LAUGH OR CRY: THE MEN ALL LOVED ME

LAUGH OR CRY: PART V

Leadership is vital in any armed force, but the British Army of World War One had a major problem in this regard: expansion. Peter Hart and Gary Bain explore the changing view of young officers

In 1914, the British Army had slightly more than 28,000 officers leading 250,000 regular soldiers, the same number of territorial soldiers and some 200,000 reservists.

By 1918 – including Dominion troops – it fielded a peak strength of more than 3,800,000 and some 9,000,000 of them had served. This demanded the cadre of officers swell to 165,000, with 250,000 serving throughout the conflict.

Most pre-war officers had a familial background of military heritage, being sons or grandsons of those who had served. Their age averaged over 40 – many being 50 or older. The purchasing of commissions (in units where this had been possible) was banned in 1871, but the financial means to support an officer’s upkeep beyond his wage was essential; so, some were peers, most were upper class and had attended public school, and many relied on family money.

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