Stemming the Tide, Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914, Edited by Spencer James, 2013
There was a general expectation that a successful commander would be fearless, but there was a clear distinction between courage and competence. A company commander could be strict in enforcing military discipline, but as long as he was never capricious or unfair, and in the discharge of all his duties was perceived to behave as a gentleman, he would usually gain the support and admiration of his men.
In his study of the 2nd Scottish Rifles John Baynes gives an excel1ent account of the officers' mess when the battalion was stationed in Malta in 1914. All unmarried officers lived in the officers' mess furnished, and operated, as much as possible, like a comfortable country house of the period. It had two principal rooms. The first was a large ante-room containing comfortable furniture, newspapers (even the odd book), games and other items of recreation such as a piano, as well as regimental trophies and photographs. The other space was a smaller, but an equally well-appointed dining room. Officers always wore formal dress for dinner.
In this world of their own making most battalions had their idiosyncratic rules and rituals. For example, in the mess of the 2nd Scottish Rifles, only Turkish cigarettes were smoked in the ante-room, and newly joined subalterns, in their first six months, cou1d not address a senior officer unless spoken to first. They also had to wait three years before they could stand on the hearth rug in front of the fire! Two ruIes that were common across most battalions were that a womans name might never be mentioned, nor could shop; or work, be discussed in the mess. This later rule is often cited as evidence for lack of professionalism and intellectualism, but Baynes, himself a serving officer when he wrote his book, suggests that it was an important corrective to the fact that for most of each day officers were immersed in their duties and banning shop in the mess made them discuss something else and thus ensured the area was reserved for relaxation. There was also the ever present danger of mess servants overhearing snippets of conversation, or even the name of an individual soldier, all of which they then could feed into the insatiable battalion rumour machine.
Within a battalion the morale, happiness, and military effectiveness depended upon many factors with the relationship between officers, and the soldiers they commanded recognised as one of the most important. There was a general expectation that a successful commander would be fearless, but there was a clear distinction between courage and competence. A company commander could be strict in enforcing military discipline, but as long as he was never capricious or unfair, and in the discharge of all his duties was perceived to behave as a gentleman, he would usually gain the support and admiration of his men. It was this trust that their officer will do the right thing that had the greatest influence of the behaviour of soldiers on and off the battlefield.
In the twelve years between the Boer War and the First World War the more adventurous young officers would apply to be seconded to colonial forces, mainly in Africa, where there was the possibility of adventure, or even a police action against recalcitrant natives. If they were fortunate enough to be in a battalion serving in India there was the possibility of action along the Afghan border or they could demonstrate their thirst for risk and adventure by gathering information, often in disguise, in the more hostile regions of the North-West Frontier, or indulge in a passion for game hunting, from tigers in lowland jungles to antelope on Himalayan heights.
Most officers carried their schoolboy enthusiasm for games, both individual and team, into the army and participated, with their men, in inter-company sports. Many would play in inter-regimental competitions, and a significant number played their chosen sport at a standard high enough to represent the Army, or play for one of the high-class civilian clubs. These sporting activities were not only to encourage, and sustain, physical fitness among officers and men. Officers consciously used inter-company, and inter-regimental, competitions, to inoculate in their men a competitive spirit, and a fierce pride in their unit, for it was widely recognised that the morale of infantry soldiers was intimately tied to strong regimental loyalties. Sport was fiercely competitive and physical fitness was taken very seriously. Baynes notes that company officers took pride in being genuinely fit and tough, and records a young officer of the 2nd Scottish Rifles who made a bet that he could ride a mile, run a mile, swim a mile and row a mile all within the space of one hour. He won his bet with seven minutes to spare.