Just one of those oddities

Wilfred, a builder whose deafness had spared him the horrors of the Great War

No, don’t worry where that’s from, not relevant to the point.

Why is it that deafness, flat feet, bone spurs, possibly adenoids or whatever, means you’re exempt from being conscripted into dying for your country? A rational societal planner – which is what conscription purports to be, what with reserved occupations and so on – would have the lame and the halt at the front collecting the lead poisoning and the fit and healthy young things back home siring the next generation, no?

51 thoughts on “Just one of those oddities”

  1. Not much point in investing a lot in training and equipping people who don’t know when to dodge, or who can’t dodge. People who can’t do their share of digging trenches are a burden on their mates – whether through disability or age. The young are better at handling sleep deprivation, have better eyesight and better night vision.
    It turns out that the old and infirm are not just useless when it comes to 20th/21st century warfare, they are worse than useless.

  2. …and the fit and healthy young things back home siring the next generation, no?

    No.

    They don’t have somebody on a corner of the battlefield signing for the benefit of the deaf.

  3. It did strike me as odd that they didn’t pack the defensive positions with the granddads and handicapped, freeing resources for the able bodied to join the RFC or go help the French at Verdun.
    I suppose the Field Marshalls get consulted on what resources they wanted and didn’t want any oldies in France at all.

  4. One of the advantages of getting older is that a war would have to be going really, really, really badly before I got conscripted.

  5. Many under aged teenagers lied about their age to get in the Army and serve, but I’ve never read any stories about Brits in their mid-40s lying about their age in the other direction and saying they were 41 or whatever the upper cut-off was. Middle-aged Brits eh, no sense of duty.

  6. If you lose the war, there won’t be a next generation.

    Meanwhile, sexual selection and shore leave takes care of getting the “good genes” into it.

  7. Someone who can’t hear orders or enemy movements is a liability in battle.

    The Russians used to have a saying – “Follow your grandfather into battle.”

    The idea being to have the older warriors go first into battle to engage the enemy, weaken them a bit and tire them out. Then the younger men can come in and finish the job with fewer casualties. Keeps the tribe stronger.

    Probably doesn’t apply now with modern weaponry where you get blown apart by a missile launched from somewhere over the horizon. Or there’s just a shitstorm of bullets you need to move through as fast as possible.

  8. @John – Certainly those over 40 during WWII would almost certainly have served in WWI unless they had some kind of exemption or deferment (much less common back then). Having spent any period of time in the mud, sewage, blood and corpse filled trenches of WWI is it that surprising that they weren’t up for a repeat performance?

    Having said that, if they’d been conscripted to a specific “Home Forces” batallion where they were doing admin, logistics or any of the numerous desk jobs that would have freed up a younger man, why not?

  9. Bloke in China (Germany Province)

    “If you lose the war, there won’t be a next generation. ”

    Why? There always has been everywhere else. War of attrition became obsolete with the Roman empire. They got so good at not being attritted (?) they had to invent monogamy to keep the soldiers pacified. Who wants to return to their village having glorified the empire to find the chief has married all 38 eligible women?

    Obviously if you get attritted, the chief has to marry all 38 eligible women. Needs must in a potential population crunch.

  10. “It did strike me as odd that they didn’t pack the defensive positions with the granddads and handicapped, freeing resources for the able bodied to…”
    To an extent, they did. The early WWI bantam battalions (short arses) were stunted miners, and very useful in the trenches. The later bantam battalions were urban wretches, and designated as for defensive duties only. The Germans had terrible manpower problems in late WWII, and had “stomach battalions” etc. designated for defensive duties.
    In WWI, a lot of injured soldiers were sent into the Army Service Corps after they recovered – wagons, not fighting.

  11. Is the blogger suggesting that you don’t have to be strong and fit to be an effective soldier? By the end of both world wars, didn’t the Germans have large numbers of elderly folk in the ranks? That worked out well

  12. would have the lame and the halt at the front collecting the lead poisoning and the fit and healthy young things back home siring the next generation, no?

    So you are planning for a 20 year war? Don’t tell us that you are angling for a position on SAGE

  13. The British Army was on the offensive for most of the Great War and when it was forced on the defensive during Spring 1918, the German attack came in the “wrong” sector. It was being rebuilt for a defence-in-strength atrategy, which was not yet complete. Once the initial panic over the breaching of the lines of the 5th Army had passed, it was realised that the Germans were going to run into a cul-de-sac and the Allies were content to surrender territory at the cost of German lives.. The 5th Army line was ” the quiet sector” of the Western front, lightly manned by recouperating troops or those not otherwise fit for offence and inexperienced Portuguese, with the “real” army in the rear.

