Cohesion in the trenches

Cohesion in the trenches is the title of the monograph I have drafted based on my 2017 PhD thesis. The proposed publication examines the role of interpersonal relationships in sustaining morale and resilience of British Army soldiers during the Great War and proposals have been sent to a number of publishers. 

 

Military group cohesion is defined as a process of social integration through the building and maintaining of close social relationships in small human groups between individuals and leaders, as well as relationships between the group and wider entities outside it, such as organisations and communities. This study demonstrates that such cohesion underpinned the morale, endurance and performance amongst British infantrymen in 12 London and Middlesex Regiment Territorial Force battalions which served together in the 56th (London) Division on the Western Front during the Great War.

 

This book takes an innovative multidisciplinary approach to the exploration of cohesion by using an adapted peer-reviewed and evidence-based sociological model of the phenomenon (Professor Guy Siebold’s Standard Model of Military Group Cohesion) and applies it to a historical case study. This adapted model examines the four key cohesion relationships which soldiers had in the trenches with their peers, leaders, organisation and wider society. Using the existence of trust as the basis for the existence of cohesion in relationships, it examines the words, deeds and actions of officers and men as set out in their war-time diaries and letters and post-war memoirs and interviews to demonstrate that cohesion was widespread, durable and strong.

This book also plots how the nature and extent of cohesion changed over the course of the war. It was affected by changes in the class composition of units, the reforms to platoon structure and function and the impact of war, such as casualties. In addition, it shows that while cohesion in groups could further the ends of the wider military organisation, it could also work against them; strong cohesion contributed to shirking and work avoidance. In late 1917, strong cohesion led to a wave of public disorder, strikes and a ‘mutiny’ in the 56th Division, which have, until now, gone unreported.

 

Finally, this book seeks to challenge an assumption made by historians that cohesion between soldiers could not function in high-intensity combat situations where casualties destroyed and disrupted relationships between men in groups and units. Instead, based on the analysis of 3,292 soldiers’ service records to calculate the actual length of time officers and ‘other ranks’ spent on active service in frontline infantry battalions, it presents an alternative view to suggest that casualty rates did not prevent men building and sustaining cohesion relationships. The analysis shows that as the war progressed, attrition rates declined rapidly and the stability and longevity of group relationships increased dramatically. As a result, it is argued that the prevalence of cohesion across the units under study was at its zenith in the last year of war and it contributed to the successful combat performance of raiding by units in 1918. Lastly, the book demonstrates that men rapidly regenerated and restructured social bonds as a key method of coping and surviving in the trenches when their relationships were affected by injury or death.