War Talks – Fifth Season (May-July 2019)

The War Talks initiative enters its third year in July, by then it will have delivered 42 Talks on subjects as diverse as the career of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, the genetics of war, and child soldiers in Africa.  We have welcomed academics and think-tankers from across the World, with speakers travelling from as far afield as the United States and Australia to speak to our dedicated audience.  The Talks have taken place in Aldershot at both the Prince Consort’s Library and the Aldershot Military Museum, in Portsmouth aboard HMS Victory, and at Tonbridge School in Kent.  From May, our Talks will take place in a wider range of locations,  be broadcast on social media, and feature an increasing diversity of speakers.  We are also incredibly fortunate to continue to be supported by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) and the British Army in the guise of the British Army Military Book of the Year (BAMBY) Competition.

The new season, our fifth, starts in May 2019.  My rationale for the Talks remains to deliver informal professional military education (PME) to service people and civil servants, filling the gaps between formal PME courses.  This season is very special, however, in that all of our speakers are women.  It is no secret that women are unrepresented as speakers in the areas of war studies and international relations; my aim in this, the centenary of the arrival in the House of Commons of Lady Astor as the first female MP to take her seat, is to highlight the quality of women speakers and to prove that it is possible to be diverse and preserve excellence.  I believe that our speakers are amongst the best available in their areas of expertise and hope that attendees looking to promote PME will look to women to fill panels in future.  Our season kicks off on Tuesday 7 May 2019.

Our first speaker, Sarah Ashbridge, is an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) PhD student based in Huddersfield.  Her studies concentrate on British and German identity disks and the administration of war dead in the period 1914-1921 but she is also an experienced battlefield archaeologist, having been involved in the recent excavation of Hill 80 in Belgium and the British Army’s Operation Nightingale project on Salisbury Plain.  Sarah will speak on the subject of ‘Identity Discs and the Administration of Death 1907-21′, her talk, at Aldershot Military Museum, will be essential listening for students of the Great War and for those with an interest in conflict archaeology.  Our second Talk takes place on Tuesday 21 May 2019 at the same location.  Our speaker on this occasion is Szabina Maguire.  Szabina is Hungarian and a former diplomat who now carries out research into Russian disinformation on behalf of NATO, her Talk will divulge many of her findings and promises to be fascinating for those examining the ‘Grey Space’.  Szabina’s Talk is entitled, The Role of Disinformation on NATO’s Eastern Flank’.

In June, we are privileged to have Dr Vanda Wilcox of the John Cabot University in Rome coming to speak.  Vanda is currently writing on a book on the Italian Empire in the Great War and working in Paris but will, on Tuesday 4 June 2019, be speaking on a subject related to her PhD and Cambridge University Press book, ‘How (not) to manage morale: Italy in the First World War’.  I’m very much hoping that she may have some suggestions for British soldiers in the twenty-first century.  Later in June, Veerle Nouwens, Research Fellow at RUSI will be speaking on the topic of China, having heard Veerle speak previously I can assure you all that her expertise and delivery is incredible.  She has lived and worked in China and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese politics.  The title of her Talk is yet to be confirmed, but will look at China’s place in the twenty-first century.  Veerle will speak at the historic Prince Consort’s Library on Tuesday 25 June 2019.

In July, we have two further Talks.  Our first is by Alicia Kearns, will take place on Tuesday 9 July 2019 and is entitled, ‘Weaponised Truth and the Democratisation of Information.  The subject is prescient, coming at a time when the British Army is closely examining the concept of information advantage, and when militaries around the world are struggling with the role of social media in engagement.  Alicia is a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party and was previously a diplomat working in Iraq, where she was involved in countering ISIS, and in Ukraine, where she advised on countering Russian disinformation.  The final Talk in this season will be given by Cristina Varriale of RUSI.  Cristina will speak on the subject of North Korea and nuclear proliferation on Tuesday 23 July 2019.  Cristina has worked in Washington DC at the Centre for Strategic Studies, at the International Centre for Security Analysis, and at the British American Security Information Council and has appeared on Sky News and the BBC as the go-to expert on the politics of proliferation on the Korean peninsula.  Her expertise is formidable and she will bring our fifth season to a suitably explosive close just before the Army’s traditional break.

Below is a list of all the Talks and the dates on which they will be held, I look forward to seeing you all there.

All the best, have a good weekend,

Barney

20190401-War Talks – Fifth Season (May - July 2019).

Winter turns to Spring!!

I’m sure you will have inferred from my prolonged absence that the period since Christmas has been incredibly busy for me.  I last wrote in my Blog at the end of January, so this is going to be one of those catch up pieces where I tell you what I’ve been up to and what I have planned for the next few months; needless to say the first quarter of 2019 has been a whirlwind.  In January, I was working full-time at RUSI in London, living in Aldershot, and spending most of my time writing, none of that is now true and it makes me a little sad.  The only thing that hasn’t changed is Brexit, that will still be rumbling on when I finish my next posting!

