Defence Studies Talk Series – Update

Some of you will be relieved that this is not going to be a standard musing.  Instead, I’m going to write about the Talk Series and give some background on our speakers up to December this year.  Last night, we were fortunate to host Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB MC; Sir John spoke about the British campaign in Norway from April – June 1940 relating its failures to those experienced by the UK and her allies in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.  Sir John’s argument was compelling, highlighting charismatic leadership combined with poor judgement, a failure to speak truth to power, a lack of planning, and inter-service rivalry as being key factors in the Norway fiasco.  Sir John was questioned closely by an informed audience including three senior members of the RMAS War Studies Department, and the CO of the Centre for Army Leadership.  It was a riveting evening and has helped to cement the Talk Series in the Army’s Conceptual Calendar.

Following on from Dr Matthew Ford and Sir John Kiszely in the Series, our next speaker, on Tuesday 12 September 2017, will be Professor Gary Sheffield.  Professor Sheffield is currently Professor of War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, having previously been Professor of War Studies at both the University of Birmingham and King’s College, London.  Professor Sheffield’s relationship with the Armed Forces date back to 1985 when he became a Lecturer in War Studies at RMAS, he would later become the Land Warfare Historian on the Higher Command and Staff Course at the UK Defence Academy.  Professor Sheffield’s subject matter for the Talk will be ‘The Duke of Wellington and the Tradition of British Generalship‘.  Continuing with our twice monthly scheduling, our next Talk will be delivered by Drs Stewart Mitchell and James Kitchen of the War Studies Department, RMAS and will examine the limitations of the British concept of leadership and British military doctrine.  Stewart and James will speak from 1800 hrs on Tuesday, 26 September 2017.

October will see two talks, the first on Tuesday 3 October 2017 will be given by Dr Dan Todman, Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).  Dan taught at RMAS prior to taking up a post at QMUL.  He was named the Times Young Academic Author of the Year 2005 for the book of his thesis The Great War, Myth and Memory and has been shortlisted for the Longman-History Today Book Prize 2017 for his book Britain’s War: Into Battle 1937-41.  I hope to be able to reveal the title of Dan’s talk later in the Summer.  Our second speaker in October will be Dr Jacqueline Hazelton, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States’ Naval War College.  Her research interests include compellence, asymmetric conflict, military intervention, counterinsurgency, the uses of US military power, and US foreign and military power.  Jill will speak on the future of COIN warfare post-Afghanistan.  It may well be that we may run a third talk in October ’17 if I can find a suitable subject and speaker, if you want a subject covered or are an academic speaker who wants to speak at PCL, Aldershot then please let me know by e-mailing me on

November 2017, will again see two talks both by former officers in the Army Air Corps.  The first will be given by Dr John Greenacre, Lecturer in History at the University of Suffolk.  John retired as a Lt Col and Chief Operations Officer of the UK Attack Helicopter Force based at Wattisham Station in Suffolk.  John’s subject on Tuesday 7 November 2017 will be Flexible Enough to Adapt: British Airborne Forces Experience during Post-Conflict Operations 1944-46, it promises to be a fascinating look at the need for adaptability.  Our second speaker is Maj (Ret’d) Mike Peters, the current Chairman of the Guild of Battlefield Guides.  Mike’s talk will effectively act as a workshop, aiming to inform young officers and SNCOs how best to organise Battlefield Studies avoiding the pitfalls of bureaucracy and taking advantage of a unique training opportunity.  We are fortunate that Staffride, one of the foremost Battlefield Tour companies in the UK, has agreed to sponsor the event which will have refreshments as a result.

What next I hear you all say, well in December 2017 I am negotiating to host the prize-giving of the inaugural Sir Michael Howard Prize of the BCMH at PCL, Aldershot.  From January 2018, I propose that the Talk Series will move from a twice monthly to a monthly format with a day conference looking at 1918, planned for late March 2018.  In short, this Series is here to stay but it is dependent on your attendance and support.  I believe this Series is a really important piece of Professional Military Education but it is here for your benefit so if you can think of a subject you want covered drop me a line and I’ll try to find a speaker and date.  A more normal Blog will ensue shortly, but thank you for reading this and supporting the Defence Studies Talk Series at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot.

All the best,



A Call to Arms – Build it and they will come!

Last night, in the historic Prince Consort’s Library, Dr Matthew Ford proposed a thesis of military innovation that cast doubt on the conventional views of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’.  Instead, Matt suggested that the real drivers of innovation are not to be found either in the Cabinet Office or the back of a Warrior, rather they sit behind desks in Units; in short, innovation comes from the middle and is driven by Warrant and Field Officers.  Matt’s argument was compelling, but as I looked around I couldn’t help but notice that there were more Lance Corporals than Warrant Officers in the audience.  How are we to innovate then, if the innovators aren’t motivated and don’t understand the importance of innovation? How are we to learn if we don’t invest in the military education of 85% of Army personnel?

The Army is a good employer; it offers opportunities for transferable qualifications, apprenticeships, and myriad sport and adventure training challenges. Unfortunately, however, it does not invest in the professional education of Other Ranks; in a 24 year career there are only three weeks of professional education available to NCOs and WOs, much of which is not dedicated to the theoretical battlefield, but to the practicalities of management of soldiers in barracks.  Even when educating WOs, the Army’s educators barely get beyond Clausewitz’s definition of War, and never the intricacies of his Trinity; they cover the Strategic Corporal, but never the Tactical Minister! Never one to criticise without offering a solution, and with a care to the Army’s empty pockets, I would suggest that Warrant Officers should be subject to the same officer education provided to Junior Officers; a Warrant Officer should be expected to complete MK,to attend Officer Education events, and yes, to write essays and read books.  If we can add a line about E & I into our objectives, we can add a line about professional education!  The Middle has the experience to innovate, it just needs to learn how; if the learning is mandated and WOs empowered, we will see real transformation.

Talks like that given by Dr Matt Ford can become a vital part in the education of the Middle, taking NCOs and turning them into WOs, ready to exploit the best war-winning asset we have: our people.  Our next Talk will be on the 25th July 2017 starting at 1800 hrs; I offer a challenge to my fellow WOs, and to Officers who employ WOs, ask them to come and give it a go, they won’t be disappointed. Since the last update, I’m pleased to say that we have secured Major (Ret’d) Mike Peters, the Chairman of the Guild of Battlefield Guides who will deliver a lecture and workshop session on how to plan a successful Battlefield Study on Wednesday 29 November 2017, our full Talk list is as follows:

Tue 4th July 17 – Dr Matt Ford, University of Sussex, Innovation and Adaptation.

Tue 25 July 17 – Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB, MC, Norway 1940.

Tue 12 Sep 17 – Professor Gary Sheffield, University of Wolverhampton, British Generalship.

Tue 26 September 17 – Drs Stuart Mitchell and James Kitchen, RMAS, British Military Doctrine.

Tue 3 October 17 – Dr Daniel Todman, QMUL, Tbc.

Tue 10 October 17 – Dr Jacqueline Hazelton, US Navy War College, COIN.

Wed 29 November 17 – Maj (Ret’d) Mike Peters, Chairman of the GBG, Battlefield Studies.

Many thanks and all the best,