'STAND TO'

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'STAND TO'

Postby jf42 » 04 Mar 2017 11:51

I was wondering if any members had insight on the vintage of the term 'Stand to'; the term that is, not the practice -
described by Peninsula veterans as the custom of falling in two hours before day break and remaining formed up till daylight or until “You can see a white horse a mile off,” - which can be dated back to the late C18th at least.

I believe I first came across it in the context of the 1914-18 war but I wondered how much farther back it might have been used.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby Frogsmile » 04 Mar 2017 17:11

Interesting subject JF. The full term is 'stand to your arms' and as you suggest it goes back a long time. It relates to first light and preparing soldiers for the likelihood of a dawn attack. It also served the purpose of the recognised start of a soldiers daily routine. As such it is connected with the bugle and trumpet calls "rouse" and "reveille". The cavalry equivalent was to stand fully dressed and ready to mount (something like stand to your horses, but I am unsure of the exact term). Tabony might be able to advise.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby jf42 » 06 Mar 2017 11:02

Thanks, FS. Is there no difference between troops in the field, in contact with the enemy, forming up before dawn and the routine start of the day in barracks. camp or cantonment?

I had imagined troops in the field, forming up "at the alarm post before daybreak" (Surtees, 25 Years a Rifleman) would do so silently, having been woken by corporals going among the men and rousing them, while sounding 'rouse' or 'reveille' would be the custom in camp.

Perhaps that is a more modern version of the practice.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby Frogsmile » 06 Mar 2017 11:55

jf42 wrote:Thanks, FS. Is there no difference between troops in the field, in contact with the enemy, forming up before dawn and the routine start of the day in barracks. camp or cantonment?

I had imagined troops in the field, forming up "at the alarm post before daybreak" (Surtees, 25 Years a Rifleman) would do so silently, having been woken by corporals going among the men and rousing them, while sounding 'rouse' or 'reveille' would be the custom in camp.

Perhaps that is a more modern version of the practice.


It is a good question JF and I am not 100% sure. I think it might have depended upon the perceived proximity of the enemy as to exactly which process was followed, but perhaps others will know more. Certainly if the enemy were close by, then I think you are right that it would have been done silently and without herald. However, it invariably started the routine of the day in any case and, once 'stand down' was announced, was generally followed by routine weapon cleaning (more important as time went on and weapons became more complex) and time for breakfast. These things evolved of course, but the principles were unchanging and it is only the fine detail that varied according to local circumstances.
I think that the more noisy routine related to large, all-arms encampments of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries when men did not bed down in a slit trench. They nevertheless had to prepare for surprise attacks and the first act of each day would have been a stand to arms/horses/guns until such time as daybreak had revealed whether, or not there was danger. In those periods it was done by bugle/trumpet call and before that by beat of drum, or even gun fire (to clear guns and 'awake' a large encampment). The latter being the origin of the epiphet for tea and rum as a dawn beverage.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby mike snook » 06 Mar 2017 20:16

'Stand to your arms' for sure, but is there not also a bit more to this - a process of evolution if you will. Surely for many, many years armies slumbered inside layered protective screens of permanently 'stood to' cavalry vedettes and infantry pickets. Pickets in particular were organized, sited and intended to fight in situ, until such time as the rest of the force had been roused and had come to their assistance, (or, more usually, the pickets had fallen back on the main body). I am entirely prepared to be wrong but it has long been my understanding that the pre-dawn stand to of the entire force on its parade grounds, or in other pre-identified fighting positions, is a relatively recent practice, emanating from the high-imperial age. Without reaching for text books and precedent immediately, if, for example, I watched an episode of Sharpe in which the beknighted South Essex, (or whatever Cornwell called them), fell in and stood to, to await the dawn, without having good reason to do so, (such as overnight contacts on the picket line), I'm pretty sure my hackles would start to rise. Whether or not my hackles would be correct to flutter or not I leave open to further debate. Could well be wrong...in which case I will have learned something...

