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Sport and the Military
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On battleships, behind the trenches of the Western Front and in the midst of the Desert War, British servicemen and women have played sport in the least promising circumstances. When 400 soldiers were asked in Burma in 1946 what they liked about the Army, 108 put sport in first place - well ahead of comradeship and leave - and this book explores the fascinating history of organised sport in the life of officers and other ranks of all three British services from 1880–1960. Drawing on a wide range of sources, this book examines how organised sport developed in the Victorian army and navy, became the focus of criticism for Edwardian army reformers, and was officially adopted during the Great War to boost morale and esprit de corps. It shows how service sport adapted to the influx of professional sportsmen, especially footballers, during the Second World War and the National Service years.


‘This study of the sporting life of British soldiers is a major contribution to our understanding of British popular culture. With massive research and a sure touch, Mason and Riedi have brought military history and social history together in a fruitful and illuminating book, laced with humour and affection for sport and for the men who lived through and for it.’

Jay Winter - Charles J. Stille Professor of History, Yale University

‘This detailed study of service sport at home and abroad, in times of peace as well as war, is a significant work of historical scholarship. It demonstrates that sport’s role was not, as conventionally assumed, the promotion of martial skills but more to develop physical fitness, advance esprit de corps, raise morale, and, often forgotten, simply to relieve boredom.’

Wray Vamplew - Emeritus Professor in Sports Studies, University of Stirling

'This is an interesting read for those with any connection to the British military. It is a meticulously researched account that sheds light on a hitherto largely overlooked subject. It is also a tale of how much the nation changed over the 80 years that the book focuses on.'

Source: The Times Higher Education Supplement

'Well-written and well-organized, with lively and engaging prose, this book will be appreciated not only by historians of sport and the military, but also by anyone interested in Britain’s social and cultural life throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.'

Source: Reviews in History

'… the authors have … shown how social and cultural history can come together with military history to the benefit of all three. In doing so they have also emphasized that military historians must draw on other areas of the historical discipline if they really want to understand what made the armed services work.'

David French Source: Twentieth Century British History

'For those engaged in the study of military history, or indeed social history, I would suggest that Sport and the Military will not only provide entertaining reading but will broaden your outlook.'

Source: Open History

'Sport and the Military is an interesting and significant addition to military historiography, and well worth reading.'

Source: Soldiers of the Queen: Journal of the Victorian Military Society

'Detailed, thoroughly well organized, and written in a lively and engaging prose, Sport and the Military serves as a significant contribution to British military and social history. This book is testament to the value of studying the history of sport.'

Source: Journal of British Studies

'The British armed forces have long connected sportsmanship, character and success at war, but there has been little serious examination of this. Mason and Riedi’s Sport and the Military admirably fills the gap. This well researched, well written book establishes beyond doubt the beneficial effect of sport on morale, esprit de corps and discipline.'

Source: Soldier

'This is a scholarly and consistently informative study of the evolution of sport in the British armed forces … The book has six themes, though most are interrelated: sport and the class system; the tension between professionalism and amateurism; the point of sport and its significance within the ideology of the British military; the degree to which military sport was serious; the role of war itself in advancing sport in the armed forces; and, finally, a theme which embraces all the others, the relationship between military sport and civilian sport, and between the military and civil society more broadly … Mason and Riedi have written an elegant book with wide historical and political implications of significance to all historians.'

Ross McKibbin Source: Sport in History

'Mason and Riedi demonstrate in this study the many ways in which sport can be used as a lens through which to study the past. For historians of sport, the British Empire, and military history, this fine book will serve as an excellent introduction to the subject.'

Source: Journal of Sport History

'Tony Mason and Eliza Riedi offer a fascinating account that highlights the importance of military sport, not just at home but on battleships, behind the trenches in World War I, and in the midst of the Desert War … Their book should be essential reading not only for scholars and students working on military history and the history of sport, but also for those interested in modern British social and cultural history more generally.'

Source: American Historical Review

'It is difficult to disagree with or doubt any of the lines of interpretation taken by Mason and Riedi. The book is exhaustively researched, drawing upon a wide range of material from the press, and civilian and military records. It is free of unnecessary theory or jargon … It is clearly told, carefully nuanced and strongly rooted in the evidential base.'

Source: English Historical Review

'Mason and Riedi have made a significant contribution to the literature and provided a locus classicus on the development of sport in the British military.'

Source: Sport in Society

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