Salutary humour

Correct salutes are a matter of courtesy – and of comedy.  Punch was making fun of the hapless soldier in the nineteenth century, long before the New Army of Kitchener or the Imperial Armies of civilian soldiers were in training.(1)

Punch salute

During and after the Great War, comic relief was still to be had from contemplating the challenges of saluting correctly.What is surprising is that, although some of the details have become dated, advice like the following can still provoke a smile.

The order that a soldier should salute all officers whom he knows to be such, whether in uniform or plain clothes, is one that gives a good deal of trouble to the ordinary soldier. Unfortunately, unless he has a good memory for faces, he is very liable to omit to salute Captain Ironbrace, who has come out in a dirty flannel suit, while on the other hand he may give a seven-horsepower salute to a smartly dressed individual who turns out to be the colonel’s batman on leave or the assistant in the regimental barber’s shop.

For those who suffer from this difficulty in recognizing people there are a few well-established rules for their guidance:

  1.  If you see a monocle in barracks it usually has an officer behind it. Salute.
  2. If the individual approaching you has an ‘I can do no wrong’ air, that’s either a junior officer or a sergeant major. In both cases be on the right side and salute.
  3. If you see anything habited in freak clothes, that’s usually an officer. Salute.
  4. If, in a gentleman’s outfitter’s shop, you see a very young gentleman buying crimson braces, magenta socks, and pink shirts, that’s probably a young officer. Salute.
  5. If you meet an elderly gentleman who prefaces everything with ‘Eh, what?’ that’s probably a senior officer. Salute.
  6. If you discover an individual ramming his unpaid bills into the fire, that’s sure to be an officer. Salute.
  7. If you meet a militant-looking young gentleman who speak of ‘damned civilians,’ that’s probably a newly commissioned Territorial office. Salute twice.

(1) Mr. Punch on the Warpath. Humours of the Army, the Navy and the Reserve Forces. [1898?]. 15
(2) John Hay. Humour in the Army. 1931. Excerpt found in The Minute Book, June 5, 2013 of The Regimental Rogue.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

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