Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: February 2011

1 - Morale crisis and recovery


The War is going to be won or lost on morale. We are too apt to leave the problem alone. Morale is a psychological problem like sex, and therefore the Britisher is almost ashamed to talk about it.

(General Ronald Adam, the Adjutant-General of the British Army, February 1942)

The defeats suffered by the British Army during the first three years of the war, in France, the Far East and North Africa, raised serious questions about the morale of the British and Commonwealth citizen army. Large portions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) surrendered in France, while Singapore and Tobruk are names that have become synonymous with humiliation and capitulation. Historians have quite rightly contrasted the zeal and determination of German and Japanese troops with the apparent absence of these qualities among their British and Commonwealth foes.

Ronald Adam, the Adjutant-General of the British Army, believed that defeats, such as the loss of Malaya and Hong Kong and the withdrawal in Burma at the beginning of 1942, had all been ‘due to the low morale of our troops’. He considered the issue so crucial and the extent of the problem to be of such concern, that, in February 1942, he proposed the creation of a Morale Committee to the Executive Committee of the Army Council (ECAC).

McPherson, A. B., Army: Discipline (The War Office, 1950), p. 46.