    Despite all the Blackadderisms, the British Army just didn’t give any guy between 19-45 a stick and sent him to the front. Conscripts could appeal their call-up on economic or family grounds, the initial rejection rate was worryingly high and as in all armies most of those engaged were actually involved in logistics, training, clerking and guard duties with only the fully fit “A” class soldiers sent into action. Which is why the well-fed and fitter Canadians and Australians were given the tougher fighting jobs. The German Army did have more halt and lame at the front but many were Landwehr who were acting as army of occupation.

    I’ll give you a real world example. An ancestor was a Sergeant in the Territorials, he had joined with his mates in 1908, who later became his brothers in law. They were sent to France in late September 1914 and onto the Ypres front. They fought the battle of Messines on 31st October. They then were relieved and then sat under heavy bombardment around Ypres. My ancestor was eventually invalided out in late November with shell-shock. Whilst he was recovering he was classed as “B” and no longer fit for action at the front. As a civvy he worked for Otis Elevators and was an excellent administrator ( he retired as a senior director ), when his CO discovered this fact, he was given a commission and a job in the Army Service Corps. He stayed in the Army until late 1919 organising the despatch and the repatriation of soldiers and rose to be a captain.

  14. Further to what John Galt was saying, most in the WWII Home Guard were indeed old soldiers from 1914-18 and were actually highly skilled ( remember that the British Army had excellent training, the real disasters happened when soldiers were not properly prepared to face the enemy). They knew exactly what to do with a rifle and grenades and how to use cover.

  15. “It turns out that the old and infirm are not just useless when it comes to 20th/21st century warfare, they are worse than useless”.

    There are other categories to whom this would apply yet armed forces on both sides of the pond bend over backwards to accommodate them. Just as well there’s more virtual signalling than actual fighting these days.

    This obviously applies to law enforcement as well.

  16. One of my ancestors (a great uncle or second cousin twice removed or something) was one of the 19,240 killed on the first day of the Battle of The Somme. He was 29 so not one of the callow youths. RIP William Luke Moss.

    My grandfather on my mum’s side served at Gallipoli where he lost an eye (very careless). Despite that, working down coal mines and then in ICI’s chemical smelting plant in Avonmouth, he still manged to plod on until he was 94. It is odd to think that I’m only two generations removed from someone who fought in WWI.

  17. Tim, spoken like a true economist (even though you’re not one).

    By the way, no one is “conscripted into dying” for their country. They’re conscripted to fight for it.

  18. In a total war, there are plenty of jobs for the less than fit, and even for those who for a variety of reasons don’t want to kill. Take the Quakers. I was taught at school by a draft-dodger Quaker. However, the members of the Friends’ Ambulance Corps in WW1 not only braved the conditions in the middle of the fighting, but even raised the money it took to get there. There’s a big difference between not wanting to kill other people and not wanting to be in danger, and it’s a mistake to conflate the two.

    As far as having some sort of physical defect, there are defects that put the possessor at increased risk and there are defects that put all their comrades at increased risk. The first is slightly unfair, but the second is downright dangerous. The defects that come with age don’t really matter for many jobs behind the lines, in factories and so on.

  19. One of the heartening things about the younger generation is their almost complete lack of interest in “serving their country” and similar fables.

    It’s difficult for middle aged blokes to see past the romance of WW2 and the technolust of mil hardware porn (our new aircraft carriers are lovely), but the armed forces in 2021 aren’t there to defend you. They’re poorly paid mercenaries under a flag of convenience, fighting at the behest of people who despise patriotism and don’t even believe in countries.

    Who, exactly, are we buying billions of pounds worth of F-35’s to defend against? The phantom menace of Putin’s ramshackle Russia? The Red Chinese (who are building our power stations)? The Afro-French empire?

  20. My stepnephew is in the army and, in between bouts of yomping in the Brecon Beacons, goes to Kenya, Mali, Cyprus etc to train foreign armies. Odd sort of life but he enjoys it

  21. Dennis, Prepped For A Night Of Ballroom Dancing (They Don't Call Me Featherfoot For Nothing, You Know)

    Why is it that deafness, flat feet, bone spurs, possibly adenoids or whatever, means you’re exempt from being conscripted into dying for your country? A rational societal planner – which is what conscription purports to be, what with reserved occupations and so on – would have the lame and the halt at the front collecting the lead poisoning and the fit and healthy young things back home siring the next generation, no?

