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A Turbulent Time? The impact of officer attrition on officer-man relations during the Great War in the 2/Royal Irish Rifles.

By Dr. Tom Thorpe


The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact that officer attrition and casualties had on officer-men relations in a single infantry battalion fighting on the Western Front during the Great War. Many historians and military commentators contend that high turbulence amongst leaders in combat units can damage inter-rank relationships. This paper seeks to test this idea with reference to the experience of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (2/RIR) that fought on the Western Front throughout the First World War. The 2/RIR was a regular pre-war battalion that recorded a massive 326 officers passing through the unit during the war. This was 11 times its pre-war establishment. The paper argues that, as the war progressed and new officers joined the unit, the social and ethnic profile of the officer corps changed radically relative to its pre-war composition. The unit drew a greater proportion of officers from lower social classes and the character of the officer corps became predominantly more ‘Irish’ as an increasing number of officers that joined the unit were born in the island of Ireland. It concludes that officer turbulence did not adversely impact on relations between leader and the led but that the changing social and ethnic profile of the officer corps contributed to constructive officer-men relations. 


Dr Tom Thorpe

Tom is a public historian, tour guide and independent scholar with a historical interest on combat motivation, morale and military group cohesion. He is the host and executive producer for the Combat Morale Podcast, an Honorary Research Associate at Ulster University and tutor on the Open Learning Course at Queen’s University Belfast. He is also a trustee of The Western Front Association and presenter/producer of its weekly podcast, Mentioned in Dispatches. His PhD, from King’s College London, examined the extent, nature and impact of interpersonal relations in the British Army during the Great War. Before his PhD, Tom was a public relations professional specialising in policy, lobbying and speech writing. He is an occasional pundit on history subjects for LBC Radio, NVTV Belfast Community TV, GB News and Sky News. He is based in Belfast, is a trainee Green Badge tour guide for Belfast and is a member of the UK professional body the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. 

11 Dec 2021 14:00