Saturday, 16 February 2013

Some ramblings after St. Valentines Day.

So today I'm just going to ramble about something that I thought of last night as I was trying to get off to sleep (which probably explains why I had trouble getting  off to sleep). For that reason alone you shouldn't expect the following to be a particularly coherent or well thought out article. It's going to be much more like the kind of post I originally intended for this blog, somewhere that I could write down some of the more spurious ideas that I sometimes come up with, which are then laid open for critical evaluation by others. So let's get to it.
I was thinking about reserves, cadets and cap badges, which on reflection probably would have been a more catchy title for this post. See one of the things I take a side interest in is geography. Not in the sense of what they teach in schools, learning about layers of dirt and types of rivers etc. I mean in the sense of pouring over google maps looking at the layout of countries etc, and musing on the effect geography has on various aspects of our lives.

It's quite interesting. Honest.

One example to help explain what I mean is if you look at Afghanistan. Just go and have a look at Helmand province on google maps (satellite) at some point. Doing so gives you an idea of just how densely populated some of the areas of that province are and it gives you a perfect visual illustration of just why it has been such a challenge for ISAF forces to operate in that environment and bring security. The shear number of buildings and compounds you can see, compared to the number of soldiers deployed at various times, explains a hell of a lot.

But back to the UK and back to my inane ramblings. Because two things that came up as a result of the last Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) were the potential loss of cap badges among the ground forces as the size of the regular army was reduced, and the increasing role that the reserves were expected to take going forward.

Here is where geography comes back into play. One of the issues raised around which cap badges would survive (in the end they all did, at least among the infantry) was their performance in recruiting. When you sit back and take a look at the UK one thing you notice is that the modern make up of society varies greatly compared to when the county regiment system was first set up. 

Back when it was first devised and the numbered regiments were assigned to various geographic areas there was a ready supply of candidates, as things like job seekers allowance didn't exist back then. There was always a pool of manpower that could be drawn from any region, including those who were out of work, disenfranchised young individuals, and those who were offered service as an escape from alternative criminal punishment.

The population spread of the day was also much wider. Even as the demands and opportunities of industry drew people towards cities, there was still a significant amount of people as a percentage of the total population living in rural areas. Combined with the supplementary effect of regiments still being permitted to recruit from large urban areas, each county regiment had far fewer problems with finding enough suitable recruits (although manning still didn't match the on paper establishments).

Looking at the UK today, things have changed. Society has various fall back programs for those who fall on hard times. The range of exciting career opportunities for young people is much more diverse. And significantly, a large proportion of the UK population lives in a much denser layout than before.

London and some of its bordering towns for example are home to well over 10% of the entire UK population. In the north, there is a belt (The Northern Belt perhaps?) of cities and towns that runs from Liverpool and Blackpool in the west, to Grimsby and Hull in the East. This includes some significant population centres (aside from those previously named) like Blackburn, Warrington, Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, Stockport, Burnley, Huddersfield, Bradford, Leeds, York, Wakefield, Rotherham, Sheffield, Doncaster and Scunthorpe. Together they combine to almost match the greater London area for population, again more than 10% of the UK population along one band of the country about 100 miles wide.

Heading further north we come across a region, stretching from Darlington and Middlesborough in the south, taking in Stockon-on Tees, Redcar, Hartlepool, Durham, Houghton-le-spring, Washington (Tyne and Wear), Sunderland, Gateshead, South Shields, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and up to Blyth in the north, which accounts for another 2 million people all told. Another 2 million live in and around Birmingham. 3 million more live in and around the triangle formed by Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. 

That leaves us in the odd situation where - for example - The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers recruits mainly from some of the most populous areas of the country, yet only has two regular battalions, while the far less populated geographic area of Scotland produces four regular battalions. 

The argument then to produce a "Royal Corps of Infantry" that recruits across the whole nation and simply funnels men into whatever battalions have the most need for fresh recruits makes a lot of sense. It does beg the question of what to do with the cap badges though?

