From "Regimental Tradition in the Infantry of the Line"
Pubished in the Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, Vol. XCVI, February to November 1951
By Major C.E. Hawes, Honorable Artillery Company (late 1st King George V's Own Gurkha Rifles)
Yet it is only human for one who is proud to belong to some perhaps ancient and honourable institution, be it a college, society, firm or regiment, to need some outlet for his pride: and this is often found to take the form of deprecatory references to a rival or neighbouring institution of the same sort. If it is admitted then that the British find pleasure, and perhaps even some moral profit, in their traditions, it seems likely that British soldiers too will tend to prize the military traditions they have inherited.
More particularly, the soldier's trade is a dangerous one, especially the infantry soldier's; any man who is to face danger and death must be in some way built up and fortified before he can be confident that he will not flinch from that stern assignment. Saints and martyrs have in themselves enough spiritual toughness and faith to be able to endure without human aid; but the ordinary man, it is suggested, needs to feel that he is one of a specially chosen and selected company, membership of which at once inspires him to the utmost of which he is capable and reassures him that his comrades too are of the same high quality. It may be further suggested that such a consciousness of belonging to a corps d'elite may be induced in four main ways:—
(i) By selection. Thus the commando raider or the airborne soldier knows that he and his fellows have passed a rigorous physical test and have emerged successfully from a period of intense and exacting training and testing. He is confident that having endured so much nothing can defeat them.
(ii) By obvious differentiation. This explains why the Royal Navy has no need to try and maintain "crew spirit (if that is the equivalent of regimental tradition): every rating knows that simply by being a seaman he is a different kind of person from a mere landsman, and, because he has mastered an element which the latter instinctively dreads, a superior one: and so are all "they that go down to the sea in ships" along with him.
(iii) By technical attainment. here again the Royal Navy scores, and so do the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Royal Engineers to both of whom still accrues the prestige due to a "scientific corps": every gunner and sapper knows that he is a skilled man to whom, as to his companions, delicate instruments and weapons of precision are entrusted.
(iv) By membership in an organization which has its own strongly marked and characteristic habits, standards, codes of behaviour, even a distinctive dress, in a word, its traditions, in which the individual can share and take pride.
It follows that while those in any of the first three classes often enjoy the advantages of the fourth as well (a member of the King's Troop, R.H.A., is an example of a soldier who can be included in all four) the infantry soldier must depend entirely upon the fourth, for it is all that he can hope for. Whatever laudatory things important people can find to say, especially in war-time, about the infantryman, it must be admitted that he is what is left over when all the experts, scientists, and intellectuals have been taken away, and, while everyone else who is employed in the fighting Services is some sort of specialist, the infantry soldier is a Jack of All Trades if there ever was one: though he has certainly shown a remarkable aptitude for mastering them successfully.
It is for this reason that the infantryman, and particularly the infantry officer, sets far greater store by tradition than do members of the other arms; it is a sound instinct which makes him insist upon the differences which distinguish his regiment from others, even if he seems thereby to attribute undue importance to minutae of dress, drill or deportment. Upon precisely such details is founded conviction of the foot soldier that he is indeed one of the Elect.