Boots on the Ground

An attempt by an outsider to understand the British Army and how it got to be like it is, and observations on perhaps where it should be.


‘Everyman thinks less of himself for not having been a soldier’

There has been a few snide remarks about the term ‘Warfighter’ as used by our cousins across the pond.  I think its fine and here’s why

A bit of History

It is worth reminding ourselves that up until Cromwell in effect there was no ‘Army’ as such.

Individual nobles raised troops top fight for the king in haphazard amounts and units, equipped according to their finances; and often with little relation to their feudal dues.  A rich Knight often turned up to fight for or against the King with more and better equipped troops than a poor Earl.

The New model Army (more properly contemporaneously called the ‘Newly Modelled’ Army,(if I recall) changed that.  Fed up with troops that would only fight under ‘Their’ commander and on ‘Their’ turf Parliament  said (and I paraphrase):-

‘Sod this literally for a game of soldiers we need to get an Army we can command, if we are going to get any of this shit sorted’…

So the UK’s first professional full time paid and resourced Army was born.

The revolutionary Ideas of:

  • Paying the troops well and on time,
  • Concentrating on Moral, (through religious conformity it its case),
  • An organization of units according to modern requirements,
  • Proper logistics.
  • And a proper code of Military justice.

Worked so well that it pretty much kicked arse from the moment it hit the ground.

However with the restoration of the monarchy a lot of old attitudes re-emerged.

It was very much the case for hundreds of years that you joined ‘The Regiment’. Often named after the Colonel who was in command. The British Army seems at some points to have been almost an accidental conglomeration of like minded units a bit like a trade organisation of organisations who happened to wear uniforms and fight for the King.

OK, this was slowly chipped away at by events in the Napoleonic and Crimean wars, to the stage by the late 19th century it was an ‘Army’, but some traditions and mindsets seem to take an age to die.

For all the ‘esprit de corps’ it undoubtedly delivered, incidents of  internecine ‘warfare’ between units hampering actions in the field are well recorded up to WWII and beyond.

It is worth reminding ourselves that we are only now returning to an army the same size as the one we entered the run up to World war 1 with. That’s the one that was so small by European power standards that when asked what he would do if the British Army invaded Germany in the 1890’s replied ‘I would call the police and have it arrested’!


For all the skill and bravery of its soldiers.

For all the technical advances it has made

To an outsider like me its organisation looks like a mess!

The government can review it as much as it likes but here’s a few ‘Wikifacts’ :-

  • There are/ will be approx. 80,000 full time soldiers in the British Army.
  • There are  approximately 50 Regiments/Corps/ service units (if one includes Chaplains and the like).

That Does not of itself mean a lot, some have much more but some have much less. they have wildly differing functions, and their sizes reflect that.

However within similar function groups is it not time to bite some serious bullet.

‘Fighting Troops’

  • We have 5 Regiments of foot guards each with 1 battalion!
  • We have 12 nominal Cavalry regiments! (if you include RTC)
  • We have 12 (nominal) Infantry regiments with 32 battalions (ish)- that’s an average of not quite 3 each)

Now given that these days troops are deployed in units with the somewhat dramatic title of ‘Battlegroup’; (funny, some people don’t like warfighter but are happy with that).

What’s all this regiment stuff got to do with the price of fish. (Or FRES or bullets come to that).

A battlegroup as I understand it is built around a battalion with extra units of say heavy Armour, or Engineers or Army Air corps etc. bolted on to suit the job it is asked to do. Sometimes ending up twice the size of the original battalion.  For once this sounds to the layman like a very sensible idea.

Provided its being started from the:-

  • What’s the job we want to do?
  • How many men do we need to do it/
  • What’s the terrain?
  • Who are we going with if at all?
  • etc etc

List of questions.

Not the:-

  • What have we got?
  • What can we afford to send?
  • We can blagg It/Bluff it from there

List of questions

Larger deployed units get to be called brigades.

I have remarked on this before, but where in all this is the ‘Regiment’?

The answer to the layman is, nowhere.

As a functioning military combat unit the regiment for all purposes is dead.

So Lets Bury it as such

A Suggestion

We have an Artillery Regiment that looks after the Artillery units and their admin

We have a Logistics unit that looks after logistics

We have an Engineers Regiment that looks after building bridges and digging holes.

How about we have a Recce Regiment to look after Red Trousers

A Tank regiment to look after the tanks

And an Infantry regiment to look after the Infantry (OK a lot of battalions)

A special forces regiment to look after SF and Para’s and Marines.

You get the idea.

No more regimental HQ’s,

No more RSM’s/ Colonels of the Regiment/ Ornamental goats / Silly headgear, etc etc.

No more cap badge bollocks, like those chaps at the Tory Conference

No more outraged pieces in the Daily Mail.

No more ‘reviews’ in which the guards continue their overall ‘bullet proofness’ when it comes to Defence Cuts Reviews

Meanwhile actual fighting capability is sidelined to keep such and such a regiment’s special place in the hearts and minds of a few.

When you join, you join the Royal Regiment of Infantry /Armour/Artillery etc.

What’s in it for the Army

Well it should do a lot for ease of promotion/ advancement.

After all if you can shift a good man form say 3rd battalion to 9th because 9th needs a new company commander, and Bloggins has been doing well in the 3rd but there is no CO spot, it becomes I suspect a lot easier.

Tactical flexibility

Psychologically it becomes easier for commanders and the units involved to work together, if  Battalion 14 has Warriors and needs a light battalion and battalion 7 is ‘light’ then send 14 and 7.


OK it is not going to save billions but the reduction in overheads will be there, we are removing a whole layer of middle management, and some millions could be saved from within the army budget by scraping Reg HQ’s their staff etc.

The QM’s Job must become a lot easier.

Within  a like unit the kit can be moved and accounted for much easier I would have thought. it would be naïve in the extreme to suggest it would eliminate logistical confusion and fuck ups but it should reduce the numbers of ‘containers with no name’ shipped out to units who then have to rummage thru to see what they have got as per G1 and 2.

The Guards

No surprises here. I remain convinced these would be a TA Unit , with a secondary royal protection squad function. Their military function should assumed by Royal Recce/Tank/Infantry regiments.

SF and Raiding

The various ‘Special’ units would become part of the ‘Special Service Regiment’.  Or Perhaps a specific battalion or two within the unit below..

Para’s, Marines, 16 AAB, would become part of a ‘Commando Regiment’

Please note I want to stress this cultural vandalism is about redeploying forces to get more bang per buck, and not ‘cuts’ per se.

The only people loosing jobs are regimental Colonels etc.

Its about killing what appears to an outsider to be a Zombie system, very much of the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ thinking.

After  all does a Grenadier Guardsman ‘Grenade’ more than any other soldier?

Does a Fusilier, err ‘Fusil’ more than any other soldier, and if a rifleman carries a rifle, what do the other soldiers shoot with?

Scrap the bally lot!

‘Warfighter Corporal IXION Reporting for Duty Sir!

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 18, 2013 7:39 pm

….”takes deep breath…”

IXION, thanks for this, it’s always good to challenge accepted reality. And so, in that spirit.

First of all, we’d need to establish the actual cost (in £ & time) of the status quo, versus the cost of doing it otherwise. I suspect that it is not actually that high. Most “Regimental” stuff is done by retired officers, Colonels of Regiments are not paid at all, merely travelling expenses. Of course there’s a cost, but pretty low millions I would estimate. Add in all of the uniform bollocks and it might rise to £20-40 million annually.

What do Regiments bring? Simple, they are your family, and you fight for them.

There’s all sorts of really good reasons why Regiments live together in barracks, and then swap troops or squadrons about on operations. Very happy to get into that, but not tonight.

October 18, 2013 9:14 pm

RT will know that a lot of the “uniform bollocks” is below the radar and not public funded. A new subby joining the cav has to spend 5 or 6 times the commissioning uniform allowance, and can only go to one approved (monopoly) tailor. (And he’s just started paying back his 5-figure uni loan.)

October 18, 2013 9:41 pm

Having a single “regiment” for each function would help in maintaining individual units up to strength when attrition affected one more than another: the justification for multiple battalion regiments was supposed to be largely about this. It would also allow more flexibility in career and family circumstances.

I wonder what the US experience in forming brigades with personnel assigned simultaneously for three years has been like. We cannot do brigades of course, but perhaps battalions formed in this way might actually be an improvement on the regimental system?

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 18, 2013 11:53 pm

Whilst generally inclined not to fix what ain’t bust, can I suggest a compromise less likely to result in a sudden rash of fatal accidents amongst Criminal Lawyers resident in and around Carlisle?

Firstly, the Gunners/Sappers/Loggies are a non-issue…their Regiments are already configured to support the recruitment/training/development of their members on an Army-Wide basis, deploying them as required to operational units…and I think the same is true of a lot of smaller specialisms grouped together as the Adjutant-General’s Corps. The only real “inefficiency” lies with the organisation of Infantry Battalions and Armoured Regiments…which are the core of the proposed adaptable and armoured brigades.

However, the Infantry Battalions are already organised into “Big Regiments”, often carrying forward the lineage of several predecessors…so why not combine Regimental and Operational functions into a single “Blankshire Regiment” which sorts out recruitment/training/development for the Battalions under it’s command and would lead it as a Brigade in a full scale war…and do the same with the Tanks by creating two “Big” Armoured Regiments (with each Squadron carrying forward a different lineage if required) who recruit/train/develop their people, but also have a command function if we need to put a full Armoured Division in the field.

The Royal Marine Commandos and 16th Air Assault look pretty much like this already, and both seem to work well – definitely not bust, definitely don’t fix…

As to command in a full-scale War, we maintain the rudiments of one Corps HQ, and two or three Divisional ones…but their day job is to put together and command task and finish Brigades as and when required in much the same way as we do at present.

Finally, the Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments become the Light Cavalry Regiment and operate more like the Gunners or Sappers…but can of course have a squadron in Red Trousers, another with a Skull and Crossbones on their hats and so on…

Furthermore, I can see no reason why each Battalion/Squadron should not have a different cap-badge and enjoy the support of a different (Honorary) Colonel and Regimental Association if they chose to…might even be some merit in developing and supporting those associations to help in post service welfare and resettlement especially where they represent a strong link to a regimental “home town”….anyone for the Yorkshire Regiment Housing Association….which might even provide married quarters and Hall of Residence type accommodation for serving soldiers and take the MOD out of the Housing Business


October 19, 2013 6:51 am

Tradition and cap badges is ingrained into the armed forces, whilst it seems alien in the modern world I do not see that it needs to be a limiting factor in building an effective armed forces. I do feel that the structures are probably more appropriate for reserve units (perhaps with full time elements) and a good prune of front line units wouldn’t go amiss.

However, a fresh approach to structuring joint expeditionary forces is needed in the SDSR in my view – I personally would like to see a Army “Commando” approach based taken around units that are self contained and lend themselves to rapid deployment, with the Paras / RMs seen primarily as door openers.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
October 19, 2013 8:05 am

Let”s not get hung up over the word regiment. The key to effectiveness in Ixion”s terms is giving the two principal combat arms the career and posting homogeneity to be found in the Gunners and Sappers etc. The key here is a common manning and records system and trickle posting with units and sub-units maintaining consistent roles.

