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Problems of 2 NZEF



Neither warrant officers nor non-commissioned officers caused many complications. The understanding with Army Headquarters was that all reinforcement WOs and NCOs should come out to us with temporary rank only which they would relinquish on arrival in Maadi. In general this rule was adhered to; but there were occasional exceptions, one case being the members of the tank battalion that came with the 8th Reinforcements. The battalion embarked as a unit, with the whole of its non-commissioned staff holding substantive rank – which was reasonable. There were other odd cases of a similar nature, together with a sprinkling that merely slipped through the net.

The first idea was that all reinforcement WOs and NCOs should revert to the ranks; but this was too severe, and the rule adopted was that they dropped one rank at once – except that all WOs reverted to temporary sergeants – and were subsequently tested in depots for fitness to hold their lower rank, and if considered up to standard were confirmed in the lower rank. This rule was in conflict with a belief among some commanders that all reinforcement WOs and NCOs should revert to the ranks on arrival. It is probable that the tests, which were held in depots under corps arrangements, were purposely made severe, so that in the end only a few ever found their reverted ranks made substantive.

The promotion of NCOs up to and including the rank of sergeant was vested in COs of units, no attempt being made to have any centralised form of control throughout the corps as a whole. This meant that there was an element of chance in the promotion of NCOs. If an NCO was wounded or sick, a substantive promotion could be made in his place shortly after he was evacuated out of the unit, without any delay being imposed because he might get well quickly and come back; and, moreover, while he was away he lost his chance of promotion into any vacancy that occurred in the unit. Sometimes COs tried to hold vacancies for good NCOs who they had reason to believe would soon be coming back; but this was not to be recommended, as the movements of the evacuated NCO were never certain. To be 100 per cent fair to all page 205 NCOs would have required some centralised machinery that would have been so cumbersome as to be unworkable. The power given to COs to promote speedily had to be set against the occasional bad luck of some one NCO. It was a rough and ready system, and was probably fair enough to the unit as a whole while sometimes being unfair to the individual.

For staff-sergeants and warrant officers, whose numbers were comparatively small, we established a form of centralisation through Second Echelon, in order to prevent the accumulation of these ranks that would have arisen if COs had had full power to promote to that level. If a vacancy occurred in a unit, cognisance had to be taken of anyone of the rank waiting in a depot to go forward. Field units did not much like this system for reasons (among others) not unconnected with the dumping of unwanted NCOs on depots; but it was introduced only after long experience. It was in fact intermediate between the ‘free for all’ system of promoting NCOs up to sergeants, and the fully centralised control exercised by the Military Secretary over the promotions of officers.

Every now and then we would receive an application for some non-commissioned rank in war establishments to be made higher. On inquiry it often emerged that the reason for the application was not so much one of principle (i.e., that the rank was justified permanently) as that it was desired to give promotion to some deserving NCO and, by implication, keep him in the same job. This was not enough to warrant a change in war establishments, and the answer was that the NCO must be moved to some post carrying the higher rank. In so ruling Headquarters laid itself open to the accusation of being a miserable lot.

Temporary ranks, as with officers, caused some troubles. In the early stages particularly, but on occasion at all times for reasons which were never clear, but which appeared to include a degree of faintheartedness, there was a tendency in units to go on promoting NCOs in a series of temporary steps. We had cases of privates who were temporary staff-sergeants, and corporals who were temporary warrant-officers. If by any chance the unfortunate man were evacuated to hospital, away went his temporary rank and he found himself down at bedrock again. We had to lay it down that not more than one step in temporary rank could be given. If higher rank was still wanted, the necessary action must be taken to make the next lower rank substantive.

We deprecated the use of ‘acting’ ranks, which were unpaid, but there was a steady demand from units to be allowed to make them in emergency, and in the end the list of authorities with the necessary powers was extensive. The implication was that some- page 206 times rank was wanted for a brief period in excess of establishment, or pending a more permanent promotion, but it is an unsatisfactory method.