I suppose all good things have to come to an end; working full-time at RUSI was an absolute honour.  I loved working in Whitehall, learning from the incredibly informed young people in the Institute, and being mentored by people like Peter Roberts and Ewan Lawson.  I like to think I have made real friends amongst the researchers, friends for life. In the period from New Year until the end of March, I was fortunate to have articles published in the Wavell Room and by the Modern War Institute at West Point, to work on a RUSI Journal article with the superb Ali Stickings, and a chapter for a special report to be published by RUSI in May 19.  I was also immensely privileged to be allowed to go to Georgia as a representative of RUSI to teach at the Defence Academy in Tbilisi alongside Ewan Lawson.  I think I made the most of my academic placement, I’m still full of ideas for articles on such topics as Mission Command, the Changing Character of Warfare, and Adaptability amongst others, I will get round to them, one thing RUSI has taught me is to keep writing!  The good news is that I am still working part-time at RUSI, assisting the Land Warfare Fellow, Jack Watling, with the RUSI Land Warfare Conference 2019.

In March I was formally assigned to the Army Media Centre at Andover, where I am the SO3 Media Ops (Digital), its a great job working with a great bunch of people.  I love that I am able to use my head and be creative and that I’m able to run projects for the wider Engagement and Communications at the same time as doing my day job.  In addition to the projects publicising CGS’s Innovation Prize and ensuring streaming is available for the Army at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference, I am also able to help deliver Battlefield Studies for UCL’s Institute of Education, HQ 3rd (UK) Division, and the Yorkshire Regiment, lecture to groups such as HQ Directorate of Special Forces, my Corps’ WOs and Sgts’ Conference and the Chief’s of Staff of the FINABEL nations, and organise and run the War Talks series, our 35th talk is on Tuesday!  I hope to announce the details of the six Talks in the Fifth Season this weekend, what I can divulge tonight is that it will be an all-female season, particularly apt in the centenary year of Lady Astor’s arrival in Parliament.   Additionally, I will be running the British Army Military Book of the Year competition in 2019 on behalf of the COS of Army Education; the Competition opens on the 23rd April and we have seven books for the judges to consider.  Judges come from all across Defence ranking from Trooper to Colonel, Regular and Reserve.

Those of you that know me will also know that my real passion is Professional Military Education (PME).  Ewan Lawson and I have been discussing this for some time and I was fortunate to be able to organise a RUSI roundtable event with Maj General Mullen, the Commanding General of the USMC’s Training and Education Command, it was clear that the appetite for a more twenty-first century approach to PME is not just an aspiration in the UK nor is it seen as officer sport.  The times they are a changing!  To that end, I’m hoping to run more events with a PME theme for RUSI in the late Summer of 2019.  So what of my other aspirations?  Well, I don’t think I’m going to get promoted or offered a commission any time soon, but that’s never been the point, my aspirations are in spreading the word about PME, its utility as a driver for change, and developing my career as a military academic.  To that end, I am determined to start a PhD this year, to apply for more Fellowships, to do some more work in the area of Force Development, and to write lots more!

Right its time to read, Raphael Marcus’ ‘Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah’ is on my night stand!! Hope to catch you all very soon.

All the best,

Barney

 

 

Turning Swords into Multi-Tools

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on this Blog entitled The Ghost of Christmas Past, which advocated enhanced formal professional military education (PME) for Other Ranks (ORs).  The post was generally well received and I was really flattered by some of your support.  Inevitably, the feedback was not universally positive, the key criticism being that improving OR PME was both expensive and operationally irrelevant.  Yes, enhancing formal PME for ORs would be more expensive, and is perhaps unlikely at a time when PME as a whole may be seen as a painless pruning, but the payback could be enormous and not just in the reduction in the cost of junior staff officers!

In a recent article on War on the Rocks, Master Sergeant Matthew Reed, a student at the U.S Army Sergeants Major Academy, highlighted the experience of Major General Anthony Cucolo who, as Commanding General of U.S Division-North in Iraq, had felt that the operational effectiveness of his formation was compromised by his Non-Commissioned Officers’ (NCOs) inability to understand the operation and its context at an appropriate conceptual level.  The article goes on to advocate better and more rigorous formal PME for ORs to fill the gap and hence improve military effect.  To use the analogy of the contents of a toolbox: we currently have dozens of tools each specifically designed to tackle a set task, with enhanced PME we could have multi-tools and a lighter toolbox.

The formal route is, however, not the be-all-and-end-all of PME.  Across the Anglosphere, informal initiatives are being used to fill the gaps between formal courses.  Formerly, these pauses would have been filled at unit level by ad hoc education programmes, but these have largely disappeared, a curiosity of a bygone era, replaced by individual PME accessed from the internet.  Indeed, it was heartening to read an excellent short article by Daniel Cowan, an Australian NCO, this week in The Cove, the Australian Army’s One-Stop Shop for PME, which gave details of the opportunities available on the Net and elsewhere to address the PME lacuna.  This inspired me to think about how a British NCO might begin to fill the gaps between CLM courses.

Analogue learning retains a place in informal PME and I would encourage anyone who can to get along to the Talks provided by the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (CHACR) and the Centre for Army Leadership (CAL) at Sandhurst to go.  Both organisations also provide excellent associated publications including the British Army Review (BAR).  There are numerous other non-military initiatives which provide talks and debates on military subjects across the country, these are either private initiatives like the War Talks or run alongside university programmes notably at King’s College, London, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton.  These universities, and several others besides, run postgraduate courses in military studies, all of which can be financed with the help of Enhanced Learning Credits (ELCs).  But we are putting the cart somewhat before the horse, lets turn to reading.

