Resolutions

It seems rather apt that my first blog in 2018 should be about my resolutions for the New Year.  This isn’t going to be some boring post about losing weight and getting fit, there is enough of that about at the moment, rather it is going to describe the projects with which I am involved in 2018, and the changes I’ll be making in my professional life.

Inevitably, I will start with the second season of the War Talks at the PCL talk series which commences later this month. The establishment of the Series has been perhaps the greatest achievement of my career; in 2017 the eminent speakers who gave their time without recompense spoke to hundreds of people in the historic Prince Consort Library, Aldershot, and I’m hoping to build on that success in 2018.  The Series is booked up until May 2018; I am hoping to book more speakers after that, however, there is a strong possibility that the Library may be closed for restoration over the Summer, and I will be forced to find a new, temporary venue.  The other news on the War Talks front is that I’m looking to record the Talks in future and upload them to the Web.  In a related project, I am hoping to re-invigorate the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize this year and have a model which, like the Talk Series, is at no added cost to the MoD, representing a significant saving to the Department; I will Blog on this subject when I have the appropriate permissions.  Finally, I am planning two Study Days at Prince Consort’s Library, one on behalf of HQ Regional Command, and another in conjunction with Mr Simon Bendry, the organiser of the government’s School Childrens’ Battlefield Tours which promises to be a fabulous opportunity for teachers and children.

The School Children’s Battlefield Tours have been running since 2014 and I have been lucky enough to have been involved in the delivery of them since 2015.  I am hoping to provide support to three tours this Spring, including a first outing as a Battlefield Guide in February.  I am also hoping to Guide on a special tour on behalf of 7th Infantry Brigade in March, which will take BAME students out to France and Belgium to examine the role of the Indian Army on the Western Front in the First World War.  I have a real passion for taking children out to the Western Front both to counter some of the rather unfortunate mythology surrounding the Great War, and to use my experience in the British Army to help the students understand both the organisation today and what it feels like to be a soldier on operations, albeit in a wholly different context.  My interest in the First World War is lifelong, but was really engaged by my MA in Military History; whilst I have extracted an article from my dissertation for the Air Power Review (April 2017), I intend to write a wider article for the British Journal of Military History on the full MA dissertation in 2018.  The BJMH will also publish my first Book Review in February.  I have plans for a further article on bayonet training in the Victorian Army but that will have to wait until the Summer!

The biggest change for me in 2018 will be the assignment in September to be the Army Visiting Fellow at RUSI.  This tremendous opportunity, will see me working on a paper on behalf of the Army at RUSI whilst helping to build a closer relationship between both organisations on behalf of CGS.  I am really excited by this move and the other doors it has opened for me.  Perhaps the biggest is writing a Think Piece on behalf of my academic sponsors at Shrivenham on the subject of ‘Adaptability in the Future Force Concept’; I will be working on this paper until June, it promises to be challenging, interesting, and to keep me busy until summer leave.  There are a few other bits and bobs on the go currently, not least of which is the eminence grise of a PhD proposal, but I’ll talk about later in the year.  I have the small matter of being a Warrant Officer in the Army to contend with too, but look at the opportunities the Army has afforded me!!  Whatever the press may say, ‘Be The Best’ is an appropriate tagline for the most professional Army in the World and I intend to try my hardest to be just that!

Happy New Year in 2018

Barney

 

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For Want of an Audience.

