General demands his commanders improve their 'barbaric' habits in the officers’ mess

Major General James Cowan wants his officers to stop eating with their hands saying 'a gentleman uses a knife and fork'

They are battled hardened officers, widely praised for their courage in the line of fire. But the table manners being displayed at one officers’ mess has dismayed a discerning General who has insisted his commanders improve their “frankly barbaric” habits.

Major General James Cowan has reportedly issued a note to his senior officers, insisting his officers stop using their hands to eat, and adding “a gentleman or a lady uses a knife and fork”.

The Sun reported that Maj Gen Cowan noticed officers were eating sandwiches with their hands and failing to stand when commanders entered the room.

In a three-page memo, addressed to his “chaps”, he criticised standards at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire.

“Quite a few officers in the divisional mess seem to be under the impression that they can eat their food with their hands. The practice of serving rolls and sandwiches must stop,” he reportedly said.

He went on to comment on the correct way to use a knife and fork, claiming “holding either like a pen” was “unacceptable”.

Maj Gen Cowan is said to command some 20,000 soldiers and 2,500 officers in 3 UK Division, mostly based at Bulford. Table manners were far from the only subject he criticised.

Lamenting the poor standard of grammar, Maj Gen Cowan advised against the “wanton use of capitals, abbreviations and acronyms”.

On the subject of a successful marriage, Maj Gen Cowan added: “The secret of a successful marriage is never to sit next to your spouse at dinner, except when dining alone at home. It displays a marked degree of insecurity.“

The Army said the note was meant to be taken as fun. “This note was part of a light-hearted correspondence between a commander and his officers about an expected code of behaviour,” a spokesman said.