Notes for Visiting Generals

By "T2"
The Army Quarterly and Defence Journal, Vol. LXXXVI, April 1963 and July 1963

Note: For the benefit of foreign readers, and others unfamiliar with the British Army, it should be explained that the alleged preparations made by units for visiting senior officers are a time-honoured joke, and treated as such by all concerned—including the Generals.—Editor.

1.     You must realize from the outset that, to the Regimental Officer, there are only three types of General. If you point out faults as you see them, you will become known as a Surly Blighter. If you refrain from doing this, but write tactfully to the C.O. later, suggesting that he rectifies certain points, you will be typed as a Smiling So-and-So. If you fail to notice anything wrong at all you will be regarded as a Silly Old Fool. Assuming, therefore, that you feel capable of avoiding the last title, and have no wish to be credited with the second, you are stuck with being a Surly Blighter. This means that you must find something wrong to comment on. As it is considered unsporting to arrive without at least a week's warning, this may be difficult.

2.     The first essential is to upset the carefully arranged programme. It is not done to arrive early, but if you come ten minutes late and from an unexpected direction you will achieve the same result. You should provide yourself with a charming but apparently brainless A.D.C., whose map-reading can be blamed for the error. This will help the A.D.C. to ingratiate himself with the Adjutant who may well let slip what particular "horror" the unit is hoping to conceal. This information will enable you later to depart effectively from the programme without risk of making a fool of yourself.

3.     You are expected to inspect the Quarter Guard. Ignore any reference to "Guard found by 'B' Company." These will be the same men who greeted you on your last visit, and will greet you on your next. Indeed, with an all-Regular unit you may well wonder whether they ever change the guard at all. Make your A.D.C. keep a record of the questions you ask so that the same men don't get asked the same questions next time.

4.     You will next be invited to inspect the barracks. Assuming that your A.D.C. has so far failed to come up with any useful information, your only hope is to come upon some last-minute muddle. To this end you must neutralize the R.S.M., who will want to move about a hundred yards ahead of you to prevent these occurring. Perhaps the best answer is think up some complicated arrangements you wish your driver to carry out, and the C.O. will probably be led into detailing the R.S.M. to supervise them.

5.     During this inspection you will doubtless try out some awkward questions on the C.O. If he is baffled he will turn to the Adjutant and Q.M. for help. You should at once press home your questions if this happens, but only until the Q.M. joins in the discussion. No General has ever won an argument with a Q.M., and there is no reason why you should be the first. The Adjutant, however, is fair game.

6.     During the morning you will be shown some drill and PT. There will be no point in looking at either of these very carefully, as the W.Os. in charge will be thoroughly competent, and the whole display will have been rehearsed three times daily for at least a week. It might be worth while having a quick check on the number of Officers present, but if you decide to comment on their absence, beware of the riposte that they are engaged on garrison duties ordered by your staff.

7.     You will be taken to the dining-hall to see the men's meal. The food will be splendid, and no complaint could be reasonable. You should pick out the most disgruntled-looking soldier you can see, and tell him how lucky he is to be given such fine food. He should, particularly if the R.S.M. is still away, reply heatedly, "It's all right when the likes of you come round, but you should have seen this morning's breakfast." This will give you ample opportunity for lofty interrogation—you can be certain that neither the C.O. nor the Adjutant will know what there was for breakfast, let alone how it was cooked. (You may well doubt whether the disgruntled soldier was present that early either, but this doesn't matter.)

8.     The next stop will be the Sergeants' Mess. Try to make the C.O. introduce as many sergeants to you as possible; there is always a good chance that he will get into a momentary muddle over their names. Be careful, however, since at least one of them may have served with you as a L/Cpl. in the dim past!

9.     On the way to the Officers' Mess for lunch is a good time to suggest a fire practice, since all the ofiicers and N.C.Os. are away from the unit lines. If you do this, remember to stand next to the Q.M. The fire party's main aim will be to catch you in the hose jet, with the R.S.M. as second-best target. They wouldn't shrink from drenching the C.O. or Adjutant in the process, but will draw the line at risking the Q.M's. wrath.

10.     There will be no doubt at lunch that the repast spread for you is far above the standard of normal mess food, but any comment on this would be very Non-U. Just enjoy it and let them believe if they like that you think they always eat like this. Remember that their principal aim is to get you befuddled with alcohol and bonhomie before the afternoon, in the hope that the ancient custom of doing no harm to your hosts after eating their salt will apply. You wouldn't have got to your present rank without being able to cope with this situation, so you will doubtless just drink up, accept more and go on being a Surly Blighter. Incidentally, if you study the company commanders' faces, you will probably be able to spot where that "horror" you're looking for is concealed.

11.     There will no doubt be an intention to see some training. This again will be so well rehearsed that it will be almost impossible to spot errors. There are some possible lines of enquiry, however, which always pay a dividend, For example, everyone knows it is quite impossible to get across to soldiers what any exercise is supposed to be about. If you ask half a dozen in turn what they are doing you will be sure to get at least three different versions, thereby giving you ample opportunity for comments about the need for men to be "put in the picture."

12.     Most exercises these days are either "nuclear" or "conventional." Wait until it is half-way through, and then ask them to change over from one to the other. This is sure to flabbergast them and open the way to biting remarks on "lack of flexibility," "pre-conceived ideas," "one-track minds," etc.

13.     If vehicles are used, demand to see their complete loads. Unloading them will certainly throw the programme out of gear, and you will be sure to find them short of the proper equipment. If all else fails, check what the men are carrying. If a soldier carried everything he's meant to in the way of ammunition, grenades, picks, shovels, spare socks, mess tins, etc., he wouldn't be able to move at all, so you're certain to find something missing somewhere.

14.     When you've had enough, and the time comes to leave the barracks, walk slowly towards your car and wait for the C0 and Adjutant to relax. Then turn round quickly, demand to see the mobilization scheme and ask: "What do you do if mobilization is ordered NOW? Are you READY FOR WAR?"