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Bernoullis

Officer Training for the A.S.C. in 1915 - Where? How long?

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Bernoullis

Folks, we are after some advice regarding where and how long a chap might have trained to become an officer in the Army Service Corps in 1915. We are asking for your help because the documented dates that my buddy and I have for the chap we are researching, Arthur W. Keen, just don't seem to add up i.e. the time between his application and his commissioning as a 2nd Lt is only 3 weeks!

Please forgive me that the opening post here is a bit lengthy, it is just that I want those of you who are knowledgeable about such things to have all the info that we have, in order to arrive at a considered opinion. Here goes .....

The background:
Arthur W. Keen started an Engineering degree at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1913. In May 1915, with the degree unfinished, he filled in application paperwork to join the Army, specfically requesting a place in the A.S.C. (M.T.). The form used was a blue M.T.393, upon which is some explanatory text that states the form is to be used for:

"... any candidate who is serving in the ranks of the New Armies, Special Reserve, or Territorial Force, and for any other candidate who is neither a cadet of the Senior Division, Officer Training Corps, nor a member of a University."

As we expected, the form used implies Keen had no previous military experience or training, so the text here seems largely applicable, except the last bit about " ... nor a member of a University", because he had been doing a degree at Trinity College! Anyway, additional text on his application form further states:

"Form M.T.392 [a different form] should be used for an Officers Training Corps (Senior Division) or University candidate, who is not serving in the ranks."

So, not using the alternative from M.T.392 seems to further confirm that Keen was not in the OTC at Trinity College. In fact, a sheet attched to the application form has some extra questions, one of which clearly asks whether the applicant has had any military service/training, including OTC, and Keen answers with a "No".

Keen was 20 years old at the time he applied to join the Army. He was medically examined at the War office on 4 May 1915 and passed "Fit" by a Surgeon Lt Col in the Grenadier Guards, whose signature appears to indicate thet it might be that of Lt Col Edward N. Sheldrake. The application form was then countersigned by Keen's Trinity College tutor, William C. D. Whetham, on 5 May 1915, and finally signed by both Keen and his father on 6 May 1915. Everything so far here is as seen in Keen's War Office file held at The National Archives in London.

Our eyebrows were raised somewhat when we compared Keen's application date, 6 May 1915, with his commission as a 2nd Lt in the A.S.C. (M.T.) on 24 May 1915, just 3 weeks later!!! How did that occur so quickly? Having served in 2 different military organisations myself, I have always assumed that, even in WW1, officer training came first and, on successful completion of that, a graduation and commission followed! There is no doubt about Keen's commissioning date because it is documented in the London Gazette, and we have also seen his original commissioning parchment. Was the officer training in 1915 really that condensed, such that a new officer only did 3 weeks of kit-polishing, square-bashing and other such stuff? Remember, he apparently hadn't been in the OTC or done any other similar military training prior to applying to join the Army!

Keen's War Office file goes on to show that on the date he was commissioned, 24 May 1915, he was sent to Grove Park in south-east London, which we believe was the No 1 Reserve MT Depot of the A.S.C. On 27 July 1915 he then moved to 274 M.T. Company in nearby Plumstead and that seems to be where he remained until joining the Royal Flying Corps in mid-December 1915.

If Keen's officer training really was as brief as it appears to have been, we were then left wondering precisely where that training would have taken place. A first clue appears to come from a January 1916 letter to his father (by which time Keen is undergoing basic flying training with the RFC in Yorkshire) where he writes:

"I am trying to get hold of a Bedlingham terrier. I have got George who was at Woolwich with me to write to the M.F.H of the Pembrokeshire Foxhounds who has got some very good dogs and I don't think I shall get swindled there."

A further clue comes from a much later letter he wrote to his mother in June 1918 (Keen was now a Major in the Royal Air Force and commanding No.40 Squadron in France). In this letter he mentions advice that he has given to his younger brother about joining up:

"I wrote to Charlie & told him the best thing he can do is to go to Woolwich or Sandhurst and get a commission from there. It is a very great help in the army if you go there & you don't join up without knowing anything about anything and making a fool of oneself. Also an officer who has been at either of these places has a big pull over the others and I think the fellows that go there are a pretty sound crowd which would put him in with the right sort of fellows to begin with."

