AcSM Vs Cdr – Bah Humbug!

The current spate of messages left on the Conductors Forum have further fuelled the debate (if there is one!) regarding the seniority (or otherwise) of the Conductor to all Non Commissioned Officers in the British Army. However, the discussion is not a new one as I was informed by Gordon Webster at the Conductors Parchment Day this week.

In February 1987, the Soldier Magazine published an erroneous article about the ‘Seniority’ of the AcSM as the ‘Amy’s most senior NCO…… the AcSM’. As we might imagine there was uproar from many quarters. What follows are transcripts of the Article and the responses of the time.

The original article in ‘Soldier’

‘Mr Average’ sarn’t Major? He is certainly not that!
By John Margetts
Soldier Magazine, 9 Feb 1987

TRADITIONS run deep with sergeant majors. Like taking a swig of port wine before a big parade. "Not a big swig, but just enough to oil the larynx," said Academy Sergeant Major Denis Cleary of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. "I don't know whether it helps the voice or not, but it's a good tradition and all good sarn't majors stick to it," he said.

The most senior NCO in the Army, he says he has been introduced to the Queen and many other visiting heads of state "and that's good enough for me," he says, dismissing any other possible claimant to the title. Mythology, too, has its place among the RSMs of this world. "For example it's a myth that the late RSM Ronald Brittain was at Sandhurst. "He was never here, but at the Mons Officer Cadet Training Unit just down the road"It's a myth, too, that sergeant majors bawl and scream at people for the sake of it and are big, fat men with ear-shattering roars that can be heard a mile away. "Not so. If I started hollering at the young chaps here they'd think I was crazy. They are dedicated professionals; here because they want to be. "Mind you, I can still do a nose-to-nose job when necessary as I feel a little bit of fear never did anyone any harm. And I can shout if I feel the need for an instant response, like getting a group to move quickly. "But the idea is to get people to work with you rather than for you and this can be achieved by respect and loyalty.

"As an introduction to this we all start - and finish - by addressing each other as 'Sir'. But of course I have to ensure students mean it when they address me!" While the Blarney Stone was never mentioned he laughingly described himself as "Mr Average". Twelve stone in weight, 5ft 10in tall, a size 71/8 in hats and a nine in boots. He was born in Dublin 50 years ago, is married to Jackie with a son and daughter and just before Christmas became a grandfather, But what takes him out of the "average" bracket is the fact that he is the Academy Sergeant Major (ASM) and the most senior NCO in the Army heading a team of 200 instructors representing just about every cap badge in the Service.
He is also the first Irish Guardsman to hold the post of ASM. Since 1960, when the post was redesignated from RSM, his predecessors have been ASM J C Lord, Grenadier Guards; ASM C H Phillips, Welsh Guards and ASM R P Huggins, Grenadier Guards.
" Of course old 'JC was here before 1960, but that was when the title was changed. Altogether he did 16 years service here and became very well known. "I'm only sorry I won't be able to match his time as I've done seven years with five to go, finishing in 1992." Modestly he described his move to the job of ASM as "being in the right place at the right time. "I suddenly became aware that I was moving in the right direction when I was RSM of the Irish Guards and to become ASM was a marvellous thing for me. "I enjoy this job 100 per cent and intend staying to the end of my time when I'll be 55.

" And while the students are important - after all, that is what the place is all about - it is my staff of instructors who are the most important people to me. "I have 200 here, 150 of whom are involved in teaching the 700 students who pass through here every year from as many as 60 different countries. "That this is a prestigious place there is no doubt and it is recognised as being the only military academy in the world where NCOs are totally involved with the training of officers. "This builds a rapport which is continued throughout their Army careers.
" The strength of the Army is in its customs and training and as long as this can be maintained it can only go from strength to strength. "This enhances the regimental family system on which it is impossible to put a price. It will be a sad day should it ever be undermined. "Not that he forecast this ever happening as he went on to talk of the high calibre of student at the RMAS." They are more professional today. Their dedication is unbelievable with standards improving every year."

But to maintain - and improve these standards takes not only a good deal of practical and theoretical instruction, it also takes up a lot of the ASM's time with paperwork. "I've tried Alexander's theory of putting paper in the out tray. But it doesn't work. I found twice as much coming back. So a good deal of my time is spent in the office. This, too, is unlike the old-time RSM who probably spent most of his time on the square."

Denis Cleary is indicative of how times have changed in the Army. No longer does he have to strut around, as popularly imagined, hollering and shouting, except on big parades and when the occasion demands; he doesn't have a big stomach and a loud voice. Nor does he tower over people; he's a normal-looking guy, who stays fit and lean - he's played representative soccer for the Army and been a good athlete in his time -and ties it all up very neatly with a keen sense of humour.
" How do I make myself heard with the Academy on parade?" he echoed. "It's all a question of development," he said. "It's like some people can sing and some can't. You've either got it or you haven't."

The immediate response from WO1(Cdr) GCV Webster RAOC

Dear Sir,
Whilst I suspect you will receive a number of letters on this subject, I felt it necessary to advise you of the inaccuracy of the statement on your front cover of 'Soldier' dated 9 February 1987. This identified Academy Sergeant Major Dennis Cleary as the most senior NCO in the Army. May I first point out that I have the greatest respect for the unique and prestigeous position that AcSM Dennis Cleary fills, he has every right to feel as proud as he obviously does achieving it.
However, the facts are not as reported on this occasion, and I recollect you were taken to task over the self same subject 4/5 years ago.
May I therefore draw your attention to "The Honourable and Ancient Appointment of CONDUCTOR RAOC". The Queens Regulations for the Army Chapter 9, Page 9 - 29, Paragraph 9.168 clearly identifies that Conductor RAOC is the senior non-commissioned appointment in the British Army, followed by Master Gunner 1st class RA and then Academy Sergeant Major RMAS. I enclose a copy of the relevant entry in QRs.

I also enclose a copy of the history of the appointment of 'Conductor RAOC’, from which I quote "By Royal Warrant of 11 January 1879 a class of Warrant Officers was constituted to be denominated Conductors of Supplies and Conductors of Stores. Their position was to be inferior to that of all commissioned officers but superior to that of all non-commissioned officers.

Responses published under the title “Conductors’ Privilege”

Cdr Websters letter above was published in the 9 March 1987 issue.

Academy Sergeant Major Cleary is a warrant officer, not an NCO. The Army Act stresses the point. Console yourself with the fact that half the Army has never understood the peculiar traditions of the other half -what is an Orderly Room Corporal of Horse? –

L Brady (ex SSM), 6 Hilldale Avenue, Blackley, Manchester M9 2PP.

I would be interested to know who, by virtue of length of service and date of substantiation, is really the most senior NCO in the Army. No doubt there will be quite a few claimants.

Owen A O'Neill (ex Sgt, Para Light Regt RA), 110 Lingfoot Crescent, Sheffield S8 8DB.