Esher Report

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The Esher Report of 1904, chaired by Lord Esher, recommended radical reform of the British Army, such as the creation of an Army Council, a General Staff and the abolition of the office of Commander-in-Chief of the Forces and the creation of a Chief of the General Staff, laid down the character of the Army which has endured.


The Second Boer War of 1899-1902 exposed weakness and inefficiency in the British Army and demonstrated how isolated Britain was from the rest of the world. The war had only been won by leaving Britain defenceless on land. In 1900 Imperial Germany began to build a battlefleet and due to industrial growth had already overtaken Britain's economic lead in Europe. The Elgin Commission had already advocated some changes in administration. Under Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster at the War Office the Report of the War Office (Reconstitution) Committee was set up to look into reform of the Army. It was chaired by Lord Esher, who had been a member of the Elgin Commission, and had two other members; Admiral Sir John Fisher (former Second Sea Lord and Navy reformer), and Colonel Sir George Clarke. The Esher Report was published successively in February and March 1904.

The Committee and its Recommendations[edit]

The Committee took evidence in private and its Report was in three parts. It analysed the complex arrangements and inefficiencies of the Army administration and the three essential recommendations of the Report were:

This rationalisation was recommended by the Report to be implemented throughout the Army. The Report also claimed that policy and administration had become too centralised in the War Office to the detriment of initiative. Administrative districts[1] were recommended which would have responsibility for organisation and therefore leave commanders of field units free to train for war.

Publication of the Esher Reforms[edit]

The King, Edward VII, welcomed the Report and urged the Balfour Government to accept its recommendations, which they did. However some in the Army were wary of its recommendations and Lord Kitchener was against it. After Richard Haldane became War Secretary for the Liberal Campbell-Bannerman Government in 1905, he implemented many of its recommendations between 1906 and 1909. Among his advisers was General Sir Gerald Ellison, who was also Secretary of the Esher Committee.

The recommendations were to form the basis of Army reform for the next sixty years. The military historian Correlli Barnett has written that the Esher Report's importance "and its consequences can hardly be exaggerated...Without the Esher is inconceivable that the mammoth British military efforts of two world wars could have been possible, let alone so generally successful."[2]


  1. ^ See British Commands and Army groups
  2. ^ Correlli Barnett, Britain and Her Army, 1509 - 1970 (Cassell, 1970), p. 359.


  • Barnett, Correlli (1970). Britain and Her Army, 1509 –1970. Cassell. 
  • Dunlop, J. K. (1938). The Development of the British Army 1899 –1914. Methuen. 
  • Heffer, Simon (1999). Power and Place: The Political Consequences of King Edward VII. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 
  • Brett, Oliver (1923—1936). The Letters and Journals of Reginald Brett, Viscount Esher 6/6. Hodder & Stoughton.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Fraser, Peter (1973). Life and Times of Reginald, Viscount Brett. Macmillan.