Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Part 11: Rank, no simple progression.

The service records of some soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force are a roller coaster of promotions and demotions as rank was awarded and removed for various purposes. It is necessary to investigate the reasons for each change of rank to determine whether the changes reflect well (e.g., appointments well above Permanent Grade) or poorly (e.g., demotions as punishments) on the soldier's character.

By Michael O'Leary; The Regimental Rogue

Introduction

One of the confusing aspects for many researchers when examining the military service of a soldier of the First World War is the variety and progression of ranks achieved. Temporary, acting, brevet … promotion, appointment, demotion, relinquishment … it seems that some soldiers changed their rank regularly for both positive and negative reasons. This article will attempt to unravel some of this Gordian Knot of a rank related muddle.

NOTE: Purists may desire a more technical approach to this subject, or more strictness in the language applied to one or more aspects. To their ultimate disappointment, I have taken a more generalist approach, in language and presentation, to address the topic for those of a less pedantic nature. To further aggravate the inevitable ulcers of those staunchly martinetish grammarians, I will occasionally use the generic term "soldier" to encompass those of all ranks, in order to avoid the unnecessarily awkward grammatical constructs used to encompass all of "the officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men."

The Rank System in the First World War

An excellent, though hard to find, resource for gaining an understanding of the Canadian military as it entered the First World War is The Guide by Major-General Sir William D. Otter, K.C.B., C.V.O., who first published this small volume in 1880. I have used excerpts from the Ninth Edition, revised and published in 1914. Fully titled "The Guide: A Manual for The Canadian Militia (Infantry)", this volume would have been well known to many of the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Canadian Militia who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

To begin with, some basic definitions of groupings by ranks:

The Officers: From Lieutenants to the General Officers, these are the men who hold their ranks by virtue of a Commission from the Queen (thus the term "Commissioned Officers"). For Canadians the scrolls signifying the receipt of a Commssion was normally signed (as it is today) by the Governor General,

The Warrant Officers (W.O.): Those who hold their positions by virtue of a Warrant, vice a Commission (thus the seemingly redundant term above). Warrant Officers rank below all commissioned officers, but above all non-commissioned officers,

The Non-Commissioned Officers (N.C.O.): all those with rank higher than a Private soldier, from Corporals to Quarter-Master Sergeants.

The soldiers: the soldiers of the Battalion, all of the rank of Private (though some may have appointments), and commonly refered to in documents of the period as "the men" or "the rank and file".

To help form a baseline along which any soldier's career may be placed, we shall begin with this passage, taken from The Guide, to outline the differences between rank and appointments.

The following positions held by Non-commissioned Officers and men of our Militia are ranks:

All other positions, such as Paymaster Sergeant, Orderly Room Sergeant, Band Sergeant, Sergeant Drummer, Sergeant Piper, Sergeant Bugler, etc., are appointments.

Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers: Ranks and Appointments

So the difference between rank and appointment is clearly defined. The list of ranks for soldiers and non-commissioned officers is quite brief, but what are these many appointments? Luckily, The Guide provides an introduction to those as well, at least for the Infantry:

Rank.Appointments (ordered by precedence).
Sergeant-MajorRegimental or Battalion Sergeant-Major if not a Warrant Officer
Quarter-Master SergeantGarrison Quarter-Master Sergeant
Quarter-Master Sergeant Instructor (confined to the Permanent Corps)
Orderly Room Sergeant when ranking as Quarter-Master Sergeant
Colour SergeantOrderly Room Sergeant when ranking as Colour Sergeant
Colour Sergeant Instructor (confined to the Permanent Corps)
SergeantOrderly Room Sergeant
Paymaster Sergeant
Pioneer Sergeant
Sergeant of Band
Sergeant Bugler
Sergeant Drummer
Sergeant Piper
Sergeant Cook
Sergeant Orderly Room Clerk
Stretcher Bearer Sergeant
Signalling Sergeant
Machine Gun Sergeant
CorporalLance Sergeant
Corporal Orderly Room Clerk
Signalling Corporal
PrivateLance Corporal
Bugler
Drummer
Piper
Fifer

The Guide also provides this note:

"With the increase of of the strength of companies in the Imperial [i.e., British] Army, the rank of Colour Sergeant has been abolished and those of Company Sergeant-Major and Company Quarter-Master Sergeant substituted, but no such change has yet been made in the Canadian service."

Those changes would eventually catch up with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. One item to note in the table above is the relative placement of "Lance" appointments with respect to their corrresponding ranks. Note that a Lance Corporal was still a Private, and a Lance Sergeant was still officially a Corporal.

"But wait," some will say, "that table takes care of the infantry, but not every CEF soldier served in the infantry, what about my ancestor …?"

The King's Regulations and Orders (KR&O) for 1908 includes a lengthy chart that lists the many positions by appointment that might be held by soldiers of the Imperial or Canadian Armies. Though not all may be found in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, any appointments your ancestor held will likely appear in this list (unless it was created later during the War). This table, which spans three pages in the KR&O 1908 is linked below the following except:

ALTTEXT

Excerpt of the table of Ranks and Appointments for warrant officers, N.C.Os. and soldiers as presented in the King's Regulations and Orders (KR&O) for 1908.
Click here to see the full chart as a single image.

