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Remembered Today:

Commissioned From The Ranks in WW1


PhilB
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Recent threads have discussed the difficulties that rankers may have had in settling into commissioned rank and regular officers might have had in absorbing them. It was mentioned that there seems to be little in the way of recorded information about them - who they were and where they came from. Do you have details of any commissioned rankers? What their occupation had been before serving? The information may give us a snapshot of the typical ranker. My two were employed as a clerk in a bank in Driffield and at Head Office of National Provincial Bank, London.

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Roger Deeks are you out there? If not, I'll contact him. He's just written a dissertation for his MA on the subject of men commissioned from the ranks.

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Hello Phil

I once researched a commissioned ranker for a friend of mine (his daughter). He was a village butcher, a la Corporal Jones, before enlisting in 1914 into the ASC Supply Section - as a butcher. He was with 24th Div Train and reached the rank of Sergeant before being sent home for officer training for the Tank Corps. He won the MC at Amiens in Aug 1918 with 1st Bn Tank Corps.

His record survives at Kew and it reveals, among other things, that he had to give two character references before being commissioned - in his case, the village schoolmaster and the vicar.

Ron

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My GGrandfathers (see signature) cousin was the son of a pattern weaver from Dewsbury and made Capt. in the KOYLI.

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Its a mistake to assume all rankers were from humble backgrounds

Clement Attlee was a public school product and a Barrister who served a couple of years in the ranks before being commissioned.

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Walter Tull....commissioned from the ranks

Previous occupation.....professional footballer

Bruce

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Phil

Your question is answered to an extent by p707 of Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War 1914-1920. This is a survey of the civilian jobs of those demobilised during the period November 1918 to May 1920. Of the 140,483 officer analysed some 60% were clearly in white collar occupations, but of the remainder a significant number were in industry, although a number of these would have been in managerial positions. There were, however, 184 dockers, 1,122 railway workers, 363 general labourers, 266 warehousemen and porters, 7,495 in agriculture, 1,016 in coal and shale mining, and 7,739 in the building trade and including navvies. These are just some of the trades, etc mentioned.

Charles M

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Phil

Of the 140,483 officers analysed some 60% were clearly in white collar occupations, but of the remainder a significant number were in industry, although a number of these would have been in managerial positions. There were, however, 184 dockers, 1,122 railway workers, 363 general labourers, 266 warehousemen and porters, 7,495 in agriculture, 1,016 in coal and shale mining, and 7,739 in the building trade and including navvies. These are just some of the trades, etc mentioned.

Charles M

Thanks Charles,

So what might they have had in common ?

Harry

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Thanks, Charles. In that case almost half should be non-white collar occupations. Higher than I expected, though, as you say, managerial may be mixed in with the trades. So far we have a butcher and a footballer (assuming Tull`s team didn`t play in white!)

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My grandfather (see below) was a journeyman plumber when commissioned. When he came back, he was sponsored into the Masons by his former fellow officers, who were not in the trades. I have wondered if that might be part of the reason for his leaving Scotland in 1920 for Honolulu where his uncle got him a foreman's job in the Castle & Cook warehouse there.

Mike Morrison

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So what might they have had in common ?

proven leadership skills

Many of these officers from working class backgrounds had problems redajusting to civilian life - becuase of their class it was difficult for many to find a civilian job commensurate with their previous rank. See the paper by Martin Petter 'Temporary Gentlemen' in the Aftermath of the Great War: Rank, Status and the Ex-Officer Problem, Historical Journal, 1994, Vol 37

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Two great uncles, both commissioned from the 1/18th London Regiment into the London Regiment and the Essex Regiment were both Clerks.

Andy

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I have come across four blokes commissioned from the ranks. Their occupations were surveyor, quantity surveyor and two clerks. Both the chaps with 'technical' qualifications went to rifle companies.

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2Lt Joseph Patrick Ryan 1st Royal Warwickshire attached 6th North Staffordshire. A pre-war regular soldier, recalled to the colours. Commissioned 1917. A turner at the Triumph Motor Cycle factory, Coventry. The bar was not lowered for these men as mentioned above. Most "temporary gentlemen" never went anywhere near Sandhurst whatever their background.

TR

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Is there any evidence that rankers, after commissioning, were posted to battalions selectively or randomly? Would any unit have the same chance of getting, say, an ex-plumber as, say, an ex-solicitor?

