The British army is a very singular institution. Created in the long shadow of Cromwell’s New Model Army, it does not, unlike the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, enjoy regal designation. Yet most of its regiments and supporting corps have a royal prefix (i.e. Royal Artillery), highlighting the circumstances of its origins and the struggle between the monarch and parliament for its control. This, in turn, led to a deep-seated constitutional antipathy and political prejudice against the army during its years of maturity. For much of its existence, it has endured public hostility and is still, to this day, perceived as a potential threat to civil liberty. The institution itself has witnessed a profound aversion to compulsory service, yet it remains a reflection of the society it serves. As such, it typifies the highest and lowest characteristics of that society and its political executive.
The history of an army is, above all, a history of its actions. For most of the four hundred years of its existence, the British army has been small and expeditionary in nature. Yet its deeds have been truly global, earning well over a thousand battle honours on five continents. Interwoven with that glory, however, is a rich seam of controversy.