As 2017 draws to a close, I look at my middle-age spread and realise that most of my leisure time is spent either eating or drinking. I love good food and a nice pint; I enjoy both in a place with good service, great atmosphere, and most importantly with good company.  This year I have been lucky enough to have sampled tea on a London bus, dined at the Ritz and a club in St. James’, indulged my love of oriental cuisine in the Nepali heartland of Aldershot, and enjoyed luncheon and supper in my two favourite local gastropubs.  Indeed, only last week I had a lunch meeting with a very good friend at one such hostelry, the Foresters’ Arms in Church Crookham.  In a three hour conversation, one particular topic stood out for me though: Cherished and long-established organisations searching for a new audience, and in the process being prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Our love of military history, specifically the Great War, is our common bond.  We are both keen visitors to the Western Front battlefields and have an interest in how that conflict is seen.  We bemoaned the way in which three organisations in particular had recently revised their ‘offer’, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Imperial War Museum, and the National Army Museum.  In each case, in the hunt for a new, younger audience each organisation has, to differing extents, abandoned what it was that made them attractive to their traditional older audience.  The most notorious of these is probably the National Army Museum which, following a multi-million pounds refurbishment, has re-cast itself to tell the social history of Britain through a lens of the British Army.  This apparently, will bring in people who aren’t really interested in the Army, but who are interested in how the Army developed alongside society.  In short, in the hunt for an audience, the National Army Museum, and the other two to a greater or lesser degree, has ceased to be a military museum and, like so much else, a museum which reflects social change which may or may not have coincided with war.  War, that disastrous, human activity, has become something which we as a society can only discuss in hushed whispers, through a politically correct medium; War is, for my younger readers, something like the Dark Lord Voldemort, we know what it is an what it isn’t but we never speak its name.

I understand the problems facing museums and other ‘heritage’ organisations, revenue is tight and their natural audience is getting older and, in fact, dying.  Indeed, this year  saw the closure of the Durham Light Infantry Museum which told the story of that fine Regiment in which many of my ancestors were proud to serve.  The Museum closed because finance was tight and the audience was static, in short it could not pay its way.  The problem here is threefold, first in chasing a younger demographic by pursuing social history, one alienates the older demographic seeking military history, leaving them disinclined to visit and commit revenue. Secondly, we are all getting older, that’s physics, in fact we, as a society, are getting older at an accelerating rate; people come to heritage as they get older, so Q.E.D  an aging population represents a growth market for museums, Finally, perhaps it isn’t the museum that is wrong but the location or quantity, in other words it is the delivery model that is broken not the subject matter; in the case of the Durham Light Infantry museum it sat in a country park on the edge of the historic city of Durham, away from its cultural heart and within a landscape of numerous military museums within a thirty mile radius, The Green Howards at Richmond, the Northumberland Fusiliers at Newcastle, and the Historic Dockyard at Hartlepool.  In short, there is still a demanding and lucrative audience, but we must learn to deliver to it rather than deciding to take our ball away to play with the cool kids in a different neighbourhood.

And so to the meat of my blog, apologies for the delay, it is Christmas! Chapter Four of ADP Land Operations talks about the importance of knowing your audience and communicating your message in the all new concept of ‘Integrated Action’.  At the same time, in a rush to recruit from parts of society which have not been traditional recruiting grounds, the emphasis in the Army has become one of diversity in recruiting, this would be a dangerous strategy at anytime but is even more so at a time when recruiting amongst the traditional audience is falling.  Instead, the Army should look to the problems with the model: Why is it failing to recruit amongst the young in the urban North? What is it about the Army that puts off teenage boys?  If we can find the answers to those two questions, and engage with children from a young age and society as a whole, even on a commercial level, we can solve the recruiting problem.  Looking for recruits in different demographics is not going to answer the problem, it will just drive away the traditional audience, neither will appealing to humanitarianism, we must not wrap War in a euphemism or shield it with tender images.  If we want to improve recruiting we must re-connect with ‘the scum of the Earth’, improve the offer by giving the audience what it wants, and concentrate on the business of closing with the Queen’s enemies, rather than navel-gazing over a new logo or strapline.

And now I’m off to my favourite little pub in the world, The Anchor at Lower Froyle, near Alton in Hampshire for a pint and a bite to eat.  The management at The Anchor know their audience, there are no gimmicks, they give us what we want and we reward them in turn.  Not for them a new image or an appeal to a different demographic, build it and they will come one might say, they did and so did we!!

Cheers all and a Merry Christmas.

