In recent years, the social history of armed forces has done much to reconstruct the experience of soldiering. However, remarkably few studies focus explicitly upon the social and political relations that play a central role in how armies behave. This article aims to understand the British Army in the era of the First World War in terms of its informal and formal organisation, exploring and interrogating the connections and relationships between individuals and the structures within which they operate. Using the concept of patronage as a lens, it will demonstrate how social relationships were able to offer alternatives to purely hierarchical systems of administration. Rather than simple favouritism, for a variety of reasons these processes functioned along meritocratic lines, enabling the Army to adopt pragmatic and innovative solutions to the challenges of the First World War.