A young lieutenant marches into army headquarters and stands in front of a table of senior offices. In the centre is a general, who shuffles some papers before looking up.
“Lieutenant Forbes,” the general begins. “You’re here to discuss your claims about safety of troops under your care.”
“You allege that there are insufficient soldiers on the front line with you to defend against the enemy.”
“Yes sir. I reported my concerns to captain Marchment and he said he took the safety of the men very seriously. He said that he would study my findings very closely. He said that any casualty was one too many.”
“Excellent response! And what did he do?”
“Bugger all sir. He sat on the report.”
“Come now, lieutenant. Our priority is to ensure our officers have the right level of support. In a recent audit, four in five officers were either comfortable or neutral about their war experience, and captain Marchment says that no other officers are making these allegations.”
“No sir – that’s because they’ve been threatened with a firing squad or been de-mobbed with shell-shock.”
“And you also report there’s a problem with advancing under covering fire…”
“Yes sir. We’re taught in basic training to advance towards the enemy under the protection of covering fire – in fact army regulations demand it. But when you’re on your own, it’s impossible to provide your own covering fire. In such situations you can’t advance, but if you don’t advance you’re court-martialed for ‘cowardice in the face of the enemy’. General – you’re not writing any of this down.”
“Of course not – this is all top secret! If someone was to get wind of our battlefield procedures…”
“You mean the enemy, sir?”
“No, of course not, I mean the War Office! We tell the Ministry of Defence how incredibly successful we are, how regiments are at full strength, and how our forces are fighting fit! We assure the secretary of defence we have no dissent in the ranks…”
“Yes sir – because anyone who dissents is shot.”
“That still means no dissent though! And we’ve reassured our critics that we have 2,700 more fighting men since 2015.”
“Yes sir, but that’s because we reclassified the army cooks and even the regimental goat as soldiers.”
“Look lieutenant, we’re not playing at soldiers. Despite these new cuddly recruiting campaigns promising emotional support, we’re not going to win if our officers don’t knuckle down and get on with the job. Of course, we don’t actually care how you get it done, but if you’re caught breaching regulations don’t expect us to support you!
“Naturally, we have a whistleblowing policy and it works like this. You come to HQ saying the army hasn’t got the men to get the job done safely, so HQ gives the divisional commander a bollocking, and then division gives me, your area commander, a bollocking and I give you a bollocking and tell you to get on with the job. Are we clear?”
The lieutenant looked crestfallen.
“Come on man!” said the general. “What did you expect? It’s not like you’re working in a caring profession, is it?”
Read C+D deputy news editor Annabelle Collins' review of the BBC's Inside Out programme on Boots here