Monday, March 27, 2017


I know some of our regular readers are ex military (army) but I'm conscious that many of you aren't.   The army works is mysterious ways and some terms used can be confusing ... so, to clear the matter up for you ...

All people in the Army are soldiers, all privates are soldiers, but not all soldiers are privates. Some are officers who are commissioned, but some are officers who are not commissioned. Obviously if every private was called private it would be confusing, so some privates are called things like trooper, driver, gunner, craftsmen (even some women are called craftsmen), sapper or signaler. Not all the drivers actually drive because some of them cook, but we don't call them cooks, for that matter, not all drivers are called drivers - some of them are privates or gunners. Gunners as I’m sure you know are the guys that fire guns, unless of course they are drivers or signalers in which case we call them gunners rather than drivers or signalers just to make it clear. All gunners belong to the artillery, except that in the infantry we have gunners who are called privates because they fire a different sort of gun, for the same reason we call our drivers and signalers private as well.
A Lance Corporal is called Corporal, unless he is a Lance Bombardier then we call him Bombardier to distinguish him from full Bombardier, who is just like a Corporal. All other ranks are called by their rank for the sake of simplicity except that Staff Sergeants are called Staff, but they are not on the staff, some Warrant Officers, who are not officers, are called Sergeant Major although they are not Sergeants or Majors. Some Warrant Officers are called Mister which is the same thing that we call some officers but they are not Warrant Officers. A Lieutenant is called Mister because he is a subaltern, but we always write his rank as Lieutenant, and Second Lieutenant, and of course second comes before first.
When we talk about groups of soldiers there obviously has to be clear distinction. We call them Officers and Soldiers although we know that officers are soldiers too. Sometimes we talk about officers and other ranks which is the same as calling them soldiers. I guess it is easiest when we talk about rank and file which is all the troops on parade except the officers and some of the NCO’s - and a few privates - and the term is used whether everyone is on parade or not. A large unit is called a battalion, unless its a regiment but sometimes a regiment is much bigger than a battalion and then it has nothing to do with the other sort of regiment. Subunits are called companies unless they are squadrons or troops or batteries for that matter. That is not radio batteries and don't confuse this type of troop with the type who are soldiers but not officers.
Mostly the Army is divided into Corps as well as units, not the sort of corps which is a couple of divisions, but the sort which tells you straight away what trade each man or woman performs, whether he is a tradesman or not. The infantrymen, for example, and the Artillery Corps has all the gunners. Both of these Corps also have signalers and drivers except those who are in the Signals or Transport Corp. Both of these Corps provide special service and thats why the Transport Corp provides cooks. In fact the Signals Corps is not a service at all because it is an Arm. Arms do all the fighting, although Signals don’t have to fight too much, rather like Engineers who are also an Arm but they don’t fight too much either.
So you see, it’s really quite simple.


Adolf Fiinkensein said...


With a few changes to nomenclature here and there, you could be describing the Labour Party.

David said...

Reminds me of the WW1 tale when the Brits were struggling with the Aussies. One pom, a cook, a driver, a bombardier or whatever went crying to General Haig.

Haig lined up the Aussies and demanded to know "Who called the cook a bastard?"

From the rear of the ranks a lone voice called "Who called the bastard a cook?"

gravedodger said...

Gee whiz Vet didn't know it was so simple, good resume.
A mate got ripped during school cadets when he called WO S F 'Tiny' Hill 'sarge'.
One platoon of our outfit were attached to the Canterbury Scottish Rgt with 25 pounders for toys, did a camp at Balmoral Tekapo under canvas Easter 1959 and another exercise took the guns to Godley Head and dropped some rounds into the sea.
Took that option as we were in trucks dragging gear while mortars, brens and Lewis MG had to run and carry and never left the school grounds.

On ranks however wonder why a Lieutenant is lower than Major yet Major General is out ranked by Lieutenant General.
Good ole Wiki says it was originally Sergeant Major General and the sergeant was dropped to avoid confusion with all the other Sergeants that were around.

My family were not deeply into soldiering, Mums Brother was Pilot Officer in the Islands, my Dad was in camp at Birdlings Flat in 1918 (born 1900) when the Kaiser gave up and twenty years later had terrible varacous veins with eczema thrown in for no extra.
Swmbo's Dad was a Captain carting tanks around Cassino while Kesselring and the weather made life difficult.

The Veteran said...

Dodger ... if we are into family histories my paternal Grandfather was a German immigrant to NZL (we all are, including Maori) who gloried in the name of Steinmuller. In the early 1900s his family established themselves in Hunterville in the Manawatu where they ran the General Store which also offered a barbershop on the side. The family owned a dash-hound. In 1914 on the outbreak of WW1 the good burgers of Hunterville (who also owed him money for goods on tick) in a fit of patriotism ran the family out of town (and killed the dog). They reestablished themselves in the more civilised climes of Palmerston North!!!!! and changed their name to Miller.

Dad was a WO1 in WW2. He was a good mate of 'Screaming Skull' McCulloch ... Regimental Sergeant Major extraordinaire.

Anonymous said...

To avoid confusion just refer to all army personel as pongos.


Anonymous said...

And the airforce as 'crabfats' [after the blue ointment used to deal to pubic lice]


Anonymous said...

That's like trying to explain the rules of cricket to a Russian..... The ranks and military formations mentioned all originated in the French army. Even the good old Kiwi "mate" is derived from the French matelot or sailor.

Lord Egbut

George said...

And then we have the Senior Service with matelots from there to there :)
Not to mention the Brycream boys

OlderChas said...

As a former Senior Service (IE NAVY) Warrant Officer - I thank you for this simple explanation of how the Khaki Mafia, Green Machine, Gravel Crunchers or whatever you may call them works. If there is no objection, I will post this in the "EX RNZN" facebook page for the enlightenment of thousands of sailors.

The Veteran said...

Chas ... be my guest. Have already had a similar request from a UK Regimental Association. You will note I tried to keep it simple ... didn't open up the can of worms by trying to explain what a Color Sergeant was ... pc and all of that.

Anonymous said...

I thought the army was the senior service in NZ.


The Veteran said...

Mick ... Navy, Army, Airforce in that order. Don't ask me why as the RNZN was only formed in 1941. Before then it was the NZ Division of the Royal Navy. The RNZAF came into being in 1937 (four years before the RNZN) while the Army traces itself back to the Permanent Militia formed in 1886.


Adolf Fiinkensein said...


If uou can believe Wiki,

" The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service."