The Appointment of ‘The Conductor’

Appendix to ORD 1/BR/2150(DOS) Dated 12 November 1968

Warrant Officer Class I Appointments in the RAOC

History of the Appointment of the Conductor

Compiled by the Curator of the Corps Museum 1968

Conductor from Conducere, to conduct. One who loads, guides or escorts.

When first asked by the Editor to write a short article on the appointment of Conductor of Conductor, I agreed, thinking that a few lines and some padding, would take but an hour or two. That was a year ago. Little did I realise that so much research would be needed or, that so much material would require to be sifted; my apologies if important points have been left out.

It was in March 1920 that the RAOC Gazette carried the then old story of the raw recruit (ex tram driver) who, on arrival at Red Barracks, Woolwich asked “Eh, which’s Conductor Smith?” A RAOC Conductor replied, “That’s me, What do you want?” to which the raw recruit said “Sorry mate, ab thowt it wer t’bloke on t’same owd tram as me”, Apart from illustrating the mystery that surrounds the appointment there is nowadays little merit in the story trams are no longer with us!!!  

Perhaps the earliest recorded mention of Conductors is that in a Statute of Westminster of 1327 whereby Edward III enacted that the wages of Conductor (Conveyors) of soldiers from the Shires to the place of Assembly would no longer be a charge upon the Shire.

As long ago as the Siege of Boulogne in 1544 there were Conductors of Ordnance; there were also Conductors in the train of artillery assembled in 1618 while in 1619 Conductors of the Mattresses’ were paid 2/6d per day. The following year one Richard Huckley was appointed Conductor of the trenches as Sergeant at l/6d per day while Conductors of the Trenches and of the Train got 2/6d.

A Royal Warrant dated 20 Jan 1642, addressed to Sir John Haydon, Lieut-General of the Ordnance, concerning a Train of Artillery to be formed for service oversees, lists three Conductors viz John-Kerbye for the draught horse, Christopher Jones, for the ammunition and William Anderson for the Fireworkers. Also gunners, matresses, a carpenter, a wheeler and a smith.

In the instructions for Our Principal Engineer, issued by King Charles in 1683, is included “To endeavour to provide for Our Service good and able; Engineers, Conductors and work bases. In time of action … to see to the breaking of the ground, planting of batteries, making of platforms, conducting of trenches and mines, and to leave such Engineers and Conductors as will be necessary to see them carried on and executed , , ,” Conductors wore red cloth cloaks. The Chief Engineer – a suit of silk armour. This is 1688.

With every train assembled there were Conductors, in 1689 a train for service in Ireland included a Chief Conductor at 4/- per day with 12 Conduct: at 3/-. In 1691 a train for Flanders included 8 Conductors of Stores at 3/-, a Conductor plumber with assistant at 4/- while 11 Conductors got 3/-. Also to Flanders went 2 Conductors of Woolpacks and 2 Conductors of horses, all at 3/-, Woolpacks sound interesting, were they seats of some sort? perhaps the origin of the 346,000 chairs held by the RAOC in 1956!

In I693, a Conductor and plumber at 4/-, 28 Conductors at 3/- were included in the staff assembled with other Conductors and coopers at 5/- for with a train of artillery.

At the capture of Newfoundland in 1762, Lt Gen Amherst’s force included a Conductor and a Clerk of Stores named Foreman. These officials were from the Board of Ordnance Depots at New York and Halifax respectively,

Thos Simes Esq, in his book ‘The Military Guide for Young Officers’ dated 1776, writes “Conductors are assistants to the Commissary of the Stores, to receive or deliver out stores to the army, to attend at the magazines by turn when in garrison and to look after the ammunition waggons in the field;  They bring their accounts every night to the Commissary and are immediately’ under his command.”

A Universal Military Dictionary of 1779, by Captain George Smith, Inspector of the RMA Woolwich, states re the Commissary General of Stores, “A civilian officer who has charge of all stores for which he is accountable to the Office of Ordnance, He is allowed various other’ Commissaries, Clerks and Conductors  especially in wartime. The dictionary defines Conductors as “subordinate officers who are assistants to the Commissary of Stores and whose work it is to conduct depots, or magazines, from one place to another; they also have charge of ammunition waggons in the field”. A Royal Warrant of 1 Feb 1812 detailing an establishment for a field train, includes 60 Conductors of Stores, 1st and 2nd Class, with pay at 4/- and 3/-, For allowances and share in prize money they wore, entitled to half of that of a Subaltern Officer.

From the early records of Woolwich Arsenal we learn that one Charles Sargent was a Conductor at 16 in 1808, a clerk in 1811, was in the field train at Corunna with Sir John Moore and was pensioned in 1818, He died at Woolwich in 1886, Truly a remarkable thing to be pensioned at the early age of 26 years and to draw the pension for 68 years!

When the iron and brass ordnance, ammunition and stores were loaded on ‘transports’ at Woolwich in June 1813 destined for the Siege of Danzig., there embarked, among others, 3 Conductors of Stores, as well as an Assistant Commissary of Ordnance and three Clerks of Stores,

It is well known that Wellington had strong views upon the place of the storekeeping personnel of the Board of Ordnance in the field and we find that in his establishments for the field train department were included 122 store-keeping, clerks, l50 conductors.  These were responsible for the receipt, delivery, safety and transport, of field train material.

During the Waterloo campaign of 1815, 41 engineer officers followed the army commanding 800 sappers and miners, 550 conductors or drivers of the train, 160 waggons and other carriages more than 1000 horses. History records that the conductors behaved very badly and often deserted, being replaced by sappers who answered very well. And rightly so, for could not the Chief Engineer say, with every truth, “The Sappers and Miners may be new but they are good”.

