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,






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,


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,



The Past is Another Country…


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,



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,


Air Power Conference Personalities

And the Winner is….

Last night saw the first Talk in the third season of War Talks.  Thirty-five guests joined the guest speaker, Professor Charles Esdaile of the University of Liverpool, and me on board the First Sea Lord’s Flagship, HMS Victory.  Charles gave an engaging, witty, and informative talk on the mythology of the Battle of Waterloo with the help of props including the Mess Bar, tables, and more than a few members of the audience.  His intimate knowledge of the battlefield, highlighted the various national mythologies and helped illuminate his thesis: that all nations carefully craft myths and it is the job of historians to clear them away.  Charles succeeded admirably, receiving fulsome praise from the predominantly Royal Navy audience.  Following the Talk, the audience were treated to a tour of the ship, the Officer of the Day pointing out the stories and tall tales associated with Victory.  We are much the wiser having discovered the purpose of a tow rag, why the cat is out of the bag, and why all’s well at eight bells.  This War Talk, perhaps my all time favourite, was facilitated by Cdr Kay Hallsworth and Victory’s WO, I am extremely grateful to them both, and indeed to the rest of her crew who have the privilege to serve on that 260 year old warship, protecting her for the nation.

Our next Talk is only a little over a week away and will be held at the Aldershot Military Museum.  This Museum is yet another important heritage gem tracking the history of the home of the British Army since 1850.  It is run by the indomitable Mrs Kirsty Hoyle who is working miracles in updating the Museum and turning it into a fantastic community asset for the people of Aldershot and Farnborough.  Our speaker, at the twenty-first War Talk since July 2017, will be Professor Jim Storr who will speak on the subject of ‘War and Warfare in the Twentieth Century’ on Tuesday 25th September.  Like the talk on Victory, there is a bonus in coming to talks at the Aldershot Military Museum: a free tour of the Museum with its fabulous exhibits including Sir Brian Horrocks’ Jeep which he drove during the campaign in North West Europe 1944-45, and Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery’s barn which once held his Tac HQ caravans now at Duxford.  These two talks are just the start of what promises to be an incredible season, together with some one off specials, it creates what I believe to be one of the best military talk series’ in the country.  Please come along to the talks, they are free, fun, and informative.

Right, I know what you have all been waiting for…the results of the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize 2018.  The six books have caused considerable debate amongst the six judges on the panel.  They have done a fabulous job, reading the books without any reward; they represent different Corps, Ranks, and Genders and are a real cross-section of the modern British Army.  They are Regulars and Reservists with a love of reading and desire for professional military education and I am very grateful to them.  So without more ado, the winner of the British Army Military Book of the Year 2018 is Dr Aimee Fox for her book ‘Learning to Fight: British Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918’.  The scores out of a maximum of 300 were as follows:

Dr Aimee Fox:                                229

Dr Nick Lloyd:                                226

Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely:   224

Prof Theo Farrell:                          221.5

Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman:     213.5

Johnny Mercer MP:                        165

The result was extremely close, but I’d like to personally congratulate Dr Fox on an excellent book, well done Aimee, you have done yourself and your Alma Mater very proud.

Have a great weekend,


Fellowship…No Ring.

On Monday, I started work as the Army Visiting Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) in Whitehall.  It had been almost fourteen months since I’d applied for the post under the Army’s new External Placement Scheme; I’m the first non-commissioned Fellow in the 187 year history of the Institute.  The External Placement scheme replaced the previous Postgraduate scheme in 2017, but whilst the new scheme incorporated many of the Fellowship, Masters, and PhD opportunities from the old scheme, it added a new Visiting Fellowship at RUSI, numerous other courses of postgraduate education and, perhaps most importantly, a number of external placements with industry.  This change represented an enormous step forward for the Army, especially as some of the opportunities are either rank-less or aimed at relatively junior officers.  There remains a considerable divide based on rank but it is, I believe, being eroded steadily and I am proud to be in the vanguard of equality.

