Like any large organization, the British Army generated a significant amount of bureaucracy, and the officers and men had seemingly mountains of paperwork to contend with. While it may be true that “an army marches on its stomach”, it was also true that detailed records had to be kept of the units involved in the march, where they were headed, and how many rations were needed to fill their stomachs on their way.
It seemed that every specific task had its own designated form. While the orderly room and quartermaster’s stores needed documentation in order to function, this enormous amount and variety of paperwork was met with bewilderment and scorn from the private soldier. Bureaucratic paperwork was known as “bum fodder” or simply “bumf”* by the lower ranks; similarly, a sheet of latrine paper was ironically nicknamed the “Army Form, Blank”.
One form that was commonly encountered, and even coveted, by the private soldier was the Pass, Army Form B. 295. Going absent without leave was a serious offense; specifically, it was a violation of Section 15 of the Army Act, and could be punished by imprisonment. Army Form B. 295 was written authorization for leave; the soldier had to keep the pass on his person, and present it on demand to his superiors as evidence of being on approved leave.
According to King’s Regulations (1940),
1601. (a) Every… pass will be made out on A.F. B295, and be granted and signed by the company, etc., commander. If the period of leave does not exceed 24 hours, a soldier will not be required to state on his pass where he is going, unless notification of his destination is considered desirable owing to local conditions, or is essential to enable him to procure a railway ticket at the military concession rate. Every pass will be stamped with the regimental office stamp before being issued.
(b) If the whole Royal Army Reserve is called out, a soldier on pass will return immediately to his unit without waiting for instructions.
1604. A pass (other than a permanent pass) will not be granted for more than six days: for longer periods a furlough is necessary.
Like many Army Forms, the B. 295 appears to have been adopted in the late Victorian era; it was certainly well established by World War I. The form itself evolved over time, with later versions typically containing more fields and requiring more detail than earlier versions. There were also different publishers contracted to provide the forms, with some variances evident between contractors.
The B. 295 was comprised of two portions. The main part of the document was the pass itself, issued to the soldier; there was also a smaller piece, similar to a receipt or ticket stub, which was retained by the issuing officer and kept in company records. The forms were distributed in pads, typically of 100 forms per pad, with each sheet having a perforated line for ease of separating the pass from the stub.
Despite the variances, all passes identified the soldier’s name, rank and Army number, the dates the pass was valid, and the signature of the issuing officer. The rule about a soldier returning to his unit upon mobilization of the Reserve was often printed on the pass itself.
I have an original B. 295, which was printed in August, 1946, as indicated by the markings in the top left corner. This form is on very thin off-white paper, and has grown even more delicate with age; there is also some discoloration at the edge of the form. The entire sheet is still intact; that is, the pass has not been detached from the stub. There are small holes showing where the form had been stapled as part of a pad. This postwar pass has a specific space allocated for the unit stamp; unlike earlier versions, there is also a field for the unit telephone number. The reverse of the pass has detailed instructions for a soldier who is injured or becomes ill while on leave, followed by instructions for the civilian doctor or dentist who treats the soldier.
Because my original form is so delicate, I keep it in a padded envelope in a desk drawer. However, I decided to put my desktop publishing and paper crafting skills to the test by creating a reproduction pass. I based my reproduction on the earlier, simpler versions of the form, partly to make the job easier, and partly because some of the later details were not likely to relate to a reenacting event. I purchased a perforating tool to replicate the pass-and-stub format. I then made pads by attaching the sheets to a cardboard backing, but I was only able to use 15 sheets per pad based on the limitations of my current stapler.
Several months ago, my reenacting unit attended an air show and set up an educational display for the public. Any time one of the unit members wanted to leave our area and see the rest of the show, I filled out a reproduction B. 295 and handed it to him. I enjoyed it as a small touch of living history; I hope the others did as well, although I suspect they probably grumbled about the “bumf”.
For any reenactor not wanting to go through the hassle of making their own B. 295, quality reproductions are available from Clever Forgery as well as Rob Van Meel’s Re-Print Military Literature; these professionally-made reproductions are far superior to my humble effort.
*Sometimes spelled “bumph”.
Manual of Military Law (1929)
Reprinted December, 1939
His Majesty’s Stationary Office
The King’s Regulations for the Army and the Royal Army Reserve (1940)
His Majesty’s Stationary Office
Soldier Talk: A Squaddie’s Handbook
Leo Cooper / Pen & Sword Books, Ltd., 1995