That's where I think the reserve element can come into it's own. There are a few regiments such as the Rifles, the Fusiliers and the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment which naturally lend themselves to nationwide recruitment, being as they don't carry any real geographic leanings in their name (it says "Princess of Wales's", not "Regiment of Wales", before you bring that up). You could even revive names such as The Duke of Wellingtons Regiment (leaving out the bit about West Riding), and even split the Rifles into it's previous constituent parts such as the Royal Green Jackets. The key is to keep the names geographically ambiguous, keep the number of battalions roughly equal and numerous (to avoid cap badge losses in the future), while still retaining the idea of a regimental identity that serving soldiers can connect to and old officers can drink port to.

Meanwhile those regiments that do carry geographic connotations, the Royal Welsh, the Mercians, the Anglians etc, seem to strike me as being more adaptable to the needs of the Territorial Army. The army will always need reserves and it will naturally draw these from all across the country, so this seems like a much more natural home to me for the various individual geographic cap badges. It's unlikely that in the future you would ever need to down size the number of TA battalions, being as they're not strictly speaking full battalions (with the associated costs) in the first place. 

This method allows men to be recruited into a named battalion with a history that can inspire and cement men around it, without making them feel out of place for being a Yorkshire man drafted into the Duke of Lancaster's regiment or the Royal Anglian, while also preserving those all important (or at least important enough to cause spats a plenty in high places) geographic names, badges and histories.

Continuing my random thoughts related to geography, I move to cadets. Because I have a question for you;

Please explain to me why it is that Brightlingsea - home to a successful sailing club (which admittedly does seem to have a high percentage of w**kers as members from what I can tell) which has produced Olympic gold medal quality sailors - doesn't have a Sea Cadet unit, but nearby Clacton-On-Sea does, despite Clacton not actually having a harbour of any form from which to launch training boats (and not really having any kind of sea faring connection or history)?

I strikes me that something has gone a little wrong there?

Looking at the huge size of the army, navy and air force cadet forces I get the distinct feeling that there is a hell of a lot of money being spent in a rather inefficient manner. Not only do I suspect that there is a significant opportunity present for some rationalisation (hey, times are tough) but also to funnel resources into areas that might actually be more productive in the long term.

And lastly, while still keeping with the theme of geography, I can't help but notice there are some very large areas of the country that seem more than a little advantageous for development into military training areas. British forces have recently had the excellent opportunity to cross train with their French counterparts at a huge and highly advanced urban combat facility in France, which prompted many quotes from army officers of highly impressed (and barely contained) jealousy.

It often seems to be the belief that we over here do not have the room, but when you look around the country, particularly in many of the northern areas such as to the west of Sheffield and further north along the Pennine mountain range (well, hill range) you see terrain that seems absolutely ideal for a combination of both large firing ranges and infantry training areas. Not really sure if you could put an Urban training range there (re; probably no) but it certainly offers opportunities abound for the forces to keep their skills up, as I know from reading comments in the past by various soldiers (in various places) that there seems to be a general frustration about access to proper range facilities.

One wonders (because one has gone into ones posh mode again) if there isn't an opportunity over the coming years, especially with the draw down from Germany and the state of some of the militaries accommodation, to build new "super barracks" and other facilities in the northern half of the country, with particular attention given to acquiring new training areas and keeping these within a short(ish) driving distance of the new barracks facilities?

Maybe this post is turning about to be more coherent and "joined up" (ugh) than I previously thought. 

The End.

(Maybe not then).

P.S. Thoughts?


