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War Office

War Office. The centre of British army administration from at least 1661 until the emergence of the Ministry of Defence in 1963, the War Office was designed to impose civilian control over military affairs. Before 1855, it was run by the curiously named secretary at war, whose duties lay as much towards the monarch as Parliament, but in the light of disasters in the Crimea, all administrative duties were consolidated under the secretary of state for war, a cabinet post. This had the advantage of rationalizing what had been, hitherto, a chaotic administrative structure, but as the need for military advice to politicians grew, both in response to the development of empire and the emerging threat from Germany in the early 20th cent., clashes between the secretary of state and military men became inevitable. In 1914 these clashes were dealt with by appointing Lord Kitchener, an experienced soldier, as secretary of state. His death two years later allowed the politicians to reassert some measure of control. Similar problems were avoided during the Second World War when Winston Churchill, as prime minister, assumed the role of ‘minister of defence’ and downgraded the influence of the War Office. Moreover, the nature of the war necessitated inter-service advice, and this further undermined the importance of a strictly army organization. Although the War Office was revived after 1945, hopes of continued independence faded in light of a need for consolidated inter-service policies and economy. The Ministry of Defence was the answer.

John Pimlott

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