Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People c.1870-2000

The British Regimental System: essential or outdated?
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Newman, Documents. Barlow, Documents. Rawlins, Documents. Capital Courts Martial , London , p. Trench, privately held. Holroyd, Documents. A Critical Guide, London , p. Trauma and resilience in the narratives of medical personnel in warzones , Manchester Manchester University Press. Babington, Anthony: For the sake of example. Capital courts martial , New York St. Martin's Press. Bracco, Rosa Maria: Merchants of hope.

Falls, Cyril: War books. A critical guide , London P. French, David: Military identities. The regimental system, the British Army, and the British people, c. Gregory, Adrian: The last Great War.

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Holmes, Richard: Tommy. Hynes, Samuel Lynn: A war imagined. Liddle, Peter: Voices of war Front line and home front , London Leo Cooper. Macdonald, Lyn: McCartney, Helen B. McDermott, James: British military service tribunals, Noyes, Frederick Walter: Stretcher bearers The life of Harry Patch, the oldest surviving veteran of the trenches, , London Bloomsbury. Pearce, Cyril: Comrades in conscience.

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Pennell, Catriona: A kingdom united. Roper, Michael: The secret battle. Simkins, Peter: Kitchener's army. Todman, Daniel: The Great War. Myth and memory , London Hambledon Continuum.

Wilson, Jean Moorcroft: Siegfried Sassoon. The making of a war poet. A biography , New York Routledge. Winter, Denis: Death's men. Metadata Subjects. Author Keywords. GND Subject Headings. LC Subject Headings. Their ideas ran well beyond the improvement of the regular army itself, much though they achieved in that respect, abolishing the practice of purchasing of commissions, for example, and introducing compulsory retirement of mediocre officers; for the other ranks, shorter service, better conditions of service and an end to the last vestige of discipline by flogging.

Their biggest idea — what French is most interested in, and what makes his book indispensable for military historians — was a county-based regimental system by which army and society might be organically bonded at local community level. Not just respected but, from the upper class point of view, safer. In an army really representing the average intelligence and right feeling of the country, such a short experience of military service would benefit our youth of every class, whether in town or country, whether artisan, mechanic or peasant.

Evidence that the bonding of the three military organisations had not been unsuccessful came when the voluntary organisations provided substantial reinforcements to the regular army in the Boer War. Had the later Victorians, then, succeeded in bringing army and society comfortably together? Compared to the relationship in our own days, it certainly looks like it. Military bands played in the parks and at public ceremonies, companies in uniform marched to church parades, regimental colours hung in the established churches, the British Red Cross geared up for war.

The Royal Fusiliers was one of the regiments in the system whose rise and fall French has made it his business to map. He specialises in military history and the controversial purpose of his book is to demonstrate that the regimental system, long proclaimed to have been the strength of the British army, was not all that it was cracked up to be. Nor was identification with the regiment and loyalty to it necessarily what gave men esprit de corps and the will to fight well.

To that may be added the satisfaction of knowing that they had the backing of the society in whose name they were fighting. Nothing produces a better army-society relationship than conscription to national service in a war universally understood to be unavoidable and virtuous. That understanding survived for a few years after , but then began a series of shocks and changes well summarised by French that have tended to push the army back towards the place it occupied when Kipling wrote his ballads on its behalf.

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Log In Register for Online Access. The result of this war was to leave Britain as the dominant imperial power in North America, and the only European power east of the Mississippi although it would return southern Florida to Spain. There was increasing tension between the British government and the American colonists, especially when it was decided to maintain a standing army in North America after the war.

For the first time, the British Army would be garrisoned in North America in significant numbers in a time of peace. With the defeat of France, the British government no longer sought actively to curry the favour of Native Americans. Urged by his superiors to cut costs, Commander in Chief General Jeffery Amherst initiated policy changes that helped prompt Pontiac's War in , an uprising against the British military occupation of the former New France. Tensions between the army and local civilians helped contribute to the Boston Massacre of , but outright warfare did not begin until , when an army detachment was sent to seize colonial munitions at Lexington and Concord.

Reinforcements were sent to America to put down what was initially expected to be a short-lived rebellion. Because the British army was understrength at the outset of the war, the British government hired the armed forces of several German states, referred to generically as " Hessians ", to fight in North America. As the war dragged on, the ministry also sought to recruit Loyalist soldiers.

Five American units known as the American Establishment , formed in were placed on the regular army roster, though there were many other Loyalist units. When the war ended in with defeat and the independence of the United States, many of the Loyalists fled north to Canada, where many subsequently served with the British Army. The Army itself had established many British units during the war to serve in North America or provide replacements for garrisons.


The regimental system has been the foundation of the British army for years. Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People c Buy Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People c. by David French (ISBN: ) from Amazon's.

All but three the 23rd Regiment of Light Dragoons and two Highland infantry regiments, the 71st and 78th Foot were disbanded immediately after the war. The Army was forced to adapt its tactics to the poor communications and forested terrain of North America. Large numbers of light infantry detached from line units were organised, and the formerly rigid drills of the line infantry were modified to a style known as "loose files and an American scramble".

