Three Talks to Junior Officers or Officer Cadets to assist them in the handling of their men.

June, 1942

Lecture No. 3
Looking After the Men's Welfare

This talk is based on "The Soldier's Welfare" - a book of which all officers should have a copy.

It is a book that is meant to be read and used and kept handy for reference, and if copies are lost owing to moves, etc. - which is bound to happen at times - they can be replaced. So ask your adjutant to indent for more, if you lose yours and there is none left in the orderly room.

I am going by start by giving the answers to some of the questions which I am often asked about welfare, in order that you may be clear in your minds on the subject.

i.     What do you mean by the term "The soldier's welfare"?

I mean the soldier's needs as a human being-his physical, mental, and emotional needs. Don't think of welfare as just a matter of football and food, or canteens and concerts: it is concerned with those things, of course, but with a great deal more than those two - family problems, education, religion, leave, and mails, to mention just a few.

It is the job of welfare to try to provide for those needs - with the soldier's own active co-operation, where possible, of course. It's most important that the soldier should do all he can for himself in this matter, and should be encouraged to do so.

ii.     What's the real object of welfare?

The main object of welfare is to keep the men as happy and contented as possible, so that they may be at all times fighting fit and fit to fight.

It is just as important to keep a man's mind fit and alert as his body, and he must also be happy in his mind if he is going to be 100 per cent. efficient.

iii.     Does not welfare make the men rather soft and sap their self reliance?

Welfare should not do anything of the kind.

"Looking after the men's we1fare" does not mean pampering or mollycoddling them and so sapping their self-reliance and making them soft; that is not the idea of it at all. Necessary hardships are no concern of welfare, nor do they worry the men very much, as a rule; but needless boredom, and unnecessary inconvenience and restrictions, definitely are to do with welfare because they are bad for morale. For instance, morale was always very high in Tobruk because the men knew that their hardships could not be helped and were all part of the job of winning the war, and so put up with them with the cheerful courage of good soldiers. And it's just the same in Malta to-day.

On the other hand, morale is not always as good as it might be in places where conditions are far better in every way than they were in Tobruk, because the men often feel, or know, that lack of understanding, or laziness, or, worse still, a love of making restrictions on the part of their officers or N.C.Os. are making things far more difficult for them than is really necessary-and they quite naturally and rightly feel resentful.

And the best answer, of course, to the criticism that welfare saps self-reliance is the old soldier's maxim that "any fool can be uncomfortable when he has got to be, but only a fool is uncomfortable when there is no need to be."

iv.     Is not welfare rather bad for discipline

Certainly not. Strict discipline and good welfare can and should go hand-in-hand,' but slack discipline is in itself bad welfare.

v.     Can't the padre and the local welfare officer look after the men's welfare all right? Must the regimental officer, who has got so much to do already, bother about it, too?

The men's welfare must always be the direct concern of the regimental officer. Otherwise he does not command them in any real sense, nor will be get to know them, and build up that essential relationship of mutual confidence and respect. The padre and the local welfare officer are available to help him to do the job better, but not to relieve him of it.

vi.    Is there time for welfare work when one is in the thick of things on active service?

No officer can ever afford to neglect at any time the welfare of his men, whether it is during periods of inactivity or in actual fighting. If he does, the morale and fighting efficiency of his men is certain to suffer.

I hope that you know now just what welfare is and is not, and why it is very much your job!

The two aspects of welfare

Welfare divides into two parts which overlap to a certain extent; the Army Welfare Organization and Unit Welfare. This talk is almost entirely concerned with Unit Welfare.

Army welfare organization

The army welfare organization is under the direction of the War Office. A full account of how it works is in Part IV of "The Soldier's Welfare," and from that you will see that it is concerned mainly, though not entirely, with things outside the unit-hostels, canteens, cinemas, air raid enquiry scheme, problems of soldiers' wives, etc.

