The Young Officer's Guide to Knowledge

By The Senior Major; 1915

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

Maxims XVII to XX


is a person who attempts to regulate the progress of a sham fight. He generally conveys the information to the infantry that the enemy's guns are playing havoc in their ranks. His favourite observation is that you are being enfiladed from both flanks, and that your front is swept by oblique maxim and gun fire, in addition to the infantry fire that happens to be engaging your attention.

Naturally, you take no notice of all this. It is only his opinion, and from his general appearance one is not inclined to put any reliance on it, and there is no way of proving it. There are generally several of these people, all mounted, and wearing a white band round the arm. As the fight develops, they begin to get more and; more excited, and gallop from end to end of the opposing firing lines, shouting out "Put up all the Screens." They then gather into little groups, gesticulating, and saying: "Have you ever seen such absolutely childish nonsense?" The thing's become a farce," "The thing must be stopped somehow," "Send your lot back two miles," "My people represent two divisions and 150 guns," "Why the hell didn't you say so before? "Whilst this little conclave has been going on, the opposing forces draw closer and closer, preceded by desperate ruffians bearing aloft small yellow flags, which they stick up in front of them when they halt. The knot of white-banded :people suddenly becomes aware of this, breaks up, and each individual dashes furiously at his particular batch of warriors, shouting: "You are all out of action." The Director, who has been watching affairs from a neighbouring height, and seeing that the umpires are in danger, assembles all the buglers in the vicinity and sounds the "Stand Fast." And so ends another dernd dull day.


The Regimental Officer is a relic of barbarism. He knows nothing of the more subtle movements of the battlefield. He has never studied the higher art of war, and it is useless to expect him to understand it. Jomini, Von Clausewitz, Moltke, Von der Goltz, Hamley, Henderson, etc., are to him only so many bars to promotion.

The Regimental Officer is invariably of a dull and sluggish intelligence, slow of comprehension and of stubborn t prejudice. Umpires endeavour to paint a battle picture to this dull-witted survival of a forgotten age--a picture made as simple as possible, so that it may be readily absorbed by his slow understanding. But the Umpire's words are simply thrown away on such a duffer. He rarely understands the simplest language, even when this is supported by an order to display a proportion of yellow screens--a. device specially designed to aid his torpid imagination. Unless all the screens are displayed, he takes no notice of the most exquisitely-painted battle pictures, but continues to move stolidly on to the position where he considers he must arrive before he is allowed to go home. Sometimes even a display of all the screens produces comparatively little effect--in fact it almost looks as though the carriers of those screens were looked upon as Chinese standard-bearers. The whole thing is too painful for words, and when the bugles sound the "Stand Fast" I am glad to get away from comrades whom I no longer hold in affectionate esteem.


This does not exist in the Service in the civil sense of the word. Nobody ever "appreciates" anything done by a subordinate, no matter how well he has done it; though the contrary emotion of disapprobation may be indulged to an almost unlimited extent. The reason for this is that the authorities consider that in the interests of discipline everything should be brought to a dead I level of "efficiency." Every one who does not come up to standard in any particular is therefore reprimanded; and likewise anyone who shows an excess of knowledge or intelligence must also be restrained until he again stands at the normal barometric level (foggy with occasional clear intervals).

(Note. The Staff College has been devised especially to restrain and curb officers who are unable to remain at the official level of proficiency. The authorities maintain that it has been an "unqualified success," and the Army is undoubtedly a different thing since its institution. The Staff College resembles a monastic institution. Once within its portals the devotee is expected to absorb the ideas of the Lord Abbot, and study the mysteries of the Art of War as laid down by him and his satellites. Individual opinion is not tolerated for a moment. Any probationer guilty of such profanity is confined to his cell, and is compelled to kneel on a stone floor, whilst extracts from German authors, such as Von der Goltz, Von Bernhardi, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Frederick the Great are read aloud to him in the German tongue. His food is black bread, horse flesh and Sauerkraut, administered six times a day, if necessary forcibly. It is difficult to get at the details of the ordeal the unfortunate inmates are compelled to submit to, owing to their dread of the Lord Abbot, but their childish glee on once getting clear of the institution is quite pathetic to see. Their joy at being able to live a more or less normal life again is intense; but alas! they are not the men they were when they entered the Monastery! Broken in spirit, feeble in gait, often stooping painfully, these grey-haired victims of a cruel system are useless for anything but Staff work! Some of the stronger spirits manage to retain some of their vitality, and live to be generals, served faithfully by other graduates of the Staff College; and as the latter have all been trained to think alike, the machine works smoothly enough.

