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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

An excuse to leave the front line


wilkokcl

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I've come across a number of soldiers who enlisted straight from school in summer 1914 and soon ended up fighting on the Western Front. One who i've researched did that and became a private in the H.A.C. That they did until c1916 when they returned to the UK and entered Sandhurst/Woolwich to train as an officer. The chap in the H.A.C subsequently went back to the Western Front as a 2nd Lt.

I've come across this a number of times and was wondering why:

Why didn't they become an officer straight from school in 1914?

Why stay in the trenches until 1916?

Could you just say: it's a bit dangerous here, I think I fancy being back in the UK for 6 months?

Would they have been approached and asked/told to go back home and get a commission?

Was it seen as desirable? - wasn't the life of a 2nd Lt arguably even more dangerous than a humble private?

Any ideas?

Mark

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Mark, 1916 is a significant date for your man to go back to the UK for officer training.

There were lots of men who were "officer material" who joined up with the intention of serving as Privates. For groups of friends or those who felt a sense of comradeship with others who attended the same school/followed the same profession it was a good way of ensuring that they wouldn't be split up. In fact, there were whole battalions like the Public Schools Battalion and the Artists' Rifles which encouraged this - where just about every man was of the "officer class." There was no pressure on these men to become officers, as the Army had enough.

Up until the early days of the Somme, junior officers led their men from the front, wearing distinctive uniforms which made it easy for the Germans to spot them and shoot them first.

Not surprisingly, 1916 saw great losses among junior officers, and many men of the "Officer Class" or who were "officer material" were sought out and invited to apply for commissions.

Tom

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Hello

remember the episode in Blackadder goes forth about the " 20 minuters" ?

Only plus is that you could always resign your commission...

Ian

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Have a look at these two.

http://www.1914-1918.net/heroes/lane_robson.htm

One enlisted as a ranker, one went straight to a commission. Both died.

It's not totally clear why Frank Lane went from the ranks to a commission. My guess is invitation from his officers - an educated lad, probably with good leadership qualities - good material.

It is also not easy to see why he went into the ranks rather than go for a commission from the off, although he had no military connections as far as I can see and it may not have occurred to him. He enlisted into a pretty upper/middle class battalion so would have been among many of his ilk.

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Not surprisingly, 1916 saw great losses among junior officers, and many men of the "Officer Class" or who were "officer material" were sought out and invited to apply for commissions.

Of course: I didn't think what was going on at that time. The chap I researched went to Sandhurst at the end of August 1916. Perhaps already there was alarm at the number of officers lost and a plan to produce more asap.

Thanks everyone, Mark

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I have read that the OTC was seen as a rest for some of the longer serving NCOs in a Bn. Some of the OCs despaired of the material turning up on their doorstep as they were not suitable material to commission from the start. However in your chaps case I think the others have explained it quite well. he joins up as the fastet way to see service and is identified as Officer material as they need to fill the gaps later on. Wonder what he did after the war as he had essentialy lost 4 years in the Army.

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he joins up as the fastet way to see service and is identified as Officer material

Yes it seems likely: the soldier concerned had come from public school and been in the OTC so was probably 'officer material'.

I can only imagine that after July 1916 on the Western Front, he can't have been too unhappy at being sent back home for more training

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A bit more thinking: what was so special about having officers on the Western Front? Casualties in summer 1916 were catastrophic (in all ranks) and a fit man able to fight must have been in demand. So why send some of them back to England for 6 months and teach them how to ride a horse and all the other skills learnt at Sandhurst. (I admit i'm not sure what "all the other skills" were, but you get my point!).

Particularly if once commissioned as a 2nd Lt their job is to go over the top first and lead their men into a hail of machine gun fire.

What was the point?

Mark

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Mark

Forum member Charles Messsenger's book "A Call to Arms" devotes a chapter to officer training and selection which will answer most of your questions. A subaltern officer had a wider range of duties and responsibilities than just leading his men over the top, as I think you recognise in your post., which man commissioned from the ranks would not have formally been taught. On top of this there was also special to arm training required for those being commissioned into the RA, RE, and RTC for instance.

Just to move things on a little, as the war progressed, there were a large amount of further training courses for officers developed to build on skills already gained and to teach new ones in the light of experience. It didn't just stop at junior officers either. For instance the RE ran courses for Officers Commanding Field and Army Troops Companies, men who had by that stage, already had much experience in the field. What is quite clear is that the Army clearly recognised the value of training at almost every level during the war. and built on that as the war progressed.

Terry Reeves

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Thanks Terry: I think i'll buy the book that you recommend and hopefully get a better idea of what was going on. Thank you.

Mark

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Very logical for me to send men who had experience of the western Front back for officer training.How else might the army learn to exploit new ideas to new problems if not conveying back to OTC trainers? Far better for the trainers to hear first hand from battle hardened veterans what the new war was all about rather than keep on training new officers as if the cavalry charge still applied?

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