‘Different spanks for different ranks’

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2005), Letters, Letters, Volume 13


—Your January/February 2005 issue provided food for thought. ‘Shotat Dawn’ by Peter Mulvany established that, when it came to militarydiscipline in the Great War, there were ‘different spanks for differentranks’. The ‘Londonderry Herr’ by Neil Fleming recalled the NaziRibbentrop’s frolics at Mountstewart with the marquess of Londonderry,ex-British air minister, ex-Stormont education minister, ex-Carsonite‘rebel’. In 1934 another ex-Carsonite ‘rebel’ wrote in the BritishUnion of Fascists’ magazine that Sir Edward Carson was ‘the leader ofthe first Fascist movement in Europe’.
Mark Coulter’s piece on Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson recalling the‘Curragh incident’ of March 1914 might confirm the ‘different spanksfor different ranks’ observation. A bill had previously been proposedin the House of Commons permitting soldiers to be excused from dutiesthat might pit them against unionist family and friends. It had fewbackers, and The Times in an editorial had great fun with the notionthat soldiers could choose to obey this order and disobey that. AndKeir Hardie, who proposed it, was derided as a clown. Yet in 1914soldiers were to be given that choice.
The soldiers allowed that choice were ‘hard-riding country gentlemen’from the landlord class, lancer officers such as Hubert Gough, andcavalry officers such as John French. Private soldiers and NCOs,recruited perhaps from mining families on Lord Londonderry’s Durhamestate, were not consulted. (Many of them, though of adult age, werenot consulted in elections either, for universal male suffrage, alongwith votes for women over 30, was not conceded until 1918.) They wereexpected to confront trade unionists—miners, dockers and such—notUlster unionists, their Tory co-conspirators and theirLondon-bankrolled Freikorps.

—Yours etc.,


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