BOOK REVIEW – J. Baynes, Morale, a Study of Men and Courage, (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 1967 [Reprint 1987])

John Baynes’ book Morale explores the motivation and morale of officers and other ranks serving in the 2nd Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) during their involvement in the Battle of Nerve Chappelle in March 1915.

At the end of the battle, on the night of 14-15 March, the unit was commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Somervail and one senior NCO and they led one hundred 43 men back to their billets. Around 1,000 men entered the unit six days before.

Baynes’ wrote the book because in ‘all the mass of histories, studies, memoirs, biographies and novels which have been published about the First World War little has been done to investigate the most interesting field of all–the morale of the front-line soldier.’[1]

He argued that three key factors underpinned the morale of commissioned and enlisted men during the battle.

Firstly, regimental loyalty and pride united officers and men together to work collectively.

Secondly, the strong relationship inter-rank between officers and men built mutual confidence and goodwill between leader and the led. Officers commanded through courageous personal, performed their roles as ‘gentlemen’ and gave paternal care to their men. In exchange, their men gave them deference and followership.[2]

Finally, strong discipline underpinned relationships both imposed self-discipline and externally imposed discipline.[3]

The societal norms of the Edwardian society and traditions of the long service regular regimental system shaped the social norms and roles that in turn, molded inter-rank relationships.

Baynes accepts that there are limitations in his study in that it is narrow, examining a single pre-war battalion involved in one short action.[4] While it is narrow in its focus, it does go into considerable depth which gives a fascinating portrait of inter-rank relationships in the Edwardian army prior to the Great War. This book was revolutionary as it was probably the first serious attempt by a scholar to explore the morale and motivation of combatants during the Great War from the unit level.

[1] J. Baynes Morale, a Study of Men and Courage (London, 1967), p.3.

[2] Ibid., pp.180-198.

[3] Ibid., pp.253-254.

[4] Ibid., pp.7-9.