HC Deb 15 May 1863 vol 170 cc1774-82

rose to bring under the notice of the House the necessity of improving the condition of the Regimental Quartermasters of the Army, and to move for certain Correspondence relating thereto. Though soldiers were occasionally raised from the ranks and received commissions as Adjutants and Ensigns, Quartermasters were invariably raised from the ranks, and there existed therefore a very natural ambition amongst the young men of the regiment by good conduct to entitle themselves to the position of Quartermaster. He was one of the last men in the House to bring forward a question interfering with the discipline of the army, because he felt that it could not be left in better hands than in those of his Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, who devoted his attention almost exclusively to improve the condition and comfort of the soldier, whilst maintaining at, the same time the discipline of the army. This question, however, was one of pure finance, and he thought that as such it was one which he was fairly entitled to submit to the consideration of the House and the Government. It was notorious to all regimental officers that no duties were more difficult, more responsible, or more severe, than those of the quartermaster. He was promoted generally from the staff sergeants of the regiment, each of whom received a pay of 4s. 5d. a day, and he was required merely to keep up the position of a non-commissioned officer. Yet, when a staff sergeant was promoted to the rank of quartermaster, he became a commissioned officer, and received 6s. 6d. a day only. Now he (Sir Frederic Smith) asked the House and the Government whether they thought it possible for an officer to maintain a respectable appearance, and to support a wife and family (for they were generally married men), upon so miserable a pittance? Formerly the quartermaster was also purveyor of the corps; he assisted the colonel in the clothing of the regiment, for which he received a gratuity, and he was allowed a profit on articles sold retail to the soldiers, which he purchased wholesale; and he was enabled by the perquisites and profits arising from his dealings to add perhaps £100 a year to his ordinary pay. Since 1854, however, a different arrangement in that respect was made, and the quartermasters were no longer allowed to possess these advantages. He was not now allowed to trade in any way—he did not interfere with the clothing—he merely received his bare pay with fuel and lodging. In 1861 a memorial, signed by ninety-one quartermasters of the army, was forwarded to the General Commanding-in-chief, in which they stated their grievances, and prayed for redress. In consequence, however, of that proceeding being irregular on the part of those officers, that memorial could not be officially received; but if a copy of it had been preserved at the War Office, he should be glad to have it laid on the table of the House. In 1862 a second memorial, signed by twenty other quartermasters, containing similar statements to the former one, was transmitted to the Horse Guards or War Office through General Pennefather, then commanding at Aldershot—that gallant and distinguished officer fully concurring in the justice and equity of the claims set forth in the document. He (Sir Frederic Smith) supposed he should be told that that memorial could not be received either, inasmuch as it was deemed a somewhat irregular proceeding. In order to get over this difficulty of form, a memorial was subsequently presented to the War Office, signed by one quartermaster only, but which embodied very nearly all the arguments and statements contained in the two previous memorials. A reply was given to that memorial, to the effect that something had been done for those officers in the previous year, and therefore that nothing more could be granted them. Now, what had been dune for them? Nothing whatever, either in the shape of increased pay or rank; but the quartermaster was told that at the end of his service, when he would be no longer required, that he should have an honorary rank and a larger retiring pension than before—namely, 10s. instead of 8s. 6d., not in fact rewarding him for present, but for past services—a more absurd principle could hardly be conceived. He should be the last Member in the House to press upon the Government a claim that would not stand on its own merits; but when he saw adjutants, often taken from non-commissioned officers of a lower standing, receiving 8s. 9d. a day, while the quartermasters only got 6s 6d., he thought that was a state of things which ought not to continue; and when the Army Estimates next came before the House, he (Sir Frederic Smith) hoped that there would be no objection to give this meritorious and responsible class of officers increased pay. Many of these quartermasters, though they were now reckoned as non-combatants, had been promoted for distinguished services; and he believed that if some small increase: of pay were granted to them, there was not an officer or soldier in Her Majesty's service who would not rejoice. He did not go the whole length of the memorial, because it asked for advantages of rank which perhaps could not be given; but the additional pay might be sanctioned. Those officers were placed in the position of gentlemen, but were not given the means of living as officers are expected to do. The paymaster received 10s. a day, but his responsibilities were not nearly so much as those of the quartermaster. The quartermaster was responsible for the clothing and accoutrements, and the ammunition of the regiment. He was obliged to attend day by day, from an early hour in the morning to a late hour at night, from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, in order to discharge the multifarious duties of his office. Even the sanitary arrangements connected with the corps came within his inspection. There was scarcely a duty of administration performed in the corps that did not devolve on the quartermaster (excepting those performed by the commanding officer and the adjutant). He was obliged to keep the account books of purchases and stores, and to communicate with every department connected with the army; and the only help be could avail himself of was that of the quartermaster sergeant. Remembering that they ought to select the hest man out of a thousand non-commissioned officers and privates to fill the office of