Correspondence about the Organisation of A.G.10 Medal Branch 1920 – 1921

Please Note:  Sir Herbert Creedy (Secretary of the War Office), held overall responsibility for the areas covered by the C Divisions, including the C. 4 Division responsibilities  connected with the ‘…the appointment, transfer, promotion, leave, and discipline of members of civil establishments, and of retired officers, ex-soldiers and temporary employees at the War Office, ex-soldiers and temporary employees at the War Office, and correspondence with the Civil Service Commission and the Treasury connected therewith… (see Ibid, p. 89)’.

Analysis (followed by the sources)

Mr Biggs report on the work of A.G. 10 Medals Branch, dated the 16 January 1920 was part of the deal between the War Office and the Treasury that allowed the promotion of the then head of the Branch Lieutenant Colonel Frith to be an Assistant Adjutant General (A.A.G.), a promotion from D.A.A.G. (Deputy Assistant Adjutant General) and one of his Staff Captains to be promoted to D.A.A.G., to act as deputy head of the Branch (for the process leading to the promotions and the organisation of A.G. 10 1917-1920 please click here).

The report by a newly appointed Treasury Official, Mr Biggs, who had previously worked for the War Office caused the War Office to have to defend the organisation and staffing of A.G. 10 Medals Branch in detail to the Treasury. The report and the correspondence following the report are of great interest and give much more detail to the picture formed of the development of the Branch as its work increased between 1917-1920 (see earlier correspondence via the link given above).

The report also adds a Registry section and a section dealing with the medals of Deceased Officers and Men to the sections listed in the 1917-1920 correspondence (link included in earlier paragraph). The latter section is also mentioned in the 1919 A.G. 10 reports on the estimated costs of medals and clasps (for the reports please click here).

There is also more detail given about some of the sections of Medals Branch including that 23 (presumably male, as woman or girl clerks are always specified) clerks were responsible for writing the cards from the Rolls received. This compares with a staff of 134 woman and girl clerks involved in the task of filing cards, pulling cards out for reference and updating the cards.

The Treasury Official responsible for the report on A.G. 10 identified three main types of medal rolls to be submitted by Record Offices: a) men who remained in the same regiments throughout the War b) rolls of soldiers who were later commissioned and c) rolls of soldiers who moved to another regiment; in one or more portions of the Rolls they submitted to Medal Branch. Although the mention of three types of Medal Rolls for the Great War Campaign medals seems to be an ideal, it does broadly reflect (along with the submission of supplementary rolls) the main categories of individual cases dealt with by Medals Branch. The main difference from this structure when looking at the mass of Medal Rolls is how often the Army Record Offices mixed one, two or three of the main types of Roll identified by Biggs.

With by the end of 1919 Rolls either having been submitted (in the case of the 1914 Star) to A.G. 10 or in the process of being submitted (1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals) it is clear that even in the case of Rolls where alphabetical order was to be used (1914 Star and 1914-15 Star) for Rolls listing other ranks (Officers were to be listed by rank, for a link to a list containing the relevant Army Orders please click here) the Record Offices followed a range of list practices in compiling the Rolls. It is likely that this failure follow the instructions for ordering the names listed in the Rolls contributed to A.G. 10 not issuing similar instructions for the clerks to alphabetically order the rolls for the British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Territorial Force Medal. The Card Index would do this work and enable cross checking and compilation of information at the same time.

There is also mention made of the use of standard letters in Lieutenant Colonel Frith’s response to Mr Biggs’ report. Standard letters are described by Frith as ‘form letters’, which were standard in many office organisations at the time, including those dealing with other War related work (for example the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries plus later the Imperial War Graves Commission, to see examples of how they were used by D.G.R. & E. click here, an A.G. 10 example can be found here). Mr Biggs and A.G. 10 give the reasoning behind the use of these letters a negative connotation (the handwritten Treasury comment by Frith’s statement is simply ‘True!’), the unsuitability of some of the lower grade ex-soldier clerks for office work, but as stated there were also good practical reasons behind their use in a case working organisation.

Biggs’ objection to the Card Index developed in the Medals Branch was that it was both expensive to put together and largely there to correct the high level of error included in the medal rolls submitted by the Army Record Offices. Biggs’ proposal was that the medal rolls themselves be alphabetically indexed before submission to A.G. 10, eliminating the need for a Card Index. Biggs presumably expected that under such a system the staff of A.G. 10 would once they knew the Regiment of a soldier be able to look through the respective Regimental volumes indexes and find the soldier concerned. Such a system was used by the Army in the AB 358 enlistment books (see here) which included the details of every soldier enlisted into a regiment or corps.

A.G. 10 maintained that the Card Index used was good at picking up duplicate details and provided a check between the regimental and name details for each medal to which an individual was entitled. For example 1914 Star details could be checked against S.W.B. details, the first cards in the system and so-on. Both Medals Branch and Frith talk about an error rate on average per roll of 0.4% of entries. However Frith adds that the error rate could be as high as 5% of entries in a roll. The argument as acknowledged by Biggs was over how possible and important it was to eliminate error, with the War Office insistent that a thorough system of cross comparison was essential whilst Biggs and the Treasury seem much more relaxed about the small average error rate. This difference stems from what the War Office calls the ‘sentimental’ attachment to medals, with as has been shown elsewhere when looking at some of the main A.Os. and A.C.I.s connected with the issue of Great War Campaign medals an enormous importance attached by the Army to medals only being issued to individuals entitled to them (click here for details).

The result of Biggs’ report was in the eyes of the Treasury to see off a request for 150 extra clerks in A.G. 10. However they also acknowledged that the abandonment of the Card Index and switching to the method suggested by Biggs would mean massive disruption to the Branch and was no longer practical. Interestingly Biggs at the time of the issue of his report (16 January 1920) reported 2,000,000 cards in the Card Index, by the date of the issue of the War Office objections to the proposal (including a detailed defence by Lieutenant Colonel Frith), 16 April 1920, there were said to be 3,000,000 Cards in the Index. This represents 1,000,000 extra cards in about 3 ½ months, a 50% growth in the size of the Index. In common with the 1919 report estimating the staff and costs associated with the medal issuing programmes underway or projected for A.G. 10, the aim remained the issue of around 40,000 ‘awards’ per day (not just medals, but Clasps, Silver Wound Badges (S.W.B.) etc.).

The conclusion of the Treasury and one which is rather supported even by the War Office in their defence of Medals Branch is that the Army Record Offices were badly effected by poor and inconsistent staffing, leading to the making of more mistakes in the Medal Rolls. As the issue between 1917-1920 of the grading of senior staff in A.G. 10 had led to Biggs’ report, so the disagreements between the War Office over the organisation of Medals Branch similarly led to the most informative document on Army Records Offices dealing with the aftermath work of the First World War that we have, the 1921 Interim Report of the Committee on Record Offices. This report is of great importance in understanding the workload associated with both Great War service records and the issue of medals. To see the report please click here.

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