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Slope Knives! Present Forks!

I was tempted to use this column to wonder why when the British Army is facing some many problems, one of the more senior officers was taking time to instruct his officers on how to behave at dinner parties and the correct use of a knife and fork. The Ministry of Defence insists that Major General James Cowan's letter to the "Chaps" at 3rd Division was intended to be light hearted. I'll take their word for it. Instead, I think I lament the fact that Cowan, a former commanding officer of the Black Watch and the first commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, has 2,500 commissioned officers and 20,000 other ranks under his command. Even with my poor maths skills, that seems to work out at more than one officer for every ten men. And as a lot of the real work is done by the senior non-commissioned officers who are included in the figure of 20,000 the number of commissioned officers might strike some as excessive. A very quick look reveals that the 2nd Highland Battalion in 1757 had 41 officers in a unit totalling1,088 men. Now, granted, in 1757 the Army didn't have as many much-needed administrators or planners as it does now. Nor did it include the number of technical specialists who are granted officer rank these days. But I think questions have to be asked as to whether the Army is heading towards a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-indians scenario. Some may believe that the weight of the present cuts to the Army is being borne by a disproportionate number of  highly experienced senior non-commissioned officers while leaving the Officer Corps relatively intact. Perhaps the answer is to cut admissions to public schools such as Eton, Winchester and Ampleforth. Then the Eton dominated British Cabinet would not need to find so much work on the public payroll for their less talented brethren. The British Army is the biggest employer of Old Etonians on the planet. And I'm sure the Old Etonians would not require instruction from Maj-Gen. Cowan on dinner party etiquette or to be chastised by him for eating sandwiches in the mess with one's bare hands.

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