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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, General Staff and Chief of the General Staff and the abolition of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.

The change to the character of the Army 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 been won only by leaving Britain defenceless on land. In 1900, Imperial Germany began to build a battlefleet and industrial growth had already made it overtake 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, as 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 took evidence in private and its Report was in three parts. It analysed the complex arrangements and inefficiencies of the Army administration and made three main recommendations:

That 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 to be responsible for organisation to leave commanders of field units free to train for war.


King Edward VII welcomed the Report and successfully urged the Arthur James Balfour's government to accept its recommendations. However, some in the Army were wary of its recommendations, one opponent being Lord Kitchener. Richard Haldane, who became War Secretary for Henry Campbell-Bannerman's government in 1905, implemented many of its recommendations between 1906 and 1909. Among his advisers was General Sir Gerard Ellison, who was also Secretary of the Esher Committee.

The recommendations were to form the basis of Army reform for the next 60 years. Military historian Correlli Barnett wrote that the Esher Report's importance "and its consequences can hardly be exaggerated.... Without the Esher Report... it 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.
  • Fraser, Peter (1973). Life and Times of Reginald, Viscount Brett. Macmillan.