Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

"Military Identities"


Steven Broomfield

Recommended Posts

Anyone heard of this book (or better still read it)? It was reviewed in last Sunday's 'Telegraph' by Max Hastings - quite favourably. The full title is "Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army and the British People 1870-2000", and is published by Oxford; apparently it came out in July.

I have ordered a copy from Waterstone's (at £45 a bit of a risk, I admit), but the review indicated that it was written by a "civilian iconoclast" who appeared to hold trenchant views on the value (or opposite) of the regimental system, a subject of great personal interest.

At the very least it should be thought-provoking; it is described as 'meticulously scholarly', and the review has some interesting points (for example, between 1883 and 1900, the Cameron Highlanders contained only 9.6% 'locals' in it's ranks, while the Berkshires managed 47.8%.

As I say, I'm taking a punt here (and I haven't mentioned it to the better half, though £20 of it is book tokens left over from birthday).

I hope to get it next weekend, and will try and post a review as soon as I've read it (which may be some time as i've just got jack Sheldon's magnum opus), but in the meantime and knowledge would be gratfeully received.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

David French is the Professor of History at University College London; his specialism is WW1, but if this is as good as his 'diversion' into the training of the British Army in WW2 ('Raising Churchill's Armies') a few years back, it will be well worth a place on the shelf.

Hastings calling him an 'iconoclast' suggests he wasn't impressed, so that makes me chuckle given Max 'How I Won the Falklands War With A Typewriter' Hastings' real military credentials.. (He was known for a while as 'Field Marshal the Lord Hastings of Goose Green VC KG' in some Army circles..)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Meeow!

Actually, I'm no great fan of Max's work - I found his latest "Armageddon" rather over-bearing, and his book on Normandy is nowhere near as good as carlo d'Este's contemorary book.

I'll read French's book with interest, though, and post a review when I've done so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...

Brought this back, as promised, because I've finally finished it. And a very interesting read, too - bit heavy going, and it did take me about 2 months to get through but worth it.

In many ways it's a bit of a pot-boiler, with a wide-ranging remit: "The Regimental System, the British Army and the British People c.1870-2000" is the sub-title, and i guess that indicates the scope.

It's not a 'Great War book' per se - as the label says, but there is a lot of interest. Much use is made of personal recollection, and the author appears to have researched widely. Maybe some of the conclusions could be argued with, but certainly his conclusion is well-argued and well-reasoned. I'm sure he won't mind my quoting:

Commenting on the much-quoted comments of Robert Graves, extolling the regimental system "Graves was wrong. He was guilty of oversimplifying and overstating the case for the regimental system. It did play a part in sustaining morale and discipline, but it was never the only factor that did so, just as it was never the sole, or even the main cause of the difficulty that the army sometimes experienced in both world wars in fighting in large combined-arms formations. The British army was, and is, a large and complex organisation. It has routinely confronted large and complex problems. Reducing the reasons for its successes and failures to a single factor, and labelling that factor 'the regimental system' defies logic and belies reality."

Most interesting, in many ways, is the Appendix to Chapter 2, referred to in my first post: the percentage of recruits in the period 1883-1900 who were actually born in the regimental district they recruited into. Top were the R Warwicks, with 72.3%; bottom the Cameron Highlanders with 9.6% .

In addition, there is much on training, creation of a general staff and the increasing requirement for officers seeking promotion to attend the Staff College.

In all, whether you agree with the conclusion or not (and it is well-argued enough to convince me), this is a useful and important book on the development of the army we now know and which (more importantly) fought the war we study. At the price it won't find a place on a lot of bookshelves, but I'm glad I went for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steven,

Sounds like a book that would be right up my street as I myself find recruiting, the regiment and the myths around them a fascinating subject. From my own personal research I found that up until the Great War the Northumberland Fusiliers recruited more men from the London & the Home Counties than it did from Northumberland itself. So great was number of men from that area they were able to form two Old Comrades Association branches one of which was London based. Fortunately the Northumberland's produced a regular "Digest of Service", which actually backs up Prof Frenchs claims.

Recently I obtained an 1896 Recruiters Pamphlet for the Coalville & District area of Leicestershire and the diversity of units that they had to recruit for was amazing. Among the infantry regiments alone you had the Coldstream Gaurds, West Yorks, East Yorks, Yorkshire Regt, York & Lancs, Northamptons, Durham L.I., Royal Scots Fusiliers and Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.

Looks like I'll have to do a carboot fair to get that bit extra cash, so that I can buy it.

Graham.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...

Just a brief note to say that 'Military Identities' has recently been published in paperback at £22 rather that £50 odd pound for the hardback.

I have just started it and finding it an interesting read.

Bootneck

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Graham - did you ever get it?

Bootneck - thanks for bringing it back up.

I was actually browsing through it again the other night thinking I might well read it again this winter during the long dark nights.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My local library (Oldham) promptly ordered "Raising Churchill's Armies" when I asked them, so I may try it on with this one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have just finished reading Military Identities and found it enjoyable, interesting and thought provoking!

My major areas of interest are 18th century Royal Marines History and the British Army pre 1881, so there was plenty of new material to take in, particularly regarding the 20th century. It has been a place on the bookshelf.

A worthy winner in my opinion of the Society for Army Historical Research's Templar Medal in 2005.

Bootneck

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My local library (Oldham) promptly ordered "Raising Churchill's Armies" when I asked them, so I may try it on with this one.

Most libraries are happy to do so, Rob.

I am waging a one-man campaign (and quite successfully, too!) to increase Wolverhampton Library's stock of Great War titles - together with the Peninsular War, of course.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

I have the service record of my Great x 6 Grandfather who was in the army from 1805 to 1815 (Matinique, Canada and the Peninsular War - gunshot wound left shoulder - Battle of Orthez 1814).

How did a man from North Yorkshire, near Darlington join the 7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusliers), a London Regiment?

Reason - they raised their Second Battalion in Yorkshire.

Anyone who thinks their county regiment is full of locals is in cloud cuckoo land.

Sean

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bit hard on Blowhard Hastings. He is after all one of the few reviewers who get national reviews of military books. Equally I think that he writes well and as a general writer of military histories for wide consumption he does pretty well. Equally is icononclast really a criticism? I've always fancied being one (and an autodidact as well).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...