quartermaster, it was important to avoid everything calculated to weaken the ambition of the young soldier, who should be encouraged to endeavour by good conduct to merit promotion to the rank of quartermaster. The Government, however, might rely upon it, that if a change did not shortly take place in this matter, they would not have their best men striving to deserve to fill the office of quartermaster. He (Sir Frederic Smith) was himself first an adjutant and then a commanding officer, extending altogether over a period of nineteen years, and was a close observer all the time of the duties of the quartermaster. Prom his experience he was convinced of this fact—that however good the adjutant or commanding officer might be, all would be confusion in the regiment if there was not also a good quartermaster. All that he asked for that officer was an addition to his pay of 2s. 3d. a day, which would make his allowance equal to that of the adjutant. If the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) would take up the case, he would be but performing a simple act of justice, and would become a most popular man with the army; he would do a service that would never be forgotten, and would make men contented who now felt themselves aggrieved. There were two ways of performing one's duty—according to the letter and according to the spirit of the Regulations; and if hon. Gentlemen had seen, as he had done, the greater proportion of the quartermasters, and knew the stuff of which they were composed, they would say they were public servants deserving every consideration. The quartermaster was obliged, out of his wretched allowance, to subscribe to the band and to the mess fund, though he could not afford to live at the mess, or to drink wine. That was a state of things which he was sure neither the House of Commons nor successive Secretaries of State ever contemplated. But it was time justice should be done, and every day was a day too long while it was deferred. Let the pay of the quartermaster be compared with that of the paymaster. The pay of the latter, upon his first appointment, was 10s. 0d., that of the quartermaster 6s. 6d. After ten years' service the paymaster got 15s. a day, the quartermaster 10s.; and when the paymaster got 17s. 8d., the quartermaster still got only 10s., if he lived so long; but by that time the chances were two to one that he was either dead or obliged to retire from being worn out. The quartermaster never could have more than 10s., whereas the paymaster might have £1 2s. 6d. That being so, either the duties of the paymaster were more important and valuable, and his responsibilities greater, or great injustice was done the quartermasters. The reverse, however, was the fact, for the quartermaster had sometimes stores to the value of £5,000 in his charge; and if anything was lost or destroyed, he was held responsible. But in such a case this poor man, who had been raised from the ranks, had no friends to fall back upon for help. All he had was his 6s. 6d. a day. The lieutenant got larger pay, and had generally friends to fall back upon if in difficulty. But what were the duties of a lieutenant as compared with those of a quartermaster? The quartermaster was always at work; there was no relaxation, no holiday for him; from the 1st of January to the 31st of December he was ever at work. Indeed, whatever work was not laid out for somebody else always fell to the lot of the quartermaster to do. He (Sir Frederic Smith) was desirous for the production of a copy of the memorial he had referred to received at the War Office, which he believed contained all the material statements made by the 111 quartermasters who had signed the two previous memorials. He also wished a copy of the Correspondence relating to the present subject. Though he was not the senior officer in point of rank, he believed that he was the oldest officer in the service in that House;—he therefore thought he was justified in bringing this matter under the consideration of the Government. He hoped that he had succeeded in showing that the case of the quartermasters was a hard one. The boon of increased pay would be received with gratitude by a meritorious class of men, and it would hold out great encouragement to the young soldiers. On the other hand, if the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) could hold out no hope, it would be a great discouragement. The noble Lord could not better inaugurate his accession to office than by giving a fair consideration to the case. He did not ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to find the money this year, but he did hope the Secretary at War would ask for it next year. The money to be provided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be inconsiderable, but the boon to the quartermasters would be gratefully received.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copy of Correspondence relating to the condition of the Regimental Quarter Masters of the Army. —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he quite concurred with the hon. and gallant Gentleman in thinking that the Motion which he had just made, though to a certain extent connected with the discipline of the army, involving as it did essentially a financial question, might very properly be brought under the notice of the House of Commons, and he thought there could be no possible objection to discussing the matter in Parliament. After the somewhat pathetic appeal which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had addressed to him, he could assure him that he experienced no feeling of satisfaction in being obliged to oppose the claims which had been set up on behalf of the quartermasters. The hon. and gallant Member had held out to him the prospect of becoming the most popular man in the army merely by assenting to this proposition. It no doubt might be very easy for one holding his position, as well as for any of his Colleagues, to render himself very popular, at least for a time, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would supply him with the funds necessary for increasing everybody's pay. In the present instance, two schemes had been proposed to remedy the grievance complained of—the one involving an outlay of between £2,000 and £3,000, or £4,000; the other of about £5,500 a year. These were not large sums, but he should, he thought, he able to show the House that they did not embrace the whole expense