But when one sees how seriously the poor creatures take themselves, and when one remembers what they once were, one can only exclaim" Oh! the pity of it!")

An Appreciation in military parlance simply means a deduction based on certain facts. It is usually "called for" before going on a Staff Tour from all officers taking part in it, to enable the director to see the weak points in his scheme, and so allow him to rectify them before the mimic warfare actually starts. For instance, the Director may find that, in spite of all his care, the two opposing forces will never meet. He can then opportunely throw in a fresh army, flood, morass or earthquake, which will head off the force which is going astray. An Appreciation is an irksome thing to have to write. It is best done after a guest night, when the brain is working rapidly. But this condition does not always obtain. The Appreciation may have to be written in cold blood. The following model is a useful one to follow. I have used it myself on many occasions, and it so absolutely fulfils the official ideal, that I have often noticed the Director longing to show his appreciation (civil) of my appreciation (military), only his conscience told him what ~ wicked and unnatural impulse it was.

(Note. The more intellectual the Director is, the fewer "headings" he will require, and vice versa. This outline is chiefly headings and I have never known it to fail yet.)


Position and Numbers of Opposing Forces. Red have 50,000 men at their disposal, including 50,000 cavalry and 1,500 guns. Nothing is known of BLUE, but it may be presumed that he has at least a brigade, and probably one company of M.I. Add one battery Mountain Artillery in case of accidents.

Position of RED. Digging hard behind the PEI-HO.

Position of BLUE. Very blue.

Object in View. To defeat the enemy. (This may seem a superfluous statement; but the Authorities wisely recognize that this is not always apparent from the preliminary moves of the Commander of the Force. )

Topography. Hills, dales, woods, meadows, farms and villages abound. Only a WORDSWORTH could do justice to it. (Here a little quotation might be appropriate).

The ground is wet in some places and wetter in others. (This was discovered during the digging.)

Communications. Railways in every direction. Communication between enemy's position (probable) and our own, by barge, along the DOG AND GARBAGE Canal. (MUDFORD-Telegraph and Express Delivery.)

Time and Space. What sublime thoughts these words evoke on the eve of a Battle! " A few more years shall roll," and we shall be lost in the dim past. And when we dwell upon the immensity of Space, how petty and trivial these little wars of ours seem--hardly worth appreciating (military).

Character of Opposing Commander. Evidently lacks sufficient self-confidence to come out boldly into the open and show himself. Probably treacherous, deceitful and cunning--not above taking his opponent by surprise if he got the chance. Quite contemptible. Certainly not up to War Office pattern, and altogether inferior to RED, who has been properly brought up.

Political Influences. 90 per cent. of the enemy are Prohibitionists, and the Commander-in-Chief was seen helping Mrs. PANKHURST to pour CONDY'S FLUID into a pillar-box. Red have sworn to take none of them alive.

Courses open to the Enemy. The enemy may either retire up the DOG AND GARBAGE Canal, or by the express to BRISTOL.

Courses open to US. Should the enemy retire up the Canal, the pursuit can be taken up by the R.E. in the motor-boat "PRINCE OF PEACE."

Should the enemy take the express, a wire should be sent from MUDFORD to the police authorities at BRISTOL to detain the enemy until our arrival.

Course Recommended for Adoption. Go on digging behind the PEI-HO. It is good practice and keeps the men fit, and it is no use wasting time doing nothing whilst waiting for a dilatory foe. In the meanwhile the R.E. should overhaul the machinery of the "PRINCE OF PEACE." and see that the Telegraph from MUDFORD to BRISTOL is in working order.


It might be supposed that the term "Night Operations" would be better rendered by the expression "Movements by Night." The fact is, however, that the term "Night Operations" is in this instance apt enough, and defines the night wanderings of the average battalion or brigade with sufficient accuracy. The first part of the operations consist in tying the force operated upon into a knot. The second phase is to resort the rabble the force will have become under a really first-class Night operator. Under the heading "General Principles," Field Service Regulations in discussing the uses of "Night Operations" say very truly that they are undertaken "to pass over an area of ground which it has been found difficult, or impossible, to traverse in daylight." This is why Night. Operations are always undertaken across bogs, dykes, rabbit warrens, barbed wire fences, thick-set hedges, and other obstacles which will test the battalion's or brigade's readiness for war (i.e. for any emergency). F.S.R. also explain that "Surprise in some form is usually an object of night operations." There is no doubt that this is so, and the people who fall into watery holes and ditches are soon made aware of the fact. What is really surprising is the fact of the Regulations being so clear and explicit on this point. It can only be supposed that the Authorities realize the terrifying nature of those Operations, and wish to get the Patient used to the idea. before he is subjected to them.