While the British defeated the colonists in most of the set-piece battles of the war, none of these had any decisive result, whereas the British defeats at the Battle of Saratoga and Siege of Yorktown adversely affected British morale, prestige and manpower. The British Army during the Napoleonic Wars experienced a time of rapid change. At the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars in , the army was a small, awkwardly administered force of barely 40, men.

At its peak, in , the regular army contained over , men. During the long reign of Queen Victoria, British society underwent great changes such as industrialisation and the enactment of liberal reforms within Britain. The period was also marked by the steady expansion and consolidation of the British Empire. The role of the military was to defend the Empire and, for the Army, to control the natives.

Nevertheless, it retained many features inherited from the Duke of Wellington's army, and since its prime function was to maintain the expanding British Empire , it differed in many ways from the conscripted armies of continental Europe. For example, it did not undertake large-scale manoeuvres. Indeed, the Chobham Manoeuvres of involving 7, troops were the first such manoeuvres since the Napoleonic Wars.

The Crimean War —56 had so many blunders and failures—most famously the ill-advised " Charge of the Light Brigade "—that it became an iconic symbol of logistical, medical and tactical failures and mismanagement. Public opinion in Britain was outraged at the failures of traditional methods in the face of modernization everywhere else in British society; the newspapers demanded drastic reforms, and parliamentary investigations exposed a multiplicity of grave problems.

However, the reform campaign was not well organized. This allowed the traditional aristocratic leadership of the Army to pull itself together and block all serious reforms. No one was punished. The outbreak of the Indian Rebellion of shifted attention to the heroic defense of British interests by the Army, and further talk of reform went nowhere. The Crimean War demonstrated that reforms were urgently needed to guarantee that the Army could protect both the home nation and the Empire. Nevertheless, reform was impossible until the s when the army assumed the form it took in Prime Minister William E Gladstone paid little attention to military affairs apart from budgets, but as he and the rest of stunned Europe watched the German coalition led by Prussia crushed France in a matter of weeks , the myriad old inadequacies of the British army set the agenda.

The Prussian system of professional soldiers with up-to-date weapons was far superior to the traditional system of gentlemen-soldiers that Britain used. Edward Cardwell — as Secretary of State for War — designed the reforms that Gladstone promoted in the name of efficiency and democracy. In he abolished flogging, raising the private soldier status to more like an honourable career.

In Cardwell abolished "bounty money" for recruits, discharged known bad characters from the ranks. He pulled 20, soldiers out of self-governing colonies, like Canada, which learned they had to help defend themselves.

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The most radical change, and one that required Gladstone's political muscle, was to abolish the system of officers obtaining commissions and promotions by purchase, rather than by merit. The system meant that the rich landholding families controlled all the middle and senior ranks in the army. Promotion depended on the family's wealth, not the officer's talents, and the middle class was shut out almost completely.

British officers were expected to be gentlemen and sportsmen; there was no problem if they were entirely wanting in military knowledge or leadership skills. From the Tory perspective it was essential to keep the officer corps the domain of gentlemen, and not a trade for professional experts.

They warned the latter might menace the oligarchy and threaten a military coup; they preferred an inefficient army to an authoritarian state. The rise of Bismarck 's new Germany made this reactionary policy too dangerous for a great empire to risk. The bill, which would have compensated current owners for their cash investments, passed Commons in but was blocked by the House of Lords. Gladstone then moved to drop the system without any reimbursements, forcing the Lords to backtrack and approve the original bill.


Cardwell was not powerful enough to install a general staff system; that had to await the 20th century. He did rearrange the war department. He made the office of Secretary of State for War superior to the Army's commander in Chief; the commander was His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge — , the Queen's first cousin, and an opponent of the reforms. The surveyor-general of the ordnance, and the financial secretary became key department heads reporting to the Secretary. The militia was reformed as well and integrated into the Army.

The term of enlistment was reduced to 6 years, so there was more turnover and a larger pool of trained reservists. The territorial system of recruiting for regiments was standardised and adjusted to the current population. Cardwell reduced the Army budget yet increased its strength of the army by 25 battalions, field guns, and abundant stores, while the reserves available for foreign service had been raised tenfold from 3, to 36, men. The British Army during World War I could trace its origins to the increasing demands of imperial expansion together with inefficiencies highlighted during the Crimean War , which led to the Cardwell and Childers Reforms of the late 19th century.

The British Army was different from the French and German Armies at the beginning of the conflict in that it was made up from volunteers not conscripts. The British Expeditionary Force BEF of six divisions was quickly sent to the Continent, while the Territorial Forces fourteen divisions and Reserves were mobilised as planned to provide a second line.

During the war there were three distinct British Armies. The 'first' army was the small volunteer force of about , soldiers comprising the Regular Army of , [56] and Territorial Force of , [57] , over half of which were posted overseas to garrison the British Empire. This total included the Regular Army and reservists in the Territorial Force. The 'second' army was Kitchener's Army , formed from the volunteers in —, which was destined to go into action at the Battle of the Somme.