    I think you’ve spent too much time around Russians, Timmy.

  22. @ John Turning 10.33
    Possibly because it doesn’t make “good copy” for journalists. One of my great-uncles volunteered in 1914 (actually all three volunteered, but that’s beside the point), wounded in action bad enough to be shipped back to hospital in England, joined the RFC when he got out and, surprisingly survived the War. 1939, aged 50, he volunteered for RAF, got through the medical, interview officer looking at his WWI record showing private 1914, Captain 1916, asked his age (couldn’t be a lieutenant, let alone captain under 18).

  23. The free market approach would be to store the genes of the fit and young ones, then later apportion them based on success in the field.

  24. Let’s have combat troops like the Sacred Band of Thebes, which consisted of 150 pairs of male lovers. We could also have a lesbian unit. But I’d reserve the most dangerous missions for the vegan unit.

  25. “Theo – all-trans crack suicide squad”

    Not practical, Steve. They’d be bitching about lipstick, hairnets and pronouns, and then claiming they couldn’t go into action because they had menstrual cramps…

  26. One of the heartening things about the younger generation is their almost complete lack of interest in “serving their country” and similar fables.

    Unfortunately for your heartening brave new world of self-interested pragmatism (odd from someone with your fables; serving God is even lower on their list), you’re only talking about our younger generation. Other younger generations (e.g. ramshackle Russia and red China) are pretty pumped with patriotism. So our lot will be wallowing in their protest tunnels relying on those underpaid mercenaries operating the F-35s and aircraft carriers to defend them.

    My own feeling is that a lot will still turn out if it comes to it, and – as a strange consequence of the woke bullshit they’ve been subject to, they’ll be particularly nasty fuckers.

  27. Grikath

    There’s a great Private Eye cartoon with a man perched on a medieval catapult and two soldiers complaining “Prisoner exchanges aren’t half as much as fun.”

  28. @Grikath
    Too light. Most the vegans I know look like they’ve been in a POW camp for five years already.

  29. Only if you’re solely interested in the fit and healthy back home being part of the attacking empire’s nation.

    You send the fit out because they can fight effectively. Sure, maybe if the other side sends its lame out you’re good to go. But the instant they make their fighting force out of fit young people instead of the old and the lame then you’re screwed.

    They’ll run right over your army. Because they can move faster, further, fight harder, and require less support than the elderly and lame.

  30. I can’t remember specific instances, but there were cases of overage people lying to get into the war in WW2. Donald Sinclair (the prototype for Siegfried Farnon) told the RAF he was younger than he actually was, while he was only 30 it barred him from service as being a vet was a reserved occupation.

  31. I’m deaf, and if you’d ever batted alongside me in a cricket match, or tried to attract my attention in the field, you’d never entertain the idea of relying on me to cover your flank in combat.

    I am impervious to sledging though.

  32. @jgh

    There was at least one person who applied to the RAF despite being two short in the leg department.

    But by all accounts the kindest description of Douglas Bader as a person was “difficult”.

  33. “Theo, the only possible use I can see for Vegans is as ammo for the catapults in that scenario”

    On reflection, the crack unit of killer butch lezzers can use the trannies and vegans for target practice.

  34. PJF,

    “Unfortunately for your heartening brave new world of self-interested pragmatism (odd from someone with your fables; serving God is even lower on their list), you’re only talking about our younger generation. Other younger generations (e.g. ramshackle Russia and red China) are pretty pumped with patriotism. So our lot will be wallowing in their protest tunnels relying on those underpaid mercenaries operating the F-35s and aircraft carriers to defend them.”

    No-one is going to be defending us with F-35s and the current aircraft carriers, because this isn’t Proper War weaponry. Proper War weapons can be mass produced, so that you can pump them out and get people in them by the thousands. The F-35 has not been designed that way. These weapons are designed around peacetime thinking: job creation, high tech, keeping pilots alive as a priority, women and trannies on ships, meeting HSE and god knows what other regulations for our times rather than what happens when a war comes along.

    The whole thing is a bit of a LARP. That’s why you have women doing easier tests. If the military was serious, they wouldn’t get easier tests. But the politicians want women, gays, and enough brown people in the military because diversity, and the military probably have to produce statistics, and if you’re not really going to fight a real war, why not hire a bunch of subpar ladies and make your life easier?

