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A batman (or batwoman) is a soldier or airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant.

The term is derived from the obsolete bat, "packsaddle" (from French bât, from Old French bast, from Late Latin bastum) + man.


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.

By country

In France

In the French Army the term for batman was ordonnance. Batmen were abolished after World War II.

In Germany

In the German Army the rank of batman was known as Ordonnanz ("orderly") from the French "ordonnance", Putzer ("cleaner") or 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.)

In India

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 "caretaker".

In Pakistan

The term Batman, introduced by the British, is still used in the Pakistanmarker Army. Senior officers are provided with batmen, considered general household help.

In Russia and Soviet Union

The term for a batman in the Russian empire was "denshchik" ( ). 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, 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 officers 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 ( ). Several ordirnartsy of the marshals and generals commanding Fronts and armies during the Second World War had written 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.

In the United Kingdom

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 keeping with their ethos of maintaining high standards.

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.

The term "orderly" was often used instead of "batman" in the colonial forces, especially in the British Indian Army. The orderly was frequently a civilian instead of a soldier.

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 Lieutenant-Colonel David Niven and his batman, fellow actor Peter Ustinov. Niven and Ustinov were working on the film The Way Ahead, as respectively actor and writer, but the difference in their ranks made their regular association militarily impossible; to solve the problem, Ustinov, who was only a private, was appointed 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. TV recordings of the popular original seem to show the performer lip-syncing to the whistling on play-back.

The famous British author, JRR Tolkien, took the relationship his characters Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins had with each other from his observations during his military service of the relationship between a batman and his officer.

In the United States

In the United States Army the term "dog robber" 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.

See also


  1. "Sänger der Fünfziger Jahre" is a web-page maintained by Günter Schiemenz dedicated to the popular music of the 50s under You find the recordings of "Die Travellers" under 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)
  3. Obituary: Sir Peter Ustinov (BBC)

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