  1. Thoughts you say... :)

    I don't think any of it's either rambling or unfocused, and well worth talking about. What you've described is, in practice, the Canadian regimental system, both for infantry and cavalry (read armour/mounted recce.) Royal Canadian Regiment for the eastern anglophones (Ontario and Maritimes), Van Doos (Royal 22eme) for francophones, Princess Pats for western anglophones. Then there are a wide variety -- ten cadre brigades' worth -- of historic regiments in the Militia, including a couple of very senior ones that do ceremonial work in Ottawa and the like. (Don't tell the Brigade of Guards; if you went out your front door you could hear the blooping of aneurysms in the In and Out from Essex.) Oz has the anodyne Royal Australian Regiment, but all the postwar work (Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Timor, Afghanistan, yadda yadda) has given its battalions identity and the militia regiments are resolutely local.

    Of course in both those places the militia, and its volunteer Expeditionary Force battalions/cavalry regts in the World Wars were an essential part of creating military identity. And, like all the other English-speaking colonies of settlement (even the, shall we say, reluctant South Africans) the reserves are a far larger and more active proportion of the total force than in the UK. (It took Haldane and Hore-Belisha pushing and shoving to get the Territorials up to enough strength to save the national bacon in both World Wars.) In Canada and the US the Militia and National Guard, respectively, are each about two-thirds the size of the regulars, in Australia half (though if you add a second layer of reservists virtually a hundred percent), New Zealand larger than the regulars, and in South Africa only off plum because the Commando system was disbanded at majority rule. Of course in each of those cases the Militiamen/Guardsmen had a substantial national mythos attached to them as the public's fighting force in big, existential wars: the CEF of Vimy Ridgeand All That, the Australian militias that rolled up the Turks in Palestine and stopped Japan in New Guinea, the American National Guard divisions whose regiments though renumbered for national service descended from Civil War volunteer formations, and so on.

  2. Because of my own interest in seeing the Reserves' role expanded in practical ways (especially in the MACP role like the rest of the anglophone world), I've thought on this too. My own idea was basically to revisit Childers and kill the battalion system in the Regulars, or at least modify it as I'll sketch out (Paras excepted, unless you want numbered regiments like the RTR, and probably easier to manage both esprit and role-specific training with a regimental command.) In the regulars you'd have an amalgamated regiment of various sorts (this also gets us down to c. 25 battalion sized "regiments" but that's a rabbit hole of its own.) Take for example the Yorkshires. You'd then have in the regulars The Yorkshire Regiment itself, with its four combatant companies (less HQ) badged respectively as Green Howards, Duke of Wellington's, Prince of Wales', and King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Then, in association with the regular regiment, in the Reserve you'd have cadre battalions (Canadian/Anzac style):
    The Green Howards Battalion (V), the Yorkshire Regiment
    The Duke of Wellington's Battalion(V), the Yorkshire Regiment,
    and so on.
    Aim for a cadre force of basic command staff, training staff, a full-fledged company, and some other important support SNCOs, probably about 200-250 at establishment. In the end I came up with about forty such battalions, so about ten regional Reserve bdes, to rope in Engineers and Signals as well since those are particularly useful in civil emergency situations. Of course the others can help too, from managing crowd control in emergency relief to mobilizing for certain kinds of emergencies (I'd rather have seen trained Territorials hunting Derrick Bird, for example, than Rambos from the local constabulary, time to draw a line under militarising policing-by-consent.)
    Wrt the "super barracks," I can tell you from personal journeying and experience it's worked fine in various bits of the US and Canada. Gagetown, Ontario and Killeen, Texas, for example, exist as vibrant hubs in fairly depressed rural areas for precisely that reason. As for cadet programs there's no rhyme or reason. To pull out my redbrick-academic card, in Bristol -- and Filton probably explains some of it -- the RAF cadets were a real presence but the URNU seemed like ghosts. (Had a mate in my hall who was a biggish wheel with the Junior Crabs, he was Home Counties as the day is long, a true Barnaby-Smythe, but immensely decent bloke.)

    Apropos of nothing but your reading material lately, in my pre-lapsed-historian days I met Richard Holmes once at a conference. He was every bit as charming, modest, energetic, and fundamentally decent as you might imagine. It physically hurt to hear of his passing, and I don't get that much with public "names." Done with Redcoat yet?