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PS It occurs to me that those damned 1854 Ruskies were always up to dirty tricks in the pre-dawn.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby Frogsmile » 06 Mar 2017 20:46

mike snook wrote:'Stand to your arms' for sure, but is there not also a bit more to this - a process of evolution if you will. Surely for many, many years armies slumbered inside layered protective screens of permanently 'stood to' cavalry vedettes and infantry pickets. Pickets in particular were organized, sited and intended to fight in situ, until such time as the rest of the force had been roused and had come to their assistance, (or, more usually, the pickets had fallen back on the main body). I am entirely prepared to be wrong but it has long been my understanding that the pre-dawn stand to of the entire force on its parade grounds, or in other pre-identified fighting positions, is a relatively recent practice, emanating from the high-imperial age. Without reaching for text books and precedent immediately, if, for example, I watched an episode of Sharpe in which the beknighted South Essex, (or whatever Cornwell called them), fell in and stood to, to await the dawn, without having good reason to do so, (such as overnight contacts on the picket line), I'm pretty sure my hackles would start to rise. Whether or not my hackles would be correct to flutter or not I leave open to further debate. Could well be wrong...in which case I will have learned something...

As ever

M

PS It occurs to me that those damned 1854 Ruskies were always up to dirty tricks in the pre-dawn.


Yes I think you make a really important point about the picquets (forgive my old school spelling) and vedettes, Mike. As well as quarter guards for each corner of the encampment and duty officers of the day and week checking all. Even so it seems to have been common practice when within close distance of the enemy for each day to start with one form or other of stand to. Having read up on the Wars of the Roses recently it seems that the concept even stretched back to those times too. Presumably this must have been because of the many instances in history when Armies have been slaughtered in their encampments just as dawn was rising, regardless of outlying picquets, who can of course themselves be surprised and taken.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby jf42 » 08 Mar 2017 00:21

I posted a remodelled version of the question for Napoleonic War Forum and the conversation is ongoing. We are currently considering sources for the morning of Waterloo. I have been coming across mention of the practice, but not the phrase, in correspondence and memoirs relating to the Revolutionary period of the last great French War- so you can ease those hackles back into their resting position, Col Mike. The quotations below relate to troops 'resting on their arms' in the open field, on outpost, or cantoned in and around villages (if they were lucky), facing imminent attack by an aggressive and fast moving enemy.

http://www.napoleonicwarsforum.com/view ... =20&t=3601

"Greetings, all. I was wondering about the practice that is known today as 'Stand to' ; short, I believe,for 'Stand to your arms' and described by Peninsula & Waterloo veterans as the custom of falling in two hours before day break and remaining formed up till daylight or until “You can see a white horse a mile off.” (Surtees 95th ; Morris 73rd)

Surtees, serving in the Light Coy of the 56th (West Essex) in the Helder campaign of 1799, explained "the custom of being at the alarm post before daybreak.is almost universal; for, that being the usual time of attack, it behoves those who are apprehensive of a visit from the enemy to be on the lookout, and to be prepared to receive them when they come- here they remain, till as the vulgar phrase goes, “You can see a white horse a mile off,” that is, till it is clear daylight, and they have ascertained that no enemy is in the neighbourhood; after which, if all be quiet, they retire to their quarters."

From the midwinter campaign of 1794-95, Captain William Harness of the 80th desribed three weeks in the field, " Seven nights we lay upon our arms, we had seven night marches, and the other six we were so near the enemy as to sleep accoutred, ready to turn out at a minute’s notice, and every morning under arms at five o’clock and remained out till perfect daylight."

