The War Office Guide to Good Style, 1942

An interesting mix of patronising, patriarchal, and adaptation to the needs of a citizen army…

Army Council Morale Committee, Draft AG Instruction, no date but end 1942, National Archives, Kew, London, WO 163/161.
1. Hundreds of letters containing personal inquiries or complaints reach the War Office daily from relatives of soldiers. The volume of such letters will no doubt increase proportionately with the number of troops posted abroad and the number of our casualties.
2. Very many of these letters are written by more or less illiterate persons, to whom official phraseology (or, indeed, any word consisting of more than three or four syllables) is quite unfamiliar. …
4. In the past, branches have, quite properly, preserved a traditional style of address which, whatever its shortcomings, cannot be criticized as being unduly curt or colloquial. There is a danger, however, that those who have to draft dozens of these letters every day may come to forget that words and phrases which are perhaps too familiar to them are completely unintelligible to the man on the street, and that what is to the writer a matter of routine is to the inquirer a matter of unique personal importance.

5, iv) …if a father who served as a warrant officer in an infantry regiment in the last war complains that his son, contrary to his wishes, has been posted from a PTC to another corps, it is of little use to say ‘It is regretted that under the existing system of general service enlistment, family or territorial associations cannot be treated as paramount in determining the posting of personnel where they conflict with the aptitudes or potentialities of the individual.’ It would be better to say: ‘I am sorry that it was not possible to post your son to your old regiment. Other things being equal, the War Office does its best to see that family claims of the kind you mention are satisfied, but our need for skilled men is so great that all recruits are now specially tested, and where they show particular aptitude or skill (as your son did), they have to be posted where their skill can be put to the best use for the Army as a whole.’


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