British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War  book cover
1st Edition

British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

ISBN 9780367599836
Published June 30, 2020 by Routledge
264 Pages

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Book Description

Recent studies of the British Army during the First World War have fundamentally overturned historical understandings of its strategy and tactics, yet the chain of command that linked the upper echelons of GHQ to the soldiers in the trenches remains poorly understood. In order to reconnect the lines of communication between the General Staff and the front line, this book examines the British army’s commanders at battalion level, via four key questions: (i) How and where resources were found from the small officer corps of 1914 to cope with the requirement for commanding officers (COs) in the expanding army; (ii) What was the quality of the men who rose to command; (iii) Beyond simple overall quality, exactly what qualities were perceived as making an effective CO; and (iv) To what extent a meritocracy developed in the British army by the Armistice. Based upon a prosopographical analysis of a database over 4,000 officers who commanded infantry battalions during the war, the book tackles one of the central historiographical issues pertaining to the war: the qualities of the senior British officer. In so doing it challenges lingering popular conceptions of callous incompetence, as well more scholarly criticism that has derided the senior British officer, but has done so without a data-driven perspective. Through his thorough statistical analysis Dr Peter Hodgkinson adds a valuable new perspective to the historical debate underway regarding the nature of British officers during the extraordinary expansion of the Army between 1914 and 1918, and the remarkable, yet often forgotten, British victories of The Hundred Days.

Table of Contents

Introduction; Old contemptibles; Dug-outs; Attrition and change in command; Evolution of command in the integrated army; Hiring and firing; ‘Men to be followed, feared and loved’; ‘Professional men of war’; The hundred days: meritocracy in command?; Conclusion; Bibliography; Indexes.

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Peter Hodgkinson is a Clinical Psychologist with a life-long interest in the First World War. He was one of the first graduates of the MA in British First World War Studies in 2006, and subsequently studied for a PhD in the Department of War Studies. He is the author a range of psychology articles and the book ’Coping with Catastrophe’ second edition (Routledge, 1998); and of ’Clearing the Dead’, in the online journal of the Birmingham University Centre for First World War Studies, Sept. 2007 Vol 3:1; and ’The Infantry Commanding Officers of the British Expeditionary Force of 1914’, in S. Jones ed. ’Stemming the Tide’, to be published by Helion (2013).


'This is an ambitious and rich study by Peter E. Hodgkinson, whose prosopographical analysis of the British army’s commanding officers (COs) addresses four central questions: Who were these men? How competent were they at their posts? What qualities made them good officers? And did the British army create a meritocracy by the end of the war? ...This is a remarkable piece of scholarship, a fine example of the Birmingham school of military history.' -  Geoffrey Hayes, University of Waterloo, H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online