Local welfare officers

There are local welfare officers throughout the whole country, available to give help to units and to soldiers and their families. They are voluntary and unpaid people, and are therefore not at the beck and call of units at any moment as some seem to think; on the other hand, these officers are most anxious to help and to co-operate, and not all units seem to make the use of them that they should.

There is a list of things they can do for a unit in "The Soldier's Welfare" pamphlet - such as organizing hospitality in the district, arranging for the loan of cricket or football grounds, or for ladies to help with mending clothes, fixing up hot baths in private houses, distributing magazines, helping to deal with men's private problems, and so on. But - and a most important point, this - please do remember that it is your job to get in touch with them, since they cannot be kept informed of local moves. You can always get the local welfare officer's address through the office of the local County Territorial Army Association, the number and address of which will be in the telephone directory, and, when you are. moving, be sure and leave the address of the local welfare officer for your successor.

That is all I have to say about the Army Welfare Organization in this talk.

Unit welfare

Welfare in the unit is far and away the most important part of welfare. As I have said, the two things overlap, and that is quite right; but I want to make it clear again that the Army Welfare Directorate with its local welfare officers does not exist to do the job of unit officers, but to assist them in their work and to do some things .outside the unit that they cannot do.

Importance of small things

It is very well worth remembering that the small things, which so often get neglected or hurried over, because there seems to be no time, are often the very things that matter most. This is as true of welfare as of anything else. Often the small hardships are more irritating than the big ones, and small neglects spoil big success. For example, it is a pity to organize a splendid concert or boxing show for your men, and then forget to have the canteen open for half an hour afterwards, so that they have to go to bed without any supper; and we all know the value of a cup of hot tea, a kind word, or a small joke at the right moment, and the nuisance of finding no paper in the latrine!

Points regarding the soldier's welfare

i.     Leave

Regular leave is probably the best thing both for morals and morale, and so do give it your very special attention, and see that all those little points about letting the men get away in time, not having their passes delayed, and so on, are carried out.

Generally speaking there is, I think, very little grouse on this subject "at home," or at places overseas where regular leave can be given. Such complaints as there are seem to come nearly always from men who have been transferred from one unit to another, and not given their proper place on the new unit's roster. It is a sore point-and one that, therefore, wants very careful watching by officers.

Take care to explain carefully to your men any new regulations about leave, and, if they are restrictive, see that you tell them clearly the reasons. Make sure, too, that men know how to obtain compassionate leave, since much "absence" results solely because men take it without asking for it.

ii.     Messing

Be always on the look-out for ways of improving and changing things.

It is extraordinary how as one goes round from unit to unit one sees the differences: same rations all the time, but messing first class in one place, and indifferent in another; and for no reason except that in the first place the officer cares, and knows his job, and in the latter place he presumably does neither.

iii.     Letters and false rumours

One cannot emphasize too much the importance of mails in keeping up men's spirits; although, of course, they unfortunately do at times have the opposite effect. In fact, this unfortunate effect is such a serious matter that I am sure every officer should warn his men against believing gossip or rumour about their wives, or girls, which some "kind" friend sends them, and even against reading some wrong meaning into what their wives write.

Apart from this, your most important job with regard to letters is to see that they are properly delivered to the men personally, and re-directed correctly at once to any men who are away from the unit. Again, when censorship of letters is ordered, make clear to your men the reasons, and stress the point that the contents of the letters are never disclosed by or discussed between officers.

iv.     Interviews about private affairs

This aspect of welfare is, perhaps, the most important of all and, judging from the letters the Welfare Directorate so often gets, it is just where officers. seem to be failing a little. The men must feel that they can come and talk to their officers naturally about their private difficulties, and must know that when they do so they will get sympathetic hearing. The most important points in this business are the following:-

(a)     A fixed time

Have a fixed time for seeing men, and make sure that the men know about it and the procedure. If possible, don't use the orderly room or company office for these interviews. I think you will agree with me that you must do this at least twice a week after an air raid on your men's towns it may have to be more and that it is no use just giving yourself half an hour for the job. It takes some men at least that time to get to the point of the story - and then there is a lot more to come!