The original Briefing Note notifying the new scheme only gave around a month to produce an application, in that time I had to produce three questions reflecting the themes of the Chief of the General Staff’s Questions, get the approval of my Commanding Officer, find an academic sponsor, and a 1* sponsor for my application.  My Commanding Officer was really helpful and gave me a strong recommendation, Dr Dan Whittingham, the convenor of the excellent Military History MA at Birmingham, agreed to be my academic reference, and the 1* Head of Concepts at the Developments, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) offered huge amounts of support. By the start of Summer leave 2017 I’d applied, and a few months later I was selected to fill the post commencing in September 2018.  The application was the start of the transformation of my Army career: I began working for DCDC shortly after Christmas 2017, and have seen a request to write a ‘Think Piece’ on Adaptability for them turn into a Joint Concept Note, and its importance snowball.  I am unbelievably grateful for this opportunity and am very much looking forward to being able to publicise it in November 2018.  Those of you who read this blog regularly will also know about my other activities which have grown and blossomed in the last year, the War Talks, the British Army Military Book of the Year competition, the Salmond Prize; I consider myself very lucky.

Since my arrival, I have been introduced to some incredible people, studying the key defence and security problems of our time, it is like being in an intellectual greenhouse and I feel challenged and nurtured in equal measure.  Although, it has been made clear that I am there to study and to answer the question I set myself, the head of Military Science, Professor Peter Roberts, has ensured that my time at RUSI will be an enormously positive experience.  I am challenged to write six opinion pieces over my tenure, as well as a Journal article, I will also help organise the academic input to the RUSI Land Warfare Conference in 2019, host the Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land) in October 2018, teach on a foreign military’s Staff Course, and perhaps most excitingly, attend the Association of the United States Army Conference in Washington DC next month. I feel really privileged to have been given this wonderful opportunity, but I don’t want to be the first and only non-commissioned Fellow, its really important that other soldiers with a Masters Degree and a desire to learn and further their education join this Fellowship ring and apply for places at RUSI, for Masters courses, or to complete PhDs and Fellowships.  It seems bizarre to me that more than two years after the foundation of the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (CHACR), there is no consolidated list of ‘soldier scholars’, or much discernible effort to leverage the untapped academic ability of soldiers of all ranks to help solve the problems of the modern British Army. Perhaps that’s an important oversight?

I look forward to hearing your opinions, in the mean time have a great weekend!

All the best,




Fifteen Years On…

Monday marks the fifteenth anniversary of a minor action in a very little war which took the life of a Territorial Army soldier in my Company.  As I sit in my comfortable study in Aldershot surrounded by my beloved Jack Russell’s, listening to Albinoni’s Adagio, I muse on the last fifteen years, and wonder if he’d recognise the fat, old man sitting here tapping away at a laptop?  Those of you who read my Blog will know that I commemorate the event every year, both for Beestie and me, and this year will be no exception.  Each year, I find something different to help remember him, the events of his death, and bring solace to this old wreck.  This year I discovered Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War which, together with my regular visits to the battlefields of the Somme, has brought me a great deal of peace in 2018.  In 1973, a year before he died Blunden remarked, ‘My experiences of the First World War have haunted me all my life, and for many days I have, it seemed, lived in that world rather than this’, I fear this will be the fate of too many of my comrades too.  Once again,  I am going to copy something I wrote in 2004 by way of therapy, which found its way into the Borderer’s Chronicle, the Regimental Magazine of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the finest Regiment with whom I have served. I have redacted all names except two, mine and a man who cannot give his permission. This Blog is in memory of a big Glaswegian Territorial, Fusilier Russell Beeston, who will forever be 26 but would have been 41 this year:

‘In every life there are moments of definition, points in time when one’s life seems to have a purpose and meaning. A moment of clarity, of sharpness. In most cases it is the birth of a child, a wedding or even a funeral, for me though it came at 2140 hrs at a small Iraqi town called Ali Ash Sharqi about 60 kms north of Al Amarah in Southern Iraq.
“Go, Go now, Go”, the OC shouted into his PRR. The small convoy lurched into action and headed up the raised road which led from the centre of Ali Ash Sharqi to Route 6,the main artery of Southern Iraq. 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, then 70 kph, crashing through the gears, the warm night air rushing through the side window of my Land Rover Wolf. A strange red glow like an errant firework flew, arcing over my vehicle; only when it exploded did I realise it was an RPG. Just in time, I hit the brakes as a second dissected the space between us and the lead Land Rover. Suddenly, the night was alive with the staccato rattle of machine-gun fire and the whizzing of bullets like angry hornets zipping past, my head was down over the steering wheel, my foot now flat to the floor, and my heart in my mouth as we dashed for the sanctuary of the Six. The OC opened his side window and engaged an enemy machine-gun with his rifle, brass bouncing off the windscreen and rattling around the cab.