Do keep in mind that the table above (from 1914) and the image (1908) both predate the First World War, the expansion in both size and breadth of specialist activities in the Imperial Army and the Canadian Expeditionary Force will have resulted in the creation of other appointments (especially in technical corps).


Officers: Ranks and Appointments

The Guide provides the following guidance for officers' ranks:

For Officers, the ranks recognized in a Battalion of Infantry are:

The following note on appointments is also provided:

The appointments in a Battalion of Infantry are Adjutant, Paymaster, Quarter-Master, Medical Officer, Musketry Instructor, etc.

There is no corresponding table of officers' appointments in King's Regulations and Orders (KR&O). Any employment of an officer outside his parent unit would be an appointment, and the list would be too extensive to have a practical purpose to publish.

Permanent Grade; and Acting, Temporary, Provisional and Brevet Ranks

Permanent Grade

Also referred to as "substantive rank," a soldier's Permanent Grade is the rank formally held by that soldier. While a soldier may receive appointments within this rank level, or accorded acting or temporary rank, when the requirements for those appointments ended he reverted to his Permanent Grade. The number of men in a unit who could hold any given rank was limited by the Unit Establishment. The limitations imposed by the War Establishments also required units to transfer wounded and sick men off the unit strength as soon as they were evacuated to England, for only by doing so could they promote another man into that now empty position. Similarly, units who maintained full slates of NCOs could only be reinforced by drafts of Private soldiers (for the most part, though not exclusively); this resulted in men holding NCO ranks in England being required to surrender those ranks before proceeding overseas to France to return to the Front. This was, ineffect, a demotion with no negative connotations.

Acting Rank

An officer or soldier could be appointed to an acting rank to fill short term vacancies in a unit's NCO or officer establishment. Normally used when the soldier being replaced was expected to return but the local replacement needed the rank and authority to fulfill the duties of the position efficiently. Acting rank would be given up once the original holder of the position, or his offically designated replacement, arrived.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 30 April 1916, showing the appointment to acting rank of an NCO while employed in a specific job.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 30 April 1916, showing the appointment to acting rank of an NCO while employed in a specific job.

Temporary rank

Temporary rank might be granted to an officer or soldier when the rank was at a level required for the position being assigned. Temporary rank is most often seen in relation to officers being placed in positions of command for which they do not hold the appropriate substantive or brevet rank.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, ddated 21 September 1916, showing the appointment to temporary rank of three officers while they commanded companies of the Regiment.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 21 September 1916, showing the appointment to temporary rank of three officers while they commanded companies of the Regiment. Note that these changes of rank for officers were also published in the London Gazette.

Provisional rank

Provisional rank was another rank category which was effecive only while the conditions of employment were maintained. Changes such as the movement of units from Canada to England would see those holding provisional ranks revert to their permanent grades before reassignment to another unit and new duties. This ensured the reinforcement system was not inundated by more permanent grade NCOs than could be employed on the establishments of the units at the front.

Instructions Governing Organization and Adminstration, 1916

"All NCOs appointed to the CEF will hold provisional appointments only, so that they can be reverted at any time when the interests of the service so require. They will not be confirmed in rank until after the unit arrives in England."

Brevet rank

Acting, Temporary and Provisional ranks might be accorded to soldiers of any rank and, for their duration, replaced the soldier's Permanent Grade for invested authority and pay (usually), among other things. Officers also experienced one other special type of rank, the "Brevet." The Guide defines Brevet rank as "rank that is conferred for special or long service and is higher than that for which pay is received." The necessary distinction with Brevet rank is that an officer might hold two ranks at once, a regimental rank and a (higher) brevet rank. His regimental rank might be restricted by available unit establishment positions limiting the opportunity for promotion, but his brevet rank would reflect his cumulative training, experience and, thusly, his employability at the higher rank outside his own unit. He would literally hold one rank within unit as employed on regimental duty, but be entitled to the privileges of his brevet rank when employed away from his home unit. When Brevet rank was held, officers would be identified by boths ranks, for example: Lieut. and Brevet Capt. V.W.S. Heron.

Moving up: Promotions and Appointments

Soldiers could be promoted, i.e., receive increases to their substantive rank, or they could receive appointments that gave them the privilege, authority, pay and added responsibility of higher rank without expectation of keeping it permanently. Many appointments were short-term, although they could be overtaken by substantive promotions and formalization of the appointed position. More often, appointments would last until someone with substantive rank for the appointment took the position away, or an expected vacancy in the unit establishment appeared, at which time an appointment to a temporary or acting rank might be confirmed as substantive.

