Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

FREE TRADE IN THE ARMY.

THE Secretary of State for War, when returning thanks for the army at the dinner given by the Lord Mayor to Her Majesty's Ministers on the 9th of August last, is reported to have said, While I do not now deprecate that the attention of army reformers should be turned to our army system, and that they should suggest all necessary improvements, I do beseech those interested in the army to look at it with an eye to the future, and not with an eye always turned to the past. It is in that way we shall best correct the deficiencies of our army organisation. To look to the past, and to that which is no longer suited to the day in which we live, is not to promote the cause of army reform.

I have ventured to address the public twice before on the subject of the army, and on both these occasions I appeared in the somewhat unenviable rôle of a critic. Criticism can only do a certain amount of good, and in my opinion, those who have the welfare of our army at heart, ought to be prepared not only to point out defects, but to suggest remedies. Lord Hartington has expressed a hope that all suggestions should be made with an eye to the future,' and that the much debated question as to the merits of long and short service should now be considered as definitely settled. It is no doubt very desirable that the subject of our army's future should be approached without any bias towards one system or the other ; but before any satisfactory conclusion can be arrived at, as to the system most likely to produce such an army as England requires, it seems absolutely necessary to inquire into the causes which have prevented all systems hitherto tried from being successful.

While concurring with Lord Hartington that a return to the old long service is impossible, I firmly believe that a continuance of the present short service is equally impossible. If this be the case, it will be readily admitted that the military problem which has to be solved by our War Department is one of no ordinary character.'

Both systems have failed to produce the required number of recruits. Various reasons have been given for this, and various remedies have been suggested; but the true reason has apparently not been discovered, and the proper remedy has certainly not been applied.

[ocr errors]

When a sufficiency of soldiers was not to be had in 1869-70, it was decided that recruits disliked long engagements, and the short service system was introduced. The number of men who enlisted after the change was made certainly increased considerably; but whether it was because they preferred short to long engagements, or because the standard of height was reduced at the same time, is open to question. With reference to this, it is instructive to turn to the register of fluctuations in the standard for the infantry, which immediately succeeded the introduction of Lord Cardwell's measure, and to note the successive lowering from 5 feet 8 inches, at which the standard stood under the long service system early in 1870, to 5 feet 6 inches in July, and 5 feet 51 inches in September of that year; 5 feet 5 inches in July 1871, and 5 feet 41 inches in 1873. Now if any one will take the trouble to calculate the extent of the recruiting field which lies within the compass of these 3] inches, that is, the number of English lads between 5 feet 41 inches and 5 feet 8 inches in height, he will realise that the increase in the number of recruits was not altogether due to a preference for short service. During the last thirteen years, the standard has only twice been up as high as 5 feet 6 inches, and on each of these occasions for a few months only; and notwithstanding the advantages which the present short service system is supposed to offer, the dearth of recruits and the impossibility of keeping men in the army, necessitated the standard of recruits being reduced, a few months ago, to an almost dwarfish height (5 feet 4 inches), and to a bounty being offered to soldiers unprecedented in its amount.

It would seem, then, that the problem we have to deal with is not likely to be solved by the adoption of a long or a short service, but by an earnest endeavour to discover the causes which have made the army unpopular with the class on which it depends for its very existence as a voluntary force. The voluntary nature of the contract into which the British soldier enters with the State is, indeed, the allimportant factor in our military system. With a compulsory service, the number of men required to fill the ranks are taken, and they have got to adapt themselves to the terms of that service, whether they like them or not. With us, if the terms do not suit the wouldbe recruit, he simply declines to accept them. When, therefore, we find that the army has ceased to be attractive, we may be sure that some grievances exist (imaginary or otherwise), which ought to be inquired into, and removed if possible, or that the wants and wishes of the soldier are not sufficiently understood. If we are to have a voluntary army, we must have a contented one. To get recruits, in the first place, we must make military service popular; and to keep a sufficient number of men in the ranks, we must deal fairly and honestly with our soldiers. Such compensation for service abroad must be given as will induce men to put up willingly with its draw

backs; and to those who have no trade or employment to fall back upon, a reasonable prospect must be held out of securing for themselves a provision for life, if they behave themselves properly, and choose to continue their career in the army.

To those who care to look below the surface, the disease from which the British army is suffering is most marked. Bacon says, - Wounds cannot be healed without searching;' it is to be regretted that this maxim has not guided our army reformers, who, instead of probing the sore to the bottom, have been satisfied with mere surface treatment, trusting to theoretical knowledge to enable them to deal with a wound which, in reality, requires all the skill of practical experience. One cannot but marvel at the persistent way in which changes have been made without regard to the wants and wishes of the soldier, and without due weight having been given to the opinions of regimental officers, who are chiefly interested in the contentment and efficiency of the men serving under them, and who, from their practical experience, are in the best position to observe the effects of any change of system. It would seem as if the importance of providing good material for the ranks, and of rendering the army a desirable profession for soldiers, had not been sufficiently considered.

Let us look at the question from the soldiers' and from the regimental officers' point of view, who are (though the fact seems to have been forgotten the most important element in any given body of troops; we may thus perhaps be able to devise some scheme which will satisfy the soldier, and have the happy result of keeping our army up to its normal strength, while a reserve is gradually being formed without impairing the efficiency of the first line.

