The Young Officer's Guide to Knowledge

By The Senior Major; 1915

Contents - I-IV - V-VIII - IX-XVI - XVII-XX

Articles I to IV


1.     Never do other people's work unless you are driven to it. If you do, you will get an evil reputation for liking it. 

2.     Always ask for leave at all times and in all places. In the end, you will acquire a kind of right to it. 

3.     Remember that there is a time to work and a time to play. The time to work is when you are being watched. 

4.     Abandon every vestige of individuality. In the Service it is considered indecent, and verges on insubordination. Most young officers join with a distressing amount of "originality," and it is only on reaching the status of Member of the Army Council that an officer can be said to be completely purged of it. Study the fads of your superiors. If the General is looking on, be assiduously practising his little hobby. It does not matter how foolish it is-in fact the sillier it is the more he will like it, as he fully appreciates the fact that you are making a fool of yourself for his benefit. The same rule applies to the C.O., only in a lesser degree. The higher the rank, the more abandoned your antics should become. This is why so much leave is required in the Army, the mental strain on the zealous officer being excessive. 

5.     Should you ever be asked to express an opinion, on paper, do not spill too much ink. You may be quite certain the authorities have made up their minds what to do before asking you. The relative value of opinion is estimated as follows:- 

It is thus pure waste of time for the Company Officer to "spread himself on paper." 

6.     Do not learn the Training Regulations too thoroughly. From the time they are issued they begin to be obsolete. Go on doing the same thing every year in the same old way, modified by local conditions (i.e., your Brigadier's mental obsessions). 

7.     If ever you feel tempted to complain about the conditions under which you are compelled to exist (e.g. camping in an Irish bog), remember you are paid for it. And as regards Night Operations in particular-never forget Sir John French's strong words of comfort: "The darker the night, the more inclement the weather, the better the exercise!" What more can be said? 


This is the most important part of a soldier's training—in fact it is the foundation of all other Infantry Training, and the basis of a sound Army. 

Company Training includes section training. A section consists of five or six men under a sergeant, and often includes a corporal and a couple of lance-corporals. As the Company consists of four sections, it is obviously impossible to give the men the individual attention they require if they are all massed into one body. Consequently the first part of the training is carried out by the section commanders, under the supervision of the Company Officers. 

The New Training Regulations usually come out in time for the commencement of Company Training. It is considered that the soldier's mind, as a result of the previous year's manoeuvres, is a complete blank, ready to receive the seed prepared during the winter months at the War Office. But the Regulations must not be adhered to too closely, as they are bound to clash with the theories of your C.O. and Brigadier. The latter must be studied carefully, and the men practised assiduously in them. 

In a large military station, where the Company Officer is liable to be "surprised" by various classes of Generals and their Staffs, he must adopt the methods of the variety quick-change artiste if he wishes to obtain any real " kudos." 

He may have to satisfy the prejudices of the following highly-placed personages--perhaps all in one morning--whilst practising his company in the Attack:- 

The following example will suffice to indicate how these conflicting interests can be dealt with by a broad and sympathetic intelligence. 

You go to work as follows. Each section should be trained on different lines. No. 1 (or the Commander-in-Chief's Section) should be thoroughly broken in to gunfire. No.2 (or the Divisional General's Section) should be trained to do everything at a rush. If possible, this section should be entirely composed of your cross-country running team. No.3 (or the Staff Section) must be trained to cover not more than 1 yard per minute. (Mess employ, cooks, company storemen, etc., can safely be put in this section.) No.4 (or the Brigadier-General's Section) should be composed of men who have passed their Second Class Certificate of Education and have a fair knowledge of mathematics. 

The section leaders must be thoroughly instructed in their tasks during the week allotted to preliminary training of N.C.O.'s. 

During the section training, each section must be taught to go through its own particular manoeuvre. The necessary proficiency will soon be acquired, and it will be found that it win foster a fine spirit of "esprit de section"--a man belonging to the "Commander-in-Chief's Section" will hardly speak to a man in the " Staff Section," and so on. 

As soon as Company Training begins in earnest--i.e. as soon as you are liable to be "surprised"--a bugler should be posted on a prominent height, who will announce the approach of the various personages as follows :- 

Immediately on the call being sounded, the section called will immediately double out to a convenient place from which to attack a position previously agreed upon. The remaining sections will double to the position, and lie down in single rank, facing the enemy. 

As soon as the Personage comes within hail, you advance and salute. The Personage will ask what you are doing. Say it is the Divisional General. You reply, with a tolerant smile, "I was just putting my worst section through the attack, sir, and getting the other three sections to watch their mistakes, and criticize." The Divisional General: "Very good-carry on-don't let me interfere with your work!" You then wave the advance to the Divisional General's Section, who are already straining at the leash. The signal is hardly made before the line shoots forward. On they come! Nothing daunts them. Their business is to get there, and they know it. Plunging into rabbit holes, stumbling over grass tussocks, the surging line press forward, until it subsides in a welter of perspiration 10 yards from the position. The General has got more and more interested as the attack progresses, until at last, when it reaches the above climax, in a burst of enthusiasm he forgets himself for a moment, and says: "Very good--very good indeed." He may even make a little speech to the men. At any rate, you have made an excellent impression, and he will remember ---- Company of the Blankshires for quite a little time. 

