1946-50, Army Documentation

When I started the job I forgot the one lesson I had learned in the Navy which stated ‘what was good enough for Nelson is good enough for me’, which being translated means, since Wolf took Quebec, we have arrived here by trial and error, mainly error, so don’t tinker. I tinkered and the Army suffered. Perhaps that saying should be in poker-work over the bed of every ambitious politician.
My boss was another demobee called Captain Something-or-other, let us call him Captain Small. He had been a captain in the army but like me was also an HO and so not really entitled to the title, if you follow me, but insisted on it nonetheless, which was a comment in itself. It was he who explained the archaic documentation system and my role. I really think the problem stemmed from it being too easy. I was not under enough pressure, I had too much time to think and criticise. The ‘idle hands’ syndrome.
Each soldier had about six record sheets which set out every imaginable action he had performed or which had been performed on him during his service career, from arriving late on parade to having his appendix out. These were kept by me, alphabetically, in separate books, and when he arrived and when he left I had to note the fact on practically every sheet. All the records of a group of soldiers would arrive together, I marked them all, put them in the separate books, and so on in reverse when they left. As it was a ‘Holding Unit’ people came and went like sales-reps at a convention hotel, here today and gone tomorrow.
I thought the whole business was a bloody waste of time for everyone and promptly went about changing it. As every sheet had to be annotated with all comings and goings of the man, it occurred to me that an envelope with his vital statistics and his arrival and departure on the outside would mean only two notes, one on arrival, and one on leaving, would be sufficient. Obvious to anyone, but unfortunately Captain Small could see my point of view, poor deluded fool that he was. He was too easily persuaded
Within a week I had scrapped the cumbersome books, introduced the envelope system with everything one normally required on the outside and the sheets within, one envelope per soldier. I sat back feeling virtuous and smug. Unfortunately I was now the poor deluded fool. I had omitted to take into account one vital consideration, namely the inherent laziness of the regular serviceman and the fact you can’t beat the system – any system.
The various men from the different departments who required the records were, according to my scheme, supposed to take the whole envelope, leave a slip which had been provided, which would tell me when and by whom it had been removed. That was too difficult, instead they took the single sheet, gave no indication where it was, with the result that panic reigned by the time the first batch were ready for departure. Many of the envelopes were nearly empty and so commenced the Great Paper Chase.
In the end I had to revert to the old, tried and trusted system and by the time I left to take up my studies once more, the Army was still in a state of shock and minor chaos. Good intentions are never enough without hindsight and experience. Oh! If only the current wave of shakers and movers in The Palace of Westminster had been at Palace Barracks when I was there, how different things might be today.

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