This gives flexibility and career progression and prospects. Note how there are round button and flat button Gunners and the Sappers have PQE, Diver, EOD, Field Engineering, Survey,, Airbourne and Commando elements and not all mutually exclusive. All to be manned with round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes.

With the larger organisations, what may be lost in family may be gained in the replacement of competition by cooperation as the promotions boards have a wider range of posts to fill. Arms directors and thir staffs decide where the empty bed spaces go, rather than the randomness of regimental recruiting success and the buying out after a hard tour.

The title, Honorary Colonel, uniform thing can still be kept for the units if required, it’s just the personnel that will not be permanently tied to the unit, but move from unit to unit, providing variety for the plodders and opportunities for the upwardly mobile. Like the multi battalion large regiments but even better.


October 19, 2013 9:37 am

First – I am an outsider so my viewpoint is distant and might miss nuances. But I look for analogies where I can. Looking at the structure from the outside it reminded me most of the organization of my schools. This may no longer be the fashion but both primary & secondary schools in my time had Houses. So I looked for equivalence:

Army = School
Regiment = House
Division = Form – a proportion of the year’s students of mixed Houses
Operations = Classes – Forms split up to attend different classes based on the specialization choices made

and so on. The presence of the House had little or no bearing on Form structure or Class attendance – the House was something the student knew they belonged to, it was something to earn points and trophies for, it spread across Forms and Classes without overhead. Apart from the cost of inter-house trophies and the minor administration given to one senior teacher per House, it cost nothing.

By analogy then, the Regiment exists as something to belong to, something to win battle honours for, something to own the Regimental Silver. But it shouldn’t impact the structure of Divisions, nor should it distort deployment structures to Operations. It doesn’t (by all accounts in comments above) put a heavy administrative burden on the Army. It does however give the Soldier (all ranks) something to belong to; something to take pride in; something to fight bravely for to win it those battle honours. For a relatively small cost I suspect it plays a disproportionate part in upping the game of the Officers & Men (Women).

It is one of those well known facts that in the fury of conflict the Soldier does not fight for Monarch or Country or Divisional Plan – certainly not for Politicians’ glory nor even (sorry IXION) Section 13 of the Human Rights act – but for their mates. Doing their best to keep their pals safe. If the Regimental structure strengthens these basic bonds between Soldiers they can only be for the good of the Army.

October 19, 2013 10:02 am

Battlegroup does what it says on the tin and derives from a pragmatic use of the words by the Germans in that war we had with them – it therefore has legitimacy and a simple normal meaning.

Warfighter is just another overindulgent, disgusting and ridiculous word coined by Americans to make things sound more “hi speed” and “cool”.

As for collapsing the infantry regiments into a Corps of Infantry (been done before by the way, didn’t stick) I will make the same argument I always do – strong group identity is part and parcel of any effective operational unit in human affairs whether its a football team of the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional). You can easily remove those identities and collapse everyone into a generic infantry grouping by ensuring you only select weak and sinister young officers and promote only the spineless to NCO positions.

October 19, 2013 10:18 am

Phil, be glad that the line stopped there. If it had continued, we might have ended up with troops assigned to COIN be called “peacefighters”.

There are a lot of things to discuss in a topic like this, hardly a simple issue, will structure my thoughts a bit later, this is too meaty for an off the cuff essay.

Mike W
October 19, 2013 11:29 am

“As for collapsing the infantry regiments into a Corps of Infantry (been done before by the way, didn’t stick) I will make the same argument I always do – strong group identity is part and parcel of any effective operational unit in human affairs whether its a football team of the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional).”

Well said, Phil. Truer words than those have not been spoken in these columns for a long time. Ye gods, it was only a few years ago that the American were looking very closely at our regimental organization to see what they could learn in order to improve the morale of their own infantry and other formations! Ixion, when in iconoclastic mood, is often very thought-provoking, but not here!

“collapsing the infantry regiments into a Corps of Infantry (been done before by the way, didn’t stick)”

I don’t know which era you were thinking of when that happened, Phil. Can’t recall it but I believe it wouldn’t stick if tried again.

October 19, 2013 11:41 am

The 1950s I believe the idea was raised. There was a big culture change when during WWII the training of recruits was stripped away from the regimental depots and placed in the hands of ITCs (of which there were 25 I believe). Then the regiments were “brigaded” in 1962 or so and there was some serious thought to it then. My memory wants to say that there were brigade capbadges. But I had wine last night,

October 19, 2013 11:48 am

Repulse said “Tradition and cap badges is ingrained into the armed forces, whilst it seems alien in the modern world I do not see that it needs to be a limiting factor in building an effective armed forces. ”

No. Tradition and cap badges are everywhere. It is called culture.

October 19, 2013 11:56 am

Interesting that the RM is always mentioned pretty early on these in discussions despite being a part of the RN and not a distinct service (as is the case with the USN and USMC.)

Yet it will be only after about 8000 comments in before that 2,800 (that is like what just under 5 batts worth of infantry) strong group of well equipped shooters the RAF Regiment are mentioned.

(Have I mentioned before the barstewards have done for my country’s regiments? )

October 19, 2013 11:57 am

Did someone mention shooting your own body armour?

October 19, 2013 12:06 pm

Not just body armour, but Gucci body armour pierced with only the bestest freshest bullets fired from a rifle oiled with oils only good enough for the space programme.

October 19, 2013 12:10 pm


Much merit. We could start the numbering of infantry battalions at 1 go to 30 and add of foot on the end. 24th of foot for example has plenty of esprit de corp

October 19, 2013 12:13 pm

Personally I think battalions should be named after their COs. This will prevent the ossification of those structures by a constant change of name.

Mike W
October 19, 2013 12:29 pm

“The 1950s I believe the idea was raised . . . Then the regiments were “brigaded” in 1962 or so and there was some serious thought to it then.”

Thanks very much for that. Interesting!

October 19, 2013 1:51 pm

The regiment system serves its purpose, the question is which regiments and how big?

Personally I learn more towards the idea of removing the geographic distinctions and moving towards names that are a bit more ambiguous (Rifles, Fusiliers etc) so you can shuffle new recruits to the places they’re most needed, without worrying about a Yorkshire lad ending up in a Lancastrian regiment etc.

And go large, 4-5 battalions worth each (Paras excepted). When cuts come about just snip off equally, or snip from 5 to 4 in some, then from 5 to 4 in the others when the next round comes about. Make sure everyone (or almost everyone) gets a stake in various pies like armoured, light, Foxhound etc, so that as you shuffle officers and NCO’s about for promotions you get to mix skills within the Reg.

Everyones a winner.

October 19, 2013 2:13 pm

so you can shuffle new recruits to the places they’re most needed, without worrying about a Yorkshire lad ending up in a Lancastrian regiment etc.

In practise though nobody does worry about that, either in peacetime or on operations. The whole regimental title issue seems to be something that more occupies the crusty old bastards in their clubs than anyone else.

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t really buy into this modern nostalgia when it comes to regimental titles (it is a wide ranging nostalgia that goes far beyond regimental titles and into wider heritage issues however) but I do understand that units will form identities and that those unit identities will always have lobbyists and single interest supporters come what may. Changing the titles won’t achieve much because old farts will get just as exercised over the 5th Battalion Generic Infantry Regiment being cut when Model Infantry Regiment 2 still has 5 battalions as they do over the Royal Tweedshires losing a battalion now.

Effectiveness breeds identity – identity will always breed lobbyists and exercise important people for irrational reasons. Fucking around with the entire system to change precisely nothing is high risk and is probably one of the reasons why only incremental changes have ever occurred in the infantry.

October 19, 2013 2:43 pm

I think Phil is right in saying that you can never get rid of identity and the parochial, defensive attitude it often breeds completely.

However I think larger 4-5 battalion infantry regiments and similarly amalgamated armoured/support regiments with more generic non-regional identities could be a good step in the right direction. It wouldn’t remove partisan loyalties (which can be a good thing as well as bad) but it would as Chris.B said make recruitment a smoother and more balanced process as well as any potential future reductions easier to implement.

Even before any wider amalgamations or reorganizations took place the Guards and Royal Regiment of Scotland would be in my sights! The way the former’s are set-up is pointlessly inefficient and the latter is far too large for the share of the population it represents.

Martin Ryder
October 19, 2013 2:45 pm

I was in the RAOC in the 60’s and served in Aden, Borneo, Germany and the UK. I have followed the changes to the British Army (and the RN and RAF) with great interest since then. Every change has been made with the aim of making the Army harder hitting, leaner and more cost effective. Of course the result was that the Army always came out of the change smaller and weaker. GOD is on the side of the big battalions but MOD never is.

However the Army is still a force to be reckoned with and is, I think, more professional than it was in my day. I consider that a major part of the Army’s resilience is it that it never gives up its traditions and never takes itself too seriously. RT and a number of other contributors often have me chuckling and remembering the old days. I don’t take myself seriously either but I do think seriously about how the Army organises itself.

In the RAOC (now the Really Large Corps) we were trickle posted from Unit to Unit and the individual officer or soldier never built up the ‘family’ feeling that the Fighting Arms had; which helped them through some awful times. However we did form temporary families though being with 97 Ordnance Maintenance Park never had the same cachet as The Royal Hussars, who I lived with for a while in Aden.

Getting to the point of Ixion’s blog, before wandering off into some anecdote about the shock of being a REMF living with the Cavalry, I would like to suggest that evolution is far better than revolution. We should not throw all the Lego into the air in the hope that it will come down in the shape that we want it to; especially as recent history in Afghanistan shows that the Battlegroup system works well and that even minor units can absorb people from all sorts of military backgrounds (see the article about the 4 Bde Recce Force on the MOD Web Site). The key to the success of 4 BRF was that the unit had, at its core, a cavalry squadron with a long and proud history and, most important of all, a good leader.

Being old and living in the past, rather than young and technology minded like many of those who contribute to TD, I would like to see the history of the Infantry and Cavalry preserved in the modern Army even more than it is at present, whilst at the same time making the Army more flexible.

Basically I would make much more of the company and squadron than the battalion and regiment. Each is commanded by a field officer, a major, unlike in many armies where a a captain does the job, and should be able to operate more independently than they do. Each should become a Combat Unit and be the basic building block of the Battlegroup.

They should be encouraged to do this by each having a unique title. For example the new Royal Lancers regiment should consist of: (1) HQ & ISTAR Squadron; (2) three Regular squadrons – A Squadron, The 9th/12th Royal Lancers; A Squadron, The 16th/5th Royal Lancers; A Squadron, The 17th/21st Royal Lancers; and (3) two Army Reserve squadrons: B Sqn, 9/12L and B Sqn 16/5L from the Yeomanry regiments, which should be disbanded. The Infantry should do the same with each company in a battalion carrying a Cardwell reform infantry regimental title, eg 4 RIFLES should include 1st & 2nd Company, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light infantry and 1st Company, The Royal Berkshire Regiment. There should also be two Army Reserve companies. 3 Ox & Bucks LI and 2 Berkshires.

