Runners often seemed to ordinary soldiers to be misused, either for the convenience of officers or for the inconvenience of fighting men.
“The runner entered in perspiring haste, tore several officers’ packs apart, and exclaimed profanely.
“‘What have you been sent for?’ he was asked.
“‘Smelling salts for the Company Commander,’ he wheezed, quite truthfully.
“And this is war!” (1)
Another authority defined runner as “a soldier who is detailed or picked as an orderly for an officer while in the trenches. His real job is to take messages under fire, asking how many tins of jam are required for 1917.” (2)
The same source defines Jam as “a horrible mess of fruit and sugar which Tommy spreads on his bread. It all tastes the same no matter whether labeled ‘Strawberry’ or ‘Green Gage.’” Jam represents all the time-wasting (at best) and dangerous (sometimes) attention paid to minor details by those safely behind the lines.
Such enquiries did not always involve runners:
In this cartoon, Bruce Bairnsfather shows an officer in his dugout at the battle of Loos, September 1915, taking a telephone call from General Head Quarters: “Please let us know, as soon as possible, the number of tins of raspberry jam issued to you last Friday.”
(1) The Listening Post. August 10, 1917. 21. The Listening Post was a publication of the 7th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
(2) Empey, Arthur Guy. Over the Top by an American Soldier who Went. 1918. 307.
(3) Empey. 296.
(4) Bairnsfather, Bruce. Fragments from France. Vol 1. nd. 33