- 'The Army Isn't All Work': Physical Culture and the Evolution of the British Army, 1860-1920 by James D. Campbell
Following up on other recent scholarship about the role of athletics and physical training in the Imperial British Army, James D. Campbell argues that one factor in the increasing professionalism and competence in the post-Boer War military was command's insistence on a physical fitness program for both officers and other ranks. In Campbell's view, physical fitness training and sports created a strong, cohesive military that was able to withstand the first years of World War I and incorporate new troops as they arrived in France to replace the losses of 1914-1915. Furthermore, as Campbell makes clear, the British Army's spread throughout the Empire in the years before 1914 created a universal "sports culture" that persists to this day.
In his introduction Campbell argues that the famous effort by Captain Neville at the Somme in 1916 to encourage his troops to attack by kicking soccer balls toward the German line was not, as most historians view it, a last gasp of Victorian mores, but instead a reflection of the ways in which sport had become critical to establishing the common ideals and values between officers and other ranks that allowed for ultimate victory. How did this happen? Campbell shows how in the late nineteenth century officers brought public school culture to India and Africa by organizing a variety of games, including cricket, football (soccer), and polo, to demonstrate their own prowess and begin the process of inculcating common values in those they ruled. As Army reforms such as the abolition of flogging and the end of the purchase system took hold the conditions of enlisted men's lives improved. So did their training as new recruits, typically drawn from [End Page 492] urban Britain, came into service smaller, lighter, and less physically fit than their rural predecessors. Recognizing the need to "build up" those soldiers the Army Gymnastic Staff was established and set to work creating training programs that could be taken into the field. By the late 1870s physical fitness requirements had been augmented with sports programs at every level from company to regiment and beyond with governing bodies for those sports within the Army resembling new governing bodies for civilian sports (for example, the civilian Football Association and its counterpart the Army Football Association).
By 1908 the importance of physical training for recruits and seasoned soldiers led to the publication of a "comprehensive physical training manual" for the British Army, a development that would be followed in the United States with the publication of General Leonard Wood's 1914 physical training manual. The British manual encouraged less development of upper-body strength in favor of whole body fitness and, especially, significant aerobic exercise modeled on the Scandinavian Ling system. Meanwhile the Army's sports programs also grew in number and influence as reflected in the regimental publication of sports scores throughout the Empire.
According to Campbell, while there were many agencies for cultural diffusion in the Empire (such as Christian missionaries and businessmen), it was the Army and its sports program that exerted the greatest influence. Indeed, the Army intended through sport to make Imperial Subjects more "British" as they adopted ideas of fair play, "manliness," and following the rules from the games field.
By 1914 the Army's training program turned to "training for war." Soldiers trained on obstacle courses requiring them to negotiate a variety of obstructions such as they might find on a battlefield. Rigorous practice with weapons such as the rifle and the bayonet were also included. Indeed, the connection between sports and training for war began to be reflected in the language of both endeavors—as happened in the United States as well. With the beginning of the Great War the members of the Army Gymnastic Staff were called to their home units, but sports and physical...