British Army

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The British soldier is second to none in the communities of fighting men. Some may possess more élan, others may be better disciplined; but none excels him in all-round character. ~ Bernard Montgomery

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of the British Armed Forces along with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. As of 2021, the British Army comprises 82,230 regular full-time personnel and 30,030 reserve personnel.

You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, and your patience. ~ Herbert Kitchener
Remember that the honor of the British Army depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to maintain the most friendly relations with those whom you are helping in this struggle…. Do your duty bravely. Fear God and honour the King. ~ Herbert Kitchener
D-day - British Forces during the Invasion of Normandy 6 June 1944 B5044
Row of Challenger 2 tanks at a firing range at British Army Training Unit Suffield in Canada
The Defence of Rorke's Drift

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  • No other troops in the world but German paratroops could have stood up to such an ordeal and then gone on fighting with such ferocity.
    • Harold Alexander, Quoted in Peter Caddick-Adams: "Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell" (Oxford University Press, 2013) p. 289.
  • When I was eighteen, I joined the British army for four years. I served in Egypt and the western desert: Palestinian [Jewish!] units were kept distant from combat zones. After that came a year in the Hagana [pre-State Israeli army], mainly smuggling arms. Such experience makes one wonder how someone like Reagan, who has never been under fire, can order others to fight and shoot. It's crazy! Immoral!
    • Yehuda Amichai 1984 interview in We Are All Close: Conversations with Israeli Writers by Haim Chertok (1989)
  • I returned last week...from visiting the Italian front. I was up with the Eighth Army, that Army which will always seem to me to epitomize the unity of our Commonwealth and Empire. I saw there in Italy Canadians, South Africans, and New Zealanders. I recalled talking with General Alexander the great deeds of the Australians. As I saw our lads from all our countries so fine and gallant, I was thrilled with pride.
    • Clement Attlee, speech to the conference of representatives of the British and Dominion Labour parties in Westminster, London (12 September 1944), quoted in The Times (13 September 1944), p. 8


  • We have in this country five or six generals, members of other nations, Czechs, Poles and French, all of them trained in the use of these German weapons and this German technique. I know it is hurtful to our pride, but would it not be possible to put some of those men temporarily in charge in the field, until we can produce trained men of our own? ... [Y]ou have to purge the Army at the top. It will have to be a drastic purge, because the spirit of the British Army has to be regained.
  • The Prime Minister must realise that in this country there is a taunt, on everyone's lips, that if Rommel had been in the British Army, he would still have been a sergeant.
  • So long as I have any power at all I will never be a party to treating the Army in the future as it has been treated in the past. They broke up in peace-time the very foundations of the Army structure, and expected to build it up during war-time with the enemy at the gates.


  • The first thing you notice about Mumbai is the first thing you notice about every place the British once occupied, which is how much of themselves they left there. The United States spent over a decade and trillions of dollars in Iraq, and the only physical evidence that remains is a concrete embassy compound, some airstrips, and a sea of steel shipping containers. Maybe because they never considered that they might leave, the British built entire cities out of stone, with railways to connect them. And they did it with reliably good taste. Too often lost in the hand-wringing over the evils of colonialism is the aesthetic contribution of the British Empire. The Brits tended to colonize beautiful places and make them prettier. Bermuda, New Zealand, Fiji, Cape Town—notice a theme? Style wasn’t an ancillary benefit; it was part of the point. Behind every Gurkha regiment marched a battalion of interior designers.
    • Tucker Carlson, “Tucker Carlson's Diary: The Aesthetic Merits of British Colonialism" The Spectator, March 3, 2016
  • I have not time to say more but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen, and let her know Her army has had a Glorious Victory.
  • If England had not resisted German militarism, in my view the German hegemony of Europe would have been established and our island would have had to face a united Continental army. It is the same old story from the days of Marlborough and Napoleon.
  • It seems a mad business to confront these dictators without weapons or military force, and at the same time try to tame and cow the spirit of our people with peace films, anti-recruiting propaganda and resistance to defence measures. Unless the free and law-respecting nations are prepared to organise, arm and combine, they are going to be smashed up. This is going to happen quite soon. But I believe we still have a year to combine and marshal superior forces in defence of the League and its Covenant.
    • Winston Churchill, Letter to Robert Cecil (9 April 1936), quoted in Martin Gilbert, Prophet of Truth: Winston S. Churchill, 1922–1939 (1976), p. 722