Barney

 

 

Mission Command – Some Thoughts

Christmas decorations are tricky things, they spend eleven months in a box and one on a tree, they are an important staple of the Christmas experience; we always know when some are missing.  This week I was chatting to a friend, an intelligent, educated, and extremely competent Army officer who had lost a box of precious decorations.  Quite correctly, the loss was assessed to have been a result of the latest house move: the Army’s removal service, left to carry out a task unsupervised, had mislaid Christmas!  In a curious twist, later that same day I read an anonymous blog on the excellent Wavell Room site entitled ‘The Erosion of Mission Command in Barracks’.  In that article, the author bemoaned the perceived trend of an Army increasingly failing to follow its own doctrine in barracks.  The cause of this erosion was, it was claimed, a combination of risk-aversion by commanders, and the proliferation of management information systems.  Superficially we might consider both scenarios to be resultant from a lack of trust and familiarity, for me, however, they highlighted a deeper problem: we have little faith in the competence of those on whom we depend.

Trust, as the latest ADP Land Operations states with outstanding clarity, is a pre-requisite of command at all levels, but upon what is trust built? The answer, I propose, is experience; it is a fair bet that on the next move the Christmas decorations will be more tightly policed!  The root cause of greater application of the ‘long-handled screwdriver’ by higher commanders in barracks, is the failure of subordinates in whom trust has been previously placed; ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’.  The follow-on questions begged are: Why did subordinates fail in the past? What can be done to address the causes of failure? How do we put Mission Command back into operation in barracks?  In my experience, failure in barracks has three causes, failure of communication, failure of understanding, and lack of education.  We fail to articulate precisely what it is that we want because we assume our subordinates have the time and the knowledge to solve the problem, our subordinates fail to understand because instructions aren’t clearly articulated or they don’t have the time, experience, or inclination to carry out the task, and everyone fails because whilst we may have taken time to train our soldiers, we have failed to ensure they are educated: Train for the Known, Educate for the Unknown.

So if we communicate better, get to know subordinates better, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and ensure that they are not just trained but educated, Mission Command should be fit for purpose in barracks? Well yes and no.  Certainly, in long established teams in a stable organisation this would be the case, but in an organisation committed to constant change perhaps befehlstaktik is preferable? I leave you with that thought as I contemplate my mince pies, auftragstaktik is, for me, the preferred answer; communication and education are key.  Before you go, make sure you brief your movers and make them a cuppa, know your team, Christmas comes but once a year!

Merry Christmas!!

Barney

 

 

War Talks at PCL – 2018

Today I want to talk about the second season of my ‘War Talks at the PCL’ talk series commencing in January 2018.  Our first season, which ran from July to December 2017, featured talks by Dr Matt Ford, Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB, Prof Gary Sheffield, Dr Dan Todman, Dr Jacqueline Hazelton, Dr John Greenacre, Maj (Ret’d) Mike Peters, and Drs Stuart Mitchell and Mike Peters.  I am enormously indebted to these busy people for supporting the Series, they have done so without any reward, kindly giving their time and expertise freely; quite simply, the Series would not have run without their philanthropy.  The Series operates without a budget, depending purely upon goodwill to deliver what I believe to be an outstanding, prolific, and valuable resource of informal professional military education.

Our second season commences on Tuesday 30th January 2018, with a Talk by Dr Michelle Jones of the Veterans and Families Centre of Anglia Ruskin University.  Michelle’s subject will be ‘Encountering Children in Theatres of Armed Conflict: A New Challenge to the Operational Environment’.  Children often represent the largest constituency in developing countries, given that conflict is most likely to be encountered in these countries, Michelle’s work is invaluable for Defence particularly in light of the emergence of ‘Integrated Action’ as a key component of British military doctrine.  Isn’t it time we considered children when thinking about our audience?  The second talk will take place on Thursday 15th February 2018, and will be given by Maj Paul Knight PhD.  Paul is one of the new generation of ‘soldier-scholars’ who combines command of a Reserve Signals Squadron with independent study and writing.  Paul will talk about ‘The British Campaign in Mesopotamia from 1914-18’, teasing out some lessons for the modern British Army from the experience of the Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’.

