The Young Officer's Guide to Knowledge

By The Senior Major; 1915

Contents - I-IV - V-VIII - IX-XVI - XVII-XX

Articles V to VIII


The following routine is almost universal:-- 

The battalion is drawn up in line with fixed bayonets, in Review order. The Colonel is fidgeting about on his horse, worrying the Adjutant and Senior Major about the "dressing" of the line and the "dressing" of the officers. The General is due, but has not yet been sighted in the "offing.

The C.O. to Adjutant: "Ah! I think I hear them coming down the road." To Battalion (furioso): "Battalion! Slope Arms!!

Mr. Tibbits and the local milk cart clatter by, unconscious of the sensation they have caused.

The C.O. (staccato): "Battalion! Order Arms! Major Bungo! Look at the dressing of the officers--the whole battalion is out of its dressing!

Every one's nerves are strained to breaking point--the air is filled with savage and strange cries from officers and N.C.O.'s. "Get back, Mr. Smith!" "Up No. 3!" "You putty-faced block-you're not a man, you're a thing, and an ugly thing at that!" "Get that stomach of yours out of the way, Jones!" The battalion line seems to wave and lash itself into a fury. The Colonel roars at it from the centre. The two Majors howl at either end of the line, and the Adjutant gallops hither and thither in a frenzied ecstasy, his horse bathed in a white foam. 

Suddenly and dramatically the General and his Staff appear from the opposite side to that on which they were expected. The battalion, in its agony, shakes itself into some semblance of formation: but some companies are at the order, some at the slope, and some standing at ease. 

The Colonel, hurriedly and nervously, gives the command: "Present Arms!

The band are the only people who have the least chance of coming out of this ordeal with any credit.

This is the way the inspection starts. The battalion is now in a thoroughly demoralized condition. The March Past is abominable. In marching back in quarter-column, the leading officer happens to be the tallest subaltern in the battalion, and had taken the place of his captain, who has been taken away from his company unavoidably that very morning. The subaltern's stride is terrific. Even the leading company takes a semi-circular shape, and the rest of the battalion assumes the formation of a crowd returning from a race-meeting, the mounted officers acting the part of constables. 

The General has usually had enough of it by this time, and requests the Colonel to remove his battalion. He may, however, wish to see some of the officers drill the battalion. Should he ask you to do so, and you are not sure of your drill, the following should be committed to memory. 

The above can then be repeated from the beginning. If the Inspecting Officer wants something even more elaborate, the following command can be given:-- "The battalion will change direction Right--Right Wheel." This causes a tremor of excitement to run through the battalion, and muttered expletives may be overheard, which gives you a chance of interposing with a severe rebuke to silence. This is quite enough to put you on good terms with the Inspecting Officer, who will not require any further proof of your keenness and ability. 

Note.-- In case the battalion should be in line when you take over command, you should learn how to form quarter-column from line, thus: 

"Quarter-Column on No. 1 Company. Remainder--Form--Fours. Right--Quick March.

There are other points in connection with G.O.C.'s inspection which it is well not to overlook, such as the following:-- 

(a)     Never be at a loss for an answer. In nine cases out of ten the accuracy of your statements will not be questioned.

(b)     Do not volunteer information. You assume an awful responsibility if you presume to know too much, and it turns out to be incorrect.

(c)     If the G.O.C. is fond of asking the men questions, put all the Company idiots on fatigue.

(d)     Always bear in mind Maxim No.4. Whatever the General's fad is, study it well. It may be boots, it may be barrack-room shelves, it may be potato-peeling, or it may be an unsavoury delight in examining bare feet. The General may be a Tooth Brush Maniac or a Refuse Heap Wizard. In any case, always anticipate him.

It is not advisable to be too perfect, however. The G.O.C. will consider it almost as an offence if you do not give him a legitimate cause for grievance. Remember that, like all inspectors, auditors and the like, he has a report to make, and he must make criticisms of sorts. Therefore, you should arrange for his tastes accordingly. If he is a Clean Feet Specialist, let him come across one pair of filthy feet (this is quite easily arranged, and generally does not require any positive action on your part). In the same way a pair of boots made as it were of armoured plate will delight the Boot Fanatic, a tooth-brush covered with "soldier's friend" button polish will give the Tooth Maniac the opening for the rodomontade he has been bursting to give vent to the whole morning. For this plan acts also as a safety-valve for the more dangerous class of lunatic, and after the compressed steam and froth have worked off in this way, he becomes almost normal for a time. It is best to get this explosion over before lunch, as the G.O.C. can then enjoy it in comparative calm and comfort, and "ill probably be quite gentle for the rest of the day. 


This is a mysterious and awesome place where clothing, boots and ammunition come from. How it all gets there is a mystery, but it is all done by odd bits of paper, called "vouchers," "indents" and sometimes "requisitions." When a fresh lot of clothing, or boots, has arrived (dropped from nowhere, apparently), a board of officers is appointed, called a "Board of Survey," who give the clothing a kind of official regimental baptism, and write its name and quantity in the Quartermaster's Register.

The Quartermaster presides over the rites and mysteries of this hallowed place. The Quartermaster is never wrong. If you should be so unwise as to dispute any question with the Quartermaster, such as why Private Binks' boots are of a different pattern to Private Bunks', the Quartermaster will convict you out of the sacred books of the law, the Clothing Regulations or the Equipment Regulations, which will probably say that " Boots, ammunition, hob-nailed, armour-plated, web-footed" are issued to men of the Special Reserve, whilst "Boots, ammunition, hob-nailed, armour-plated, spring-heeled " are issued to the Regulars. Adjectives are never placed in their right order in the Quartermaster's Stores. It is part of the abracadabra of this sacred institution. One fine summer's day becomes " Day, Summer's, fine, 1." It is no use trying to understand all the bits of paper or the semi-audible incantations that you will sometimes overhear when sent in to check (save the mark I) one of the sacred lists of articles with the things themselves. Even when you rise to be C.O. you will realize that you are but a child in the hands of one of the priests of this uncanny religion. Half your morning will be taken up in signing incomprehensible missives to the high priest of the religion, who signs himself C.O.O. in order to soothe your apprehensions, well knowing that he is invincible and unapproachable. 