“Stop, Stop, Stop”, came the OC’s order and we screeched to a halt. I stopped and turned off the engine somewhat surreally ensuring the vehicle was left in gear with the keys in the ignition. I placed my hands on my rifle and was alone. The time between halting and debussing was seemingly endless… I dismounted into the sultry night, alive with deadly fireflies and sought cover on the right hand embankment, suddenly we were illuminated by a Schermuly Paraflare and an enemy machine-gun opened up with rounds scything past our bodies. Two yards away Fusilier Russell Beeston appeared to be dead, a round having hit him in the chest, having first shattered his arm on its deadly journey. I ran for my life, instinct expecting another round to take my head off, I tasted blood, it was an expectation rather than fact. I found cover behind my Land Rover, a Private came running past screaming “I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot”; his voice full of disbelief. I grabbed him and dragged him to the ground, helping to administer First Aid; we managed to staunch the flow of blood and laid him in cover, behind the Land Rover.
The confusion cleared a little and I gathered a small band around me, the adrenaline hammering through my veins, as I directed a Private’s Minimi machine gun fire with my tracer rounds onto an enemy position, shortly thereafter it was neutralised. Suddenly, the air was alive with someone shouting, “Beestie’s dead, Beestie’s dead” and I though this is real, this is not Salisbury Plain. A Corporal shouted for a stretcher…no one moved…everyone was paralysed by fear, again he shouted and I headed off into the 30 metre gap in clear view of the enemy to the vehicle with the stretcher in it. Every pace was alive with steel, I could feel it breathing on my face, the return journey was worse, the knowledge of what was to come. I brought a cot bed to where Beestie lay on the road, a Lance Corporal kneeling astride his body, pounding his chest, screaming at him to come back, covered in blood, working in vain to save a life already gone. I returned to my firing position and told the Minimi gunner to move to the defensive position which had been established on the left-hand embankment, the road was now clear except for vehicles, the small team working on Beestie and me. I stood on that vigil, and except for the barking of dogs, there was silence.

Death had come, visited in an instant and moved on. I fully expected to die that night as eight others had done in the 1KOSB AOR in the previous two months, and yet I live, the randomness of it defeats me. It was an experience I wished in vain never to repeat, although I’m privileged to say I was there. If there are such things as heroes in battle, the only one I saw that night was Beestie, who died quickly and quietly, with dignity in the service of his friends.’

This blog would not be complete without a word from Edmund Blunden and so I offer the third verse of his The Ancre at Hamel: Afterwards as an epitaph to those who cannot say goodbye:

The struggling Ancre had no part

In these new hours of mine,

And yet its stream ran through my heart:

I heard it grieve and pine,

As if its rainy tortured blood

Had swirled into my own,

When by its battered bank I stood

And shared its wounded moan,

Nisi Dominus Frustra

War Talks – Third Season – 2018

Almost a month ago, I published a provisional list of War Talks for our third season.  The original list comprised five Talks between September and Christmas 2018, this has been expanded and one date clarified.  I have attached the latest list of Talks, and the poster for the first Talk in the Series, but thought I’d take this opportunity to give some detail on the recent editions and give a full list of Talks for the rest of the year.

The first addition, and the first in the Season’s talks, will be given by Professor Charles Esdaile of the University of Liverpool, and formerly the President of the British Commission for Military History (BCMH).  Professor Esdaile will speak on the subject of ‘Waterloo: The Unknown Battle‘ on Thursday 13th September 2018.  The Talk will take place on Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, and will be limited to around 35 places.  Those fortunate enough to attend will not only have an opportunity to listen to perhaps Britain’s foremost historian of the Napoleonic era and enjoy a guided tour of the historic warship afterwards, but will be able to do so free of charge, although a donation to HMS Victory’s nominated charity is gratefully received.

Our second additional Talk will be delivered by bestselling historian of the First World War and former Army officer Brig (Ret’d) Allan Mallinson.  Allan will speak on the subject of ‘1914-18: Cavalry, what was it for?‘ on Tuesday 27th November 2018.  The Talk will take place at the Aldershot Military Museum in Aldershot.  Whereas the talk on HMS Victory commences from 1800 hrs, the Talks at the Museum in Aldershot start at 1900 hrs in order to allow attendees to look around the Museum.  The Museum is a must for history buffs, telling the story of the Home of the British Army and the wider area but including a large collection of military vehicles including a First World War GS Wagon and perhaps more impressively the jeep driven by Lt Gen Sir Brian Horrocks throughout the campaign in North West Europe 1944-45.