The third talk in the Series will take place on Tuesday 27th February 2018, with a Talk by Mr Robert Lyman.  Robert is a former Army officer, author and public speaker whose 2003 book, ‘Slim, Master of War: Burma and the Birth of Modern War’ forms the basis of this Talk.  Along with Montgomery, Slim was one of the towering British field commanders of the Second World War and one whose leadership and command style has informed generations of Army officers ever since.  Robert’s talk is followed on Wednesday 14th March 1918 with a Talk by Maj Gen (Ret’d) Craig Lawrence CBE.  Craig was commissioned into the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles in September 1983, serving for over thirty years, and completing his service as Director of Joint Warfare in Joint Forces Command.  Craig is an author and has written a commemorative history of the Gurkhas, however, he is also a lecturer on strategy at the Royal College of Defence Studies and it is in this capacity that he will be delivering his talk entitled, ‘Getting Strategy Right (Enough)’.

Our fifth Talk will be given by Dr Chris Kempshall of the University of Sussex.  It coincides with the Headquarters Regional Command First World War Study Day on Tuesday 20th March 2018.  Talking on the eve of the centenary of the German 1918 Spring Offensive, Chris will examine ‘The Anglo-French ‘Entente’ in 1918: Lessons for 21st Century Interoperability’.  Like Michelle’s talk, Chris’s talk is prescient in the light of current doctrine, which emphasises joint and multinational operations. Chris’s Talk is followed on Tuesday 10th April 2018 by a talk by Dr Aimee Fox.  Aimee is a Lecturer at King’s College London working at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham, her work in learning and innovation is ground-breaking, and she is tipped as a future academic superstar.  Aimee will speak on the title of her recent book, ‘Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army 1914-18′.

Our final two Talks are by a pair of real academic heavyweights.  The first, on Tuesday 24th April 2018, will be given by Prof Lloyd Clark of the British Army’s Centre for Army Leadership.  Lloyd’s subject will be, ‘Leading Edge: Patton, Montgomery, and Rommel as Leaders During the Inter-War Years’.  This Talk promises to be utterly fascinating, examining the experiences of three of the Second World War’s iconic commanders and looking at how  their leadership styles developed in peacetime.  Our final speaker on Tuesday 8th May 2018, the 73rd anniversary of VE Day, will be Dr Jonathan Boff of the University of Birmingham.  Jonathan wrote perhaps one of the finest books on the Hundred Days Campaign of 1918 and is a formidable educator and researcher.  I am personally indebted to him for accepting me onto the excellent MA in Military History programme at Birmingham and for opening up a world of opportunity to me.  Jonathan’s talk is entitled, ‘Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front’ and will accompany his second book which is due for publication in March 2018.

All in all, the programme promises to be truly inspirational.  It currently ends in May 2018 subject to renovations to the Library.  Once the renovation date is clarified I will add further dates, but in the mean time if you have any subjects which you’d like to listen to, or speakers you’d like to hear please drop me a line.  I’m always happy to hear from potential speakers, particularly female and BAME speakers and Id particularly like to include some naval or air power speakers in future; the future is Joint.

All the best to you all,

Barney

 

History as Allegory

It is traditional at this time of year to emulate the Roman god Janus, looking forward, whilst looking back.  2018 promises to be an interesting year for the British Army as it grapples with inelastic budgets, aging equipment, and developing doctrine.  Whilst wary of drawing inaccurate historical parallels, I present the following as an allegory from which, I believe, much can be gleaned:

General Lord Kitchener was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army following the end of the Second Boer War in 1902.  The South African War had proven to be a bruising experience for the British Army, which although victorious, had often been humbled by a small, well-equipped, and mobile force of irregulars.  In addition to struggling with an asymmetrical campaign, the British Army had lost the information war, the media, and international opinion.   Lord Kitchener inherited a force which was little more than an imperial gendarmerie, equipped and indoctrinated for ‘Small Wars’, but largely incapable of fighting a modern conventional war.  In essence, the British Indian Army had become so finely adapted to fighting tribesmen in the Hindu Kush, and on the North East Frontier, that it had lost the necessary physical and conceptual attributes to prosecute conventional war.