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The bar was not lowered for these men as mentioned above.

TR

Whilst nobody doubts that these were fine men, the fact that they wouldn`t have been considered for commissions before, or probably after, WW1 means that the position of the bar had moved?

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My grandfather was called up again in 1940 . He had remained in his regiment after the end of WW1 , but was invalided out when a broken leg was badly set .

In 1940 he was called up again , reverting to Lt. He spent WW2 mostly with the POW and Internment camps on the IOM .

At the end of the war he was promoted to captain and was camp commandant at various POW camps around England . He was finally demobbed in 1948 .

I've mentioned in another discussion that I only met him once , but I think I remember that he had a northern accent .

I'm not sure what this says about the topic

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Nov 23 2007, 02:43 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Is there any evidence that rankers, after commissioning, were posted to battalions selectively or randomly? Would any unit have the same chance of getting, say, an ex-plumber as, say, an ex-solicitor?

My grandfather stayed in the same mountain gun brigade post commissioning, but he was assigned to a different battery when went overseas, being only temporarily assigned to his home battery for a few weeks in July 1918. Of course, he was experienced and trained in a specialized function (mountain guns) and there were a limited number of places he could have been posted.

As to the bar being moved, statistically speaking, it had to be moved due to the rapid and vast expansion of the army. It may have been moved as to selection (or background of selectees) but it didn't have to be moved as to quality of finished product. That reality bears closer on the class issue and the realization of its severe limitations than mere selection. (And may have proved unsettling to those invested in that system - although I have no proof of same.)

Mike Morrison

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  • 2 weeks later...

Phil

My Great Grandfather and Great Great Uncle joined the RAF in the middle of 1918. They were 23 and 21 respectively. They had avoided conscription as they were both coal miners. I'm not sure if the rules changed in 1918 or whether the sucess of the German spring offensive compelled them to join. James Frederick Carr joined as pilot and became an Officer Cadet. He didn't complete his training but was made and Hon. 2nd Lt. George Herbert joined as a Observer, completed his training and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. George was wounded in October 1918 and resigned his commission due to ill health in late 1919

James Frederick left the RAF in March 1919 went to university and became a mining engineer. He finished his career as an area manager for West Yorkshire for the NCB.

George Herbert went on to become a doctor.

I don't know if it was commoner in the RAF for working class men to become officers but I think there experiences changed their careers and they certainly ended up with very different lives than they would have done had they stayed down the pits

Gavin

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Herewith the occupations of the commissioned rankers on the war memorial I'm researching. It's the memorial of a (then) struggling choir school on the verge of closure.

1. Bank clerk, son of a Headmaster.

2. Local Government Clerk and schoolmaster, son of a railway clerk.

3. Farmer's son, commissioned into RAF.

4. Private tutor (father's occupation not known).

5. Motor mechanic (worked for lumber firm in Canada). Commissioned into RAF from Canadian ASC. Son of a draper.

6. Cathedral organist. Son of County Court Clerk.

7. Professor of music. Son of a bandmaster.

8. Auctioneer. Son of an auctioneer (went into family firm).

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I`m heartened by some of these posts. It looks like things had really opened up a lot. Especially in the later years. Sad that they might have closed up shortly after the war. To what extent do members consider that the authorities widened the pool because they had to rather than wanted to? Reversion after the war (if indeed that was the case) would indicate the former?

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Remember the goal posts changed late-war. From 1917 anyone could apply for a commission, irrespective of education or background. So the types of men who became officers in 1917-18 were much more diverse than before. One reason how it became possible for Walter Tull to be commissioned, for example.

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One man who I have been researching served as a Private in a Highland Regiment from April 1915 to July 1917. He was then commissioned a Second Lieutenant. Before the war, he was a storekeeper. His service record shows that he was disciplined several times during his time in the ranks, including one spell of FP2.

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Charles Fair makes valid mention of the difficulties some of these men had in readjusting to civilian life. At times it must have seemed to these poor men that they had literally been abandoned in no man's land. In our local community two men were commissioned and at the end of War there was a great reluctance on behalf of the mine owners to restart them. Maybe they thought that these men who had shown great courage leadership and initiative would be the potential problems of the new land fit for heroes and they certainly didn't want them down their pits! It was only after a great deal of pressure had been exerted by other returning soldiers that they were given employment albeit of a very low and menial nature. Very sad days for some of them.

Barry

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