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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

What were "Occupation Cards"?

Mark Ratcliff

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I'm researching my grandfather's wartime history and note that there is an entry of "Occupation Cards Despatched".  Despite searching online and elsewhere I've been unable to find what these where and to where they were issued.  Does anyone have any ideas?  At the time he was in 5th Bn Coldstream Giards at Windsor Castle having been invalided home at the end of 1916.  He eventually returned to France in 1918.  I attach a copy of the entry.

Grandad war record.png

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This might help. It comes from the records of Adjutant General’s Department.

"The OCI was instituted in October,1917, its main objects being to facilitate:

a.  The reinforcement of the Army by the discovery and release of low category tradesmen from the Army in return for conditionally exempted men of Cat A status in civilian life.

b.   The selection of skilled tradesmen, who were not employed at their trades in the Army to meet the requirements of technical units, or for the purpose of substituting semi-skilled men of medical cat. A in those units; the category  A men thus released being transferred to the infantry.

c.   The selection of individual men required to be released from the Army for important war service in civil life, and the reinforcement of labour to meet urgent national requirements, e.g. shipbuilding, coal mining etc.

Prior to the formation of the Index any demands for particular classes of tradesmen necessitated the calling for returns from Commands and records offices of men who were stated to be skilled in the required trades.  This entailed considerable delay, and even when the required number of names had been received, it was usually found that the majority of men asked were unavailable owing to the fact that they had been raised in category, could not be spared from their present unit., or foe some  other such reason.

The Index was formed under the authority of War Office letter 35/Gen No1766 AG1 dated November 2nd,1917. Supplementary instructions regarding the preparation and despatch of of occupational index cards (AFW 3666) and casualty slips (AFW 3969) were issued in ACIs 571, 710 and 956 of 1918.

The Ministry of Labour were partly responsible for the formation of the Index, and it was based on an existing institution of theirs, the Claims and Records Office at Kew  It was controlled throughout the period of its existence by the Ministry of Labour.

Nature and Working of the Index

The Index consisted of two parts, the Alphabetical Index and the Occupational Index.  The cards in each were identical and contained particulars of the soldier such as name, unit, date of birth, medical category, trade etc.

The cards forming the alphabetical index, printed in red, were grouped by Corps, while the black cards, also filed by Corps, were arranged by occupation.

In order to keep the index up to date, Record Offices at first rendered weekly returns, but later Casualty Slips, rendered direct by units, took the place of these returns.

To provide a check and a means of ascertaining that each man's card had been submitted, instructions were issued that AFB 1013 (Soldier's Record of Service) should  contain an endorsement recording the submission of the cards.

When a demand for a tradesman of a certain class and category was received, the cards of the men fulfilling the required conditions were withdrawn from the Index; nominal roles were prepared from these and were submitted to personnel branches, with the request that they should transfer the men named to the corps in which they were required. In the meanwhile the cards remained n the suspense box until notifications had been received that men had been transferred, or that they were unavailable.

Staff Duties

Although perfectly sound in principle, and having important objects in view, the Index failed from the outset to produce any satisfactory results, nor can it be said that at any time it saved time and money, or promoted efficiency. Some of the general causes of this unfortunate result are detailed below:

The objects and uses of the Index were not sufficiently ell explained to Officers Commanding units, nor to other officers concerned, with the result that they  neglected o give full effect to the various regulations in connection with it, as they failed to appreciate that it was of practical value to themselves.  at a when they were fully engaged in duties of which they saw immediate necessity, they could spare no thought for matters of theory.

b.  The control of the Index was divided between the War Office and the Ministry of Labour, the latter being entirely responsible for the actual working of the index, the engagement of its staff, and other matters.

c.  Provision was not made until late in 1918 for the insertion of the soldier's medical category on the index card.  The result was that a large percentage of the men selected for every demand were subsequently found to be ineligible owing to their having been raised in category since their card had been rendered.

d. Not before the end of 1918 was any satisfactory method devised to ensure that units actually submitted cards for all their men.   The endorsement of the AFB 103 was a partial solution, but failed owing to the frequent delay on the part of units in forwarding documents. Even apart from this, it was found that by inspections late in 1918 that units holding mens' B103s had through carelessness or ignorance omitted to send cards and to endorse the Army Form.

e.  The Index was faulty in construction. There was never one index containing the cards of all the men in the army at home in alphabetical order, and irrespective of corps.  The two parts of the index were so arranged that on transfer a man's card was not simply endorsed but was also shifted from one part of the index to another.

One of the great difficulties in working the index was the enormous number of "no traces" largely due to the faulty rendering of casualty slips, and this would have been largely remedied by the existence of a permanent index in which the cards were never moved.

The management and the working of the index was unwieldy through its being too much centralised. At various times it was proposed that the index should be split up among the Record Offices, but this was never done because these offices were already sufficiently burdened, and in any case it is doubtful whether this scheme would have worked as it would have entailed the frequent passing of index cards from one Record Office to another.

A step was made in the right direction by the sanction, in October 1918, of the appointment of liaison officers in certain districts throughout the Kingdom, each having a smaller staff, and through whom all cards rendered and casualty slips should pass.  The liaison officer was to check the cards and casualty slips by means of unit Part II Orders, and communicate at once with the unit if he discovered omissions. This scheme was not put into practice owing to the signing of the Armistice.

Referring to the divided control of the index, which has ben mentioned previously, officers at Kew who took an intelligent interest in their work were not always satisfied that the index was run in the best possible manner, but they were unable to make any alteration, as the Ministry of Labour was not disposed to meet them and they had no power to effect any change themselves. Towards the end of 1918 it was suggested that the War Office should assume complete control of over the index, but before  this suggestion could be acted upon the necessity for the index passed.

The lack of interest on the part of the units in all matters connected with the index was largely the fault of the War Office who did not realise that the importance and value of the index were not self-evident and needed to be explained to units to make them take an interest in it. ACI 571 of 1918 contained in the first paragraph a statement of the objects of the index, but this was quite short, and was somewhat naturally overlooked by OCs units and others concerned who examined the instruction with a view to picking out the orders applying to themselves.

The proof of a new A.C.I, was never issued owing to the armistice.  This ACI embodied many of the points referred to above including a full explanation of the object and uses of the Index and examples of the many pitfalls into which units have fallen in the actual application of previous instructions."



Edited by Terry_Reeves
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Thanks Terry for such a comprehensive reply.


It's explained one of the many entries on my grandfather's records.  I've managed (I think) to interpret most of the others, however I have never managed to find an explanation of the Occupation Cards.


Best wishes



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