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,







The Talk Series – Why?

Last Autumn I attended a Firepower Demonstration on Salisbury Plain.  In addition to the entertaining pyrotechnics and impressive armoured equipment on display, there was also a static display manned by personnel from the First Battalion, The Royal Welsh Regiment.  It was this less showy production, and the majestic regimental mascot, which left the most enduring impression.  The message they had to impart, gleaned from their experience of exercising on the Albertan prairie, was that the doctrine needed revision.  Having spent the Summer of 2002 taking part in similar exercises on the same Canadian plains, I was surprised/amused to find that the lessons they had identified were precisely the same lessons the First Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers had identified fourteen years earlier (less the sheep).

The premise of John Nagl’s book, ‘Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife‘, is that the British Army was successful in Malaya because it was a learning organisation, whereas the Americans lost in Vietnam because they were inflexible.  David French, in his superb examination of the British way in counter-insurgency, counteracts this narrative by suggesting that the British Army learns over and over again.  Rather than being a Learning Organisation, the British Army is a Forgetting Organisation.  Many writers have observed that the British Army is anti-intellectual, in my experience this is undoubtedly true.  Soldiers’ military education is incredibly low-level, delivered by young officers with little more, in the main, than Batchelor’s degrees and the results of their training from the RMA Sandhurst.  The education that tends to be encouraged is technical and based around giving soldiers transferable skills for civilian life; for all the rhetoric, the soldier-scholar is a rarer breed than the Royal Welsh’s sheep!

The subject of the Army’s cultural aversion to study and learning has been talked about regularly on Twitter over the last few weeks, it seems academia and practitioners are in agreement that something needs to be done, and I don’t mean vanity projects attempting to capture ‘lessons learned’.  My decision to start a talk series at the Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot stems directly from the military’s lacuna (a word a soldier should not know, as it is not really a word within his trade) to educate it’s personnel to identify the lessons training identifies.  I won’t pretend its a panacea for the Army’s cultural ills, nor that it’s easy to organise, nor even that it will definitely bear fruit, but if we soldier-scholars (?) don’t grasp the nettle, who will?

As you all probably know by now the Talk Series commences on Tuesday, 4th July 2017 with a talk by the irrepressible Dr Matthew Ford.  If you are interested in tickets please drop me a line at and I’ll book you in to what promises to be a superb evening.  The series will continue to bring superb speakers to Prince Consort’s Library all year round, I hope you will find the talks inspirational and surprising, sheep not included!!

All the best,


Defence Studies Talk Series Update

A couple of weeks ago I outlined a new initiative which aims to deliver valuable CPD to the Field Army.  This blog will update that information and give an idea of the progress I have made in driving it forward; it will also give further details of the speakers and subjects.  I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important I think this Series is to the British Army; the Army desperately needs opportunities to think about War and Warfare, and encourage military education for officers and soldiers alike.

Our first speaker is Dr Matthew Ford, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex.  Matt Ford holds a PhD from the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London and had a very successful career in management consultancy before entering academia.  A former West Point Fellow and winner of the Society for Military History’s Russell F. Weigley Graduate Award, Matt has written extensively about military-technical change, especially as it relates to the infantry and their experience of battle.  Matt is an Honorary Historical Consultant to the Royal Armouries at Leeds.  Matt’s subject is ‘Is it Gucci?  What small arms can tell us about the military’s attitude to innovation and adaptation’.  Matt will be selling his new book, ‘Weapon of Choice’ following his talk at PCL, Aldershot on Tuesday, 4th July. 2017.

Our second speaker will be Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB MC.  Sir John is a former CO of the 1st Bn, Scots Guards and commanded 7th Armoured Brigade, 1st UK Armoured Division and Regional Forces.  He has seen operational service during the Falklands Conflict, the Bosnian War and in the Iraq War, where he was Deputy Commanding General, Multinational Force, Iraq in 2004-5.  Sir John’s last post was as Director-General of the UK Defence Academy, retiring from the British Army in 2008 after almost 40 years service.  Following his military career, Sir John was National President of the Royal British Legion from 2008-12.  Sir John’s subject is ‘The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940 – Lessons for Today’.  Sir John will be selling his new book, ‘Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940’ following his talk at PCL, Aldershot on Tuesday, 25th July. 2017.

After the Summer break, our first speaker will be Professor Gary Sheffield FRHistS, FRSA.  Gary is the Co-Director of the First World War Research Group at Wolverhampton University, having previously held Chairs at King’s College, London (2006-06) and the University of Birmingham (2006-13).  He has huge experience with the British military having been a Lecturer at RMA Sandhurst and JSCSC Shrivenham.  Whilst at Shrivenham, Gary was the Land Warfare Historian on the Higher Command and Staff Course, the UK’s senior operational course for senior officers.  Gary has been instrumental in the revision of military and academic thought on the British Army’s role in the First World War, his work has been inspirational to many historians of that War.  Gary is also President of the Guild of Battlefield Guides and Vice-President of the Western Front Association.  Gary’s subject is ‘The Duke of Wellington and the tradition of British Generalship’.  Gary will be selling his new book, ‘Wellington: Pocket Giants’ following his talk at PCL, Aldershot on Tuesday, 12th September. 2017.

