COMRADES IN ARMS

Three Talks to Junior Officers or Officer Cadets to assist them in the handling of their men.

June, 1942

Lecture No. 1
The Officer and Man Relationship

Right relationship important to morale

A right relationship between you and your men is most important for the morale of your unit. After the last war, the Germans realized that they had failed in this respect, and, in building up their new army, they copied largely from the British Army methods.

To judge from the comments of two Americans who have seen something of the German Army in this war, they have been highly successful. It should, however, be noted that both the writers left Germany before the start of the Russian campaign. Joseph Harsch in his book "Pattern of Conquest" speaks of the very high morale of the German Army, and attributes it largely to the fine relationship between officers and men. The German officers' relationship to their men is, according to Mr. Harsch, both paternal and comradely. And William Shirer says in his "Berlin Diary":-

"The great gulf between officers and men is gone in this war. There is a sort of equalitarianism. I felt it from the first day I came in contact with the Army at the front. The German officer no longer represents - or at least is no longer conscious of representing - a class or caste. All the men in the ranks feel this. They feel like members of one great family."

It would almost seem that it was perhaps the turn of the British Army to do a bit of copying!

Nature of relationship

Before you start, however, to build up the right relationship between yourself and your men, you must, of course, know the kind of relationship you are aiming at. I should say that two things were essential, and several others desirable, where possible. The two essentials are mutual confidence and mutual respect-the men must have confidence in you, and you must have it in them, and you must respect each other.

But there is no earthly need for the relationship to stop there - in fact, it can't, unless you, as the officer, deliberately make it do so. And, if you do that, you are depriving yourself and your men of the very things that can bind you together most effectively. Between you and many of your men a real friendship is bound to grow, and sometimes there will be a little more than that. There is nothing sloppy or sentimental about such a relationship, nor should it be in any way bad for discipline. If you are a youngster, some of the older men will feel kind of paternal towards you and will want to look after you-and you, in your turn, will feel the same way towards some of your young soldiers. All perfectly natural and human, and excellent for morale.

And to some of your men, too, you will be a hero-whether you like the role or not-because most men in the ranks are natural hero worshippers, as you may have already learnt. They want, like most of us, the stimulus of a personal leader-someone whom they know and like to look up to, and admire. Possibly they are more critical than they used to be - but not much. They really ask for very little from us, and it is certainly up to every officer to try and fill the bill of a hero as well as he can, and to do his best not to fail his men in this respect through slackness or unworthiness.

But that does not mean, of course, that you should be thinking of yourself as a hero all the time. I have only told you this because if you are going to lead men, you must understand what they expect and want of you. To you it should be your men who will be heroes, unless you are very unlucky with your unit, or very blind!

So much, then, for the relationship you have got to try to build up. Now I want to give you some practical suggestions about how to do it, with just two important reminders first of all.

1.     No seeking of popularity or relaxing of discipline

There must be no seeking of popularity in all this, nor relaxing of discipline - both are fatal, and also quite unnecessary, because the carrying out of these suggestions in the right spirit will undoubtedly enable you to demand and get more from your men in every way without resort to either of these errors.

2.     You must be efficient

You must be efficient at your job. Unless you are, the men will not be able to have confidence in you or to respect you, and, as I have already said, these are the two essentials of the officer-man relationship.

3.     Now for the suggestions:-

i.     Give them a sense of unity

Give your men a sense of unity with you by getting them to feel that you and they are part of the same show - which, of course, has got to be a good show, and something worth belonging to. You can do this in several ways.

(a)     When you talk to your men say "we" and not "you," wherever possible. If you are explaining a job of work to your platoon, say "This is what we've got to do," and not "This is what you've got to do."

And, too, when you're passing on some rocket, say "The company commander says we're a dirty platoon," and not "The company commander says you are a dirty platoon." Incidentally, it is usually quite fair, too, that you should take a part of the blame, because their faults must be partly your fault.

(b)     Identify yourself with the men in every way you can, both in your mind and in your speech. Do not think of the men as a tribe apart. Although you are their leader, you are also a ,part of them. You can no more function without them than they can without you; you are interdependent. They are to you "my men," and not "the men," just as you should be "our officer," not "the officer" to them. You and they must see yourselves as a team all the time.

