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.
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.)
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.