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Professor Ian Beckett

PhD War Studies, 1975

Professor Ian Beckett

I graduated from Lancaster in 1971 and had been fortunate enough to be taught by John Gooch, who arrived from King’s College London in my second year. John advised me to pursue my interest in the Victorian Volunteer Movement and put me in touch with Brian Bond at King’s, assuring me that he would be the best supervisor.

In the old ramshackle building in the Strand, Brian and Mike Dockrill interviewed me and I duly started in October. For most of the first year I was out touring county record offices and most contact came through the IHR seminars which the MA students as well as the postgrads attended, the tearoom before the seminars always being enjoyable and stimulating. Donald Watt was usually in attendance, seemingly mostly asleep, but invariably launching into some attack on the hapless speaker.

King’s was a formative experience for my whole generation of military historians for at that time there were few universities outside Oxbridge where postgraduate study in the subject could be undertaken. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many of us then benefitted from the subsequent expansion of the subject at university level." – Ian Beckett

After Brian Bond departed for Canada for a year in 1972, I was hired to teach some of his MA lectures and seminars two hours a week at the princely sum of £2 per hour. I shared teaching with Ian Roy and Brian Ranft and, as my first teaching role, it was immensely valuable. Like Wellington in Flanders in the 1790s, I learned not what to do albeit at the expense of the MA students.

In research terms, that year was spent mostly in the Old War Office Library ploughing through the kind of parliamentary reports and periodicals that can now be done at home at the press of a button.

Many of us would also frequent the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) where ‘Ginger’ Bidwell presided. I remember one afternoon when Ginger asked fellow War Studies student Keith Simpson, who would depart for a job at Sandhurst in 1973 and end up as Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, and me to clear out a small cupboard-type room on a back stairwell, we found a trunk that contained what appeared to be courts martial records from the Mau Mau insurgency – a 1952-60 uprising in Kenya. Someone from the MoD appeared to collect them within the hour!

I passed my Viva examination in January 1975, Paul Smith from the Department of History being the internal examiner. I could not get a teaching post initially and went into university administration at Salford, and then War Studies at Sandhurst. I moved back into university teaching in 1994 after a year in the Strategy Department at the US Naval War College and had another rewarding spell in the USA as the Matthew Horner Chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University at Quantico in 2002-2004. I retired as Professor of Military History from the University of Kent in 2015.

King’s was a formative experience for my whole generation of military historians for at that time there were few universities outside Oxbridge where postgraduate study in the subject could be undertaken. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many of us then benefitted from the subsequent expansion of the subject at university level.