Infantry and Cavalry Combat Units, would remain, as now, with their parent battalions and regiments, for training, admin and welfare, but would move, as a unit, to join a Battlegroup, which is based, as now, on an Infantry or Cavalry major unit.

The 2020 organisation lends itself to this idea and Force Packages could be built up from the Arms and Services in 1 and 3 Divisions and trained up and deployed as required.

That is enough. All those still awake can move on to the next blog posting.

Martin Ryder
October 19, 2013 3:13 pm

Being a long-serving and proud member of the Old Farts Regiment (Quartermaster’s department) I stand by my previous posting but I do not disagree with Challenger, Chris B and Phil.

The modern regiments (SCOTS, RIFLES, etc) were designed to do what they suggest. However the Army is being cut again and the modern regiments could merge eg LANCS, YORKS and IRISH could become 1 – 5 KINGS. The PWRR, RRF and RAR could become 1 – 5 QUEEN’S FUSILIERS. The Guards are already in the Household Division. I am not sure where the WELSH, MERCIANS and GURKHAS would go.

The SCOTS should be 3 battalions but Mr Salmond would telephone Mr Cameron and tell him off and that would be the end of that, especially as neither of them would know what the hell they were talking about.

I do not believe that the gain would be worth the pain.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 19, 2013 3:37 pm

What on earth is wrong with the organisation of the Guards? 5 battalions, 3 in the same specialised role, 2 others in different roles, and they rotate around the roles as the rest of the large Regiments in the infantry. The only thing different is that they have an additional 1/2 battalion made up of individual companies of the old 2nd Battalions of the Grenadiers, Coldstream and Scots Guards.

October 19, 2013 4:01 pm

With regard recruiting, how rigid are the recruiting area? If one Regiment had too many recruits I take they don’t send them to another Regiment that is undermanned?

October 19, 2013 4:11 pm

@ Phil,

I think the primary advantages if you go to large, geographically ambiguous units is that; a) you remove the lingering prospect of single battalion regiments, or regiments that are down to two battalions and looking nervous, b) you remove issues over “this regiment recruits better from its area etc”. Essentially the whole infantry is recruiting from the whole country, giving priority regiment choices to the best candidates (or the only buggers that nominate for certain regiments), then dishing out the rest as the strengths dictate.

Clearly the system we have doesn’t work that well, otherwise it wouldn’t be constantly in the news (not talking about operations, but the capbadge wars). I always find it odd that the RAF and Navy can drop and pick up names over time with little hoo hah, but the army (or at least its former members) fight tooth and claw for the regiment tradition? Just bizarre. And then just to top the bizarre stakes, they take probably the most famous division/brigade name going (7th Armoured) and turn it into an Infantry Brigade?

October 19, 2013 4:32 pm

Topman asked “With regard recruiting, how rigid are the recruiting area? If one Regiment had too many recruits I take they don’t send them to another Regiment that is undermanned?”

If your regiment is fully manned with Englishman and on the whole has a good recruiting record they disband it in favour of regiments from the Celtic fringe manned by Fijians.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 19, 2013 5:05 pm


That is because Jocks and Fijians are much better at fighting than pansy English County Regiments :)

October 19, 2013 5:14 pm

Might I point out that the “teeth” arms tend to have a fixed quota of men? There is a rigid structure of manpower in place for the combat arms, for example one section is 7 men, one Platoon is 3 sections + leaders for 30 men, one company is 3 platoons etc. The numbers are fairly rigid for the structure, with some leeway for unit-plus or unit-minus. This means that too many men may cause the system to bloat, resulting in people being assigned to units without a hard manpower structure, i.e service support staff.

October 19, 2013 5:37 pm

All three service’s suffer from this its not just the army

The army has 256 brigadiers and generals but just 200 Challenger II tanks.

Ok not the best article but the services do look a little top heavy. It can be oversimplified to base it on numbers like that it makes you ask the question.

October 19, 2013 5:44 pm

This means that too many men may cause the system to bloat, resulting in people being assigned to units without a hard manpower structure, i.e service support staff.

Do you mean trained inf, just leaving their training regiment? If so why not send them to another Inf Regiment?

October 19, 2013 6:10 pm

If you look at the numbers breakdown, seldom does any regiment meet its full paper establishment. I think – if I remember rightly – during the main years of Afghanistan many new recruits were diverted into units that were about to enter the pre-deployment cycle, in order to make sure they had the maximum amount of manpower as they headed to theatre.

October 19, 2013 6:12 pm


Um. True. Probably also accounts also for “our” side’s level of performance at Twickenham over the last twenty years or so…………….

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 19, 2013 6:17 pm

Damn right it does, Fijian fly halfs who have played in the NZ NPC, capped props, South African training camps :(

October 19, 2013 7:06 pm


Yes all that and 6 months deployed out of 36 and the fact that grey war canoes doesn’t even come FFBNW a rugby pitch.

I have been wondering about how much depth of turf can be laid in CVF’s hangar. Plenty of flight deck space so need for the aircraft to be taken below. All that bracing sea air fixing things outside will could be for the health of your average pasty face WAFU tiffy so it is win-win all round. Um. Perhaps keep CVF to Mediterranean deployments too? Yes, I can see it now…….

October 19, 2013 7:39 pm

as, that is a false comparison. In terms of WWI, during the start, no one had any tanks. Does that mean that the best number of officers for WWI was 0? Or even the Netherlands today. No more MBTs. Does that mean that they should not have any officers?

The number of officers needed are judged on a need for command and control per unit basis, not on an MBT basis. Example would be a Captain/Major? would be needed for a single Sabre squadron of 16 tanks(?) in the new reorganization (maybe) or 12 tanks under the old organization (need a factcheck on this), so it is a single Commanding Officer to control 48-64 men. Comparatively, an infantry company has about 100 men, with the same need for ONE Commanding Officer, in an approximate 1:100 ratio. So you could say that infantry units are almost 100% more command efficient manpower-wise than an armoured squadron. On the other hand, an army without armour is constrained in so many ways, isn’t it?

Look at the number of units and type you have to determine if you have too many officers, not just the amount of X pieces of equipment.

October 20, 2013 5:04 am

The Salerno mutiny is the example of why the regimetnal systems is potential problem. For those unaware, it occurred when former casualties were being sent as replacements for more recent casualties, and refused to soldier when posted to regiments other than their own. The needs to the nation and army must always come first, at Salerno the regimental system failed.

Size and role complexity is not a problem, in 1943 RA had a greater established strength that infantry and RAC combined and roles covered what in many armies was divided between different branches, field and AA being most obvious but also coast and anti-tk.

It’s also uselful to note that RA, RE and I assume others each have a ‘RHQ’ dealing with regimental matters, typically a colonel and a very small staff. Furthermore RA has not in the past used trickle posting (every posting has a cost) for soldiers but does keep the officers moving, they also try and tie regiments to regions for recruiting purposes, although there’s always been plenty on soldiers from outside a regiment’s region. This has always applied to infantry as well, not just Fijians, I remember being surprised by the number of Londoners in the Gordon Highlanders (and I wouldn’t put that down to the London Scottish).

October 20, 2013 11:35 am
Reply to  IXION

Maybe we have, but we are now suffering a diseconomy of scale. For example, if the total headcount is reduced by 20%, we can’t necessarily reduce the number of defence attachés by 20% to match. A lot of senior jobs have been de-ranked or combined over the past decade or so – arms directors among the most recent. Also, if you ignore the titles and look at the salaries, senior officers are not overpaid relative to their levels of responsibility – try comparing with agency and local authority senior staff, never mind the BBC. Chasing the ‘star count’ in isolation often means that people end up doing the same job with a pay cut. And there are no more serving Admirals of the Fleet (5*); CDS was reduced to 4* a long time ago.

October 20, 2013 12:24 pm

We have way top may snr officers, in every force.

Not a snide question; but by how many, what’s the correct number?

October 20, 2013 12:57 pm


I’d have no problem with regiments on your model. But I don’t think it would change much. Regiments had recruiting regions because it was sensible and more efficient to have them. Regiments could concentrate their recruiting efforts.

Personally I hate the whole “save the name” movement. All this sub-unit naming and renaming of support units with older titles (the OCUs becoming squadrons and so forth) does my head in. It shows a national obsession freeze-dried heritage. Before the Victorians nobody would have thought anything of raising and disbanding regiments of foot.

October 20, 2013 1:03 pm

I’m with Ixion on this. We have more admirals than we have ships. We need more ships. :-)

October 20, 2013 1:50 pm

@ Phil ‘Regiments had recruiting regions because it was sensible and more efficient to have them. Regiments could concentrate their recruiting efforts. ‘

How often does this happen with rigid recruiting regions, can units send recruits that are due to go to overmanned regiments to those undermanned?

October 20, 2013 2:11 pm

I have no idea to be honest. As I understood it in the past each regiment would have x number of recruit spaces and that was it. If you lost someone they were gone from your batch.

October 20, 2013 3:35 pm

@ Phil,

The thing that always perplexes me is how the Royal Reg of Scotland got away with retaining old names in its battalions? The whole point of having one large regiment was to avoid any future “you can’t disband the highlanders!” type arguments, and yet sure enough when the time came to chop one the Argylls PR machine went into full over drive. It seems to utterly defeat the point of having a large regiment.

My main thinking on the large, geo-ambiguous regs is to do with population distribution. 1.5 out of every ten people in the UK lives in the Greater London area. Another 1.5 out of every ten lives in the Liverpool-to-Hull belt. When we zoom in even closer and look at the demographics of the new soldiers that sign up, 85% are under-19 and a significant proportion come from low income backgrounds, which means large urban areas have a disproportinate representation. Removing any geographic tie to the regiments opens up that entire recruiting base to each reg.

Of course you can mix the two, with a few large, geographically tied regiments, which would probably go something like; Scotland, Anglia, Yorkshire, Mercia and Wales, Lancashire, Wessex/home counties, with maybe a fusilier reg to cover a number of cities.

How much of a difference would it make? Dunno, but it might put an end to the cap badge wars once and for all. Or for at least a few decades.

@ Topman,
“can units send recruits that are due to go to overmanned regiments to those undermanned?”
— Somebody I went to school with joined up a few years ago and he was one of the ones diverted to a different reg in order to fill manpower gaps in the run up to an Afghan deployment, so it would appear so. And at least according to their own figures, none of the regiments has reached its paper estbalishment for years now, which might be a function of shifting people about?

October 20, 2013 3:45 pm

@ Chris B

Primarly to put people into empty posts. I was of the believe the the Fusiliers were fully manned and some others were near full. I wondered how flexible the system was at filling posts regardless of where they were recruited. IE post them towards end of Phase 2 training to the posts that need filling. But if I take your meaning right it already happens.

October 20, 2013 3:52 pm

@ Topman,

That’s pretty much what I’ve been lead to believe over the last few years; that all the recruits get their first choice of regiment on paper, but will ultimately land where needed, with units ear marked for future operations taking the priority.

October 20, 2013 4:31 pm
Reply to  IXION


I’m no expert on attachés – never been one – but my wider point was that one can’t necessarily scale everything down pro rata. I think that this one is a political and perceived status matter. If the French, for example, provided a Colonel attaché to B**** B**** Land and the Brits provided a Major, who would have the influence (including perhaps over equipment sales)? And a Colonel/Captain RN/Group Captain wouldn’t carry much clout in Washington!