Lord Kitchener set about a series of reforms which aimed to maintain the expertise of the Army in counter-insurgency, whilst preparing it to fight a future conventional war. As one might expect, Kitchener met with considerable internal opposition as he drove his reforms through, but the biggest problem Kitchener faced was not from his critics within the Army, but rather from the British Indian government both in India and in Whitehall.  Whilst accepting the urgent need for reform, political priorities at home and in India did not include expensive Indian Army reform; the Indian Army thus lost out to the Royal Navy’s expensive capital ship programme, spending on education and social spending in India, and the fiscal parsimony of government in both countries.  There were politicians, like Lord Morley, who recognised the danger of failing to reform the Indian Army, but who could not bring themselves to spend the necessary treasure.  As a result the Indian Army was still re-equipping, re-training, and learning when war broke out in 1914.  The Indian Army sent Expeditionary Forces to France, British East Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Gallipoli.  In each case, the undoubted bravery of the Indian troops was undermined by the lack of preparedness of the Expeditionary Force, the inadequate equipment, and inexperience of commanders.  All these lacunae were highlighted by the Mesopotamia Commission of 1917, but had been foreseen by politicians in the UK and India as early as 1906.  The Indian Army was thus sent to fight a war which politicians and commanders were aware it was ill-equipped to fight; we can only imagine what difference could have been achieved if Kitchener’s reforms had been fully supported between 1902-09.

I hope you enjoyed your bedtime story and have perhaps taken something from its simple message. Let’s hope that those in a position heed the warnings of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and prioritise Defence today and in the future.

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes,

Barney

 

2017 and beyond…

It has been almost a month since my last Blog, and what a month it has been! On a personal level, I have packed-off my youngest Step-daughter to university, moved my eldest Step-daughter back in (enjoying almost a week of unalloyed childless bliss!), and learned to bake without causing a conflagration in the kitchen.  On a professional level, I was recently selected as the Army Visiting Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall from September 2018.  This is both a new and exciting direction for me, and an immense honour; as General Kiszely pointed out last night at RMAS, I will be the first Other Rank to ever fill this post.  The pressure is on!

Following the return from the Summer break, we had the third of the talks in the War Talks at the PCL Series, given by Professor Gary Sheffield of the University of Wolverhampton.  Gary spoke on ‘The Duke of Wellington and the Tradition of British Generalship’; his talk was incredibly well received, and it was an honour to have him Talk at Prince Consort’s Library as part of the Series.  We were fortunate to have Lt General Bashall in the audience; speaking afterwards he gave his wholehearted support to the Series.  We also received great support from our friends at CHACR and CAL for which we are very grateful.  Unfortunately, I had to postpone the talk by Drs Stuart Mitchell and James Kitchen on Tuesday 26 September ’17 due to unforeseen circumstances, but I’m looking forward to seeing them deliver the postponed Talk at the end of the Season in December ’17. The next Talk is on Tuesday 3 October when Dr Dan Todman will talk about the strategic shock suffered by the Western Allies as a result of Hitler’s V Weapon Offensive in the Summer of 1944, closely followed by Dr Jill Hazelton’s talk on the future direction of Counter-insurgency policy post-Afghanistan.  Both these talks promise to resonate with the problems facing militaries today and will be thought-provoking and entertaining.

As I have said before, I am also working on the 2018 Programme for the Talk Series; thus far I have been fortunate to secure Professor Lloyd Clark of the Centre for Army Leadership in April 2018 and Dr Michelle Jones of Anglia Ruskin University’s Veteran and Military Families Institute.  Lloyd will be speaking about the development of the leadership styles of three great leaders of the Second World War, Montgomery, Patton, and Rommel.  Michelle will be speaking on the subject of military interaction with children in war zones; this work is fascinating and I think will become of vital interest to the British Army going forward given the likelihood of war amongst the children in the Third World.  I am hoping to announce three of four more speakers in the next month taking us up to July ’18.

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War Talks at PCL – The Full Picture

At long last, I am able to confirm the full programme of War Talks at PCL for 2017 as follows:

Tuesday 4th July 2017 – Dr Matthew Ford (University of Sussex).  Dr Ford spoke on the subject, ‘Is it Gucci? What small arms can tell us about the military’s attitude to innovation and adaptation’.

Tuesday 25th July 2017 – Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB MC.  Lt Gen Kiszely spoke on the subject, ‘The British Campaign in Norway, 1940: Lessons for Today’.

Tuesday 12 September 2017 – Professor Gary Sheffield (University of Wolverhampton).  Professor Sheffield will speak on the subject, ‘The Duke of Wellington and the Tradition of British Generalship’.

