Haldane’s Army Reforms Reassessed

What follows is a short precis of Simon Higgens talk that will be held this Tuesday at the University of Birmingham‘s War Studies Seminar. It is on the subject of Haldane’s army reforms…

The Haldane reforms of the British Army, undertaken during the early years of the Twentieth Century, have been widely researched and documented. What he did and why he did it is well understood but no-one has ever asked the question as to how he was able to achieve it in the face of such institutional, social and individual resistance to change. Using a contemporary change management model as an analytical framework, this talk will examine how Haldane, the Liberal Imperialist Secretary of State for War (1905-1912), implemented lasting reform of the British Army, when his immediate Unionist predecessors, St John Brodrick and Arnold-Forster, had failed. It will demonstrate how political expediency, foreign policy and military strategy influenced Haldane and why his nation in arms concept failed to improve the public’s perception of the regular and auxiliary forces. The main thrust of the talk will highlight that Haldane understood the intellectual complexities of institutional change and that lasting reform required the technical and social dimensions of it to be addressed simultaneously and as an organic whole. His understanding of Hegelian philosophy provided him with a means of synthesising numerous ideas into a viable solution and his intellectual, social and political skills provided him with the tools to implement it. Coupled with a long tenure in office and the support of first-class military advisors, such as Major General Haig and Colonel Ellison, Haldane’s success was not, as he claimed, that he entered office without preconceived ideas about army reform, but that he simply did not announce them and in doing so gained the support of the reform-weary Generals in the War Office. The talk will conclude that Haldane, contrary to historical orthodoxy, did have preconceived ideas about army reform as early as 1901 and that he was lobbied by eminent soldiers, journalists and politicians before taking office about how he should restructure the Army.

By Simon Higgens

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