Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

employment in after-life. By this means alone can we attract men of the class we desire into the military service. Would it not also be possible to make the terms of enlistment more elastic, to allow & three years' enlistment for home defence, and to allow them to re-engage for longer periods, if they desired, with the liability to foreign service? It also seems a misfortune that now no young man can look forward with certainty to making the Army a career; surely this might also be altered with advantage. The promised abolition of deferred pay, and the gift of a free grocery ration, is a reform, which nearly all those acquainted with the conditions of the service have long desired.

There is also one point made by Lord Lansdowne which is in accordance with the rules of business, namely, that the trained soldier should receive more pay than the recruit, just as an experienced workman gets more pay than an apprentice.

Then as to the proposals regarding the reserve, it is now apparently contemplated to give extra pay to 5,000 men, on the condition that they hold themselves liable to return to the colours during the first year of their reserve service. A Bill was drafted and came before Parliament in the session of 1896 with similar provisions, only without the extra pay or the voluntary clause, but it was unanimously opposed by the service members and was withdrawn. Before expressing any opinion regarding the feasibility of these new proposals it is necessary first to know the exact terms of the Bill, but it is obvious that, if it is desired to obtain civilian employment for reserve soldiers, any such liability as described must have serious objections. It is, however, most seriously to be hoped that the Government will take steps to have the reserve efficiently trained. Surely it can be no great hardship to insist on a reserve man, who gets 91. a year pay, to perform the same drills as an efficient volunteer who gets no pay at all.

In conclusion, it may also be pointed out that, no matter what manipulation may be used on our present Army, the fact remains that it is not large enough for our wants ; it must be increased, and for this the unfortunate taxpayer will have to pay. It is also earnestly to be hoped that more attention will be paid to the militia, that it will at once be raised to its full strength, and also, as suggested by Lord Wemyss, that the militia reserve will be supernumerary to and not part of its regular establishment.

During the next session in Parliament we no doubt shall have this great national question exhaustively discussed. It is probable that professional men with equal experience will have widely divergent opinions. This is inevitable-quot homines, tot sententiæ. But if by their united memorial to the Prime Minister the service members of the House of Commons have succeeded in averting what they believe to be a great national danger, they will have deserved well of their country, and effected as much as they could possibly have expected or desired.

FRANK S. ROSSELL,

Major-General.

IV

A TRULY complex and difficult task the unravelling of the Army problem must be, and I fear the public mind has not been much enlightened by the deluge of expert criticism and suggestions which has inundated the press. Nay, more; I can conceive that the difficulty of forming anything like a reasonable judgment may have been rather increased than diminished. For myself, I cannot claim to be an expert; I am only an old soldier of twelve years' service, but having served in cavalry and infantry, having been adjutant of my regiment, and having seen service, I have had some opportunity of forming an opinion. May I take a somewhat broad and general view of the situation ?

We are an industrial and commercial nation with many and varied interests, and we are engaged in carrying on an extensive trade in every part of the globe. Leaving the Little Englanders' out of the question, the people of this country have been slowly but surely awakening to the fact that to protect our interests and to prevent their being overridden we must look to thoroughly efficient land and sea forces. The Navy has at last mercifully been lifted outside the pale of political or party strife, and any one who, in this Jubilee year, was fortunate enough to see the spectacle of five lines, each five miles long, of battle-ships at Portsmouth, a fleet collected together without effort, and without disturbing the squadrons in foreign waters, must have felt that any anxiety as to our sea power might be comfortably removed from his mind.

The same cannot, alas! be said for the Army. Both in strength and in organisation it has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

The service members of the House of Commons recognised this last session, and exonerated themselves from responsibility by addressing a letter to the Prime Minister, calling the attention of the Government to the very unsatisfactory condition of our military forces at the present time. And on the high authority of the Commander-in-Chief we learn that 'the Army machinery is overstrained and out of gear,' and that it is no longer able to meet efficiently the demands now made

it.' This then is the evil : now for a diagnosis of the complaint.

upon

On the question of the strength of our land forces it is not my intention now to dwell.

In 1872 the Government of the day were of opinion that 141 battalions of the line (I am not now speaking of other branches) were sufficient for the requirements of the Empire. That is, seventy were for service abroad, seventy-one for the United Kingdom. It is, I think, obvious to the ordinary observer that, in view of the fact that the Empire has expanded to such a stupendous degree in the last twenty-five years, there must be a corresponding increase in the protective and defensive powers.

That, Parliament alone can and will decide, and the question of an increase, if it be considered expedient, must be purely a matter of extra recruiting and extra expense.

The Army has not yet, like its fortunate sister service, been removed from political rancour, and that is, I fear, still a factor which has to be considered; indeed, indications of opposition to any increase at all have been already apparent. Moreover the very first question which will be asked is, ' Are we getting our money's worth for the eighteen millions ?'

