Warren H Lewis was an Honorary Major, with Captain as his substantive rank

Charlton BG. On W.H. Lewis’s military rank. The chronicle of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society. 2007; 4: 36-37.

Warren Hamilton 'Warnie' Lewis was only an honorary Major, and held the substantive rank of Captain.

C.S. Lewis’s brother Warren Hamilton (‘Warnie’) Lewis (June 16, 1895 - April 9, 1973) is, frequently (and correctly) referred-to, as ‘Major Lewis’. However, it is worth noting that Warnie’s rank of major was honorary, and his ‘substantive’ rank was actually captain – one rank below that of major.

I received this information from Dr Alistair Massie; Curator of the National Army Museum in London. At my request, he looked-up the relevant Army Lists for W.H. Lewis and sent me photocopies. These photocopies are now lodged at the Marion E Wade Center at Wheaton College, Illinois, USA.

Warren Lewis was a volunteer (he was Irish by nationality, hence not subject to conscription) who served in the Royal Army Service Corps for 18 years from 1914-1932. He retired from regular Army Service in 1932 with the rank of captain, after which he was placed on the Reserve of Officers. On 24 August 1939 he was brought back onto active army service (this was just before the UK’s declaration of war on Germany in the 1939-1945 World War, when reservists were recalled). Warnie then became a temporary major on 27 Jan 1940 until he was accorded the honorary rank of major on 27 March 1947 upon becoming permanently retired.

This means that from the time that Warnie was a temporary major he was entitled to be called major, and he went straight to being an honorary major, so he did not revert to being called captain. Nonetheless, his retirement pay remained only that of a captain.

The significance of this information is that Warnie's Army career was apparently an un-distinguished one. British Army officer’s ranks are second lieutenant, lieutenant, captain then major – and it would usually be expected that a career officer with 18 years of service would retire with the substantive rank of major (or higher). Yet Warnie did not attain any promotion in the 15 years of service from becoming a captain in 1917 until his retirement in 1932. His promotion to Major in 1940, after being recalled in 1939 from the reserve of officers, was just a temporary or 'acting' major rank (presumably to perform a specific job in a specific situation), and this continued until he was retired in 1947 as honorary major – but still on the lesser pay of a retired captain.

WH Lewis’s apparently mediocre early-life professional army career makes all the more remarkable and praiseworthy Warnie's post-retirement development into a respected member of the famous and intellectually-distinguished group of Oxford Inklings, the author of seven published books of French history, and a diarist of high reputation.

This late-blooming of Warren’s abilities as a writer and conversationalist was perhaps due to the influence of daily contact with his brother Jack, supplemented by frequent association with the other Inklings [1].

1. Diana Pavlac Glyer. The company they keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as writers in community. Kent, Ohio, USA: Kent State University Press, 2007.



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