Pay Systems between the wars

There were two main systems in force, in peace:

1.-That obtaining when the South African War broke out (known as the pre-Dover system).
2.-The Dover System introduced in 1905.

The main feature of the pre-Dover System was that the Company Officer prepared the pay list and also the Pay and Mess book which contained the record of cash issues to men. In effect he kept the soldier's account. In the Dover System the Company Officer compiled only the Pay and Mess book, the pay list being kept at the pay office. This relieved the Company Officer of a good deal of work. Finally, the system was intended to meet the demands of peace and war. The very high incidence of transfers in the 1914-18 war showed that it could just not cope with those types of circumstances, and a loose leaf was introduced which enabled the account to be transferred from one Office to another.

In 1920 the Dover System was resumed generally, but at the same time it was decided that a modification of this system should be given a trial. Formulated by Colonel C. C. Todd, C.M.G., this was termed the Shrewsbury System. It was tried experimentally in three Offices, Shrewsbury, Warwick and Blackheath, and was subsequently extended to several other Offices. In 1925, as a result of exhaustive trials, it was finally decided to accept it in all Pay Offices. The Shrewsbury System maintained the same division of responsibility as between Company Officer and Paymaster, but the latter, instead of compiling the soldier's account directly on to a "nominal-roll monthly pay list" in book form, compiled it in the first instance on a loose leaf form; one for each man the AFN3085. Pay Offices transcribed the details from the 3085s on to a pay list which was then sent to the Company Commander for his and his soldiers' information. Pay and mess rolls were completed by Company Commanders in a manner very similar to that obtaining under the Dover System. The arrangement whereby the pay and mess roll was substituted by an acquittance roll on mobilisation remained unchanged. The main advantages claimed for the Shrewsbury System were that Pay Offices had a continuous pay record for each soldier; the same form of account was used for reservists and was thus ready for use on mobilisation; and finally, that the account could be transferred easily between Paymasters.

It is worth mentioning that in 1926 there was, under trial, the York System; this departed from the Shrewsbury System only in that the pay and mess book and pay list were "simplified" and combined into one form; and that certain entries were printed by Adrema plate instead of being written by hand. Opinion in some quarters thought that the Shrewsbury System was needlessly extravagant in staff demands, and a Pay Office Staff Committee set up in 1927 recommended that in the interests of economy a new system, to be known as the " London" System, should for peace purpose be substituted for it. Their recommendation was approved and the London System was introduced in 1929. This method allowed for an Adrema plate being kept for each soldier on which was recorded details of his pay and allotments. These particulars were printed monthly on to a pay list which was then sent to the Company Commander who completed both debit and credit side of the soldier's account and balanced it. The effect of this was, in broad terms, to hand back to the Unit the major portion of the work and to reduce the work in Pay Offices to that of audit.

It will be apparent to readers that here was a reversion to the pre-Dover System, and in view of the very strong condemnation of that system after its breakdown in the South African War, the reasons for its introduction must be made clear. First and foremost it was an economy measure; the Shrewsbury System had not been faulted, in fact it was to be retained for war, but it had been estimated that the London System could save £14,000 a year. Next, whilst the pre-Dover and Dover Systems were designed to work in peace and war, there was no pretence that the London System was to work in an emergency. The fact that there was to be a change of system on the outbreak of hostilities was accepted. The shortcomings and disadvantages that were attendant upon the acceptance of this fact, were to make themselves apparent in the 1939-45 war. Official reports at this time say there would be "a slight change over on mobilisation"! Lastly, accuracy was claimed in the compilation of the pay lists by the use of Adrema plates, which obviated the need for manuscript carry forwards from one pay list to another. It must be recorded that the Adjutant-General was not happy about the new system and said it was contrary to the accepted principle that the Unit Officer should be relieved, as far as is possible, of financial work and that the Unit staff would not be competent to complete the pay lists properly. In the event the attraction of effecting financial economies won the day and it was implemented in 1929. This was the system that was to run, with only minor modifications, until the outbreak of the 1939-45 war.

No review of pay systems between the wars would be complete without mentioning the punched-card experiment. The first proposals stemmed from a paper prepared by a Mr. Goffin of the War Office (F7), who visualised a great deal of use being made of mechanical aids in all the routine tasks carried out in the War Department. He suggested that for the maintenance of soldiers' accounts, the Power-Samas punched-card accounting system would be very suitable. The Paymaster-in-Chief supported this proposal especially as it was thought that it would enable the same system to be operated in War as in peace and this would remove the inherent snags of the modified London System. The Office selected for the experiment was Woolwich and trials began in 1933. No fundamental changes to the system were introduced by the experiment, and it can be thought of as doing in a mechanical way some of the tasks that were then done by hand in the Pay Office. The experiment was run in parallel with the existing system and a review was to be made after six months. The new system worked and, although no startling staff economies were effected, it did seem as though it should stand up to war-time conditions. Doubts were, however, expressed about the mechanical efficiency of the punched-card machines. Nevertheless, it was thought that results so far warranted trials. being extended to other Offices. Readers must remember that punched-card machinery in the 1930s had not reached the peak of mechanical efficiency and accuracy to which we are now accustomed and that errors and breakdowns did occur fairly frequently. The experiment's fate was sealed when in 1938 the tabulator at the Deptford Office began to behave in a rather alarming manner, it threw out wrong balances and when the manufacturers were approached to supply a replacement it was discovered that they only had one in stock. As a result of this incident a full investigation was made into the experiment, and in 1939 it was agreed that it be discontinued. What were the main reasons for this decision? Firstly, that doubts were expressed whether extra machines and staff would be available on mobilisation; secondly, that these machines were said to require a period of running in and could not easily be moved; thirdly, that in a war vast quantities of cards would be used; fourthly, that alternative power supplies would need to be provided for and lastly, that the machinery was not suited to a pay system which included so many variants.

What does history say of the decision, to which it may be said the Treasury was most reluctant to agree I The writer of this article would suggest that perhaps criticism can be levelled against the R.A.P.C. in that it did not probably prepare itself with anything like sufficient care for the disciplines that mechanical accounting demands. Training and familiarisation with the system must be given to all levels of staff, from the highest to the lowest, if such a scheme is to be a success. Further, like most innovations, its introduction must be presented with vigour and drive. On the other side of the scales must be put the fact that such machines were not as reliable then as now, and that real doubts existed about its ability to cope with mobilisation. The point that such equipment could not handle the many variants of the pay system, seems a masterly understatement to the writer who knows that even with the capacity of a machine like the IBM705, it has all its work cut out to cope with our tortuous regulations. On balance, the most we can say is that with the information and knowledge available they probably reached the right decision.

"The above article first appeared in the RAPC Corps Journal in 1963"