Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Class War

WW II is associated with the breaking down of class barriers. The hard times of the early war years helped engender a spirit of everyone being in it together. But class distinctions weren't destroyed overnight. As this quote demonstrates.

The public, in addition to the Trade, has found cause for concern as to the controversy that has engaged the Press as to officers and men drinking in the same bar. The allegation is that "Officers Only" notices have made their appearance in many hotels near military centres and that this has been resented by the rank and file in the Forces. An authoritative statement was then issued in these terms : "The War Office deprecates the posting of notices in hotels or public-houses reserving bars for officers only. There is no authority for this." An official at the War Office added that there was no objection to officers and men drinking in the same bar or eating in the.same room. Where officers are billeted in an hotel, this official stated, a Commanding Officer may reserve the use of a small bar for them, but other than in such a case he affirmed that "If a bar or hotel bar restaurant is placed out of bounds for men in the ranks, then it should be placed out of bounds for officers also." He further stated that there was no question of new rules being introduced into the Army which would discriminate in a snobbish way between officers and men.

Members of H.M. Forces may be quite certain that, licensed premises, of whatever calibre, will not desire to set up any distinction such as has been the subject of complaint. On the other hand, any licensed premises is virtually bound to obey a request from the Officer in Command in the area or run the risk of having the whole of the premises put out of bounds to the Forces. At Epping, for example, two public-houses patronised by the R.A.F. have had to ban the sale of drinks to all men below commissioned rank in certain portions of the premises. In one of these houses only officers may use the saloon bar, and other ranks are requested to go to the public bar or to a special lounge provided for them. At the other house the saloon lounge has been reserved for officers. When the request of the R.A.F. authorities was not at first complied with, one of these houses was placed "out of bounds" to all airmen. It has to be remembered that at some R.A.F. stations no officers' mess is provided, and licensed houses serve their purpose. There is no doubt that, generally speaking, the C.O. in charge of the district will use his discretion justly, bearing in mind that questions of discipline are entailed. It is important that the public should recognise that any ban on drinking facilities in lounges or saloon in lounges or saloon bars in licensed premises does not emanate from the Trade but from the authorities.

Meanwhile, the War Minister, it should be noted, has stated in the House of Commons that "Instructions have been issued making it clear that officers and soldiers are not prohibited from taking meals and refreshment together, in clubs, hotels and restaurants." he added, "If any case is brought to my notice of the issue of orders inconsistent with these instructions, the matter will be investigated and appropriate action taken." It may be assumed that in citing "clubs, hotels and restaurants," Mr. Oliver Stanley included public-houses, as the question put to him by Mr. John Park, Member of Parliament for Romford, referred specifically to licensed premises in his Division which had been threatened with being put "out of bounds" unless entry to part of the premises was restricted to officers only."
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 135. (Published Feb 21st, 1940.)
First some background for those not acquainted with the workings of the British class system. The British armed forces reflected the rest of British society. Officers were drawn from the upper classes and the ordinary soldiers from the working class. (This is a generalisation, but mostly true.) Class divisions were physical in pubs. The working man drank Mild in the public bar. Those of higher social status drank Bitter in the saloon bar or lounge.

Its very relevant who it was trying to enforce a division of officers and men in pubs. It wasn't the pubs themselves, the soldiers and officers involved or even the War Office. No. It was commanding officers of military bases. Doubtless at this stage of the war, 1940, these would mostly be regular officers, used to the peacetime distinctions between ranks.

Now I need to find out if "officers only" signs disappeared later in the war. I suspect they mostly probably did. It's clear that the public wasn't too impressed by them, even in 1940.


Matt said...

"The British armed forces reflected the rest of British society."

Not much has changed there since 1940, you just have to read the obituaries of most British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and listen to the clipped tone of the commanding officers who speak at their funerals to see that.

The best example of class structure in WWII in popular culture is Dad's Army where the captain of the Home Guard unit is a bank manager, the sergeant his clerk, the corporal a butcher and the working-class privates mainly in the background, except for the "stupid boy" Pike and spiv Walker.

