The making of an officer in Wellington’s army
The following letter appeared in The Royal Military Chronicle in May 1812, and reminds us that the education of officers was a live subject at the time.
SIR, – IN your first lecture to the Gentlemen of the army, you have observed, that, from the want of any general school for military instruction in England, the officers enter the army without any military knowledge whatever; whereas in France they receive a course of military instruction, acquire a stock of knowledge, which, improved by one or two practical campaigns, completes them in the art of war, which I must perfectly agree in, and lament the truth of your observation.
A complete set of the Royal Military Chronicle
The writer continues….
Of late, military schools have been established in this country for the education of gentlemen intended for the army; but the plan of tuition therein practised cannot accomplish what we must suppose to be the object of such establishments, – to render gentlemen well informed, and masters in the art of war. The education they receive is confined to mathematics, fortification, drawing, writing, arithmetic, and geography. Are these points sufficient for an officer to be well versed in? Is not a general information of distinguished military characters, – their different modes of war, – their places in attack, defence and retreat, equally essential? Is not history also a topic they should be fully acquainted with, and topographical knowledge absolutely requisite?
Military Schools, conducted under plans which exclude branches of education and science the most requisite to expand the mind, and render the pupil acquainted with both men and manners, must be considered as highly imperfect. I admit that some benefit is derived from these; but where are the obstacles that prevent a thorough education from being afforded, and the gentlemen who emerge from these seminaries complete officers?
Frontispiece from “A Treatise on the Duty of Infantry Officers”, published 1806, an invaluable item for correct military instruction.
Innumerable veterans, and numbers of young British officers, do not possess the advantages of education. The want of it is the principal cause of the idle and dissipated lives many lead in the army. The military profession affords much leisure time to its members; and if an officer has not enjoyed the benefit of education, or had the advantages of reading and literary pursuits impressed on him, he is obliged to dispel the ennui, which almost continually exists in a vacant and ill-informed mind, by those frivolous employments, – those ridiculous attentions to dress, – and the amusements of debauchery and dissipation.
Most of our distinguished officers have either received or completed their education in foreign military academies. Amongst the most modern I may include Lord Wellington, Lord Hutchinson, and, I believe, General Graham. The consideration is somewhat painful to Englishmen, that, though the country produces most distinguished officers, it has obliged them to seek necessary instruction in foreign climes.
Military public Schools, conducted on systems of essential education are most necessary; they will not only bring into the field able commanders, but, if the admission into them is not guided by interest, &c. will cherish in the breasts of officers who may have sons an additional powerful tie to the profession, and increase the military ardour of the country.
Frontispiece from James’ “The Regimental Companion” with which every officer in Wellington’s army would have been familiar.
Before I conclude this letter, I cannot avoid stating, that the disapproval which the establishment of regimental libraries receives from some commanding officers, on the plea of the difficulties which would be incurred therefrom in the changing of quarters, are, in my opinion, deserving of censure. Which is the most desirable, – a large and expensive set of plate, or a useful regimental library? Every regiment can find conveyance for the former; few for the latter.
March 19, 1812
I shall follow this next month with an article on the origins of the Royal Military Academy.