Reading is for many of us a real pleasure, for others it is not that but a chore and in some cases a real cause of anxiety.  I cannot pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of books on military subjects, but I would strongly recommend the following as giving an accessible, sound foundation on which to build an understanding of war:  As an entry level book, perhaps the finest is John Keegan’s The Face of Battle, although if this proves a bit much for first contact, try John Master’s The Road Past Mandalay or Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel.  If you are anxious to move up a level and get an understanding of modern war, I’d give Understanding Modern Warfare a read in conjunction with the latest version of ADP Land Operations, or whatever piece of doctrine is appropriate to your service.  If you’re interested in future war, give Colin S. Gray’s Another Bloody Century a go, and if you like your future as fiction Ghost Fleet is pretty compelling.

Reading doesn’t have to be in books, there is some excellent journalism out there, both in print and online.  Personally, I like the writing of Lucy Fisher in the Times, Jonathan Beale on the BBC, and Henry Jones online; a word of caution though, not all journalists are as balanced as they might appear, avoid the sensationalism is my watch word.  In addition to journalism, there is output from Think Tanks like RUSI, IISS, and Chatham House, much of that is behind a paywall, although you can access the RUSI Journal through the Army Libraries and Information Service (ALIS) both through Defence Net and the Defence Portal.  The main source of informal PME is, however, the internet.

The best way of gleaning the best from the internet is to utilise the excellent resource that is Grounded Curiosity, an Australian PME site that gives links to the best work being done in military affairs.  On there you will find links to War on the Rocks, the Wavell Room, The Cove, Strategy Bridge, Small Wars Journal the Modern War Institute and dozens of blogs and podcasts looking at military matters such as Think Defence and the Dead Prussian Podcast The real home of online PME is, of course, Twitter.  The number of commentators on defence affairs on Twitter is quite staggering and although sometimes plagued by trolls and the uninformed, the platform allows the erstwhile polemologists to speak to real expertise in an area and enter into wide-ranging debates with academics, serving personnel, and industry experts to really hone your knowledge.  I purposefully haven’t named any of the Defence Twitterati as I’d hate to exclude anyone, but if you are up for a challenge take a look!

In closing, Id like to say that its vital that ORs engage with PME be that by attending talks, reading books and newspapers, accessing the blogs and articles through the internet, or arguing the toss on Twitter.  Formal PME gives you enough information to do your job, informal PME gives you all you need to question what you are being told.  In 1991 when the Wall came down, defence expenditure was cut as part of the Peace Dividend, Western governments encouraged society, in a biblical reference, to turn swords into ploughshares; with Defence budgets so tight and manpower so scarce, perhaps the time has come to use PME to turn swords into multi-tools.

All the very best,

Barney

 

 

 

The Best Things in Life Are Free.

Thirty years ago last Summer, I left school.  Looking back, the young Barney headed into the world with a superfluity of arrogance, a fistful of A Levels, and an almost complete lack of common sense; the truth is, if I met him I’m not sure I’d like him much.  At school, I was a dreadfully conservative teenager, more at home in the 1950s than the 1980s, in love with books, Rugby, and several of my lovely classmates!  This conservatism manifested itself, in academic terms at least, as an enthusiasm for coaching rather than learning.  I saw success in the wider world as a process of collecting, and the things I most like to collect were qualifications.  In collecting certificates, I preferred to be shown how to pass an exam rather than understanding the subject I was studying.  It was only when I began my Masters that I realised that while coaching could extract a decent pass, learning and understanding were essential for excellence.

A couple of days ago, I was privileged to meet Dr Peter Johnston, the Head of Collections, Research, and Academic Access at the National Army Museum, and whilst there enjoyed a tour of that fantastic institution.  Before the tour, we discussed some of the learning opportunities the Museum is scoping for serving personnel, and the service the Museum currently provides to the British Army, Regular and Reserve.  Chief among the opportunities, I think, is the offer to units of free consultation, tailored tours, and study facilities for Study Days.  Units that visit the Museum don’t simply get to wander around a museum studying a chronology of Army history, they are guided thematically and, if they use the museum’s free services, can be guided to look at how the Army dealt with the problems of the past, many of which rhyme with the problems of today.  An example which Peter pointed out was cultural awareness; the British Army has a rich history of learning to understand other cultures in pursuit of its mission and the Museum can demonstrate our predecessors solutions through artefacts and explain the importance of cultural understanding.  There is no exam, no certificate, this is a learning opportunity and it is free.

In today’s Army we are perhaps programmed to expect certification, to be spoon-fed learning, and to believe that learning experiences are costly.  Last Summer, I helped to plan and deliver a Battlefield Study for Educational and Training Services (South) delivered at virtually no cost in Hampshire and Berkshire.  The cost to attendees was nothing but their time and in return they got to extract lessons for today from the Battle of Cheriton and the Second Battle of Newbury.  The point of this? Quality professional military education need not be either expensive, overseas, or bottle-fed.  The attendees did much of the learning for themselves and my role was merely to explain concepts and orientate the group in the 1644 landscape. No one was being coached for exam success, everyone was learning.  This is also the key strength of the War Talks programme, it is broad-based, does not aim to deliver certification, and is completely free.  In the last two years we have delivered almost thirty talks, all have which have been free, on subjects as wide-ranging as leadership, encountering children in twenty-first century warfare, and the threat represented by Putin’s Russia to name but few.

