Nafsika Thalassis | “Useless Soldiers: The Dilemma of Discharging Mentally Unfit Soldiers during the Second World War” | 2010

Intelligence test world war 1

Intelligence test administered to soldiers during WW1.

Summary. During the Second World War, an unprecedented concern with the mental fitness of troops led to new selection procedures designed to ensure that soldiers possessed a certain level of intelligence and emotional stability. Using a variety of sources, including case notes from contemporary psychiatrists, this article explores two categories of soldiers who were up for discharge: those with “low intelligence” and those with “inadequate personalities.” It suggests that many psychiatrists and combatant officers did not believe it was wise to retain the maximum number of soldiers in duty because many men were thought to be inherently incapable of becoming efficient soldiers.

Mass military deployment during 20th century brought w/it conclusion that some men were unsuitable for military service. Boer War, WW1 = men with deficient height, puny physique. After WW1, it was mental qualities that fell under particular scrutiny.

This article examines two categories of men who were discharged during the Second World War for psychological inadequacies. 1) those w/”low intelligence” 2) those w/”inadequate personalities.” People were discharged for other reasons, too. The purpose of this article is to examine these 2 categories of men, whose values as soldiers, for the first time, became questioned for the first time during WW2. Read the rest of this entry »


Matthew Hendley | “‘Help us to Secure a Strong, Healthy, Prosperous and Peaceful Britain’: The Social Arguments of the Campaign for Compulsory Military Service in Britain, 1899-1914” | 2001

William Le Quex The Invasion of 1910

Image from William Le Quex’s anti-German invasion fantasy The Invasion of 1910 (1906), a phenomenal bestseller.
“COPY OF THE ‘DAILY BULLETIN’ OF THE LEAGUE OF DEFENDERS. […] Those chosen knew that their last hour had come. Some clasped their hands and fell upon their knees, imploring pity, while others remained silent and stubborn patriots.”

Summary: The National Service League was a pressure group which argued the case for compulsory military service in Britain between 1899-1914. Initial impetus for its creation was Boer War. Concerns over British military strength, and existing schemes of recruitment, led to creation in 1902. Social arguments linking conscription to health Britain grew from fears of physical deterioration which arose from Boer War. Before 1906, National Service League pamphlets and speeches pointed to Germany as model nation combining compulsory military service with social reform. British conscription movement insisted conscription was not a departure from peaceful British traditions. Switzerland pointed to as model society.

Of all major industrialized nations of Europe before 1914, only Britain without some system of compulsory military service.

National Service League pamphlet, 1909: “Help us to secure a strong, healthy, prosperous and peaceful Britain.” Called on British citizens to join conscription movement in a wide reaching scheme which would have a variety of benefits for the nation.

This essay will examine how the conscriptionists tried to widen the scope of their appeal.


It is impossible to understand the mentality and development of the conscription movement without realizing how deeply its members were shaken by the Boer War. Read the rest of this entry »

John Sayles | Bruce Springsteen | “I’m On Fire” | 1986

Doesn’t bother to show the photograph.

Stephen M. Miller | “Duty or Crime? Defining Acceptable Behavior in the British Army in South Africa, 1899-1902” | 2010

Herbert Kitchener

Kitchener on horseback in The Queenslander Pictorial in 1910.

Crime committed in South Africa by British army during Anglo-Boer conflict kept hidden from public. Comments by Daily Mail’s Edgar Wallace were typical: “Whatever may be said of the Anglo-Boer War or 1899-1902, it must be confessed that never was war waged where so much humanity was displayed on both sides as in that war!” Notion reinforced three decades later, J.F.C. Fuller, The Last of the Gentleman’s Wars.

One subject that remains virtually untouched by historians of the South African War is the subject of discipline and punishment in the British army. This study shows that the army defined crime and punishment not simply to produce obedience but also to satisfy the moral conventions of Victorian society wherever it was transmitted.

Recidivism was a universal problem and drunkenness often was a gateway to more disturbing crimes. [See Alan Ramsay Skelley’s groundbreaking work in the 1970s, including The Victorian Army at Home: The Recruitment and Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859-1899. Kitchener Read the rest of this entry »

David Silbey | “Bodies and Cultures Collide: Enlistment, the Medical Exam, and the British Working Class, 1914-1916” | 2004


Article examines the military medical exam which working class volunteers underwent in the years 1914-16. The wave of enlistees at the beginning of the First World War brought the physical results of the Industrial Revolution home to doctors, the Army, and the British government in general. In a Social Darwinist age, the vision of malnourishment and physical stunting coexisted uneasily with the apparent zeal of the rush to colours of so many workers. But it was more than that. The medical exam was also an encounter for the working-class volunteers. It was, in fact, a gateway for them, in which they were measured and found either worthy of service, or wanting. Working-class volunteers fought to get into the military despite not meeting the minimal physical requirements, and Army doctors cooperated with them and even helped them subvert those physical requirements. It was thus not only a cultural confrontation for both sides, permeated by Social Darwinist attitudes that confused physical stature with moral ardor, but a moment of co-operation and negotiation between doctors and enlistees, with the careful veneer of medical science camouflaging them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Evelyn Russell | “Praise for Newton,” Films of the Quarter, Sight & Sound | 1941

Robert Newton Oliver Twist Bill Sikes

Robert Newton (center) as Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist, 1948.

Excerpt from year-in-review style article.

“Praise for Newton”

If, however, any prizes are to be given for fine acting in this country, Robert Newton should receive the highest possible award for his interpretation of the part of the bully, Bill Walker, in Major Barbara, Bernard Shaw’s famous comedy. It is interesting to have yet another of this author’s play so memorably recorded for posterity.

I wonder if American audiences will be as puzzled by Major Barbara as I do not doubt British audiences will be by Tobacco Road. The characters and conditions depicted in the latter do exist, I understand, in America as those depicted in Major Barbara basically do here. Maybe it is a question of direction and production, and Gabriel Pascal has succeeded where John Ford, in spite of a certain distinction, has not.

“In Brief” Sight & Sound Robert Newton acting review | “Androcles and the Lion” | 1953

Robert Newton Androcles and the Lion Gabriel Pascal

Robert Newton as Ferrovius in Androcles and the Lion, 1952.

Excerpt, regarding Newton’s performance:

The adaptation by Chester Erskine is quite faithful, though the first half hour is awkwardly constructed, but he gives it very pedestrian direction; mounted against an ugly theatrical reconstruction of Rome, the film itself can appeal only through the performances, most of which are competent, a few distinguished. Alan Young, a television comedian with a style something like Danny Kaye’s, makes an engaging figure of Androcles, and one’s only regret is that the director seems to encourage a genuine characterisation to make itself into a comic turn. Robert Newton’s Ferrovius, the wild CHristian warrior, has a bizarre quality which– partly, one feels, by natural accident– is effective.