So, do these 2 letters, written 2 and a half years apart, hint that Keen did his (brief!) officer training at "Woolwich"? Can anyone say which of the several military establishments in Woolwich would have been conducting officer training like that at Sandhurst? Or do you think Keen is merely referring to Woolwich as an 'area' of south-east London, having served in nearby in Grove Park and Plumstead?

The questions, in summary:
1. Is the time from the signing and dating of his application for the A.S.C, 6 May 1915, to the date of his commissioning as a 2nd Lt, 24 May 1915, truly a realistic time for officer training? It just seems very short to us, given that he had spent no time in the OTC or similar. Was officer training really that condensed in 1915?
2. Where would he likely have done his officer training for entry into the A.S.C.? Was it at some military establishment/college in Woolwich, as hinted in the 1916 and 1918 letters? If so, which palce in Woolwich? Or was it perhaps done at Grove Park itself?

Any advice you can offer on this conundrum would be greatly appreciated. During our research for Keen's time in the RFC/RAF we have learned a lot, but sadly we know very little about the Army and Army training in 1915, so we are puzzled by the apparently very short training period for an officer in the A.S.C. Thank you for anything you can offer to clear this up.

Edited by Bernoullis

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Old Tom

I have only a superficial knowledge of ASC but would suggest that as they expanded they encountered a great shortage of motor vehicle drivers and mechanical engineers. Your man was two years into an engineering degree and I think a commission in a short time is quite feasible and that his officer training would have been, in effect, 'on the job'. His transfer to RFC in only another few months is interesting; was he a pilot or an engineer?

Old Tom

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Colin W Taylor

Bernoullis

I would suggest that the time between the application and his being gazetted would be just that - the time for his application to be processed and official authorization for his commission to be granted. Once gazetted he would have undergone his training in his position and role at Grove Park. This would be unlike more modern practices whereby he would be trained as an officer cadet until he was suitable and then commissioned or the commissioning courses at Sandhurst of Woolwich which were for Regular Army Officer.

However, there would have still been a lot to fit into his two months at Grove Park.

Kind regards

Colin

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ss002d6252

The ASC in 14 and 15 seem to have trained men in army ways as they went along. Many of the drivers taken on, more so in 14, were sent to the front within a week or so of enlistment - even without prior military experience.

Craig

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Bernoullis

Thanks very much to all for their generous responses so far, including the one I received by PM. The latter included a link to this webpage where the stories of Lt William Bullen Lund and Lt Edward Burtt (just over half way down the page) seem to confirm that commissioning in the A.S.C. was pretty much near-instant and that much of the job training came as these fellows went along!

I have only a superficial knowledge of ASC but would suggest that as they expanded they encountered a great shortage of motor vehicle drivers and mechanical engineers. Your man was two years into an engineering degree and I think a commission in a short time is quite feasible and that his officer training would have been, in effect, 'on the job'. His transfer to RFC in only another few months is interesting; was he a pilot or an engineer?

Old Tom, Arthur Keen became a pilot in the RFC. In the first paragraph of my opening post I did include a link to Keen's mini-biography as written up on The Aerodrome website. My apologies if you missed the link in my rather lengthy post. Keen served in France with 70, 45 and 40 Squadrons, eventually commanding the latter, and he undertook 3 flying instructional tours between his operational postings.

I take your point about Keen's partial engineering degree probably assiting any 'accelerated training' for the A.S.C. Additionally, it is obvious from some of Keen's letters home that he was always interested in mechanical things, especially his motor cycles and cycle cars. Given that his grandfather, then his father, ran the family engineering business (Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds), it likely explains his choice of an engineering degree at Trinity College, and a wish to serve with the A.S.C. (M.T.). With the the RFC then rapidly coming into it's own I am not surprised that Keen then decided that airborne machines were even more exciting than road-bound trucks! ;-)

I would suggest that the time between the application and his being gazetted would be just that - the time for his application to be processed and official authorization for his commission to be granted. Once gazetted he would have undergone his training in his position and role at Grove Park. This would be unlike more modern practices whereby he would be trained as an officer cadet until he was suitable and then commissioned or the commissioning courses at Sandhurst of Woolwich which were for Regular Army Officer.

However, there would have still been a lot to fit into his two months at Grove Park.