Martyn Cornell said...

The best example of class structure in WWII in popular culture is Dad's Army where the captain of the Home Guard unit is a bank manager, the sergeant his clerk …

Indeed, Matt, and much of the fun of Dad's Army came from the fact that Captain Mainwaring was clearly "only" lower-middle-class in origin, and had risen to be the manager of the bank, while his clerk/sergeant, Wilson, was obviously upper-class (with a public school education and an uncle who was a peer) and thus theoretically his "social superior".

Craig said...

I can't speak to British class structure, but I do know that some forms of fraternization are a violation of the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice, to this day. "Right arm nights" such that an officer may take his senior enlited members, support staff out to a social club, as a unit function, would not be seen as a violation. However if two friends one an officer and one enlisted were socializing, outside the context of unit based functions, especially if the enlisted one was subordnate to the officer. They would be in violation of AR 600-20. The U.S. Military has all but done away with "Officer's Clubs" but in a role reversal, for moral's benefits, still have, some NCO clubs.

During WWII, some enlisted men did take issue with the fact that all draftees were required to complete basic training and some of those draftees were selected to continue on to what was then called Officer Traing School, while others were not. This selection was made regardless of class, or in fact level of education. In theory two boyhood friends, from the same ecomonic background, could enlist together, and go through basic training together. Then one would be selected for OTS and be given all the privledges accompanying a commision, while the other would not.

Thomas Barnes said...

I have to wonder if the "officers only" signs weren't put up by owners of posh establishments to keep out "riff raff" from the ranks, or just to keep traffic to manageable levels.

I wouldn't want to be the manager of a small pub close to a once sleepy airfield which suddenly turned into a major military installation!

Jeff Renner said...

Not familiar with Dad's War, but contrast it with the 1946 American movie, The Best Years of our Lives, which is about returning American servicemen.

Before (and after) the war, Frederic March's character was a bank manager, but during the war,he was an infantry sergeant. Dana Andrews' character had been an unskilled drugstore soda jerk before the war but was an air force captain and decorated bomber pilot.

Matt said...

For our American friends, a clip from Dad's Army. Enjoy.

mentaldental said...

And yet...the RAF were quite happy to have sergeants flying there bombers with officers as there subordinate flight crew (navigators quite often).

The USAAF on the other hand only had officer pilots, I believe.

Mind you such RAF crew, who could get blown out of the sky together, had to mess separately. Go figure.

Thomas Barnes said...

@Mentaldental. All nations had NCO pilots during WW2, although the U.S. quickly moved to make most of its pilots officers; in part because it all its enlisted aircrew sergeants. This was partially due to the skills required and risk involved, but also came from the somewhat naive belief that officers and NCOs would be treated better if they were captured.

I'm a bit surprised that the RAF was the worst offender in trying to make "officers only" pubs. As the youngest of the services, it wasn't considered to be quite as posh as the other services, stereotype of the upper crust "old boy" Spitfire pilot notwithstanding. Maybe the powers that be thought that the officers were getting a bit too chummy with their inferiors?

Craig said...

Mentaldental and Thomas,

In 1942, the USAAF created a rank equivalent to the regular U.S. Army pay grade of Warrant Officer Junior Grade (W1). This new rank was designated Flight Officer. This is not an NCO rank. An appointment to Flight Officer, required a warrant or writ, to be approved by the Secretary of the Army. That approval rated that rank, as higher than senior-most enlisted ranks, but below that of a second lieutenant. Essenitally, they were working as an officer, but without a commission from the President of the United States.

Because the RAF allowed non-commissioned officers as pilots, a number of qualified, non-officer, US pilots, volunteered in the RAF prior to the US's involvement in the war. With a glut of experienced pilots, by 1942, the USAAF created the new rank. Thomas is correct, a good number of these Flight Officers were promoted to O1s, although many would continue as Flight Officers until the war ended.