How to be a Successful Subaltern

by “Sustainer”

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

Rule Number 6:

Drink water in the Sergeants’ Mess.

The Sergeants' Mess cannot be trifled with, the RSM only thinks that he is the Almighty because he is. He, like the CO's wife, has to be won. unfortunately one can't ask him to dance and he won't be cooking supper for a chap. The RSM will measure the young officer against that paragon who was his first platoon commander, brilliant, mildly eccentric and now commanding the Battalion, The young officer will be found wanting.

The Sergeants' Mess expects the subaltern to "show a bit of form"; however it can be fickle, and in establishing a reputation as a regimental character, care must be taken not to alienate the mess. The Warrant Officers and Sergeants take to their hearts that officer whose name regularly appears in Part I orders under the heading 'Orderly Officers Roster—Amendments', and his reception when he visits the mess will be predictably warm.

The hospitality of the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess is legendary. The good fellowship that exists in abundance and which is so freely lavished upon a visiting second lieutenant can be heady stuff. It should be recorded that some Warrant Officers and Sergeants have been known to drink beer and may indeed go so far as to press a glass of shandy upon the visiting young officer. Shandy can play havoc with a chap's equilibrium, and from my studies I have concluded that equilibrium is an okay thing to display after a visit to the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess. I have just heard today about a chap who asked for a "glass of iced water" in the Sergeants' Mess. News of the disaster is still coming in and has yet to be fully evaluated, but one's immediate reaction is that here is an officer with imagination, preserving his equilibrium and establishing an image as a Regimental character with one fell swoop. My spontaneous reaction has been to include his methodology in this paper if only as a basis for discussion.

I've been applying the first five of my rules for just over two years and I can report that my avoiding the Adjutant, my organization of bathing parties, my flirtation with the CO's wife, my joining of the wives' club and my declining to join the mess committee on the basis of "pressure of work" have established for me no small reputation.

Confidential report time is just around the corner and my company commander said, only last week, that the writing of my report was causing him difficulty. This, I imagine, is due to the constraints placed upon reporting officers in an effort to prevent inflated gradings. I suppose that those clever chaps at the Ministry of Defence are quite right. We can't all be graded 'outstanding' and the decision that such gradings have to be justified to the GOC is quite right and proper. My company commander will simply have to do his duty and speak up in front of the GOC, who I can't believe is as bad as people say.

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