over whom he is supposed exercise command." He wrote to the War Office asking for a suitable post elsewhere, stating that he had held his commission for 3 years, including 13 months at the Front and had not had a single adverse report during this time. The CO who had him removed was the third CO the battalion had since their deployment to France and was not someone that could be described as 'tolerant'! The War Office declined to find him a post. He was conscripted into the Tank Corps shortly afterwards and served as a private until winning the MM in September 1918 and being promoted to Cpl. Reading between the lines and with information from other sources, I think his real sin was being too familiar with the chaps under his command.

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I have a TF lieutenant forced to relinquish his commission in June 1916 for being "incapable of exacting discipline and imposing his will on those over whom he is supposed exercise command." He wrote to the War Office asking for a suitable post elsewhere, stating that he had held his commission for 3 years, including 13 months at the Front and had not had a single adverse report during this time. The CO who had him removed was the third CO the battalion had since their deployment to France and was not someone that could be described as 'tolerant'! The War Office declined to find him a post. He was conscripted into the Tank Corps shortly afterwards and served as a private until winning the MM in September 1918 and being promoted to Cpl. Reading between the lines and with information from other sources, I think his real sin was being too familiar with the chaps under his command.

Norman Collins talks of those applying and those undertaking officer training at quite some length and detail in 'last Man Standing' by Richard van Emden. Familiarity or fraternisation was one of the reasons he gave. His views around 1916 of how difficult they made it to become an officer at that time, I assumed were relaxed later as they became more desperate.

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A large number of "promotions" during the Great War were appointments to temporary or acting rank and these could be removed at any time if the officer did not meet the expectations of his superiors. In the Royal Field Artillery many battery officers who were found deficient in leadership were posted to Brigade/Divisional Ammunition Columns.

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Major Barnes, 1st Battn Wiltshire Regt. according to their War Dairy on 29th Sept. 1914 "receives an order to report himself at the Base" A note on officers held by the Wardrobe say "16.8.1914 Special appointment from 16.8.1914, graded for the purposes of pay as a Staff Captain (London Gazette of 15.10.1915. 6.10.1914 Transferred to England from Nantes Base".

The dates don't seem to agree, but clearly the man didn't meet approval.

Edwin

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I dont think that demotion of officers happened in the same way that an NCO could be "reduced to the ranks" or from Serjeant to Corporal, the options would be dissmised the service which may not have meant being cashiered, so they remained eligible for a pension if they qualified for one and could keep their Military rank as a retired title.

From 1916 they would be liable for military service as a private if cashiered and would be removed from their unit under escort to be kitted out as a private usually in another regiment or corps, so in effect you could say they had been demoted and reduced to the ranks.

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I came across a US officer - Major - I think, who went on patrol in No Mans Land, drunk, and made a noise with it. The sergeant with him put in a report and the man (who said he was terrified witless) was reduced to Private. He wanted to serve in the same unit, but was sent elsewhere. He was killed later.

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Thank you to everyone who has replied. i am going to have a fresh look at the file, in light of what you say.

I will look at the Last Man Standing as well. Thank you for the reference. The class differences may well be relevant. Andrew Thornton in his thesis, THE TERRITORIAL FORCE IN STAFFORDSHIRE 1908-1915, 2004 mentions class differences and the selection of officvers in the Territorial Force.

My officer who was demoted was a friend of the Pridmore family and of Reginald Pridmore whose diary for 1915 and 1916 we inherited and transcribed. Since you have allayed my distress, I will go back and read the file again and do a gazette search.

I had already wondered about Pridmore and class, whether his not being Oxbridge was a factor in his lack of promotion. Although he went to public school, it was not a top public school and he did not go to university. He was an Olympic sportsman and rather unremarkable county cricketer. He was also a competent popular pianist - But his only recorded reading at the front was pulp fiction rather than literature.

Pridmore was killed in action. But it did strike me that my demoted officer survived the war. Being sent back to a desk job in UK was not such a dreadful outcome in the long term.

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Thank you to everyone who has replied. i am going to have a fresh look at the file, in light of what you say.

I will look at the Last Man Standing as well. Thank you for the reference. The class differences may well be relevant. Andrew Thornton in his thesis, THE TERRITORIAL FORCE IN STAFFORDSHIRE 1908-1915, 2004 mentions class differences and the selection of officvers in the Territorial Force.

My officer who was demoted was a friend of the Pridmore family and of Reginald Pridmore whose diary for 1915 and 1916 we inherited and transcribed. Since you have allayed my distress, I will go back and read the file again and do a gazette search.

I had already wondered about Pridmore and class, whether his not being Oxbridge was a factor in his lack of promotion. Although he went to public school, it was not a top public school and he did not go to university. He was an Olympic sportsman and rather unremarkable county cricketer. He was also a competent popular pianist - But his only recorded reading at the front was pulp fiction rather than literature.