October 20, 2013 4:40 pm


‘In ANY other walk of life business etc that is huge over manning. ‘

Possibly but then you’ve have to know what each post involved and the knock on from down ranking that post. What knock ons would there be through the armed forces by halving the number of 2* and 3* posts?

Chris B


All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 20, 2013 4:46 pm

Reference the senior Officer posts.

Do not forget NATO, in my last NATO job we had 2 3 star posts, 1 2 star and 1 1 star in an HQ of less than 180. The UK had 1 2 star but in the adjoining HQ there was a US 4 star and umpteen other flag rank officers including a UK Army 2 and RAF 1 star. They hosted a deployable Lodger unit with a UK RN 2 star.
That is in one NATO location.
Made socials intetresting :)

October 20, 2013 5:02 pm

Was the executive bathroom dual key?

October 20, 2013 5:36 pm

How many doctors, dentists, lawyers, and chaplains are in the senior officer numbers?

October 20, 2013 5:39 pm


One question would be how much of the ranking system is based around pay grades, as opposed to having Wing Commanders vs Wings (even though, confusingly, they command Squadrons) and Captains vs ships. A regional manager of a private sector company is drawn by the pay more than the desire to be named regional manager. There may be a number of other people doing jobs equally demanding to him or her, who have different titles, but are paid a commesurate amount. The ranks linked to pay grade system makes some sense.

That said, the sheer number of officers (of various ranks) involved in the non-fighty side does seem quite hefty. With all due respect to officers for their command skills, most will have entered the service fairly shortly after leaving university, so commercial skills are probably not abundant among the officer class, which makes the numbers involved in DE&S seem a little odd.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 20, 2013 5:44 pm


Agree on DE&S

Unfortunately with attaches etc you really have to have a certain level of gravitas, otherwise you get nowhere and that is far more harmful to HMG interests than an extra 30k a year.

October 20, 2013 5:49 pm


‘Of course you can mix the two, with a few large, geographically tied regiments, which would probably go something like; Scotland, Anglia, Yorkshire, Mercia and Wales, Lancashire, Wessex/home counties, with maybe a fusilier reg to cover a number of cities.

How much of a difference would it make? Dunno, but it might put an end to the cap badge wars once and for all. Or for at least a few decades’

I remember advocating something similar to you a while back. I don’t think it would solve all of the recruiting problems and totally do away with cap-badge parochialism….but it would certainly be a good first step in the right direction.

As you say, the problem isn’t so much what you call a regiment anymore (with an army down to 80,000 regulars I don’t think we will see many more entire regiments get amalgamated or disbanded) it’s the insanity of creating large regiments and then giving individual battalions historic names/cap-badges that’s the real problem because it doesn’t take away the parochial and defensive infighting that rears it’s head when a reduction or reorganization is on the horizon.

Oh and I’m sorry but the Guards need to give a little to get a little by amalgamating into one 4 battalion regiment (if the Grenadiers and Coldstreams don’t like it then they can be shown the door!) and it’s sadly time for the Gurkha’s to become a thing of the past.

October 20, 2013 5:51 pm

Overall No one has come back yet and said we need regiments because….

Because a better question is, “we have regiments because…?”

October 20, 2013 6:01 pm

I imagine that a lot of Brigadiers (of which we probably have too many as well), will get pissed off. Tough!

Well there maybe, but my point was where does the number come from unless you know what they all do. They may be scope for those cuts or not but unless you know.

@ Chris B

‘One question would be how much of the ranking system is based around pay grades,’

Hugely so, the dentral branch is a good example. Often a Wing Commander in charge of 2 other dentists (plus nurse, practice manager etc) on station, sometimes even a Group Captain.

‘ as opposed to having Wing Commanders vs Wings ‘

Quite often they do, it’s only on flying Sqns they don’t. There are greater responsibilities, a different structure in terms of personnel and purpose (amongst other reasons) than say a station Eng/Ops/Admin wing.

October 20, 2013 6:01 pm

The thing that always perplexes me is how the Royal Reg of Scotland got away with retaining old names in its battalions?

Many toys were thrown from many prams. And as ever single issue groups hijack any juicy event of the day to drag their selfish agendas into the picture. That the names of regiments can be a political pawn for many different chess players is sad but true.

The problem is also that the Officer corps is thoroughly enmeshed with the establishment (it often is the establishment) and so when they kick off after hearing The Royal Tweedshires are going, events often march to their tune or at least there is an element of compromise.

The cavalry and infantry are fashionable, they draw purposeful and capable young men who thoroughly absorb the identity of their regiment and its local ethos and culture and they go on to become equally capable senior officers and civil servants and bring all their leadership and vigour down on the side of the regiment which has infused their personality and entire being.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 20, 2013 7:47 pm

As i explained earlier you definitely need more stars multi nationally.

October 20, 2013 7:53 pm

@ Ixion

‘the general thing when you get to 1 star is there really anything left in the British army save commanding something like Afghan, that needs more money or titles?’

Although I’ve not commanded at the level [ yet ;) ] there’s more to do that what drives them on (amongst other reasons). There are the commands that are above, for example, the role of the Tht commander. You don’t get that much freedom at 1*. Many want to influence the force that is sent to Afghan in a long term sense. What level and how many these office should fill is one question, however there is many things to do in a professional sense beyond ThT commander.

‘In modern private sector there really is not anything like it.’

I think APATS covered, what private sector equivilant is there for NATO posts?
In many countries, even if it shouldn’t rank matters.

October 20, 2013 8:02 pm

Perhaps I have on that score, (if not the constellation of stars we seem to need to open a letter), nailed it?

Nobody denies the political posturing the regimental names bring about.

October 20, 2013 10:05 pm

@ Topman,

“Hugely so, the dental branch is a good example”
— Pretty much a perfect example, at least in concept. Without the rank they wont get the cash, and without the cash there’s little to keep them there. Though it does seem like the sort of thing that would have been farmed out to the private sector by now? Does/did Bastion have a dentist on site? I’m guessing some of the larger naval vessels might take one along. What’s the RAFs excuse though? ;)

@ Phil,
“That the names of regiments can be a political pawn for many different chess players is sad but true.
— Aye,

October 20, 2013 10:13 pm

@ Chris B

Same reason as anything being a military role.

October 20, 2013 10:24 pm

The purpose of regiments is to allow for more atomic identities than British. People wish to serve with people with similar values and expectations and identities. This atomisation extends beyond the regional identities of the regiment down to sub units like battalions etc. It is called clump recruiting.

Here is a quote from Anthony Prices novel – Other Paths to Glory, regarding WWI and the 1914 Volunteers, the pals battalions. (Ignore the characters the history is authentic)

“‘Huh! Poor devils!’ Butler swung towards Mitchell. ‘I can tell you something about that. My dad joined up then with two-thirds of the men in his street the Blackburn Industrials they called themselves. One of the Pals’ Battalions of the Royal North-East Lancs they became.’

‘The Blackburn Industrials – that’s what I’ve been trying to say,’ cut in Mitchell. ‘They had so many volunteers the local people tried to join up in groups with their friends to form complete battalions. The Glasgow City Tramways formed a battalion and the headmaster of a big grammar school up north enlisted all his old pupils. And there were the Tyneside Irish and the Manchester Clerks’ and Warehousemen’s Battalion – ‘

‘Joined together and died together,’ Butler growled. ‘After Beaumont Hamel half the wives in our street were widows.’ He turned to Mitchell again. ‘So what?’

‘I know which unit George Davis was in, that’s what. The 29th Special Battalion, Rifle Brigade.’

‘The Poachers,’ murmured Audley. ‘Have you ever heard of them, Jack?’

Battalion cap badges represent more atomic identities than the regional regiments and as the army shrinks these identities are represented by smaller units. To remove them would be to impact on the cohesion of the unit in exchange for administrative convenience.

Local civic pride is often associated with the historic achievements of the local military units.

Regiments and smaller clump recruiting units represent common local identities.
This is why historical rather than functional cap badges matter.

October 20, 2013 10:35 pm

Does/did Bastion have a dentist on site?

Shure does.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 20, 2013 11:41 pm

In the developed Anglosphere Democracies we make a bit of a fetish of rank and formality not mattering – especially in the business world – I suspect it doesn’t work too well in big, important and in some ways socially conservative societies like India, China and Brazil – I know for sure my Brother in Law has to make regular visits to two of those three on business because the guys he has running the show locally are not considered important enough to deal with the key decision makers amongst their local partners and customers…and I have a friend who studied Japanese formality for years and decided in the end that they probably came from another Planet…

If that’s the case in business, I would expect it to be much more pronounced in Military and Diplomatic Circles.

A more compelling argument would be a comparison with the French, who have much in common with us in terms of scale and global entanglements…how are they fixed for numbers of senior officers?


October 21, 2013 12:00 am

@ Erebus,

Maybe back in WW1 and WW2, when units were being called up en mass for major wars. But now? You don’t have a street of people joining up. You don’t have the staff of a supermarket all forming a company together. You have a group of people from all across their regiments recruiting area. How many Essex lads do you think look at a fella from Cambridge and say to themselves “now there’s a lad with similar values and expectations and identity to me…”? How many 18 year old Stockport lads arrive at their battalion and look at a hardy Lance Corporal from Bolton and think the same?

I doubt you’d lose much in cohesion by moving to non-geographically tied units. Most of the evidence we have would point to the Company level being the point at which immediate, “family”/”band of brothers” type cohesion reaches its limit*. Beyond that most of the evidence points towards bragging rights derived from the regimental tradition and ethos (even the Para wives in Colchester can’t stop using the phrase “crap hats” every five seconds when referring to anything non-para), which has its place but seldom seems to be a motivator for cohesion.

*Officers would – on the basis of their accounts – seem to reach their limit at Battalion level, probably because they are more likely to mingle across company lines.

October 21, 2013 7:15 am


Of course ‘Esprit de Corps’ can be achieved through training etc, especially in ‘elite’ units like the para’s or the American 101st Airborne. “Band of Brothers” is from Shakespeare.

To quote Anthony Price’s Novel again.

“those were almost certainly men from George Davis’s battalion, killed on the Somme between July and November. One of them, he remembered now, had been a Bellamy, a relative – a son, even – of the ‘squire’ who had delayed Davis answering Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers. That had a positively feudal ring about it, the squire’s son and two of his gamekeepers going to the war together, smacking more of Agincourt and Crecy than the Somme.”

To (mis)quote the Sgt Major in historical film “Zulu”, “Welsh Regiments Sing!” (Battle of Rorke’s Drift)
“The film ends with another narration by Richard Burton, listing the eleven defenders who received the Victoria Cross for the defense of Rorke’s Drift, the most awarded to a regiment in a single action up to that time.”

It would be a mistake in my opinion to loose local links, at whatever size of units (Regiment/Battalion/Company) , ‘elites’ are an exception rather than the rule.

Think Defence
October 21, 2013 8:15 am
Reply to  erebus

erebus, were all the VC’s awarded at Rorkes Drift for personnel from infantry regiments?