By taking the soldier into our confidence, we shall, I think, find that the following two causes have mainly tended to make tbe army unpopular with him and his younger brothers, the soldiers in posse':

(1) That condition of the territorial system which precludes all freedom of will, combined with uncertainty of the future.

(2) An absence of elasticity in the army system, the existence of which would enable those who so desire and behave well to make the army their profession; and render it possible for those who find military duty distasteful to revert, while still young, to civil life.

While admitting that the territorial system has many advantages from the administrator's point of view, from the soldier's it has certain drawbacks, which necessitate greater freedom in the conditions of his service. In the first place, the constitution of our army, to say nothing of the unforeseen demands which may be made upon it on account of war, prevents the system (as at present applied) being carried out in its integrity. In some districts the supposed local recruiting ground is almost entirely barren, and consequently the regiments called after these districts are territorial only in name, VOL. XV.-No. 88.

3 Z

[ocr errors]

In this way,

War breaks out, and to enable the ranks of the battalions going on service to be filled, we are obliged to have recourse to the system of bounty (so universally condemned), in order to attract volunteers from other battalions; men who have extended their service to remain in India, and whose time is not up when their battalion returns to England, must be transferred to complete their tour of foreign service to some regiment belonging to another district unless they are relieved by their linked battalion ; re-engaged men, who wish to prolong their service in India, are permitted to volunteer for any battalion having a certain number of years of Indian service still to run. a man who originally enlisted at Exeter for the Devonshire regiment, may

be transferred to the Royal Munster Fusiliers to complete his time abroad, and, by volunteering, may possibly end his career in the Gordon Highlanders. Seeing, then, the impossibility of the territorial system being carried out at present, in the manner its originators no doubt hoped it would be, and seeing that considerable laxity has to be permitted in its working, it seems but right that the system should be susceptible of some corresponding elasticity to meet the inclination of the soldier.

As a rule, the battalion in which a man first makes his home is the one he will like best to the end of his service, and constant compulsory change, or even a liability to such change, does more to make soldiers dislike the army, and kill the 'esprit de corps' that used to exist, than anything else. What possible sympathy can the man have who has been drilled and set up as a Royal Scot with his future comrade the Royal Dublin Fusilier ? Each regiment, nay each battalion, has its own particular ideas on the subject of interior economy, and what the young soldier has been taught to consider the correct thing in his old regiment may be deemed a breach of barrackroom etiquette in his new corps. A soldier cannot understand why it should be thought that the fact of his having entered the Queen's. service should make him indifferent to all considerations of country, climate, or friends. Formerly, when a man made up his mind to become a soldier, he knew pretty well what he was about; if he enlisted for a particular regiment, it was because he could reckon on remaining in it; if he wished to go abroad for a certain number of

years,

he chose a corps which would, in all probability, return home at the expiration of the desired time; if he wished to serve at home, he picked out a regiment which had just returned from foreign service; and if he was actuated by none of these considerations, be frequently (and this especially as regards the better class of recruits) selected a regiment to which he was attracted by the presence of friends and acquaintances, or of officers who were interested in himself or his family.

The would-be soldier of the present day cannot suit his fancy or convenience in any of these particulars, and instead of being able to

settle down in some corps, and make it his home, he must be prepared to join a strange battalion in China or the East or West Indies, with as perfect equanimity as if he had no more feeling than a bale of goods. He finds himself suddenly separated from his friends and acquaintances, and being thrown amongst an entirely new set of men, has, so to speak, to begin the world over again. He arrives as a stranger; his former efforts to raise himself in the estimation of his superiors are lost; his capabilities are unknown. It is deemed necessary to put him through his drill again from the commencement of the field exercise, and although he may have prided himself on being one of the smartest men in his old battalion, in his new corps he is known only as one of that wretched draft we got the other day from the home battalion. He becomes discontented and indifferent as to how he puts in his time, and when remonstrated with, replies, • Oh! I'm only for six years, what does it matter? What do I care whether the battalion is considered smart or not? When it goes home, I shall be handed over again with the barrack furniture.'

There are other causes which affect the present condition and prospects of the soldier, and react in dissuading the would-be recruit; notably, the frequent changes in the terms of service, which have been so varied that men can feel no certainty, even as to their immediate future. Many a man who would like to remain in the army, and might be invaluable as a non-commissioned officer, is deterred by the fear of some new warrant, materially affecting his future, being unexpectedly issued, and so hesitates to accept his stripes or prolong his service. He remains in an unsettled state, until some day a petty punishment or a whim makes him desert, or determine to leave the army as soon as his first period of service is up. Soldiers do not, as a rule, study Royal warrants, but they know and can see that changes are continually going on, and that a good man, who wishes to prolong his service, is ruthlessly discharged one day, while a few months later a large bounty is offered to try and induce any sort of character to extend his service. This is extremely puzzling to the soldier, who, on failing to account on common-sense principles for what he sees going on, becomes suspicious. Ask him what it is that has caused him to purchase his discharge, or prevented him from re-engaging; the answer in most cases will be, 'Well, sir, I don't care to soldier any longer; it's the uncertainty you see, sir.

Further causes of discontent, which would seem to point to the necessity of some elasticity in our army system, are the many petty troubles and inconveniences soldiers are subjected to, without apparently any reason or necessity. Objectless repetitions of purely parade movements; constant guard mounting, with its accompaniment of impaired health from ó sentry go;' being associated with bad characters; the constant and distasteful work required from recruits; the dismissal to which non-commissioned officers were lately subject

« PredošláPokračovať »