HC Deb 30 July 1858 vol 151 cc2360-7

said, he rose to call attention to the Army Regulation which requires an officer to have served six years before he can be promoted to the rank of Major; and further, to call attention to the limitation of the Order of the Bath to Field Officers, in consequence of which there are now no means of rewarding an officer below that rank in the British Army. His Motion had been on the paper for some months, but he had deferred it from time to time in the hope that he should have been able to have brought it on at an early hour on that, the last night of the Session. In the then state of the House, however—which, indeed, was not a House, there not being sufficient Members present to constitute a House—it would be as absurd to make a set speech on the matter as it would be to address an elaborate oration on the British constitution to a small dinner party of six. He should therefore confine his remarks within the smallest possible compass. He wished, first, to direct attention to the Army Regulation which required that an officer should have served six years before he could be promoted to the rank of Major. He was far from objecting to that regulation as a general rule, for he thought that it tended both to the efficiency of the public service and to the benefit of the officers themselves, preventing the possibility of favouritism or anything like jobbing in time of peace. Nor was it peculiar to this country, for both in the French and Sardinian armies an officer must serve eight years before he could be promoted, in time of peace, to a rank equivalent to that of Major in the British Army. The defect in our regulations, however, was that no provision was made for a modification of the rule in time of war. That was the time when a man showed what he was—whether he had aptitude and ability for his profession. In the French and Sardinian armies the probationary period was re- duced one-half during war service—a year in Algiers or in the Crimea counting for two—so that in eight years in war time a man might become a major general, whereas it would require sixteen years in peace before he could do so. This was the principle which he wished to see adopted in this country; and the practice in the sister service warranted it. A man might become a post captain at twenty-two; but, supposing him to enter the army at eighteen, he could not be a major, a far less responsible position, before twenty-four. He ventured to suggest that some such system as that which prevailed in the French and Sardinian armies might in time of war be with advantage applied to our own, and that a man who showed a decided aptitude for his profession should be promoted, irrespectively of that period of service, which was proper and legitimate enough in times of peace, and at the discretion of those who were intrusted with the power of promotion. The second subject of which he had given notice related to the Order of the Bath, which was at present limited to field officers. He saw no reason why it should be confined to any one class of officers, but thought that it should be open to all ranks and grades of the army. Merit, not rank, ought to be the principle acted on, and the Order ought to be open to the ensign if he had sufficiently distinguished himself. The Bath was an old Order—a relict, in fact, of medieval times. In 1725 it first became a military Order, and then thirty-seven knights were made. It was a remarkable circumstance, however, that of those thirty-seven only two were military men. All the others were Members of Parliament, or gentlemen of the bedchamber. The two military men happened to occupy one or other of those positions, and it was extremely doubtful whether they would have received the Order if they had not. Soon after that, however, it did become essentially a military Order, and it was given to Nelson, Collingwood, Wellington, and men of that character. It so remained until the end of the war in 1815, when it was enlarged and put upon the footing upon which it now stands. Of the first class, that of G.C.B., there were to be seventy-two, of whom twelve might be civilians, and the military division was to be limited to major generals and rear admirals. In the second class, that of K.C.B., there were to be 180, and it was limited to lieutenant colonels and post captains. The third class, that of C.B., was to be open to officers holding commissions in Her Majesty's service by sea or land. In 1847 the civil service was admitted to the second and third classes of the Bath, and the military division of the third class was limited