The Regulations classify Night Operations under three headings, but this is merely confusing. There are really only two distinct classes of Night Operations, i.e. :--

(a) Those which conclude at 10 p.m.

(b) Those which start at 10 p.m.

The first class is undoubtedly the most popular amongst junior officers, and left to themselves they would probably be content with it. The Senior Officers, however, especially the Inventors of Formations, like to test their ideas "under cover of Darkness," and are very partial to class (b).

Under the heading of Class (a) come the Twilight Demonstrations of Company Training, when the Divisional General's Section (vide "Company Training") attempts to break through the picket-line compound of the Commander-in-Chief's Section, the Staff Section and the Brigadier-General's Section. It is advisable to hold this operation very early in Company Training, before "esprit de Section" has reached its full development--otherwise it may result in what the Regulations call a "Night Assault." The preliminary training of recruits in Night Operations also comes under this head, and is a species of open-air ballet, to test their agility and noiselessnes8, when loaded and festooned with jingling articles. Spring-heeled boots are essential for this operation, the web-footed boot issued to the Special Reserve not being intended for Active Service.

Unfortunately Class (a), so popular at one time with all ranks, has greatly fallen into disfavour of late. The cult, of Class (b) has been ascribed by obviously interested persons to the long range and deadly accuracy of modern fire-arms, the rise of the aeroplane and what-not. As a matter of fact these excuses are merely a cloak to hide the irrepressible instinct for night wandering inherent in all men who have passed a certain age. Unless driven from his bed by superior force, the average young officer would never risk an operation of the {b) Class, but the higher the rank and the older the fogey, the more restless he is. The C.O. may keep you out half the night, the Brigadier must have a few all-night "Shows" (what a pity these tragedies are wasted on the nightingale and the harmless cow!), but the Divisional General hates the sight of his camp bed, and can hardly be induced to sleep in it at all during his own variety of training (Divisional Training). This is why there is always an interval between Divisional Training and Manoeuvres, in order to allow the troops to Bleep before the Supreme Week.

A few hints may be of use to the young officer who is obliged to undertake a few Class (b) operations during Company Training.

(1)     Arrange your night operation for a guest-night if possible-more especially if any type of "inspecting" General is present. They are all, of course, inveterate Night Prowlers.

(2)     Leave Barracks ostentatiously at 10.15 p.m. allowing your men to make a good deal of noise, which you will sternly quell when passing the Mess (it is, of course, essential to pass the Mess).

(3)     Your hour of Return depends upon the nature of the situation (i.e., the departure of the General) and similar I circumstances which will at once suggest themselves). Your Programme no doubt states "10 p.m. to Finish," and the desired end is dependent upon the General.

(4)     A night venture of Class (b) can soon be turned to t good account during Company Training. No afternoon work should be undertaken on the same date as the night. II operation. The morning's work should be of the lightest description for the same reason. Reveille should be sounded an hour later, and there should be no work before breakfast.

The day after a night operation of Class (b) must unquestionably be what is called a dies non--that is to say a day on which you do not work. The men must be allowed a long sleep in the morning. You should inspect the rifles at 11, and instruct them thereafter in knotting and lashing (a weird rite, which used only to be performed on wet days, before they invented Swedish exercises and bayonet fighting). The afternoon can be again devoted to sleep or other form of recuperation.

The above is, of course, child's play, compared to an aggravated type of (b) operation under & Brigadier or Divisional General. Your afternoon is spoilt by the horror of the coming shade. Very likely you will have to lecture your men on night work. They know as well as you that the operation has been devised to satisfy the cravings of an elderly night-walker, but they listen to the plausible reasons given in extenuation of it patiently enough, though they are obviously bored and unconvinced. You will probably have to dine at some unholy hour, in order to give the C.O. time to explain the scheme before parade. The actual orders for the operation are not sent until the last moment, in order to imbue them with a spurious sense of mystery. When they finally arrive, they are almost illegible, having been typed, and retyped again and again by a sweated clerk, as it becomes evident that fatal accidents would result and violent collisions ensue if they were left in their original form. Even then they are vagueness itself. This deliberate want of definiteness is with the intent of stifling subsequent criticisms of the operation, should the Chief Operator succeed in tying the Force into a really first-rate bog or timber hitch, and find himself unequal to the second, or unravelling part of the operation.