You have hardly had time to light your pipe and open the Sportsman before you hear the bugle ring out the "Alarm" in menacing tones. As the Brigadier-General's Section goes down to the starting-point you knock the ashes out of your pipe and go to meet your new mentor, and gain fresh laurels, acting on the same lines as you did for the Divisional General. 

Should the Colonel, who is a kind of fifth wheel to your coach, make his unwelcome appearance, you must resort to a subterfuge. His arrival is announced on the bugle by the mess-call; when the company doubles in and forms round you in a circle, lying down, keen, alert, athirst for knowledge, whilst you lecture on the Colonel's favourite subject (machine guns, or lines of columns in single file in chess-board formation by the right rear at twenty paces interval in echelon from the centre). Should the Colonel suggest your practising the manoeuvre, say that your programme for the day is absolutely full up, but that you have billed it for the next morning at 6 a.m. But the Colonel is not really so troublesome as the rest, as he spends most of his time communing with the Quartermaster, the Ordnance Department and the Staff, and signing his name to innumerable quaintly worded missives, largely composed of hieroglyphics. 

In this way, Company Training passes pleasantly enough, and most people thoroughly enjoy the theatricals. If left to yourself for any reasonable period, you can always fill in time by teaching your company the New Training Regulations. 

(The recent reorganization of an Infantry Battalion, set forth in last season's New Training Regulations, has rendered the "section" a less important part of the Company. The Company, however, can still be trained on the broad-minded and comprehensive lines indicated in this chapter, the word "platoon" being substituted for "section" where necessary. The fact that the Company now consists of sixteen sections instead of four, will at once suggest to the really keen officer who wishes to get on ill his profession, a method of still further enhancing his reputation by extending the circle of his august admirers.)


When you inspect your company on the first day of Battalion Training, you must be careful to warn them that all they have been practising during Company Training applies only to Company Training--that this is the first day of Battalion Training, and that they are starting on an entirely different course of instruction. The actual lines on which the training is carried out depends entirely on whether the dominating factor is the C.O.'s or the Brigadier-General's mentality. Of course & nodding acquaintance with the New Training Regulations is advisable, as some of the movements are founded upon them. Otherwise, the less the Training Regulations are allowed to interfere with your freedom of thought, the better. Besides, the Training Regulations last for but one season, whereas you will have the same C.O. and perhaps the same Brigadier for several years, and the C.O. and Brigadier cannot be amended by the clerk at the War Office. 

After a little practice, you will be able to read him as easily as the Training Regulations, and understand him far better. You need not bother about the Brigadier or higher commanders any further, although, no doubt, their influence will at times be acutely felt by the C.O. But you will not be responsible. As long 88 your men understand the Advance and Retire Signals, and never extend beyond the requisite number of paces laid down by the C.O. or Brigadier, you have nothing to be anxious about, and it is impossible to foresee the complicated manoeuvres undertaken by the superior battle leaders--often "under cover of darkness." Darkness covers a variety of quaint manoeuvres-almost funny, except for the note of tragedy that is almost always struck, as when the junior Subaltern puts his foot on the Colonel's face as he follows him into the ditch. But these operations, including even the day ones, cannot be learnt. They are gradually absorbed into one's inner consciousness, until the most apparently futile manoeuvres, such as marching in fours across one's own firing line, or attempting to cross a quaking bog by means of planks, become the most natural things to do in the world. 

Remember that certain things which it was quite right to do during Company Training would be inadmissible at Battalion Training and a fortiori at Brigade and Divisional Training. Extension is very little used at Battalion Training, and is almost unheard of in the higher branches of Training, when the advance to the attack is usually carried out en masse. Advancing by rushes should not be too frequently indulged in, unless the Commander, for whose benefit the manoeuvre is being carried out, is a "speeding-up" enthusiast. Even then, remember that too much hurry is undignified when carrying out really big operations, and when one has reached the advanced stage of Divisional Training all of what may be called the Grammar of the Science (such as Fire Discipline and Fire Control, to name two obvious instances) must give place to a more easy and fluent, not to say aristocratic, style of conducting the fight. 


Manoeuvres are the apotheosis of the military year. - The whole of the previous training has been with a view to this supreme week. Soldier, Regimental Officer, Staff Officer, General, are to be put upon their trial--to test their readiness for war. Their readiness for war means their readiness for any emergency, and their previous training has been conducted with the object of preparing them for anything, by getting them used to being astonished at nothing. After the varied and complicated manoeuvres it has been called upon to undertake during the different trainings it has been put through, the Army is fit fur any General to handle. To adopt the mechanic's phrase, it is practically fool-proof. Nothing demonstrates more than manoeuvres the Army's wonderful power of attaining its object in spite of every discouragement. 

