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A General's Letters


tO 11 1 5 iSOH 07i Obtaining
His Commission *x *x <m <m

Cassell and Co7npa77y, Ltd

London, New Tork } Toronto and Melbourne






Enormous numbers of young officers have
joined our fighting ranks in the last two
and a half years and are still joining.
Owing to the improvisation of huge armies
for the purpose of this gigantic war for the
safeguarding of freedom, truth, honour,
and civilisation, training, which normally
takes years, has to be compressed into
a few months ; and owing to the paucity of
officers versed in the traditions of the
Service and lack of time, it is impossible
to provide the guidance for these young
fellows which is necessary if they are to
conduct themselves and carry out their
duties up to the high standard of officers
of our pre-war armies.

There is no doubt that there is a uni-
versal desire on the part of these officers
to do this, and my advice to them is to

vi Preface

read and study these excellent letters by
a General Officer, whose opinion is worth
having, and who has thereto set down
his carefully thought-out views formed in
the course of thirty-eight years' experience
devoted to the Service.

(Signed) H. S. Smith-Dorreen,

May 1st, 1917.

Note. The Author's profits will
be given to Military Charities


1. On Being Gazetted . . 1

2. On Joining the Battalion . 9

3. On Discipline . . .19

4. On National Discipline and

the Temptations of London 31

5. On Billets and Care of the

Men 43

6. On the Art of Command . 55

7. On Training .... 65

8. On Money .... 75

9. On What we are Fighting

Against .... 84

10. On What we are Fighting For 94

11. On Honours and Rewards . 103

12. On Facing Death . . .110

A General's Letters to
His Son


June 1st, 1916.
My dear Dick,

I see that you have been gazetted as
a Second Lieutenant to my old Regiment,
and you have my most sincere congratu-
lations and good wishes.

As it is impossible for me to see you,
I shall write to you from time to time
giving you advice, which will be written
less as from a father to a son than as from
a senior officer to a young one in whom
he takes an interest. In my letters I
shall try to avoid touching on religion and
kindred subjects, as this has always been
your mother's role, but you must not

A Generals Letters to His Son

think because I avoid them that I think
them of no consequence, for quite the
contrary is the case.

I was not as young as you are when I
joined, and in normal times you also would
have been a good deal older before you
donned the King's uniform ; but whatever
you may be in years you must remember
that henceforth it is up to you to acquit
yourself as a man. You have had the liberty
which accompanies man's estate given to
you somewhat suddenly, for it is not long
since you left school. I know that many
temptations will offer themselves to you,
for the hundred-and-one things in order
to do which you have longed to be a man
are now open to you ; but you must
always bear in mind that your time, your
brain, and your life are now no longer
your own, but the State's, which is in
urgent need of them, and I am sure that
you can be trusted not to abuse your
newly gained freedom.

In the British Service, contrary to
the custom obtaining in many countries,

On Being Gazetted

no actual oath of allegiance is taken,
but in granting you a commission the
Sovereign presupposes your allegiance and
devotion, and calls you his " trusty and
well beloved," and the possession of this
commission gives you the right to demand
to be treated as an officer and a gentle-
man. It is the admission to the knightly
caste. I believe that in our army of old
days the two lower commissioned ranks
were looked upon as the equivalent of
page and squire, whereas the Field Officer,
who wears spurs, was regarded as the
successor of the knight.

As you probably know, in India there
are four main castes : the Brahmins, or
priestly caste ; the Kshatriyas, or fight-
ing caste ; the Vaisyas, or trading caste ;
and the Sudras, who carry on the lower
trades and other such occupations; be-
sides which more than one-half of the
Hindu population are untouchables ; but
the only men besides the Brahmins who
are designated as twice born, and are
allowed to wear the sacred thread, are the

A General's Letters to His Son

fighting caste, which in Asia, as in Europe,
is the caste of knights and kings.