This is intentionally misnamed by the authorities, perhaps because they realize that if it was called by its proper name people would more readily understand the true object of this institution, and violent demonstrations would be made against it. No one gets paid at an Army Pay Office. It is specially designed to hinder payment. The cash is obtained from a person called the cashier, who lives somewhere else. If the cash has been paid before the local Army Pay Office authorities have had a chance of questioning it, they will do their best to get as much of it back as they can. If it has not yet been paid, they will use every endeavour to prevent its being paid. With the exception of ordinary regimental pay, all allowances due to you must be receipted before your claim is allowed, or disallowed. Thus you may sign a receipt for a sum of money which is disallowed, and which you will consequently never receive. But you must not mind that. Army procedure is believed to have inspired "Alice in the Looking-Glass," as things are generally done in the reverse way to normal. It is thought by some that this is due to a design on the part of the authorities of encouraging eccentricity, and so producing the type of mind which will surprise the enemy by doing exactly the opposite to what is expected of it. It must be admitted that on the whole they are singularly successful in this respect; and, no doubt, the longer a person remains in the Army, the more eccentric he becomes.

Like the Quartermaster's Department and the Army Ordnance Corps, the Army Pay Department has a special code of laws of its own. Its operations do not, however, suggest religion so much as witchcraft. The subtlety with which its devotees will counter every move you may make to obtain a just settlement of your claims is positively fiendish. No one can remain long in the Army Pay Department without becoming thoroughly hardened against all generous impulses and charitable feelings.


It might seem at first sight unnecessary to describe so familiar an institution. But a Military Hospital is not like an ordinary hospital. It has its special rites, like the Quartermaster's Stores and the Pay Office. Before being admitted into a Military Hospital you have to go sick. You must go sick at a certain specified hour. This does not necessarily mean that you must be sick. But you must go officially sick at a certain time, generally about 9 a.m., no matter what time you really began to feel sick or ill. This rule is relaxed in serious cases, such as broken leg, cholera, etc., when you may go sick at any time. Soldiers who go sick are formed up in a waiting-room, stripped to the waist and with bare feet. Care must be taken at this stage to prevent Go sick developing into Be sick. A soldier is allowed to attend the hospital, without being actually admitted. and may be given "Medicine and Duty"--that is to say he must go on with his duty but be filled up with medicine, or he may be given "light duty.

An officer who "goes sick" must go to hospital or be confined to his room; in any case he cannot use the Mess whilst he is officially " sick," even though that term may only cover an attack of neuralgia or a bad toe. It is thought that this is due to a mistaken idea of the term "sick," and that the clerk who drew up the King's Regulations years ago quite naturally thought that an officer must not be sick in the Mess, though it would be an excess of refinement to prevent a man being sick in a barrack- room. Consequently the anomaly has crept in that an officer who goes "sick" must be a whole-hogger, and not show himself outside his quarters. The natural result of this rule is that the officer who goes "sick," say for a bad knee, becomes really ill from eating cold and scrappy foods left over from the Mess table, and so finally has to be admitted into hospital, suffering from varied complications. An agitation was set on foot a short time ago to get the new clerk at the War Office, who is so fond of altering the King's Regulations, to get the officer placed on the same footing as the man as regards attending hospital. After careful consideration, however, he decided, after consultation with the General Officer in charge of "Operations" at the War Office, that the experience gained by the Medical Officers in the treatment of these unusual maladies was too great to be thrown away on insufficient grounds. The officers, therefore, will have to continue going thoroughly sick for the good of the Service. 

The food at a Military Hospital is prepared and apportioned according to a fixed code of laws, called Diets. All have to obey the Diet Law; even the Medical Officers themselves cannot afford to break it in favour of any patient, without incurring the wrath of the local Superior of their Sect. There are various diets, such as chicken, fish, meat, vegetables, etc., etc. It is absolutely forbidden to mix the diets. Thus chicken diet includes potato chips, and vegetable diet includes cabbages, beans, etc., etc., as well as potatoes; but the patient cannot have cabbage with his chicken, as he can only enjoy one diet at a time, even if the longing for cabbages Should send him into a rapid decline. 

The ordinary military layman has never been able to penetrate the mysteries of this strange sect; but the following legend has gained currency in explanation of the Diet Law. It is believed that a certain Chancellor of the Exchequer was once admitted into a Military Hospital, and on becoming convalescent, was fed up on good wine and rich food. Once out of the hands of the Strange Sect, who had treated him SO well, and probably saved his life, he began to think of how he could save money for his great-hearted and noble social schemes by depriving the military patients of most of their rich food and luxuries. For a long time he pondered it, and could think of no way of doing this that would not lose his Government votes at the next General Election. But Chancellors of the Exchequer are most subtle wizards, and this one was no exception, for he at last bethought him of a Diet Law, which, while seeming to give fair things with one hand, yet subtly withdrew them with the other. And he imposed the Diet Law through his colleague the Secretary for War, who treacherously foisted it upon the Sect for fear of having his military grant further reduced by the evil Chancellor. 

Many attempts have been made by the Sect to secure the person of a Chancellor, and to make him undergo the diet himself while in hospital, but hitherto without success.

Contents - I-IV - V-VIII - IX-XVI - XVII-XX