Morale

By Lieut.-Colonel J.G. Shillington, D.S.O.
Journal of The Royal United Service Institution, Vol. XCV, Feb to Nov, 1950

Everyone should educate himself to be a good citizen, and want to be a good citizen. Every soldier should aim at being the best soldier in his unit, and want to be the best soldier in his unit.

Morale is a French word which we use because there is no single English word which expresses the ingredients which it implies. So much importance is now attached to Morale that the Principles of War have been re-assessed to cater for it, and one of the existing ten principles is now designated "Maintenance of Morale."

Morale can be described as a mental state composed of three main ingredients:—

From an Army point of View such a Team might be the Section, Platoon, Company, Battalion, Brigade or Division. In fact, this pride in the Team is described as esprit de corps; but the term can have a wider meaning than that—it can embrace groups of Armies, such as the 21st Army Group, or a combination of the three Services, where mutual trust and pride are essential as was so well proved when, for instance, the Royal Navy successfully landed the Army on the beaches of Normandy under the umbrella of the Royal Air Force. Indeed, it can extend to nations, groups of nations and, in our utopian dreams, to the World itself.

Napoleon is reported to have said "The moral is to the material as three is to one." field-Marshal Montgomery describes it as "a pearl of great price," and goes on to say, "The more I see of fighting the more I am convinced that the big thing in War is Morale; it is probably the most important single factor." So, let us consider the effect on Morale of three contributing factors—Administration, Discipline, and Training; and their order of importance.

Administration, i.e. clothing, housing, feeding, pay, domestic affairs, recreation, etc., can be summed up as "Welfare."

Discipline does not mean fear of punishment, but the cheerful and willing obedience of commands because the recipients are confident that orders given by their leaders are for the good of the individual and the team; it goes even further—it entails the desire to find out the right thing to do and to do it and see that others do it so as not to let the team down.

Compare this type of discipline with that which existed in the German Army, where it was apt to be based on fear; and with that of the Japanese which was apt to be based on fanatical belief. In both cases the discipline was brittle and liable to break down under stress when the individual was not under direct supervision.

Training can be described as the developing of the mind and body to practise skill at arms. It is just as important that the recruit should understand the object of his training and why a particular thing should be done as it is to teach him how he is to do it. It would seem that administration, discipline and training are of equal importance in attaining good morale, but the relation which they bear to each other as regards their development can best be explained by the analogy of a fishing, rod. Imagine the rod is composed of three sections jointed together—the bottom section nearer the reel represents administration which, once fixed, fluctuates very little; the middle section is discipline which, once fixed, remains but is apt to go up or down more readily than administration; the top joint—the most flexible of all, is training. This latter can be got up to a high standard very quickly, but when it stops, the standard is apt to fall off just as quickly.

It is not only in the fighting troops that it is necessary to foster high morale. In these days of mechanized warfare many troops do not meet the enemy face to face. Success in battle stimulates morale, but it is sometimes more difficult to foster it behind the lines, although that must be regarded as equally important. As an illustration of this, it is fair to say that the gallantry of the "few" in the Battle of Britain would have been of no avail without the "Churchillian" leadership which raised the morale of the whole Country. Anxiety about private affairs, boredom and inactivity are enemies to morale, whereas a sense of purpose in dull jobs and a pat on the back, where it is deserved, do much to increase it.

Confidence and pride in self are based on efficiency and are mainly acquired by developing the following characteristics:—

Everyone should educate himself to be a good citizen, and want to be a good citizen. Every soldier should aim at being the best soldier in his unit, and want to be the best soldier in his unit. The efficient and ambitious will always be happy.

Confidence and pride in leaders must be bred by the leaders themselves. All leaders from the lowest to the highest should consider the effect their orders will have on those who have to carry them out. In this connection the following principles are applicable:—

(a)     Never give an order which cannot be obeyed, and be prepared to represent your subordinate's case to your superior if such an order comes from above.

(b)     Always ensure that an order once given is obeyed. Give ample time for it to be carried out, but make sure that in due course you see for yourself with your own eyes that you have been obeyed, i.e., practise "the eye of the Master." Do not suspect disobedience or irregularities, but always exercise normal supervision and be prepared to help, i.e., "act as a watchdog not a bloodhound."

(c)     Never put your men into battle without adequate support, and let them know this. It will be remembered that field-Marshal Montgomery stressed this particularly when he made his many addresses to the 21st Army Group before the invasion of Normandy.

(d)     Ensure that your men know the object of everything they are called to do, be it in peace or war. A man will carry out orders more willingly, however irksome they may be, if he knows why they are given. If there is not a good reason a order should not be given.

Every man should be encouraged to want his team to be the best, whatever that team may be, from a section of infantry to an Army Corps and their equivalents in the other Services. This esprit de corps should start from the lowest level and the atmosphere should be developed not only by every one wanting his team to be the int but by confidence that it will be the best. This atmosphere fosters true comradeship and it feeds on tradition. From an Army point of View, this can be illustrated as follows. Throughout the ages the British soldier has been looked down on in peace and made a hero in war. In spite of this he has provided the illustrious pages of history and tradition. In most wars he has had to suffer early defeats. This he has done cheerfully; and he always wins the last battle.

Such things must be dependent on good morale. The low prestige of the soldier in the public eye has been getting less and less throughout the ages. Originally the term "Gone for a soldier" was considered a disgrace in some families. Now their achievements and the true qualities which bring about such achievements are evident, and it is becoming common knowledge that the good soldier and good citizen are one. An anecdote concerning the Duke of York, who was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army from 1798 to 1809, shows how well aware he was of this fact. One day he found his butler turning away from the door the wife of an old soldier. He reprimanded him and said "but what else is Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York?" This is quoted as an example of the true comradeship which must exist between the highest and the lowest in the British Army—indeed in all our Services.

In conclusion it is stressed that the keynote of morale is that confidence in Self, Leaders and Team which inspires true comradeship and evokes—

"The spirit which impels us to give and go on giving of our best even when we have to endure the worst,"

or, in the words of Kipling's If—

"… hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says … 'Hold on.'"

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