Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People C. 1870-2000

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The regimental system has been the foundation of the British army for three hundred years. This iconoclastic study shows how it was refashioned in the late nineteenth century, and how it was subsequently and repeatedly reinvented to suit the changing roles that were forced upon the army.

Based upon a combination of official papers, private papers and personal reminiscences, and upon research in the National Archives, regimental museums and collections, and other depositories, this book challenges the assumptions of both the exponents and detractors of the system. The author, David French, shows that there was not one, but several, regimental systems and he demonstrates that localized recruiting was usually a failure. Many regiments were never able to draw more than a small proportion of their recruits from their own districts. He shows that regimental loyalties were not a primordial force; regimental authorities had to create them and in the late nineteenth century they manufactured new traditions with gusto, whilst in both world wars regimental postings quickly broke down and regiments had to take recruits from wherever they could find them. French also argues that the notion that the British army was bad at fighting big battles because the regimental system created a parochial military culture is facile.

This is the first book to strip away the myths that have been deliberately manufactured to justify or to condemn the regimental system and to uncover the reality beneath them. It thus illuminates our understanding of the past while simultaneously throwing glaring new light on the still continuing debate over the place of the regimental system in the modern army today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An excellent book... Military Identities doubtless will be essential reading for scholars of the modern British army for decades to come."—S.P. MacKenzie, Twentieth-Century British History

"Indispensable for military historians."—Geoffrey Best, London Review of Books

"This book is important for today as an accurate and wide ranging archive and a pointer towards more radical reforms still required."—Michael Tillotson, The Times

"An exemplary study of the British Army in the Second World War...his book is meticulously scholarly."—Max Hastings, The Sunday Telegraph

"An excellent new study.... Professor French brings cool analysis to a subject that too often generates heat rather than light. He marshals a formidable array of evidence to argue his case."—BBC History Magazine

"An excellent history.... Like all the best histories, this book has much to tell us about how to do our business today. This is a splendid survey of British armies. David French has made a heroic attempt to cover the ground; he succeeds...because it is well-written and the subject is fascinating."—John Wilson, British Army Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199541058
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Frech is Professor of History at University College London

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Table of Contents

1. The Cardwell-Childers Reforms and the Re-creation of the Regimental System
2. Recruiting for the Regiments
3. Basic Training
4. The Construction of the Idea of 'the Regiment'
5. Barrack Life
6. The Leadership of the Regimental system: Officers and NCOs
7. Deviancy and Discipline in the Regimental System
8. The Auxiliary Regiments
9. Civilians and their Regiments
10. The Regimental System and the Battlefield
11. The Creation of the Post-Modern Regimental System, c.1945-1970

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