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Commission from the ranks


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My grandfather's a corporal of horse in the horse guards serving in the first world war.  In February 1917 he was promoted directly to 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment.  Is this sort of promotion unusual and why might it have occurred?  I have his service history for the war period, but nothing is given as a reason.  Woulds there new any records elsewhere?  Thanks

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If you are unable to find the answer on this forum, or elsewhere online, then some WW1 officers files are held at PRO Kew.  Search his name on the link below:

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

 

I have viewed a couple of these files in the past for men promoted from the ranks. They had been pruned & really only contained the mans original wartime attestation into the ranks & his application for a commission. Really interesting but you had to draw your own conclusion as to why he was an officer.

 

In a couple of cases it was men in the ranks who had gone to public/grammar schools.

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You have probably worked this out, but it was usual for a newly commisioned officer to be posted to a different regiment/btn of prev regiment, to prevent him commanding troops he served with in the ranks.

 

As a percentage junior officer in the front line had a high chance of becoming a casualty & by 1917 men were being commisioned from the ranks due to these losses, the old officer classes having been decimated in 1914/15.  Men in the ranks from public/grammar schools were the first to be selected.

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I know of a case where a sergeant in the ASC was recommended for a commission, went back to an OC Bn in the UK and was then commissioned into the Tank Corps.

 

I have no statistics, nor any evidence from Army Orders, but I strongly suspect that candidates for combatant commissions from the ranks (which had to be recommended by commanding officers and a brigade commander) had usually served in at least the rank of sergeant (corporal of horse is the Household Cavalry equivalent).

 

Quartermasters were a different kettle of fish: they were almost invariably commissioned from the ranks.

 

Ron

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By 1917 it was estimated 10,000 new infantry officers needed to be recruited and trained each year.  A candidate for a commission had to recommended by his commanding officer, and whilst training retained his former rank so if found unsuitable could be returned to unit.  

 

In 1917 on the Western Front, where the need and losses were the greatest, each Division was required to put forward 50 recommended candidates every month, invariably as Ron has pointed out these were NCOs.   Some men refused a commission, preferring to stay where they were, given the key role of experienced NCOs there was also some reluctance on the part of COs to put men forward, presumably that is why targets were set.

 

He wasn't 'promoted directly', the officer training course was four months away from the fighting in the U.K., after which he would be sent where he was most needed.  Proprtionally the cavalry would not suffer the same attritional losses as the infantry

 

After the Somme battles Guy Chapman wrote very few of the pre war officers remained, noting the rest of his comrades were either very young or had previously served in the ranks.  

 

Ken

 

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  • ss002d6252 changed the title to Commission from the ranks

kenf48 wrote: 

"By 1917 it was estimated 10,000 new infantry officers needed to be recruited and trained each year.  A candidate for a commission had to recommended by his commanding officer, and whilst training retained his former rank so if found unsuitable could be returned to unit.  

In 1917 on the Western Front, where the need and losses were the greatest, each Division was required to put forward 50 recommended candidates every month, invariably as Ron has pointed out these were NCOs.   Some men refused a commission, preferring to stay where they were, given the key role of experienced NCOs there was also some reluctance on the part of COs to put men forward, presumably that is why targets were set.

He wasn't 'promoted directly', the officer training course was four months away from the fighting in the U.K., after which he would be sent where he was most needed."

 

Contrary to what is indicated above, some men were promoted directly from the ranks without attending an officer's cadet school.  These men are listed in the London Gazette as 'promoted for service in the field' and in war service volumes as 'Promoted 2Lt.'

 

My data indicates that in the Royal Artillery during the Great War 1627 members of that regiment were promoted 'for service in the field' in the following ranks:

 

RSM - 134

BSM/CSM - 523

BQMS - 217

SSjt - 5

Sjt - 633

Cpl - 91

Bomb. - 24

Total - 1627

 

 

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11 hours ago, rflory said:

Contrary to what is indicated above, some men were promoted directly from the ranks without attending an officer's cadet school.

 

The individual who is the subject of this post was granted a commission in the infantry in 1917,of course without a name we cannot see his entry in the Gazette, therefore any comments must be a generalisation and certainly cannot define all the routes to a commission.  It is a fact though that from February 1916 the only route to a commission in the infantry by a candidate who was over 19 years of age was to enlist in the ranks of a mobilised unit (or be so enlisted) and then obtain his C.O.s recommendation for training in an Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB).  Under 19 years of age, it was still open for a younger man to join the OTC.

I do not see that in 1917 there was any other route other than the OCB that a cavalryman could gain a commission in the infantry. 

 

By the end of 1916 there were twenty one Officer Cadet Battalions, together with one for the Household Brigade and Garrison officers.  In addition other arms and services had their own officer cadet battalions, two cavalry cadet squadrons, one in Ireland, and as I'm sure you are aware the RFA initially had two one at St John's Wood, London and one in Exeter.  In addition the RGA had a school at Tonbridge.  The RFA opened two more, one at Weedon and one at Brighton and two more also opened for the RGA.