Moving down: Demotions, Reversions and Relinquishments

Reversion

As varied as the methods of gaining rank were, either temporarily or with the permanence of substantive rank, there were as many ways to see a soldier's ranks reduced. One of the simplest of these was reversion. Reversion usualy occurred at a soldier's own request if he found the responsibilities and expectation of higher rank to be more than he desired to perform. In such cases a soldier could be reverted to his Permanent Grade at his own request. Soldiers might also be reverted to Permanent Grade in order to transfer to another unit which did not have a vacancy for them at their temporary or acting rank, this was also a normal process of reduction in rank before joining a reinforcement draft leaving England to join a unit at the Front.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 21 March 1916, showing the reversion in rank of 477352 Lance Corporal A.M. Gordan at his own request.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 21 March 1916, showing the reversion in rank of 477352 Lance Corporal A.M. Gordan at his own request.

Relinquishment

CEF units were quick to strike off the strength anyone who left the unit wounded or sick and was evacuated to England, but those who were away for shorter periods, either hospitalized, on training courses or other purposes, might be replaced by an appointee with temporary or acting rank. Relinquishment of temporary or acting rank or appointment occurred when the original holder of that position returned to duty with the unit. In such cases the appointee relinquished that rank and position and returned to their own place on the unit establishment.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 14 May 1916, showing the acting appointment and subsequent relinquishment of Company Quartermaster Sergeant by 477037 Cpl R.A. Barker.

Demotion (a.k.a. Reduction)

The Manual of Military Law, 1914, includes in the scales of punishment for both officers and soldiers, the following:

"In the case of officers … [below] Dismissal from His Majesty's service [and above] Reprimand, or severe reprimand … Forfeiture, in the prescribed manner, of seniority of rank either in the army or in the corps to which the offender belongs, or in both."

"In the case of soldiers … [below] Discharge with ignominy from His Majesty's service [and above] Forfeitures, fines and stoppages … In the case of a non-commissioned officer, forfeiture, in the prescribed manner, of seniority of rank, or reduction to a lower grade, or to the ranks."

In summary, an Officer could be reduced in either or both of his Brevet and substantive ranks. A non-commissioned officer could lose seniority (but not rank) or be reduced in rank to any lower rank down to Private.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 7 Feb 1919, showing the recording of the Courts Martial of 478021 Company Quartermaster Sergeant C. Wise and 477606 Sergeant F.A.E. Morrison, and their subsequent reduction to the rank of Corporal as punishment.

An excerpt from the Daily Orders (Part II) of The Royal Canadian Regiment, dated 7 Feb 1919, showing the recording of the Courts Martial of 478021 Company Quartermaster Sergeant C. Wise and 477606 Sergeant F.A.E. Morrison, and their subsequent reduction to the rank of Corporal as punishment.

The service records of some soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force are a roller coaster of promotions and demotions as rank was awarded and removed for various purposes. It is necessary to investigate the reasons for each change of rank to determine whether the changes reflect well (e.g., appointments well above Permanent Grade) or poorly (e.g., demotions as punishments) on the soldier's character.

Pay

One aspect of military life that always seems to accompany discussions of rank is the pay received by soldiers as they progressed through the rank system. The following table provides basic rates of pay and field allowances for the CEF.

Basic Pay Rates

The Active Service Pay Book included this table of pay rates for the information of the officers, NCOS, and soldiers of the CEF:

OFFICERS, ALL ARMS, Per diem.
Rank.Pay.Field Allowance.
Colonel$6.00$1.50
Lieut.-Colonel5.001.25
Major4.001.00
Captain3.00.75
Lieutenant2.00.60
Paymaster3.00.75
Quartermaster3.00.75
Nursing Sister2.00.60
Command pay1.00
Adjutant in addition to pay of Rank.50
WARRANT OFFICERS, N.C.O. and Men, Per diem.
Warrant Officers2.00.30
Quartermaster Sergeant1.80.20
Orderly Room Clerks1.50.20
Pay Sergeants1.50.20
Squadron, Battery or Company Sergeant Major1.60.20
Colour Sergeant or Staff Sergeant1.60.20
Squadron, Battery or Quartermaster Company Sergeant1.50.20
Sergeant1.35.15
Corporal1.10.10
Bombadier or Second Corporal1.05.10
Privates, Gunners, Sappers, etc.1.00.10

There were occasions for soldiers of the CEF to be paid extra allowances in addition to their basic pay. Because of this, mention of a daily rate of pay received is not always proof of rank held, and the appointment held by the soldier becomes the other important factor in determining pay as found in pay records included in the service record. The Instructions Governing Organization and Adminstration, 1916 provide the following background:

"The Committee of the Privy Council have before them a report, dated 1st November 1915, from the Minister of Militia and Defence, stating, with reference to Order in Council 2264 of 3rd September 1914, fixing rates of pay for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, that when these rates were under consideration in the Department of Militia and Defence, it was represented that working pay for cooks, tailors, bakers, butchers, motor car drivers, mechanics, smiths, farriers, wheelers and such like, at rates varying from 50¢ to $1.00 a day in addition to the ordinary rate was necessary in order to induce the men of those trades to enlist, and accordingly this extra pay was recommended and approved."

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