Article 6: Seniority and “army right”

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Private C. reported for inattention, laying out his kit for inspection after defaulter’s drill. (The Brigade of Guards Magazine, November 1889).

The Adjutant, reading report, “Private C.”

Private C. “Sir.”

The Adjutant, “inattention, laying out his kit!

Drill Sergeant, “Yes sir, I reported him, he had his cloth brush on the right instead of his polishing brush.”

Private C. “Thankee sir, to allow me to speak.”

Adjutant, “Yes.”

Private C. “Beg pardon sir, I thought the cloth brush was the senior!”

The supposed humour of this comes from the fact that seniority runs throughout the army, from the top generals to the private and his brushes. Every regiment had its place in the order of seniority and the pecking order was rigidly enforced. Cavalry were senior to infantry, and artillery was above them both.

In a battalion the eight companies were lettered in order ‘A’ to ‘H’. Within a company the privates had a seniority based on length of service. When on guard the junior soldiers would go on sentry duty first and the old soldiers last, that way if there were any extra duties to be done it was the young soldiers who did them. The oldest soldier might not have to stand sentry at all.

This pecking order between men of equal rank runs right through the rank structure, a well known example of this, thanks to the film ‘Zulu’ was at the defence of Rorkes Drift during the Zulu War, although Lieutenant Bromhead commanded the infantry company he was not in overall command of the post because the Royal Engineer Lieutenant Chard had the senior (older) commission.

Having established the seniority the army then places the senior, on parade anyway, on the right. Getting back to our men on guard, when they mount double sentry, that is two men on the same post (i.e. either side of a doorway) the senior soldier would stand on the right and give the orders to his partner, when to patrol, salute etc.


Every Guard and line infantry battalion had two colours carried by the senior subalterns (lieutenants), the Queen’s Colour, which is the senior, and the Regimental Colour, when on parade together the Queens Colour would be on the right. The battalion formed up in line would have ‘A’ Company on the right and the rest lettered down to ‘H’ on the left.


I have used these examples, the sentries, the colours, and the senior companies to illustrate the confusion caused by ‘army right’. To the general public looking at these three examples from the front, they are on the left as they view it. So what is left to the world at large is right in the army. Medals too have an order of seniority, with the most important being worn on the right, on the right of the wearer that is, so to someone looking at the soldier they appear on the left.

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