Self-Training

(A lecture delivered to Permanent Force officers.)

Lieut.-Col. R.O. Alexander, D.S.O., p.s.c., The RCR
Canadian Defence Quarterly, Vol. XI, No. 3, April 1934

"Training and Manoeuvre Regulations" states that "the efficiency of an army depends on the efficiency of its leaders", and again, "an officer's first duty is to fit himself to become a capable leader in war, but it is almost of equal importance that he should be an efficient instructor in peace, for it is in the training given by him to his subordinates that the efficiency of the army depends."

Obviously then, the aim of every officer should be the efficiency of the army, which we can take to imply the efficiency of all organizations of our military forces. To attain this there are three objectives for the officer:—

(i)     To be a capable leader in war.

(ii)     To be an efficient instructor in peace.

(iii)     To be an all round efficient officer.

In all operations the attainment of one objective is largely dependent upon the attainment of another. So it is in this case. The attainment of (iii) includes (i) and (ii). The individual who has been instrumental in gaining an objective acquires personal success. It cannot be done without careful planning and preparation. It requires training and personal study.

In Canada it is necessary for an officer's education to be even broader than it is in the British Army for the reason that N.D.H.Q. has adopted a definite and announced policy that our Defence Forces are to play the rifle of co-operating and assisting in any way for which they are adapted in the civil development, scientific expansion and experimentation of the Dominion, e.g., signal development in the North, co-operation of R.C.A.F. in forest protection and development of civil aviation, unemployment relief schemes, etc.

It follows that Canadian officers must keep in close touch with projects for such development and evolution, e.g., reading publications such as the Reports of the Department of National Research, etc., etc. Remember you are the servant of the State and consequently of the public.

Leaders in War

It has been said that the basic ingredients of a leader are an elastic mind and a knowledge of human nature. One does not want to aim at being an intellectual bookworm, or only to be able to lead a charge, but to include the capacity for leadership with the knowledge attained by study. The first essential is to obtain a knowledge of and the sympathy of those under us. Learn to know human nature, the individualities and the difficulties of the men, tolerance with the views of others. The maintenance of the British idea of discipline based on mutual respect and comradeship. Always consider the care of the men. Look after their interests and comfort before thinking of your own. A great many unfortunate incidents in the Great War would have been avoided if this had always been done.

Develop a sense of loyalty in its truest and broadest form. Loyalty to the Service, your unit, those in it, to those above you and under you. An officer who criticizes the orders of his superiors is not loyal. It is an easy habit to get into: avoid it. If you disagree with an order which you receive put up your side of the case to your senior, but once having done so carry on as if his order is exactly what you wanted to do yourself. Henderson writes in his "Science of War":—"Without absolute obedience to the spirit as well as to the letter of the law; without a determination on the part of all to render loyal service and cordial support to every authority. however distasteful such a course may be; without the resolution to forego and to check criticism of the acts of superiors, skill and courage are of no avail." No words of mine could improve on that. It is really a question of team work, the sinking of self and the localized outlook of a unit, or a particular staff appointment for the broader outlook of the good of the whole Service.

Learn to make up your mind and give decisions.

All this will develop leadership.

Instructors in Peace

This requires ability to give a lecture and conduct a tactical exercise. To be a good instructor requires self-confidence. Self-confidence comes with knowledge, and knowledge comes with thorough preparation. Make a precis of what you propose to say or do. In some cases this might take the form of an "Appreciation". Arm yourself with notes from it (if you know your subject, headings should be sufficient) and don't be afraid to refer to them while instructing. Remember that you cannot impart knowledge without understanding the minds and difficulties of those you are instructing. Try to put life, imagination and your personality into your instruction. Don't be monotonous. Avoid formalism and dogmatism. Be practical.

Personal Efficiency

In the larger issue the objective is to become an efficient officer. For the individual this means his career, and naturally an officer while contributing to the efficiency of the Service hopes for personal success and to be able to rise to the top of his profession. Make this your intention. An efficient officer is rare. There are plenty of competent officers in the Service. There is a distinct difference between the two, and for the efficient officer there is a ladder to the top. One of your generation will be Chief of the General Staff one day. Prepare yourself to get there and map out your career accordingly. You might take the following milestones as a guide:—

1.     Become thoroughly familiar with the duties of a regimental officer.

This entails the practical duties of your rank, the manners and the customs of the Service, drill, a knowledge of tactics, interior economy, administration, regimental and mess discipline, a knowledge of men and weapons.

