Battling the Bureaucracy

The politics of logistics and combating the desk jockeys enjoying life far from the frontline yet imposing their will on the soldiers is age-old. The Spring 2004 edition of Parameters has a note allegedely from Wellington to the bureaucrats in Whitehall. This was supposedly written while he was on campaign in Spain fighting the French.


Whilst marching to Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your request which has been sent to H.M. ship from London to Lisbon and then by dispatch rider to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately, the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash, and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensive carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstances since we are at war with France, a fact which may have come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both.

1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London, or, perchance,

2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,

Sources: Peter G.
Tsouras, ed., The Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations (London, Eng., and
Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Greenhill Books, Stackpole Books, 2000), pp. 62-63; also quoted in
Joseph W. Koletar, “Corporate Security in the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries: Who Are
Those Guys?” in Proceedings of the 1999 Academic/Practitioner Symposium of the
American Society for Industrial Security,, p. 42.