(b)     Procedure informal

Let the procedure be quite informal, and see the man privately without the sergeant-major or sergeant being present. Try and put him at his ease as much as possible, and let him sit down and smoke a cigarette if that will help. If a man is in real trouble with his wife, it does not come easy very often to tell his officer about it, and yet if he cannot get help and advice, it is not likely he is going to be a fully efficient soldier with his trouble weighing on his mind.

(c)     Co-operate with the padre

Make full use of the padre, whose parochial experience will usually enable him to be of great help.

(d)     The Soldiers', Sailors', and Airmen's Families Association

The S.S.F.A. has secretaries and trained visitors in all parts of the country who do splendid work. They are always ready to visit soldiers' families at your request, and to give financial help, where necessary, and advice.

If you don't know the address of the local secretary, send your letter through their London Office at 23, Queen Anne's Gate, Westminster, S.W.1.

(e)     The Soldiers', Sailors', and Airmen's Incorporated Help Society

The S.S.A.H.S. Head Office at 122, Brompton Road, London, S.W.3, are always most willing to help soldiers, but not their families. They also have representatives throughout the country, and work in close touch with the S.S.A.F.A.

(f)     Citizens' Advice Bureau

Many towns have Citizen Advice Bureau.

Their secretaries are a mine of information on many of the soldiers' civilian problems, and should be made full use of.

(g)     Local welfare officers

Local welfare officers can always be asked to help, and their services are specially useful in dealing with evictions from homes, and matrimonial disputes.

(h)     Value of sympathy

If you cannot give practical help, remember that it often helps a man to get things off his chest, and just to tell the whole tale into a sympathetic ear. It will take time, of course, but it is not time wasted, believe me.

In listening to their troubles you will learn much, share some sorrows, and have not a little humour as well.

I remember, for example, the lance-corporal who came to me , and told me that he was very worried because his wife had fallen off a tram and hurt herself. I asked him if I could do anything, but he said, "No"; he just wanted to tell me about it, and that made him feel better; so much better, in fact, that when I saw him later, the same evening, he was thoroughly enjoying himself at an all ranks dance! Quite sensible and sound; he could not do anything about it, but he wanted somebody to tell, him so before he felt justified in enjoying himself and getting the matter off his mind.

(i)    See each man occasionally

In addition to seeing men who pluck up the courage to come and see you-and for most men it is a bit of an ordeal, however pleasant and accessible you may think you make yourself - you should try to see the others, who will not come near you on their own account, for a private talk at least once a month. To do so will never be a waste of time. If you have got the right kind of relationship with your men, they will appreciate that little personal notice, which shows you are interested in them and know of their existence; and, very often, your sending for them and saying a kindly word will just give them the opportunity to tell you about some trouble that has been on their mind for ages. Just because some men always seem to be worrying you with their troubles, do not think that they are all like that; many, and usually the best, are very shy and reluctant to bother you with their worries. They think the officer will not understand, or that they ought not to trouble him. You must make the opportunity to show them that you can understand, and that their troubles are yours. Only by so doing can you be quite sure that none of your men are being inefficient soldiers through private worries that could be relieved through your efforts.

v.     Talking to the men

This is an important matter, and it is easy to put a foot wrong if an officer does not know his men and how they are thinking. It does not help, for instance, if you make the mistake of a young subaltern of whom I heard recently. He had been told that he had got to get his 'men to do a job of digging On a Sunday, instead of letting them have the half-day off as they had expected. Quite rightly he got them together, explained the reason, and then put his foot right in it by reminding them that munition workers often had to work Sundays, and, therefore, it was only right soldiers should do the same. The little matter of the extra pay munition workers get, but soldiers don't, had escaped his notice, but not his men's, with whom, as every officer should know, it is quite naturally a sore point.

