The British Army and the Great War - HI860

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
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7 30 (15)







This module will examine a number of aspects concerning the British army during the Great War. The (in)effectiveness of British generalship will be examined, allowing students to explore the rich historiography of this topic which dates back to the so-called, ‘battle of the memoirs’ in the 1920s. Consideration will then be given to the structure and expansion of the ‘four armies’ (regular, territorial, Kitchener and conscript) examining how effectively the British army coped with this massive expansion and trained the newly formed units. Allied to this, there will be a consideration of manpower policy during the Great War, in particular there will be some discussion given to the propaganda elements involved in the voluntary recruiting campaigns of 1914-16 and the British experience of conscription in 1916-18. Attention will also be given to the discipline and morale of the British army, which was the only European army of the Great War not to suffer from major problems in this area. Students will be invited to explore the full aspects of discipline and morale and will consider why the wartime executions of 312 soldiers have come to dominate the historiography. In terms of the British army in action, this module will contain case-studies of the well known Gallipoli campaign and the Battles of the Somme along with the lesser known so-called 100 days battles at the end of the war to consider the important issue of whether the British army did indeed participate in what some historians have termed a ‘learning curve’ during the Great War. Other topics, such as the the experience of women in the British army, the British army on the home front, logistics and officer selection will also be discussed in detail.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Convenor: Dr Timothy Bowman – Contact Hours : 2 hours per week

Indicative reading

Ian Beckett and Keith Simpson (eds.), A Nation in Arms: A Social History of the British Army in the First World War (Manchester University Press, 1985).
Timothy Bowman, Irish Regiments in the Great War: Discipline and Morale (Manchester University Press, 2003).
J. G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies, 1914-18 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990).
Keith Grieves, The politics of manpower, 1914-18 (Manchester University Press, 1988).
Janet Lee, War Girls: The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in the First World War (Manchester University Press, 2005).
Gerard Oram, Military Executions during World War I (Palgrave, 2003).
Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914-1918, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992).
Gary Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches (Macmillan and KCL, 2000).
Gary Sheffield and John Bourne (eds.), Douglas Haig: War Diaries and letters, 1914-18 (Weidenfield and Nicholson, London, 2005).
Peter Simkins, Kitchener’s Army: The Raising of the New Armies, 1914-16 (Manchester University Press, 1988).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

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