Can anyone enlighten me as to the process in our period ? Would troops in the field be roused by drum in order to form up "at the alarm post" or would this happen quietly, to avoid confusion or alarm, with NCOs moving among the troops, waking the men, passing the word along to 'stand to' ?" [QUOTATION FROM NWF POST ENDS]
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby Frogsmile » 09 Mar 2017 21:50

It's disappointing to see the limited response to your query in the NWF, JF. What Surtees related in his excerpt above is exactly what I tried to describe in my earlier response. The alarm post was the earlier term for what was later called the 'stand to position' that was/is made clear to every soldier before he is allowed to bed down for the night. I think it is such an ancient military principle that it was probably inscribed with a stylus on a wax tablet as part of Pontius Pilate's standing orders.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby mike snook » 09 Mar 2017 23:17

OK...I like the Surtees....good and salient stuff. But isn't there also another way of looking at this question - by turning it around and identifying all those occasions when early morning contact is made on the picket line and the main body of the troops is not formed up and stood to its arms? There are such occasions surely. Also it seems to me that if a force is stood to its arms, then its pickets no longer have a tactical function and should as a matter of course be withdrawn from outlying positions, to re-join the main body, for the avoidance of blue on blue engagement.

At Isandlwana, for example, there is no 'stand to', until such time as the alarm is sounded (a different context of 'stand to'), in the bracket 07.45 to 08.00 am, at which point the infantry pickets are brought in but the cavalry vedettes stay out. Top of the head....Inkerman...pre-dawn manoeuvres by Ivan - Atkins with pickets out, but with main bodies not stood to their arms, if memory serves me right? I should say that I am offering this thought in haste and haven't fact-checked the precise detail of the start at Inkerman...but that's how it's presently registered in my brain. At Abu Klea on the other hand the British did stand to in the pre-dawn inside the zareba.

When time permits I will see if there is anything of relevance in the various editions of Field Exercises and Evolutions.

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M
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby jf42 » 10 Mar 2017 11:36

I think the key element may have been whether there was a risk of imminent attack expected. Neither at Isandlwana nor Inkerman was an imminent attack expected (QED), whereas at Abu Klea the imminent risk was considerable.

I am analysing a scenario from Netherlands in 1795 where an enemy attack was imminent; there was a half-battalion piquet on outpost at a village a mile forward of the brigade position in and around a village on a strategic route into Holland, which also covered a vulnerable junction point between the British and the crumbling Dutch army. Anecdotal indications are that, since they had taken the field a week or so before, all troops 'stood to their arms ' 2 hrs before dawn- (approximately 6 am). The force commander was in fact under orders to mount a pre-emptive attack that morning but delayed while he tried to ascertain the enemy's strength.

The expected enemy attack came in at about 10 am, whereupon the outpost beat a hasty retreat to avoid being surrounded, holding off French light cavalry as they did so, and withdrew to complete the brigade defensive arc around the village

An interesting footnote is that the regiment providing the outpost was commanded by a 26 year-old Lieutenant Colonel, the Honourable Arthur Wesley who, as Field Marshal Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, would return to the Low Countries twenty years later to take on Napoleon.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby Redcoat 57 » 10 Mar 2017 23:08

A really interesting discussion!
I would say stand to is definitely a field precaution rather than a routine start to the day. In barracks the day would start with a ‘first parade’ after breakfast, which may or may not involve carrying arms depending on the activities planned for that day.
I think it is right to say a wise commander would have his troops up and armed, and ready for battle, before dawn if he thought there was any chance of an enemy attack. This has probably been the case since Centurion was a rank not a tank! In the British army it gained a certain ritual status in the trenches in The Great War.
But I would be really interested to see the origin of the actual phrase ‘stand to your arms’. It would not sound inappropriate in the context of the English Civil War, I think, but could be even older.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby mike snook » 11 Mar 2017 01:00