Tuesday 26 September 2017 – Dr Stuart Mitchell & Dr James Kitchen (RMAS).  Drs Mitchell and Kitchen will speak on the subject, ‘Historical Perspectives on Contemporary British Army Doctrine’.

Tuesday 3 October 2017 – Dr Dan Todman (Queen Mary University London).  Dr Todman will speak on the subject, ‘a flat spin about the flying bombs’ – the ‘V’ Weapon Offensive and Allied Reactions, June – September 1944′.

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Dr Jacqueline Hazelton (US Naval War College).  Dr Hazelton will speak on the subject, ‘Counterinsurgency: Fighting for a Better Peace’.

Tuesday 7 November 2017 – Dr John Greenacre (University of Suffolk).  Dr Greenacre will speak on the subject, ‘Flexible Enough to Adapt’: British Airborne Forces’ Experience during Post-Conflict Operations 1944-46′.

Wednesday 29 November 2017 – Maj (Ret’d) Mike Peters (Chairman of the Guild of Battlefield Guides).  Maj Peters will speak on the subject, ‘How to plan and deliver Battlefield Studies effectively’.

The final addition to the Talk series has been the talk by Drs Mitchell and Kitchen of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  Dr Stuart Mitchell has an MA in the History of Warfare from King’s College London and a PhD from the University of Birmingham.  He is a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at RMAS.  Stuart’s PhD was entitled ‘An inter-disciplinary study of learning at the divisional level of the British Army on the Western Front 1916-18’.  He has contributed to several books and has published many articles in academic journals and is an editor of the British Journal of Military History.  Dr James Kitchen was formerly a Lecturer in International History at University College Dublin and is currently a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at RMAS.  James has published on the military and cultural history of the First World War in the Middle East, with a particular focus on the British Army’s campaigns in Egypt and Palestine.  He regularly gives papers at conferences and seminars.  Each will deliver a 40 minute talk on the subject and questions will be taken at the end, they have requested that their Talk be delivered under Chatham House rules to enable greater debate and for this reason access will be strictly limited.  Their Talk will be given on Tuesday 26 September 2017 from 1800 hrs.

I am now actively seeking academics, soldier-scholars, and experts from the wider Defence and International Relations communities to deliver talks during the period January – July 2018.  I am particularly keen to encourage female and ethnic minority speakers to volunteer to come and speak to the Army; diversity is a strength.  If any readers of this Blog have suggestions for subjects or possible speakers please contact me either by commenting here or by messaging me on Twitter.  I look forward to seeing many of you at Professor Sheffield’s talk on Tuesday, 12th September ’17.

All the best,

Barney

Falls to a Ten Rupee Jezail

As I sit here in my study listening to the buzz of the Long-Haired General’s horticultural efforts, I am more than aware that it has been a week since my last confession.  This week has been incredibly busy: the Battalion has returned from Summer Leave, is preparing to deploy on Exercise for a couple of months, and I am turning my attention once again to a combination of nugatory compliance, War Talks at the PCL, and the role of my Detachment in a Strike unit from 2020.  Overarching all this, however, has been memory, and the remembrance of events in Iraq fourteen years ago tomorrow.  I rarely indulge in navel-gazing but today is going to be an exception; instead of writing something original I am going to copy something I wrote in 2004 by way of therapy, which found its way into the Borderer’s Chronicle, the Regimental Magazine of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, perhaps the finest Regiment with whom I have served.  I have redacted all names except two, mine and a man who cannot give his permission.  This Blog is done in memory of a big Glaswegian Territorial, Fusilier Russell Beeston, Beestie, who will forever be 26 but would have been 40 this year.

‘In every life there are moments of definition, points in time when one’s life seems to have a purpose and meaning.  A moment of clarity, of sharpness.  In most cases it is the birth of a child, a wedding or even a funeral, for me though it came at 2140 hrs at a small Iraqi town called Ali Ash Sharqi about 60 kms north of Al Amarah in Southern Iraq.