I, for one, having studied carefully the Army estimates, which is the balance sheet submitted to the public, am not prepared to give an unqualified assent to this. It is possible that reductions might be made in departmental offices and in other directions; in any case, in my judgment there should be a complete overhauling of the finances from a business point of view. But having said so much, I would also urge that as long as this country intends to carry on an extensive and successful trade in every part of the world, and as long as the people of this country are agreed that conscription in any shape or form is not agreeable to the habits of the nation, so long must they recognise that a voluntary army cannot and must not be compared with the military forces of other nations who work under a totally different system; and that they must be prepared to pay, and to pay generously, for what, after all, is absolutely essential for the protection of their property.

As for the organisation, that is a different matter. In this respect we have severe critics—Army reformers, may I say, like Mr. Arnold Forster?-who have made a study of the question, and who would have us believe that the system under which the organisation has been carried on is rotten to the core.

And again there are authorities, like Sir A. Haliburton, whose expert knowledge and experience is undeniable, and who has taken up a position of invincible official optimism.

How are we to strike the balance between these conflicting opinions ?

The suggestion that we should disintegrate the existing system Vol. XLIII–No. 251

с

and unlink the battalions is to my mind simply childish and ridiculous. It would entail a heavy expenditure of money, and would probably result in a failure to obtain the end we have in view. No one will, I think, deny that the Crimean War conclusively proved that under long service it was impossible to keep the Army up to its required strength, and I am strongly of opinion that short service, with its accompanying reserve, is the only sound, the only practical system under which a mobile fighting and defensive force can be maintained.

It will then be asked why has the linked battalion system been such a disastrous failure? My answer is that it has never had a chance; and this brings me to my indictment against the War Office. My complaint against the distinguished soldiers who rule over this public office is twofold.

In the first place, there is no proof that they have ever appreciated the intention of the territorial, the sentimental side of the system which they have been held to administer. When the numbers were taken away and territorial names given, the sentiment involved was pushed well to the front. Has this excellent intention ever been carried out ? Not a bit of it! On the contrary, the policy of levelling all regiments to the same hard orthodox pattern, regardless of any distinguishing mark, any regimental peculiarity to which they may have clung, has been mercilessly pursued.

This short-sighted policy has also, I understand, been applied to the cavalry, recruits being no longer enlisted for particular regiments, and the result, as might have been anticipated, has been fatal.

My second charge against the War Office administrators is, that seeing, as they must have seen, knowing, as they must have known, that a steady dislocation of the Army machinery was resulting from an increase (and no doubt a necessary increase) of battalions abroad, and a consequent depletion of fewer battalions at home, they permitted the public to live in a fool's paradise; that they made not the slightest effort by word or deed to protest against what they now admit to be a growing evil; and that even up to the eleventh hour they would have us believe that the storm is in a teacup, and that there is no necessity for anxiety or for reform.

For myself, I may say, I entertain no very friendly feeling for the War Office at this moment. Their action (and I impute blame entirely to the military board in this matter) with regard to the

1. This action is incomprehensible in view of the fact that there are in our Army regiments such as the Black Watch, the Gordon Highlanders, and others which are such a tangible proof of the inherent strength which traditional history gives.

Guards during this last session still rankles in my mind, and I am still at a loss to account for their conduct.

I have no desire to labour the point here, and need only repeat what I said in the House of Commons (when strenuously opposing their action), in order to emphasise the argument I am now advancing, an argument in which I am happy to say I had the support of an overwhelming majority of soldiers, and of public opinion generally, as expressed by both sides of the press. My contention was, that while the highest authorities agreed that the deplorable state of line battalions at home was due to the inevitable drain constantly made upon them for the battalions abroad, the Household Brigade alone had maintained a high state of efficiency for the very reason that they were not subjected to this drain. And yet, wilfully blind to this, the same suicidal, fatuous treatment, the melancholy result of which was becoming apparent to all, was complacently applied to the finest body of men we have in the kingdom.

This is the sum of my complaint against the War Office.

Irresponsible people who write to the newspapers say it should be swept away altogether. That to my mind is sheer nonsense. Some of the ablest soldiers we have perform the daily routine of administration within those gloomy portals in Pall Mall, and are guided by a high sense of duty. That they have been working on the wrong lines I am certain, and I am equally confident that they are reaping as they have sown, and that they are now receiving the severest punishment a great public department can suffer in the loss of public confidence. It only remains for them to abandon the position of optimism they have taken up, and by so doing to regain the position they have for the time being lost.

One word now on the question of the much-abused linked battalion system, which appears to me to be the crux, the kernel of the military problem.

Since I commenced writing this article the Secretary of State for War has spoken to the country, and has delineated the outline of what the Government propose to lay before Parliament this session.

This permits us to assume that the discrepancy between the home battalions and foreign battalions will be made good; that in any case this crooked path will be made straight; and that each battalion abroad shall have its corresponding battalion at home to make good the leakage which necessarily takes place. All we have to consider and what Parliament will have to decide once and for all, is whether the principle is a good one or a bad one.

For my own part, although I freely recognise and appreciate the strain to which the home battalions are subjected, I cannot but think that it is the only feasible, the only practical plan by which our foreign requirements can be met. Obviously an ideal system

« AnteriorContinuar »