Monty’s Men?

Born into the British Army of the Rhine, and brought up in an Army family, I have admired Field Marshal The First Viscount Montgomery since boyhood.  Whilst not all those elderly relatives who had served under Monty in the Second World War felt the same way (my Stepfather’s father had a visceral hatred of Monty) the vast majority saw him as a great leader and a brilliant commander.  It is true, he was a man with considerable human shortcomings, but as a soldier he has been my professional role model for nearly thirty years.  On Tuesday evening, Professor Lloyd Clark, Director of Research at the British Army Centre for Army Leadership, gave the latest in the ‘War Talks at PCL’ talk series with Monty’s leadership in the Inter-War years as his subject.  A gifted trainer of men, an iconoclast, and a dedicated professional, Monty was portrayed as everything I had hoped.  I was drawn to one particular anecdote in which Monty challenged a number of officers by stating that soldiers were as likely to be leaders as officers, citing the conduct of a Private under his command at Ypres in 1914, this was not a popular view amongst his audience, but Monty stuck to his guns believing that all soldiers have it within them to be leaders, and that all should dedicate themselves to the study of their chosen profession.

Today, while discussing a project with which I am involved at Tidworth, the subject of Professor Clark’s Talk and soldier education came up, I instantly hopped onto my soapbox!  Those of you familiar with this Blog know that I argue passionately that the current professional education of soldiers is poor, at less than one month in a twenty-four year career, certainly insufficient for the success of the adaptable Future Force.  Without mandated, through-career, professional education what hope is there for our junior leaders?  In an archaic, hierarchical system, which in part would still be shocked at Monty’s suggestion that even Privates can be leaders, how can we hope to get the best from our men when we refuse to give them an adequate professional education, and fail to encourage them to exploit educational opportunities? Recently, Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely wrote reminding those at the top of the Armed Forces of the importance of professional education and warning against easy cuts which would undermine Defence, Sir John is right it would be easy to make savings in professional education but it would be disastrous to future operations.  We need more education, greater rigour, and more opportunity…Train for the Known, Educate for the Unknown.  Monty for all his human failings was right, soldiers are leaders and must be educated.  I am one of Monty’s Men.

On a lighter note, the next Talk in the ‘War Talks at PCL’ series will see Dr Jonathan Boff, a man to whom I am personally indebted for my education, speaking on the subject of his new book, ‘Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front’.  Jonathan will speak at Prince Consort’s Library from 1800hrs on Tuesday 8th May 2018.  Later in May, we have Dr David Morgan-Owen of King’s College London and the Defence Academy, talking about the Royal Navy in the Great War.  I am still firming up arrangements for Talks in June, but we expect to see Dr Matthias Strohn, Dr Nick Lloyd, and Professor Theo Farrell before the August break.  Professional Military Education is everyone’s business, I’d ask those military amongst you whether you feel you have done enough to promote it?  We are all busy, but as professionals we should dedicate ourselves to our profession, to misquote Alexander Suvarov, ‘Educate Hard, Fight Easy’ and be one of Monty’s Men.

Have a good weekend,

Barney

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