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Remembered Today:

John Kipling and Promotion Protocol in the Guards 1915


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Background. The controversy surrounding the grave of John Kipling, Irish Guards is intrinsically linked to an assumption that he was wearing the rank of a Lieutenant when he was killed at the Battle of Loos. This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of promotion protocol in the Guards in 1915. More detail can be found on this link click

An Alternative View. This article is a study of the promotion timeline of every subaltern in the Guards Division in 1915. The names and ranks of the officers were collectively recorded hundreds of times in the unit diaries. By carefully comparing these diary entries with the promotions announced in the London Gazette it has been possible to reconstruct exactly how promotions were treated. The conclusions are compelling and challenge the theory that Kipling 'put up rank'. The study is offered as an alternative view. MG.

Promotion Protocol in the Guards Division: Implications for John Kipling

Background: The 'Lt Kipling Theory'. The official view that John Kipling's body has been identified was established 24 years ago by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). This view has recently been reinforced in research by Lt Col Parker and Ms Legg (Parker/Legg) in their article in Stand To! No. 105 of January 2016 - the publication of the Western Front Association (WFA). For the purposes of this article these congruent views are generically categorised as the 'Lt Kipling Theory'.

At the centre of the 'Lt Kipling Theory' is speculation that John Kipling and indeed all Guards officers put up rank ahead of the official announcements of their substantive promotions in the London Gazette. There is no evidence that John Kipling or indeed any officer in the Guards officer put up rank ahead of substantive promotion. The theory is based on a deep misunderstanding of promotion protocol. As we shall see there is substantial evidence to demonstrate that this part of the 'Lt Kipling Theory' is fundamentally flawed.

Promotion Protocol. Note: All references to promotion are to substantive Lieutenant (Lt) rather than temporary Lt (Temp Lt) in the British Army in 1915 unless otherwise stated.

In 1915, promotions were antedated on average by six months. This delay was driven by several factors: consequences of large numbers of casualties on promotion, changes to unit war establishments and the raising of new units. The 'Lt Kipling Theory' is anchored on the idea that officers put up rank from the antedate of their promotion. This would suggest that Guards officers were putting up rank many months ahead of the London Gazette announcements. This argument is absolutely critical to the theory; without it the theory collapses.

Promotion protocol is enshrined in Kings Regulations which makes it clear that the authority for promulgation of promotions was the London Gazette:

... transmitted to each G O C in C to enable him to notify, in orders, such details as affect his command. Notifications so published will be official for all military purposes.

An Officer would put up rank when his substantive promotion was announced in the London Gazette or very shortly after. This was colloquially described as being gazetted. The only exceptions to this protocol were promotions to temporary rank.

Guards Division Records. When the Guards Division assembled in August 1915 the Divisional HQ recorded the names and ranks of every battalion officer. There are thirteen Battalion nominal rolls which name 323 officers. Over two-thirds were subalterns. In addition, there are a score of unit war diaries at Division, Brigade and Battalion level as well as that of the Assistant Director Medical Services and the three Field Ambulances diaries which respectively recorded the activities and fates of these Officers in meticulous detail.

Over a hundred Guards subalterns were promoted from 2nd Lt to Lt during 1915. Together they are mentioned over 500 times across the diaries. It is possible to compare the ranks held at specific dates in the diaries with the promotion timeline recorded in the London Gazette for each individual. We can substitute the speculation on promotion protocol with some hard facts. The results of this detailed analysis follow:

Guards Division: 132 promotions to 2nd Lt. The nominal roll is a key document as it is an official snapshot of officers names, ranks and appointments on a specific date. That it was prepared so close to Battle of Loos and Kipling’s death is extremely useful as the battle and its aftermath generated a considerable amount of relevant data. The nominal roll also helps eliminates conjecture; as a complete record it provides the necessary integrity and acts as critical reference point. Here is the crux: If an officer had been promoted to Lt before this date is should be reflected in the nominal roll.

The nominal roll collated in the last week of August 1915 recorded over two hundred subalterns of whom 146 were 2nd Lts and exact contemporaries of 2nd Lt John Kipling. Some 132 of this band of brothers were subsequently promoted to substantive Lt in 1915 and early 1916. This cohort splits into two: subalterns whose effective date of promotion was after the nominal roll date and those whose effective date fell before this date.

Effective Date of Promotion prior to Nominal Roll of 28th Aug 1915. If the Lt Kipling Theory is correct about promotion protocol, we would expect this latter group to be recorded as Lts given that they had passed the effective date of their promotions. There are 97 subalterns in this group. Some have effective dates for substantive promotion to Lt as early as January 1915. On average this group have an effective date for promotion some eight weeks prior to the date of the nominal roll. None are recorded as substantive Lts. A high profile example might help illustrate the point;

Example: 2nd Lt G A Boyd Rochfort VC Scots Guards was awarded the Victoria Cross for an action on 3rd August 1915. He was subsequently gazetted as a Lt on 2nd Feb 1916 with the effective date for this promotion antedated by seven months to 16th June 1915 (a week after Kipling's). The effective date for his promotion was 48 days before his VC action, yet he is recorded as a 2nd Lt in all documentation, including his VC citation in the London Gazette on 1st Sep 1915, some 77 days after the effective date. The nominal rolls, diaries, citations and routine orders record him as a 2nd Lt right up to the announcement date of his promotion. This example was typical. It complied with Kings Regulations.

