Rank Injustice

Surgeon Rear-Admiral James R. Muir at centre. Painting by Muirhead Bone, ca. 1940. IWM ART LD 306.

I recently came across Years of Endurance: Life Aboard the Battlecruiser Tiger 1914–1916 by John R. Muir, originally published in 1936 and republished last year by Seaforth. Mike Farquharson-Roberts writes in the new introduction (p. vii):

Though he never explicitly states his rank in the book, John Muir was likely a ‘Staff Surgeon’ during the period he is writing about.

Likely? There are few things easier to identify with certainty than an officer’s rank, even in the absence of service records. First we check the December 1914 Navy List (p. 162). John Reid Muir is listed as a Staff Surgeon with seniority of 26 February 1908. Looking at the Navy List for December 1916 (p. 256-7: Yes, just one page, despite the number) we see that on 26 February 1916 he automatically became a Fleet Surgeon after eight years a Staff Surgeon (under the provisions of the order in council of 9 October 1903) and was still in Tiger (p. 398r, in which we also can see Muir was appointed to the ship in October 1914). According to the November 1917 Navy List (p. 569) on 1 January of that year he received a very different change of scenery in the form of an appointment to the Royal Naval Sick Quarters at Wei-Hei-Wei in China, where he was the only medical officer borne! Under C.W. 34315 of 3 October 1918 (see The National Archives, ADM 1/8543/297, formalised by order in council of 8 November) the rank of Fleet Surgeon became Surgeon Commander.

In summation, in the period in which he served in Tiger Muir was definitely both a Staff Surgeon and also a Fleet Surgeon. It is somewhat surprising and disappointing that Farquharson-Roberts was apparently unable to establish Muir’s rank, especially since he is a published historian with, as the introduction reminds us, a PhD in Maritime History. It is quite frankly an insult to Muir that Seaforth did not insist on this rather basic detail of his career being discovered. I gladly offer them the fruits of ten whole minutes of my valuable research time at my usual, and quite reasonable, fee of 100 Guineas.

There are a few other odd things about the introduction, but they can wait for another day.

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