March 19, 2004
Douglas Bader 2: Drill

I can keep appointments for something like a radio broadcast or a medical examination. But I am appalling procrastinator. (I do daily postings at my personal blogs because if I didn't, entire months would go by postingless.) If there is no fixed moment when I have to start, and I am able to postpone by a few more hours, then I do, and the hours pile up for ever.

An example of this is that a really quite long time ago, I did a posting with a title that began something like "Douglas Bader 1". Since which time there has yet to materialise any Douglas Bader 2 posting of any sort. This I will now correct.

Douglas Bader was the man who was a young star in the Royal Airforce but who had both himself and his career cut short when he lost his legs in a flying crash. Only the Second World War gave him a chance to get back into the RAF, and he duly distinguished himself in that conflict and became a classic Great British Hero.

Here is a description (again, from this book) of how they made (and still make I assume) RAF officers.

The Senior NCOs had the greatest responsibility for teaching the Flight Cadets the ways of the Service, instructing them in ground school and on the drill ground, berating them, exemplifying authority and responsibility, inculcating self-respect, self-discipline and self-control. Bader and many others recalled that it was the Senior NCOs who taught the cadets how to become officers.

Each squadron had an NCO drill instructor - a flight sergeant or a sergeant - who was responsible for training cadets to the high standards of drill practised by the Cadet Wing. Before attaining that, cadets would not be allowed to join their squadron on parade. There was a Wing Sergeant Major who was the Senior Drill NCO. He was the final arbiter of a cadet's fitness to join the Wing on parade. Every morning, the two squadrons were called by bugle to the parade ground, and inspected - meticulously, ruthlessly. Each Saturday morning there was the Colour Hoisting Parade.

Drill and flying were the two most important parts of the daily routine. Academic and ground studies were secondary, but not markedly so. Cadets had to undergo a great deal of drill. First, there was basic drill, then arms drill. It took about a month of intensive foot and arms drill every working morning to reach the standard required to perform as a team with the Squadron and the Wing.

A good way of fostering team spirit and formation, drill was an important part of training. It stimulated team work, and required concentration and alertness. It taught cadets all about parading and ceremonials, for they too would have to command and supervise such things one day. Later, as Fourth Termers, cadets had to command the Wing on parade. Bader became under-officer of his 'A' Squadron.

Does drill count as "education"? Maybe not. But a few generations ago it would have, because boys used to do this kind of thing at school.

I did drill at school. I was made to. Bastards. But it was good exercise, and if I'd been allowed to choose I might have chosen it. I especially liked the music that was always played: Elgar's Pomp and Circumstances marches.

The serious thing that drill teaches is cooperation. It isn't the only kind of cooperation you'll ever do, but it is one of them, and it has one huge merit when compared with something like sports: it is extremely easy to do. Practically anyone can do drill.

And when it comes to "educating" soldiers, drill is essential. I know, I know, what's a libertarian doing having nice words to say about drill? But unless you are a pacifist, you have to acknowledge that there are times when (a) you have to fight, in a group, which means (b) that you had better do some drill. Armies that do drill fight better.

Lots of civilians regard drill as an inherent insult to their individual humanity, and in a sense it is just that, and on purpose. But if you have experienced the difference that drill can make to a body of soldiers (or in Douglas Bader's case airmen) then you will have learned something (not everything, but something) of the difference between effective and efficient cooperation and the more usual sort, which only brings to bear about 15% of the available energy.

This is a lesson worth learning. Those who refuse to learn it - as I refused to learn it at my school (I just marched back and forth in a state of contemptuous resentment) - shouldn't be forced to go through the motions. But if you volunteer for it, you could really learn some worthwhile stuff.

The way to correct procrastination is to devise a drill for yourself, and then do it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
Category: Boys will be boysFamous educations