    Apropos of a different nothing, while of course I miss HMS Westminster I like the wallpaper. Have great hopes for Foxhound as a family of vehicles. At the same time, why on earth was Warthog christened Warthog? Makes perfect sense for the SANDF, but sturdy, vicious, and low ground clearance, in British service surely that should be Badger?

  3. One last thought (really, I promise :) This is one of the Guards' actual virtues, structurally: they are national regiments. Even more so if you consider the Grenadiers to represent metropolitans, while the Coldstreams are the Northern Bar Stewards' Own. And even in my own little fantasy setup, I winnowed down to three Scots battalion/regiments, one Lowland, one Highland, and the Black Watch simply because of its recruiting cachet.

  4. Morning Jackstaff, (sleep beckons me. Beckons me I tell you!). First time commenting over here I believe? If indeed I remembered that correctly then let me welcome you to my humble home on the Interwebs.

    It's funny you should mention the Aussies and the Canadians actually, because I've spent the last few months pouring over their organisations, along with the Dutch, Danish and Norwegians (which partly explains why I'm such a CV90 fan).

    In each case I was struck mostly by that principle of having those largely geographically ambiguous (at least in country) names. The idea that you can pluck a kid from Essex and stuff him into a regiment full of Scotsmen, Yorkshiremen, Lancastrians and Cornish, yet still have him identify with them as being a "Green Jacket" or "Fusilier" appeals.

    It strikes me that we get the best of both worlds; we get a culture and identity that is readily identifiable to the men in it, and we can take almost any new man entering from across the nation and slide him into place to fill gaps without worrying about his apprehension at suddenly being a son of Wiltshire surrounded by sons of Nottinghamshire.

    There's plenty of good names that we could use/create to get away from Geography; Duke Of Wellingtons, perhaps a Duke of Marlboroughs? (1 SMOKES!), Prince of Wales Own, King Own, Queens Own, Fusiliers, Green Howards, Rifles/Green Jackets, The Buffs, etc. Have large regiments, which are much easier to reduce down in times of austerity, then expand again in times of plenty.

    Down at the territorial level - having had a chance to think on it and further develop the idea - I think there might be an opening to save/revive territorial cap badges, whilst also bringing the army cadets into the fold. So now you have the Essex Regiment for example, with the directing staff kept busy on some nights/weekends for sorting out the territorials and on other nights/weekends with the cadets.

    Now your territorial chaps are not just a member of a massive regiment, it's a lot more local focused, and at the same time the kids are not just members of "Cadet Force A" etc, they have a cap badge that they can wear with pride that attachs them to the local area.

    Granted, you might end up with like 50-60 TA battalions, but they don't all need a full battalion staff and support in the way regulars would, and they're double teaming as TA and Cadet managers/admin/trainers, centred around a reduced number of locations in the county.

    That way you kill multiple birds with one stone as you keep the old cap badges like the Black Watch and so on, you give the TA lads something more local with history to build around, and you streamline the size of the army cadet establishment as well. Get the Navy and Air Force to follow suit and we're well on the way to a leaner, but potentially more effective reserve/cadet force.

  5. As for "Redcoats", I'm on the Epilogue now. Fantastic book. Well worth the money and well worth the time, as indeed it seems every Richard Holmes book is. The only slight criticism I have of him (which doesn't really relate to Redcoats so much, and of which most military authors are guilty of) is the lack of maps. You often get the impression he has the map sat next to him with all the details on as he's writing, which you have to flick back to if you want to see it yourself.

    I promise now that should I ever become a military author then I will smother the pages in maps to help the readers to keep up!

    And yes, I do like that Foxhound picture. I was toying with the idea of making the space for writing smaller, so more of the picture could be seen, but every new picture I put up is a different size anyway so it would become a chore to keep adjusting. I suspect something of a more Naval flavour will go back up again at some point.

    And just as a tip off, I've started to assemble some videos that will probably go up next week in a big "videos and links" post. I think I've nailed down some real crackers this time!