2.     Take every available course, such as signals, small arms, M.S.C.. etc.

Each one contributes its quota of knowledge and an understanding of the other man's problems. Take every advantage you can of seeing the various developments in other arms and being attached to other units.

3.     Take each promotion examination as soon as you are eligible and aim at a "D". [Before the creation of our now familiar grading system, the completion of military courses was marked with a Pass ("P"), or a Distinguished Pass ("D"). - TRR]

Don't be satisfied with just getting through. The value of examinations is often debated but they give a definite standard to work for. There is a distinct advantage in being asked to commit oneself to a definite course of action.

4.     Decide now that you intend to go up for the Staff College as soon as you are eligible.

Major-General Sir Charles Gwynn, in an article in the R.U.S.I. Journal for August, 1931, writes:—"The staff is no longer merely a channel by which the orders of the commander are conveyed, although that is still a primary part of staff functions. It is rather a body of subordinate managers controlling the work of different departments in the establishment in accordance with the policy of higher authority. The different branches of the staff deal with different sets of duties, but the officers of the staff must be interchangeable between its various branches which are, moreover, intimately connected in their work. It is essential, therefore, that the staff officer's study should cover the widest field, consequently officers of the staff must study war in its widest sense from an early stage of their training."

This entails a broad basis in the study of war and all that is affected by it. To acquire an all round grasp entails years of study and a variety of practical experience. It cannot be deferred to the later stages of an officer's career. A useful guide for studying for the Staff College is Lieutenant-Colonel Dening's "The Staff College Examination and Lecture Series".

5.     The Imperial Defence College.

It is true that this is in a somewhat different category to the Staff College, as candidates are selected without having to pass an examination, but aim at being in a position to take full advantage of the course if you are selected.

Programme of Work

Don't wait until examinations are imminent and don't leave studying for the future. Commence now and keep it up. At times it will naturally be more intensive, but get the habit. Lay down a definite programme of private study. The most suitable time for this is in the winter. Don't do it for just a week or two but for the whole winter. Draw up a programme and allot hours to the different subjects. A good guide is a minimum of an hour a day for a certain number of days in the week. A good time is before dinner: it is usually a dead time of the day and doesn't interfere with the day or the evening. When studying don't sit in an easy chair and don't have your room too hot. Sit up at a table with a pencil and paper. Your programme of work could include the following:—

(i)     Field Service Regulations and Manuals.

Study one form of operation at a time, read the portion of F.S.R. and the training manual of each of the different arms dealing with that particular form of operation. Try to visualize the operation and apply it to your own experience.

For example:—

Rear guard.

(ii)     Study the administrative side both of the Service and the civilian aspects.

The important part "Q" plays in war is not always realized. The success of many wars has been due to good administration and without it a war cannot be successful.

(iii)     Tactical Training.

Obtain a knowledge of your weapons. This is necessary in order to understand their tactical employment. Do tactical exercises, with or without troops, and sand table schemes. Work through old examination papers. Those set for the O.T.C. and for promotion examinations are both of value. After you have worked out your paper read the remarks in the report issued by the examiners. Get some senior officer to criticize your work. It is very good for him as well as for you.

Learn to have an eye for country. You will find it of immense value. For instance, as you sit in a train or a car and look out of the window look at the country from the point of view of tactical operations. Good tactical positions, cover, machine gun positions, lines of approach and so on. If you get. the habit of looking at country from this point of view you will be surprised how automatic it becomes.

(iv)     Military History.

Study at least one campaign during the winter. First read over a fairly short account of the campaign and get a general idea. Try and learn what you can of the men and weapons employed and the ground and weather conditions under which they worked. Study the human side and character and achievements of the leaders. After you have obtained a general idea of the campaign and have "got into the picture", make a more detailed study. A good tip is to pin a map of the theatre of operations on the wall of your dressing room and you will find that in course of time you will become very familiar with it. As you study stop at the commencement of different phases of the operations, put yourself in the position of the commander. Write out an appreciation of the situation from his point of view and decide upon your plan.

