How to be a Successful Subaltern

by “Sustainer”

Introduction - Rule No. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

Rule Number 1:

Know your enemy and avoid him.

The subaltern's natural adversary is, of course, the Adjutant. This officer, probably a pleasant enough fellow before his appointment, can never rest. He is the unit's public conscience and is given to bursts of irrationality on such diverse subjects as odd socks, tardiness, unpaid mess bills, haircuts, staff duties M and the commanding officer's coffee pot.

The young officer is at a disadvantage in his dealings with the Adjutant because it is a convention of the Service that, like Caesar's wife, the Adjutant can do no wrong. The Adjutant cannot be attacked—well he can but it's not a recommended course of action—and his remarks about the quality of one's written work have to be endured.

The fact that the Adjutant is strongly placed has to be faced. He must be expected to produce phrases like, "It is the commanding officer's wish that. .." or "Battalion standing orders quite clearly state that. ..". In the first case his statement is difficult to challenge because he does have the benefit of the old man's ear, and vice versa. In the second case a challenge is ill advised because the Adjutant is supported by a cohort of ORQMSs, RSMs and Orderly Room Clerks, all of whom are feeding him documented proof that everything is forbidden. It is worthy of note at this stage that the Adjutant writes standing orders and so is the living example of judge, jury and executioner—all functions he readily demonstrates to transgressors.

It would seem that the successful subaltern has little option but learn to live with the Adjutant. He should study him at work and at work (the Adjutant never plays), watch for his likes and dislikes, and in short avoid him. It is possible, with a little imagination, to reduce one's visibility to the Adjutant to such an extent that he forgets one's name - always an excellent sign. The result is that one's appearance on Courts Martial and Boards of Officers becomes minimal.

Our hero should be able to restrict his intercourse with the Adjutant to those early morning meetings when the Orderly Officer changes and the box, folder, or whatever that is the sacred repository of the unit's innermost secrets, is exchanged. The outgoing Orderly Officer is required to tender a report avowing his having checked sundry armouries, visited the ungodly, ministered to the sick and halt, and attended meals in the soldiers' mess. He is also encouraged to report 'incidents' that took place during his tour of duty. The successful subaltern never reports an 'incident' unless compelled to do so. He seeks to give the impression that when he is the Adjutant's personal representative all is peace and harmony. He makes it a practice never to call upon the services of the Field Officer of the Day and 'hands over' his duty with utmost dispatch.

'Incidents' will of course take place, the skill is in reducing them to trivia so that one's actions are not examined in any detail. Care must be taken in composing any report in which an 'incident' took place, and for this a thesaurus is an invaluable aid. A conflagration in the guard room that consumed the RSM's best boots, the CO's sam browne, and permitted a, as yet unestablished, number of 'soldiers under sentence' to abscond must be reported in bland terms. 'Combustion' is preferred to 'fire'—'sparks' is preferred to 'inferno'—'released on parole' is far more satisfactory than 'escaped'. Phrases like 'cracked the polish' are less emotive than 'charred the belt to a cinder'. There is surely no need to go on.

The Adjutant is a busy man. He doesn't enjoy dramas. His whole existence is centred around the Commanding Officer whose every wish he seeks to satisfy. Deep down he wants to be left alone with the mass of paper on his desk, free to worry about the security check next week. The Adjutant wants to be avoided—what could be plainer than that!


Next - Rule No. 2

Introduction - Rule No. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

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