  • Perhaps England's fundamental error [in the American Revolution] was its inability to implement an unambiguous strategy early in the war. Although most authorities believed the rebellion could be crushed by brute force, some questioned the expediency of ramming Parliamentary supremacy down the colonists' throats. Unable to form a consensus on this question, England wavered between coercion and conciliation, vacillating between a punitive war to impose peace and an attempt to negotiate a settlement through appeasement. Unclear about its objectives, Britain inspired neither fear nor affection in the colonies.
    • For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States From 1607 to 2012, p. 49
  • Finally, England had no William Pitt to rally the population and direct the war effort. The two men most responsible for conducting the war were Prime Minister Sir Frederick North and Lord George Germain, the secretary of state for the American colonies. Neither possessed a charismatic personality or an abundance for wisdom. As for the generals, no one would mistake any of them for another Frederick the Great, or, for that matter, George Washington. A series of cautious and weak commanders plagued British strategy. The odds against the colonists were not as great as they appeared. Britain's difficulties in projecting military power into the colonies offset America's obvious deficiencies. The war began as a balance of military weakness, ensuring a long conflict despite optimistic expectations by both sides that the war would be short.
    • For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States From 1607 to 2012, p. 49-50


  • Earl Grey rose, and said, that the motion of the noble lord had his most entire and full assent... [H]e could not sit silent on the occasion, impressed as he was with feelings of gratitude and admiration towards that great commander who was the subject of this vote, and deriving a just national pride from the consideration, that the honour of the country had been so greatly exalted by the conduct of that distinguished general and his brave army... [T]he apparent contrast, or contradiction, as some might call it, between the sentiments which he had now delivered, and the opinions which he had expressed on former occasions... [U]pon the whole it appeared manifest, that by the most exemplary and patient perseverance under unfavourable circumstances, and at the moment of action by the skilful combination of force and the most determined courage, a great success had been achieved, and as much honour done to the British army as any victory could have accomplished.
  • The British army should be a projectile to be fired by the British navy.
    • Viscount Grey. Quoted by Lord Fisher, in Memories, as "the splendid words of Sir Edward Grey".


  • Surely we had got beyond that stage of civilisation as represented by war and the age of barbarism. What was the deduction from Mr. Haldane's observations? That the mass of the people in the industrial army corresponded to the rank and file in the military Army were to have no opinions, no individuality, no will of their own, no right to think, and no power to act, that they were to be obedient and in subjection to those placed in power and authority over them. That kind of dogma might do for the military feudalism of Germany, but it was alien and contrary to the freedom-loving spirit of Scotland, which inspired the poems of Robert Burns.
    • Keir Hardie, Speech in the town hall of Darvel, Ayrshire (12 January 1907), quoted in The Times (14 January 1907), p. 11


  • With that in mind, the partners to the Treaty have pledged themselves to develop their individual and collective capacity - I repeat collective capacity - to resist armed attack. True to that pledge, every single member of the Alliance has spent progressively more money on defence each year since the Treaty was signed. Powerful American, Canadian and United Kingdom forces are already on the Continent, standing on guard alongside their European allies. But let there be no mistake about our purpose. The military strength at which we aim is the barest minimum for defence. Their neither is, nor ever will be, any margin whatsoever for aggression of any kind on our part. If it were otherwise, is it likely that a powerful peace-loving body like the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions would have solemnly pledged their determination - and here I quote - "to support the efforts of the free nations to strengthen their defences in order to stave off aggression."




  • You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, and your patience. Remember that the honor of the British Army depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to maintain the most friendly relations with those whom you are helping in this struggle…. Do your duty bravely. Fear God and honor the King.


