THE HONOURABLE & ANCIENT APPOINTMENT OF CONDUCTOR By John McKenzie, March 1998

(First published in ‘Crown Imperial’ and at:  www. pwstubbs.force9.co.uk/crownimp/articles/conduct.htm)

 

The appointment of a senior Warrant Officer (WO) Class 1 as a Conductor RLC is an old tradition and is unique to the Corps.  He is the most senior WO in the Army and the history of the appointment can be traced back over 600 years.

The earliest record of the office of Conductor is contained in the Statute of Westminster of 1327 whereby King Edward III decreed that the wages of Conductors (conveyors) of soldiers from the Shires to the place of Assembly, would no longer be a charge upon the Shire.

During the siege of Boulogne in 1544, historical records mention the Conductor of Ordnance. A Royal Warrant addressed to the Lt. Gen. of the Ordnance concerning a Train of Artillery to be formed for overseas service, listed three Conductors, one in charge of draught horses, one in charge of ammunition and one in charge of the fire-workers.

In 1683, Charles II issued “Instructions for our Principal Engineer” which included the provision of Conductors to see to the “conducting of trenches and mines”. Further varieties of Conductor were recorded for a Train established for service in Flanders in 1691. This included Conductor of Stores, a Conductor Plumber, Conductors of Woolpacks and Conductors of Horses.

When the Land Transport Corps was re-organised in 1856, Conductors were included in the establishment. When expeditions were formed for China and New Zealand in 1860, Sergeants were appointed from the Royal Artillery (RA) and other Regiments as Conductors under the Military Stores Officer. However, these were found to be untrained and inexperienced in the duties required of them. Because of this, it was decided in 1862 to send five Sergeants of the RA and two Sergeants of the Royal Engineers (RE) to the Tower and Pimlico to learn the work. They were to be held as supernumerary there for from three to five years before being relieved, so that a skilled nucleus of staff might be built up ready for war.

Conductors became a recognised military rank, when in 1879 a Royal Warrant decreed that Conductors of Supplies be appointed to the Commissariat and Transport Corps and Conductors of Stores be appointed to the Ordnance Store Corps (OSC). Their position in the Army was to be as junior officers, “inferior to that of all commissioned officers and superior to that of all non commissioned officers”. From 1881 to 1888 both Corps also had 1St Class Staff Sergeants who were next junior to Conductor.

In 1889 The Commissariat and Transport Corps was re-titled the Army Service Corps and Conductor of Supplies and of Stores were re-titled Conductors ASC and Conductors OSC respectively. Henceforth they were to be Regimental WO’s senior to all other WO’s and NCO’s. At the same time the title of 1st Class Staff Sergeant was changed to Staff Sergeant Major(SSM) for both the ASC and OSC. In 1892 the title Conductor ASC was abolished and replaced by SSM 1st Class ASC, leaving only the Conductor OSC.

In 1896 the OSC was re-titled Army Ordnance Corps(AOC), the title of SSM OSC was altered to Sub-Conductor AOC. Thus the appointment of Conductor was originally used by both the ASC and OSC and was the senior Warrant rank in the Army.

In 1965 when the RASC was dis-banded, Staff Clerks RASC were absorbed into the RAOC under the MacLeod re-organisation, the RAOC title of Sub-Conductor was replaced by S SM. Of course the rank of SSM 1st Class was discontinued.

With the amalgamation of the RAOC in 1993, the appointment of Conductor was carried on to the new Corps, “The Royal Logistic Corps”. With the integration of female soldiers into the one-time all male Corps, another old established tradition will disappear, as female Conductors RLC will, or already have been appointed.

Rank Badges.

There appears to have been some confusion on badges for wear by Conductors and Sub-Conductors, however, I have a record of the following:

a. 5 Sep 1896.         “No difference between Conductors and Sub-Conductors dress in the AOC - no chevrons or badges”.

b. 26 Feb 1897.        Badges for Conductors for wear with khaki:- “various proposals put forward.  I.e. Crown, Crown with Laurel Wreath, Officers Shoulder Straps, V.R., Officers Field Cap- badge, nothing definite decided”.

c. 11 Jul 1900.         Conductors and Sub-Conductors AOC were authorised to wear distinguishing badges as follows: Gold Crown with Laurel Wreath on scarlet for Conductors and Large Gold Crown on scarlet for Sub-Conductors. Both WO’s also wore blue Gorget Patches, edged in scarlet. Apparently no badge of rank was worn on the khaki uniform, but Gorget Patches were worn.

I have photographic evidence that the Crown in Wreath badge and Gorget Patch was still being worn in 1913 I have been unable to discover when the Royal Arms within a Laurel Wreath was introduced, I think it would be after November 1918 when the AOC was accorded Royal status. Prior to 1896, Conductors were identified by various dress embellishments.

Click here to go to a critical response to this article, first published in the Crown Imperial.

Go to Top of the Page