Which kind of makes the point I think!

October 21, 2013 8:44 am

Off the top of my head there are 6 4* (CDS, VCDS, 3xCoS, Mil Rep to NATO (on Military Cttee, the military governing body).

There is a continuing reduction in Brigs as their posts are converted to Colonels, I suspect that in many cases the work doesn’t change much.

October 21, 2013 9:48 am

Back into the debate.

It is interesting that the political infighting aside, the regimental system seems to have no real negative effects on combat effectiveness and people struggle to provide examples of it contributing an active harm (the odd mutiny excepted of course).

Whenever the system has not been appropriate it has been discarded or it has been bypassed with virtually no ill effects. In WWI and WWII battalion manpower input was centrally controlled and individual regiments lost control over their intakes and training to the General Service Corps and the Infantry Training Centres and in WWI to the Reserve and Graduated battalions and so forth which were removed from the regimental system to feed the needs of the wider war. Thereafter on operations battalions have routinely and without pain been augmented by IAs and sub-units from other regiments and battalions (and shock horror others atts and dets from other Corps and Arms).

The Army’s manpower is very fluid indeed. The regimental system brings with it a large amount of political fighting in the senior levels and amongst single issue lobbyists but I struggle to see what massive gains in effectiveness would come from abolishing the regiments. I can see an incremental change to larger non-geographic regiments as being useful to some extent (but this would again only really affect the political clashes not the operational capability) but other than that there is not much to be gained at all from abolishing the regimental system. You might argue there is not much to gain from keeping it either but here it is and to remove it would change little enough outside of some unpaid Colonels having their redundancy confirmed and some small change sent back to the Treasury.

In terms of combat operations the Army will still be able to generate the units of action it needs to meet the capabilities it wants to project because it will pull soldiers from where they are not immediately needed to where they are. Incredibly when a soldier is posted to another infantry regiment he doesn’t suddenly mutiny nor is he instantly bullied to death by people with different accents, nor does he become sullen and refuse to soldier.

And regiments exist because until last century localised recruitment was simply the most efficient and in its early days the only way to recruit men across a nation where the vast majority of people had to walk. For the vast amount of time the regimental system has been an instrumental solution to the problems of raising a bureaucratic and complex body of men in a pre-industrial society and all the communication, transport and bureaucratic limitations of said society.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
October 21, 2013 10:19 am


None of the service chiefs are 4* posts anymore AFAIK. You’ve two 4* (CDS & VCDS) and everyone else (inc CJO) is a 3*. Not sure who the NATO milrep is this week, but may be a 3* soon if not now.

October 21, 2013 10:27 am

Some thoughts:

Identity is a key point in terms of esprit-de-corps. Identity can be formed by being a specialism (EOD, Para, etc) or formed during war by events – The Chindits, The Desert Rats, etc.

However, specialisms can come and go, and wars end. Many wartime groups will fade from memory if there is no successor. The regiments of today preserve the history and memory of battalions that served in a wide variety of theatres and specialisms across the ages.

Look at the Canadians during WWI – the CEF battalions were not (directly) part of any of the existing militia regiments, formed as required. After WWI they were disbanded because the local raised militia made more sense for peace time. However this meant that there was a risk that the deeds of the CEF battalions would be forgotten, so the peacetime regiments were allowed to perpetuate the battle honours and histories of the CEF units.

October 21, 2013 10:54 am

Esprit-de-corps does not exist have you not read the posts above? Men don’t care about their regimental history and whether they belong to The Parachute Regiment or the 21st Battalion of The Infantry Corps (this week because next they could belong to the 3rd Battalion) makes no difference to their fighting ability. This Espirit-de-Corps is a myth invented by the officer class and it has to beaten into recruits. Furthermore, private soldiers will be happy to be taken from their battalion, the people they have known for years, served-with and trust implicitly, and posted to another battalion at the other end of the country, because they are “plodders” and it will be a change for them.

No. The idea that an ordinary squaddie off some sh!t council estate can take pride in his regiment so much so that it becomes part of his very identity, that, particularly in a single battalion regiment, that regiment becomes in a very real sense his family, that’s all a nonsense.

What the army needs is a single corps of infantry with its own Human Resources Department, staffed by civvy “HR Professionals” that can move the “resources” around as it thinks fit.

October 21, 2013 11:26 am

What the army needs is a single corps of infantry with its own Human Resources Department, staffed by civvy “HR Professionals” that can move the “resources” around as it thinks fit.

Which is what happens in practise every day of every week. The Guards for example have a Parachute Platoon – Guardsmen posted to and working with the Parachute Regiment.

I can imagine the management theorists twitching at something like the regimental system. It does get them in their positivist and rationalist outlook all hot and bothered and exercised. But any human system will have its cultural quirks and its non-rationalist (from some perspectives) elements because that is the result of being a system created by humans, one that is hundreds of years old and one which is inextricably enmeshed within the political structure of the country.

To change the structure completely you have to change the people who man it and administer it and fight it. Their interests are in turn enmeshed within the identities of the regiments. Since that isn’t possible without a dramatic loss of effectiveness (I see your family have connections with the aristocracy / government / civil service / member of the same clubs etc, you are not welcome) it is perhaps better to bow to reality and accept that the system has little effect on operational effectiveness and by and large accept it as a cultural artefact that would do more harm to revolutionise (revolutions are always destructive) than to leave to incrementally change as the people and the times change.

To all those who argue the regimental system is ossified I would point out how it has evolved and where necessary removed from the greater picture. To those that get exercised about the Guards, what you really want is a removal of the human idea of “fashion” because officers join because they are fashionable – regiments go in and out of fashion and they did so back in the days of Foot as well as they do today. But even so at the end of the day they represent 5 battalions of infantry who can go out there and kill and be killed as well as any other battalion. Unlike the RAF Reg who are shit.

October 21, 2013 11:42 am


October 21, 2013 12:00 pm

HL – on this occasion I think I must disagree. I doubt the Regiment is the most important most valued part of the Soldier mindset, but I do think it is part of the total identity of the Soldier. All of them, not just the Hofficer classes. In my opinion the Regiment structure is on a par with (as noted before) the Houses in schools; or if you prefer the Counties we live in. I doubt the County is foremost in your thoughts throughout the day, but I imagine you prefer to be known as a Man of Sussex* rather than someone living in the EU Region of the South East of England? That you might feel good if the Sussex Cricket Team does well? Or that you are proud of its heritage and landscape? As hinted above the EU does not recognize Counties and has officially abolished them (EU proclamations being more important than national self determination of course) but HMG sensibly maintains these bounded areas for domestic governance. I doubt many UK nationals noticed this bit of EU arrogance…

On top of County allegiance you will have others for your local town, village, parish, street etc. Its all part of the human psyche – the need to belong. Many ‘belong’ to their football team; last year many more ‘belonged’ to Team GB at the Olympics. Belonging is important.

So, as I noted a long way back in this thread, I think the Regiment has a part to play in giving the Soldier a proper entity to which he/she can firmly belong. Better if it has a long and laudable history. For the modest cost the Regiments add to the MOD annual spend, I suspect the effect on the troops is good value for money.

I have worked for many companies with HR departments staffed by HR professionals. How appropriate that modern companies refer to their personnel as a resource – something with as much value as a water dispenser or a photocopier. From what I’ve seen over the past 30 years that sums up the Modern Exec view of their staff. Something to be hired paid abused and disposed of. I can imagine many lofty managers being quite surprised their workforce are people with as much right to dignity and fair treatment as they demand for themselves, despite the fact the lowly staff don’t even belong to a decent golf club. On the whole, anyone suggesting the current commercial HR standard is a model to which to aspire probably doesn’t work in such an environment.

* I think HL you said you live in Sussex. Me too – a county which has the official motto “We Wunt Be Druv” – translation for those of other counties: ‘We won’t be driven’. Sussex folk were apparently renowned for being the most stubborn of people. Some who know me might suggest that’s why I feel properly at home down here…

dave haine
dave haine
October 21, 2013 12:18 pm

Unfortunately, it’s them, or having itinerate squaddies wandering about on the active runway in their bloody Sherpa, because they ‘couldn’t be arsed’ to check in with ATC, just as a Tristar reached V1. Why the idiot pongo didn’t see a 245tonne aeroplane, thundering down the runway towards him is beyond me.

Which probably explains why, when the army was deployed to Heathrow, they were kept off the AMA (aircraft manoeuvring area). I tell you pongo hoi-poloi and aeroplanes don’t mix, even little ones…..

October 21, 2013 12:28 pm
Reply to  Chris

Agree with you 100%, Chris, about (In)human Resources – mostly process-bound shits (but not quite all – my niece in Oz is an exception). Trouble is, there are so many employment rules and pitfalls, and so many malingerers rushing off to tribunals with specious grievances, that you need some people who know the rules and the related gamesmanship. But God forbid that the human beings in MROs (or at least they were when I was serving) are replaced by that sort. And MROs are ~90% civilian anyway.

dave haine
dave haine
October 21, 2013 12:31 pm

Hmm, not just Sussex, ever tried getting a Somerset lad to do anything he doesn’t feel inclined to do?

“He’ll be dun drectly” (“drectly” meaning in my own good time)


“Tain’t roight as I shud do he, so io shaan’t”

October 21, 2013 12:45 pm

DH – spent a few months in Brizzle and Sis lived in Somerset & Dorset for years – I think I might just recognize the attitude. The difference is that down here this County rejected any fancy Latin or Anglo-Saxon aspirational motto in favour of the stubbornness of the common man…

Mike W
October 21, 2013 1:02 pm


Are you being ironic? It’s difficult to determine as I have come late to this debate and can’t quite decide your tone. I suppose extracts such as “soldiers will be happy to be taken from their battalion, the people they have known for years, served-with and trust implicitly, and posted to another battalion at the other end of the country . . .” and “a single corps of infantry with its own Human Resources Department, staffed by civvy “HR Professionals””should give the game away but I am really not sure.

If you are being serious and not satirical, then what you write is arrant claptrap. Some weeks ago my wife and I went to have lunch in the restaurant of our local cathedral. A chap walked in and asked whether he could sit at our table. I noticed that he was in the full “regimental” dress of a former Para and was also carrying a standard. We got into conversation with him and it turned out that he had served in the 1960s and 70s. He simply could not stop talking about the regiment and his pride in it was very palpable all through the conversation. He and his mates had come to represent the regiment in the funeral service (to take place in the Cathedral later that afternoon) of a former colleague. That individual told us he had been born and bred in what is still one of the toughest areas in London. He came from a sink estate but his pride in his regiment was so pronounced that it had obviously become “part of his very identity” and, furthermore, the regiment had become “in a very real sense his family”.

Apologies if I have mistaken your tone.

October 21, 2013 1:04 pm

I agree with every word of your post, perhaps I didn’t ladle on the sarcasm thick enough in mine.

I read up thread that academic studies have shown that soldiers do not fight for their regiments – well that is clearly bollocks as anyone who has been in a garrison town pub when it kicks off would know. I can’t talk about what happens in the corps or in Mr. Trousers’ beloved cavalry (what goes on in there is sweet mystery to any outsider), but I will state that regimental pride is an enormous factor in any British Infantryman’s life. The idea that it has no bearing on him when in action is ludicrous.

