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The Services 1930 - 1956:

Royal Army Pay Corps

The Royal Army Pay Corps (R.A.P.C.) provided the British Army the paymasters for the officers and soldiers then serving with the army. All Regular Army officers and soldiers were paid a wage, with the Territorial Army officers and soldiers receiving allowances and an annual bounty. With the outbreak of the Second World War on the 3 September 1939, the U.K. Parliament enacted the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939, which introduced conscription for men aged between eighteen and forty years’ of age. Although the distinctions between the different types of soldiers disappeared in practical terms, all men who volunteered for service during the period of the national emergency and all those called up for military service were deemed to have joined the Territorial Army. All soldiers received the same rates of pay, whether or not they were conscripts or volunteers, however, pre-war Regular Army soldiers had greater seniority and therefore received higher pay.

The rates of pay for officers and soldiers varied according to length of service, proficiency and trade qualifications. Soldiers received their accommodation and food without payment, also receiving other benefits in kind such as clothing, medical care and allowances for families. In 1940, the daily rates of pay for soldiers were:

Private – 2 shillings to 6 shillings 3 pence,
Lance Corporal – 3 shillings 3 pence to 6 shillings 6 pence per day,
Corporal – 4 shillings to 7 shillings 3 pence,
Serjeant – 6 schillings to 8 shillings 9 pence.

As an guide, there were twenty schillings in a U.K. pound sterling.  A pound today is worth only about 2% of a pound in 1939. To have the same purchasing power as £100 in 1939, today (2021) you would need £6,579.44.  The average rate of inflation from 1939 until today is 5.30%, therefore a Private soldier would earn about £108 per annum, equivalent today to just over £7,000.  As an indication of the relative worth of money during the war, one schilling would buy twelve pints of beer in 1940, possibly the most important indication of value to many soldiers.

Paymasters have served with the British Army ever since it was created as a professional, standing Army in the seventeenth century. Once again, it was the poor performance of the British Army during the Crimea War that galvanised the then Secretary of State for War (1868 – 1874), Edward CARDWELL, to bring all the regimental paymasters in a single corps called the ‘Army Pay Department’. The Royal Warrant authorising the creation of the new department was signed by Queen Victoria on the 22 October 1877, with the effective date of operation of the department being the 1 April 1878.

In 1882, the Army Pay Corps was created to comprise non-commissioned officers to work alongside the officers in the Army Pay Department. This was the situation during the First World War. In 1920, both the Army Pay Department and the Army Pay Corps were granted the prefix of ‘Royal’ by the King in recognition of their services during the First World War. In that same year, the two separate organisations were merged into the Royal Army Pay Corps (R.A.P.C.).

All the officers of the R.A.P.C. qualified as paymasters. The head of the corps, who held the rank of Major General, was titled the ‘Chief Paymaster at the War Office and Inspector of Army Pay Offices’. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, there were the following numbers of officers in the corps:

11 Chief Paymasters (in the rank of Colonel);
43 Staff Paymasters (Lieutenant Colonels (First Class) and Majors (Second Class);
86 Paymasters (Captains);
49 Assistant Paymasters (mainly Lieutenants).

There were a few other officers re-employed as paymasters and cashiers, making a total two-hundred and thirty-nine officers. In addition, there were one-thousand, one-hundred and forty-seven other ranks and five-hundred and eighty civilians.

Members of the R.A.P.C. were employed at formation level, for example, each division had one paymaster (usually in the rank of Captain) and one non-commissioned officer as cashier. These two personnel ran the Divisional Field Cash Office. Their function was to issue cash to Imprest Holders and authorised officers. In addition, they converted currency to that of the country in which the division was then serving. For example, when a division moved from France to Belgium in September 1944, all the French Francs held in the division had to be exchanged for Belgian Francs.

The 53 (Welsh) Infantry Division during the campaign in North West Europe had one-hundred and fifty imprest (account) holders, plus some eight-hundred officers who were entitled to be paid from the divisional cash offices. The soldiers were paid at Pay Parades held within their own units.

The Divisional Field Cash Office also receives cash from the Army Post Office, N.A.A.F.I., Y.M.C.A., canteens, officer’s shops and from individual units. As an example, the 53 (Welsh) Infantry Division in 1944 had one-hundred and fifty customers who paid in money to the cash office.

