RARE BOOK REVIEWS
Rare Book Reviews are not reveiws that are rare. They are an occasional feature where some of our holdings in the Rare Book Collection are reviewed.
The first in an occasional series is an interesting review, by Michael Small, contrasting two War Office pamphlets set about ten years apart. The differing points of view that Michael brings out are food for thought.
FIELD SERVICE REGULATIONS,
(Reprinted with Amendments, 1914.)
GENERAL STAFF, WAR OFFICE. H.M.S.O.
RUSI library is now in possession of two more rare publications. Field Service Regulations (FSR), is a manual, 10 cms. x 13 cms. x 2 cms. moroc. leather bound, showing signs of wear and tear, and in need of some attention, but otherwise in reasonable condition. FSR resembles a catechism i.e. a compendious system of teaching drawn up in the form of question and answer and dogmatic in its approach. For the purist, 'catechism' comes from the Greek katechizein (κατήχηση noun form, or κατηχέω verb form). The literal meaning will surprise readers, as it means 'to din something into the ears'; this will become obvious as this review proceeds.
The frontispieces and end pieces comprise 23 (fading) pink pages which display a comprehensive list of 'MILTARY BOOKS published by Authority'. The titles in these introductory pages will be of immense interest to readers of military history. For example, under A, we see the following: Abyssinia, Expedition to, 2 vols. And maps. 1870. Half Mor., ₤5 5s.; Arabic Grammar. Two parts. 1887. (Sold to officers only.) 10s.; Army Entrance Regulations, Militia and Imperial Yeomanry, Officers of, 1907; Artillery, Royal: Officers' Mess Management. (See Ordnance College); Under B, we see Bayonet Fighting for Competitions. Instruction in, 1d.; Under C, we see Cavalry of the Line. Peace Organisation of the; and so on and so on through-out the whole alphabet covering every possible area of interest from The Franco-German War, 1870-71; to “Sam-Browne” Belt, Scabbard and Sword Knot. Specification and Drawings, 1899. 1d.
When we get to T. we see Trumpet and Bugle Sounds for the Army. With Instructions for the Training of Trumpeters and Buglers. 1914. 9d. The entry is of interest to this reviewer. He has a copy of this particular manual which the original owner, a Trumpeter-Corporal, was issued with in 1912. This handbook is also moroc. leather bound, and contains every trumpet and bugle call for every regiment, the individual battalions of the regiments, and for every possible military situation. Regimental Calls, War Calls-such as the Charge, the Alarm and the Retreat; and other calls such as Watering Order, Hay up or Litter Down, Officers Dress for Dinner, Men's Meal (1st Call), Flourish when Marching Past, Sergeants' Dinner, Stand to Your Horses, Prepare to Mount are all listed.
The last item in FSR under Z is the Zulu War of 1879; Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the, 1881, 2s. 4d.
The price of Trumpet and Bugle Sounds for the Army was ninepence. The price of FSR was sixpence making a total of 1s.3d (in old ₤. s. d. money) for these informative publications. The depth of detail in these two volumes was most impressive. The question arises, could the government departments of today produce similar high quality publications at a similar cost.
FSR contains twelve chapters and three appendices set on 302 pages of fine print. The few amendments to the 1909 edition are indicated by a black line in the margin. The individual chapters are entitled: The Fighting Troops and Their Characteristics; Inter-Communication and Orders; Movements by Land and Sea; Quarters; Protection; Information; The Battle; Siege Operations; Night Operations; Warfare Against an Uncivilised Enemy; Convoys; and Ammunition Supply.
The following lines extracted from p. 13 illustrate the nature of military thinking at that time: 'The principles given in this manual have been evolved by experience as generally applicable to the leading of troops'. 'Success in war depend more on moral than on physical qualities'. 'The development of the necessary moral qualities is therefore the first of the objects to be attained'. 'The fundamental principles of war are neither very numerous nor in themselves very abstruse'. The first impression on reading this publication is that FSR outlines every possible eventuality which might befall a soldier going off to take part in the Crimean War (Battle of Balaklava, the Charge of the Light Brigade), 25 October 1854; the war in South Africa, and the campaigns focusing on Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, 22-23 January 1878; and the Battle of Spion Kop, 23-24 January 1900, where, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that had General Sir Charles Warren and his officers been au fait with the general principles of Mountain Warfare (142. General Principles. p. 199 para 4) referring to the hazards of attacking heights and summits then the outcome may not have been so disastrous to the British forces.
The movement of large bodies of men and their equipment is addressed in this section. General Warren is reported to have had a cast iron bathtub and a field kitchen in his baggage train. This would have slowed his advance considerably and a slow moving column would have been very obvious to the Boer forces.