The benefit of these sorts of informal professional military education would have been lost on the young Barney; there was no exam, no qualification, and no medal.  The NAM offer, the battlefield study, the War Talks programme, and the increasing number of other PME opportunities offer learning, not coaching to pass an exam.  If you want to encourage excellence in learning and understanding in your unit, don’t worry about the cost or the lack of a certificate, think about doing it for free.  The best things in life are free.

All the very best,

Old(er) Barney.

P.S Get your Units to the National Army Museum, and tell Peter I said Hello!!

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

On Monday morning, I return to work after what has been a wonderful Christmas break.  The giving and receiving of presents is always a particular highlight and thankfully, I am easy to shop for, an item of British First World War militaria or a military history book is always welcome.  This year, I was extremely fortunate to receive some wonderful gifts, albeit those who don’t understand my proclivities might easily believe my presents had come from either a car boot sale or a second-hand shop!  My favourite gift is an original First World War Verners Mark VII marching compass in full working order in its issued leather case.  The individual to whom it was originally handed had scratched their details into the leather of the case, unfortunately try as I might I cannot read the lettering.

As I opened the ancient case and examined the compass, I was transfixed by the instrument, its heavy brass construction designed to last, the aluminium parts painted to avoid a flash of shine, and the Mother-of-Pearl dial, beautifully detailed to allow easier reading of the compass on a moonlit night.  I held in my hands a cutting edge piece of early-20th century instrumentation; designed only twenty years before the War, it would have represented real precision on the battlefields of the Great War.  I thought about the fact that most major attacks during the War were conducted in daylight and, thinking about my own experiences navigating in France and Belgium at night, understood the complexity of navigation for our very recent ancestors.  Today navigation is as simple as turning on a smart phone and following triangulated GPS signals, very much easier than for our forgotten navigator of the Great War.  For all its beauty and practicality, my 1915 compass is, although usable, almost obsolete, its utility beaten by my the march of time.

A little before Christmas, I found myself embroiled in an annoying Twitter spat with several Militweeters regarding the utility of allowing Other Ranks to access Professional Military Education (PME).  Their argument was that, at a time of austerity, spending money on granting soldiers access to the sort of PME currently reserved for Officers was wasteful and unwarranted.  They argued that soldiers already received sufficient PME informally or through the Command, Leadership and Management courses required for promotion and that to add further knowledge would be pointless.  Soldiers knew what they needed to know for their role.  This, and the Defence Academy’s ‘Other Rankless’ PME Conference before Christmas, display an incredible level of paternalism and a real failure to understand that the educational requirements of the battlespace have changed.  Current Army PME, while still delivering an effect, has become, like my exquisite Christmas present, obsolete.

The battlespace has changed fundamentally since the current concept of soldier education was formulated.  In those days, the Army was a mass instrument, and soldier education was concerned with ensuring Non-Commissioned Officers could read and write to an adequate level and have an understanding of current affairs.  In general, it was expected that his or her officer would be substantially better educated and be there to guide them in barracks and in the field, soldiers’ intellectual efforts should be confined to the techniques of the trade in which he was employed. The soldier was there to do not to think.  This sort of Army; hierarchical, paternalistic, and functional, lost its efficacy at the end of the Cold War.  As the character of warfare has changed, so have the educational requirements of NCOs; the battlefield is far more precise and lethal than it was, sensing and targeting enforce dispersion, and as a result the soldier must use their initiative to a far greater degree.  Initiative is not latent, it is learned through education and training.

In an article for War on the Rocks in November 2018, the author, Matthew Reed quoted from an interview with a former U.S divisional commander and Army War College commandant, Major General Anthony Cucolo, in which the General had stated:

When I was commanding U.S Division-North in Iraq, I needed my command sergeant major to operate at that level with me as much as my two one-stars and as much as my chief of staff…Every member of the command group needs to be operating at the same level… You need things like understanding grand strategy, how strategy turns into policy, the economics of warfare, and oral and written communications so you can go toe-to-toe intellectually when you get put in those positions.’

This insight is as prescient at every layer of command; the relevant SNCO or Warrant Officer should be as educated as the officer to whom he answers, indeed all NCOs should have sufficient education to perform the duties of their superiors.  This was certainly the aspiration in the German Reichsheer in the 1920s, and was proven effective when the force underwent rapid expansion in the 1930s.  Some have accused me of wanting to give  soldiers a ‘liberal arts education’, this is categorically not my objective, rather it is to encourage PME at all ranks to enable better decision-making on a lethal and dispersed battlefield whether they want it or not!  In conclusion, I, and I’m sure many reading this post, have been in situations in training and on operations where better PME for soldiers could have created a far better outcome, I’d like to see those who come after me better educated to deal with the battlefield of today, and learn from the mistakes of the past.  It is January, what better time to look back on the past and set your compass to the future!

PME – its not an Officer sport.

All the very best in 2019,

Barney

New Year Resolutions in 2019.