As for HR Departments, in 1957 C. Northcote Parkinson published his book, “Parkinson, The Law” in which he stated that when a company built itself a fancy new HQ building it had lost its drive and was on the way out. The modern corollary is when a company or other organisation institutes a Human Resources Department, it has forgotten why it exists and is doomed to bureaucratic sclerosis and eventual death. “HR professionals” are both the harbingers and executioners of corporate destruction.

October 21, 2013 1:21 pm

What makes a soldier fight? His mates and himself and his leadership.

What makes him stay in, join a particular unit, want to actually go away and fight, and then stag on and keep his chin up and his weapon clean and his admin in order when everything is shit and miserable and piss wet through?

Pride and leadership.

Pride in himself, pride in his mates and drawing it all together, pride in his regiment comes into it. Which is also what drives his leadership that in turn motivates him to fight and endure.

Unit pride is certainly a motivational factor. But it is almost certainly not the main motivating factor when you’re on your belt buckle with rounds cracking around you and it’s time to go forward. But it may well have been the motivating factor to get him where he is and the motivating factor to get him through the aftermath and do it again and again.

October 21, 2013 1:24 pm

He came from a sink estate but his pride in his regiment was so pronounced that it had obviously become “part of his very identity” and, furthermore, the regiment had become “in a very real sense his family”.

The Paras beat every other regiment hands down when it comes to public displays of affection toward their unit!

dave haine
dave haine
October 21, 2013 1:33 pm

At least you know where you stand…

typically Somerset tho, couldn’t use that new-fangled latin could they…

To be fair, i suspect we could find this in almost every county and old town/ city with their unique traditions, identities and cultural ties, and I suppose there is the regimental system in a nutshell… it’s all about the ‘ties that bind’.

No great use in the modern world, of course, but somewhat more human than the machine that is ‘human’ resources, with their ‘processes’, ‘business-led personal objectives’ and ‘procedures’.

October 21, 2013 1:37 pm

“The Paras beat every other regiment hands down when it comes to public displays of affection toward their unit!”

They have just got a better PR dept. Mind you the RM take some beating. When my late father-in-law died I wrote the RSM of the sergeants’ mess where he was an honorary life-member to let him know. Couldn’t move at the funeral for Bootnecks, past and present, they even sent a bugler in full No.1. dress to sound the last post. Cost me a fortune in the pub afterwards.

dave haine
dave haine
October 21, 2013 2:05 pm


No…I got what you’re saying, and you’re right, it’s not so much for the officers, it’s for that lad from the sh!t estate, who’s never had any sense of belonging, or personal expectation, or sometimes much of a family. it gives him an identity, something to measure himself against, an expectation of personal pride and performance….a group to belong to, to take pride in, to stand tall for.

…Just as phil says, it’s the difference between enduring and overcoming and coping and self-respect and self discipline. Careful, I’m in danger of slipping into Kipling.

By the way, it isn’t just regiments that’ll battle for each other- I’ve seen a load of lads from 4th RTR, go into handbags on behalf of a bootie taking on a septic marine mob on his own…we lumped in too of course…. weren’t right the septics jumping one bloke…

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
October 21, 2013 2:45 pm

Coming into this late and reading through all the comments, I feel that if we removed recruiting areas but kept the regiments, we would be able to direct new recruits where the gaps appear, I understand where everyone in favour of keeping the unit pride and don’t want break that and I don’t believe nationwide recruiting would.

Another thing that comes to me is why is the deployed unit for infantry a battalion, why not a company from multiple battalions forming up for specific operations. The company would keep it’s unit pride on deployment and as every company is in the same boat no single identity would be dominating the deployment, it may actually improve the moral of smaller attached units. (How many operations in Afghan have involved more than a single company, I would say a handful in the last couple of years.)

Also to me, as an outsider, I recognise the unit names that describe the role more than I do the locations, I have no idea the history of the Mercian Regiment or what they do but I do the Paras.

Also regards the numbers of captains in the RN compared to the number of commands, the number of commands has to be over 100 rather than the quoted 19, there are 79 RN ships in the fleet to begin with, and then who commands the shore units, there are over 20 of them, and then you go in to the Naval Attaches and the procurements and training side of the RN and 220 sounds about right,

October 21, 2013 2:46 pm

HL et all – I think we are all on the same page here.

The Regiment is (and has always been) a peace time organisation – it was no place on operations. But it provides an a useful organisation to sustain the battalion during peacetime and helps link the current generation to the past, as well as provide a proper local connection for regiments when it comes to recruiting – something that is still an important factor, alongside familial connections *.

* Many of the guys that I went to school with who are now serving joined the local regiment (LI and now Rifles) in large part because that was the unit that the schools CCF unit was badged as. Exceptions to this rule were because of family connections (Royal Scots and Paras).

October 21, 2013 4:11 pm

@ Erebus,

“Band of Brothers” is from Shakespeare”
— Well I’m glad you pointed that one out /sarcasm. The quote from the Anthony Price novel, not sure what it was intended to prove but it’s quite clearly mocking the Squires son and his two gamekeepers for being out of date. And I’m not sure how you think it relates to your point? It’s referring to the Pals battalions again from WW1. A system which no longer exists.

While we’re on the subject of pals battalions though, look at the name. “Pals”. As in “people are more likely to sign up if they think the’re going to fight alongside their friends, people they know (with a not insignificant blob of peer pressure involved, which was genius)”. Appeals to Waterloo? No. Appeals to the bond between close individuals? Yes.

As for Rourkes Drift, ask yourself this question; when surrounded on all sides by Zulu warriors, with their rifles searing hot from the constant firing, ammunition running low, with the dead and the wounded about their feet, their fate seemingly almost sealed, how many of those fellas do you really think were looking at each other thinking “for the Regiment!” and how many were looking at each other thinking “for my mates!”?

@ Phil,
“I can see an incremental change to larger non-geographic regiments as being useful to some extent (but this would again only really affect the political clashes not the operational capability) but other than that there is not much to be gained at all from abolishing the regimental system”
— I can agree with that. I think the change would be mostly to the benefit of peace time administration and recruiting, and I suspect the new breed of soldiers would forge their own identity around their new colours and titles. It wouldn’t make a huge difference to the operations, but might make the peace a little more peaceful.

@ Hurst Llama,
“Esprit-de-corps does not exist have you not read the posts above?” [sarcastically]
— Ironically enough, I think you might have failed to read them. I don’t recall anyone saying that Esprit-de-corps does not exist, just that when the shit hits the fans it would seem around 85% of combat tested respondents cite their mates as the prime motivating factor to keep fighting. What’s been really interesting about this is that you can ask different groups of people, from different countries, from different services, across widely spaced time frames, and the numbers stay roughly the same.

So either they’re all lying bastards, every man jack of them OR all of the researchers, across all those studies, asked the same leading questions that essentially “created” the desired responses time after time after time OR, fuck me sideways, it may just be that when the bullets and shells start flying the people in the firing line prioritise the relationships with those around them over upholding the honour of the regimental goat.

“… with its own Human Resources Department, staffed by civvy “HR Professionals” that can move the “resources” around as it thinks fit” [sarcasm]
— Not suggesting that people should be moved around willy nilly, but “HR Professionals” can be very handy people to have around to organise, surprise suprise, your HR admin. As long as you don’t give HR people too long of a leash and make it clear their job is to organise the admin and make suggestions not decisions, having professional HR people can actually save you a hell of a lot of time, money and hassle, which you can then spend on more useful endeavours.

“As for HR Departments, in 1957 C. Northcote Parkinson published his book, “Parkinson, The Law” in which he stated that when a company built itself a fancy new HQ building it had lost its drive and was on the way out. The modern corollary is when a company or other organisation institutes a Human Resources Department, it has forgotten why it exists and is doomed to bureaucratic sclerosis and eventual death.”
— Funny that, because there are lots and lots of companies that have fancy HQ buildings. And they’re doing bloody well for themselves (hence why they can afford a fancy HQ). Instituting a HR department is usually considered a good sign, because it means your business is large enough to require a specialist branch to manage the admin (the absence of which will be the thing that might cause paralysis and death). Having properly organised HR to do the donkey work should be saving you a hell of a lot of time.

“I read up thread that academic studies have shown that soldiers do not fight for their regiments – well that is clearly bollocks as anyone who has been in a garrison town pub when it kicks off would know.”
— Ironic you should say that, because I used to work the door in Colchester (our Paras like a few drinks so they do!). They fought for a number of reasons (though their propensity to do so is perhaps over stated by the locals), but normally you’re talking about small groups of people, often pairs, and I think the largest group I saw out that I can remember was perhaps 14-18 strong (funnily enough nobody had a dig at them that night). I can vaguely remember some of the stuff they talked about, like the fatalistic young chap that was convinced he was going to die on tour (he didn’t, thankfully).

Not once did I ever hear “what did you say about my Regiment?”, or people trying to tell the old bill about how some guy said that Paras were poofs so they nutted him etc (though I did hear one or two “I think they’re murderers”, from students). So here is the question I have for you Hurst; how in the world did you equate fighting in pubs with fighting for the Regiment? There was one incident that made the press, I think it was in Kent, about a fight between Paras and RAF Regiment, and I think it was one of the 7 PARA RHA blokes that got jumped and duffed up in Castle Park by what was allegedly a group of Paras, for whatever reason.

But I’m interested to know why you think people getting into fights in a pub is an example of Regimental unity? From first hand experience it’s infinitely more likely to have been a pissed chav spilling his drink on one of them.

@ Chris,
” I doubt the Regiment is the most important most valued part of the Soldier mindset, but I do think it is part of the total identity of the Soldier”
— That’s perhaps the line I was looking for earlier. For the record, Essex doesn’t appear to have a motto. The County Council motto is ‘Essex Works’, which seems to be more of a statement of relief than a statement of belief. I’m sure the unofficial motto is something like ‘when does Lakeside open?’.

“How appropriate that modern companies refer to their personnel as a resource”
— That’s because they are a resource, the most valuable one. And if you treat your people properly and tap their potential, they will look after the business without you having to worry about every last detail.

October 21, 2013 4:41 pm

It tends to be the crows that kick off, their guts full of grog and their minds full of heady regimental bollocks.

That said the odd massive brawl still takes place when it comes to regimental pride – or was it the football ;-)

October 21, 2013 4:59 pm

Chris.B – ref Essex motto – are you sure its not just the name board on the local Council Depot?

Ref HR dept’s – I determined years ago back when I moved companies quite regularly that the Personnel Dep’t (HR not invented back then) was entirely focused on getting new personnel into the company and departing ones out – when trying to interface with them as a simple employee you’d find they were the most disinterested bunch only ready to repeat company procedure and policy. Never that helpful in my experience. Quite different from the friendly and flexible sorts they appeared while recruiting. I suspect its the lack of apparent humanity demonstrated by HR departments that has earned them the nickname of ‘Human Remains’ in most organizations…

Ref fighting for the honour of the Regiment – back in the early 90s (things may have changed since) each year there was a training exercise at Bovington Camp involving both RM and Paras. The Camp administration would (I was told) deliberately put 3 Para and 42 Cdo in the same barrack block – the one most in need of refurbishing – knowing full well that the inter-service rivalry would get out of hand and in their eagerness to prove which was the hardest bravest toughest organization, the accommodation block would be resolutely trashed. In this way for many years the camp managed to get early funding for refurbishment without the usual demands that they should wait until the next year.