which assenting to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman would involve. The officers in question, meritorious as he admitted them to be, had all risen from the ranks in the most praiseworthy manner to the position which they now held. Their elevation, although undoubtedly the result of acknowledged merit, had been to them a very great advance—an advance in his profession which scarcely any young man could look forward to with much hope when he enlisted as a private soldier. That being so, although he admitted that the sum of 6s. 6d. a day, which they now received, was not a very large amount, yet their position was not, he must contend, so bad as had been represented. On appointment they got 6s. 6d, a day in the infantry and 8s. 6d. in the cavalry; after five years, 8s. 6d. in the infantry and 10s. 6d. in the cavalry; and after ten years' service, 10s. and 12s. a day, which came to about from £182 to £218 a year. They also received a, pension on retirement of 10s. a day. The ground on which this application for an increase of pay was based was that it was impossible for a quartermaster to live on his pay and adequately keep up his position. If, however, that plea were to hold good, how much more strong would be the claim of the ensign, who received, instead of 6s. 6d. only 5s. 2d. a day, for an increased allowance? The hon. and gallant Gentleman, indeed, contended that an ensign could fall back upon his friends; but nearly half the officers of the army had no such resource, and were obliged to live on their pay. If, then, an increase of pay were granted to the quartermasters on the grounds for which they asked for it, he did not see how a similar increase could be refused to ensigns, lieutenants, and captains, or, indeed, to any of the various other grades in the service. Within a very few years the pay of all the non combatant officers had been raised; but it was a fact that for the last fifty years no increase of pay had been given to the combatant officers. For these reasons, although he would not hold out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman any hope that the Government would deem it to be consistent with their duty to increase the pay of the quartermasters, they had no objection to have their case laid before the House, and to see it discussed in the freest manner possible. He was therefore prepared to produce the greater portion of the correspondence which had been asked for. Indeed, he had no objection to the production of the whole of it, with the exception of the memorial of the ninety-one quartermasters forwarded from Malta, and the twenty-one from Aldershot. The reason why he refused to produce these memorials was, that it was looked upon as calculated to be injurious to the army to permit an organized agitation for increase of pay to be set on foot in the ranks of the army; so that the memorials had not been officially received. He would, in conclusion, suggest to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the expediency of withdrawing his Motion, with the assurance that he should have all the papers except those which he had just mentioned.


, while admitting that there were in the army no more meritorious officers than the quartermasters, thought it would be found that the higher their rank in the service the worse military men were paid, taking all things into account. The amount necessary to give the addition of pay asked for the quartermasters might easily be saved, without calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the abolition of certain useless staff appointments. He did not think that the supposed peculation of former quartermasters was a ground for increasing the pay of the present ones, nor could he recognise a wife and children as a military reason; but on other grounds he thought that the quartermasters were entitled to an addition to their pay, and that it would be a measure of sound economy to grant it.


said, he was sure that it must have been a thankless office for the noble Lord to have to resist the claims which he must feel were well founded, of a small and deserving class of Her Majesty's service. The question as to the quartermasters was not one merely of pecuniary advantage—a much larger question was involved in it, and that was whether we were to hold out to superior men who joined the ranks any hope of advancement as a reward of long and faithful service. During the Crimean war the service suffered considerably from the smallness of the inducements which were held out to non-commissioned officers to accept commissions. He remembered an instance in which eight non-commissioned officers successively refused a commission, because they felt they would not by accepting it be improving the position of themselves and families, but rather the reverse. In fact, the ensign or cornet had less money left at his disposal than he had while he was a non-commissioned officer. The position of adjutant or quartermaster was one which could be held without the serious disadvantages attaching to the ordinary officers; yet it was a lamentably poor remuneration that he received. An ensign or cornet, as adjutant, received in the Cavalry 11s. 6d., and in the Infantry 11s. a day; as rifle instructor, 10s. 6d. or 7s. 9d. But the quartermaster received only 8s. 6d. or 6s. 6d. a day; and it was only after twenty years' service that he received the higher allowance. Nor was his service during that period merely that of a store-keeper or clerk. In the ranks through which he had to pass he served as a combatant, in all climates and in all parts of the world. Again, he could not sell his commission. During the Crimean war non-commissioned officers did accept commissions as adjutants and quartermasters, and when the war was over they found themselves so embarrassed that they were obliged to leave the service. Seeing that these were the only commissions which the non-commissioned officer could hope to hold without being damaged, if the House meant to give a boon to intelligent men in the ranks, they must take care that the position of those men was not one which should be looked upon with disinclination and regret. If the Motion were now withdrawn, he hoped his hon. and gallant Friend would bring it before the House on a future occasion in a substantive form, and that the House would then do justice to a valuable class of public servants.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.