To go farther east is to come across
the Samurai with their elaborate code
of honour, or Bushido, which gives the
men of knightly caste certain privileges,
that, strange as some of them may
seem to us, are most highly prized. Until
the last fifty years, since which time the
size of the army has no longer permitted
it, officers in the German Army came
principally from the Adel, or nobility ;
and in Germany, until quite lately, the
only way for a gentleman not having
" von " before his name to obtain admis-
sion to Court was to become an officer,
which put him socially on equality with
the nobility.

I have touched on these points be-
cause I want you never to forget that in
joining the profession of arms you have
adopted a calling which in all parts of the
world, and from the earliest times, is
admitted to be amongst the' highest that
a man can enter ; and in adopting that

On Being Gazetted

calling, as a British officer, you further
have the knowledge, especially at the
present juncture, that you are doing so
with the express purpose of fighting in
the greatest of all wars on the side of
right and freedom, against the forces of
tyranny, injustice, and barbarism.

Should you want further incentives to
noble deeds you will find these in the
history of your Regiment, which you must
now feel entrusted to your safe keeping.
Until a few years ago the most cherished
of the regimental traditions were con-
nected with the names of Corunna, Bada-
joz, and Waterloo, which are emblazoned
on the Colours ; but deeds of the last
two years in which the new battalions of
the Regiment, as well as the old ones,
have taken part have equalled, if not
eclipsed, all that was done by our an-
cestors. And it is for you to see that
your brother and the hundreds of thou-
sands of others who gave their lives to
save disaster before the nation was pre-
pared, did not die in vain, and by devotion

A General's Letters to His Son

to duty in all its branches to do your
utmost to bring about a complete victory
for our cause.

Before the war it was the delight
of a certain section of our population
to regard the officer as a brainless,
swaggering, dissolute fellow who always
tried to avoid paying his debts. As a
matter of fact, the contrary was the case,
and, considering the size of the army,
there was no profession in the kingdom
which was more orderly in its behaviour,
while there was certainly none in which
the above vices were more severely dealt
with. Nevertheless, it was the custom
to pillory an officer for any apparent
breach of convention, without even giving
him the benefit of the doubt, or inquiring
into the real motive underlying his action ;
whereas, had he been a civilian, his con-
duct would have passed without comment.
Of those who were regimental officers at
the commencement of the war not many
are now left, and those that are left are
looked on as worth their weight in gold ;

On Being Gazetted

but when peace again reigns you must ex-
pect to hear soldiers taunted by politicians
for want of brains and by bureaucrats
for their poverty.

Were they as a class less scrupulous
they would more often avoid both these
indictments; but the wealth you seek
should be neither office nor riches, but
honour and your own self-esteem.

I know that you were always proud of
your grandmother's family motto, " Vir-
tutis gloria merces" and undoubtedly glory
and not riches is the proper reward of
valour ; but it is the consciousness of
having done your duty, rather than the
glory which accrues from it, that should
be your aim.

In conclusion, my advice to you is the
same that was given to me by my father
on his death-bed, namely, that if ever
you have two courses open to you and
are in doubt as to which of them you
should pursue, you should take Tthat
which you consider to be the most honour-
able, and that which is most thoroughly
b 7

A General's Letters to His Son

playing the game for your pals and for
your side, eliminating all idea of per-
sonal advantage.

I shall write to you again before you

Your affectionate father,

" X. Y. Z."



August 1st, 1916.
My dear Dick,

I hear that you have received orders
to join your Battalion. I remember dis-
tinctly the day on which I joined mine,
and my first day in the Mess.

Like most things we have to face, the
idea is much more terrible than the
actuality ; and to you, who have been
at a Public School, the ordeal ought not
to be so trying as to another who has not
had this advantage. You are sure to
find that you are kindly received as long
as you are modest in your behaviour, and
err on the side of diffidence rather than
on that of self-assertion.

I will tell you one or two stories, about
men who joined when I was a subaltern.

