Discipline has always been a key element in British Armed forces because disciplined men are more effective in battle than a group of disparate men.
Clearly in battle situations it is important that men obey every instruction. Men who ignore or vary the order may not only suffer the consequences themselves but they may make colleagues suffer as well.
Everyday life of the army involves discipline in every aspect whether it is saluting officers or making the bed in the 'army way' to the extent that it is seen as part of army life.
Military law underwrites discipline to enable it to be enforced in instances when serving soldier do not comply with army regulations.
Discipline was laid down in Kings Regulations.
For lesser offences such as failing a kit inspection a penalty would be imposed by the Company Commander which could involve extra duty, cancellation of leave or a small fine.
For more serious offences the soldier would appear before the Battalion Commanding Officer who could order harsher sentences including up to a month in the military prison.
Even more serious offences by the men were heard by a District Court Martial which was made up of three senior officers. The District Court Martial had the power to imprison for up to 2 years
Serious offences by officers and the most serious offences by the men were heard by a General Court Martial. This body consisted of nine senior officers.
The Court Martials ran along similar lines to civil proceedings with officers acting as prosecution and defence. Witnesses were called by both sides and were subject of cross examination. A verdict of guilty or not guilty was then reached.
Although there were some not guilty verdicts most court martials found against the defendants partly because the word of an officer was valued much more highly than that of a man in the ranks and partly due to the need to maintain discipline as if one man escaped punishment for breaching the rules it was thought that others would follow the lead.
In the field serious offences were still dealt with by a Field Court Martial. This consisted of three officers and followed the same pattern as a District or General Court Martial although given the location it tended to be conducted in a speedier manner. This court was unique in that it could deal with breaches of civil law as well as military law.
Offices committed by soldiers of any rank against civil law were dealt with in the civil courts. An officer from the same battalion would normally attend the civilian court to note the verdict and often was asked by the court for an appraisal of the man.
Disciplinary findings are recorded in the Service records of all soldiers.