as to number and rank. The practical result had all along been that admission to the higher classes of the Order of the Bath had been limited to field officers, and that appeared to him unjust and unfair to the great body of officers in the army. In advocating the eligibility of junior officers of the army to participate in the honour of the Bath, he was fortified by the opinions both of the Duke of York and the Duke of Wellington as stated in a correspondence which passed between those illustrious persons in 1815. The Duke of Wellington on that occasion stated in a letter to his Royal Highness on the 28th of June, 1815. that he did not concur in the limitation of the order. Many captains of the army, he added, conducted themselves in a most meritorious manner, and he could never see the reason of excluding them from the honour. The Duke concluded his letter by proposing a fourth class of the Order of the Bath as a means of rewarding meritorious officers in the service. To that proposition the Duke of York replied in a letter dated from the Horse Guards on the 7th of September, 1815, from which he (Lord Elcho) would read an extract. Ins Royal Highness said— I did not fail to pay every attention to the suggestion, both in affording it my own mature consideration, and in bringing it under that of the Secretary of State, and though we both concur with your Grace as to the advantages which, in many points of view, would attend the future formation of a fourth class in the manner you propose, yet we are apprehensive that it would increase the difficulties and embarrassments which have been found to rise in the selection of individual candidates for past services. There can be no reason, however, for giving such a decision on the subject as may prevent your suggestion from being hereafter acted upon, and upon which footing it is that you have proposed it; and the present publication of what is now termed the third class cannot operate against the future re-organization of the order according to your idea. The argument in my mind in favour of the extension as the Order to a fourth class is the facility it would afford to the introduction of captains into that class. I regret the apparent necessity of their present exclusion, but when an order is first instituted and granted retrospectively, your Grace will agree as to the great difficulty which may arise to the opening of it at once to so numerous a class of officers as captains of the army. Hereafter, whether there may be a fourth instituted or not, I cannot see why an individual captain upon the occurrence of any distinguished action should not have the order. The very grounds on which the Victoria Cross was instituted afforded an additional illustration of the principle for which he (Lord Elcho) was contending, inasmuch as it was only to be given as a reward for individual instances of merit and valour in the field. But although that order remedied the difficulty so far as the want of a fourth class was felt it did not wholly meet the case. It was not given for those services for which the Order of the Bath was given. Under the terms on which the order was instituted such a man as Sir John Inglis, for example, would not be entitled to the Victoria Cross, but any bombardier under him would, who took up a live shell and threw it away, not, it might be, knowing the danger to which he was exposing himself. In point of fact, the Victoria Cross had a direct tendency to induce young men in the army to do things—gallant they might be, but still rash and contrary to discipline—in the hope of obtaining the reward and the honour which it conferred. He would suggest, therefore, that the Statutes of the Order, should be remodelled after those foreign orders, which were established for the encouragement of bravery, but of bravery in accordance with discipline. Such, for instance, was that of St. George, of which, provided that every officer should be inserted in the list who, when in the command of troops, and animating them by his own example, captured a ship, a battery, or any place held by the enemy, or stood a siege without surrendering. He would say, in conclusion, that he was anxious that his hon. and gallant Friend should consider the subjects which he had ventured to bring under the notice of the House, with the view, if his hon. and gallant Friend thought them consistent with the discipline and efficiency of the service, to his proposing a relaxation of the rule in reference to promotion, and an extension of the third class of the Order of the Bath, if not the institution of a fourth class.


