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DateOriginal Topic
25th September 2003Film vs Reality II
By Ian Essex
Again, without the benefit of watching the film recently...Chard is refered to as Mr.Chard and Sir by personel at the camp?
Was it ok to call an officer Mister? If so why? Is it something to do with not being in the same Regiment?
25th September 2003Martin Heyes
Officers were ALWAYS referred to as "Sir" by other ranks - at least to their faces! In the American Army it was (and is) acceptable for a Pte or NCO to refer to an officer (even a General) by his rank - something to do with a degree of "equality" in a perverse sort of way. But NEVER in the British Army.

In some Regiments, e.g. Household Division, certain Cavalry Regiments, possibly Royal Green Jackets, junior officers are allowed to address their C.O. (a Lt. Col.), as "Colonel." I believe that Majors can be addressed by their rank in the Officers Mess by junior officers - but I am not certain.
Certainly in my Regiment, (Cheshire Regt), as a junior officer one NEVER addressed a senior officer by his rank.

And neither did the soldiers.
25th September 2003Peter Ewart
Ian & Martin

This is interesting & I've often wondered what the exact form was. I suspect there was a difference between referring to an officer (third party) and actually addressing an officer, but could be wrong. Certainly the term "Mr" was perfectly normal and acceptable but in exactly which circumstances (and I imagine these were specific) I don't know.

There are plenty of contemporary primary (as well as published) sources which make it clear that it was normal and acceptable to refer to an officer as "Mr" but, to me, the conundrum has always been that this seems a civilian rather than a military form of address.

I think Stanley Baker addresses Caine at least once as Mr Bromhead, doesn't he? There are many examples in contemporary accounts which show this was acceptable. What would be interesting to know is:

Who could do so?

Was there a difference between referring to someone as Mr and addressing someone as Mr?

Was it merely a reflection of the fact that an officer was a gentleman (bearing in mind that the Hooks and Hitches of this world would rarely, if ever - at that time - have been referred to as Mr, even in civvy street.

We might also bear in mind that:

(a) two officers of similar rank might habitually address each other by surname only - again, as gentlemen would, whether at prep school, public school, university/Sandhurst, in the regiment or in correspondence.

(b) during 1914-18, soldiers' letters from the theatre of war, addressed to their own families or even to the widow of, say, a recently killed officer, often referred to their officer as "Mr so-and-so." (Captain or 2nd Lt he may have been , but "Mr" preserves his "gentle" status, perhaps?)

Someone must have chapter & verse on why it was acceptable & even normal to use the civilian expression?

25th September 2003MIke McCabe
The two 'older' services have always been very practical - the term 'Mister' being applied in common conversational usage to Midshipmen, Sub Lieutenants (Army and RN, it was an Army rank for part of the 19th century too) Lieutenants, Second Lieutenants, Ensigns, Cornets, Third Lieutenants (an old Militia Rank) and in some cases Warrant Officers, Assistant Commissaries, etc. It was always used with the Surname, in circumstances when use of just 'Sir' was inappropriate for some practical reason - perhaps when several officers were present. Its formal version 'Mister Chard, Sir' would avoid any possible hint of implied discourtesy but most officers would have been content to be addressed as 'Mister' in a wide range of suitable circumstances - as is still done today. The custom of referring to any Warrant Officer as 'Mr X' varies enormously throughout the Army, especially where Regimental or Squadron Sergeant Majors or their equivalents are concerned. It was normally extended as a courtesy to Bandmasters, who before the 20th century were often privately engaged civilians rather than the Warrant Officers that they later became.
It would be very unusual for a soldier to refer to an Army Captain as 'Mr', except in error.
26th September 2003Peter Ewart

Many thanks for such a helpful reply. As I now understand it, it was acceptable and normal (in appropriate circumstances) for soldiers to address an officer up to just below the rank of Captain as Mr. In my posting I did overlook making the point that I did expect, of course, the surname to be used as well - ("Mister" on its own tending to remind one of an urchin addressing a gentleman!)

And I'd forgotten the "senior" service enjoyed the same custom too, until you pointed this out. As someone who never took the Queen's shilling & certainly never held her commission (but WAS a sixer in the Wolf Cubs) I find explanations such as these very helpful indeed.

29th September 2003Martin Heyes
I cannot consider myself an expert on how mid to late 19th century soldiers in the British Army addressed their officers. That must, by any definition, be a VERY specialised subject but I bet there are some experts out there!
However, as someone who did take the Queen's shilling and who did hold Her Majesty's commission, I must "put you right," as it were.
It was, (and for all I know still is), NOT acceptable....etc for soldiers to address subalterns (officers "up to just below the rank of Captain," to use your terminology) as "Mister." The only time such a form of address would be acceptable, would be when (for example) the soldier was approaching a group of subalterns (not uncommon; subalterns often walked around barracks in a group), and he wanted to address one particular officer, say his own platoon commander. He would then, in all probability, address the officer as "Mr. xxxxx, Sir." Having got his attention, and assuming all further conversation is on a "one on one, face to face " basis, he would address that officer as "Sir," NOT "Mr. xxxx."
Simply put, if you want to attract the attention of someone who might be otherwise engaged, you could refer to him by his rank and name - but only to attract his attention.
Obviously when referring to the officer in the third person the term "Mr." would be used - but I repeat - NOT directly to the officer's face.
1st October 2003Peter Ewart

Many thanks for those notes. I was referring entirely to the 19th century, of course, not to current or even to recent etiquette/QR.

My "officers up to just below the rank of Captain" was calculated from reading the list of junior officers provided by Mike and noting that he said it would not, however, be appropiate to address a Captain in this way. (Hope I've understood correctly the point he was making).

You & Mike appear to concur with the circumstances under which a soldier may have found himself addressing, say, a 2nd Lieut as "Mister xxxx" (i.e. when the latter is in company with other officers & the initial remark needs to identify him). You have also helpfully differentiated between addressing an officer directly and speaking about him to a third party.

Perhaps customs (or regulations) changed during the early 20th century because my experience of Victorian sources supports Mike's point that the term "Mister xxxx" was common conversational usage, although perhaps this was between officers of similar rank, as Mike may have been implying.

As a "damned civvy" (the epithet my soldier brother always used to use on me!) I'm always grateful for the advice from those who can throw light on internal military matters such as these.