The Service Corps and Departments
1881 to 1902
At the culmination of the 1881 Cardwell and Childers Reforms, Great Britain was deeply divided into strata’s based on social class and associated perceptions of breeding and wealth. In general the landed gentry and the upper echelons of the middle class populated the cavalry and infantry with its officers, and the better educated provided a regiment of artillery and a corps of engineer staff. However, the services and departments that were necessary to support the fighting part of the army in the field were often divided into two.
In part this was because before 1855 some elements had been organised by the Board of Ordnance, such as artillery and engineers and transport and storage, and some by the Treasury, such as the commissary services that kept a control on supply, and expenditure. While the artillery and engineers had now joined the cavalry and infantry under a single headquarters, and the latter had merged the hitherto separate engineer staff with the men of the sappers and miners, there was still a tendency to keep the ostensibly non-combatant support elements separate from the combatant arms.
Another factor was formal qualification, with those holding professional credentials often placed in a separate department from the more menial functionaries who were also crucial to the creation of a coherent set of services, as had previously been the case with the engineers, and sappers and miners. In the case of supply and transport this led to officers being placed in a 'Commissariat and Transport Staff' and their men organised in a 'Commissariat and Transport Corps'. Even the rank titles of the Commissariat officers were entirely different to those of the rest of the army, as if to underline their non-combatant status. In a similar manner stores facilities were organised by officers within an 'Ordnance Department' while the men required did the hands-on work within an 'Ordnance Store Corps'. In a likewise manner the officers dealing with pay were organised in an Army Pay Department, whilst their clerical support was provided by the Corps of Military Staff Clerks , along with regimental clerks where appropriate. In the same pattern, surgeons below general rank equivalent and less those surgeons of the Horse and Foot Guards, were organised in an Army Medical Department, whereas the men needed to work under their instruction were a part of the Army Hospital Corps. The army was essentially a Christian one and spiritual needs were attended to by clerics of the Army Chaplains Department, who again had discrete titles to mark their status. In an almost mirror image of the medical services, veterinary surgeons and assistants were brought within an Army Veterinary Department, with the same exceptions relating to general officer equivalents, and those serving in the Horse Guard regiments, who remained separate.
As well as these larger services, there were smaller organisations that might be described as miscellaneous staff functions ranging from Provost, through Prison Governors, to Inspectors of Schools, Barracks Masters, Garrison Staff, Royal Hospitals, and the Unattached List, each of which contained officers wearing uniform and insignia.
This then was the background to a divided army that mirrored the social peccadillo’s and professional snobberies of their age, and the next section of this series focuses primarily on the foregoing organisations officer insignia at the time of the 1883 Dress Regulations. However, it was a period of great change and, as with the previous sections, alterations in pattern will be shown reflecting the further reorganisation of support services and departments up to the close of Queen Victoria's reign in 1902.