A few days ago, I laid out my accomplishments in the vintage year of 2018: first, my appointment as the first non-commissioned Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in its 187 year history; second, the award of the Royal Air Force’s Salmond Prize in it’s centenary year; third, organising the re-birth of the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize, won this year, for the first time, by a woman, Dr Aimee Fox; fourth, the organising of a Two-Star study day and fourteen War Talks, and having the privilege of speaking to Units, Formations, and a whole career stream in the Army and Royal Navy; fifth, to have been published in the United Kingdom and the United States and to have been interviewed for television and radio and finally undertaking, as both a guide and an administrator, nine battlefield studies in the UK, Belgium, and France.  Above all, for the first seven months of the year, I was the Regimental Administration Warrant Officer at the Scots Guards.

If anything, I intend to achieve more in 2019.  My New Year’s Resolutions are firstly, to get fit and lose weight, and secondly, to exploit last year’s successes.  At this juncture, I’d like to reiterate my motivations: I want to see improved Professional Military Education for Other Ranks throughout UK Defence, wider employment for Other Ranks, and greater value placed on learning in the entire profession of arms.  How I intend to push my projects forward in pursuit of these goals, will form the rest of this Blog post:

Royal United Services Institute.  Although my assignment to RUSI is due to end in March 2019, there is much to accomplish in the next three months.  I have a number of articles in progress, covering subjects as diverse as recruiting and retention and countering defence vulnerabilities in space.  I intend to write more and be published more widely to enhance my profile in 2019.  I’m also working on an essay prize, in conjunction with RUSI’s Land Warfare Conference, which will be open to soldier’s and junior officers and will encourage the Army’s young thinkers to write and express themselves with significant cash prizes as further motivation for the winners.  I will also throw myself into whatever opportunities RUSI offers me, and they are many!!

PhD Proposal.  In 2017, I began working on a PhD proposal, this was a bruising process and did not produce the result I wanted.  In short, I could not find a subject which captured my imagination sufficiently to dedicate six years of my life in its pursuit.  I do want to do a PhD, more for myself than for any other reason, but I still need to find the right subject.  I intend, therefore, to find the right subject for me and begin study in September 2019.  Its likely that the subject will be related to learning and adaptation and be in the context of the First World War or the period immediately following it.

War Talks.  As I think I have said previously, I will be handing the British Army Military Book of the Year competition back to the Army Libraries Information Service in 2019, but the War Talks series will continue to move from strength to strength.  Through my connection with RUSI, many of the speakers will be provided from amongst the Institute’s research community, allowing me to diversify the talks across military history, war studies, and international relations.  To bring further diversity, and through Aldershot Military Museum, the RUSI speakers will also hold sessions with local Sixth Form groups to discuss current affairs and improve the understanding of international politics in the Aldershot area.  In addition, the Talks will go on the road again, this time further afield, and I will endeavour to have them videoed and the speakers interviewed by me for podcasts.

These are just the headliners, I also intend to help organise a new Aldershot Military Literature Festival commencing in July 2019, continue guiding visits to the battlefields and speaking to Units and Formations.  Above all though, I will continue to take every opportunity to push the message that competence, not rank, should be the only limitation on appointments available to Other Ranks and that nothing is beyond anyone with the right education.  The last bastion of chauvinism in the Armed Forces is Rank, that needs to change.  I wish you all a Happy New Year in 2019, see you on the other side.

All the very best,

Barney

 

 

 

 

Goodbye to All That…Again

Its been a while.  This blog will be a rather self-indulgent piece looking back on what has been a wonderful 2018 and looking forward to 2019.  It has been one of those vintage years that I wish would never end, but at the same time I’m excited for the opportunities which I know are just around the corner in the New Year.  At the start of the year I set myself some goals: to spread the footprint of the War Talks series, to deliver a successful British Army Military Book of the Year 2018 (BAMBY18), and to throw myself into my new post at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in Whitehall.  I think I also said that I wanted to lose weight and return to fitness, in that regard, Reader, I have utterly failed.

Since the start of the year, I have delivered fifteen War Talks in four locations, Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot, Aldershot Military Museum, HMS Victory, and Tonbridge School.  The delivery of these talks is far from a solo effort, I am indebted to the staff at the Library, the Museum, the Dockyard, and the School for allowing me to use the venues but especially Mrs Kirsty Hoyle, Commander Kay Hallsworth, and Mrs Becky Lamb who have done much of the organisation for the Talks.  In addition to the War Talks, I have also been privileged to speak to military personnel at 104 Logistic Brigade in South Cerney, 3 Regiment RLC at Abingdon, the Royal Navy’s Medical Services Officers and Warrant Officers at Gosport, and the Officers of the Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land) at Shrivenham; I will be speaking to the Directorate of Special Forces and the Union Jack Club in 2019.  The BAMBY18 was a resounding success, with a superb win by Dr Aimee Fox for her book ‘Learning to Fight’.  Dr Fox’s win, the first for a woman, will be celebrated with the presentation of her prize at Prince Consort’s Library in February 2019.  Whilst I will continue to organise the War Talks series, the BAMBY will return to being run by the Army Libraries and Information Service in 2019.

