Comments on Brevet Rank
Rank badges of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Source: Their Glory Cannot Fade, a souvenir pamphlet published by the Canadian Pacific Railway, Christmas, 1918.
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Extracts from Promotion by Brevet, by Major-General F.S.G. Piggott, C.B., D.S.O., Colonel Commandant, Royal Engineers, pubished in The Army Quarterly, Volume LIX, October 1949 and January 1950
There were three grades of brevets--to major, lieut.-colonel and colonel; they might be given in duplicate or even triplicate. That is to say a captain might receive a brevet majority and subsequently a brevet lieut.-colonelcy before his substantive promotion to major; similarly, a major might become a brevet lieut.-colonel and then a brevet colonel before substantive promotion to lieut.-colonel. There were one or two extreme examples of a captain holding the brevet rank of full colonel before reaching the rank of major in his unit.
By means of what were termed "delayed-action" brevets, subalterns were brought within the purview of the system. There being no such thing as a brevet captaincy, a subaltern was marked for a brevet majority "on promotion to the rank of captain." There was one remarkable instance of this in the First World War which, from memory, ran as follows in the London Gazette: "Lieutenant (acting Lieut.-Colonel) (temporary Brigadier-General) D. to be brevet Major on promotion to the rank of Captain."
Certain anomalies in the [brevet promotion] system were recognized and accepted; they were even admired as being peculiar to the British Arrny, analogous to the mysteries of the British Constitution.
Young officers, in their studies of military law, were taught how to solve some of the problems that arose from the operation of the brevet system. For example: Major (1910) and Brevet Lieut-Colonel (1913) A., with Major B. (1908), both gunners, leave their barracks in uniform and walk to call on a neighbouring infantry battalion. Who takes the sentry's salute on leaving the artillery barracks, while walking through the town, and when entering the infantry barracks, respectively ? The answer is Major B. on leaving, and Lieut.-Colonel A. in the town and on arriving at the infantry barracks. Elementary, of course; but cunning variations could be introduced, such as their being joined by the C.O. of the local cavalry regiment, Lieut.-Colonel C. (1914), who persuades the two gunners to call at his Mess en route; who takes the salute on entering the cavalry barracks? Not quite so easy. The range and variety of these seniority problems could be indefinitely extended, and were frequently set in examinations.
The best-known anomaly of all, which intrigued everyone, was the case of the major of an infantry battalion with a brevet lieut.-colonelcy of an earlier date than that of the substantive rank of each of the commanding officers of the brigade. Naturally he took command of the brigade when the brigadier was away, as he was the senior officer, in the army, in the brigade.
These cases occurred periodically, and there was once an amusing, though possibly apocryphal, sequel: Major and Brevet Lieut.-Colonel X., in temporary command of a brigade during the absence of the brigadier, commented adversely on the performance of his own battalion at a brigade ceremonial parade; he told the brigade-major to inform the C.O. accordingly, and suggest some early morning drill; the injunction was duly " noted for action." Shortly afterwards the brigadier returned, and Lieut.-Colonel X. rejoined his unit; he found himself immediately detailed by his colonel to get on with the early morning drill.
BREVET rank ... is one of the most interesting "Nonsenses" of the 1920-1939 period, when Subordinates and Seniors were all mixed up in a glorious muddle of "who was Senior to who" - on what occasion and why?
Here is an example: The OC "D" Coy RCR was a Substantive Captain and therefore entitled to a butt salute only. One of his Pl Comds was a Lieutenant with a brevet majority - thus as he entered the barrack gate, wearing a crown on his shoulder he got a "Present Arms!" from the Sentry. The Coy Comd found this an intolerable situation and complained to Higher Authority, with the request that the Pl Comd be transferred elsewhere. NDHQ replied by transferring the Coy Comd and giving the Lt (Brevet Major) command of the company.
Brevet rank took precedence outside of regimental circles. When the RCR and RCD were "brigaded" for strike duty in Cape Breton in 1920 or thereabouts, the 2IC of the RCR became "Force Comd" with his own CO as one of his two Subordinate Comds. He was miserable to him; always complimenting the RCD CO on his regt and blasting his own CO for his inefficiency! I gather it was his last posting and he retired before the RCR returned to their barracks and he became 2IC of the unit again in his substantive rank of Major! Just as well!
BREVET Rank ... is easily explained, as "brevet" gave Army rather than Regimental status.