There is some good advice about how to talk in "The Soldier's Welfare," and the only three points there that I want to emphasize now are:-

(a)     the importance of giving men encouragement as well as blame;

(b)     the value of a cheerful word and a joke when you are talking. Men do like a cheery officer, and it is not much to ask of us that we should smile. I think that we do often forget to do so when we are with our men, and they hate "dismal Jimmies" more than anything.

(c)     avoid sarcasm.

If you have time to listen to John Hilton on the wireless (every Tuesday at 5.45 p.m., on the Forces Program), you will learn quite a lot. He is one of the few speakers to whom the men really do listen, as he has the gift of speaking to them in the way they like - straight to the point about things that interest them, with a joke or a funny story here and there, and just a few words, not more, of uplift or encouragement at the end: that, I think, is the ideal recipe when talking to men. Do not forget those few words of moral appeal. Most of us feel very shy and awkward about them, I know, and are very bad at the job, but all human beings need these appeals to their higher feelings at times; soldiers, being quite ordinary human beings, certainly do. Far better your few, halting words which they know to be sincere, than nothing at all, or the cheap eloquence of a man like Horatio Bottomley - "The Soldier's Friend and Orator" - in the last war.

vi.     Sex behaviour

This is, of course, a difficult subject, and for that reason many officers are, I fear, inclined to ignore it altogether; but it is far too important a matter for that. Quite apart from the health and venereal disease aspect, there is all the unhappiness and misery which is caused by irregular sex behaviour. I am sure that there cannot be an officer who has not seen some instances of it. So the subject must be faced up to, and not left till too late.

The best contribution that an officer can make is, undoubtedly, by setting a good example of conduct himself. Some officers - the older married ones in particular, perhaps - may feel able to supplement example by precept, and to give their men, especially the younger ones, a helpful talk occasionally. It is all to the good if you can do it, but I know that this is a job that many officers very understandingly hate doing and honestly feel that they have no right to do. If you do talk to your men on this subject, you should tackle the subject constructively, and remember that merely negative sex advice, with the emphasis on the evils of promiscuity, will cut very little ice with most young men, and will very likely do more harm than good.

You should stress the value of happy family life, which is something nearly all men want and understand about, and the need for loyalty and self-control if it is to be achieved, and you can contrast the Christian with the Nazi conception of womanhood, pointing out that a proper respect for women is one of those human values for which we are fighting.

It might be useful, too, to refer to the Soviet Union's reversion to the traditional ideas of family life after the experiments of the revolutionary period. I can say from the experience I have had that, if the talk is given in the right spirit, and is not in any way a talk down to the men, they will appreciate it and it will help them. But I do not think it is ever advisable to talk to very large groups.

However, whether or not you talk to your men, it is still your job to fit yourself to give advice and help to any of them who need it, and that's a responsibility you must shoulder. I am perfectly certain that sex morals and morale are too closely linked for any good officer to leave the whole subject to take care of itself.

See the whole problem widely, and remember that the good or bad behaviour of your men has repercussions on civilian as well as army morale, and that both are vital to the war effort.

vii.     Money matters

As officers we all know what a headache it all is, trying to understand the regulations about pay, then trying to unravel the regimental paymaster's decisions, and finally, and far the worst of all, trying to explain the whole business to the soldier.

It often seems an almost impossible task, particularly the last, and certainly some soldiers will never understand, and never be convinced, that they are not being "done down" by somebody. But the effort has got to be made, and if the man understands that you are ready to give up your time to his money problems, and do your best for him and his family, he will be grateful even if he does not understand your explanation, and even if he thinks you are quite wrong!

Pay grievances and pay worries are very real to many men, and one cannot, therefore, give too much time to trying to ,remove them, and they must not be left entirely to the pay sergeant to settle. You must personally see that the pay sergeant gives the men a proper chance to see their accounts and ask about them, as they are entitled to do.

Two other points about accounts:

(a)     Publish regular balance sheets

Always publish regular balance sheets of any little accounts such as company games funds, etc.; some men are, I fear, terribly suspicious about the honesty of their officers and their pay sergeants, and the publication of balance sheets, even if they do not understand them, does help to allay their suspicions a little.