said, he thought the junior officers of the army were under great obligations to the noble Lord for advocating their claims to share in the distinguished honour of the Bath. The question, no doubt, was a very difficult one, as indeed was evident from the fact that the Duke of Wellington had been in power subsequently to 1815, and yet had done nothing in the matter. Perhaps, too, it might occasion heartburnings if it were given to very young officers who had been more fortunately placed than their brother officers, as brevet rank sometime was. Still, he hoped it would receive the consideration of the Secretary at War during the recess. With regard to the first part of the noble Lord's speech, looking to the very responsible positions which field officers were sometimes called on to hold, he questioned whether it was desirable to interfere with the regulation which required that an officer should have served a certain number of years before being promoted to the rank of major. Before sitting down, he wished to add his meed of praise to the eulogium passed upon Sir John Inglis by his hon. and gallant Friend near him (Colonel North). As an Engineer officer he had studied all the details of the siege of Lucknow, and he knew of no defence more distinguished for constancy, ingenuity, and gallantry than the defence of Lucknow by that brave officer.


said, there was no doubt that the limitation of the Order of the Bath to the superior ranks of the army was a great disadvantage and unfairness to the lower ranks. The establishment of a fourth class or an extension of the Order to the subalterns would be most agreeable to the army generally, and would produce a greater feeling of brotherhood between the superior and inferior ranks. No doubt, there would be some difficulty in extending the superior grade of the Bath to the inferior grade of officers, because, of course, the more generally it was bestowed, the less it would be valued. He questioned very touch whether it was advisable to have made the Bath a civil order at all, for certainly the services of the army merited an exclusively military order. The Victoria Cross seemed originally intended for the purpose of rewarding the inferior grades of officers in the army and navy who could not receive the Bath, but in some way or other it had been appropriated to the reward of a totally different class of services. It was now put above the Bath, inasmuch as it was made to celebrate individual and marked services. Those, however, who had received it richly merited it, and a finer list of gallant deeds than that attached to the muster roll of the decoration had never been seen. No doubt it had been attended with its little inconveniences. Lord Hardinge said that the great object in the English army should be to preserve the correct formation of regiments and brigades in line, and not to encourage officers to step out of the line and mar its completeness for the purpose of signalizing themselves by some special action of gallantry; and an order of this sort which was given for such actions might have its disadvantages. He hoped that the right hon. and gallant General who had shown in so many cases a disposition to do all in his power for the good of the army would take this matter into his consideration. With regard to the remarks of the hon. an gallant Colonel opposite (Colonel North) on the position of Sir John Inglis, no person had ever done more honour to the Bath, and nobody had more richly merited it, not only for his brilliant and gallant defence of Lucknow, but for his previous services at Moultan and in the Punjab. With regard to his pecuniary position, however, Sir John Inglis was absolutely worse off than he was before being made a Major General, But there was this to be said, that he was a young Major General, and he hoped he had still a long and brilliant career with the highest rewards before him.


said, he could assure his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Macartney) that as regarded the first part of his Motion every one of the recommendations of the Treasury had been carried into effect, and the improved mode of taking accounts was now in operation at the War Office. With regard to his remarks on the War Department generally, he might have contented himself with assuring him that, so far as in him lay, he would do his duty in connection with his office, if his hon. Friend had not referred to names of individuals connected with that department before his time. Major Marvin had been appointed paymaster at Woolwich long before he (General Peel) was at the head of the War Department, in consequence of the peculiar qualifications he possessed for the office, and his appointment would be the means of saving the country £4 000 a year. His hon. Friend had alluded to the fact of that gallant officer having risen from the ranks. All that he (General Peel) could say in reply was, that it was the more honour to him. As to the number of temporary clerks in the War Office, it was the most economical and efficient mode of conducting the public service, because if they were all permanent clerks, the staff could not be reduced without the payment of large sums for compensation. In consequence of the requisitions made upon the War Office by the East India Company there had been an increase in the number of letters received during the two months ending the 28th of June, as compared with the corresponding two months of 1857, of 14,653, and in the number of letters written of 16,607. There had also been an increase of 415 hours in the daily attendance, or equal to the service of 69 clerks at the ordinary rate of attendance. He could assure his hon. Friend that from himself down to the humblest person in the establishment they were all overworked. With regard to the superannuations, they had all taken place long before he came to the War Office, and he could therefore give no opinion on the subject. With regard to the remarks of his noble Friend (Lord Elcho) he thought it would be very unwise in that House to interfere with the regulations or discipline of the army, which had far better be left to the commanding officers and the head of the department. The present regulation as to the number of years' service was in operation during the whole career of the Duke of Wellington, and he must say that his experience was that six years was not too long a period for an officer to become acquainted with all his multifarious duties. He did not think the comparison of his noble Friend between a brevet major and a post-captain at all a suitable or appropriate one. It had been justly stated that the Victoria Cross was instituted as an extension of, or rather as a substitute for, the Bath. It was with great pain that they were often obliged to refuse the Bath to persons who were quite entitled to it in consequence of the number greatly exceeding that laid down by the regulations. That number was 550, but he believed at the present moment it was exceeded by more than 200. He would not say that the present constitution of the Victoria Cross might not be improved. At present it was requisite that some extraordinary proof of valour should be given in the presence of the enemy. The effect of that provision no one knew better than the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (General Codrington), who had addressed the House. There were, however, instances of valour exhibited not in the presence of an enemy that ought to be rewarded, such for example, as the case of the men on board the Sarah Sands. He was happy to say that he had received the sanction of Her Majesty to such an extension of that order as would include them and persons in similar situations. In conclusion, he could assure the House that it was his earnest desire to promote the general welfare of the army.


said, he hoped some arrangements would be made by which officers would be relieved from the liability to pay £200 or £300 in fees on their receiving the distinction of the Order of the Bath. He feared the institution of the Victoria Cross might have a slightly detrimental effect on the service. The great principle advocated by the late Duke of Wellington for the English army, which, he said, would have gone anywhere and done anything, was the principle of duty. Of all the despatches written by that great man there was not one in which the word "glory" did occur, nor one in which the word "duty" did not occur. Such was the mode of modern warfare that it was next to impossible for an officer of any rank to attain the honour of the Victoria Cross, and he doubted whether its being attainable by subalterns, corporals, and men of the line would not lead them to neglect duty in the pursuit of glory.