My final amendment is to the second of our ‘On the Road’ initiatives:  In July, I stated that Maj Gen Mungo Melvin‘s talk in cooperation with the Tonbridge FWW Talks initiative at Tonbridge School was to be held on 19th November 2018, in fact it will be held on Monday 7th November 2018 at the School. So the full list of Talks up until Christmas 2018 is as advertised below:


I hope you can make one, or all of the Talks, they are all free and exceptional pieces of professional military education for serving personnel as well as entertainment for history lovers.

All the best,


Amiens 100 – International Student Tour – Part Two.

I concluded Part One of this Blog at the Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.  Over the preceding day and a half, our multinational group had visited sites associated with the Battle of the Somme 1916, the Michael Offensive of the Spring 1918, the Battle of Amiens 1918, and the subsequent 100 Days’ Offensive.  In doing so, we had dispelled many myths about the Western Front: discussed the adaptive nature of tactics on both sides, the effects of innovative technology, and the nature of command on a modern battlefield.  Throughout the Tour, remembrance and memorialisation had never been far away, whether at Lutyens’ gargantuan masterpieces at Thiepval and Villers-Bretonneux, or in the more intimate cemeteries and memorials in Beaumont Hamel and Moreuil Wood, we now headed off to pay our respects at the British Government’s Amiens 100 commemoration.

The centenary commemoration was held in the magnificent Cathedral in the mediaeval heart of Amiens.  Our children, whether in their cadet uniforms or the distinctive red tour tee-shirts, were a credit to their schools, cadet organisations, and countries.  The inside of the eleventh century cathedral was thankfully cool with much to see as we awaited the arrival of VVIP guests, some of whom we had been lucky enough to meet at the Reception on the previous evening.  Other than HRH the Duke of Cambridge’s mispronunciation of ‘Foch’, the ceremony was a flawless act of remembrance as well as a re-statement of the sentiments of the Entente Cordiale.  After the VVIP guests had departed, I took a wander around the thirteenth century Cathedral described by Richard Hannay, the fictional hero of John Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps, as ‘the noblest church that the hand of man ever built only for God’. I saw some curious sights as I strolled around but I’m unsure whether I was more astounded by the reliquary purported to hold the skull of John the Baptist, or the sight of American soldiers having their photographs taken whilst seated in the seat recently vacated by the Royal Duke.


The evening was spent in the convivial company of the other Battlefield Guide, Mr Allan Wood, and Sir Hew Strachan.  To say that I was fascinated by Sir Hew’s pearls of wisdom would be an understatement, I happily sat at the feet of the master and went to bed with my head swimming with First World War history and rather too much Biere de Picardie! The next morning, after Sir Hew had regaled us with his incisive analysis of the Armistice and Treaty of Versailles, we drove south to Compiegne and the Glade of the Armistice where the eponymous ceasefire was signed on 11th November 1918.  It was a curious experience visiting the place where the War ended, it was easy to empathise with both Foch and the Allies who wanted to ensure the War could not restart, and the Germans for whom so much in blood and treasure had been lost for what was an ignominious surrender.  It was interesting to consider the Germans’ feelings in June 1940 when they were able to overturn the Armistice and, on the orders of Hitler, leave the statue of Foch to look down on the devastated Glade.  In a final act of remembrance, a representative from each country laid a wreath at the ‘Ring of Peace’, a large steel ring engraved with the word ‘Peace’ in multiple languages sitting upright on the edge of the Glade.


The party broke up at Compiegne and headed back to homes as widely dispersed as California and Tasmania.  On the Ferry on the way back I was privileged to do a podcast with Sir Hew Strachan on the Battle of Le Hamel, I hope to hear it published shortly.  There has been much debate on both social and mainstream media as to the efficacy of the last four years’ centenary commemorations.  In my case, I am immeasurably better informed about the Great War than I was on that August evening four years ago when I placed a burning candle in my window at RAF Brize Norton Sergeants’ Mess.  I’d like to think that the thousands of students and teachers who have visited the battlefields with Simon Bendry’s programme have also moved substantially away from the mud, blood, and endless poetry.  I accept that there has been a plethora of ahistorical rubbish created to commemorate the centenary, but even this has increased interest in the War; I must say that, on balance, I believe the nation is better informed today than it was in 2014.  We have moved away from Blackadder Goes Forth, often with thanks to Blackadder Goes Forth.  It is the destination which matters rather than the routes taken to get there.

Have a lovely week,