 

There is a full list on the LLT https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/soldiers/a-soldiers-life-1914-1918/training-to-be-a-soldier/officer-training-in-the-british-army-of-1914-1918/

where it is noted on that page from 1916 more than 73,000 men obtained 'temporary' (i.e. duration of the war) commissions through the OCB.  At the end of their training they were given an opportunity to nominate a regiment.

 

By February 1917 direct promotion from the ranks had long since ceased in the infantry.  Acknowledging your expertise on the RA it may have continued in specialist arms but these were an insignificant number against those who passed through the OCB even for those specialists.  It would be interesting to see how many, or what proportion of the 1,627 men in your database referred to above were gazeeted after February 1916.

 

As with so many other facets of the Great War the appointment of commissioned officers evolved throughout the conflict, by 1918 for example men recommended for commission were not sent directly to the OCB but often were sent first to reserve battalions for further 'scrutiny'. As stated at the outset without a name, or reference to a record we can't be certain how the subject of this thread gained his commission.


 

Ken

 

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Regular commissions direct  from the ranks as 2nd Lieuts continued in the infantry until at least Dec 1916 (my great-grandfather received such a commission - gazetted Jan 1917).

Edited by MarkTurner
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kenf48 wrote "By February 1917 direct promotion from the ranks had long since ceased in the infantry."

 

That statement can't be correct. The supplement to the  April 1917 Army Lists indicates that during March 1917 there were 98 "promotions for service in the field" to personnel in infantry units (all listed in the London Gazette). Unfortunately that is the latest supplement to the Army List that I have, but placing "for service in the field" in the search engine of the London Gazette website indicates that even as late as 15 November 1918 five infantry NCOs were promoted "to 2nd Lts. for service in the field." These promotions were to men in the London Regt., Dorset Regt., R. Berks, Manchester and N. Staffs and the effective dates of the promotions were between 10 Aug 18 to 2 Oct 18.

Edited by rflory
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The subject of commissioning [it is not "promoting" as I will explain] is too complicated for generalisations to hold firm. All that follows is from detailed study of one regular battalion [2nd RWF], a fairly deep knowledge of its sister, the 1st, and a pretty good knowledge of the other RWF battalions. 

 

An enlisted soldier at any time from 1914 to 1918 [whether regular, SR, TF or reservist] had to be discharged from his commitment before receiving a commission. Instantaneously he became a notional civilian. Whilst being a formality, it was a legal necessity.

 

Regular soldiers serving at any time in the war were eligible for regular commissions. Such commissions were permanent, and men served on after the war if they survived and wished.There was almost certainly a list held regimentally [or possibly centrally ]of senior NCOs and warrant officers to be commissioned almost as soon as declaration of war. These began a month into the war. They were commissioned into their own battalion to fill vacancies. There was no LG reference to "in the field". Later in the war more regular soldiers were commissioned, either in the field or via the OCBs; if the latter their chain of command had to certify that they would take the man back as an officer [this stopped COs sloping shoulders] Well into the war there are cases of regular soldiers only accepting commissions if indeed they could soldier on in the unit. Better the Devil you know.

 

Again in the early days the Artists Rifles and several other elite formations provided young men as officer reinforcements, some joining the new unit dressed as, and still, privates or junior NCOs.

 

From the time of the evolution of the OCBs the newly commissioned officers arriving in the infantry were, as far as I am aware, all ex-NCOs, but mostly TF. I know of no conscripts who were commissioned but I cannot believe they were not.

 

I hope this broadens the knowledge base, even if only focused on one famous regiment.

Edited by Muerrisch
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OK, if you prefer, "By February 1917 in all but a handful of instances direct promotion from the ranks had long since ceased in the infantry" or to put it another way,

73,000, vs at best on the evidence above, a couple of hundred.  So is our man one of these outliers?  He may be but without a name we can't be certain either way.

 

1 hour ago, MarkTurner said:

Regular commissions direct  from the ranks as 2nd Lieuts continued in the infantry until at least Dec 1916 (my great-grandfather received such a commission - gazetted Jan 1917).

 

I agree with the observation that 'commissioning is too complicated for generalisation'.   In 1916 the War Office decided  training of junior officers  should be conducted in the Officer Cadet Battalions and when setting up this system and defined that as the route to a commission.  No instructions were issued as to direct commissions in the field.  The fact that a C.O. put forward a senior NCO/WO for a commission in his battalion does not change that fact, there will always be variations and exceptions in any large organisation.

 

The late Charles Messenger notes that a footnote to MT 393A,(Application for admission to an Officer Cadet Unit with a view to appointment to a Temporary Commission in the Regular Army for the period of the war etc.) "soldiers serving in the Regular Army on a 12 years engagement or re-engaged are not eligible for admission to an Officer Cadet Unit"(Call to Arms) I've not seen this but it follows such a soldier had to be granted a commission in the field if his C.O. put him forward and he accepted and Messenger cites an example where this occurred.

 

 

Ken

 

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kenf48:  The only reason the discussion of direct commissions came up was because the original poster indicated that his relative received a direct commission and you indicated that those commissions did not exist by February 1917, which is obviously incorrect.  Thanks for the vigorous discussion but I am done with it.

 

Dick Flory

Edited by rflory
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