Yes it's obviously the case that armies are going to 'stand to' if they expect to be attacked and that this will have applied from time immemorial. That's not even debatable, but simply a function of common sense. I thought we were talking about the practice of standing to as a matter of course...as a function of tactical doctrine and as an essential component of morning routine in the field. Certainly in the modern modern age the practice is always to stand to in the pre-dawn, on the essential premise that if the enemy intends to mount a surprise attack and is worth his salt you're not going to know about it....so you'd jolly well better be ready for nasty surprises each and every morning. It was plainly not ever thus....hence my point about the picketing system which in the early Victorian age was quite sophisticated and carefully rehearsed during summer field days. This is what I mean about the modren precept of 'stand to' proper emerging from evolving tactical practice. Of course the customary practice will have been different from army to army and region to region. But assuming we are talking about the British Army, I don't believe that it became customary practice to stand to your arms in the pre-dawn without fail until some point in the high imperial age...I do think that it was an SOP by the time of the Great War and very probably by the start of the Boer War. I seem to recall that Penn Symons had his men stood to before daylight at Dundee on the morning of Talana Hill. Even earlier than that I have something lodged in the back of my mind about it being something to do with the Zulus. In my own lifetime I have never had my troops in the field and in the face of the other lot (no matter how few they might be...including relatively small terrorist gangs) without standing to in the pre-dawn every single day. One of the principal merits of the practice, immediate readiness for battle aside, is that everything is packed away and that the command is ready to move at the drop of a hat every single morning, enabaling you to steal the metaphorical march on the other lot should the opportunity present itself.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby jf42 » 12 Mar 2017 00:34

We may be in danger of turning back on ourselves. The original question related to the vintage of the term 'Stand to' - as opposed to the practice, which all agree probably dates back quite far. I am looking at sources from the 1790s. The answer might simply turn on what era NCOs graduated from saying 'Stand to your arms,' as they went among the men (assuming they once did), to a briefer 'Stand to.' I hesitate to speculate how far back that might have been. The army has long demonstrated a somewhat contradictory attitude to the virtues of brevity compared with the merits of regulation thoroughness, but one wonders whether there was ever a time when a tired, hungry corporal would bother with four words when two would do.

As far as troops standing to their arms in response to a drum call (or trumpet), I have scouted about a little in C17th and C18th century sources and have not found any direct reference to the practice. I have found Reveille referred to as being "beat at break of day as usual", in garrison or camp at any rate, although "no Reveille beats the Day the army is to march except when ordered.." and " as soon as a General beats, all officers and Soldiers dress themselves, and prepare for a March."

Was there a another call that preceded Reveille on occasion to initiate 'Stand to' when in the field and in the face of the enemy? My reasonably educated guess is that NCOs moving among the men might be a more effective way of ensuring they were awake and forming up quickly and quietly. As for quiet, it does seem a good idea not to alert the enemy to the exact your morning precautions, (although this could hardly have been be a military secret given the enemy were presumably doing something similar on their side of the hill), in case the foemen choose simply to put in their attack an hour earlier than your time of 'stand to'. That is assuming the enemy commander might think such an effort worthwhile, night attacks on any scale being notoriously risky enterprises. In the campaign I have been studying, the French did both: sent in attacks before dawn and waited till daybreak; the difference possibly being terrain and the quality of troops they were facing, as well as the specific need for surprise.
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Re: 'STAND TO'

Postby jf42 » 12 Mar 2017 01:22

Having said I found no direct reference to the practice of 'Stand-to' in the earlier sources, I omittted this from the above quotation from " Orders given by his Grace the Duke of Marlborough to the Army under his command in Flanders
-which I add for comparison.

Orders for the British Foot on the Day of March

That when Assembly beats to strike and pack up all the Tents, load all Baggage, call in the Quarter Guards and Rear Guards and to stand to their arms in the streets."

All quotations taken from:

"A system of camp-discipline, military honours, garrison-duty, and other Regulations for the land Forces, collected by a Gentleman of the Army' 1757

- Including Kane's 'Camp Discipline' and 'Discipline for a Battalion in Action' and other collected examples.


https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YEE ... 27&f=false
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