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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Would CEF officers have batmen?


sneakyimp

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I've read in a variety of places (e.g., A Tommy at Ypres) how officers in the BEF would have a batman. I understand this batman would typically be a private or possibly a corporal and that they would perform various more-or-less menial duties to assist the officer in his work. Even lieutenants would have batmen. I also understand that the relationship would involve the officer paying the batman out of his own pocket and that the batman would typically receive preferential treatment like being excluded from patrols or working parties.

I'm wondering primarily if this would also be the custom in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (1st Division) in 1915 and secondarily if the practice was mandatory/pervasive/widespread or if the custom was only common to landed men or nobility.

Please stow the Adam West jokes.

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Yes, officers in the CEF also had batmen. A search of the CEF Study Group forum for "batmen" or "batman" will produce a number of references to them

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Interesting: the matter of extra payment of officers' servants [in addition to rank pay] on active service is a bit of a grey area. Extra payment was indeed prescribed in peace, and described in great detail in unit standing orders, but I am not at all sure about at the Front.

As in so many areas, regulations seem to be rather blind to the possibility of war ["not proper soldiering, you know!"]. "Batmen" in war were soldiers from the ranks, and on the official War Establishment. "Officers' Servants" in peacetime were not Established as such. In other words there was a mandatory military requirement to have "my man" in war, but not in peace.

Oh! and I have never heard of a corporal performing the duties ...... perhaps for a very senior officer?

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I thought Officers had Servants and Warrant Officers such as the RSM or Conductor (ASC or Ordnance Corps) had a Batman?

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I thought Officers had Servants and Warrant Officers such as the RSM or Conductor (ASC or Ordnance Corps) had a Batman?

In the memoir With a Machine Gun to Cambrai, George Coppard relates how he became an officer's batman. His memoir starts with him joining the Royal West Surry Regiment (otherwise known as The Queen's, 2nd of Foot). This certainly sounds like an infantry regiment to me. On p. 66 he says:

On 5 February 1916, the machine gun section of the 6h Battalion of the Queen's was brigaded into the 37th Machine Gun Company of the Machine Gun Corps. We became 'A' Section, probably owing to our regimental seniority.

On p 67, he specifically mentions becoming a batman:

The new company marched to Vermelles and straight into the line, 'A' Section supporting the Queen's in the Hohenzollern Redoubt. It had been arranged that, as far as possible, each section would support its old regiment, a sensible idea which was warmly received. This spell brought a new experience for me, that of officer's batman. I found myself attached to Lieutenant J. Wilkie, a Scot. I wasn't sure what being a batman involved, but it turned out to be a good opportunity to see things from an officer's point of view.

I believe at this time that Coppard was a private.

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Sgt T Secrett, Batman to Haig for 15 years, would that count?

Certainly a positive example of a ranking NCO being batman, but for the Field Marshal! I think I got my wires crossed before saying that Lance Cpl would be a batman. George Coppard was promoted later on I think but did not continue to serve as a batman. He didn't feel right getting special treatment.

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Interesting: the matter of extra payment of officers' servants [in addition to rank pay] on active service is a bit of a grey area. Extra payment was indeed prescribed in peace, and described in great detail in unit standing orders, but I am not at all sure about at the Front.

As in so many areas, regulations seem to be rather blind to the possibility of war ["not proper soldiering, you know!"]. "Batmen" in war were soldiers from the ranks, and on the official War Establishment. "Officers' Servants" in peacetime were not Established as such. In other words there was a mandatory military requirement to have "my man" in war, but not in peace.

Oh! and I have never heard of a corporal performing the duties ...... perhaps for a very senior officer?

There's a generous amount of detail in the book Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War regarding batmen. I'll type one paragraph here:

Officially, commissioned officers had servants and warrant officers had batmen (from the french 'bat,' meaning saddle pack), but few bothered to observe the nomenclatural nicety. The possession of a servant was a Country House prop to the gentlemanly lustre of the officer, but more meaningfully a servant freed his martial master from the petty cares of everyday living, so that the latter could concentrate on command. A batman cleaned his officer's kit, cooked his food in the line (if possible) and out of the line, toted his officer's valise around and might even act as his bodyguard in battle. In return, the servant was relieved of ordinary duties, including the hated sentry duty at night, and was paid directly by his master at 15s a month. Many valets had been in service in Britain and the Upstairs-Downstairs nature of the deal was familiar

It's precisely that passage that made me wonder if these crusty old-world customs of landed men having servants would also be prevalent among Canadian officers from the hinterlands of Canada. It seems as though a batman is official enough a position to receive a reprieve from onerous duties and to receive additional pay (albeit directly from the officer according to this book). On the other hand, it doesn't constitute a rank. It sort of reminds me of what I've read of orderlies except that orderly duty seems to involve some kind of promotion to corporal. I could have that wrong too.

At any rate, the custom seems pretty distinctly to stem from the English custom of landed men having servants with the military permitting it rather than enforcing it as doctrine. A question: Would an officer be required to have a batman?

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"Six Weeks" is very flawed I fear, and in this case too. Not worth quoting, just look at the nonsense in the title for starters.

If we are talking war [and that book is specifically "war"] then every officer was allocated a batman in War Establishments ....... not a "servant".

If we are talking peace [and this is the Great WAR Forum] then it is true to say that officers had servants, had to clothe them as required in civvies, and had to supplement their pay according to a regimental or unit scale. It is also true that some regiments had peace-time batmen for such as the RSM, indeed I believe the Foot Guards still have such.

I am still not sure if cash passed from an officer to his batman on active service and would like to see an authority for this, or a contemporary example. Until then, I very much doubt it, as the batman would be receiving more than a lance-corporal for less command responsibility and a quieter life.

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