A magisterial new history of the British soldier – a man famously described by the Duke of Wellington as ‘the scum of the earth’. From battlefield to barrack-room, this book is stuffed to the brim with anecdotes and stories of soldiers from the army of Charles II, through Empire and two World Wars to modern times.
The British soldier forms a core component of British history. In this scholarly but gossipy book, Richard Holmes presents a rich social history of the man (and now more frequently woman) who have been at the heart of his writing for decades.
Technological, political and social changes have all made their mark on the development of warfare, but have the attitudes of the soldier shifted as much we might think?
For Holmes, the soldier is part of a unique tribe – and the qualities of loyalty and heroism have continued to grow amongst these men. And while today the army constitutes the smallest proportion of the population since the first decade of its existence (regular soldiers make up just 0.087%), the social organisation of the men has hardly changed; the major combat arms, infantry, cavalry and artillery, have retained much of the forms that men who fought at Blenheim, Waterloo and the Somme would readily grasp.
Regiments remain an enduring feature of the army and Lieutenant Colonels have lost nothing of their importance in military hierarchy; the death of Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe in Afghanistan in 2009 shows just how high the risks are that these men continue to face.
Filled to the brim with stories from all over the world and spanning across history, this magisterial book conveys how soldiers from as far back as the seventeenth century and soldiers today are united by their common experiences.
Richard Holmes died suddenly, soon after completing this book. It is his last word on the British soldier – about which he knew and wrote so much.