  35. Steve,

    “It’s difficult for middle aged blokes to see past the romance of WW2 and the technolust of mil hardware porn (our new aircraft carriers are lovely), but the armed forces in 2021 aren’t there to defend you. They’re poorly paid mercenaries under a flag of convenience, fighting at the behest of people who despise patriotism and don’t even believe in countries.”

    They aren’t even that. After the Bush/Blair era, no-one is going to get into “nation building” for a generation. I would say this is a great time to join the military because for the next decade, there’s very little chance of facing enemy fire. Since 2014, two people in the military have died in hostile action.

  36. John Turning @ 10.33 and JGH.
    Grandad Trotter “The politicians, the politicians and the military men used to con you see. They had little lads, youngsters believing that their country really did need them! D’you know, they used to have little lads of 14 pretending they was 18 just so they could fight for their king and country – My brother George lied about his age”.
    Rodney ” Pretended he was 18″?
    Grandad “No, he WAS 18, he pretended he was 14, they saw through it though. I think it was the moustache.

  37. BiC(GP): My understanding is that Imperial Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry until the end of their enlistment. It was not uncommon for the bloke to marry his long term girl friend once he got out.

    BoM4: I’m certainly wondering what Biden is going to do in Yemen. My guess is stop selling offensive arms to the Saudis so they can buy from Russia and China, stop the rather ineffective blockade, give plenty of aid to both the Houthis and the government side, and keep the idiot war going indefinitely at the expense of the US taxpayer.

  38. Proper War weapons can be mass produced, so that you can pump them out and get people in them by the thousands.

    I used to believe that until people were killed in their thousands manning Sadam’s massed basic weapons, wiped out by minority specialist weapons. Twice.

    Plus, my comment was merely a glib response to Steve’s glib comment. Glib, glib, glibety glib.

  39. Boganboy,

    Stopping arms sales is pretty much what he did a couple of days ago.

    Yemen is a non-industrialised country producing oil, gold, fish and fruits. Which means like most of the Middle East, it’s about ruthless torturers and killers fighting each other to win control of it. The only sensible thing to do is to buy oil from the victor

    If you want to help people in these places, figure out how to industrialise them. Starlink might do more for these places than any government intervention.

  40. I’m certainly wondering what Biden is going to do in Yemen. My guess is stop selling offensive arms to the Saudis so they can buy from Russia and China, stop the rather ineffective blockade, give plenty of aid to both the Houthis and the government side, and keep the idiot war going indefinitely at the expense of the US taxpayer.

    Biden isn’t doing anything; the petulant children of the Obama era are back running the show. They are determined to empower Iran. It seems simply because Iran is anti-American; nothing else has any inherent logic.

  41. PJF,

    “I used to believe that until people were killed in their thousands manning Sadam’s massed basic weapons, wiped out by minority specialist weapons. Twice.”

    Not a great example. In Gulf War 1, the Iraqi forces were smaller, and in Gulf War 2, they were only slightly larger.

  42. There was an experiment in the states in the 60’s to get a more diverse’ Army. In order to do so, they lowered the entry standards to allow those who previously would’ve failed the entry exam to get in. Turns out it didn’t work very well:

    ” Inductees of the project died at higher rates[1] than other Americans serving in Vietnam and following their service had lower incomes and higher rates of divorce than their non-veteran counterparts. ”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_100,000

  43. The Iraqi forces may have been smaller but it was the 4th biggest in the world at the time. I (in the RN) was briefed that we expected 20,000 allied fatalities during our assault. They crumbled, allies killed 147. We were all expecting him to use chemical weapons. We’d all seen the photographs of the Kurds he’d gassed.

  44. “the armed forces in 2021 aren’t there to defend you. They’re poorly paid mercenaries under a flag of convenience, fighting at the behest of people who despise patriotism and don’t even believe in countries.”

    Thanks for so brilliantly summing up Britain’s military strategy, Steve.

  45. In Gulf War 1, the Iraqi forces were smaller, and in Gulf War 2, they were only slightly larger.

    I’ve seen this before but the coalition force includes everyone brought into the general theatre (including cooks on bases and ships hundreds of miles out). Comparing actual combat assets is a different story. The coalition weren’t more numerous and certainly had nowhere near the three to one numbers advantage considered a normal requirement for attacking prepared defences. That was not needed because of the technical advantage.

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