Physical Training

Soldiers have to be fit. The medical examination only pronounced recruits capable of undertaking the physical training (PT) which would bring them to the necessary standard of strength and stamina for warfare. Then the real training began.

In 1908 the British Army Gymnastic Staff published its comprehensive Manual of Physical Training, which summarized the improvements made in physical conditioning over the previous thirty years. It recognized the importance of full-body fitness, not just the development of the upper body, and promoted swimming, for example, in addition to the more traditional boxing, as a way to meet that goal. The system of Swedish gymnastics developed by Per Henrik Ling, was adopted; these calisthenics could be performed without special equipment and sometimes to the accompaniment of music.

exercises IWM Q 54306

Copyright IWM (Q 54306) (2)

In addition, all British military bases had a gymnasium and playing fields for sports. “All these developments were part of a deliberate program constructed by the Army hierarchy to improve the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the British soldier, enhance unit morale and esprit de corps, and develop individual initiative and leadership qualities.” (1)

When war broke out and more and more soldiers joined the British and the Imperial Armies, the system was severely strained. Temporary camps did not have the same infrastructure for physical training, and as in most other training areas, there was a shortage of competent trainers to teach all the recruits. It is likely that Percy’s PT consisted of drill, marches, running, boxing, and obstacle courses, and such games as tug-of war and football (soccer) and baseball.

We know that at Guelph, it consisted memorably of “long runs before breakfast, when the warped tones of an embryo trumpeter called us up in the early hours of dawn.” (2)

(1) James D. Campbell. “The Army isn’t all work:” Physical Culture in the Evolution of the British Army, 1860-1920. 2012. 3. This work is the general source for this post.
(2) D.C. MacArthur. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, C.F.A. 1919. 2
The image is of Troops of the 13th Battalion, London Regiment (Kensington). n.d.

Copyright 2016. See “About this project.”

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