Now, as is well known, the people who support the manoeuvres are the Umpire Staff. They are the only people who appear to consider that the manoeuvres are important in themselves. They sometimes even pretend that a minor tactical operation is in some way going to affect the manoeuvres! Of course, this is natural, when one comes to recognize that the manoeuvres are their raison d'etre, and their harassing reign of officious interference comes to an end with the conclusion of manoeuvres. Obviously, they are interested in prolonging the manoeuvres. The great object of the Army is to out-manoeuvre the Umpires. These are the real manoeuvres, as is well known by the War Office Staff, and thoroughly understood by the Army and the Umpires themselves.

Up to date the Army has been invariably successful--so successful, in fact, that of late years the Umpire Staff has been selected several months beforehand, and given a special training to enable it to compete with better success. In spite of this, the Army continues to outmanoeuvre the Umpires.

In the great game of manoeuvres the Umpires start with 8 points (I point for every day the manoeuvres are sup- posed to last). For every day the manoeuvres are cut short, the Umpires lose 1 point. If they lose more than 4 points, the Army is considered to be the winner. The frenzied anxiety of the Umpires to keep the combatants at arm's length on the fourth day of manoeuvres is thus easy to understand. Should the Umpires ever succeed in actually prolonging the manoeuvres, it would be taken as an infallible sign that the best brains in the Army were not directing it, and important changes in command would take place in consequence. 

It is not hard to understand, then, why every one, from General to Private, playa up his hardest in the game of out-manoeuvring the General for fear of losing his exalted position, the remaining officers and men to cut short the manoeuvres, and the Umpires to prolong their short and troubled reign. 
The following is an example of the Army v. Umpires manoeuvres, which are being conducted with increasing finesse every year. 

The manoeuvres had been advertised for weeks and months. Columns had been written about them in the Press. Every detail had been carefully gone into by an expert staff. A great war could hardly have excited more universal interest. The conclusion of the mimic warfare had been timed to the minute. The Army Manoeuvres were to last exactly eight days.

The Umpires were not sufficiently on their guard the first day, and as the operations were conducted in close country, the opposing armies were enabled to make rapid headway, and got almost within striking distance of each other at sundown. The Armies were both too fatigued to undertake a night march, and early next morning Umpires of both sides began to be aware of the situation, and soon brought the operations to a complete standstill. The next move was with the Army, which promptly sent cavalry and cyclists wide to the flanks, and started a series of engagements in thirty-three different places, covering an area of 100 square miles. All the senior Umpires, who are usually of an inquisitive disposition, were attracted to one or other of these localities, leaving affaire in the hands of subordinates. Now came the master-stroke. From both sides and from all directions whizzed aeroplanes, circling backwards and forwards bewilderingly, whilst a continuous stream of messages passed along telegraph and telephone or were conveyed by orderlies. What was the meaning of this amazing burst of energy? Was it in preparation of some strategical or tactical move of unusual deftness? Yes-but the two Armies were not acting against each other, but against the common enemy, the Umpires! Every time an aeroplane passes over the head of an Umpire, he must send an "interim report" to his chief. In addition to this, all messages are shown to an Umpire. So very soon the Umpires were all busy writing " interim reports,'" interrupted continuously by orderlies bearing fatuous messages about the same aeroplanes. And they continued to write, and would probably have been writing till midnight, had they not been roused from their literary efforts by the sound of a fierce battle going on some mile off. On nearing the scene of action, the Umpires, from highest to lowest, realized that the game was up. The main portion of the infantry of the two opposing force was lying down on opposite sides of a long, straight Roman road, which was chock-a-block with motor-cars and spectators, through which the opposing sides would occasionally fire a friendly shot to encourage them. The remainder of the infantry was fighting out the day a little distance to a flank-but had somehow got itself twisted out of shape, and the combatants were firing at each other from exactly the reverse position to their main bodies. The cavalry and cyclists were lost. The guns had ceased fire, for fear of damaging spectators. The Chief Umpire looked helplessly at his assistants for an instant, and then the "stand-fast" sounded. Only 2 points remained to the Umpires. The Army had won a crushing victory. The manoeuvres had lasted exactly two days! 

(Since the above was written, the Manoeuvre Season of 1913 has come and gone, but what was described as an "Army Exercise" took the place of the usual Manoeuvres. In this game, the whole Army was allotted to an imaginary "invading" force, whilst the defending force was represented by fatiguemen on short rations, who carried heavy pole-targets which practically pinned them down to their positions, where they could be watched by quite a few Umpires. All the remaining Umpires, accompanied by masses of unemployed Staff Officers, stationed themselves at the heads of the different columns, and were thus able to impede their advance, the Umpires claiming an inglorious victory. But while admitting the undoubtedly overwhelming compliment thus paid to our generals and soldiers, is it quite just to load the dice to this extent?)

Contents - I-IV - V-VIII - IX-XVI - XVII-XX