MY ARMY: WOl (CONDUCTOR) MIKE HOBBINS
Interview: Ray Routledge Pictures: Steve Dock
First Published in Soldier Magazine, March 2002
COMRADESHIP IS THE KEY
WHEN it comes to experience of life in the British Army, few can match the almost 40 years that WOl (Conductor) Mike Hobbins has devoted to the Service. His love of the Army and his wish to be of service are apparent in everything he says and does.
Did you always want to be in the Army?
“Pretty much. I joined the Junior Leaders at 15 in Deepcut after three years with the Army cadets.”
What have you done in your long career?
Is the ethos of the service important to you?
“When I joined in the 1960s it was to serve. When I met my wife I told her from the start that she came third — Queen, country and family in that order — and I still believe that. We’ve been married for 32 years.”
Do conductors enjoy any special duties or privileges?
“The only ceremonial duty is for a Royal visit, when the conductor makes a speech. People also seek my views; for example Maj Gen Peter Chambers at HQ Land Command will seek my advice.”
Were you ever tempted to apply for a commission?
“No, I never wanted a commission. The officer was a different beast in the old days compared with today. I was happy, I did not want to join somebody elseOs club. My club was a good one.”
Do you think Warrant Officers careers’ should be extended beyond the 22 year point?
‘Their retirement opens career paths for those coming up. Nevertheless, why throw WOs on the rubbish dump at 22 years? All that skill and all that knowledge. . . just gone. “Conditions of service throughout the Armed Forces are different and I feel they should be the same. Pay, at least, has been sorted at long last.”
Do you have a view on ‘Pay 2000’?
“I have done an extra 14 years and I am on the same level as a guy who has done just six. But that’s life and people should stop moaning.”
What advice do you have for a 16 year old contemplating a career in the Army?
“I would recommend anyone to join the Army so long as their reasons are the right ones. They should join to serve, with the knowledge that they might be asked to put their life on the line. In the 1960s we understood that because we were born just after the war. “Every individual should look at why they want to join. After that it might become a career.”
Have you enjoyed your career?
‘The Army is about comradeship and it is a great life — a life that can’t be matched anywhere in the world. It is brilliant. “Liz, my wife, and I remember the last 39 years as being one glorious, great time, with men and women all doing the same thing for basically the same reason. You can’t do that anywhere else.”
And the same question to his wife
“We have been very well looked after, and when he comes out later this year I am going to miss being part of the family.”
SENIORITY COMES WITH A ROYAL CHARTER
WHAT gives the senior conductor the right to call himself the most senior NCO in the British Army? The rank dates back to 1327, when the conductor was a civilian and part of the commissariat — the quartermasters. In terms of hierarchy, it slotted in between junior ranks and officers. Conductors were eventually “regularised” into the British Army and a royal charter of 1869 made them warrant officer class one. That charter also spelled out that conductors were to be considered senior to all NCOs but inferior to commissioned officers.
The RLC last year reintroduced the tradition of awarding conductors their warrant on a parchment scroll, a custom dating back to the rank’s earliest incarnations.
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