Some Notes On Quarterblokery (Part 1)
Canadian Army Journal, Vol 16, No 1, Winter 1962, reproduced by courtesy of the Irish Defence Journal (Dublin) from an article Entitled "MORE About Quarterblokery" by "H.E.D.H."
The Quartermaster may be regarded as one of the first "specialist" officers in western armies. From the beginning, he has been recognized as an essential appointment and in an age when commissions were by purchase and/or nepotism, was almost wholly commissioned from long service NCO's. George III said in 1775: "The proper persons to be recommended for quartermasters are active sergeants..." In a brilliant satire on British Army life which appeared about the same time, advice to various grades of officers was offered. To the Quartermaster it said: "The standing maxim of your office is to receive whatever is offered you, or you can get hold of, but not to part with anything you can keep...(You) are the steward of the Colonel; like a good steward, have regard for the master's servants, amongst whom is yourself... You must on all occasions endeavour to inculcate the doctrine of witchcraft and enchantment; it will be difficult to account on other principles for the sudden and frequent disappearance of various articles out of your magazine."
My first experience of the accounting methods of British Army quarter-masters was when soon after enlistment I broke the "mug, drinking, earthenware, 1-pint" I had been issued with as part of my kit. I presented myself at the stores and after being kept waiting a suitable period I was given an audience with the RQMS In what I afterwards came to realize was a much reiterated piece of patter, he swiftly dealt with the doubtful value to the Army of people such as myself, the disturbance caused to the demanding, accounting and even production arrangements of mugs of this sort, and, finally, ruled that I could only resume drinking like the rest of my comrades by paying for two mugs, "the one wot I had broke" and the new one he was about to issue to me. In my dazed and frightened state I accepted without question his decision and the reasoning on which it was based. It must not be thought that Quartermasters are dishonest - they are "sharp". They are, in fact, the businessmen of the army and a "good" QM will see that his regiment or battalion wants for nothing. Allied to his fellow QMs by many secret agreements, be is inclined to regard the rules and regulations about the issue and holding of stores as tests of his professional ability and knowledge of regulations in the way that businessmen and their accountant advisors study tax and anti-trust laws.
Influence of National Characteristics
National characteristics may influence the order of priorities but will not much change the methods of QMs. The Irish Guards History of the Second World War recounts a splendid story of a French Quartermaster. The Guardsmen were in a position on a Norwegian fjord and had been told they were to be joined by a battalion of the famous Chasseurs Alpins. Later they beheld what looked like a Seine barge, very low in the water, coming up the fjord. When it came into shore, "a short, fat man wearing a huge beret jumped ashore. He explained that he was the Quartermaster of the Chasseurs and asked permission to land the advance party and essential stores." This was granted, "whereupon the Frenchmen began to roll ashore many barrels of wine." The great French literateur, Andre Maurois, in his book, "The Silence of Colonel Bramble", gave an example of how such knowledge was put to use by the OC of a unit: "Colonel Boulton commanded an ammunition depot. He was responsible, among other things, for fifty machine guns. One day he noticed that there were only forty-nine in the depot. All the enquiries, and punishment of the sentries, failed to restore the missing machine gun. "Colonel Boulton was an old fox and had never acknowledged himself in the wrong. He simply mentioned in his monthly return that the tripod of a machine gun had been broken. They sent him a tripod to replace the other without any comment. "A month later, on some pretext or other, he reported the sighting apparatus of a machine gun as out of order; the following month he asked for three screw nuts; then a recoil place; and bit by bit in two years he entirely replaced his machine gun. And correspondingly, bit by bit, the Army Ordnance Department reconstructed it for him without attaching any importance to the requisitions for the separate pieces. "Then Colonel Boulton, satisfied at last, inspected his machine guns and found fifty-one. "While he had been patiently reconstructing the lost gun, some damned idiot had found it in a corner. And Boulton had to spend two years of clever manipulation of his books to account for the new gun which had been evolved out of nothing."