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Remembered Today:

NCO Contributions in WWI?


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Hello Everyone,

My name is Scott Hummel and I am a Sergeant Major with the US Army. I am currently attending the Sergeants Major academy in Ft. Bliss, TX. Part of our curriculum is to do a research paper on NCO history. I have chosen European Armies and really want to narrow it down to British NCOs during WWI. Alas, most history from that time period is written by and geared toward officers.

Is there anyone out there that can point me in the right direction? Books, magazine articles, even personal family members who served. I promise you, I will give them the utmost respect.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

Scott T. Hummel

SGM, US Army

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You could do worse than read the Cambridgeshire Regiment 1914-1919 by Riddell & clayton recently reprinted & available on e Bay!;the exploits of a number of NCOs{Im too modest to mention my nom de plume,oh all right then especially Harry Betts!} describe the British NCO to a tee! Often left solely in charge when Officers were Killed & Wounded they were often the Backbone of the Battalion,during extremely dangerous times

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Scott, welcome to the Forum.

I don't know if Roger would agree, but I found the History of the Cambridgeshires to be written in a very warm, companionable style, and perhaps the most enjoyable read of its type.

Another title that springs to mind is Ernest Shephard's 'A Sergeant-Major's War from Hill 60 to the Somme" with the 1st Dorsets.

How about some of the many compilations of lettters? These may not be readily available in the States, but one that might fit the bill is 'Love & War' the letters of Ted Trafford, 20th Londons, edited by his son Dr Peter Trafford.

Can you say a little more about the type of information you hope to find?

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Scott

Not British, but a book generally regarded as one of the very best to come form a front-line soldier is "Armentieres and the Somme" by Cecil Malthus, Sergeant, 1st Battalion Canterbury Regiment, New Zealand Division. Covers 1916. He also wrote of his experiences on Gallipoli. ISBN is 0 7900 0851 3

Andrew

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Thanks to everyone for the great responses so far. You are giving me some great ideas on the direction to take this.

Kate, in answer to your question, my assignment is a paper and then a 15 minute brief. My topic must relate to the history of the noncommissioned officer. I chose the topic NCOs in the European Armies (1600-present). Since that is such a broad area, I limited it to the British Army in WWI. My essay needs to address 4 of the following six topics: Weapons, Formations, Duties, Training, Discipline, and Heroes.

The books everyone has referenced sound like they will be a big help. I was also wondering if anyone knows if their was a regulation at the time that specifically laid out the role of the NCO? If so, is there an online excerpt of it?

Also, my understanding is that the Victoria Cross is the highest award for valor in the British Army. Are there any specific stories of an NCO awarded the VC from that time frame?

Finally, if any of you are or were officers in the British Army, (regardless of time frame) what are your thoughts on the duties and responsibilities of the NCO and what were your personal experiences, good or bad? If you don't want to publish it to this website, you can also email it to me. I will respect anyone's wishes for privacy.

Thanks again for everyone's help. This is a fantastic website and forum.

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Scott

The VC was awarded purely on the basis of the act of bravery. Many of the recipients were NCOs. There will be numerous written accounts to help your research.

Good luck!

Andrew

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Hi

A site that may assist you is:

The Victoria Cross Reference - it has indexes by rank and campaign.

If you can obtain it the film "Guns at Batasi" with Richard Attenborough is a good representation of the "hold" an RSM can have over a unit (even though it has actually joined a revolt!). It is set in post-colonial Africa.

Another to look at is "The Way Ahead" (known in the US as "The Immortal Battalion") starring David Niven and the role of the platoon sergeant (played by the first Doctor Who William Hartnell). Set in WW2.

I cannot think of any WW1 based movies of any note that has a good representation of an NCO and his role.

On the subject of books there is:

Tommy: The British Soldier On The Western Front, 1914-1918 by Richard Holmes (just started reading it so I don’t know how far it goes into it).

Call to Arms: The British Army 1914-18

Charles Messenger (excellent background on the British organising the army before and during the war).

Old Soldiers Never Die

Frank Richards (a private in 2 Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers for the duration of the war – the war from a private’s perspective)

Her Privates We

Frederic Manning, William Boyd (Introduction) (originally published in 1929 and is a novel – but written by an Australian from his experiences)

Edward

PS the books are reviewed in this forum under the appropriate area.

(Edited to add the PS)

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Hello Everyone,

My name is Scott Hummel and I am a Sergeant Major with the US Army.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

Scott T. Hummel

SGM, US Army

Hi Scott, I saw your post yesterday and had a look through my small collection of books. There was nothing written by an NCO so I had a look through some bibliographies to see what was available. I think you have made a major discovery. ;) NCOs do not seem to have literary leanings. Quite a few privates and tons of officers, no NCOs. I expect there are some but you may struggle to find them unless you use your library facilities. Most VCs were widely written about and usually more than once. Google on VC. Try Piper Laidlaw VC of the KOSBs.

