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Drunk on duty -- compassion by Company Sergeant Major


Macnab

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My grandfather, Henry McNab, served with 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as a Company Sergeant Major.

Sadly he died in 1934 from the effects of poison gas. In an obituary which appeared in a local newspaper, one of his former men wrote:

“With the passing of Harry McNab, Rothesay has lost one of its most worthy citizens, for no man worked harder in his own quiet way for the good of the community. But to me, as one who was with him in Egypt, Palestine and France, he was one of the very few Sergt.-Majors whom all soldiers liked. A little incident stands out from the rest in my memory [it would have been about 23 May 1918]. We were stationed at a Belgian barracks, and, as it was our first pay day since we left Egypt six weeks before, most of the men had had a little too much of the 'Vin Blanc' and the 'Vin Rouge'. When Sergt.-Major McNab appeared on the scene, instead of calling 'two men fall in' which would have meant the men in charge, he got down on his knees and took off the men’s boots so that they could fall asleep and work the effects off”.

Can anyone explain exactly what a command of "Two men fall in" addressed to the company would have required, please? Why "two men" instead of, say, the company as a whole? If they had been put on a charge, would there have been two offences, failing to obey an order and being drunk on duty? What was likely to be the penalty in these circumstances?

Finally, can anyone tell me a good source of information about the duties of a CSM in WW1, please? Thanks very much.

Steven

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I think 'two men, fall in' meant nomination of an escort to march the drunks off to 'jail' pending appearance before the CO on a charge. There could well have been two charges, but the more serious would be proceeded with. CSM's duties? Hopefully someone more knowledgeable will reply.

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Thanks very much, Colin. You have cast my understanding of the story in a clearer light. If the order for “Two men” would not have been addressed to the men with the drink, I now guess that those men were potentially subject to only one charge, of being drunk on duty, rather than two as I previously thought.

Steven

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Hello Steven

Drunkenness, whether on duty or not, was an offence punishable by a fine and normally dealt with summarily by the CO. The fine was usually ten shillings for a first offence: not a negligible amount when a soldier's basic pay was a shilling a day.

Ron

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Hi, Ron. Thanks a lot.

Steven

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Sounds like a senior NCO who led by example & not by fear & intimidation. I bet his men would have followed him anywhere. The best type of NCO whose men would never let him down & always did their best for him. And he for them.

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Thanks for the comment, Loader.

For anyone who is reading this thread and is interested in historical detail, I now have a copy of the War Diary for the 5th Argylls, which shows that the men were paid on 25 May 1918, and the barracks in question were at Neuville-St Vaast.

Steven

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I think that there might have been an error in the the newspaper's reporting of what was said, or, more likely, there was a grammatical error on the part of the author. Calling "for two men to fall" makes no sense as it appears all the men were intoxicated. It seems likely to me that what was meant was "instead of calling for the men to fall in..........".

TR

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  • 2 months later...

I have come across confirmation that Paul Granger's suggestion in his post above is correct, and that “Fall in, two men” was a command to those present for two men to volunteer to come forward and escort a miscreant to the guardroom.

In the book Joffrey's War by Geoffrey Husbands at page 79 the author relates the story of a member of his platoon, who was found very drunk in a tree. "Up came the Captain. 'Out of that, Macdonald,' he ordered sternly .... but Mac was not having any. Finally, 'Fall in, two men,' was the command, and two of the numerous volunteers who rushed out had the pleasure of dragging a struggling, swearing, maudlin Macdonald from his perch and marching him off, accompanied by an NCO back to camp."

Another incident of use of a "Fall in, two men" order, by a sergeant for refusal by a man to obey an order, is related by Husbands on page 80.

Terry suggests that this interpretation is unlikely because in the story mentioned above about my grandfather all the men were drunk, but the account says "most of the men", not all of them, which suggests that at least two would still be capable of responding to the order, of whom presumably the writer of the tale was one !

Joffrey's War by Geoffrey Husbands was reviewed warmly in the Long, Long Trail at http://www.1914-1918.net/onthetrail/index.php/joffreys-war-a-sherwood-forester-in-the-great-war , and I, too, can recommend it.

Steven

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Drunkenness, whether on duty or not, was an offence punishable by a fine and normally dealt with summarily by the CO. The fine was usually ten shillings for a first offence: not a negligible amount when a soldier's basic pay was a shilling a day.

Pre-WW1, I know, but this entry on my (3X) Gt Grandad's conduct sheet always amused me... hell, I think I'd rather have been flogged!!!! :D

Dave

post-357-0-53302700-1422923659_thumb.jpg

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Sir William Robertson does not strike me as a man given to hyperbole. In his memoirs he writes: "The punishment for this crime [sleeping on sentry duty] was invariably two months' imprisonment, and although young soldiers must be made to realise their responsibilities when on sentry, a little more consideration in dealing with tired lads not yet out of their teens would not have been misplaced. I have known more than one lad ruined for life because of undue severity of punishment for a first offence."

"Ruined for life" !

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