The war also saw the introduction of new weapons and equipment.

The British Army and Society since 1660 - HI427

The Maxim machine gun was replaced by the improved and lighter Vickers and Lewis machine guns , the Brodie helmet was supplied for better personnel protection against shrapnel and the Mark I tank was invented to try to end the stalemate of trench warfare. One battalion also fought in China during the Siege of Tsingtao. In — there was a short-lived boom in the British economy, caused by a rush of investment pent-up during the war years and another rush of orders for new shipping to replace the millions of tons lost.

Heavy defence cuts were consequently imposed by the British Government in the early s as part of a reduction in public expenditure known as the " Geddes Axe " after Sir Eric Geddes. This ten-year rule was continually extended until it was abandoned in Corps such as the Machine Gun Corps were disbanded, their functions being taken by specialists within infantry units. Within the cavalry, sixteen regiments were amalgamated into eight, producing the "Fraction Cavalry"; units with unwieldy titles combining two regimental numbers.

There was a substantial reduction in the number of infantry battalions and the size of the Territorial Force, which was renamed the Territorial Army.

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On 31 July , the Army also lost six Irish regiments 5 infantry and 1 cavalry on the creation of the Irish Free State. Until the early s, the Army was effectively reduced to the role of imperial policeman, concentrated on responding to the small imperial conflicts that rose up across the Empire. It was unfortunate that certain of the officers who rose to high rank and positions of influence within the army during the s were comparatively backward-looking. One of the first post-war campaigns that the Army took part in was the Allied intervention in Russia in to assist the " White Army " against the Communist Bolsheviks during their Civil War.

The Army, throughout the inter-war period, also had to deal with quelling paramilitary organisations seeking the removal of the British. In British Somaliland , Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan known to the British Army as 'The Mad Mullah', although he was neither mad nor a mullah resumed his campaign against the British, a campaign he had first begun in Both sides committed atrocities, some units becoming infamous, such as the paramilitary Black and Tans where many recruits were veterans of the First World War.

The Army had been operating in the volatile North-West Frontier area since the midth century. The last major uprising that the Army had to deal with before the start of the Second World War, was the uprising in Palestine that began in By the mids, Germany was controlled by Hitler's Nazi Party and was becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. Another war with Germany appeared certain.

The Army was not properly prepared for such a war, lagging behind the technologically advanced and potentially much larger Heer of the German Wehrmacht. With each armed service vying for a share of the defence budget, the Army came last behind the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in allocation of funds. During the years after the First World War, the Army's strategic concepts had stagnated. Whereas Germany, when it began rearming following Hitler's rise to power, eagerly embraced concepts of mechanised warfare as advocated by individuals such as Heinz Guderian , many high-ranking officers in Britain had little enthusiasm for armoured warfare, and the ideas of Basil Liddell Hart and J.

Fuller were largely ignored. One step to which the Army was committed was the mechanisation of the cavalry, which had begun in This first proceeded at a slow pace, having little priority. By the mids, mechanisation in the British Army was gaining momentum and on 4 April , with the mechanisation process nearing completion, the Royal Armoured Corps was formed to administer the cavalry regiments and Royal Tank Regiment except for the Household Cavalry. The mechanisation process was finally completed in when the Royal Scots Greys abandoned their horses.

After the Munich Crisis in , a serious effort was undertaken to expand the Army, including the doubling in size of the Territorial Army, helped by the reintroduction of conscription in April Even this army was dwarfed, yet again, by its continental counterparts. Just before the war broke out, a new British Expeditionary Force was formed. Conscription was administered on a better planned basis than in the First World War.

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People in certain reserved occupations , such as dockers and miners , were exempt from being called up as their skills and labour were necessary for the war effort. Between and , following a substantial expansion in the Army, a number of new organisations were formed, including the Auxiliary Territorial Service for women in September ; its duties were vast, and helped release men for front-line service. The British Army in was a volunteer army that introduced conscription shortly before the declaration of war with Germany.

During the early years of the Second World War, the army suffered defeat in almost every theatre it deployed, due to a variety of reasons, mainly because of decisions made before the war and politicians and senior commanders being unclear on what the army's role was. With mass conscription the expansion of the army was reflected in the creation of more divisions , army corps , armies and army groups. From , the British Army's fortunes turned and it hardly suffered a strategic defeat.

The pre-war British Army was trained and equipped to garrison and police the British Empire and, as became evident during the war, was woefully unprepared and ill-equipped to conduct a war against multiple enemies on multiple fronts. At the start of the war the army was small in comparison to its enemies', and remained an all-volunteer force until By the end of the war the British Army had grown to number over 3. The British Army fought around the world, with campaigns in Norway , Belgium and France in and, after the collapse of both the latter countries, in Africa , the Mediterranean and Middle East and the Far East.

After a series of setbacks, retreats and evacuations the British Army and its Allies eventually gained the upper hand. This started with victory over the Italian and German forces in the Tunisia Campaign.