This group of 97 subalterns is collectively recorded over 400 times in various diaries and casualty returns. The evidence from these sources further substantiates the fact that none put up rank ahead of the London Gazette announcement.

Effective Date of Promotion after Nominal Roll of 28th Aug 1915 This sub-group comprises 35 named individuals and is less contentious. If we do the same analysis we find that none of this group put up rank ahead of the announcement of their subsequent promotions. This group is similarly recorded in the various diaries. There is no evidence that they put up rank.

Temporary Rank. There are three dozen subalterns who were gazetted as Temporary Lts. The time lag between announcement date and effective date is significantly shorter, clearly demonstrating these promotions were expedited. A careful comparison of the diary entries with the promotion timeline shows that temporary rank was put up immediately, before it was gazetted. The hard evidence clearly demonstrates that temporary promotions were treated differently to substantive promotion.

The Guards Division Routine Orders specified that when an officer became a casualty, he would be replaced by the next most senior officer. In many instances this meant a junior officer stepping into the role of an officer with higher rank. The Routine Orders also stated that after 30 days in the role, an officer would be given a temporary promotion. Each promotion would create a gap that would be filled with the next most senior officer. As this process cascaded down the officer ranks this meant that on occasion a Lt was promoted to Temp Capt and a 2 Lt was promoted to Temp Lt at the same time. We have an example of this with Lt C D Wynter and 2 Lt W B Stevens being promoted to Temp Capt and Temp Lt on the same day – an event recorded in the war diary.

Further investigation of the Temporary Lts in the London Gazette reveals that at least a third of these promotions were supernumerary to establishment It is worth noting that as the Guards Division assembled, it was also restructuring with the addition of three Brigade Machine Gun Companies on 19th Sep 1915. Each required Company Commander (OC), 2ICs and four or five subalterns. There is evidence of officers with temporary rank taking on some of these roles. Other appointments were available outside the regimental and battalion structure including staff roles, Brigade Machine Gun Officers, Brigade Bombing Officers and two Aides-de-Camp for every General commanding a Division or above. The few Temp Lts who can be traced in their battalions are invariably replacing casualties or having been posted between battalions in order to spread their experience.

The Crux of the Matter. Within the Guards Division in 1915 are nine Lts whose promotion to Temp Lt was gazetted after the effective date of their promotion to Lt. The 'overlap' of these seemingly contradictory titles varied from as little as 17 days to as much as 157 days (five months). The Lt Kipling Theory would make this unnecessary. This is the crux: if these Officers had already put up rank to Lt, there would be no need to make them Temp Lts.

All these promotions can be easily checked against the London Gazette announcements. It is clear that promotion from Lt to Temp Lt is a non sequitur. This is hard evidence that the London Gazette announcement date was the critical date for putting up substantive rank.

Anomalies. Within such a large body of handwritten material, inevitably there will be human errors. If these are used in isolation they can lead to incorrect conclusions and grave errors. Significantly broader research highlights these anomalies. These can challenge any counter-theory. There are 224 named subalterns in the data, collectively named well over 500 times. Within this sample there are only seven anomalies.

Grenadier Guards. One Grenadier Guards subaltern is described on just one occasion as a Lt before the announcement date. All other references up to his promotion record him as a 2nd Lt. It seems likely that on balance this is a likely error by an exhausted diarist.

The case of Lt Mervyn Williams Grenadier Guards is particularly interesting. His promotion to Lt was gazetted on 21st Aug 1915; however the roll records him as a 2nd Lt on 28th Aug 1915. Evidence from the Routine Orders which include hundreds of examples of LG announcements shows that the announcements took anything up to a week to reach the Division. In this particular case it seems clear that the announcement had not quite reached its destination before the nominal roll was prepared.

Welsh Guards. There are five 2nd Lts Welsh Guards who are described by the diarist on 27th Sep 1915 as Lts. All are on the roll as 2nd Lts and recorded in the appendix to the Welsh Guards history as having joined as 2nd Lts. Two were only substantive 2nd Lts in April 1915 and one other in June 1915. Their effective dates for promotion to Lt were much later. Two are described by the same diarist as 2nd Lts a few days later. One of the subalterns, 2 Lt Ralph Smith, was killed at Loos and is recorded twice as 2nd Lt in the casualty returns. He never made it to Lt, so in this case we know for sure the diarist made an error. There is no evidence of temporary promotions.

This seems to be a clear example where the generic Lt is applied to all subalterns. This error filtered through to the Welsh Guards published history where every subaltern is described as a Lt. It is highly unlikely that the Welsh Guards embarked for the Western Front on 17th Aug 1915 without a single 2nd Lt. It is notable that the battalion nominal roll in the Guards Division war diary records seven 2nd Lts including the five in question.