(b)     Explain subscriptions and stoppages

Explain carefully to the men how their various subscriptions and stoppages are spent, so that again they may have no unnecessary grievance on these points. I think this is all done far better now than it was, but in the early days of the war there was a great many unnecessary misunderstandings.

Grievances about wages of munition workers

Lastly, on the subject of pay grievances, there is the burning question of the difference between the soldier's and civilian's pay.

Believing, as I do, that men who have grievances, however well cherished and however just they may appear to be, will never be such good soldiers as those without them, I think it is your duty to try to remove this particular grievance from your men's minds.

I am sure it can be done, though I know that it is neither an easy, nor a popular task. How will you do it? Not, I am sure, by trying to prove to the men that they are really quite well off if only they will remember to reckon as part of their pay all the things in kind, like board, lodging, clothing, etc., which the benevolent army gives them free. However true in a way such statements may be, you will never succeed in getting them across, so I don't advise you to try; you will only irritate your audience and lose their sympathy.

Nor do I think that you will be any more successful in convincing them that many of the stories about workers' wages are exaggerated or exceptional, as they often are. There will always be some men present who will confound you with detailed accounts of what their young cousin, or their wife's brother is earning, and you will lose your case in the men's judgment, which is all that matters.

And it is important to remember, when speaking to them, that many of them are far more concerned about the allowances for their families than about their own pay.

No! It is far wiser for the officer to admit frankly that in the matter of pay the average civilian is a lot better off than the average soldier, and then to try and remove the grievance in a more honest way.

I would tackle the matter with the men something like this: "You men spend a lot of your time envying the civilian and wishing you were back in civvy street with a lot of money in your pocket; but I wonder if you are as right as you think you are. True, the civilian has many advantages over you; he can live at home, if he has not been bombed out and family evacuated, of course; he has factory discipline, instead of army discipline, except for his Home Guard service which takes up most of his spare time if he is not fire-watching; and he has very good pay, although there are not many things to spend it on except Savings Certificates. And, best of all, he has got no equipment to blanco, or brasses to clean!

What can you in the army put against all those good things? A hard, healthy life, with the prospect of being wounded or killed before long; for many of you adventure and a chance of seeing the world; good comradeship, with a few shillings a week pocket money, and, I am afraid, long spells of boredom, with army discipline to make it worse. Does not sound too good, and, of course, it is not by your old civilian standards. And yet, now that you have got used to army life, I wonder if you would really enjoy civilian life, if you went back to it to-morrow, quite as much as you think you would.

"Long hours in an office or factory, and day after day, month after month of that, mind you, with no letting up except for one week's holiday a year, would not be too pleasant, would it, after the healthy open-air life you have led? You would miss, too, most of you, the good comradeship of the army more than perhaps you now realize.

"But far more important than those two things is the knowledge you now have that you are doing a hard and difficult job of work - and that with no high pay as a reward or bribe you are ready and trained to give your life for others when you are called upon to do so. That knowledge, of which your uniform is the witness, is something which many civilians in reserved, occupations would give all their high pay and other privileges to be able to possess, though they may not say so, and may not in many cases fully realize the fact. And I am perfectly certain that, though you may be short of cash both now and in the future, and probably will be, you will always think with pride of the days when you wore battle-dress, and unfortunate stay-at-home civilians will have to keep very quiet and stand you drinks with their overtime money when you tell the tale of your war activities in the local pub. You will be able to exaggerate as much as you like, too, because they will not know, and will not like to say they do not!

"I do not mean by that that the civilian worker is not doing a good job for the country, because, of course, in most instances he is - a very good and vital job - but I do mean that there is really no need at all for you fellows to get bitter envying him and his pay. In many ways it is obvious that he is damned lucky, but in the end you will have something he can never have, so really if you look at the thing honestly you are one up on him, and he is the man to be bitter, not you! So cheer up and hold your heads high!"

