I was tempted to use this column to wonder why when the British Army is facing some many problems, one of the more senior officers was taking time to instruct his officers on how to behave at dinner parties and the correct use of a knife and fork. The Ministry of Defence insists that Major General James Cowan's letter to the "Chaps" at 3rd Division was intended to be light hearted. I'll take their word for it. Instead, I think I lament the fact that Cowan, a former commanding officer of the Black Watch and the first commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, has 2,500 commissioned officers and 20,000 other ranks under his command. Even with my poor maths skills, that seems to work out at more than one officer for every ten men. And as a lot of the real work is done by the senior non-commissioned officers who are included in the figure of 20,000 the number of commissioned officers might strike some as excessive. A very quick look reveals that the 2nd Highland Battalion in 1757 had 41 officers in a unit totalling1,088 men. Now, granted, in 1757 the Army didn't have as many much-needed administrators or planners as it does now. Nor did it include the number of technical specialists who are granted officer rank these days. But I think questions have to be asked as to whether the Army is heading towards a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-indians scenario. Some may believe that the weight of the present cuts to the Army is being borne by a disproportionate number of highly experienced senior non-commissioned officers while leaving the Officer Corps relatively intact. Perhaps the answer is to cut admissions to public schools such as Eton, Winchester and Ampleforth. Then the Eton dominated British Cabinet would not need to find so much work on the public payroll for their less talented brethren. The British Army is the biggest employer of Old Etonians on the planet. And I'm sure the Old Etonians would not require instruction from Maj-Gen. Cowan on dinner party etiquette or to be chastised by him for eating sandwiches in the mess with one's bare hands.
I do not usually approve of trial by media. When I was a young reporter in Scotland once someone was arrested and charged with a crime, little more than the name of the accused and the charges were published. Very little else appeared until after the accused until after the trial and verdict. Pre-trial coverage in England seemed a little more relaxed and material would appear in the papers that would have landed a journalist working in Scotland in the dock in front of a judge. American justice is a contradiction in terms because trial by media is interpreted as a freedom of speech issue. Canada’s criminal law is based on England’s but court coverage is heavily influenced by the example set by the American media. So, some of the material in the Canadian media causes me concern when it comes to a fair trial. But to my point; I think showing a bloodied knife killer addressing the a cellphone camera to explain why he had just murdered an off-duty British soldier on a London street last year was a good thing. In most cases I would have regarded the on-camera confession as evidence that should only have come out at the trial. And, I would usually question the wisdom of promoting the idea that if you feel your views are being ignored, why not get on national TV by murdering someone. But the cellphone footage revealed the killers to be a pair of misguided clown inadequates. I am not sure if the dim duo were smart enough to hope that their stupidity would spark a wave of attacks on British Muslims but if that was their intention, they pretty much failed. There were some foolish attacks on mosques but common sense prevailed. Such attacks could only have acted as recruiting drives for the extremists. You will have noticed that I have not named soldier Lee Rigby’s killers. They don’t deserve the recognition.
The Glasgow Highlanders. The Photo Identification feature attracts more reader queries than anything else on this site. Folk are always sending in photos of their ancestors in the hope that I can help work out which unit they served with. In a surprising number of cases, the answer turns out to the Glasgow Highlanders. Though sometimes, I’ve come close to giving the wrong answer. The Glasgow Highlanders were part of the Highland Light Infantry, in the First World War, they were the HLI’s 9th Battalion, but their uniform was modelled on the Black Watch. I was about to get back to someone to say the photo they had sent in was entirely consistent with a Company Sergeant Major in the Black Watch when I looked a second photo. It showed not the CSM, but his best friend, who was killed in action. The friend was wearing what looked like a Black Watch kilt and a Tam o’ Shanter. It was the headgear that gave the game away. The Black Watch wore red hackles in their Tam o’Shanters. This guy had a badge and the Glasgow Highlanders wore a badge. My hunch that the CSM was a Glasgow Highlander panned out. It was even possible, because he won the Military Medal, to come up with his army number. A Second World War photo showed what looked like a Black Watch kiltie with the lion rampant shoulder flash of 15th Scottish Division on his upper sleeve. The thing is that the Black Watch did not have a battalion serving with the Division. But one of the two Glasgow Highlander battalions in the war was part of the division. The guy in the photo proved to be one of the large number of Englishmen who served in kilted regiments in both World Wars. So, anyway, if the First World War photo shows suggests the Black Watch but the soldier has a badge rather than a hackle on his Tam o'Shanter, then possibly he's a Glasgow Highlander. Oddly, I've never had a query that involved the Royal Scots' "Dandy" Ninth Battalion, which also wore kilts during the First World War.
British soldiers love to complain about not being properly equipped. They buy mail order equipment to replace the gear Her Majesty has issued to them. They swap stuff for foreign-issued kit. As I was once told, the time to worry is when they aren’t bitchin’. However, sometimes they have a point. Who would send soldiers to help with flood relief without giving them wellies or waders? Sadly, the answer seems to be the British Army. Or, more particularly, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Many of the ill-equipped squaddies found themselves relegated to the role of spectators as villagers of Waysbury basically dealt with the flood themselves. Other soldiers plunged into the water in their army boots. That can’t be good for the boots and it might have been cheaper to stop off at a mega-market somewhere between Tidworth camp and Waysbury to buy some wellies. Full marks to the Fusiliers for can-do attitude. Not so full marks for everything else. Can-do attitude only gets people so far. The tools for the job are also an important component of success. And lets throw in a little application of grey matter. It could a good thing for the brains trust that put the Fusiliers' flood relief operation together that it seems possible in 2015 that for the first time in more than 40 years the British Army is not on active service somewhere in the world. Perhaps 2015 will allow the Army to catch its collective breath and take a hard look at itself. A much needed hard look.
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a king. This king had never had a real job but the people made him their ruler anyway. Oddly, in this country, far far away, a man could be the king even if most people did not want him to be. It was a democracy of the constitutional monarchy variety. But that’s not what this story is about. This king, who had never had a real job, thought that everything should belong to someone, particularly if that someone was a friend of his. But in this country they had something called a State Broadcaster. It didn’t belong to any one person. And the king didn’t think anything should belong to the State. But this State Broadcaster was a national institution. The king had a problem. His friends in the privately owned media said it wasn’t fair that they had to compete with this State Broadcaster and still make a profit. The king hit on a brilliant idea. He would appoint an idiot to run the State Broadcaster. Like attracts Like and an idiot is bound to appoint other idiots. Soon the State Broadcaster would be filled with idiots. Eventually, the programming would become so awful that no-one would care that the king was effectively killing off the State Broadcaster using the old death-by-a-thousand cuts ploy. Before long, due to an infestation of idiots and budget cuts, the programmes were so terrible that some people even rejoiced at the thought that soon they would no longer have to pay for the State Broadcaster. And that Children is why some people call a television set "The Idiot Box".