This leaves two Welsh Guards officers: Lt G C H Crawshay and Lt Hon P G J F Howard (both 2nd Lts on the roll). Given they are clustered in a list with the others, it is distinctly possible they were also generically labelled Lts.

Balance of Probabilities. With the lone Grenadier Guard this makes three residual anomalies out of over 500 examples. It is worth noting when using the balance of probabilities argument that the scales are every heavily tilted one way. Over 99% of the evidence supports the idea that Guards subalterns did not put up rank ahead of substantive promotion. The residual 1% are almost certainly errors and are substantially outweighed by the many hundreds of records that demonstrate the other 125 subalterns certainly did not put up rank. .

The Irish Guards and Kipling's Promotion Cohort

The Irish Guards. The Parker/Legg iteration of the Lt Kipling Theory speculates that the Irish Guards might have had some separate regimental tradition of putting up rank. There are 36 Irish Guards subalterns on the nominal rolls. Of these, all except three were recorded as Lts or 2nd Lts subsequently promoted to Lt in 1915. The same careful comparison of nominal rolls, diary entries and casualty returns with their promotion timeline can be made. There is no evidence that any put up rank ahead of the announcement date of their substantive promotions.

Lt R L Hargreaves. The Parker/Legg article cites the example of Lt Hargreaves putting up rank ahead of his promotion to Temporary Captain. As already discussed putting up rank ahead of temporary promotions was protocol but did not extend to substantive promotions.

Kipling’s Promotion Cohort. The same rigorous analysis was applied to all fourteen subalterns promoted to Lt on 11th Nov 1915. This group included John Kipling. Collectively their names and ranks are recorded 66 times prior to the announcement of their promotion to substantive Lt.

2nd Lt John Kipling. His name is recorded seven times in contemporary documents close to the time of his death. In addition to the letter in his own hand there is his signature and rank on a soldiers Will dated 3rd August 1915. Both show him as a 2nd Lt. No documentary evidence that Kipling put up rank has been offered by any supporters of the Lt Kipling Theory. He was never made Temp Lt – the only plausible explanation that he was wearing the rank of Lt.

Temp Lt W B Stevens. Immediately prior to the Battle of Loos the 2nd Bn Irish Guards had only two Captains. There were fourteen 2nd Lts and three Lts, just enough for the 16 Platoons and the Transport Officer. Note at this stage the Battalion Machine Gun Officers had formed the nucleus of Brigade Machine Gun Companies and were no longer part of battalion establishment. Some Company Commanders and all the Company 2ICs had to be improvised from Officers posted in or promoted. 2 Lt W B Stevens and Lt C D Wynter were posted from the 1st Bn to the 2nd Bn in early September specifically to help fix this problem. They were recorded as promoted to Temp Lt and Temp Capt respectively.

We know from the diary evidence that Wynter acted as a Company Commander. Both temporary promotions were gazetted on 15th Oct 1915 and antedated to 2nd Sep 915 (the date of the diary entry). As we have seen, putting up temporary rank before gazetting was allowed. This treatment did not extend to the substantive promotions.

Temp Lt W B Stevens case provides more compelling evidence of how promotions were treated. He was promoted to Temp Lt on 2nd Sep 1915 according to the LG and diary entry. This was two months after the effective date of his promotion to substantive Lt. If he had already put up rank for his substantive promotion there would be no need to be promoted to Temp Lt. It is a non sequitur. The later gazetting of promotion to Lt simply backdated the effective date for administrative purposes of pay and seniority.

2nd Lt R E Sassoon. This subaltern is mentioned four times in the diaries. Only once is he mentioned as a Lt. The official returns all record him as a 2 Lt. The Battalion diarist records him only once as a Lt. The same diarist records him as 2 Lt Sassoon only a few days later. As we can demonstrate in the example of the Welsh Guards, diarists occasionally made mistakes. This seems to be a similar error. That aside, the nominal roll records him as a 2nd Lt.

Sassoon was wounded at Loos and the 4th Field Ambulance war diary recorded him passing through their Advanced Dressing Station. It is a fair assumption that the RAMC Orderly recorded the rank he could see on Sassoon’s epaulette as the gunshot wound in his thigh was dressed. The record dated 27th Aug 1915 clearly shows him as a 2nd Lt. Again this is critical evidence - independent of the battalion diary - that an Officer in the same promotion cohort as Kipling had not put up rank.

Temp Lt Hon H B O’Brien. This case is similar to Stevens as O’Brien had a temporary promotion.

The Other Ten Subalterns. The other ten subalterns in Kipling’s cohort are recorded in the various contemporary documents over fifty times. Two are recorded as 2 Lts in the Field Ambulance diaries providing further independent evidence. None are recorded as anything other than 2nd Lts up to the date of the LG announcement of their promotion to Lt.

There is thus no evidence to support the idea that Kipling, any subaltern in his cohort or any Irish Guards subaltern put up rank ahead of substantive promotion. The anomalies are all explained by promotions to temporary rank, or in the case of Sassoon an undoubted error by the diarist.

Any mistakes are mine. MG

Edited 28/4/15

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