A General's Letters to His Son

One day a very carefully dressed young-
ster walked into the Mess with a self-
satisfied air. As several cadets had been
gazetted, and we did not know which of
them he was, the Senior Subaltern asked
him his name, to which he replied in a
rather la-de-da manner, *' My name is Ray-
mond Vere de Vere Grosvenor." The
Senior Subaltern said, " All right, we will
call you Buggins," and Buggins he was
called as long as ever he remained in the
Regiment, and although he eventually
turned out quite a good fellow, he had
not a very rosy time to begin with. I
also remember a nervous, callow young-
ster, whom we afterwards called " Boy "
Brown, joining in India. He had had a
very rough passage, was a bad sailor, and
two nights in the train had not freshened
him up. He was so shy and nervous
when he walked into the Mess that as
we one after the other shook hands with
him we could hardly help laughing in his

The next day there was a steeplechase

On yoining the Battalion

meeting, and a jockey was wanted for a
brute that nobody cared to ride, when
Boy Brown came up and shyly asked for
the mount, got the brute round the course,
and came in a good third. He was made
quite a hero of that night at Mess, and at
once became a favourite with us all.

In the years immediately preceding the
war a great deal was heard about " rag-
ging," and there is no doubt that the
means taken to teach young officers
manners were often reprehensible but,
take it all round, the education they
used to get from the Senior Subaltern
was excellent, and in many cases badly
needed. The Senior Subalterns were
hardly ever men who could be accused of
snobbery, and I have never known an
officer, promoted from the ranks, to have
had anything but a good reception, though
youngsters with swollen heads were always
put into their proper places.

You ask me how you should address
your senior officers. It is the custom of
the Service for all officers of the rank of

A General 's Letters to His Son

Captain or under to call one another
by their surnames without any prefix.
The Colonel you should always address
as " Colonel " or " Sir," and a young-
ster should also always address a Major
as " Major " or " Sir," unless he is especi-
ally told not to do so. I have lately
received several letters from officers, ad-
dressing me as " Dear Sir," instead of

" Dear General," or " Dear General Z "

if the writer did not know me well. Of
course, you know that you should reserve
the words " Dear Sir " for your busi-
ness letters.

In some regiments in the old army a
great deal of familiarity of address used
to be allowed in the Mess, but these were
regiments in which the discipline was
always above suspicion, and it is unlikely
in battalions of to-day, constituted as
they are mostly of officers who had not
joined when war commenced, that any
liberties in this respect would be wise.
On parade you should invariably address
your senior as "Sir."


On ^Joining the Battalion

You must endeavour to be on good
terms with everybody. It is only natural
that you will find that some spirits are
more kindred to you than others ; but
whenever you can do so by little acts
of kindness, try to ingratiate yourself with
all if this can be done without loss of
principle or self-respect.

Be very chary with your confidence, and
only give it to those of whom you feel
as certain as you can be that they are
worthy of it. Avoid making enemies,
especially of making them among men
who are likely to hit below the belt. It
is a true saying that we should choose
our enemies as carefully as we choose
our friends. A Bayard may be a more
formidable antagonist than a Hun, but
he is a pleasanter man to deal with, either
in peace or war, and you are placed at
a great disadvantage in having in your
antagonist one who will condescend to
means to which you cannot stoop.

Whatever the conduct of the enemy,
it should be no excuse for lowering your

A General's Letters to His Son

own standard. There is a good story,
which is also true, of one of our officers
in the North Sea, who, when a German
officer was brought on board after having
been rescued from drowning, entertained
him in his cabin, gave him a new rig-out,
and a good cigar. As a reward this dis-
ciple of Kultur spat in his face. When
he was asked what he did in return, he
only remarked, " Poor devil ! I pitied
him for being such an unmitigated cad,
but I suppose he was born like that,
and a leopard can't change his spots."
You are nonplussed in dealing with a
man who spits if you have been brought
up not to spit back.

There is a very necessary and hard-and-
fast rule that ladies' names should never
be mentioned in the Mess, and however
junior you may be, should you hear
officers transgressing this rule, you should
either call their attention to it or yourself
get up and go away.

Avoid extravagance, either with your
money, in your dress, or in anything else.

On yoining the Battalion

Remember that the best dressed man is
the one who you know is well dressed,
but whose clothes are so unnoticeable
that you cannot remember what he had
on; and you should have no ambition
to be known by the shape of your hat or
the colour of your tie.