The orders for the assembly of the force probably say that the Brigade will be formed up 400 yards due East of the belt of fir trees, 1/2 mile S. W .of the Brigadier's Tent, in lines of half-battalion columns of fours two battalions abreast, half massed (not half mashed--this occurs when the operation is fairly well advanced).

After a variety of criss-cross or "Gridiron" movements, the Brigade gradually takes shape and settles itself into its half massed condition before moving forth to its final agony.

The pathetic procession moves slowly out, guided by a Staff Officer with a compass and a string of acolytes, with white bands round their caps. Minions bearing camp lanterns mournfully creep along at the head and tail of the column, occasionally stumbling and putting the lights out, which have to be painfully re-lit as the slow but inevitable drizzle begins. These lanterns are for the protection of the column from partial destruction by Road Hogs when crossing a road, but they only add to the suggestion of nightmare in the whole proceeding. .

Favoured by good fortune, the column arrives at a point, 800 yards from where it started, in a little over an hour, and has then to halt and close up, after the strain of keeping half-massed for so long a period. The Brigadier now calls a conference of C.O.'s to deliberate upon the next stage of the undertaking, which is probably to throw out a line of outposts, 5 miles off from the S.E. edge of Sunny Copse to the second in Happy Valley , 1 mile S. of Maiden Farm. "So far-so good," says the Brigadier, and immediately disappears down an enormous rabbit hole. The assembled conclave all dash to he rescue, as one man, but only succeed in falling on the Brigadier and pushing that gallant but exhausted Commander still further into the "soup" (as the liquid mud may be vulgarly termed). At last relief is obtained as the General's orderly manfully pushes his way through, salutes his master with unerring instinct, and brings him to the surface. The Brigadier's map and flash-light are recovered after a diligent search, but the Brigade Major's compass has completely disappeared, made over to the rabbits, via the same route as the Brigadier took. But he Brigadier, though shaken, is determined to press on, ever mindful of Sir John French's soft words of encouragement. He determines to change from "half-massed" formation to "column of Route," and sends messages to hat effect to the C.O.'s of battalions, who have been sent to rejoin their battalions during the latter part of the compass hunt. Unfortunately one of the rear battalions n the outer flank does not get the message, as the orderly somehow "cannons" off into the void, and pursues his quest into the night until the small hours of the morning. Thus this battalion continues "half-massed," and rapidly lurches forward, thinking itself to be losing touch with its leading battalion. It makes rapid headway, and soon comes up level with the head of the column, and the first art of the knot is now complete.

Some one in the still half-massed battalion sings out "By the Right!" this battalion being itself on the right E the column. The word " By the Right!" is taken up in a low and reverent tone by the whole column, which suddenly and silently abandons the Brigade Major and is acolytes for the erratic, if interesting, guidance of the half-massed battalion. The unconscious Brigadier at the head of the column, accompanied by the representative of the "Daily Tale" with a huge umbrella, staunchly follows the Brigade Major towards the light of the Boar's Head, which winks a friendly eye from the main road a mile away.

His brigade, meanwhile, is rapidly becoming a chaotic rabble. The half-massed battalion continues to press on, in its frantic attempts to overtake the phantom battalion, which it still imagines is in front of it. Having nothing to guide it, it swings instinctively to the right as it flounders on with a jingle of accoutrements and with muttered expletives--lost to all orderliness and self-respect. The rest of the column now finds itself on the outer edge of a circle, and plunges on in a nervous frenzy, the C.O. of the leading battalion on the verge of hysteria. Round they go like a Catherine wheel, flinging casualties like sparks from the outer edge, now coasting past cavernous chalk pits, now negotiating fearsome fences, until the half-massed battalion at last views the scattered remnants of the rear of the column, and Blows down to a reasonable pace, having completed the circle, and incidentally, the knot.

Many other kinds of knots can be tied, but I have selected this one as being especially cunning, for it absolves the lost Brigadier from the necessity of unravelling it--a practically impossible feat; and only dawn can bring a merciful release.

Representatives of the Strange Sect are always present at a Night Operation; the rule as to going sick is in temporary abeyance, and valuable experience is gained.

But there can be little doubt that the Class (b) Night Operation is weakening the moral fibre of the British Army.

Printed by HARRISON & SONS, London.

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