by Timothy Bowman
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xxiv, 244.
Illus., tables, notes, biblio., indices. $110.00. ISBN: 0199542783
A new study of the oranization and composition of the British Army that was sent to France in 1914.
Most studies of the post- Boer War British Army are concerned with the issue of reforming the institution. This is a code word for financial and fiscal measures to limit the size and cost of the army. In this work we get a profile of the personnel policies and manpower management in the British Army.
The Officer Corps was recruited from the aristocracy, gentry, and upper middle class. Being an officer required indpendent financial resources. Officers were required to pay for their uniforms, the regimental mess, and part of theeir unit band. Costs could vary greatly, and were contingent upon the service branch or regiment that the officer was posted to. The Guards, the Cavalry, and certain socially favored regiments were very expensive. To serve in the Home Islands demanded an outside income. Officers could earn extra monies by serving in colonial formations, principally in Africa, where they actually were contract employees of the Foreign Office.
Officers generally came from the Royal Military Colleges at Sandhurst or the more technical school at Woolwich, but there were also alternate sources, the University Training Corps and the Militia. Several notable officers came into the regular army from the militia, such as Henry Wilson, Edward Spears, and Hugh Trenchard.
Recruited largely from the unskilled urban and rural poor, enlisted men, “rankers”, had few prospects. It was rare that one could secure a promotion to the officer corps, and the only notable soldier to have accomplished this was William Robertson, who rose to a knighthood, became a field marshal, and was Chief of the Imperial General Staff for most of World War I.
Throughout this period retention and troop strength was a serious problem, one which was never solved. Regiments in the Home Islands were intended to send drafts of new recruits to their battalions in India. So home regiments were generally starved for personnel. This made training and exercises difficult; field exercises and manouvers required viable formations.
The Army Staff did not ignore modernization and tactical reforms. Budgets were, however, tight and procurement of new equipment was slow. Nevertheless, a reorganization of the army and reserves was implemented over the years. The reserve system became very complicated. The volunteers, militia and were superseded by The Territorial Force, Special Reserve, and Emergency Reserve. The Territorial system did not apply in Ireland, and Territorials were not required to do overseas service unless they volunteered. Former service men were put in the Special or the Emergency Reserve, which were to supply the troops for wartime expansion. In 1914 these men went into the regular army upon mobilization.
Bowman concludes with a look at the Army’s image in British society and at its role in the British Empire on the eve of the Great War.
Bowman has made a major contribution to understanding a rather remote institution only dimly understood by the contemporary British public or the political establishment. Those interested in learning how the British Army was organized and functioned as it prepared to enter the Great War will find this book valuable.