I also have a talk booked with Drs Stuart Mitchell and James Kitchen of RMA Sandhurst  in late September 2017 examining current British military doctrine, and an exciting talk by Dr Daniel Todman on Tuesday, 3rd October. 2017 with details to be announced later.  I hope this blog has whetted your appetite for this exciting new Talk Series.  If you’d like more details or if you’d like to book a place, please e-mail me at

Thank you.


Defence Studies Talk Series – 2017

Everyone has one thing that irritates them about their job.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter will not be surprised to hear that my pet hate is the Army’s failure to deliver effective professional development outside of mandatory Officer training.  There have been efforts of late to improve the situation, but in the belief that you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem, I devised a Defence Studies Talk Series.

The Series will be delivered on a monthly basis at the Prince Consort Library on Knollys Road in Aldershot.  Historically, the Prince Consort Library was at the heart of British Army professional learning.  In the nineteenth century, senior officers like Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley and Major-General Sir Charles Callwell spoke frequently to their peers in the Library on matters of military and political moment, and officers like Douglas Haig were regular attendees; it is one of the aims of the Series to return the Library to a more important place in the future of Army learning.  It is envisaged that guest speakers will be mainly academics, with hopefully some senior officers or the elusive soldier-scholars in the future.  The audience will comprise of personnel of all ranks and grades from the Army, Navy, RAF and Civil Service.  The Talks will be challenging and delivered in the spirit of Chatham House rules, it is for this reason that only invited civilians will attend.  The audience is limited to 120 on a first-come, first-served basis.

So who are the speakers? I have asked some of the most eminent academics to deliver talks on a range of questions.  In the coming months, you can expect academics from all over the UK to deliver talks on a wide range of subjects of interest as continuous professional development to Servicemen and Civil Servants I am delighted that Dr Matthew Ford of Sussex University will be our first speaker on 4th July 2017.  Matt has recently had a book, ‘Weapon of Choice’, published and is interested in military innovation and adaptation.  He is also the Honorary Historical Advisor to the Royal Armouries, a former Fellow at West Point, and the founding editor of the British Journal of Military History.  Matt’s subject will be, ‘Is it Gucci? What small arms can tell us about the military’s attitude to innovation and adaptation’.  If anyone would like to suggest a subject or a speaker please let me know.

Clearly the delivery of this project is not a one-man effort, and I would like to thank the Librarian and staff of Prince Consort Library without whom this Series would not have been possible.  That it is being delivered without additional cost should tell you the enormous amounts of goodwill which have been expended in getting this to fruition.  It will be difficult balancing a full-time Army career, the organisation of these talks, a course of PhD study, and the writing of academic articles but it must be done; if not me, then who?  Please watch this space for updates on the series and my random musings.

Thank you and all the best,



University Short Course, Exeter 17-19 May 2016.

The Armed Forces University Short Course Scheme is an education initiative open to serving personnel of all three Armed Services, regardless of Rank, run by the Ministry of Defence.  The courses, in subjects as diverse as languages, management and strategic studies, are held at universities across the U.K and are of no more than a week in duration.  They represent a valuable personal and professional development resource and an opportunity to mix with sailors, soldiers and airmen in a learning environment.

I have attended five University Short Courses since 2009.  The latest considered the development and formulation of Foreign Policy and was convened at the University of Exeter under Professor Patrick Porter.  The courses are intellectually demanding but incredibly stimulating.  In my opinion, the University of Exeter delivers the best overall package: cutting-edge academic knowledge, superb delivery and high quality accommodation.  The subject matter was challenging, covering areas as diverse as the history of the development of British foreign policy and the psychology of groupthink, but the thing that brought the course to life was the valuable experience of the students.  The student body consisted of 22 Servicemen and women, 12 from the Army and 5 each from the Royal Navy and RAF.  Students had wide experience in military operations, from peacekeeping in the 1990s, to post 9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and current operations in Libya, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.  The application of their knowledge made the experience educational for all, including the academic staff.

The question which I think those of you who are not serving will probably be asking is what is the value and why is the MoD paying for this course? My reply is that as well as being an investment in the intellectual development of our military personnel, they are a useful retention tool and invaluable in educating people to deal with the range of operations from warfighting to peacekeeping, from deploying to deal with flooding, disease and natural disasters to supporting the NHS and other services during times of industrial strife.  If only formal Command, Leadership and Management training was as challenging and useful, but that is another story…