(c)     Do not let men grouse about "the army" as if it was something they can criticize freely because it has nothing to do with them. It is far healthier for them that they should see themselves as part of the army, and resent criticism of it, and should realize that they have a responsibility towards it. Certain sections of the Press have, unfortunately, rather encouraged soldiers to express criticism of the army, without probably realizing the harm they were doing. Of course, we all have plenty of grouses, but let's keep them in the family, so far as possible.

Be particularly careful not to air some pet grievance of your own in front of the men, and so start them off on a grouse of which they might never have thought but for your words.

ii.     Put the men's interests first.

Put the men's interests and the men's welfare first, and let the men really feel that you are doing so.

Unfortunately, many men seem to get the impression that their officers think that "looking after the men" is rather a bore and a nuisance, and that the officers do it as rather an unpleasant duty, which they skimp if they can. Naturally, the men resent this attitude; it's not their fault that, uprooted by the war, they are in a new kind of life, which makes them dependent on the goodwill of their officers for many things. But it is the very fact that they are dependent on you that gives you your chance to show that you do care for them, and their welfare, more than for any of your own interests and pleasures, and that your care and interest is genuine, and not just something done as a duty. It does not take the private soldier long to spot the difference between the two things. Even in an ordinary every-day matter like going round meals, there is a heap of difference, obvious to the soldier's eye, between the "any complaints" brand of officer, and the genuine article who wants to know if everything is as good as possible, and who, if it is not, will not rest till he has done all he can to make it so. But don't fuss over them, of course; they dislike that.

iii.    Explain things to them

Whenever possible, tell the men about things, and explain the reason for orders, and so on.

It is usual to do this on training-and very necessary, of course - if you want to get the men's full co-operation; but it is every bit as necessary in other matters, and far less often done. For instance, an order is issued forbidding leave for soldiers on certain days. It certainly will not be a popular order, but, if the reasons for it - and there always are good reasons - are explained at once, there will be very little discontent or grousing. British soldiers are really very reasonable beings. Tell them why a thing is necessary, and they will take it, and, what is more important, they will gain confidence in you, and in the army.

All irksome restrictions should always be explained at once to men especially those to do with leave - and so should any matters affecting their pay.

iv.     Do things with them

Do things with your men. Not just the nice things like playing games with them, though that is very important but the unpleasant ones, too. Some of your men may, for instance, have to stay in camp at a weekend to do picket duty. There is no need, perhaps, for you to do this; you are free to go out and enjoy yourself if you want. But how much you will tighten the bond between you and them, and make them feel that you are their officer and that they are your men, if you do, nevertheless, stay in with them, and share the restriction and, perhaps, arrange some game to help them pass the time. Or there is a job of digging for half your men to do in the rain - while the other half are on an indoor job. Which party shall you join? Don't hesitate a minute - off with your coat and take a spade and get wet with the diggers. It's worth it every time.

Another opportunity of sharing with your men is at meals on field training. Have your food from the same cooker, and share with them the same delays and the same inconveniences, though I do not mean that you should actually sit down with them.

Occasions like these are the opportunities that a good officer seizes, and the others miss. To those who seize them, they bring rich dividends. Hardships shared together, as many of you must know already, create a bond of friendship and fellow-feeling and mutual understanding.

Opportunities and occasions are far more numerous on active service than "at home," of course, but even then it is always the spirit in which the little things are done that counts even more than the actual doing of them-and the men know.

v.     Be their champion

Be your men's champion. They will probably need your protection most in the matter of fatigues, since there are always, as you know, a lot of people in search of victims for a little bit of extra work in off-parade hours!

See that your men do their fair share yet are not imposed on. At the same time let them understand that getting on with the job and doing it properly is far more important than bothering about whether they are doing more work than someone else. They must learn to trust you to see that they get fair play and must not waste time bothering about the matter themselves. If they've got to do some unpleasant fatigue, don't forget that it is your duty to encourage them to make the best possible job of it. You should not just leave them to get on with it on their own.

There are many other little ways, too, in which you can let the men see that you are their champion. I heard of an example from a young officer quite recently. He told me that he had been put in charge of a rather difficult lot of middle-aged miners, with whom he did not seem able to do very much. They were very awkward at their drill, and none too willing, until one day he happened to order away a group of lads, who were standing by the edge of the parade ground and grinning at the miners' clumsy efforts. From that moment the attitude of the men towards him changed completely, and, with that change, the drill also improved. They seemed, he said, really to want to please him.

And I am quite sure that is exactly what the men did want to do.

