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.




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!!




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,



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,