I read a marriage notice from 1913, which noted that the father of the groom "has four sons abroad, three having served with distinction in the junior Service". (West Sussex Gazette, Thu 13 Feb 1913, British Newspaper Archive link, paywalled).

I was curious about the term "junior Service". A quick search suggested that the RAF is sometimes called the junior service, as it was established more recently than the army or navy (e.g. BBC and Quora). But the RAF was founded in 1918, and this article pre-dates that by five years.

So what might the "junior Service" have been in the British military in 1913?

I know that all of the groom's six brothers were in military service at some point:
One in the Royal Flying Corps
Two in the Royal Army Service Corps
Two in the Royal Army Medical Corps
One in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps

Not all of them may have enlisted by the time the article was written. I would guess from this list that any or all of them might be considered "junior" compared to the army and navy, but is there a reference that could clarify this?

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    A simple Google search for "British navy senior service" returns an entire first page of explanations as to why the Royal Navy is the senior service relative to the British Army. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 9 at 10:34
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    And since the Navy was the senior service and the airforce didn't exist in 1913, that would imply that the Army was the junior service (by default) at the time. – KillingTime Aug 9 at 10:36
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    "Junior Service" could have referred to a variety of things, including the Royal Navy's Junior Service, the Civil Service's Junior Service, etc; but if you already knew they were in the Army, that seems like it should be the right answer. – Semaphore Aug 9 at 10:49
  • One addition to this answer: a captain of the army/marines is addressed as major (one rank up) when he is on board a ship (navy? merchant marine?) . As there can be only one captain on a ship. – Jos Aug 10 at 4:26
up vote 20 down vote accepted

In British parlance the Royal Navy is The Senior Service due to having been created as a permanent establishment in Tudor times, while the Army only became permanent a few centuries later.

The importance of a distinction is the need for military officers to know, at all times, who is the most senior for command purposes. Within each service officers at a specific rank assess their seniority by date of commission, both brevet and substantial. When two services are working together the same applies, except an additional tie breaker is available. - if rank are equivalent and dates of commission are the same, then the Royal Navy officer has seniority over the Army officer.

In 1913 there was as yet no Royal Air Force, and various Corps such as the Royal Artillery and Engineers were simply branches of the Army. So the only available junior service was the Army, unambiguously.

Note that it is possible to look up the effective commission date for all British Officers since 7 November 1665 on the London Gazette Archive. For example, here is the announcement of the promotion to Brevet Field Marshal of Arthur Wellesley in the July 3, 1813 Extraordinary Edition (pp 1270, lower right).

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That edition also contains the after action reports filed by Wellington dated June 22 and 24, 1813, following the battle of Battle of Vitoria, including the names of all officers killed or wounded in that engagement.


The Queen's Regulations for the Army 1975 outline in Chapter 2, Parts 3 and 4 and further in Sections 9.163-9.167 the precise workings of how seniority of officers is to be determined:

2.031

a. Officers holding substantive rank are to take precedence over all those holding acting or local rank of the same grade. They are to take precedence among themselves according to their date of promotion to that rank.

J2.041. Under the provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006, when members of one Service are co-operating with one or both of the other Services they enjoy like power of command over members of another Service as the members of that Service of ‘corresponding rank' insofar as power of command depends upon rank or rate. The expression ‘corresponding rank' is defined in the Act by reference to The Queen's Regulations. Thus when members of different Services are acting together the superior officers of one Service become, in accordance with the scale of corresponding ranks prescribed by these Regulations at the Table in para J2.042, superior officers of members of the other Services of lower corresponding rank or less seniority and can, consequently, give lawful commands to them.

These principles have remained unchanged over centuries, though details have become more complicated over time.

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    Thank you. I hadn't really considered that the Army might be described as "junior" in the 20th century, and had assumed that perhaps the various (and sometimes quite recent) service corps had been given the term. The terminology seems to be used very seldom by the Army, and more extensively by the Navy, probably for obvious reasons. I wonder if the article writer was an ex-Navy man... – AndyW Aug 9 at 13:27
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    @AndyW: With a full name the author could be looked up in the London Gazette to see if there are any records of a Navy commission being granted. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 9 at 14:08
  • Thanks for the links. I already know a little about the father, and he wasn't a military man. He in turn, though, claimed to be the son of an army colonel, which doesn't quite match up with my own family research, so I was reading around to learn more about him and his family. And that's how I ended up wondering, quite tangentially, about the "junior service" term. – AndyW Aug 9 at 15:08
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    Sorry, missed that. – John Dallman Aug 9 at 21:03

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