Men always appreciate an officer who takes their part, and respects their feelings.

vi.     Know their names

Know your men's names. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this. The more the men feel that you are their leader, the more they will want you to know their names, and be I hurt if you do not. If you have not got a good memory for faces,and cannot cultivate one, you may have to use all sorts of tricks and tact to hide the fact-but it will pay you to do so. Actually I believe that the officer who is really interested in his men personally will find very little difficulty in remembering their names: it's lack of interest, more than bad memory, that is usually the fault in my experience.

vii.     Make the salute a greeting between comrades

Make the salute a greeting between comrades. Always return it properly and never in an off-hand manner. Be especially punctilious in this respect if a soldier is walking with his girl; and, when off parade, add a "Good morning." or, better still, "Good morning, Jones." There is quite a lot you can do, just with a salute, to make a man feel that you are his comrade as well as his officer. It is as well to make sure that your men realize that the salute is a greeting between soldiers, who, in lifting their hand, raise the visor of their helmet so that they can be recognized as a friend. A lot of men have the wrong and harmful idea that they salute an officer to show that he is their superior - and not unnaturally they get a little tired of doing that at times.

viii.     Be friendly without being familiar

Be friendly with the men without being familiar. That is a lot easier to say than to do, and I think that this is one of the hardest problems that a young officer has to solve. Just how far can he go with his men? On the one hand, he must do nothing that will weaken his discipline with them, and, on the other, he must get near enough to them to give them that sense of unity with him, of which I've spoken, and to know their minds.

It is really an individual matter that all officers must solve for themselves; the answer depends on your personality, your experience, and the conditions of the moment. Some men have the gift of being able to be very friendly with their men without for a moment allowing any familiarity; others just cannot do it, and so it's no use their trying, although experience will help them. They will have to work more through their N.C.Os. to know about their men, and, of course, that often does very well when the N.C.Os. are good.

And then there are times on active service when you will be living so close to your men that you will have to erect a few barriers in order to keep your -position; and other times, at home or in some base camp or on hoard ship, when you will have to make a real effort to get nearer your men by removing a few barriers. In fact, it all depends, as they say, and that's about all there is to say about this point!

The officer and N.C.O. relationship

Finally, I want to say a few words about your relationship with your N.C.Os., to which I referred a minute ago.

This matter is all-important. It is the N.C.O. directly under you, your sergeant or corporal, who matters most. He is the man who should not only see to the carrying out of your orders, and your wishes, but who acts as a kind of interpreter between you and the men. Being nearer the men than you, he both is able to tell the men about you, and to tell you about the men.

If he is good and loyal to you, his value is beyond price; if he is bad, you must either alter him or get rid of him, because, so long as he is there, he will spoil all your efforts with the men, however hard you try. Of course, there are degrees of badness, and with the milder kind you may have to Put up with for a time; but there are three types of N.C.Os. who should never be allowed to retain their stripes, once you have found them out. I am afraid some still exist. They are:-

i.       The bully - particularly if he has a foul tongue.

ii.      The petty tyrant, who loves imposing restrictions to show his power.

iii.     The double-faced man, who is all show and shout when you are present, and is slack and familiar with the men behind your back.

Until you have got good N.C.Os. you cannot have a good unit. When you have got them, give them your confidence and your support, and work things through them and with them in all you do. It is the only way - and it is the right one.

If you carry out those ideas I have given you, I am perfectly certain that you will get a fine response from your men.

It is tremendously important that we should get in the British Army the very best possible relationship between officers and men, when we remember some of the handicaps to morale under which we as officers are working, when compared with our enemies. In Germany, as you know, the German soldier is the important person; he gets the best of everything and the civilian gets what he can after that; and, of course, the same is even more true of the position of the German soldier in the occupied countries. It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that, except perhaps with regard to food, we are carrying out an almost opposite policy, and that whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter, it does make our task of building up morale far harder.

Nor are our men inspired with that fanatical spirit which carries the Nazis forward, and makes the Japanese think it glorious to die on the field of battle. I do not think that that fanatical spirit is part of the British make-up, so we must compensate for it in other ways if we are going to be - as we shall be - masters of our enemies.

And perhaps the most valuable way of all is to build up a relationship that will link officers and men together in a bond that will not only stand the hardest tests of war, but will be strengthened by them. My knowledge of, and faith in, the British character makes me absolutely sure that we have it in us to achieve this aim, and far better than our enemies can ever hope for, if we really try our hardest in the right way. There is nothing, as our history has so often finely proved, that the British soldier will not dare and endure, when properly led.

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