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This is what Ian A Baxter says in his A Brief Guide to Biographical Sources under the heading "Departmental and Warrant Officers of The East India Company's Armies 1708-1861, and the Indian Army 1861-1947"

"Warrant officers in the Company's armies held the ranks of Sub Conductor and Conductor, serving mainly in the Ordnance, Commissariat and Public Works Departments. They were recruited from the Town Major's List (called Effective Supernumeraries in Madras) which in turn was largely recruited from the NCOs of the Company's European regiments (see p 9) although occasionally NCOs of British regiments stationed in India were appointed to it.

In 1859 the Town Major's List became the Unattached List, and when the Company's European regiments were amalgamated with the British Army in 1860 new recruits to the Unattached List were appointed solely from NCOs of British regiments stationed in India.

Conductors were eligible for promotion to Departmental Officer, ie Deputy Assistant Commissary, Assistant Commissary etc, and these grades were eventually given complementary honorary officer ranks ranging from Honorary Lieutenant to Honorary Major."

This article was contributed to India list by Michael Quin-Conroy, 11 Nov 2003

The Honourable and Ancient Appointment of Conductor - Royal Army Ordnance Corps

The appointment of Conductor is said to be the highest non-commissioned in the British Army other than the Academy Sergeant Major at Sandhurst. Thus Conductors and ex-conductors guard the history, facts and figures with regard to it very closely.

I put the passage about conductors in the Honorable East India Compoany on the Royal Army Ordnance Corps website, and expected a wave, if not an explosion of replies. But I was disappointed.

A gentleman, an ex-conductor, wrote in, partly in reply to a gentleman who said his own father was a conductor in the Indian Army c World War One.

This was his reply:

The history of the Indian Army Ordnance Corps can be traced back to the ‘Military Trains and Magazine Establishment”, in the East India Company’s Artillery. On 8th April 1885 a ‘Board of Ordnance’, was constituted in the Bengal Presidency, which for the first time created an organisation that could effectively control all the stores of the Company’s Army. The official history of the Army Ordnance Corps can thus be said to begin from this date.

As a consequence of the ‘Special Ordnance Commission - 1885’ and ‘Army in India Commission – 1879’ set up post the First War of Independence in 1857, on 1st Apr 1884 the Ordnance establishments in the three Presidencies (Bengal, Madras and Bombay) were amalgamated into one department called the ‘Ordnance Department in India’.

4 VCs were awarded during the Indian Mutiny to East India Company Ordnance Department or the Bengal Ordnance Department.

18th June 1858

  • Lieutenant (Assistant Commissary of Ordnance) George FORREST VC of the East India Company
  • Lieutenant (Assistant Commissary of Ordnance) William RAYNOR VC of the East India Company
  • Conductor (later Assistant Commissary of Ordnance) John BUCKLEY VC of the Bengal Ordnance Department

25 February 1862

  • Conductor James MILLER VC of the Bengal Ordnance Department (for saving an Officer on the 28th October 1857)

These Conductors pre-date the Warrant Officer's appointed by Queen Victoria, and were considered to be Assistants to the Commissary of Stores.

It was not until 11 January 1879, that a Royal Warrant established Conductors of Supplies (in the Army Service Corps) and Conductors of Stores (in the Ordnance Store Branch) as Warrant Officers, ranking above all non-commissioned officers. In 1892, Conductors of Supplies were renamed Staff Sergeant Majors 1st Class, but Conductors of Stores remained in what in 1896 became the Army Ordnance Corps.

Even in the British Army in the Field Train Department (1792-1859) the Departmental Ranks were the same. There was nothing 'Honorary' about them!

For history links see "Significant landmarks in the Corps History", History and Insignia of the British Army Ordnance Services.

  • Conductor (acting in the role of Subaltern)
  • Deputy Assistant Commissary - Subaltern or Lieutenant
  • Assistant Commissary - Captain
  • Commissary - Major
  • Chief Commissary - Lt Colonel

Conductors could indeed be commissioned and promoted on merit.

The appointments were still in use when Acting Assistant Commissary James Langley DALTON VC, of the Commissariat and Transport Department, was awarded the VC for action on 22 January 1879 at Rorke's Drift during the Zulu War. As he was a Commissary of Supplies, his VC should also have come over to the RAOC in 1965!

This article was contributed by Jim Parker and added with permission from Mike Comerford

Also see

Recommended reading

  • Peter Bailey, "The 'Unattached List'," FIBIS Journal, No 12 (Autumn 2004). For details of how to access this article online, see FIBIS Journals.
  • Lawrie Butler , "The Army Rank of Conductor, and the History of an HEIC Conductor VC," FIBIS Journal, No 18 (Autumn 2007). For details of how to access this article online, see FIBIS Journals.

External links

Historical books online

  • This Google Books link gives details of the Ordnance Department factories etc c 1864. pages 164-167 from Strength, Organisation and Composition of the Army of Great Britain by Martin Petrie. It indicates that in Bengal, the Stud Department was part of the Ordnance Department.
  • "Misconduct of a Conductor and Sub Conductor punished" The Calcutta Annual Register 1821