Steady the Buffs! A Regiment, a Region, and the Great War

Steady the Buffs! A Regiment, a Region, and the Great War

Steady the Buffs! A Regiment, a Region, and the Great War

Steady the Buffs! A Regiment, a Region, and the Great War

Synopsis

This book fully revises standard regimental history by establishing the framework and background to the regiment's role in the Great War. It tests the current theories about the British army in the war and some of the conclusions of modern military historians. In recent years a fascinatingreassessment of the combat performance of the British Army in the Great War has stressed the fact that the British Army ascended a 'learning curve' during the conflict resulting in a modern military machine of awesome power. Research carried out thus far has been on a grand scale with very fewexaminations of smaller units. This study of the battalion of the Buffs has tested these theoretical ideas. The central questions addressed in this study are: DT The factors that dominated the officer-man relationship during the war.DT How identity and combat efficiency was maintained in the light of heavy casualties.DT The relative importance of individual characters to the efficiency of a battalion as opposed to the 'managerial structures' of the BEF.DT The importance of brigade and division to the performance of a battalion.DT The effective understanding and deployment of new weapons.DT The reactions of individual men to the trials of war.DT The personal and private reactions of the soldiers' communities in Kent.Using previously uncovered material, this book adds a significant new chapter to our understanding of the British army on the Western Front, and the way its home community in East Kent reacted to experience. It reveals the way in which the regiment adjusted to the shock of modern warfare, and thebloody learning curve the Buffs ascended as they shared the British Expeditionary Force's march towards final victory.

Excerpt

I arrived at the University of Kent in September 1999, but my knowledge of the geography, history, nature, and culture of the county was sketchy to the say the least, despite the fact that I was born in London and had spent most of my life in the south-east of England. Having settled in Canterbury, in the east of the county, and explained my work and research interests to many local people unconnected with the university, I became aware of a magical term: ‘The Buffs’. Any mention of the Buffs in East Kent, especially among those older than thirty or forty, is enough to spark pride, interest, and attention. This reaction made a significant impression on me, and I came to spot the pervasiveness of the regiment in contemporary East Kent. The county cricket team and its Canterbury ground, are intimately linked to the regiment; a local removals company has used buff as the colour of its vans for many years; the former East Kent Bus Company ran buffcoloured buses; on Remembrance Day the regiment’s Old Comrades Association plays a prominent role in the Canterbury parade; the village I now live in has a street named after a former commanding officer, and the majority of those commemorated on the village war memorial fell while serving in the Buffs. This led me to begin searches for books about the Buffs, and the regiment’s role in the Great War. Aside from the history written by one of its former officers, R. S. H. Moody, and a few other, relatively slim, volumes, I found very little. My curiosity grew as the regiment was an antique one with a proud record, which implied that its involvement in the Great War would have attracted attention and discussion. Why did its battalions have such a low profile in the historiography of the Great War? Some former Buffs officers I spoke to provided a typically proud and forthright answer. All stated unequivocally that it was because of the regimental culture. They emphasised that the Buffs were never a flashy bunch, and regarded such things as medal counts as rather vulgar: a regiment had its duty, did it, and did not expect anyone to get that excited about it. Just about the only exception was the hallowed memory of Lieutenant Latham, who, during the Peninsula Campaign, maintained a firm grip on the regimental colours despite losing an arm to a French cavalryman’s sword blow, an action that was subsequently immortalised in a grand piece of triumphal silverware. Otherwise, so they reminded me, the Buffs shunned publicity and simply got on with jobs as ordered. It was the final spur—I decided to begin research!

I would like to express my gratitude to all the historians, archivists, and librarians who provided help during the course of the research. As material for the study was gathered from a wide range of sources, the project relied on the assistance of many people. I would like to start by thanking the British Academy for providing a grant that not only allowed me to visit many archives, but also the . . .

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