For the Crimea War of 1854 a siege train was hurriedly formed . .. the personnel included 8 sergeants & conductors of stores.

The Land Transport Corps was re-organised in 1856 and Included Conductors (1st class drivers) In the establishment. The Regulations for the duties of the Commissariat Department, 1845, dealing with the carriage by land of consignment of provisions, laid down that “these consignments are to be weighed ox-counted in the presence of the Conductor so that he may be satisfied as to the quantity on the weighbills or bills of lading “and” that he will take charge of them till arrival at destination when he will see to the handing over to the Commissariat Officer to whom they are consigned’,’.

For the New Zealand War of 1860 Conductors accompanied the Officers of the Military Store Department, There were six of them transfers from the Royal Artillery, the Foot Guards and the -Infantry of the Line. They had to be at least of the rank of Sergeant and they attended a six weeks course in Ordnance Store duties and procedure at the Tower and at Woolwich Arsenal. Records of the preparation of these men show that with their kit they each were issued with two pounds of tobacco at a cost of 2/l½d per lb. They did   their work well and were well reported on at the end of the campaign,     

By Royal Warrant of 11 January 1879 a. class of Warrant Officers was constituted “to assist in the discharge of the subordinate duties of the Commissariat and Transport, and of the Ordnance Store Departments of Our Army to be denominated “Conductors of Supplies” and “Conductors of Stores”, respectively. Their position in our Army shall be inferior to that of all commissioned Officers and superior to that of all non-commissioned Officers. 

Conductors shall at -the same time have full power to exercise command over subordinates of the  Department of Our Army or non-commissioned officers or soldiers of our Army, who may be placed under their orders.

Candidates were to be of not less rank than Sergeant and not loss than 35 years of age if of that rank and no more than 40 years of age if of the rank of Staff sergeant. While on probation they were styled: Acting Conductor and received not loss than 4/- per day pay. When appointed Conductor they received 5/6 per day and 6/- per day after five years, service as such.

In March, May and June 1879 there were 35 Conductors of viz 16 from the Royal Artillery and 2 from the Royal Engineers while the remaining 17 were already serving with the Ordnance” Store Branch of the first Army Service Corps which became the Ordnance Store Corps in September 1881.

Paragraphs 689 – 716, Regulations for the Ordnance Store Department  1879, laid down that “A Conductor must supervise the preparation; and the loading and then accompany the gunpowder and explosives When conveyed from Woolwich to its destination.

The title Conductor of Supplies was, abolished in 1892′ and that of Staff Sergeant Major 1st Class’ substituted.

A Conductor RAOC a Master Gunner 1st Class RA and a Staff Sergeant Major 1st Class RASC rank with one another according to. the date of their promotion or appointment, or by Corps precedence if promoted or appointed on the same day.

From 1879 to 1897 I find no reference to badges of rank for Conductors and Sub Conductors, but on 20 Feb 1897 an official minute records that “badges for Conductors AOC for wear with khaki drill – various proposals put forward i.e. crown, crown with laurel wreath, officers shoulder straps, V.R., officers field cap badge, – but nothing definite decided”, However, on 11 July 1900 it is noted that “AOC Conductors and Sub Conductors will in future wear distinguishing badges viz Crown in wreath, gold on scarlet for Conductors and Crown gold large on scarlet for Sub Conductors”. These are obviously full dress badges

It would appear that by 1898 Sub Conductors had been raised to senior warrant rank as in the Clothing Regulations for that year they are bracketted with Conductors and shewn as having no badge.

There seems to-be no direct evidence as to when the practice started, but from 1898 to 1909, Conductors and Sub Conductors wore gorget patches on Khaki drill, the patches being dark blue edged with l/8 inch scarlet material,, For ‘some years therefore these warrant Officers wore both rank badges and gorget patches on khaki drill frocks,

In 1901 the. crown within a wreath was officially introduced as the badge. for the Conductor AOC, and the Staff Sergeant Major 1st Class ASC, For some inexplicable reason the Sub Conductors had to wait till 1904 for their badge i.e. the large cream, to be introduced.

Following the introduction of the rank of Warrant Officer Class II in February 1915, there appeared an army order specifying the badges to be worn by Warrant Officers Class I and II. In this order, the Conductor wore the crown and wreath while the Sub Conductor wore the Royal Arms,    

It was not, however, until October 1918, in Army Order 309, that the badges of rank question was settled, viz for a Conductor, the Royal Arms in Wreath and for a Sub Conductor, the Royal Arms. And so it is today,

Army Council Instruction 1193 of 1945 introduced the practice of Warrant Officers Class 1 wearing, with battledress, the badges of rank on a background of the colour worn as a backing to badges of the rank worn by Officers of the same Corps

It is of course, a well known rule that a Conductor and a Sub Conductor do duty as; Subaltern Officers and may sit on such enquiries and boards as way be authorised by regulations. On all parades they take post as Officer but do not salute,  (i.e. with a sword even though wearing one).

So we see that in early days the title Conductor meant just what we mean today when we speak of a Conductor viz a person who ‘conducts’ persons or things from place to place. Since 1879, however, the Conductor in the Army has held a senior and responsible position, particularly in the Ordnance Corps” where he has exerted, and I trust will continue to exert, an influence as a pillar of knowledge and strength to the Ordnance Officer and to the young man making his career in the ranks of the Corps which holds the traditions of a service that has existed throughout the history of the country,

With sincere acknowledgements to the late Brig. C.C, Phipps, CBS, MC, Secretary, Institute of Royal Engineers and to Lieut Col A.G. Penna, OBE of the Institution of the Royal Army Service Corps,

NOTE: The correct mode of address of a Conductor or Sub Conductor is “Conductor” from Officers or other WOs but “Sir” from NCOs and men,

Prepared by M Comerford , 23rd August 2004

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