Don't just make a few notes but write out a fairly full appreciation and plan. After you have done this compare it with what was actually done. Analyze the reasons for the differences between the plans and the results that would have accrued had yours been put into force. Write down the lessons you learned in doing this and make deductions. Make notes of points which appear obscure. Come back to them afterwards and clear them up. Extract the underlying principles and their application.

It is necessary to select more than one book when studying a campaign. Don't disagree with the writer but don't accept anything without thinking a lot about. it. Each writer has his hero and his villain, his ideas of genius and stupidity. Leaven them all together and form your own judgment. Try and get the different points of view.

Read the personal biographies and reminiscences of different individuals. These are especially valuable if they are involved in the campaign you are studying. They give you an excellent insight and understanding of the human side of a campaign. You get the picture from personal accounts besides adding very greatly to the interest of the campaign.

Captain E. W. Sheppard's book on "Military History for the Staff College Entrance Examinations" gives a useful outline of several campaigns and suggestions for further study.

General Reading

Map out for yourself a general course of reading. Only read books which are well reviewed in responsible journals. Don't read sketchily. but read carefully and think a lot. Make notes while you read. Take time over it and concentrate on it. Passing examinations is largely a matter of concentration. If you are not taking in what you are reading, stop and go and take some exercise. Merely absorbing print is of no value. As you read stop, think and try to visualize "the picture". Like an actor rehearsing his part, try to absorb the atmosphere of the part being played in your book. Read in a wide field and extend your knowledge bit by bit. Read articles in the London Weekly Times, Army Quarterly, R.U.S.I. Journal. Canadian Defence Quarterly, and try to obtain a broad outlook on the problems of the day. of the Empire, international affairs. political problems.

The Round Table, The Nineteenth Century, The Quarterly Review, etc., all contain useful articles.

All you read won't remain in your mind but it is surprising how much unconsciously sticks and is stored away somewhere at the back. It builds up a reserve of knowledge and ideas.

Keep files for different subjects. Into them put your notes, also cuttings from papers and periodicals (not the Mess copies but your own) such as The Weekly Times, R.U.S.I. Journal, etc. In this way you will build up a sort of up to date reference library on different subjects.

Learn to be "mechanized-minded". Mechanization can be taken to embrace the whole field of scientific invention and its adaptation to war requirements. Don't become an extremist over it but weigh such inventions on the scales with the unchanging factors and be practical.

Writing

Putting your ideas on paper is one of the best ways of making you think clearly and logically. The M.S.C. precis on "How to write English for military purposes" is useful. Write essays on different subjects; answer examination papers which ask for the discussion of some question. Get the habit of appreciating every problem with which you are confronted and when possible write out your appreciation. Don't hesitate to give your work to a senior officer to be criticized. Read good English; it will help you to acquire good style. If you read a portion of a book or an article by some good author just prior to writing an essay you will find your own writing influenced by the style you have been reading.

Ability to Talk

To talk well is a distinct asset for an officer. Any plan of action to be successful needs the intelligent co-operation of all concerned. A well expressed and easily understood statement is most necessary. The divergent effects created by certain great generals on Cabinet Ministers in the Great War were due to the measure of the lucidity and facility with which they were able to express their views and this is an excellent object, lesson. Lecturing and stating your Views at conferences increases your powers of verbal exposition. The R.U.S.I. Journal for August, 1933, contains a most instructive article on "Public Speaking" by "Siluri."

Conclusion

Read Ch. II of "Training and Manoeuvre Regulations, 1923". You will find it of great value.

Your daily work must naturally have first claim on your time, but unless you look beyond the immediate present you will be unprepared for the opportunities which will arise in your life.

The Great War found many a P.F. officer thoroughly unprepared for his opportunities and he lost them.

The outstanding requirement of an officer is the ability to weigh up a situation and choose the right course of action. This requires knowledge and experience. Complete what is gained in your daily life by private study. This may seem to be the counsel of perfection. Perhaps it is, but if anything is worth doing it is worth doing well.

In addition to periodicals already mentioned the following books are suggested for general reading. These do not include books for a detailed study of any particular subject:—

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