Gen Cowan's Edict - A Reply

#1
Army commander bans sandwiches in attack on 'barbaric' habits

Dear Sir,

3001TO39 LETTER OF THANKS - MAJOR-GENERAL JAMES MICHAEL COWAN CBE DSO

1. We, the junior officers of your mess, wish to thank you for your earlier 3-page memo. Given the challenges of operational drawdown, budgetary cuts and generational structural change, we are reassured that our leaders are not distracted by such trivia and are instead addressing the vital military issues of the day. Considering the effort and time you took from your busy schedule, we felt it only correct to show our appreciation of your thoughts. We note from an Army spokesman that your original missive was intended as a light-hearted dialogue, and not at all a serious attempt to impose proto-Victorian behaviors which make Senior Officers, who are never in the mess, feel more comfortable while alienating junior officers, who live here. So, given you lamented the lack of suitable conversation between senior and junior officers, we feel sure you will appreciate this free, funny and entertaining dialogue on suitable topics outside work such as our marriages, grammar and sandwiches.

2. You wrote that quite a few of us are under the impression that we can eat with our hands. Please let us assure you, we have confirmed it: we most definitely can eat with our hands. If you have not already been made aware, hands are most useful for a range of such manual tasks. We particularly like using them for eating for several reasons:

a. Common understanding has it that sandwiches were designed for manual manipulation.

b. Sandwiches take half the time to order and eat in the mess, so we have more time at our desks in your headquarters, in order to read more of your emails about eating sandwiches.

c. Sandwiches are enjoyable and reasonable value. When the improved quality and cost from PAYD actually improves quality and cost instead of producing overpriced belt-fed contractor fare at the table, we might come back. Until then, we are pretty sure the PAYD directives issued by the chain of command highlighted "choice" as an important aspect of the system. We have chosen to eat sandwiches. Actually, we chose the cake, but apparently that was a bit of a joke by Mary, the mess manager, and didn't actually exist!

d. We don't have to spend our lunchtime making faux-polite conversation at the table with Senior Officers while avoiding any honest and meaningful discussion that will torpedo our annual report.

e. It's really hard to eat a Brie, Bacon and Cranberry baguette melt with a knife and fork.

3. Please be assured that we are not negligently eating sandwiches with our hands with complete disregard to the consequences. We carefully follow a range of metrics to calculate the impending End of Civilization As We Know It. Admittedly in the last few days several of the "World War" metrics are a bit worrying, but we are confident they are not caused by us eating sandwiches.

4. We note your observation that few junior officers stand when you - apologies, the Commanding Officer - enter the room. This is of course entirely wrong, and we will correct it immediately. Please excuse Capt George RLC and Capt MacDonald RE, however: the prosthetics make it a bit problematic. While on the subject, please be assured that Capt Fraser RLC is not, in fact, 'giving you the finger' when saluting - it's just that he only has the one remaining.

5. You note that it is considered better manners if our Wives And Reputable Girlfriends (WARGS) write letters of thanks for mess events we attend, and that the secret to a successful marriage is to generally avoid them unless at home where it proves impossible [DRAFT: check, is this right?]. Clearly this is a sensitive topic, but you see, Sir: we actually quite like our wives. That is rather why we married them. Unfortunately, some of them are a bit demanding these days. They will tend to go on about their own career - which, incidentally, tends to contribute a bit more to the family coffers than ours - their concerns, and so on. Many of them see it as a bit of an imposition to agree to go to a work function of ours so they can be plied with copious amounts of drink while being banned from visiting the ladies' room, encouraged to watch paunchy middle-aged men get smashed and make inappropriate comments before staggering off to piss in a sink, and then be made to write to thank you for the pleasure. Often they would rather just let us get on with it. When they do agree to come to mess functions, it is often considered a night out with us. Given that between HERRICK rotations, weekend duties and exercises, and spending up to 2000hrs on a weekday in your headquarters reading emails about sandwiches, we don't get to see each other that much, so they quite like sitting with us. It makes them, the guest, more at ease and happier. We were always taught was the aim of mess functions. Please let us know if this has changed.

6. We read your tips on grammar and clear English. We completely agree. We are encouraged to see support for our concerns from our commander. Since you will clearly be pushing this issue up the chain of command to get a revised and much shorter edition of JSP 101 issued forthwith, can we assume an implied task that all 3 (UK) Division paperwork should immediately sack off such wanton use of capitals and acronyms?

7. Finally, we hope you don't feel assaulted and exhausted after reading this. We realise, compared to many of the basic military tasks conducted daily by your soldiers, that this kind of stuff is pretty tough going. Your fortitude, consideration for our welfare, and focus on the important issues continues to inspire us.


We remain,
Sir,
Your mostly obedient Chaps,
etc.
 