In addition to Talks and the Book Prize, I have also organised a Conference on the First World War on the Western Front in 1918 on behalf of HQ Regional Command and been fortunate to have articles and reviews published in the UK and America, with a book review in the British Journal of Military History, an article on 1918 in ‘Soldier’ magazine, a Newsbrief and Commentary for RUSI, and a commentary on the ‘Death of Precision’ for War on the Rocks.  Being published has been enormously gratifying, with a RUSI Journal article due to publish in the Spring of 2019 in conjunction with my colleague Ali Stickings and an article with the Wavell Room in editorial as we speak.  I have also completed a paper for Defence’s Developments, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) on how Defence could enhance adaptability.  Perhaps the activity from which I draw the greatest satisfaction is providing support and guiding the First World Wars School Children’s Battlefield Tours, I have done eight tours this year, with a real highlight being the Amiens 100 international schools tour, during which I was fortunate to record a podcast on the Battle of Le Hamel with Professor Sir Hew Strachan which will be published in the early New Year.  I aim to continue to support the Tours and expand my interest in guiding in the New Year, in 2018 I enjoyed planning and delivering a Battlefield Study for the Army’s Educational and Training Services (South), in 2019 I will guide a tour by a battalion of the Mercians around Berlin.

By far the biggest occurrence in 2018 has been the posting to RUSI.  Intellectually, it has been an enormous learning curve but it has delivered in spades.  The role of the Military Sciences is to convene Defence related activities, to research Defence related matters, and to challenge Defence policies both at home and abroad. I am permitted to research anything and everything I like, there is no party line, and my superb boss, Professor Peter Roberts prefers an atmosphere of articulate and informed debate.  I have written on such things as Recruiting and Retention, the Army Reserve, and even the vulnerability of satellite-enabled precision, attended conferences and round-tables on NATO policy in the Black Sea, the employment of the British Army Reserve, the Swiss Army’s policy on Modern Deterrence, and challenges to Israelis, Greeks, and Ukrainians.  I cannot recommend the post of Army Visiting Fellow at RUSI enough and would encourage all ranks to apply, my replacement is an infantry Lieutenant Colonel, I would sorely have hoped for a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer.

Finally, I was humbled to be awarded the RAF’s Salmond Prize in June 2018, it was a special moment which I will always remember.  I was lucky enough to be awarded a GOC’s Commendation for Op TELIC 2 in 2003 but I think this prize was the most special thing I have been awarded in 24 years of military service.  So what next in 2019?  More Talks, more articles, more conferences, more travel, a new job, and the opportunity to meet more fascinating and committed people.  I will lose weight and get fit this year and I’m keen to mentor other Warrant Officers and Senior NCOs in using education to make a difference for Defence.  I’ll outline my plans in the New Year but for now, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

All the very best,

Barney

War Talks – Fourth Season (Dec 18-Apr 19)

Evening all!  Since Armistice Sunday, I’ve busied myself with the final details of the Fourth Season of War Talks.  The new seasons Talks will, in the main, take place at the Aldershot Military Museum, although we will be returning to Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot (PCL) for the presentation of the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize 2018 (BAMBY18) on Wednesday 20th February 2019, and if requested by the Army Library Information Service.  We intend to continue our ‘On the Road‘ initiative in 2019 with Talks in Portsmouth, Tonbridge, London, Colchester, and even into the High North beyond Watford Gap.  It is unlikely we will be called upon to run BAMBY19, as the staff at PCL now have sufficient spare capacity to do the task themselves, although we stand ready if called upon to assist.  I have to thank Kirsty Hoyle and her staff at the Museum for their help in 2018, we run the programme without a budget and so I am indebted to the speakers, museum staff, and my employing officers for giving me the time and support to carry on the important work of the War Talks initiative.

In 2019, thanks to the generosity of the Director General of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), Karin von Hippel, we will be entering into an informal collaboration with the World’s oldest Think Tank.  The collaboration will allow us to access RUSI’s excellent Researchers and Fellows at no cost, and to engage with schools and colleges in West Surrey and North Hampshire in the afternoons before the evening War Talks.  I’m really excited by this development, which will help RUSI with outreach, the War Talks with speakers, and the students of the area with their wider education.

So on to the Talks in detail: Our first speaker, just before Christmas (Tuesday 18th December 2018) , will be First World War expert Taff Gillingham.  Taff is perhaps Britain’s foremost expert on the British Tommy and has been the military advisor on many film and television productions including Journey’s End (2017) and Downton Abbey (2011). Taff will speak on the subject of the Christmas Truces, dispelling the myths, and filling in the gaps in the story of the iconic truces of 1914 and 1915.  Our first Talk (Tuesday 8th January 2019) in the New Year will be by our first RUSI academic; Emily Ferris is RUSI’s Research Fellow for Russia and Eurasia, she has written extensively on the subject of Russia and will speak on Russia’s relations with the West and future prospects for that relationship.  Next, we have the author James Barr; James, a Visiting Fellow at King’s College, London, will speak (Tuesday 22nd January 2019) on the subject of his latest book, ‘Lords of the Desert: Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East‘, an examination of British foreign policy in the Middle East following the First World War.

We have two Talks in February.  Our first (Thursday 7th February 2019), will see Dr Mike Martin, an academic and Reservist, speak about his book, ‘Why We Fight‘, a compelling look at the evolutionary psychology of violence and warfare.  Then, on Wednesday 20th February 2019, we will host the prizegiving of the BAMBY18, and the winner, Dr Aimee Fox, will speak on the subject of her book, ‘Learning to Fight‘.  In March 2019, we will have Talks by Prof Peter Doyle (Thursday 7th March 2019) and Veerle Nouwens (Tuesday 19th March 2019).  Peter is a prolific author and historian and will speak on the subject of his book, ‘Disputed Earth: Geology and Trench Warfare on the Western Front 1914-18‘ while Veerle is RUSI’s Asia-Pacific Research Fellow and a much published academic, who and will speak about China and its much misunderstood foreign and defence policies.  In April 2019, we have Talks by two more RUSI Research Fellows, Dr Jack Watling (Tuesday 9th April 2019)and Alexandra Stickings (Tuesday 16th April 2019).  Jack, an academic and journalist, has carried out investigations in the trouble spots of the Middle East and is an acknowledged expert on Iran and its foreign policy, while Alexandra is RUSI’s Space Fellow and an acknowledged expert in her field.