For men about to take part in the 'retreat' from Mons, and then the early battles at Le Cateau, Marne, Loos, Ypres, (Verdun for the French) the usefulness of this manual is difficult to imagine. The following examples illustrate the tenor and the dogmatic approach in the text. We read (p. 27) 'at least six copies of standing orders should be addressed to each squadron, battery, or compamy, and one to each officer'; (p.52) that the usual pace of infantry is 3 mph, that infantry take 18 minutes to traverse 1 mile, that a horse on the trot would take 8 minutes to traverse 1 mile, and that 250 pack mules or ponies could pass a given point in 10 minutes. When pack mules or camels are used (p. 61) each driver must lead his own animals (usually three in number), and on rough hill tracks mules go best if they are not tied together. Horses will be entrained saddled or harnessed (p. 65)......at the entraining station, after stirrups have been crossed, bits removed, girths slackened and traces secured the horses will be led on to the platform, the first horse being the quietest available. A horse, bullock or mule drinks about 1.5 gallons at a time (p. 87). In respect to sanitation in camp and bivouac, the construction of latrines, urinals and refuse pits (p. 88) is described in minute detail. Kerosine oil and an interesting use of empty biscuit tins are noted. Warfare against an uncivilised enemy (p. 196) commences with a politically incorrect phrase: 'in campaigns against savages.............the principles of regular warfare be somewhat modified'. And when fighting bush tribes we read (p. 210): 'that British officers, who by nature endowed with jungle instincts beyond other European races, can ensure success'. This suggests that the Austro-Hungarian, Belgian, Dutch, French, German and Italian officers who were engaged in the same sort of colonial skirmishing were of little account.
Finally, there is a suggestion of similarity in style/content matter between Julius Caesar's The Gallic War, de Bello Gallico, written 58-52 BC and FSR (1909 and revised 1914). Speed and swiftness of action (celeritas) is a feature of The Gallic War and is central to Caesar's generalship. Caesar was quick in everything he did. He was swift to move, swift to keep the initiative, swift to surprise the enemy, swift in battle and swift in pursuit. FSR contains the following advice (p. 200, para. 6) in the Chapter 'Warfare Against an Uncivilised Enemy'. The author of FSR may have been thinking of the Gauls when he wrote:
The principal point to be borne in mind is the absolute necessity of rapidity of movement and complete subordination to the will of the commander, but to ensure this on service frequent practice in peace is necessary.
PLATOON TRAINING (FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY).
This Document is the property of H.B.M. Government,
and the information in it is not to be communicated, either
directly or indirectly, to the Press or any person not holding
an official position in His Majesty's Service.
Fast forward to 1919, after four and a half years of industrial war on an unprecedented scale, and an estimated total military casualty list of 1,034,200 to 1,244,587 for the then British Empire - Australia's contribution to that figure was an estimated 60,000. We see another kind of prose emanating from the War Office, totally different to FSR (1909/1914). Platoon Training (PT) is a pamphlet i.e. 'a small book stitched not bound, usually on a controversial subject on some subject of the day'. PT is 16 cms. x 21 cms. comprising 34 pages of small print, fastened together with two original (1919) rusty staples. The pamphlet is flimsy, worn, even fragile, shows signs of use, but is readable. There are four chapters: The platoon commander; Organisation; The battle; and Training. There are four appendices: A guide to platoon training; Example of how to teach an exercise; Plates; “The Soft Spot”. An Example of Minor Tactics. The appendices contain eight pencil/pen and ink sketches illustrating 'A Platoon Advancing to Attack' and four diagrams. However, it is the content matter and the choice of language which is so markedly different to FSR (1909/1914). The opening lines (p. 1) state: 'Victory in battle belongs to the fighting units-to the platoons'. 'The main task of every platoon is to kill or capture the enemy confronting it. This is the simple rule of war'. We see (p. 4) 'confidence in their ability to kill with the bayonet carries men to the assault'. (p. 10, item 6) 'all positions will be held to the last man'. And (p. 32) the final paragraph in the final page states: 'The main purpose of fighting is to kill the enemy in large numbers. This necessitates good fighting men'. Here we see a totally different approach. The language used in PT is nowhere to be found in FSR which focuses on procedures without reference to the real business of war which is to kill the enemy in large numbers preferably with the bayonet. PT makes it clear what armies are expected to do in battle.
In summary, these two publications are very valuable additions to the RUSI library. They illustrate the thinking of the military hierarchy in respect to military training in the period before and immediately after the Great War and how the emphases in training and training manuals can change dramatically in a short time.