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A batman (or batwoman) is a soldier or airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. Before the advent of motorized transport, an officer's batman was also in charge of the officer's "bat-horse" that carried the packsaddle with his officer's kit during a campaign.
A batman's duties often include:
- acting as a "runner" to convey orders from the officer to subordinates
- maintaining the officer's uniform and personal equipment as a valet
- driving the officer's vehicle, sometimes under combat conditions
- acting as the officer's bodyguard in combat
- other miscellaneous tasks the officer does not have time or inclination to do
The action of serving as a batman was referred to as "batting". In armies where officers typically came from the upper class, it was not unusual for a former batman to follow the officer into later civilian life as a domestic servant.
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In the German Army the batman was known as Ordonnanz ("orderly") from the French "ordonnance", or colloquially as Putzer ("cleaner") or as Bursche ("boy" or "valet").
The main character Švejk of the antimilitarist, satirical novel The Good Soldier Švejk by the Czech author J. Hašek is the most famous portrayal of a batman drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. (The 1967 German song "Ich war der Putzer vom Kaiser" is actually based on the British instrumental hit "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman" of the same year, with original German lyrics.)
The old British term "orderly" continued into the post-independence Indian Army. It has now, however, been replaced with the Hindi word sahayak, which translates as "assistant" or "helper". There have been suggestions to do away with the practice, as the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force already have.
In the Italian Army the term for batman was attendente, from the Italian verb attendere (same meaning of the English verb to attend). Attendenti were eventually abolished in 1971.
The term Batman, introduced by the British, is still used in the Pakistan Army. Senior officers are provided with batmen, considered general household help.
Russia and the Soviet Union
The Imperial Russian Army used the term denshchik (Russian: Денщик) for a batman. In the Russian Empire higher-ranking cavalry officers often chose Cossacks for these roles as they could be reasonably depended on to survive combat, and were also known for resourcefulness on campaign. However, they were hired help, and had to be provided with a horse also. The lower-ranking officers from serf-owning families brought a servant from home they were familiar with, particularly the infantry and artillery officers that did not require additional protection in combat, and tended to leave the servants with the unit baggage train. After abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire (1861), many officers went on campaign without servants.
Although the positions were abolished in the post-Revolutionary Soviet Union, the recognition that higher-ranking officers required assistance soon fostered an unofficial reintroduction of the role through secondment of an NCO to the officer's staff, usually also as the driver, which also at one stage became their unofficial role and title as many officers often "lived" out of their vehicles. The term was borrowed from the French, but adopted to Russian pronunciation as ordinarets (Russian: Ординарец).
Several ordirnartsy of the marshals and generals commanding Fronts and armies during the Second World War wrote memoirs about their service. For example Zhukov's "driver" was a semi-professional racing car driver Aleksandr Nikolaevich Buchin who met Zhukov by accident literally on the first day of the war when Zhukov's previous elderly driver failed to get the vehicle he was in out of the rut. Buchin drove Zhukov throughout the war and although he begun the war as a private, he ended the war in the rank of a captain. Buchin wrote his memoirs called One hundred and seventy thousand kilometres with Zhukov, at the suggestion of the marshal in the 1970s.
The term "posta" is informally used to apply to a soldier that attends an officer.
The official term used by the British Army in the First World War was Soldier-Servant. Every officer was assigned a servant, usually chosen by himself from among his men. The term batman replaced this in the inter-war years. By the Second World War, only senior officers of the Army and Royal Air Force were officially assigned their own batmen, with junior officers usually having the services of one batman between several officers. Batwomen also served in the women's services.
Batman was usually seen as a desirable position. The soldier was exempted from more onerous duties and often got better rations and other favours from his officer. Senior officers' batmen usually received fast promotion to lance-corporal rank, with many becoming corporals and even sergeants. The position was generally phased out after the war. Officers of the Household Division still have orderlies.
In the Royal Navy the stewards performed many of the duties of batmen in the other services. Aboard ship, only captains and admirals were assigned personal stewards, with the other officers being served by a pool of officers' stewards. Most vessels carried at least two stewards, with larger vessels carrying considerably more.
In the British Armed Forces, the term "batman" or "batwoman" was formerly also applied to a civilian who cleaned officers' messes or married quarters. In the Royal Air Force, free married quarters cleaning services were phased out for all officers except Squadron Leaders or above in command appointments as of 1 April 1972.
One famous example of officer and batman during the Second World War was British actor David Niven and fellow actor Peter Ustinov. Niven and Ustinov were working on the film The Way Ahead, as actor and writer respectively, but the difference in their ranks - Niven was a Lieutenant-Colonel and Ustinov a private - made their regular association militarily impossible; to solve the problem, Ustinov was appointed as Niven's batman.
In 1967, the pseudonymous Whistling Jack Smith (actually a session vocalist) recorded an all-whistling number called "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman", which went Top 5 in the UK. Despite a title that baffled most Americans (who no doubt were thinking of the other Batman), the tune hit #20 on the Billboard charts.
J. R. R. Tolkien took the relationship of his characters Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins from his observations while in military service during World War I of the relationship between a batman and his officer.
In the television series Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham's valet, Mr Bates, was his batman in the Boer War; it also appears that William Mason was assigned to be Matthew Crawley's batman in the First World War.
In the United States Army the term "dog robber" (from the peacetime occupation of the title character of The Good Soldier Švejk, a fictional batman) was unofficially used, although that could also be applied to a junior officer who acted as a gofer to somebody with high rank. The position was made famous by James Garner in the movie The Americanization of Emily.
Aides are available to support some of the needs of general officers who serve in command positions in the rank of Brigadier General and above, and their equivalent naval ranks. These aides "perform tasks and details that, if performed by general or flag officers, would be at the expense of the officer’s primary military and official duties." However, their assistance is restricted to only those tasks which are directly related to an officer's official duties. According to the policy, "No officer may use an enlisted member as a servant for duties that contribute only to the officer's personal benefit and that have no reasonable connection with the officer's official responsibilities.
- "Sänger der Fünfziger Jahre" is a web-page maintained by Günter Schiemenz dedicated to the popular music of the 50s under www.fuenfzigerjahresaenger.de. You find the recordings of "Die Travellers" under www.fuenfzigerjahresaenger.de/Travellers/Tra-Lieder.htm Searching for "Putzer" you will find the below data in German language: Ich war der Putzer vom Kaiser, Authors: R. Greenaway / R. Cook /, German Text: Fred Oldörp, Artists: Die Travellers, Year of recording / first publication: 1967, Single: Philips 346 057 PF, LP: Jubel, Trubel, Travellers (Philips 844 325 PY), LP: Der Pleitegeier (Philips 6305 111), LP: Die fröhliche Rille – Einmal geht's noch (Fontana 6434 267), Original song: I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman (Whistling Jack Smith, 1967)
- Super Schlager Box 3 Interpret: Various (1998) – Musikhaus Schlaile – Karlsruhe. Schlaile.de. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
- The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Nation | Sahayak scrap cry. Telegraphindia.com (2010-03-05). Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
- Obituary: Sir Peter Ustinov (BBC)
- Whistling Jack Smith – I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman. YouTube. Retrieved on 2011-03-13.
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter
- "DOD Instruction 1315.09". U.S. Department of Defense. October 2, 2007.
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