Customs of the Service
(Advice to those newly commissioned.)

by A.H.S.

Published at Aldershot, by Gale & Polden Ltd, 1939



14.     One of the heaviest responsibilities of an officer is his duty towards his men.

Always remember at, to a very great extent, the comfort and well-being of the men will rest upon your shoulders, with increasing heaviness as you advance in rank.

15.     Undoubtedly what officers most desire is the respect of those serving under them. This is not obtained by the lazy, soft-hearted officer who seeks popularity by his seeming contempt for rigid discipline, his indulgence to and familiarity with his inferiors in rank. Men like to look up to you as their superior; they object to being led by their equals. The surest and quickest way to gain both the confidence and respect of your men is by scrupulous justice and example.

At times you may require the wisdom of a Solomon, but strive to be just to all and respect from all will be your reward.

Some of you may have had the advantage of serving in the ranks prior to being commissioned; your experience will have taught you the soundness of this advice and you will doubtless vouch for its accuracy to your brother officers.

Remember that your men are constantly, not only watching you, but discussing your merits and failings behind your back, and will not be slow in following whatever lead you give them for good or ill. Such knowledge will surely encourage you to do your utmost to uphold the traditions of the Service by faultless personal example.

16.     Your responsibilities do not end with working hours; it is equally important to take a genuine interest in their activities after the day's work is done.

While you are young and single is the easiest time to do this. Later on, when you are married, or through anno domini a game of football or hockey means serious physical discomfort, you will find it more difficult to play your part. Make the most of your opportunities now.

When the men find you really do take an interest, their whole-hearted co-operation, not only in their leisure-hour activities, but on duty as well, will more than repay you.

17.     Give the non-commissioned officers the support and respect to which they are entitled; never reprove a non-commissioned officer within the hearing of his juniors.

18.     Under present conditions changes take place so rapidly on a station that it is impossible to get to know every man by name.

It is essential, however, that you should know the names and interests of those who excel in any particular form of sport or other station activity , and the names and particular interests of all your non- commissioned officers.

19.     On no account inquire into the private domesticaffairs of your married men; leave that until you are in command. You are too young at present and they would resent it.

However charming they may be, you must make no attempt to know your men or their families “socially,” that is, by visiting their houses as a guest or other form of social liaison. To do so is to invite accusations of favouritism and unfairness, which are difficult to refute, bad for your reputation amongst seniors and juniors, and detrimental to Service discipline.

To refrain from doing so is not a question of class distinction or “snobbery”; your position as a commissioned officer with powers of command and punishment make it impossible. The situation is not a new one; it has been the custom of the Service for centuries and in no way prevents courteous treatment, respect and good feeling between all concerned.

20.     On special occasions officers are invited to accept the formal hospitality of the Sergeants' Mess.

It is an excellent thing that mutual esteem should be cultivated between officers and non-commissioned officers, but it is essential that a very clear line should be drawn as to how far visits to the Sergeants' Mess should be permitted to extend.

Under no circumstances whatever should officers pay individual visits to the Sergeants' Mess to drink with their non-commissioned officers. It is strictly forbidden by regulations; this applies equally to accepting drinks when engaged in the duty of checking the bar stock or any similar duty connected with the Mess.

When accepting formal invitations to a dance or other social Sergeants' Mess function, ascertain what time your Commanding Officer is arriving and try and arrive at the same time. Never stay more than an hour.

If it is a dance, do not immediately look round for the prettiest girl in the room and gain the everlasting dislike of some non-commissioned officer by paying undue attention to his guest. Make this an opportunity for meeting, dancing with and talking to your own particular non-commissioned officer's family. He may have told them that you are a fine example of what an officer should be, etc.; try and live up to it-it is up to you not to let him down.

If you are offered refreshment in the bar, on no account attempt to pay for it or, worse still, commit the unforgivable blunder of offering to buy your host a drink. It is not done.

I think in “Alice in Wonderland” there are some lines commencing with, “Beware of the Jabberwock, my son!” In the Sergeants' Mess beware even more of the liquid refreshments offered: they are not always as innocuous as they appear. I suggest that to accept two of these harmless-looking drinks is adequate gesture to their hospitality.

21.     Times have changed somewhat owing to altered conditions generally. There are occasions to-day when officers not infrequently enter a public bar, particularly when travelling by road.

Never remain in a public bar if other ranks are present. It is unfair to them, particularly if you are recognized as an officer, as it cramps their style, and it is unsuitable for you to do so.

22.     Similarly avoid, if possible, travelling in thesame railway compartment as other ranks for the reasons given above. You are expected to live up to your status as an officer and travel in a first-class carriage; if funds make this impracticable, find a compartment not occupied by your men.

23.     When the time comes that you have men Command. directly under your command, make it your personal responsibility by frequent visits that they are:-

(i)     Fully occupied during working hours, no more and no less.

(ii)     Comfortably housed.

(iii)     Properly fed.

(iv)     Suitably clothed.

(v)     Sufficiently exercised to keep them fit.

(vi)     Provided with adequate amusements during their leisure hours.

If you accomplish this a large part of your duty to your men has been discharged.

24.     Good officers are made through the exercise Personal of discipline upon themselves and those under them, Example. courtesy, tact and, above all, experience in the hand- ling of men. This means hard work, but the respect of men, so necessary to a successful officer, cannot be gained by social charm and good birth credentials.