“Go, Go now, Go”, the OC shouted into his PRR.  The small convoy lurched into action and headed up the raised road which led from the centre of Ali Ash Sharqi to Route 6,the main artery of Southern Iraq. 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, then 70 kph, crashing through the gears, the warm night air rushing through the side window of my Land Rover Wolf.  A strange red glow like an errant firework flew, arcing over my vehicle; only when it exploded did I realise it was an RPG.  Just in time, I hit the brakes as a second dissected the space between us and the lead Land Rover.  Suddenly, the night was alive with the staccato rattle of machine-gun fire and the whizzing of bullets like angry hornets zipping past, my head was down over the steering wheel, my foot now flat to the floor, and my heart in my mouth as we dashed for the sanctuary of the Six.  The OC opened his side window and engaged an enemy machine-gun with his rifle, brass bouncing off the windscreen and rattling around the cab.

“Stop, Stop, Stop”, came the OC’s order and we screeched to a halt.  I stopped and turned off the engine somewhat surreally ensuring the vehicle was left in gear with the keys in the ignition.  I placed my hands on my rifle and was alone.  The time between halting and debussing was seemingly endless… I dismounted into the sultry night, alive with deadly fireflies and sought cover on the right hand embankment, suddenly we were illuminated by a Schermuly Paraflare and an enemy machine-gun opened up with rounds scything past our bodies.  Two yards away Fusilier Russell Beeston appeared to be dead, a round having hit him in the chest, having first shattered his arm on its deadly journey.  I ran for my life, instinct expecting another round to take my head off, I tasted blood, it was an expectation rather than fact.  I found cover behind my Land Rover, a Private came running past screaming “I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot”; his voice full of disbelief.  I grabbed him and dragged him to the ground, helping to administer First Aid; we managed to staunch the flow of blood and laid him in cover, behind the Land Rover.

The confusion cleared a little and I gathered a small band around me, the adrenaline hammering through my veins, as I directed a Private’s Minimi machine gun fire with my tracer rounds onto an enemy position, shortly thereafter it was neutralised.  Suddenly, the air was alive with someone shouting, “Beesty’s dead, Beesty’s dead” and I though this is real, this is not Salisbury Plain.  A Corporal shouted for a stretcher…no one moved…everyone was paralysed by fear, again he shouted and I headed off into the 30 metre gap in clear view of the enemy to the vehicle with the stretcher in it.  Every pace was alive with steel, I could feel it breathing on my face, the return journey was worse, the knowledge of what was to come.  I brought a cot bed to where Beesty lay on the road, a Lance Corporal kneeling astride his body, pounding his chest, screaming at him to come back, covered in blood, working in vain to save a life already gone. I returned to my firing position and told the Minimi gunner to move to the defensive position which had been established on the left-hand embankment, the road was now clear except for vehicles, the small team working on Beesty and me.  I stood on that vigil, and except for the barking of dogs, there was silence.

Death had come, visited in an instant and moved on.  I fully expected to die that night as eight others had done in the 1KOSB AOR in the previous two months, and yet I live, the randomness of it defeats me.  It was an experience I wished in vain never to repeat, although I’m privileged to say I was there. If there are such things as heroes in battle, the only one I saw that night was Beesty, who died quickly and quietly, with dignity in the service of his friends.’

This blog would not be complete without a word from Rudyard and so I offer one of his Epitaphs of War for Beesty,

Pity not! The Army gave

Freedom to a timid slave:

In which Freedom did he find

Strength of body, will, and mind:

By which strength he came to prove

Mirth, Companionship, and Love:

For which Love to Death he went:

In which Love he lies content.

Nisi Dominus Frustra

War Talks Breaking News

As I am on Leave this week, I thought I’d take the opportunity to preview the upcoming Talks in the Defence Studies Talk Series for which I have recently received titles.  The first two talks by Dr Matthew Ford (@warmatters), and Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely (@johnkiszely) have been incredibly well received with an audience in excess of fifty at the last Talk.  Thematically, the Series will continue to look at innovation in the widest sense with an eye to the Army’s Master Question List, but suggestions from the floor regarding subject’s and speakers are always gratefully received.  In September 2017, we have Professor Gary Sheffield (@ProfGSheffield) speaking on the 12th and Drs Stuart Mitchell (@SBTMitchell) and James Kitchen speaking on the 26th.

