Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

produced an absolute breakdown in that branch of the service, he is about to abandon that fad.

It is well to be thankful for small: mercies, and it is right to be grateful even for such concessions as these.

At the same time it is fair, and indeed salutary, to remember that every one of these very obvious concessions to common-sense and common honesty may be regarded as a sort of heroic reversal of the fixed policy of the War Office. Every one of these commonplace and obvious changes has been urged upon the War Office year after year, by soldiers and by civilians, in Parliament and out of it, and year after year those who made the suggestions have been handsomely snubbed for their pains. It may perhaps occur to some of my readers that a lesson may be drawn from the history of these rather paltry reforms. Other reforms will undoubtedly be advocated by soldiers and by civilians, in Parliament and out of it, and in conformity with the precedent, those who suggest them will be told to mind their own business, while the whole authority of the War Office and the Cabinet will be invoked in order to convince the public that the proposals are ridiculous, and that their authors are unworthy of attention. Perhaps, with the experience of the past as a guide, the public may now be more disposed than heretofore to judge of proposals on their merits, rather than to accept the verdict of Authority as conclusive. Statements made in 1895 were officially described as "cock and bull stories, picked up by young civilians from the latest joined subalterns.' Precisely the same statements are made by the same civilians, on the same authority, in 1898, but they have now become the basis of the demand which the Secretary of State for War himself is about to submit, and are universally recognised as commonplace recitals of well-known truths.

With such qualification as has been alluded to, it is possible to hail with satisfaction the promises made by the Secretary of State for War at Edinburgh. Other proposals, however, are to be added, and these are perhaps even more important. At last, after ten years of Parliamentary prevarication, the obvious, patent fact that our supply of artillery is grossly deficient, has been admitted. Some of us may perhaps be inclined to suggest that an admission of the fact that it is midday at twelve o'clock is not in itself a very important one, but in this case we are in the position of the officers and crew of a man-of-war: the Navigating Officer reports the result of his observation to the Captain, "Twelve o'clock, sir.' Very good, twelve o'clock, then make it so,' replies that splendid autocrat the Post Captain. It is not the least use for the Army of the country to know perfectly well that it is twelve o'clock, unless Lord Lansdowne is good enough to say, Then make it so.' Fifteen new batteries of artillery are to be created, and the guns are to be ordered at once. For this relief, much thanks. It is a tardy admission that we are,

at the very lowest computation, 90 guns short. Of course, as a matter of fact, the deficiency is very much greater, for when, if ever, the new batteries have been raised, we shall still have an immense force of Militia and Volunteer Infantry wholly unprovided with mobile artillery. Once more it is worth calling attention to the fact that for ten years past the inadequacy of our artillery has been urged upon the War Office. That, so far from having taken any steps in the direction of amendment, the War Office has actually decreased the number of effective guns, and that its sole concession to the perpetual complaints in Parliament was a statement with regard to the Field Batteries which was calculated to deceive, which did deceive, and which has been recently described to me by an officer, who perhaps is better qualified to have a correct opinion in the matter than any other in the Army, as being 'an utterly indefensible fraud.'

In addition to the artillery which is urgently needed, we are to have a number of new battalions, making probably nine in all. That there is need for a reinforcement of our Infantry it is not necessary to deny. But there is very grave reason to doubt whether a reinforcement of this crude kind is either necessary or desirable. It is not worth while here to go into detailed figures; before long the official figures must be laid before Parliament. But apart from details, there are two points which are no longer matters of dispute. It has long been notorious, and is now officially admitted, that many thousands of our Infantry soldiers are unfit to take the field. A still more sinister admission has been made by the Secretary of State for War, who has informed us that, as a result of the latest piece of make-believe at the War Office, there are actually hundreds of soldiers in our Mediterranean garrisons who are sham soldiers only.

It is also admitted, that of the 9,000 new troops voted by Parliament in 1897, only a very small number has yet been obtained, and those who have followed the performances of the War Office during the last few months are aware that every sort of expedient has been resorted to, in order, by hook or by crook, to induce men to enter the ranks, to keep them in the ranks, or to get them back to the ranks. Under these circumstances it is the opinion of many officers, and certainly of some civilians, that the House of Commons will be well advised if it insists upon the completion of the units already voted, and upon the restoration to thorough efficiency of those already existing, as a condition precedent to the creation of any new Infantry battalions. On this point it would appear that officers outside the War Office are in almost absolute agreement, and it is to be hoped that it will not escape attention during the forthcoming debates in Parliament. It is not suggested that the whole list of reforms contemplated by the Secretary of State has been exhausted, and until an official announcement he made it would be unreasonable to suggest that the list is complete, or to doubt that other excellent measures may be in store. Lord Lansdowne has made such a great step in advance, that it would be ungracious and unwise to doubt that he will complete the scheme which has evidently commended itself to him, with all the subsidiary improvements which his judgment may suggest to him.


At the same time, it is now certain that there are some points, and those of the very first magnitude, on which Lord Lansdowne has followed or has shared the views which some of his principal advisers are well known to entertain. As in the opinion of very many officers the points referred to are not subsidiary, but primary and essential, it is worth while to bestow some attention upon them.

