“The constant maintenance of communication between the various parts of an army is of urgent importance; it is on this to a great extent that the possibility of co-operation depends. The means of communication must, therefore, be carefully organized in each command.” (1) So important, in fact, is communication, that the subject is addressed in Chapter 2 of the Field Service Regulations, preceded only by an overview of “The Fighting Troops and their Characteristics.”
The humble gunner does not need to know a great deal about how communication is organized and carried out, but the urgent importance of good communication is obvious, as are the difficulties faced in maintaining that communication.
Field Service Regulations assumes three chief means of communication: post, signal, and orderly. Post is for routine communication, usually not involving anything close to a battlefield. “No communication is to be sent by signal or orderly, when transmission by post would serve the purpose,” warns the regulations.(2) Signal here means telephone or telegraph; orderlies are human messengers responsible for conveying written or oral messages; “they may be mounted on animals, motor cars, motor cycles, or bicycles, or be on foot.” (3)
Field Artillery Training opined that for communication between an artillery commander and his subordinates, mounted orderlies were “probably the most reliable,” though “their employment involves the expenditure of considerable time and horseflesh.” (4) At the battery level, the same manual discouraged the use of relays of messengers, for fear of errors creeping into oral messages, “but a chain or not more than two specially trained men may be very useful when flag signaling would disclose the position.” (5)
One Canadian soldier remembered vividly what FAT meant when it said that communication by orderly was “not well suited to service conditions.”(4)
“It was a runner’s duty to keep up communication … especially when there was a show on before telephone lines had been laid. But a runner did not always run. Sometimes he was obliged to crawl on all fours through mud and slime, for it was his lot to get the message through regardless of what the existing conditions might be.” (6)
(1) Field Service Regulations. Part One: Operations. 1912. 21
(2) FSR. 39
(3) FSR. 41
(4) Field Artillery Training. 1914.236-237.
(5) FAT. 322
(6) Foster, Kenneth. Memoir. nd. Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
The 1918 ink and watercolour sketch, by Adrian Hill, is entitled “A Battalion Runner Waiting for Orders.” It comes from the collection of the Imperial War Museum.