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Scott

I would recommend one particular book if you can get hold of it. It is Donald Hankey's A Student in Arms, which was originally published in 1916. Hankey was a former officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery, who enlisted as a private soldier in 1914 and rapidly rose to the rank of Sergeant. He later took a commission and was killed in 1916. He has some very interesting things to say about NCOs.

From my own experience in the British Army, the Sergeants' Mess has always been regarded as the backbone of the Army. The senior NCOs do much to hold a unit together. In particular, they have always done much to train newly arrived young officers. In my own regiment there was a longstanding policy that a newly arrived officer was not allowed to take over proper command of his tank troop (US platoon) until his troop sergeant considered him ready for it. Reading WW1 junior officers' accounts, much the same policy was often followed.

Good luck with your very interesting project.

Charles M

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"Middle parts of fortune" by Manning (a ranker's experience on the Somme and Ancre fronts) has some very illuminating descriptions of the relationships between NCOs, officers and men. Well worth a read.

And don't start Harry Betts on the iniquity of his namesake NOT getting a much-deserved VC!!!!

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I also recommend ’Tommy’ by John Laffin, which gives an idea of the overall structure of the other ranks. Here is a taster:

’A company or regimental sergeant-major is much more than a dominant parade ground figure; he has extraordinary authority and influence. To the men of an infantry company the CSM sits on the right hand of God -'God himself being the RSM. Having been a private soldier himself the sergeant-major knows every trick of the trade, he knows the soldier psychologically, he knows how far he can stretch mentally and physically. When the OC of the company wants information or advice, he naturally consults the CSM. If a soldier has a problem he will take it to his own section commander or platoon sergeant who will, in turn, take it to the CSM - if the CSM has the reputation a CSM should have. The CSM can awe junior subalterns only just a little less than the RSM awes them. He can make life a lot easier for a new officer; conversely, he can make it much harder, merely by denying the officer his co-operation. Platoon commanders-leaned heavily on their sergeants, company commanders on the company sergeant-major and the CO on the regimental sergeant-major.’

There are also various threads on this forum about ranks in the British Army.

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Here is the citation of a Distinguished Conduct Medal winner GS-71621 Private. R. W. Knights Royal Fusiliers, I saw on ebay. His medal was awarded ‘for conspicuous gallantry in charge of a section on 8th October 1918 north of Hurtebise Farm. He showed great skill in maintaining touch and led several patrols forward, sending back most valuable information as to the location and numbers of hostile machine guns; and after being wounded he carried on, and when his officer had become a casualty he assumed command of the platoon, reorganised them and led them to the objective. Though weak from his wound he completed consolidation, and showed the greatest pluck and devotion to duty.’

I realise that he is not an NCO, but I include it to show that roles for NCOs and men in WWI were very fluid, and it’s a more comprehensive citation than the one that the only NCO winner in my collection was given!

The DCM is a grade of valour below the VC for other ranks.

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You might also consider 'From Mons to Messines and beyond....: The great war experiences of Sgt Charles Arnold', edited by Stephen Royal. (ISBN 1 85858 148 6)

Robert

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Just a quick note to tell everyone thanks again. Great stuff so far.

Something I found kind of interesting is the reference a couple of you have made to the NCOs being the backbone of the Army. We refer to ours the same way.

Scott

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Kipling's poem The Heathen sums it up nicely..........

"Tha backbone of the Army is the non commisioned man."

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Scott

I would recommend one particular book if you can get hold of it. It is Donald Hankey's A Student in Arms, which was originally published in 1916. Hankey was a former officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery, who enlisted as a private soldier in 1914 and rapidly rose to the rank of Sergeant. He later took a commission and was killed in 1916. He has some very interesting things to say about NCOs.

Charles M

If specific references to Hankey's book are needed, I can help: but there are several editions, all a bit different other than by date. I think I have them all.

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Hi Scott,

Welcome to the forum. Not sure if the following will help, but should fit under the heading 'heroes'. Below is an extract from the field service notebook of a Territorial Sergeant during a period holding the front line at Lens in 1917.

No1 Platoon A Company

To C.Q.M.S. A Company

Paragraph 34 page 6 field regulations clearly states

that a man doing a 6 hour patrol is entitled to a full ration

of rum on going out and a similar quantity on coming in.

My patrol received its ration on going out but on returning

the fiery liquid was conspicuous by its absence.

Please issue the necessary amount to bearer, as a C.Q.M.S.

charged with confiscating the mens rum ration would, to

say the least of it, feel embarassed,

Bon soir mon ami,

signed...sgt.

Good luck with your course,

Steve.

There is a recent book that gives a brief record of all Victoria Cross winners (including 5 U.S.A. winners) There are many examples of N.C.O's.

Symbol of Courage (The men behind the medal) by Max Arthur, Pan paperback.

ISBN 0 330 49133 4

Amazon USA

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