These Talks will take us up to Talk number 35 and see the initiative mature into an enduring part of the professional military education scene in and around Aldershot.  I look forward to seeing you all at either the Talks or the School events.

20181115-War Talks – Fourth Season (Dec 18 – Apr 19).

All the very best,

Barney

 

The Past is Another Country…

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Many apologies for my prolonged absence, October turned into an incredibly busy month, not least because of the five battlefield tours, and over 250 people, with whom I travelled to Belgium and France in conjunction with UCL’s Centenary Battlefield Tour Programme.  As always, the interest and enthusiasm of the teachers and students was infectious and humbling; it was, and remains, an absolute privilege to help tell the story of those men and women who fought for, and supported, the UK’s effort on the Western Front in the First World War.

Whilst telling the basic story of the War is relatively straightforward, ensuring the United Kingdom’s story does not overwhelm the stories of her allies and adversaries can be problematic.  It is easy to unbalance the UK’s role in the War, but the British are often far more successful at achieving balance than others: the many Commonwealth countries, who encourage birth of the nation mythologies, our French partners who revel in exceptionalism, and the Germans who adopt a position of studied forgetfulness. In this Blog, I will look at two issues which I believe act to negatively impact on the telling of the story of the UK’s War: First, an arrogance that we can easily empathise with our ancestors without understanding their lives, and secondly, that in our efforts to tell the whole story we lose contact with the experience of the UK’s participants.

One of the tours I supported in early November concentrated not on the history of the Western Front, but rather on its literature. The tour used the work of poets like Owen and Sassoon and modern writers like Michael Morpurgo to try to get inside the head of the British Tommy.  I believe it failed because it did not have an understanding of the nature of the subject. First, the writers used were unrepresentative of the bulk of the British Army, both Sassoon and Owen came from a privileged middle-class background and would have been horrified by conditions in the battle zone, a horror which would not have been shared by the ordinary Tommy, whose pre-War existence was often rude, brutal, and short.  For many soldiers, their experience in the Army would have seen them better fed and looked after than they were in civilian life; while McConnachie Stew might turn our stomachs, and death at work might seem incredible today, to many soldiers of the First World War their rations represented a hearty meal and industrial injury and death were a common occurrence. Although authors like Morpurgo might like to categorise the volunteers of the War as victims, they were in fact trained and well-equipped soldiers; if we see them as victims they most certainly would not have seen them selves as such.  If it is possible to describe the average experience of a British soldier of the First World War on the Western Front, and I am not convinced it is, it would probably be one in which a young man, unaccustomed to a regular wage, enjoyed decent food, copious entertainments, and the benefits of an outdoor life.  Occasionally, he would be involved in combat, and indeed the fighting would be considered horrific to even the most experienced modern soldier, but to those who either never fought on the frontline or to those who came home (around 88%), it would probably have been, on balance, an overwhelmingly positive experience.  No wonder then that at Field Marshal Earl Haig’s funeral in 1928 the streets filled with his former soldiers paying their respects to their commander.  Clearly, if we are to limit our sources to writers and poets, we fail our ancestors through selective ignorance.

If we fail to understand the lives of the vast majority of our forebears, do we understand their place in the War? The First World War was war on a vast scale, it saw the mobilisation of 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, the death of nine million combatants and seven million civilians worldwide, and combined casualties in excess of 31 million military personnel.  It was a war fought across the globe by Europeans and non-Europeans alike, indeed I have relatives who fought and died at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia.  In terms of loss by far the most deadly campaign took place on the Eastern Front, but in terms of strategic importance it is the West that is most important.  Strategically, the war at sea played the key role in the Entente victory, whilst operationally the British, French and American victories of 1918 put the result beyond doubt.  In the West, the allied senior partner was France, her losses are significantly higher than those of the UK, and her influence on the war on the Western Front was absolutely pre-eminent.  Britain’s role was dominated by her position as the leading sea power and as a substantial partner to the French on land in Europe, she also had an imperial role in Africa, the Middle East, and in the Orient.  In the main, Britain’s efforts on the Western Front were conducted by British troops with some assistance from the Dominions.

