At 1 minute 3 seconds juncture of the TV movie All the King's Men, Captain Frank Reginald Beck, MVO is depicted leading an infantry charge, while wielding some kind of whip or baton or stick in his right hand.

Is this factual? If so, why would such a rod help or matter, in the fray?

4 Answers 4


The object shown in the movie is a regular walking stick with hooked head and a metal point. It was likely an idiosyncrasy of the man, and used to project some normalcy during the madness of war.

While possibly used as a weapon it is far more likely to have been a moral prop, as was not uncommon for British army officers. I could not find a reference that he really carried it. The scene depicted looks rather romanticised so does not lend any support.


I don't have any documentation around the specific case of Capt Beck, but if not literally true may well be "based in fact" as there are documented examples of officers carrying odd things into battle. Examples from WW2 include Major Tatham-Warter and his umbrella and Jack Churchill and his sword and longbow. More generally, the "typical" armament of an officer in the late 19th century and into the Great War was a pistol. From a practical perspective, in Flanders or at Gallipoli this is about as useful as a riding crop compared to a rifle or machinegun.

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    In WWI, an Officer's (or Senior NCO's) pistol wasn't there to shoot at the enemy as much as ensuring their own troops didn't balk (at topping the trenches).
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 4, 2015 at 16:20
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    @CGCampbell Thanks. Any evidence?
    – user8309
    Jun 21, 2015 at 1:35
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    If I had solid evidence beyond anecdotal (diaries, etc) this might not be a comment.
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 21, 2015 at 12:12

It is noted that officers had a swagger stick approximately 27-29”. The one I have has a Machine Gun corp crest with the guns crossed on the top and company in the form of a silver knob. As far as I can ascertain they were issued while in France while gunners were training before being sent to the front in 1915.

The stick is made of Ratten. It was used by the training officer to space out the distance between men. It was fast training as the men were sent strait in to replace the machine gunners being killed quite quickly as the machine guns were a target for the enemy to take out. So yes they did have a use in WW1.

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    Hi Robert Wyatt and welcome to History SE. Adding sources would improve you answer. Apr 11, 2020 at 23:48

At the beginning of the war, British infantry officers did carry a sword alongside a pistol. After suffering high casualties (perhaps because waving a shiny emblem of rank around tended to invite snipers), officers were ordered to remove their swords and replace them with a swagger stick.

There was some foreshadowing of this during the Boer War, with officers being ordered to adopt rifles and return swords to depot for the same reason. As would be seen later in the war, hand weapons and pistols remained useful in close combat but a sword had become a liability in an age where rapid-firing, long-range and accurate rifles were the basic equipment of all enlisted soldiers.

  • This matches my understanding, but it would be useful to add sources: referencing a history book or something similar, wherever you got your information.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 2, 2021 at 16:40

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