The Other Ranks' Perspective
G. D. Sheffield
Officers fell into two categories. If they passed dirty
rifles, handled a spade, or carried a bag of cement, they
were 'aw reet.' If not, they were 'no bloody bon.'
—Pte W.V. Tilsley, a 'Derby' infantryman of 55th Divsion
Other Ranks did not respect their officers merely because they held the King's commission. Rather, the soldier's respect had to be earned by the officer, who had to demonstrate a number of leadership qualities. Working-class rankers tended to judge officers by a simple set of criteria. The views of working-class soldiers in 2/5 Glosters1 support Tilsley's comments:
A bad officer, that is, a bully, is a—! A good officer, that is, a (sic) considerate, is 'a toff.'
'I'd follow him anywhere.' 'The men's friend'; or simply, put in significant tones, a 'gen-
Other Ranks tended to judge officers almost entirely in terms of the deferential dialectic. Expressed more simply, the ranker's view of the officer was largely determined by the way the officer behaved towards him. Officers had to juggle two aspects of their duties. They had to be both militarily efficient and also protective of their men, and these two roles could sometimes conflict. Inevitably, a ranker's view of his officer could vary according to the circumstances. A ranker recalled that on one occasion hungry, cold men on a long march took a dim view of a normally popular officer, but that attitude changed to one of genuine gratitude when a surprise Christmas dinner was provided for the men.
Other factors were far less important in determining a soldier's perception of an officer. Strict disciplinarians were not necessarily unpopular, as they could also possess other qualities, such as leadership, of which the men approved. An officer's youth was not necessarily a barrier to winning his men's approval. In later life, Lt W. R. Bion (Tank Corps) wondered if anybody, 'outside of a public-school culture, believe[s] in the fitness of a boy of nineteen to officer troops in battle?' The answer was that the