October 21, 2013 5:13 pm

.B: if I was surrounded by thousands of Zulu warriors whom I knew were disinclined to take prisoners, I’d be fighting hard too, purely on the basis of self-preservation :-)

October 21, 2013 5:15 pm

Most organisations have HR departments because modern organisations have HR departments. Unlike a payroll department or an accounting department I doubt they are an essential. I can’t remember anybody with whom I have spoken speaking highly of their company’s HR department.

dave haine
dave haine
October 21, 2013 5:34 pm


You sure you weren’t that bootie taking an entire squad of septic booties by himself?

The problem with some HR departments as well as any centralised head office function, is that they tend to forget about the purpose of the organisation, and just concentrate on organising…thereby bemusing, or possibly f**king off, everyone else in the organisation. I’ll give you an example:

Example 1: An airline I worked for, used a very expensive, but extremely efficient computer system in operations, this thing handled messaging, live positional updating, flight planning, ATC planning, Load Control, crew control, roster planning…you get the picture. In the nature of things, thursday afternoon and evening were our busiest time in operations. IT announced thursday morning that with immediate effect, the weekly operations systems update and therefore a 2hr downtime would occur on a thursday afternoon. The phonecall went something like this:

Ops Duty Manager: “you can’t do the update this afternoon, it’s the flying programmes busiest period”
IT Manager: “We’ll have to do it then, it’s the only time i can spare an analyst to do it”
ODM: “No you can’t- it’ll delay 15 departures, and its flight safety critical”
ITM: “What do you mean flight safety critical?”
ODM: “pilots need their flight and fuel plans, CAA requirement”
ITM: “Can’t they go without them? Anyway, not my problem, HR have banned overtime in my department”

Director gets involved, update goes away. Next day Human resources Memo:

‘Although we have authorised Overtime to allow IT to update systems on this one occasion. All departments, without exception, should note that the thursday update will become a regular event, and should therefore plan their workloads to free up this time. The only exception to this would be a business critical occurance, and therefore only a director will be able to authorise this”

And no…they didn’t think up two hr delays on 15 flights was a business critical event. They even suggested that we reschedule the flights- to which suggestion, commercial had a fit at one point physically threatening the HR manager who suggested it.

So there you are, too big and they lose sight of why they exist.

Anyway Para’s aren’t murderers, they eat babies….

October 21, 2013 5:57 pm

There’s a place for HR (sorry People Services as its known in one local authority I know) but my experiences exactly mirror Chris’s experiences except for one employer where all concerned helped me immensely as I prepared for my first tour – I was put on maternity leave by them! The second employers HR people I wouldn’t, to this day, piss on if they were on fire.

October 21, 2013 6:27 pm

@ Chris,
I think the full official council motto is something like “Essex works. For a better quality of life.” or something equally dull and uninspiring.

ref HR; The key to a good HR dept is to remind them every now and again that you are the dog and they are the tail. The dog wags its tail, not the other way around. When done properly HR should be almost invisible to most employees, the odd reminder or letter being the only sign of their continued existence.

ref Regiments; I wrote a comment a while back about group identities, god knows what thread it was on. They have their purpose. The commanders of the US 101st Airborne were quite clever in December ’44 at Bastogne in evoking the concept of Paratroopers being born to operate while surrounded on all sides and short of supplies. They used the organisational identity of the 101st to boost morale and reassure people. It was quite clever in retrospect. But that operated on a high level, a general morale level that gave people a bit of warmth on a cold day in hell. When the push came to the shove in the foxholes, it’s hard to think that people fell back on the Regiment/Division for comfort in action, especially when those interviewed afterwards stated the usual factors of their friends and personal pride (essentially a form of peer pressure).

It’s the same sort of thing that we’ve seen historically with groups like the SAS. That motto “who dares, wins” gives people a standard to live up to, the sense of being able to conquer anything if they just try (which has also been a curse at times, as the incident on Fortuna Glacier showed). But its a very esoteric thing, something which seems to only govern actions in a very occasional, broad manner, and be of little use when everything goes a bit tits up.

One thing thats interesting about this debate is that let’s say the army did shift to large, non-geospecific regiments. You still have a regiment in place. It will still have a motto, a flag, a history behind it. It’s interesting that the Paras and Marines come up a lot in this debate, as both are non-geospecific. Does a private in 2 PARA think less of his comrades if – in order to fill a spot – he’s promoted across to 3 PARA as a Lance Corporal? I’d have thought he would simply identify himself as being amongst a different group Paras.

@ WF,
“if I was surrounded by thousands of Zulu warriors whom I knew were disinclined to take prisoners, I’d be fighting hard too, purely on the basis of self-preservation”
— That too. I think I’d be busy shitting my pants at the same time!

@ x,
“Most organisations have HR departments because modern organisations have HR departments. Unlike a payroll department or an accounting department I doubt they are an essential”
— Your payroll really should be covered by your HR people, at least on a certain level. My advice; dump you HR dept and see how well it goes. I give you 12 months before you run foul of a legal action that costs you more than the running cost of the HR people. Either that or you’ll end up stabbing yourself in the eye with a pair of scissors in order to save yourself from another wasted day doing compliance paperwork that would really be better done by a dedicated person…..

If done properly, and kept away from anything important, HR people can be invaluable. As long as you (and they) understand that they are a service to the core business, and not the core business itself.

October 21, 2013 6:28 pm

There’s a vid on Fill Your Boots on Facebook of an RAF Reg bloke “motivating” his recruits for a 5 mile tab (sorry 5 miles of death and then some ranges).

It’s been up 22 hours and has 1,700 comments already. Some of the more tame including “that genuinely gave me aids” and “5 miles must be the size of the fence round the airfield”. Excellent.

October 21, 2013 6:42 pm

@ Chris B

I think you are confusing HR with payroll, administrators, technicians, safety compliance, and legal staffs.

October 21, 2013 7:18 pm

@x: no, .B is correct. The last 20 years have brought in a shedload of European employment law that’s a maze. You really do need HR…although it’s mostly a function of dumb laws.

October 21, 2013 7:25 pm

@ X,

Your HR department should be managing the admin side of your payroll. Compliance is in the sense that they should be on top of all relevant labour laws and making sure your business is compliant with these. Your legal people should not be wasting their (fucking expensive) time checking the minuate of compliance with labour regulations.

I think the confusion here is that you’ve allowed your HR people to confuse you into thinking they are more than just a supporting function. If they ever mention words like “strategy” or “process management” just slap them and send them back to their office.

October 21, 2013 8:10 pm


Re larger, non geographic regiments….

‘I think the change would be mostly to the benefit of peace time administration and recruiting, and I suspect the new breed of soldiers would forge their own identity around their new colours and titles. It wouldn’t make a huge difference to the operations, but might make the peace a little more peaceful’

Fully agree!

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
October 21, 2013 8:12 pm

Regards HR depts, mine does admin etc. we then have separate finance and other admin depts, one thing they don’t do is resourcing (deciding who does what job) that is done by one girl who works for the practical side of the company.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 21, 2013 8:17 pm

One of the strengths of slightly smaller Regiments is that over the course of a career you genuinely get to know a group of people: you have shared experiences, you form long friendships, and it’s not just the soldier, it is the “partners” (God, I so nearly wrote wives there…). It becomes a family.

When the fighting starts, from my recollections it wasn’t so much explicitly in one’s mind that you were fighting for the Regiment, or didn’t want to let down the Regiment, it was more emotional: you wouldn’t let your mates down, and because you knew them so well, you knew they wouldn’t let you down. Case in point, none of us trusted the QDG Squadron we had attached in Gulf 1. They were lovely blokes, but we hadn’t built up over years a knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. There was an “incident” – probably over-stated that, more like a “mis-interpretation ” in which we thought they’d let us down by redeploying their part of the line too early and without properly telling RHQ, so much that a rogue T-59 got in behind another squadron and caused 2 casualties. I very strongly suspect that the QDG Squadron saw that entirely differently, and thought we weren’t up to spotting an obvious danger. Kind of soured relations for a bit.

Then there’s a hierarchy of friendship and trust. My Troop I know was the best in B Squadron, collectively we knew B Squadron knocked the socks off the others, as a Regiment we were the best among the 4 RAC recce Regiments, the recce Regiments looked down on and teased the intellectually challenged armoured Regiments, as a Corps we knew no one was finer than the Cavalry, combat arms banded together looking down on the loggies, everyone looked down on the Gunners…. etc etc etc. It even works at whole service level: without knowing anything of you all personally, you can spot the tribalism. (Note to self: must apologise to APATS for being grumpy with him last night: clearly we have different experiences to bring to the debate).

Of course it can go nasty: look what happened to the Canadian Paras in Rwanda. And, I have extremely strong suspicions that 2 Para on Bloody Sunday were well out of control and colluded massively to cover up what was a bit of a massacre. Note: a personal opinion on that one.

I’m less convinced about the localism, although I can see how it can benefit, particularly for things like recruiting. I joined a Regiment of Brummies and Black Country boys, when I don’t think at that point in my life I’d ever gone there. Took me months to work out what they were saying. Doesn’t stop some of them now being among my closest friends, and in very many cases the whole artificial officer / soldier divide completely vanishes as well when you’ve all left the service.

I genuinely think that policy makers meddle with loyalty, friendship and motivations of fighting men at their peril, and unless there is a compelling need to change things, don’t.

(AFTERNOTE: clicked through the biographies on Wikipedia of the VC winners in the 24th of Foot (South Wales Borderers) at Rorke’s Drift. Very few from Wales. Apart from me now wondering how they apparently knew the words to Men of Harlech, it just goes to show..!)

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 21, 2013 8:24 pm

As I understand it a British Army Infantry Regiment seems to have a key role in recruiting and training soldiers and then developing their careers; once in service it also manages the process of feeding, clothing, housing and equipping them – as well as taking care of their physical and mental well-being (when in service) – and because of the nature of the work takes some responsibility for the welfare and indeed housing of families…and provides the basic architecture for things like payroll and record-keeping.

It also largely provides a structured social environment within which individuals will “take one for the Team” -sometimes at the cost of their life – but at least if the worst happens it provides a mechanism around which family and community can rally around the bereaved and mark the passing of a person of value – and I believe that research shows this to be genuinely beneficial to all concerned.

Just the sorts of things, oddly enough that a really outstandingly good HR Department might aspire to do…but which most of them fail lamentably to deliver…

I am beginning to wonder if some of the commentators hereabouts might be deeply frustrated HR “Professionals” hoping to open up a new line of business.