Pridmore was killed in action. But it did strike me that my demoted officer survived the war. Being sent back to a desk job in UK was not such a dreadful outcome in the long term.

Some interesting points in your post. Collins stated social standing seemed to have no bearing on them being rejected for commissions in officer training. However he did state that too much/little personality seemed to lead to them being rejected despite attaining respectable marks in all aspects of their training.

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I have a TF lieutenant forced to relinquish his commission in June 1916 for being "incapable of exacting discipline and imposing his will on those over whom he is supposed exercise command." He wrote to the War Office asking for a suitable post elsewhere, stating that he had held his commission for 3 years, including 13 months at the Front and had not had a single adverse report during this time. The CO who had him removed was the third CO the battalion had since their deployment to France and was not someone that could be described as 'tolerant'! The War Office declined to find him a post. He was conscripted into the Tank Corps shortly afterwards and served as a private until winning the MM in September 1918 and being promoted to Cpl. Reading between the lines and with information from other sources, I think his real sin was being too familiar with the chaps under his command.

What an extraordinary story, what was his name ?

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My case is similar - He might even be the same. But this is a dilemma isnt it?

I withheld the name in my post as I dont like to risk distressing any surviving family. It is not my practice as a historian to blazon the bad stuff - several of the letters I hold in the family archive include hurtful remarks about other people.

It could be that the IWM initiative and the BBC coverage is raising expectations that cannot be met. Only this week I received a hopeful e-mail asking me about the war service of a Driver from descendants who already had his record showing he never served overseas. One cannot magic up a heroic history for people.

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I have a similar story, of an officer who was offered up for transfer from the Machine Gun Corps to the Special Brigade RE.. A shortage of officers in the SB caused the authorities to ask other regiments and corps to find officers for the brigade. The MGC offered up this man who would be sent for interview. A note in his record, which the Brigade received in advance, said that he had an ...."inability to enforce authority or command respect." He was of course, immediately turned down by the SB without further ado. I have not been able to find out what happened to him subsequently, but it lookes very much like the MGC were taking the chance to off-load this particular problem.

There is a lesson to be learnt from this I suppose. If you are going to pass your dead wood to someone else, at least have the guile to make sure any incriminating evidence is removed first.

TR

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My case is similar - He might even be the same. But this is a dilemma isnt it?

I withheld the name in my post as I dont like to risk distressing any surviving family. It is not my practice as a historian to blazon the bad stuff - several of the letters I hold in the family archive include hurtful remarks about other people.

It could be that the IWM initiative and the BBC coverage is raising expectations that cannot be met. Only this week I received a hopeful e-mail asking me about the war service of a Driver from descendants who already had his record showing he never served overseas. One cannot magic up a heroic history for people.

I totally agree with you on not naming those concerned. I also think that there has been at least one thread in the past regarding those who, despite being give the facts about a family member, have chosen to believe the family folklore surrounding the individual despite the evidence to the contrary.

I was researching an officer last year whose death had caused me some puzzlement. In one diary he died accidentally and in another, he took his own life. He was also transferred from one battalion to another. I accessed his service record at Kew, only to find his records had been 'weeded'. Which then begs the questions: why were they weeded? And what was removed? Sadly, I will never know but it seemed as though there had been an exchange of letters that weren't present in the file. His death certificate was there confirming he had taken his own life.

Edit: to amend typo error.

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I have such a case on my site (link below). He is listed on the school memorial with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant but he died as a Private which prompted a trip to TNA which revealed a rather sad story. Seems like he didn't get much chance to challenge the decision and no real reason is given for his demotion other than "inefficiency"

http://www.hambo.org/lancing/view_man.php?id=319

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Which then begs the questions: why were they weeded? And what was removed?

There were 3 parts to an officer's service record. 2 parts were lost in the 1940 fire. From my experience, the remaining part was weeded for anything not related to money. Applications for commission (or attestation papers if he came from the ranks) and often a birth certificate to go with the application to calculate when service counted from, PoW interviews to ensure he wasn't at fault for his capture, probate if he died and other paperwork related to pensions are all that seem to have survived.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There were 3 parts to an officer's service record. 2 parts were lost in the 1940 fire. From my experience, the remaining part was weeded for anything not related to money. Applications for commission (or attestation papers if he came from the ranks) and often a birth certificate to go with the application to calculate when service counted from, PoW interviews to ensure he wasn't at fault for his capture, probate if he died and other paperwork related to pensions are all that seem to have survived.

Sorry it has taken a while to get back to this one. Yes you are right (attest, will, medical boards are in there) but it is very frustrating to find that everything relating to the Board of Enquiry regarding his death has been removed:

post-70679-0-42637500-1391776506_thumb.j

I am still left wondering what happened that day or on previous days that pushed him over the edge and whether he tried to make his suicide look like an accident (as one diary suggests it was). Surely such important documentation should have been left un-weeded but it seems not.

Edited: because I hit the return key and my cat hit another key and the combination submitted the post prematurely - cat evicted from the room!

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