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Remembered Today:

Pre-WW1 Commissioned Rankers


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In his biography of Sir W.Robertson, Woodward says that only 4 or 5 rankers per year were granted commissions in the 1880s. On the assumption that these men were the elite of the non-commissioned ranks of their time, it might be thought that they would, like Robertson, rise to prominence in the Great War. Are there any other examples?

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The main route for commission from the ranks that I have seen is with Quarter Master Sergeants who achieved honorary commissions. Other than that the main bunk up was for gallantry (Sharpe may be fictional, but the basis was true). Earlier than the date you're thinking of was Luke O'Conner: Sgt at the age of 19, served in the Crimea (VC for Alma, Order of Medjidie 5th Class), commissioned for bravery (Lieutenant Feb 1855), served in the Indian Mutiny (promoted Captain Aug 1858), served in the Ashantee War 1873-4 (brevet Lieutenant Colonel). At the time promotions were by purchace. I don't know of anyone in the navy commissioned from the ranks at this time.

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QM and Riding Master Commissions were quite separate from the commissions that could be obtained from the ranks. Let me deal with the former, briefly. A natural progression for a good, healthy and reasonably educated NCO was Sgt, CSgt, QMS as Orderly Room QMS, RQMS [to use a post 1914 title] and RSM, with the ability to jump over one or more of the latter three, for example CSgt to RSM, ORQMS to a QM commission. Such a commission was separate from the normal combatant commission, and holders were 'QM and Hon.Lt', ......Hon Capt', or .......Hon. Major' [exceptionally, Lt Col]

The 1912 regulations are typical of the rules for conventional commissions from the ranks, and the age restriction comfortably does away with QMS and RQMS to those, except as in my footnote:

to obtain a commission, a soldier had to:

be specially recommended by his CO

be of not lower rank than Cpl

have at least 2 years service

have at 1st class cert of education

have a clear conduct sheet

be unmarried

be fit

be under 26 years of age.

Footnote: the exigencies of war resulted in many battlefield commissions to men whose only possible advancement had hitherto been to become a QM: there was a rash of battlefield commisons in Oct 1914 to make up for the early losses, for men who had been leap-frogged over and failed to become a QM, and found themselves with conventional commissions at a very advanced age.

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There is a current thread "Temporary gentlemen and the class system", which raises the question of criteria for rankers` commissions in WW1. Would these above requirements be partially waived at some stage during the war?

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Totally ....... more or less!

Marriage, certainly waived

age, also.

recommendation, never waived

rank and length of service, waived

conduct: not too sure, but also probably waived for a fiery hairy battlefield leader.

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