#2
Not bad at all - a witty retort.

The reply as a whole made me smirk, but this para truly made me squirm in embarrassment for it's writer...

4. We note your observation that few junior officers stand when you - apologies, the Commanding Officer - enter the room. This is of course entirely wrong, and we will correct it immediately. Please excuse Capt George RLC and Capt MacDonald RE, however: the prosthetics make it a bit problematic. While on the subject, please be assured that Capt Fraser RLC is not, in fact, 'giving you the finger' when saluting - it's just that he only has the one remaining.
An irrelevant, unnecessary and cuntish swipe, no?

As poor an example of bad manners as I can imagine in the context.
 
#3
Why, you impertinant, insubordinate, insolent and iconoclastic sandwich-eater..... It's chaps like you that cost us the Empire, that forces us into alliances with the damned Americans and worst of all to cultivate influence matrices. I suspect you're one of those grammar school types; given to wearing blue denim trousers and listening to popular beat combos on an iPod (whatever that is). Frankly, if the Army was to maintain itself as bastion of moral probity (No senior officers shoplifting, smuggling, committing adultery*, stripping on Skype or suing their soldiers as unpaid servants, I'll have you know Sirrah!) then we're better off without you and your insubordinate sarcasm.

And, finally, as I splutter into my Lapsang Souchong, how dare you, how very dare you, use the salutation "Dear Sir"? I am not your bloody bank manager.

*If one is a proper chap and avoids one's wife then adultery is the only possible outlet for manly emissions.
 
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#4
Not bad at all - a witty retort.

The reply as a whole made me smirk, but this para truly made me squirm in embarrassment for it's writer...



An irrelevant, unnecessary and cuntish swipe, no?

As poor an example of bad manners as I can imagine in the context.
True - but perhaps an indication of the true degree of anger this has promoted in the OP?
 
#5
True - but perhaps an indication of the true degree of anger this has promoted in the OP?
Accusing James Cowan of snobbery and / or lack of tact seems like a fair position.

But the para in question seemed to imply either that he is either:

a. A soldier unaccustomed to war fighting and its consequences, unlikely given he is a career soldier, was CO of 1BW on TELIC and an ex CO TFH

or

b. Unaware of, or insensitive to, the injuries of his subordinates. Is this true?

Does a relatively innocuous memo about mess etiquette merit such anger that the above accusations are thrown?

In a reply which plays heavily on a perceived lack of perspective I detect some unintended irony ...
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#7
Not sure about that Charlie. I just took it to mean the general theme of "there are more important things to worry about". I don't think I've ever met a commander, senior or otherwise, who was genuinely unaware or insensitive to the injuries of his subordinates, so I'd be surprised if Cowan was.

Having said that, it is pretty spot on about the gentleman in question from my tangential experience of him. Given that the reply seems to be based off the news report rather than the full text, I wonder if "the Earl" is actually in the Bulford mess, or is just one of the more entertaining passengers on the outrage bus?
 
#8
CC, In positively the last return of serve on this subject, I do agree with your original comment and, in an unusually non-contrentious fashion, with what you have posted above. On the naive assumption that the OP is indeed a junior officer, I simply put his (assumption, but it reads like a bloke - not a chap's - piece) comment vide the wounded down to the belief of junior officers that those sat in Bn, Bde , Div or TF HQs cannot understand the immediacy of combat - but back in the day I was equally convinced that the depot Chindits at Coy/Bn/Bde were divorced from the reality of operations and, at a later stage (legitimately) believed that the political direction I was being given to translate into operational procedures and tactical practises. A rather long-winded way of saying "cut him some slack for what was largely an amusing rant".
 
#9
The Navy's version:

Submarine Manners
I turn now to more sensitive territory. Quite rightly, we recruit our officers from a broad pool; we have to, and quite a lot are closer to bottom feeders than the knights of the sunlit shoals. I don’t want them to be disadvantaged by innocent ignorance of the breadth and depth of submarine history. I would rather they knew what is expected of them. Some examples:
  • Quite a few officers in the silent service seem to be under the impression that they can only eat food in the Wardrooms of the Flotilla using a knife and fork (of course I exclude the MESMs here who frankly are rarely seen in the Mess at sea in any case). As most know, the practice of serving rolls and sandwiches at sea stops a few days into the operation after the bread has run out, until the chefs get their roll-making skills up to speed. As a Commanding Officer a few years’ back there was never a better meal than a bacon and egg banjo eaten out of a home cooked roll with a runny yolk. What a way to start the day and those familiar with SM Chefs’ rolls will understand the impossibility of attacking these with a knife or a fork. Two hands, wide mouth and a spare shirt on hand are what are required.
  • I am told a gentleman or lady uses a knife and fork. Thankfully we recruit neither.
  • When we get to sea, we must maintain an operational focus. Frankly, since the events of the world pass us by unless linked to the mission, and most are in one in two watches I expect a junior officer not to disturb the off watch time with meaningless conversation, and particularly on extraneous subjects unrelated to the mission. It’s hard enough operating and fighting a submarine at sea without digressing on to the latest art exhibition in London. If you need to introduce yourself to the CO except on day one then frankly you are deadweight and should make a one way appointment with the next torpedo watershot..
  • Three hundred years ago, our Sovereign cracked his head on the deckhead standing for his loyal toast. He banned the custom and we still remain seated, whatever happens. I would no wish officers to crack their heads every time a senior officer wandered (mostly by mistake) into the Wardroom. We must not forget, in any case, that Commanding Officers are in the mess by invitation and largely on sufferance.
  • Apparently any discourse on manners must include a section on marriage and mess etiquette. The secret of a successful marriage is to have stopped going sea in submarines before you tie the knot. If you are foolish enough to try and combine a marriage with a seagoing submarine career then you are largely on your own. Certainly you should avoid inflicting your marital happiness (however transient) upon the rest of us. It is almost never a good idea to seat ones wives in a submarine mess, as all kinds of issues have arisen because of the necessary proximity of diners, particularly as this is one of the rare occasions the nuclear engineers are seen in the Mess (see above).
  • Thank you letters are an art form not a chore. Fortunately, since submariners are rarely invited to any social event sufficiently elevated to require such a letter, it rarely concerns the Dolphinned fraternity. A half grunt before passing out does most of us after a submarine evening (or frankly afternoon). If you are in this bind then always have on your speed dial an Army chum who will have been trained and who can offer advice, or better still draft one for your other half (if she’s still speaking to you) to send.
Summary
For the COs amongst you: on a rather more serious point, I am worried that our officer corps has not realised that our service has a tradition of introversion and resistance to reaching out to wider society. On visits, I keep meeting commanding officers who think they need to use the necessary tools: entertainment allowance; their messes, their bands in an erroneous effort to reverse this quite understandable position. Thankfully, they have been helped for over a decade by the removal of every one of those tools from their arsenal. They should give up such hopeless and unhelpful dreams and leave this in the hands of the Army Divisions into whose coffers these resources have largely been diverted.
Finally, I should say that the vast majority of submariners I meet are intelligent, friendly and suitably adjusted. We should never forget the inspiring words of Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson VC, a senior officer in the Admiralty when the concept of submarines was first mooted in 1901. He opined that submarines were “Underhand, unfair and damned un-English”. These words have inspired generations of submariners since and I look to you all to ensure we live up to this most challenging of social and professional standards. Remember – we fly the Jolly Roger for a reason.
Toodle Pip
Cox’n Drains
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#10
  • Apparently any discourse on manners must include a section on marriage and mess etiquette. The secret of a successful marriage is to have stopped going sea in submarines before you tie the knot. If you are foolish enough to try and combine a marriage with a seagoing submarine career then you are largely on your own. Certainly you should avoid inflicting your marital happiness (however transient) upon the rest of us.
Brilliant! I should have joined the Navy...
 

Mr_Fingerz

LE
Book Reviewer
#11
Once the OP's post has been brought to Gen Cowan's attention, can we expect a witch-hunt?
 
#12
I can't help but think that if standards in the Mess have slipped to such a lamentable level then the person best placed to recommend corrective action should be the SLIM (senior living in member to you civvies and RAF types)
 
#13
c. Sandwiches are enjoyable and reasonable value. When the improved quality and cost from PAYD actually improves quality and cost instead of producing overpriced belt-fed contractor fare at the table, we might come back. Until then, we are pretty sure the PAYD directives issued by the chain of command highlighted "choice" as an important aspect of the system. We have chosen to eat sandwiches. Actually, we chose the cake, but apparently that was a bit of a joke by Mary, the mess manager, and didn't actually exist!
Like it :)



For all you Portal fans out there.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#14
Like it :)

For all you Portal fans out there.
You know you're getting old when what you thought was a reference to 18th Century French politics is actually a reference to Half-Life 2.
 

Brotherton Lad

LE
Kit Reviewer
#15
You know you're getting old when what you thought was a reference to 18th Century French politics is actually a reference to Half-Life 2.
Just think of them as two sides of the same coin. Job jobbed.
 
#16
If he got a cock stand about manually devoured sandwiches, it's probably a good thing that he didn't pop in during a game of "biscuit" or "freckles."
 
#17
You know you're getting old when what you thought was a reference to 18th Century French politics is actually a reference to Half-Life 2.

It's Portal, Not HL2 ;)
And I got the 18th century referance too. The cake is still a lie :)
 

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