In an average month, the divisional cash office of the 53 Infantry Division received 2,522,360 Marks (£63,058 sterling equivalent) from one-hundred and fifty ‘customers’ and made payments of 8,547,800 Marks (£213,695 sterling equivalent) to two-thousand, two-hundred and twenty ‘customers’.

By the end of the Second World War, the R.A.P.C. had grown to over two-thousand officers, eighteen thousand other ranks, thirteen thousand members of the Auxiliary Territorial Force and six and half thousand civilians.

Daily Rate of Pay 1940

Non Tradesman

Private – 2s on enlistment + 3d educational proficiency pay
2s 3d after one year’s service + 3d educational proficiency pay + 3d Military proficiency pay
2s 6d after two years’ service plus the additional allowance as above
3s after three years’ service plus additional allowances with additional 3d special proficiency pay.

Lance Corporal – 3s 3d or 3s 6d after three years’ service plus the same allowances as for Private.
Corporal – 4s or 4s 3d after three years’ service as Corporal, plus allowances.
Lance Serjeant – 4s 9d plus allowances.
Serjeant – 6s and 6s 6d after three years’ as Serjeant – NO allowances.
Colour Serjeant, Staff Serjeant of C.Q.M.S. – 8s and no allowances.
Warrant Officer Class III – 8s
Warrant Officer Class II – 8s 6d
Warrant Officer Class I – 12s.


There were different pay rates for Tradesmen, dependent upon rank and grade. Five Groups of Trades, and three Classes per rank. Class A – 3s 3d for first year, rising to 4s 6d for fourth and subsequent years.

Group A includes Armament Artificer, Electrician, Fitter and Trained Nurse.
Group B includes Armourer, Blacksmith, Boilermaker, Bricklayer, Welder.
Group C includes Baker, Butcher, Clerk, Storeman.
Group D includes Despatch Rider, Locomotive Fireman (Driver in Group A).
Group E includes Assistant Despatch Rider, Cleaner, Engine Hand, Pioneer, Stoker.

General Pay Issues

The below statement is taken from HANSARD in February 1942.

I intend to concentrate on the Army and emphasise the unfair financial position in which our private soldiers find themselves as compared with our industrial workers and as compared with soldiers who are in this country from overseas. It will simplify matters if, in the comparisons I am about to make between our soldiers and the soldiers of other countries, I take the minimum rates of pay. From the information I have been able to obtain it seems that the minimum rate of pay of a non-tradesman private in the United States Army who is now in the British Isles works out at about 5s. per day. The minimum rate for the similar kind of private in the Canadian Army is 5s. 2d., and in the Australian Army 6s. 9d. The British equivalent receives 2s. 6d. From then onwards the increases in each case are more or less proportionate. This discrepancy shows that 5s. a day would be a fair minimum for the British non-tradesman private. That is double what he is receiving now.

In the part of the country which I know the average labourer employed on munitions is paid at the rate of a British Army captain, and when he does overtime is paid the basic rate of a lieutenant-colonel. When one begins to deal with discrepancies of pay things become increasingly difficult.

Also from Hansard, this time on 10 September 1942

A good deal has been said about the married subaltern. I have seen many budgets of subalterns. As the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) said, in many cases their savings have come to an end and they find it difficult to maintain their wives and children, and more difficult if they have three children of school age. The offer that the Government have made of is. to 1s. 6d. a day extra is not sufficient. It is of no interest to the subaltern or anyone else to read in the White Paper what his gross income is deemed to be. The only point of importance in his mind is that he should have enough to keep himself and his wife and children. The subaltern requires the whole of his 13s. a day for himself, and his wife cannot afford to keep herself and one child on 7s. 6d. a day and pay rates and taxes, clothe herself and her child. It is not enough. If these allowances are not put up, we shall not get the best men to take commissions.

So – a Second Lieutenant or Lieutenant in 1942 would receive 13s per day, and an allowance of 7s 6d if he was married.


For comparison, these are the rates of pay for Privates in different armies as of May 1944 – source Hansard 2 May 1944:
U.S.A.                    – 8s 3d
New Zealand       – 6s
Canadian             – 5s 10d
Australian            – 5s 2d
South African      – 3s 6d
British                   – 3s

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