  • At present one clear factor in the problem is that the offensive is as much at an advantage in the air as it is at a disadvantage on land. This comparison, in conjunction with our present deficiencies, has suggested that the offensive role of an expeditionary force might be entrusted to the Air Force. Apart from its greater promise of effect, it could be conducted from our own shores or from bases more easy to secure and more remote from the enemy than the zone an army requires; and it would avoid many of the complications involved, and evolving, when we land an army on the Continent. The Army could then be left to fulfil its Imperial garrison and police duties, with the possible addition of covering the oversea bases of our Expeditionary Air Force.
    • B. H. Liddell Hart, 'The Army To-Day', The Times (25 November 1935), p. 14, quoted in B. H. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol. I (1965), pp. 296-297
  • The new risks to such a force under modern military conditions have also to be weighed. The risks that were incurred in 1914, in landing a field force of 100,000 men in a foreign land, were much less than would be run to-day—when it may have greater distances to cover, and when both railways and roads will lie under the menace of air attack. Broken communications are bad enough when an army is in its own territory, or one where it has complete control. In face of air attack it is impossible to ignore the risk of a field force being stranded with no prospect either of reaching the front or of maintaining itself. In such a plight it could do little for the defence of British interests and it would be more nuisance than a help to any ally... Before the idea of intervention by land is accepted as politically indispensable, there should be full acknowledgement of its unstable military foundations. It should also be made clear to any nation looking to British aid, whether under the old Locarno Treaty or under its possible successor, first, that they may get more value from increased air assistance, which would naturally become effective sooner, in place of a field force; secondly, that the dispatch of a field force cannot imply a willingness to reinforce it without limit, and to expend the massed man-power of this nation, fully engaged as it must be by sea and and in the air, and in factory and farm, in another four years' process of exploring by trial and error a problem which can be, and could have been, examined scientifically.
    • B. H. Liddell Hart, 'The Army in War', The Times (3 November 1936), p. 17. His authorship is acknowledged in B. H. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol. I (1965), pp. 380-381
  • The British soldier is a good sportsman. He enlisted in this war in a sporting spirit—in the best sense of that term. He went in to see fair play to a small nation trampled upon by a bully. He is fighting for fair play. He has fought as a good sportsman. By the thousands he has died a good sportsman. He has never asked anything more than a sporting chance. He has not always had that. When he couldn't get it, he didn't quit. He played the game. He didn’t squeal, and he has certainly never asked anyone to squeal for him. Under the circumstances the British, now that the fortunes of the game have turned a bit, are not disposed to stop because of the squealing done by Germans or done for Germans by probably well-meaning but misguided sympathizers and humanitarians... During these months when it seemed the finish of the British Army might come quickly, Germany elected to make this a fight to a finish with England. The British soldier was ridiculed and held in contempt. Now we intend to see that Germany has her way. The fight must be to a finish—to a knock-out.
    • David Lloyd George, Interview with Roy Howard of the United Press of America (28 September 1916), quoted in The Times (29 September 1916), p. 7
  • There was no conspicuous officer in the Army who seemed to be better qualified for the Highest Command than Haig. That is to say, there was no outstanding General fit for so overwhelming a position as the command of a force five times as great as the largest army ever commanded by Napoleon, and many more times the size of any army led by Alexander, Hannibal or Caesar. I have no doubt these great men would have risen to the occasion, but such highly gifted men as the British Army possessed were consigned to the mud by orders of men superior in rank but inferior in capacity, who themselves kept at a safe distance from the slime which they had chosen as the terrain where their plans were to operate.


  • In November 2002, four months before the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair had his only meeting with independent British experts. “We all pretty much said the same thing,” said George Joffe, a Middle East specialist from Cambridge University. “Iraq is a very complicated country, there are tremendous intercommunal resentments, and don’t imagine you’ll be welcomed.” Blair did not appear interested in this analysis and focused instead on Saddam Hussein: “But the man’s uniquely evil, isn’t he?” The experts tried to explain that thirty years of Hussein’s dictatorship had ground down Iraq’s civil society to the point that there were virtually no independent organized forces to serve as allies for the coalition. Blair remained uninterested. The Foreign Office showed no more interest in taking advantage of their considerable knowledge and expertise. A little more than five years later, in January 2008, the U.K. Ministry of Defence issued a report that was severely critical of the way in which British soldiers were prepared to serve in Iraq. There had been, the report said, a lack of information about the context the soldiers would be operating in and uncertainty about how the Iraqis might react to an invasion. The military, the report went on, failed to anticipate differences between Iraq and the Balkans and Northern Ireland where British forces had gained a great deal of their recent experience. In other words, they had not looked at the history of Iraq.
  • If you're a leader, you don't push wet spaghetti, you pull it. The U.S. Army still has to learn that. The British understand it. Patton understood it. I always admired Patton. Oh, sure, the stupid bastard was crazy. He was insane. He thought he was living in the Dark Ages. Soldiers were peasants to him. I didn't like that attitude, but I certainly respected his theories and the techniques he used to get his men out of their foxholes.
  • As a soldier who has spent a quarter of his life in the study of the science of arms, let me tell you I went into the British Army believing that if you want peace you must prepare for war. I believe now that if you prepare thoroughly and efficiently for war, you get war.
  • During the Philippine-American War, the United States built a concentration camp on the island of Marinduque. Concentration camps were invented, however, by the British — specifically by Lord Kitchener, who established the first during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). The conflict had evolved into an insurgency pitting Boer ‘commandos’ against regular British troops. Kitchener responded by ordering that all non-combatant Boers should be ‘concentrated’ within specially created camps — partly to guarantee their safety as he initiated a ‘scorched-earth’ policy in the Transvaal and Cape Colony, but also to deny Boer guerrillas the ‘water’ in which they ‘swam’. Although Kitchener was a notably tough general, he was no monster. But the concentration camps were run incompetently: 28,000 of the Boer inmates died in epidemics, leading to scandal, enquiries and the discontinuation of a bad policy.
  • The British soldier is second to none in the communities of fighting men. Some may possess more élan, others may be better disciplined; but none excels him in all-round character. We require no training in bravery in Britain; we can trust to our own native manliness to see us through. So it is with the soldier. It is his natural pride which gives him his fighting qualities. How often he has stood firm before tyranny and oppression, the last hope of the free world! In the midst of the noise and confusion of the battlefield, the simple homely figure of the British soldier stands out calm and resolute—dominating all around him with his quiet courage, his humour and his cheerfulness, his unflinching acceptance of the situation. May the ideals for which he has struggled never vanish from the world! May he never be forgotten by the nation for which he has fought so nobly! I know better than most to what heights the British soldier can aspire. His greatness is a measure of the greatness of the British character, and I have seen the quality of our race proved again and again on the battlefield.




