War Talks (at the Museum).

Just over a year ago I founded the Defence Studies Talk Series.  A few weeks later, that mouthful became the War Talks at the PCL Talk Series, a year later and I’m changing the title to War Talks.  This change of nomenclature is not merely a result of the renowned short attention span of its owner, rather it is driven by some fundamental changes to the Series.  When I started the Talk Series in April 2017 I had two objectives: First, to provide an opportunity for informal professional military education to all ranks of the armed forces and civil service and secondly, to promote the historic Prince Consort’s Library.  Since July 2017, the Talk Series has delivered nearly twenty talks on a wide range of topics to an audience of several hundred.  In addition, we have run the HQ Regional Command Op REFLECT Study day 2018 and the British Army Military Book of the Year 2018 (#BAMBY18).

Following our last Talk given by Dr Nick Lloyd earlier this month, Prince Consort’s Library closed for essential renovation work, it will remain closed until January 2019.  This left the Talk Series homeless, and led to a flurry of e-mails from supporters offering guidance on the way forward; overwhelmingly it was felt that the Talks should remain in Aldershot but with suggestions that the talks should also go ‘On the Road’ and /or be recorded.  In terms of a new Aldershot home, I was offered the church halls of the three Army Churches, the lecture theatre of a new Army Reserve centre, and several facilities ‘behind the wire’.  In the end I am pleased to announce that following a wide-ranging conversation with Kirsty Hoyle, the new Community Manager of the Aldershot Military Museum, I have decided to make it my home.  The Museum has excellent parking, a historic conference facility, and is in the heart of the Aldershot community; a little gem, I hope the Series can help to support the work of Kirsty and her volunteer staff.

The War Talks Series will begin with a flourish on Tuesday, 17th July 2018 when Professor Theo Farrell will deliver a Talk on his BAMBY18 shortlisted book, ‘Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan 2001-2014.’  The Museum will be open before the Talk and I would encourage audience members to view the fascinating collections for which Kirsty is responsible.  The Talk will commence at 1900 hrs, refreshments will be available at reasonable cost, and there will be plenty of time for questions and debate afterwards.  I am hoping to arrange for the recording of the Talk and will be ably assisted by Kirsty in terms of marketing.  In many ways, the Aldershot Military Museum is the perfect partner to the War Talks and we have a number of exciting ideas for future collaboration.  I will give you all more information as the plans firm up towards the end of 2018.

Another suggestion made was to take the Series ‘on the Road’.  I have taken up this challenge and have arranged a talk in conjunction with the Tonbridge FWW Talks initiative at Tonbridge School on Wednesday, 7th November 2018.  Our speaker, Maj General (Ret’d) Mungo Melvin CB OBE will speak on the subject of his latest book, ‘Sevastopol’s Wars: Crimea from Potemkin to Putin’.  Clearly, there is a wide gap between Prof Farrell’s talk in July and Maj Gen Melvin’s talk in November, I am working hard to fill the gap with out usual high quality talks and can announce a fabulous ‘on the Road’ venue for which I hope to find a speaker on naval warfare.  With the assistance of Commander Kay Hallsworth, the War Talks Series will deliver a Talk aboard the Navy’s flagship, HMS Victory, in the historic dockyard in Portsmouth in the Autumn.  If any readers have subjects they wish to see discussed please let me know, the only guideline  is that the subjects requested are in the areas of strategy and war studies.

I’m guiding an Army Staff Ride by the AGC(ETS) (South) in Hampshire next week, I’ll be sure to give you the inside track when I get back, the weather is going to be beautiful, a change is as good as a rest as they say!!

All the best,

Barney

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Reward.

The aim of the review of the Honours system by John Major’s government in 1992 was devised to ensure that the UK honours system was based on the principle of reward based purely on merit.  Over time, the system reformed by that government has proven to be no less controversial than the system it replaced, albeit the controversy usually involves the perceived misapplication of political honours.  Allegations of corruption in the application of political honours are as old as time and not the concern of this Blog, rather I’m interested in the problems created by a ‘classless’ honours system for the UK military.

One of the major outcomes of the 1992 review was to ensure that the tiers of award available to Officers and Soldiers should be equalised, the review saw the abolition of awards like the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal, and the British Empire Medal, and the extension to other ranks of the previously Officer-only equivalents like the Military Cross and MBE.  Whilst theoretically fair, in practice, putting Officers and Other Ranks into the same pot has extended the number of non-operational honours available to Officers at the cost of those available to soldiers.  In this week’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Other Ranks representing almost 85% of the Army’s manpower were awarded less than 30% of the honours to which they are eligible.  Almost as if to offset this, it is noticeable that the award of the Meritorious Service Medal has been granted a level of importance far in excess of that which was originally envisioned, and there has been a proliferation of local awards such as challenge coins, commendations and the like to reward Other Ranks, particularly junior ranks.  At the same time, Officers are now awarded the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, an award which from 1830 until last year was the preserve of soldiers, operating to a somewhat different standard when it comes to ‘good conduct’.  In the round, 25 years after the application of the Major reforms, reward is heavily weighted away from Other Ranks and towards Officers and Warrant Officers.  The award of a certificate or coin does not make up for either the de facto loss of opportunity for a State award, or watching Officers rewarded with the award of the LS & GC under a very different disciplinary standard.

I have been the lucky recipient of coins, commendations, and medals including the LS & GC, and have a number of close friends who have been very deservedly been honoured with state awards including the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the Military Cross, and the MBE.  Notwithstanding that, the system as currently constituted is broken.  The lower level awards are useful incentives and rewards at a time when retention is perhaps the most significant existential threat Defence faces, however, the unfairness at the heart of the system must be addressed.  I accept it will prove impossible to roll back the inequity of the LS & GC and that lower level non-State awards should remain, but I would encourage the MoD to re-introduce the British Empire Medal (already re-introduced in civil life) for Other Ranks only.  The MBE should also remain open to all in an attempt to deliver the equality and merit-based system envisaged by John Major.  Equality based on access to reward, not necessarily on the reward itself; a pragmatic solution which accepts the status quo and delivers the benefits of reward to retention.

My next Blog will be published at the end of June once I return from two battlefield tours in France, a third in South East England, and the RUSI Land Warfare Conference.  It’ll probably be a review of the first six months of 2018.  Before I go I’d like to thank you all for your good wishes on my award of the RAF’s Salmond Prize 2018, it was a great surprise and honour.

Have a great June, all the best,

Barney