In 1907 LSE and the War Office began an experiment in military education which was to last until 1932, with a break during the First World War. LSE Archivist Sue Donnelly introduces LSE’s Army Class.
The experience of the Boer War (1899-1901) created concern about the efficiency of the army and a desire to modernise in some quarters. The class for the administrative training of army officers (or the Army Class) aimed to ensure that officers responsible for the supply and administration of the army were trained in the latest business methods.
The project was initiated by three men: RB Haldane, who was Secretary of State for War in the 1906 Liberal government; Edward Ward, the secretary of the Army Council; and Halford Mackinder, a geographer and LSE Director. Haldane and Mackinder were both members of a dining and discussion club the Coefficients, founded by Beatrice and Sidney Webb as a forum to discuss reform and ‘national efficiency’. Haldane was also an LSE governor.
In February 1906 Mackinder and Ward had lunch following which Ward wrote a memorandum entitled The Need for a Trained Administrative Staff and a proposal that LSE run a course on business methods and management received official approval six months later. An advisory board was set up with military representation. The course sat alongside other LSE management courses such as those for railway and bank administrators.
In 1907 a War Office communiqué noted:
The course which is now about to be inaugurated must be regarded as more or less experimental, and the syllabus of instruction will be amended and modified as hereafter may be found expedient.
Mackinder’s view was set out in his inaugural address to the course: “the Army is the greatest single business concern in the country” and needed to be run along business lines. The class became known affectionately as the Mackindergarten.
Officers were selected for attendance and the first course had 31 students, with 12 from the Army Service Corps. 245 officers attended the course before 1914, mainly captains and majors from the supply and administrative branches of the army. The first course ran from January-July 1907 but most ran from March-October. The course covered accounting and business methods, commercial law, statistics, transport, banking, economic theory and geography. The teaching aimed to cover the fundamental principles of each subject but teachers ensured that material was pertinent to military matters.
Over time the course evolved through collaboration between teachers and students. Study trips included the Times, Great Western Railway Works, London Docks, the Houses of Parliament and the War Office, while businessmen were guest speakers at the weekly after dinner smoking meetings. Teachers on the course included prominent LSE figures such as Halford Mackinder (who continued to teach after his departure from LSE), William Beveridge, Harold Laski, the accountant Laurence Dicksee and Lionel Robbins.
For LSE the course was a useful source of income – initially it funded the opening of a School refectory for all students – and by 1912 the stable and long term relationship with the War Office enabled LSE to maintain the high standard of the academic staff available to the course.
The course was halted abruptly in March 1914 and was suspended for the duration of the war. In 1919 William Beveridge approached the War Office about resuming the course. Although the War Office was keen the Treasury needed persuading that the class was an appropriate source of funds in a time of austerity. The class restarted in 1924 but funding was only allocated on an annual basis. In 1926 the number of officers attending was reduced to 20. In 1931 with the army facing a cut of £85,000 in its education budget, followed by a further cut of £32,000 in 1932, the course was no longer sustainable.
In 1947 the Professor of Commerce, Arnold Plant and Director, Alexander Carr-Saunders tried to revive the course but the War Office was unconvinced and military training and LSE moved on in different directions.
Contributed by Sue Donnelly (LSE Archivist)
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