The three Talks I’d like to preview begin with the talk by Dr Dan Todman.  Dan, a graduate of the LSE, received his PhD from the University of Cambridge and subsequently taught in the Dept of War Studies at RMAS.  In 2003, he moved to Queen Mary University of London where he is currently a Senior Lecturer.  In 2005 his book The Great War: Myth and Memory won the THES Best Young Academic Writer prize and his book Britain’s War: Into Battle 1937-41 has been shortlisted for the Longman History Today Prize 2017.  Dan’s subject for the talk will be ‘…a flat spin about the flying bombs’ – the ‘V’ Weapon Offensive and Allied Reactions, June – September 1944′.  His Talk will examine civil-military relations, reaction to shock, and adaptation and adaptability in contact, using Hitler’s vengeance weapons campaign in the Summer of 1944 as a case study.  The Talk will move us away from a purely Army-focussed subject to discuss a joint solution to a military problem.  I would therefore welcome attendance from our Light Blue and Dark Blue colleagues, to pose the really difficult questions for which the Talk Series has become well known.  Dan’s talk will be on Tuesday 3rd October 2017 at 1800 hrs at the Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot.

Our next speaker, is Dr Jacqueline Hazelton.  Jill Hazelton is a graduate of the University of Chicago, receiving her PhD from Brandeis University.  Before returning to academia, Jill had a successful career as a journalist for the Associated Press, assigned to posts in New York, Washington, and Tokyo.  Jill is currently an Assistant Professor in Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.  Her recent article, ‘The Hearts and Minds Fallacy: Violence, Coercion, and Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare’ published in the Journal of International Security has been very well-received, but has proved controversial, challenging conventional wisdom and asking whether coercion is more likely to lead to a successful outcome in counterinsurgency than the creation of good governance.  Her Talk entitled, ‘Counterinsurgency: Fighting for a Better Peace’, will follow the theme of her recent article arguing that coercion is indeed more likely to bring a successful outcome to a counter-insurgency campaign than more population-centric tactics.  Jill will be both the first woman, and the first foreign, speaker to deliver a Talk in the series, I would encourage more of both to come and speak, drop me a line if you are interested and can address your subject to current military problems.  Jill’s Talk will take place on Tuesday 10th October 2017 at 1800 hrs in the Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot.      

The third of my previews will be delivered by Dr John Greenacre.  John Greenacre retired from the British Army as a Major in the Army Air Corps in 2011 after a twenty-four year career.  He holds an MA from Cranfield University in Military Studies and received his PhD from the University of Leeds.  John is a Lecturer in History at the University of Suffolk and will be the first ‘soldier-scholar’ to deliver a Talk in the Series.  His PhD thesis, ‘The Capability Development of Britain’s Airborne Forces during the Second World War’ was published in 2010 by Pen & Sword Books under the title ‘Churchill’s Spearhead’.  John’s talk subject will be, ‘Flexible Enough to Adapt’: British Airborne Forces’ Experience during Post-Conflict Operations 1944-1946.’ The Talk will examine the experience of British airborne engaged on ‘stabilisation operations’ either side of the end of the Second World War, namely Greece 1944, Norway 1945 and Java 1946. John will also look at whether there are common threads to the experience of all three operations, how the airborne forces committed coped with them, and what we can learn from their experience in the era of hybrid warfare.  John’s Talk will be held at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot on Tuesday 7th November 2017 at 1800 hrs.

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to you all for supporting the War Talks/Defence Studies Talk Series (be sure to vote in the Twitter poll!), and this Blog.  The other day, Major James Elliott, a real friend of this project, discovered a tag line which I think encapsulates the spirit of both the Blog and the Series, ‘Training prepares for the Known: Education prepares for the Unknown’.  I would encourage anyone reading this, particularly our young NCOs, to seek out the expertise of the ETS Branch and look to improve their professional military knowledge now.  It is too late to learn when you are deployed; trust me, you’ll wish you had.

‘If your Officer’s dead and the Sergeants look white,

Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight: So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,

And wait for supports like a soldier’

All the best,

Barney