King’s has a long, if intermittent, tradition of education in military affairs. In 1848 King’s established the Department for Military Science (DMS), which trained and educated officer cadets for the British Army. The Reverend Richard W Jelf, then Principal of King’s, created a curriculum that included the study of the Bible, history, languages, mathematics and philosophy, alongside classes that concentrated on grounds more familiar to the soldier: the surveillance of battlefields, the construction of fortifications, military strategy and tactics.
However, in 1859, DMS was closed and studies linked to war fell dormant for over three decades. In 1893 John Knox Laughton was appointed as Professor of Modern History. Laughton, who had been a civilian instructor in the Royal Navy before coming to King’s, persuaded the Navy to permit limited access to its archives and co-founded the Navy Records Society. Two years before Laughton died, military studies reemerged in 1913–14 as a course for the general BA and BSc programmes.
In 1927 the University of London with British government backing decided to follow the University of Oxford’s example and create a chair of ‘Military Studies’ which found its home at King’s. It offered the chair to writer, military correspondent and academic, (retired) Major General Sir Frederick Maurice – an appointment with some irony, as his grandfather had been fired from the Chair of Theology at King’s in 1853, for heretical thoughts on divine punishment (and Maurice himself, had been forced to resign from the army in 1918 for expressing equally heretical views concerning the Prime Minister’s statements about the Western Front in a letter published in the press).
He only stayed for a few years, but the Military Studies Department (MSD) continued running courses for the Territorial Army. In 1943 the MSD was renamed the ‘Department of War Studies’, which existed briefly until its abolition in 1948. Evidently this was not the end of War Studies: the subject would return and, under Michael Howard’s leadership, a quite different kind of department with the same name would be born in the 1960s.
Howard joined King’s as an Assistant Lecturer in History in 1947. He then wrote, with John Sparrow, a history of the Coldstream Guards, the regiment with which he had served with distinction in the Second World War – a book he saw as his ‘graceful farewell to arms’, rather than the preface to War Studies that it turned out to be.