The first pay system for soldiers began in the 14th century, but it was an easily defrauded system. Witnessed pay parades and muster lists were introduced, and by 1797 Paymasters were commissioned and selected their own Paymaster Sergeant. They had to produce bonds and sureties of £4000 to ensure that they would be honest. In 1878 the Army Pay Department (APD) was formed, and consisted solely of officers; in 1893 the Army Pay Corps (APC) was formed of other ranks.
Problems with the pay system during the Boer War changed how soldier’s records were kept and how pay was delivered. Until 1912 Regimental Officers kept the soldiers accounts, and Paymasters were responsible for obtaining the funds. In the new system, accounts were kept in Fixed Centre Pay Offices (FCPOs) within the UK, with men attached to units to give cash services and keep records. Paymasters also had the responsibility of paying the soldiers dependents. The Regimental Officer was only responsible for the pay parades.
The First World War & inter-war years
This new system proved itself during the First World War. With the rapid expansion of the Army came the rapid expansion of the Pay Office. By 1915 a number of civilians were employed within the Pay Office, as well as a large number of women. Each clerk in a pay office was responsible for 500 accounts, and by the end of the war nearly 10 million pay and pension records were administered. Pay units were also attached to the Expeditionary Forces sent around the world, to pay for local services and the withdrawal of cash for pay. The system changed little until the introduction of computers and direct deposits into bank accounts.
In 1920 the APD and APC were given the prefix ‘royal’ for their wartime work. Later that year they were amalgamated to form the Royal Army Pay Corps. There was a brief attempt at bringing modern cost accounting methods into the army with the formation of the Corps of Military Accountants; however it was a bit too “modern” and the corps was disbanded in 1925. That year the soldier was informed of his entitlement to pay for the first time.
The Second World War
The pay system during the Second World War remains the same as in the First World War. The RAPC was responsible for paying soldiers and their dependents, and to exchange currency on foreign operations. As with the First World War, a number of civilians and women were employed in Pay Offices within the UK to cope with the quick expansion of the Army.
Post war, the RAPC was attached to every unit on every operation to provide cash services and used as infantry soldiers when needed. The biggest change for pay happened in 1961, when the RAPC pioneered the use of computers in the UK building the first computer centre at Worthy Down. The last pay parade took place in 1968. With computing taking over the manual aspects of pay, there were only 6 FCPOs within the UK by 1979. By 1981 computing and teleprocessing networks had advanced so a majority of the work on individual accounts could be accomplished within units, with the processing taking place in a computer centre. All of the last five Pay Offices were amalgamated onto one site in Glasgow, although this did not happen until 1996.
With the formation of the Adjutant General’s Corps in 1992, the Royal Army Pay Corps disbanded.