I did some researching at the National Archive in Kew yesterday, finding out a little more about the military career of P. G. Wodehouse’s brother, Armine, an officer in the Scots Guards. One of the documents I saw was his ‘Application for Appointment to the Special Reserve of Officers’. (Click the picture if you’d like to see a larger version.)
I’d never seen one of these documents before; maybe I was naive to be surprised by the fifth question on the application form, just after name, date of birth and marital status:
Of course, I realised that there would be assumptions in the Army about what shade of man was properly officer material, but I had expected these to be unspoken assumptions, a matter of a nod and a wink and a murmured ‘He’s not quite one of us,’ about someone of possibly dubious heritage. I had not expected the racial question to be there on an official form.
A few years ago, I saw, and posted here, a copy of T. S. Eliot’s American draft card:
When I saw this, with its explicit racial question, and tear-off corner to make sure that recruits of different races would be kept apart, I remember that I allowed myself a moment of British superiority, and a feeling that at least our racialism wouldn’t have been quite so blatant.
I guess I was wrong.
I’ve now started to wonder when this form originated. When it was thought a priority to keep white and native officers separate, especially in India?
I’m also wondering how long that question stayed on the form. Was it still there in the Second World War? I trust that it’s still not there today. Does anyone know?