Perhaps your men will smile at that talk, and look cynical, but I don't think you will have wasted your words. Their cynicism is largely on the surface; they will know in their hearts that they really are rather proud of themselves as soldiers, and that there is a lot more in what you've said to them than they would care to admit. They will, probably, continue to air the grievance, but you will have removed much <>f its sting and so have rendered it comparatively harmless.

vii.     Services air raid enquiry scheme

The Services Air Raid Enquiry Scheme has been organized to relieve men's anxiety after a heavy air raid, and to see that they get the right compensation for damage, and so on. Every officer should make sure that he understands how it works. Read Part III of "The Soldier's Welfare" carefully.

ix.     Overseas enquiry scheme

This has been set up by the War Office to deal with enquiries from overseas, and is run by the Soldiers', Sailors', and Airmen's Families Association. Briefly it works out as follows:-

Men who are anxious shout their families at home, either because they have not heard for a long time or because they have heard that things are going wrong, can write or cable to the Overseas Enquiry Branch of the Soldiers', Sailors', and Airmen's Families Association at 2, Caxton Street, Westminster, London, S.W.!. Their enquiries are investigated by the local secretaries of the S.S.A.F.A., and a cabled report goes back to the enquirer telling him the position. This is followed by an airgraph or air mail letter giving a more detailed statement.

This overseas office deals with about a thousand enquiries a month now, so you see it is well used. Before you or your men go overseas, make sure that they and their families know about it. The knowledge that the scheme exists will help to relieve' a lot of anxiety in advance. Men should be advised to make their enquiries through their officers.

x.     Keep friends together

So far as is humanly possible, keep men who are pals together. As you know, having a good half section, or a good mate, means a great deal to a soldier; yet again and again one hears of instances of men who have been together for a long time and have become real friends, being separated for no other reason than the whim of a sergeant-major, or of an orderly room clerk who likes to have nominal rolls in alphabetical order. Separating pals unnecessarily is one of those unnecessary hardships which men quite rightly resent and grouse about, so it deserves very careful attention at all times.

xi.     Group men carefully

I think, too, that you should pay attention to the importance of grouping men together, so far as possible, who come from the same locality, or who have the same kind of educational standards. Rightly or wrongly, most men do prefer to be with their own kind, and it is only very natural that they should do so. A few types like the Cockney are always good mixers; but they are, I think, rather an exception, and certainly the Welsh, and some of the north country types, are very rarely at their happiest when. mixed up with "foreigners." It is, too, exceptional for an uneducated man to feel really happy and at ease in the company of those better educated than himself, and vice versa.

It is the officer's job to appreciate these differences and difficulties, and to put each man where he will be best able to give of his best; and that is usually where he is happiest and most at rest.

On the other hand, men have got, I would agree, to learn to be "good mixers," and very often the mixing up of different types is all to the good in many ways. It's not a matter for rules, and I have referred to it in order that you may appreciate the pros and cons of the matter. and not just group your men anyhow, without bothering, or alphabetically. How you do it matters a lot to them.


Time's up, and there are any amount of points about sport, education, and so on, that I have not been able to refer to.

Looking after your men's welfare is, you will realize, a big job. No time for the officer to get bored or browned off, or even think of his own troubles - which is all to the good.

But, if you tackle the problem in the right spirit, you will, I know, find that not only is the work full of real human interest, but that the doing of it has helped you to establish that relationship between yourself and your men which was the subject of my first talk.

In this and in many other ways, the officer who looks after his men's welfare reaps the reward of his efforts.

Summing up

I trust that what I have said to you in these three talks will be of some help to you in your command of men. Never forget for a minute that the men in the ranks are the salt of the earth, that they deserve the best possible leadership, and that it is your privilege, as well as your great responsibility, to have the honour of commanding them. Every officer must try his utmost to be worthy of that honour and responsibility.

I hope that when, as comrades in arms, you have won this war together, you will return and work together in the same spirit of comradeship at the task of building the better world for which we are now fighting.