    Anything I missed BTW?

  6. Chris,

    Nope, nothing missed except my reply for a bit too long, for which I apologise (just moved up the food chain at work, but a mea culpa is still in order.) Looking forward to the vids/links, they have so far been quality just as down the local at TD. You make a good point about Holmes et al. and maps. As a navalist type it may even be worse in that sub-genre because even once you hit coal and later oil-fired days you still feel lost without charts, fathoms, prevailing winds, etc. You're off to at least a good descriptive start (ref: maps) with posts like the ones on Mali. Always did seem like Holmes, as the good staff-wallah he was trained to be before he got his command with the old Wessex Regt., was working from maps. Thanks to original-recipe Netflix over here in the Americas I've been dabbling my way back through War Walks. Really brings one's sense of Holmes (one is following one's blog host in moving up a class or two) as a walking, thinking, topographical map alive. As for Naval flavours, maybe the Gulf MCM squadron, or Ocean? Hell, even Clyde in that 'lovely' weather they get down below South Georgia is atmospheric.

    I take great pleasure in seeing, whether it's the same translation or not, that we're singing from the same hymnal on the Reserves and localism: I have wondered also, at times, whether in fact for a smaller Regular force bulking up the Territorials that way might be a useful screening system for getting and keeping the highest quality of recruits, a little like a "backdoor draft." What I mean is, incentivise (awful word) Territorial service, keep it local -- keep that primate-brain investment in known tribes and neighbourhoods and cultures -- and for the kids who are 1) keen and 2) have the aptitude, try to bring them over into the Regulars. For the rest, it's still a valuable national resource, networked much better this way (again bullshit bingo but at least more descriptive) into the channels of local government and domestic emergency response, and to providing a deeper trough of Mk. 1 boots if needed. It seems to me that the krauts and some of the Scandinavians (Danes in particular) have gone with this approach (limited conscription as a "trial period" for folks who might find they want to go pro.) Also, though the Treasury might have one of their spells (glass of water for the Comptroller) the reserve outfits in those population belts to which you've pointed might well have higher recruitment and retention levels, which is well and good both from a military and a civil-aid perspective: more bods for a sustained, semi-existential effort, and more bods in close proximity if, say, Bolton floods out or Tyneside's under four feet of snow (or Haringay for that matter....) On a related note I enjoyed that comment of yours, can't remember which thread, over at TD on the nature and dynamics of group/unit loyalty and motivation. Nicely laid out.

  7. Hey Jackstaff,

    Promotion you say? Then allow one to offer thou a glass of something obscenely expensive to drink from the Internet drinks cabinet as a congratulation.

    I think Naval histories can be worse for the lack of maps thing, because normally the geographic spread is so wide that all sorts of obscure names start appearing and it can be bloody hard to follow, especially as you said without the indication of prevailing winds when dealing with the age of sail.

    I'd love to figure out how to get maps onto this blog! Eventually I'll find a way, even if I have to draw them myself!! On Holmes and War Walks, there were books to accompany each series which I highly recommend for a read.

    Onto reserves, we're back with Holmes and Redcoat. He made the point that a lot of the recruitment for the regulars came from offering bounties to militiamen in order to encourage them to take up the regular service. I can see a cadet force linked to local territorial cap badges that fosters young people all the way from school to the army, hopefully into the regulars but even if it's just into the TA that's a good start.

    As they get older (not sure what the upper age limit is?) it's easy to see how some of them might be tempted to come along with the TA lads and ladies on exercise, give them a proper flavour of the bigger picture and coax them into signing up. With a more flexible plan for TA personnel to get their required time in we might see a future where cadets and the TA make up a significant portion of future regular recruits.

    And I remember the comment you're refering to on the dynamics of group/unit loyalty. Like you though, I can't remember what thread it was!!

    And finally, I've found some excellent Navy related vids, which will wrap the whole post together with a consistent theme.