Just a thought – I would add a smiley face, but I am not smart enough…


paul g
October 21, 2013 8:51 pm

@RT, not wishing to be pedantic, but was Belgium paratroopers in Rwanda, advised to surrender by top brass as no help was available, tortured ,castrated and then killed. By the way although we tended to move around every 3 years in the REME the esprit de corps (see what I did there) was also very strong, I would say 60% of my facebook friends are ex corp. In fact as most are spread around the world it was the only reason to get on facebook

October 21, 2013 9:52 pm

Successful companies long term value their staff, they don’t go in for wasteful structures, nor do they run themselves on some pseudo Etonian house system.

Most private companies are dead by 40. Most public bodies still only exist because they can only die by decree. This tells us that more often than not, human organisations fail. Private and public. They have an enormously high failure rate. Why? Because humans are actually quite shit at running complex organisations on a sustainable basis and in a successful manner.

The best anyone has done so far is argue it doesn’t cost much, and could be reformed a bit – hardly a ringing endorsement.

All you’ve offered is a solution about as likely as Alan Carr deposing the Queen because it is based on how you want the world to work and not on how it works in practise. You’ve been told several arguments regarding why it is difficult to change it and why it is not that much trouble to deal with because it actually has very little effect on how the Army goes about projecting capabilities.

You’ve not answered these points.

How will you change the regimental system? I don’t mean how you want it to look at end state but how will you actually manage to change the basis of it? And where are the examples of it having a real and tangible negative effect on combat operations?

October 21, 2013 9:53 pm

Apart from me now wondering how they apparently knew the words to Men of Harlech, it just goes to show..!)

You mean you didn’t realise that whilst Zulu is a bloody good film about the only link it has with the reality is the place, the names and there being thousands of Zulu’s running around?

Think Defence
October 21, 2013 9:58 pm
Reply to  Phil

The book is better than the film :)

October 21, 2013 10:29 pm

I don’t understand are you saying the Welsh didn’t sing at Rourkes Drift!

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 21, 2013 10:39 pm

Paul G, re Canadian Paras. Yes, them Canucks, except I completely cocked up the country. Somalia, not Rwanda (I think I must have been subliminally confusing the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda with Canadian Paras in Somalia). Anyway, I think you’ll get my drift.

IXION, I think you and I won’t agree. I just don’t see the problem to which you are positing a solution, and in your solution I don’t see any merits over what we’ve already got. Overlooking some minor points you trip over (such as not understanding that the Guards very much do act as a large Regiment of 5 Battalions), I do stick somewhat mulishly to my observation that you fight with and for your mates, and really deep bonds of friendship and shared experience become harder to acquire in the bigger organisations than those of 600 or so.

Think of it this way. Those who have traditionally done the fighting (ie the RAC and Infantry) organise themselves this way, want to, and by and large it makes sense to those who are in them. What you propose isn’t wanted, and it is unclear from your original article or your subsequent comments why what you propose would in any way be better.

However, as a caveat, I will observe that more modern theatres are exposing soldiers who would not previously have been in the front line are now much more exposed: REME, Medics, transport drivers. That needs watching.

Here’s a real life observation: when my Regiment did a standard “Arms Plot” move from Tidworth to Herford in the mid 80s, just about every attached REME, and ACC attached to us put in a request to be posted alongside us. Even the ruddy Padre, bless him (his justification was that we were his flock, so he had to come along to look after us). Despite being from Corps that do trickle post individuals routinely, they felt part of a family and wanted to stay with us.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 21, 2013 10:42 pm

– Support from the Royal Regiment of Infantry at the Funeral wouldn’t work as well unless there was some subsidiary organisation between the individual soldier’s Family and the Infantry HR Office Funeral Liaison Officer Rota – like a Battalion or Regiment – to ensure that the person who showed up knew the Fallen Comrade; in fact a complete stranger turning up because he was top of the rota that week would add unforgivable insult to already very considerable injury…

“The Team” I had in mind was the hypothetical Soldier’s Section or Fire Team (is that term really used?); the solidarity within the Team would be built in part by how it defined itself alongside others in it’s Platoon, Company,Battalion and Regiment.

Beyond prejudice, what evidence can you show that the matters I refer to are inefficiently managed within the existing Regimental System, and would be much more efficiently managed by your more rational 20,000 strong Royal Regiment of Infantry…where would the economies be achieved without moving to the use of Division of Labour Devices like the aforesaid “Department for attending random funerals with complete strangers that I know nothing of and care less about”…or would you break the task up into bite-sized chunks where relationships in a very Human system can be made, mostly about the size of a Big Regiment…

@TD – “Washing of the Spears” ? Or do you favour another of the bookcase full that are currently in print?


Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 21, 2013 11:01 pm


good point, very well made.

I once had the very sad duty of turning up to represent the Regiment at a double funeral: not a casualty of war, but a double suicide of a young Trooper and his girlfriend. Setting aside the reasons – and not something to be gone into in public, merely to note it was a tragedy – I remember so very well the gratitude of the grieving parents that I turned up, in a small parish church, when the Regiment was abroad and fully engaged on training for a large scale exercise. I didn’t know the young lad as I’d been posted away to ERE for 18 months, and he’d only been with the Regiment for 4 or 5 months. His father nearly broke down (he was broken down already, understandably). He kept on thanking the Regiment for having the heart to come to his boy’s funeral.

He wasn’t perhaps to know that the Regimental Adjutant and Home Headquarters (a virtually free organisation to the taxpayer) had moved heaven and earth to organise the body’s repatriation, some flowers, had contacted the local ACF that his lad had been in to parade themselves, that the sergeant who’d recruited him was also in church. My only role was to receive a phone call from the Adjutant in my office in Salisbury to tell me “Listen you delinquent fucker***, get yourself in Number One dress up to Walsall for 0930 tomorrow for the funeral. Give a good account of the Regiment. Make sure his parents know we care. Find out their plans for a memorial service, tell them we’ll send a bus of the boys over. I don’t care which meetings you’ll miss – make excuses and just fucking do it“.

**** Still one of my closest muckers. “Delinquent fucker” is an term of endearment.

October 21, 2013 11:09 pm


I should have made the Shakespeare link explicit, It was referring to Agincourt and therefore Stephen E Ambrose was alluding to the bond created by the local/feudal nature of recruitment (St Crispins Day, 1415 was the battle Agincourt) .

You can create Esprit de Corps e.g. French Foreign Legion, where you become a Legionnaire (No national allegiances). So you could argue this does not apply to as great an extent, to professional troops, who train together for long periods.

The Pals Battalions were built upon existing social relationships and all therefore stronger, as I imagine were the 2nd/24th of Foot at Roukes drift, because of their common Welsh identity a common song “Men of Harlech” (also related to Henry V) and a tradition of male voice choirs.

However Tribalism is one of the fundamental human social structures, and certainly applied to the Zulus. You can choose to ignore it, and move to the Continental system.

From the horse’s mouth.

“We are a tribal, family Regiment, both in terms of how we view our members and sister battalions, but also how we see the wider Regimental family. This culture extends to the families of the members of the Battalions, who are viewed as part of the Regimental family.”
Wikipedia makes the case for Regiments vs Continental system.

“It should however be noted that amalgamations beginning in the late 1950s and ending in 2006 have diluted the British regimental system through the now almost universal adoption of “large regiments” for the infantry of the Army. These units comprise up to six of the former battalions that previously had separate regimental status. Only the Guards regiments retain their historic separate identities.” .

Where the Americans lead we follow:

“The United States Army was also once organized into regiments, but in the 20th century the division became the tactical and administrative unit. Industrial management techniques were used to draft, assemble, equip, train and then employ huge masses of conscripted civilians in very short order, starting with minimal resources.”

But it doesn’t make the M.O.D. right!

Harold (II) Goodwinson’s army defeated the Vikings at Stamford Bridge near York (25th Sept) and then lost to the Norman French (who did not land until the 28th of September) at Hastings on the 14th Oct in 1066.

“The English army was organised along regional lines, with the fyrd, or local levy, serving under a local magnate – whether an earl, bishop, or sheriff.[23] The fyrd was composed of men who owned their own land, and were equipped by their community to fulfil the king’s demands for military forces.”

“Harold did not hesitate. Having heard of William’s landing while at York, he raced his army down the old Roman road of Ermine Street, stopping on the way at his foundation of Waltham Abbey, to pray for victory. By 12 October, he was back in London and gathering what forces he could to face William. By the 14th, he was on the way to Hastings.”

The Regimental system and clump recruitment may be more effective and represents the established practice of centuries.

October 21, 2013 11:34 pm

As an Army cadet, I was in Catterick to visit our parent regiment, what was then the 14/20 Kings Hussars, when we were introduced to the CO, who told his story of how he joined. Apparently his A Levels were rather mediocre, and were not of a standard that would procure him a regular commission, so the next day he enlisted as a trooper. Two months later his remarked A Levels looked a lot better, and after some too-ing an fro-ing he was allowed to transfer to Sandhurst. I’m still impressed that his family ties to the regiment were such that enlisting at the bottom of the heap was accepted as a price worth paying for entrance :-)

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 21, 2013 11:34 pm

@Erebus – The English Army at Agincourt was much more closely akin to an Early Modern National Army than a Feudal Array…that was the French, who got soundly beaten by a much smaller but considerably more professional operation.

Typically for overseas wars of choice the King recruited paid soldiers directly, and had other great noblemen do likewise. The usual arrangement being that a Gentlemen of modest means came himself and brought along eight or ten soldiers (a mixture of Men at Arms and Archers). They would team up with other groups of similar size forming a Company of 100 Plus, often under a Captain of recognised experience – then the Companies would group together – and finally form three “Battles” – Vanguard, Main Battle, Rear Guard. They were all professional soldiers, self-trained and equipped, and paid on a fixed scale…although of course all men and boys over seven had to practice at butts with the longbow after Church on Sunday, so they started with a basic level of military proficiency with the national weapon…


Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 21, 2013 11:48 pm

@Erebus – Forgot to add that about a third of Godwinson’s Army were Huscarles – professional soldiers in his employment or that of others, or Thegns with some (in some cases a lot) of military experience – backed by the “Select Fyrd” – the better trained and equipped of the general levy that they picked up on the march south.

It was mostly the professionals who made that forced march (or rather ride) as they were largely on ponies…the Anglo-Saxons fought on foot but the pros rode to war.


October 22, 2013 7:57 am

The Regimental system and clump recruitment may be more effective and represents the established practice of centuries.

You’ve written a narrative and not an analysis. And besides, I have said myself that localised “clump” recruiting as you put it was the only way to recruit people in hyper-parochial times where 95% of the population walked everywhere and rarely went further than their nearest market town unless it was for a pilgrimage. As you may have noticed, even the Tories recognise that Medieval times have passed us by.

Espirit d’Corps is a product of leadership, not of unit history or homogeneous regional or local make-up. One does not join a regiment and after being draped in its colours somehow absorb by osmosis a battle lust. There are proud “units” which have had appalling leadership and have performed likewise, other units without a heritage and recruited nationally have performed very well (we’ll take the Army Commandos and the Parachute Regiment in the 1940s as some examples, but there are a great many others). Localised recruitment and unit heritage do not make an effective fighting unit – excellent leadership and admin do. Leadership may buy into the ethos of the regiment and peculate that around the unit but that is still a function of good leadership and not unit history.