Resigning in War

Working through the GROs (General Routine Orders – best explanation found) for East Africa [see GRO tab in link], I have been surprised at the number of people who resigned their commissions during the war, and which were accepted. Outside of war, it makes sense, but rather intriguing during war.

The best thing to do, is see if there are individual files on the people concerned but at the moment, time doesn’t allow for that. What piqued my interest though was that it was permissible. The fact that all, at least before late 1916, were volunteers would permit people to leave the armed forces if they so desired; they were not required to stay. So. under what circumstances could someone resign their commission?

The 1912 King’s Regulations (p49) explain: length of service, unfit for duty due to medical reasons, desire to be placed on half-pay list etc. These being the reasons pre-war, what, if anything, changed during the war? There’s a very helpful little publication called Various amendments and reprints of amendments to the King’s Regulations published between 1916 and 1921 which provides some insight into amendments of the King’s Regulations. A search on ‘discharge’ will provide all the conditions under which a person could leave their commission and how it was to be dealt with.

But this raises more questions as there is only one mention of women in the ‘amendments’ document and nothing about nursing…looking at the GROs, there were a few women/nurses who resigned their posts too. One of the women, according to family folklore, met her future husband in hospital. When they decided to get married/or she discovered she was pregnant (the order of events hasn’t yet been firmly determined), she resigned her post. It appears there was still some issue about married women working, even in the colonies where manpower was in great demand, although we know some convalescent homes were run by married women – other factors must have been at play, not least preganancy.

Back to the men:

  • many most likely resigned because they were medically unfit to continue – that there was 75% attrition mainly due to malaria, blackwater fever, dysentery suggests plausibility.
  • How many, though, resigned in order to re-enlist in Europe which was seen as the main theatre? We know there are a few rank and file who deserted to re-enlist in a preferred theatre, some under different names – when found they were usually deducted a day’s pay (research still being undertaken, hence no examples specified). Presumably it was better for officers to resign their commission and then re-enlist…
  • A few in East Africa specifically received permission to return to their farms to deal with the harvest as the military situation in 1914 and 1915 was rather quiet, and two Indian Expeditionary Forces had arrived which could help with defending the British East African border.
  • How many others were tired of the war and what it stood for? The account of Max Plowman, not on the African continent, giving a example.

It’s taken a little time and lateral thinking to source information on resigning commissions in World War 1. There is far more literature on how they were obtained. And, this, raises more questions to be answered at some stage:

  • Why the difference in focus?
  • What were the perceptions around people resigning their commission at the time vis-a-vis ‘What did you do during the war, Daddy?’, the conscription debate and the issues around conscientious objectors?

I wonder what new light will be shone on the campaigns in Africa when someone gets round to investigating the reasons men and women resigned their commissions over the length of the various campaigns?

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