Being “On Duty” in 1914: as much fun as in 2014

Wednesday, December 2, 1914

In Camp, West Down South, Salisbury Plains

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Duty Battalion.  Moved lines to fresh ground about 700 yards south of first location.”  [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: The definitions of “Duty” in 1914 military terms are explained below.

Camp Duty Battalion, which means that all companies are to be employed on Guards and Fatigues throughout the camp.

Duty officer is the name of a rotating position assigned to a junior military officer in a duty or watch system. The duty officer is charged with responsibility for a military unit and acts as the commanding officer‘s representative. The duty officer attends to menial tasks for the commanding officer such as being at the scene of an incident and being on call during the night. This duty is in addition to the officer’s normal duties.

The duty officer’s tour is generally 24 or 48 hours, after which he will be relieved by the oncoming duty officer listed on the roster or watchbill. The offgoing duty officer will turn over relevant data and documentation to his relief about the previous day’s happenings, before returning to his normal duties (or going on liberty if his duty ends on a weekend or other non-work day).  [2]

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This letter by Captain T. Magladery of the 37th Northern Ontario Battalion writing from England, expresses some of the frustrations involved in overseeing a duty battalion: –

“Saturday Jan. 22, 1916.  This is really Sunday but I am dating the letter Saturday as no letter went out yesterday and it may be that I will find time to write two today.  Our troubles this week, that are keeping the orderly room awake at nights, are that we are duty Battalion for the Division.  Perhaps that does not mean much to you but to us it means that all the guards, picquets, orderlies, fatigue parties for the whole camp are supplied by us.  These all have to parade at different hours, but as there is an exact time laid out for each, you can easily see that we are almost at our wits end.  So far exactly 707 men have been detailed for these special duties so we cannot supply many more.  Last night Mr. Peplar and I worked until nearly twelve getting these duties divided evenly between the different companies.  At it again this morning at 7.30 seeing that all our different parades moved off on the dot.”   [3]

[1]  War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Dec 2, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa,
[2]  Wikipedia contributors, "Duty officer," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 17, 2014).
[3]  Published in the New Liskeard Speaker, Friday, February 11, 1916


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