Book Review: Command and Morale: The British Army on the Western Front 1914-1918


by Gary Sheffield

Barnsley: Pen & Sword Praetorian / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. Pp. xvi, 250 . Illus., notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 978-1-7815-9021-8

Leadership and Spirit in the BEF

For well over two decades Prof Sheffield (Wolverhampton) has been producing ground-breaking work on the Great War, sorting through the evidence to brush away the many myths which have come to dominate popular, and at time academic, perceptions of the conflict to give us a more accurate picture of that most traumatic event in modern Western history. Command and Morale gathers thirteen of his essays on particular aspects of the problem of command, officer recruitment, morale, and officer-enlisted relations, including regular troops, volunteers, conscripts, or Dominion. The essays are grouped under three broad categories. 

“Context ” looks at Britain and its empire at war. Essays include an overview of the British role in the war and an examination of the problems of coalition warfare. 

“Command” examines officer background, recruitment, experience, and performance before and during the war, with a focus on the character of the British Army.  There are essays on Douglas Haig and Hugh Cough, Australian troops at the Somme, the Canadians at Vimy Ridge, and a reflection on the importance of the BEF to victory in 1918.

“Morale” looks at the “spirit” of the BEF. After general discussion of the morale of the BEF through the war, there are essays on officer-enlisted relations, non-traditional forms of discipline, and more, including class-related problems of middle and even working class officers and the role of military police. 

Command and Morale is a very useful contribution to the literature on the BEF, which had by 1918 become the most effective force on the Western Front.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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