  • The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is "Yes, I am ugly, and you daren't laugh at me", like the bully who makes faces at his victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh.
  • The middle-class families celebrated by Kipling, the prolific lowbrow families whose sons officered the army and navy and swarmed over all the waste places of the earth from the Yukon to the Irrawaddy, were dwindling before 1914. The thing that had killed them was the telegraph. In a narrowing world, more and more governed from Whitehall, there was every year less room for individual initiative.








  • I charge him [Ramsay MacDonald] deliberately with this, that from the first moment of the war to the Armistice there was nothing which he could say to embarrass the cause of the British arms that he did not say—there was nothing that he could do to assist the German cause that he did not do. That is the man I am asked to take as spokesman of the British Empire. ... He was the man who vied with Sir Roger Casement in disservice to Britain. In the greatest crisis in our history Mr. MacDonald tried to set up Soviets in the British Army. I am to treat him as spokesman of the British Empire? Never! Never!


  • A British officer in Flanders in 1918, transplanted to a British messroom in the same country in 1793, would be more at home than in a foreign messroom of to-day. Though he would find the drinking too heavy for him, he would be surrounded by presumptions indefinably familiar. He would be critical of much, but he would understand from inside what he was criticising. Most of us would be at home taking tea at Dr. Johnson's, hearing the contact of civilised man with society discussed with British commonsense and good nature, with British idiosyncrasy and prejudice. Only we should be aware that we had stepped back out of a scientific, romantic and mobile era into an era literary, classical and static.
    • G. M. Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782–1901) (1922), p. xiv






  • The British have been a free people and are still a comparatively free people; and though we are not, thank Heaven, a military nation, this tradition of freedom gives to our junior leaders in war a priceless gift of initiative.  So long as this initiative is not cramped by too many regulations, by too much formalism, we shall, I trust, continue to win our battles – sometimes in spite of our higher commanders.
  • Despite the efforts of propagandists, German reservists evidenced little hate. Urged to despise the Germans, Tommies saw no compelling national interest in retrieving French and Belgian crossroads and cabbage patches. Rather, both sides fought as soldiers fought in most wars — for survival, and to protect the men who had become extended family.
  • Really when I reflect upon the characters and attainments of some of the General Officers of this army, and consider that these are the persons on whom I am to rely to lead columns against the French Generals, and who are to carry my instructions into execution, I tremble; and, as Lord Chesterfield said of the Generals of his day, "I only hope that when the enemy reads the list of their names he trembles as I do."
    • Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, letter to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Torrens, August 29, 1810.—Antony Brett-James, Wellington at War, 1794–1815, p. 199 (1961). Lord Chesterfield's comment is Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).






  • At the ceremony of signing the decoration I met Field-Marshal Montgomery for the first time. During the war I had closely followed the actions of British troops under his command. In 1940 the British Expeditionary Corps had sustained a disastrous setback at Dunkirk. Later, British troops under Montgomery's command had smashed the German corps under General Rommel at El Alamein. During the Normandy landing Montgomery had ably commanded the Allied forces and their advance to the banks of the Seine. Montgomery was above medium height, very agile, soldierly, trim and created an impression of a lively and intelligent man. He began to talk about the operations at El Alamein and at Stalingrad. In his view the two operations were of equal significance. I did not want to belittle the merits of the British troops, but still I had to explain to him that the El Alamein operation was carried out on an army scale, while at Stalingrad the operation engaged a group of fronts and it had a vast strategic importance- it resulted in the rout of a major enemy force in the area of the Volga and Don rivers and later, in the North Caucasus. It was an operation that actually marked a radical turning-point in the war and ensured the retreat of the German forces from our country.
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