The Commander-in-Chief has expressed his opinion with regard to the efficiency and organisation of the Army on many occasions. It is not unfair to say that there has been an apparent inconsistency between some of the views which he has thought it his duty to express, and this circumstance has made it impossible for some of those who have the greatest admiration for his services and character to accept his opinion as a safe guide. To agree with him in one mood would involve a difference when he spoke on the same subject in another mood. It is fortunate, however, when those who desire to see satisfactory reform of our Army can claim the Commander-in-Chief as an undoubted ally. The very moment that the basis of equality of units at home and abroad is permanently broken down, the whole system is thrown out of gear, and it becomes impossible to maintain the system of organisation which was created and based on that principle. Such are Lord Wolseley's words, and there could not possibly be a truer or more significant statement. The present system of Infantry organisation depends, and has always depended, for its success upon the absolute equality between the number of units at home and abroad. It is, however, a matter not of opinion but of fact that there never has been any equality of units at home and abroad, nor does it take a very acute prophet to foretell that the equilibrium which has never existed in the past is never likely to be established in the future. On the contrary, it is as plain as anything can be that the growing demands of the Empire must year by year increase the number of troops abroad and still further upset the balance upon the maintenance of which our Army system depends. That the balance has been upset has been obvious for years: the fact is now officially admitted and a remedy for the admitted evil is proposed.

It is at this point that, in the opinion of many, the new War Office scheme ought to be strongly opposed. It is understood to be

the intention of the War Office to set matters straight by raising a sufficient number of new battalions to partially redress the inequality between units at home and abroad. There are many reasons why the raising of new battalions at the present time may be regarded as inexpedient and undesirable. But for the present it is sufficient to point out that, even supposing the whole of the new battalions be raised-a very extreme supposition-the real evil will not have been dealt with at all; the measure will at best be a palliative and not a remedy. Long before the nine new battalions have been raised some new dislocation in the distribution of our forces will have taken place. The present distribution being entirely unsystematic, the result. rather of chance and accident than of any reasonable military method, cannot even be taken as a basis for the future; it shifts and changes from day to day. No one at the War Office can pretend to say what distribution of our forces may be necessary in three years' time; but the man who would venture to assert that they will be equally distributed between home and foreign stations, and that such a distribution will be permanent, would not be worthy of a moment's attention, for he would be asserting that which he could not possibly know, and which experience and probability combine to condemn as almost certainly false.

It seems reasonable, therefore, to say that in so far as the War Office propose to make the organisation of the Army dependent upon the equality of units abroad and at home, they are on the wrong track and ought to be resisted.


It has never been contended that the equality of units abroad and at home conforms to any rational distribution of our forces. It is nowhere on record that the military authorities, after having discussed the military needs of India and of our various colonies and garrisons, have arrived at the conclusion that the number of units required for their defence was precisely the same as the number which are required on military grounds in the United Kingdom. The dismal plan of cutting our coat according to our cloth, instead of buying enough cloth to make the coat we actually want, has been resorted to in this as in so many other cases. Indeed, in this instance the motive which has decided the distribution of our forces was, if possible, a trifle more absurd than the usual happy-go-lucky plan of asking the Exchequer how much money it will give, and then squaring the military needs of the country to fit the parsimony or ignorance of the Treasury clerks. In the present instance there is no doubt that the distribution of our forces has been made in order to allow of the carrying out of a particularly wasteful and demoralising plan, which, having once received the sanction of a certain number of War Office

Vol. XLIII-No. 253


officials, has been jealously guarded by the amour propre of their successors, who have apparently considered that their own reputations are bound up in the maintenance of the dangerous and unpractical patent with which they have chosen to associate themselves, and whose qualities they have guaranteed.

It is clear that the War Office intend to perpetuate the plan of making one battalion the depot for another. That efforts will be made to diminish the evil is highly probable; that various compromises will be resorted to to abate the scandal which at present exists is certain; but that there will be a frank admission of the inherent vice of the system there is, unfortunately, no reason to believe, and yet we believe that it may be proved absolutely to demonstration that the system is radically unsound, opposed to common-sense, contrary to the practice of all other military organisations, and productive of nothing but mischief in our own. But before proceeding to judge the question on its merits, it is necessary to say a word of caution, and to put the public on their guard against a misconception which has not unnaturally arisen, and which has been cleverly fostered by those who desire to preserve the system at all costs and by any means.



By a not unnatural confusion, the general public have come to believe that linked battalions and the use of one battalion as the depot for another are things identical. There could not be a greater mistake. The linking of battalions is in itself a comparatively harmless amusement in which the authors of the existing system have thought fit to indulge, and which, while it has many patent disadvantages and involves many still more patent absurdities, does accidentally prove convenient in a single particular. There is not the least reason why five-sixths of the linked battalions should be linked at all; there never was any connection between them before they were linked, and now the mere fact that they are linked prevents their ever meeting either in peace or war. There are, on the other hand, a few battalions which were intimately associated with one another before the new nicknames were devised. The public were led to believe that the linking process would render the bonds between the two battalions closer and more indissoluble than before. As a matter of fact, it has had a precisely contrary effect, and regiments which fought side by side through the whole of the Peninsular war and on hardly contested fields in many other parts of the world have been condemned by an ironical destiny to live apart for the rest of their natural lives.

But grotesque and useless as the linking process in many respects

« AnteriorContinuar »