There is no petty vice which is so
much disliked among men of the pro-
fession of arms as is meanness. Never
be led away by the idea that generosity
and extravagance are in any way akin.
I have known the man who would put
a "monkey" on a race, or lose a couple of
"ponies" on a game of poker, and who
would try to avoid giving the gamekeeper
the tip he had the right to expect, or
would under-pay his cabman if nobody
were looking. I have also known men
wallow in champagne, and refuse a " fiver "
to an old friend who had got down in
the world ; and I have, on the contrary,
known the man who would stint himself
the glass of port he liked so much after
dinner, in order either to keep a hunter

A Generals Letters to His Son

or to be able to tip the waiter. These
men killed two birds with one stone, for
they achieved their direct purpose, and
also by practising restraint strengthened
their characters.

I don't want you to think that I am
lecturing you, nor do I expect you will
avoid getting into scrapes any more than
I did. The four-year-old which never
has any will of its own seldom turns out
a really good hunter, and the puppy
which never runs wild seldom becomes a
first-class dog ; so with the human sub-
ject, the young must have their fling,
and this in ordinary times must be for-
given as long as a man never does any-
thing that is ungentlemanly.

In the old days a good deal used to be
drunk in the Mess, and I can recollect
big guest nights when chargers were
brought into the dining-room and jumped
over the tables ; but those days have
gone for ever, and a good thing too,
though their memories are associated with
some of the best of fellows who were,

On Joining the Battalion

however, the best of fellows in spite of,
and not by reason of, such escapades.
Now it is considered bad form for an
officer to exceed in the least, even inside
the precincts of the Mess, and there can
be no doubt that the less a man drinks
the fitter he keeps. Alcohol does a little
good sometimes, and a great deal of harm
very often. If the whole nation were
moderate, no restrictions with regard to
its consumption would be advisable. As
a restorative on rare occasions there is
nothing like a pint of champagne, and
the tot of rum sometimes given to the
men in the trenches puts new vigour
into them ; but if taken as a daily ration,
alcohol loses its potency as a pick-me-up.
To put it in another way, I consider that
if the good that alcohol does is repre-
sented by the figure 5, the harm it does
is represented by 95 ; and this being so,
I very much regret that we did not follow
the Russian lead when they prohibited
the sale of vodka during the war. If I
thought that there were any chances of

A General's Letters to His Son

drink having much attraction for you, I
should urge you to become a teetotaller ;
but as things are I do not do this, though
I think that the less you drink the better,
and you will find that if you are very
abstemious in your habits there are sure
to be others in your Mess who are
equally so, and you will not be looked
on with suspicion as would have been
the case in the old days.

Always remember that you are joining
your Regiment during the greatest crisis
in which your country has ever found
itself, that it is your bounden duty to do
everything in your power to make your-
self a fit instrument in her service, and
that, in spite of what I said just now
about youngsters having their fling, this
is a period for work, and for work only.
Your affectionate father,

" X. Y. Z."



September 1st, 1916.
My dear Dick,

My subject in writing to you to-day
will be discipline as applied to the soldier
and his officer.

It is a word of which you will, no doubt,
have heard much, but it is also one the
importance of which absolutely cannot
be exaggerated. It is the moral force
which creates the essential difference be-
tween an army and a collection of men
with muskets. Without it genius, hardi-
hood, and endurance are wasted. It is
discipline which enables men to hold on
and stick it out when all seems up. It
was discipline which enabled our Expe-
ditionary Force to get back from Mons,
and it was discipline which enabled some
battalions to get back with comparatively

A General's Letters to His Son

no losses from stragglers, whilst others
lost many.

In a well-disciplined unit men find it
almost impossible not to obey the com-
mander's voice, however tired they may
be, or however terrible the order. They
thus work as one man.