Yesterday, the BBC highlighted the alleged oversight of 16,000 men and women from the Caribbean who volunteered to serve in the First World War with the intimation that this was a deliberate racial slur, it is not.  All volunteers should be valued but we must retain a sense of proportion, the city of Manchester gave almost four times the number of Caribbean volunteers as dead, the total dead of British India roughly equate to the number of  personnel mobilised in County Durham, the vast majority of Canadian soldiers were in fact first generation immigrants from the UK, and there were considerably more French troops at Gallipoli than Australians, a large number of whom were Pom immigrants.  We must beware both reinforcing mythology and creating new myths.  Last night at the Oxford Union, academic Professor Catriona Pennell stated that Remembrance across the Centenary had been selective, failing to recognise the experience beyond that of the white, male soldier.  Whilst I admire her qualifications and scholarship, this is a crass remark.  The vast majority of those who fought were white, and almost exclusively male, that is also true of the losses; notwithstanding that inconvenient truth, the UK Government chose 2015 to specifically mark the contribution of the BAME community and 2017 to similarly mark the contribution of women, I for one applaud these initiatives.  Rather than neglecting the experience of the BAME community and women, this centenary has rather over-stated their contribution to the detriment of the ordinary Tommy; in effect, we celebrate women, the Indian Army in France, poets and sportsmen while in some corners of a foreign field the eternally remembered lay unvisited and forgotten.

It is Remembrance Day on Sunday, and coincidentally the centenary of the Armistice, as this four year centenary period draws to a close we should remember the ordinary Tommy who gave his life, not in pursuit of social engineering, an agenda, or his own perspective, but for his family, his mates, and his way of life.  He is not us, we are not him, the past is another country, thank God they did things differently there.

All the best,

Barney

 

What Barney did next…

If you are easily bored leave now, this promises to be a rather self-indulgent piece being the third instalment in the story of my 2018.  Regular readers may recall that at the outset of the year I set myself some targets on which I promised to update them as the year progressed, what follows is my account for the Third Quarter.  In case you were wondering whether to slip off un-noticed, I will give you a brief summary: it’ll talk about my new job and the Army’s External Placement programme, the First World War centenary, prizes and surprises, and give a look forward to the run up to Christmas, the BAMBY and War Talks.  If you have already gone I’d also like to thank you; thus far in 2018 my blog has been visited by over 6000 people and been viewed over 8000 times. Thank you all.

What can I say about RUSI?  I am surrounded by young, and not so young, people researching the defence and security problems of our time.  They are continually thinking and analysing, writing and convening, networking and connecting, and adding a degree of balance to the assumptions and fears of government, industry, and anyone with an interest in the future of our world.  They are exceptionally bright and hugely talented but with incredible intellectual humility, with strong camaraderie, and a sense of fun.  It is a hothouse, we in the Military Science team are working flat out on projects as diverse as the security implications of space, the development of cyber capabilities, and the future character of land warfare, I am learning fast and developing my ideas somewhat faster.  In the last three weeks I have completed my paper ‘Enhancing Adaptability’ for DCDC, written a brief on localising strategic engagement for the Army, attended round tables on NATO strategy in the Black Sea and developments in the Ukraine, collaborated in the planning of the Land Warfare Conference 2018, and begun work on a major new project looking at ‘Prototype Warfare’.  It is challenging and demanding, but without a shadow of a doubt the best assignment I have ever had in the Army.  I would strongly encourage anyone with a Master’s level education or above and an interest in defence and security to apply for the job through the Army’s External Placement programme, regardless of rank.  I may be the first non-commissioned soldier, but there is no reason I should be the last!

Since the end of June I have also been heavily engaged in projects outside of work, guiding on the Amiens Centenary International Student Battlefield Tour was a highlight, especially getting to create podcasts with Sir Hew Strachan, but I’ve also worked on a battlefield study for the Army’s Education and Training Services (South) group, planned the third season of War Talks, and brought the British Army Military Book of the Year prize, BAMBY18, to fruition.  I am indebted to all those who have helped particularly my friends Simon Bendry and Kirsty Hoyle who are inspirations to me and all with whom they come into contact.  In July I was honoured to receive the RAF’s Salmond Prize for an article I wrote for the Air Power Review about aerial re-supply at Kut in 1916 from the Chief of the Air Staff at the Air Power Conference, its not often a soldier gets rewarded by the professional head of the RAF.  The War Talks series continues to go from strength-to-strength, with seven talks booked in before Christmas and a further fourteen planned thus far for 2019, if you haven’t managed to get along to one please do you are all welcome…and its free!!  It hasn’t all been plain sailing, a health scare in July, luckily turned out to be relatively minor, but on balance my projects outside of work have been a joy.  What does the future hold?  More War Talks obviously, the privilege of attending the Armistice 100 commemoration at Westminster Abbey, seeing ‘Enhancing Adaptability’ and other work published, lots more battlefield guiding, and getting to meet lots of new and fascinating people are top of my list.

To close, I’d like to remind everyone what ‘this’, by which I mean volunteering for the RUSI Fellowship, the War Talks, the BAMBY, the guiding etc, is all about.  The British Army’s strength is its personnel, in future we will require them to be more adaptable to cope with an era of continuous competition and change, one of the key enablers of adaptability is education.  Education brings confidence in oneself and together with experience enables commanders to trust and to risk; education, particularly professional military education, is thus critical to the Army of tomorrow.  In Defence we spend around 0.3% of the budget on the conceptual component, the vast majority of our personnel receive less than a week of military education in their entire service, and some officers continue to stand aghast in incredulity at non-commissioned ‘thinking soldiers’.  If we want to be an Army which is effective in future we will have to empower. educate, and engage the whole of the force to create a competitive advantage.  ‘This’ then is about convincing everyone that professional military education is far more important than we currently believe, and that we must educate our untapped resource, the 85% of soldiers without a commission, to gain the competitive advantage necessary to retain our position as a reference army.

Have a great Sunday,

Barney

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