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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Lt-Col WJ Alderman, 6 Bttn QORWK

Jonathan Saunders

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A regular soldier, Alderman was commissioned from the ranks in August 1914 and almost immediately joined the first service bttn, the 6th Bttn. He remained with the battalion until his death in action, having served in various capacities and finally being in temporary command - he was in fact waiting to be given a battalion of his own - when he was killed in action leading very much from the front (and regrettably somewhat recklessly).

Alan Thomas described him thus in his excellent autobiography A Life Apart:

Having mentioned the Adjutant I must say a word about him: for he was a “character”. His name was Alderman, and he was a ranker. Soldiering had been his profession. He wore the South African ribbon (and the D.S.O.) and talked to soldiers in lang¬uage they could understand. There were several ranker officers in our battalion, all of them unpopular with the men mainly because they knew their job and there was no chance of ‘swinging it over them”. But Alderman, though he was not universally popular, was universally respected. There was a directness of attack about him that appealed to everyone. Subtlety and sarcasm, which all men hate in their officers, were not in his make up, and though the men knew that they might not be treated very politely by Alderman they knew also that they would be treated fairly. He was a good administrator, particularly of rough justice. He was a splendid lieutenant and interpreter of orders. And he was a loyal friend. Where he fell short was in his conversation, which was boring, and in the reckless way he exposed himself to danger.

To spend an evening with Alderman was to be subjected to endless reminiscences mostly about his early days of soldiering. A few of the anecdotes were interesting enough, but even his best were hardly worth repeating—a fact which everybody recognised except Alderman himself, who told the same stories over and over again. It was often said that Alderman’s conversation was amusing to listen to only when it was directed at a third party. To eavesdrop on some of his altercations with the battalion pioneer corporal could be a treat. The corporal, whose name was Hart, was also an old soldier—so old that he occupied a privileged position. More licence was permitted to Hart by the officers than to any other N.C.O. in the battalion, not excluding the battalion sergeant-major. In other days he would have qualified as King’s Jester. In Alderman Corporal Hart recognised one of his own kidney and the two talked to one another—and often argued--as equals. One of Hart’s duties was to paint the White Horse--the regimental badge—on our tin helmets. Alderman would often pull him up for his slowness at the job. Here is a sample of the kind of conversation you might hear between Alderman and Hart—neither of whom had an “h” in his vocabulary:

“Alo, “Art, “ow about them “elmets?”

“Wot “elmets?”

As Alderman had omitted the “Corporal”, Hart felt entitled to omit the ‘sir”.

“The “elmets you was goin” to paint the white “orses on.”

“Well, “aven”t I painted “alf-a-dozen of “em ?”

"Alf-a-dozen! I thought I said you was to paint a “undred.”

“A “undred! “Ow can I paint a “undred in “alf-an-hour?”

“Alf-an-hour! You’ve “ad a “ole day to paint “em in!”

“A “ole day?”

“Wot was you doin” all yesterday?”

“Working on D company’s cooker.”

“And since when did D company’s cooker take precedure of them white “orses I told you to paint on the “elmets?”

And so on—more like two back-chat comedians than corporal and captain.

Alderman’s recklessness in face of danger was due, not to bravado, but to a genuine desire to be “first there” at the centre of the show. He hated to be on the fringe of anything, and when he became adjutant and his post during an action was at bat¬talion headquarters Dawson was often hard put to it to prevent him from dodging off up to one of the companies or even up to the foremost platoon, “just to see “ow things are gain”, sir.” (Not that Dawson himself set a good example—as Alderman was quick to point out). When at the end of 1917 Alderman, then a Major and Dawson’s second-in-command, led the battalion into action at Cambrai, we all of us knew what the end of it would be.

Whilst Thomas acknowledges Alderman was between the two camps of officers and other ranks and is harsh in some aspects of his description, Alderman's ability and bravery cannot be in question for his CO, Dawson, was a character who did not suffer fools or shirkers - Dawson's four DSOs being testimony.


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Sounds like the sort of man you would want at your side in a sticky situation.


Ps any pics

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May he be rememebered with honour!

Reading the extract, I chuckled and then became sad; it remidned me so much of Capt Archie Hoare (former Riflemand and RSM) who was fatally wounded leading his company on20th November an also of two former RSM who were killed in action in Iraq and Afshanistan this year.

We will remember them

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