When, during the Mutiny, the Resi-
dency at Lucknow was besieged by the
mutineers, their trenches were in some
places only forty or fifty yards from ours.
We know how brave some of the native
races of India are ; they outnumbered
us by twenty to one ; and if they had,
directed by a single leader, made a charge
on a large front, they could undoubtedly
have got in, but as they had no confidence
in their commanders, and no discipline,
the Residency held out until it was re-
lieved. Had the Boers had discipline on
Waggon Hill on January 6th, 1900, they
could have taken it ; but, fortunately for
us, they had not, and Ladysmith held
out. It is discipline which puts it within
the] power of the commander by sacrificing

On Discipline

part of his force to save the rest. Napoleon
used to say that the moral is to the physical
as three is to one, and among moral forces
none is for the soldier more important
than discipline. It is the force which
prevents a defeat being turned into a
rout, and which in the hour of victory
keeps troops under control. Discipline
gives confidence, and confidence gives
courage. In a disciplined company when
the Captain has given the word to advance,
the individual man obeys, certain that
whether he advances or not his comrades
on either side will do so, and whatever
his own feelings may be, he cannot but
obey. Having done so, and believing
himself a hero among a band of heroes,
he acquires the courage which comes
from discipline, and becomes a brave
man though he was not born one.

I have known the Germans intimately,
both in peace and in war, and am con-
vinced that individually they have nothing
like the fighting spirit and fearless cour-
age which is the birthright of the British


A General's Letters to His Son

race, but unfortunately for us they are
the most disciplined nation in the world,
and it is this quality which renders them
so formidable.

It is discipline which enables them to
out-dig us. Their men are not physically
stronger than ours, but by means of dis-
cipline their officers get much more work
out of them than we do out of our men,
as anybody will admit who has been in
a trench which the Germans have taken
on temporary loan from us and have
turned against us during the few hours
of their occupation. The atrocities which
the Germans have committed in Belgium,
and other parts of the world, must not
be attributed to lack of discipline, for
had the authorities wished to stop these
atrocities they could have done so. The
outrages have been committed by the
order of high command, with the object
of terrorising inhabitants, and have not
been due to lax discipline. A German
is disciplined from the time he leaves
his cradle.


On Discipline

The words which you see written up
more often than any others in Germany
are " Es ist strengstens verboten " ("It is
strictly forbidden "). It is forbidden to
do so much that, as a friend once remarked
to me, it would be much simpler to write
up once for all, "It is forbidden to do
anything that you want to do." But,
however disagreeable all these imposed
restrictions may be, they decidedly tend
to make a disciplined people, which is
tractable and ready to submit its own
will to that of its leaders, and the German
soldier fears and implicitly obeys his officer
or non-commissioned officer, whoever he
may be. In absolute contradistinction to
this is the discipline exercised by British
officers over our Indian and African troops,
which is the outcome of the officer's own

They love, respect, and obey Captain
Smith Sahib Bahadur, and accept his
decision or follow him anywhere on account
of their respect for and personal devotion
to him ; but if another captain, whom
c 23

A General's Letters to His Son

they do not know, be brought into the
company, the company suffers until the
men learn also to know and respect him.
In the British Army the discipline exer-
cised is something between these two
extremes. Your men will obey you be-
cause you are their officer, but you will
succeed in getting infinitely more out of
them if you can win their love and re-
spect. Let your Platoon always be your
first care. Put yourself in the position
of your men, and never ask them to do
what you would not yourself be ready to
do in like circumstances. Care for their
comfort, and remember the British soldier
is, as a rule, most extraordinarily impro-
vident. He has been in the habit of
having everything provided for him and
thought out for him. It is a great pity
that this is so, but at present you must
take it as a fact, and try to counteract
the consequences by your own forethought.
I think that the most marked differ-
ence between the old Regular and the
New Army officers is the care and know-

On Discipline

ledge of their men which the former

I remember once in South Africa seeing
a company of Colonial Mounted Infantry
who had been twenty-four hours without
food. The little wheeled transport which
the company had with it carried either
non-essentials or the officers' kit, and the
men hungered. Alongside it was a com-
pany of Regular Mounted Infantry with

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Online LibraryX Y ZA general's letters to his son on obtaining his commission → online text (page 1 of 5)