Colin, as indicated in my first sentence of this post, I now see that a quick commission, and learning on the job, was a reality. With my buddy and I having done a bit more digging around on the web since I started this thread yesterday, I now feel more strongly that Keen's specific mention of Woolwich in both his January 1916 and June 1918 letters does indicate he had to have done some of his officer training at the Royal Military Academy Woolwich. Yes, the paperwork indicates he was 'owned' by the M.T. setup at Grove Park between 24 May and 26 July 1915, but given that Grove Park was not within the borough of Woolwich, I feel his letter references to Woolwich relate to some closer tie with the place. If there is anyone on these forums who has knowledge of wartime officers doing any training at RMA Woolwich, we would be pleased to hear about it.

The ASC in 14 and 15 seem to have trained men in army ways as they went along. Many of the drivers taken on, more so in 14, were sent to the front within a week or so of enlistment - even without prior military experience.

Craig, you are confirming what seems to be the consensus - fast track! Thanks for your input!

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Maureene

Quote:

"In the early stages of the War it was by no means uncommon for a man to enlist in the Army Service Corps in the afternoon and the same night find himself marching, in company with a good many others, into the Mechanical Transport Depot at Grove Park, singing "Tipperary." The following morning, having been put into khaki, he would be told off to a motor-lorry, on which he would chalk such cryptic remark as "London-Berlin Express." Later in the day he would be driving his lorry—one of a convoy of many similar vehicles—to ——, and a few hours after that he would be in France.

This is not exactly what happened to the author; suffice it to add that in the first few days of August 1914 he enlisted, and on October 28th made the meteoric flight from private in a Territorial Battalion to a second-lieutenant in the Army Service Corps."

On November 19, 1914 the author sailed for Framce.

From

The Motor-Bus in War: Being the Impressions of an A.S.C. Officer during Two and a Half 
Years at the Front by A. M. Beatson (Temp. Lieut. A.S.C.) 1918 Gutenberg.org. The author was an Army Service Corps officer in the Mechanical Transport Supply Column of an Indian Cavalry Division. Elsewhere, the ASC company is recorded as being the 1st Indian Cavalry Division Supply Column which was 89 Coy ASC.

Cheers

Maureen

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Chris_Baker

As officers of most MT Companies were in effect the managers of lorry fleets, they may not have required a great deal of specific military training in order to be able to carry out their function.

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Bernoullis

Maureen and Chris, thanks very much for your input. There seems to be little doubt that some routes in to the army were very quick indeed! My buddy and I have been discussing further and we can understand why it happened.

Please forgive me if I repeat a question I asked a littel earlier: If there is anyone on these forums who has knowledge of wartime officers doing any training at RMA Woolwich, we would be pleased to hear about it.

Ta muchly! :thumbsup:

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Exaltabit

Dear all,

 I have just come across this thread. My grandfather graduated from Trinity College Dublin with an engineering degree in December 1913, having also served in the university OTC. He was gazetted as Lt ASC on 12 September 1914, the same date as his medal index card records his entry in to theatre. Family lore has it that this was the fastest way to get to France and not miss out before it was all over by Christmas. Have often wondered why e did not join the Royal Engineers but maybe there were not the same opportunities. He later transferred to the infantry and served in the Somme, Ypres and Messiness winning the MC.

regards,

Ben

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battiscombe

With regard to Woolwich this continued to train RE and RA regular officers with regular intakes, [there is a published history for 1900-1939]. in 1915 in Feb, April, August and October for what was a 6 month course. They apparently also ran some 4 week short courses for RA officers who has temporary RA commissions.. and had gone directly to new units being formed... also with no training ... until 1916 it seems [when RA cadet schools were working].

 

The Woolwich cadet books list all regular officer cadets; but this would not be relevant to this man. I am sure the immediate commission and learning on the job was what happened, as already suggested.

That there was also a large artillery barracks at Woolwich for a Reserve Brigade and 4 Depot, might also be noted - and this has other attached units .. I dont know if it also accommodated some temporary officer's messes or similar - but I also wonder: does the letter also lack punctuation, which is confusing the meaning? if commas added ..  "I have got George, who was at Woolwich, with me.."  On my reading these do not necessarily suggest he went to Woolwich.

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