HC Deb 19 March 1866 vol 182 cc518-23

said, he rose to call attention to the present mode of conducting the relief of Troops stationed in India. Formerly, when the two armies were distinct, twenty years was fixed as the limit of service for the Indian army, and was afterwards adopted in the case of Her Majesty's troops serving in India, When the Indian army was abolished, and an increased number of Her Majesty's troops serving in India were substituted, it became necessary to make a change; for, twenty years being the full period of a soldier's life, regiments which remained out there for that length of time would be entirely cut off from the rest of the army. It was therefore arranged that ten years abroad and rive years at home should be the rotation, and that the period of ten years' foreign service might be completed either in India or any of the colonies. This decision halted between the two systems. Notoriously, when regiments either went to India or were on the point of returning home a very great change took place in their internal constitution, and it required a full year after the journey was completed to enable them to settle down again. Regiments which remained abroad for twenty years had at least eighteen years' steady work in them. But under the ten years' limit the evils were as great, and the compensating advantages much smaller. The memorandum of the Commander-in-Chief with regard to the Enniskillen Dragoons expressly stated that before their embarkation for India the regiment was all that could be desired in esprit de corps and unanimity among the officers, and drill and discipline among the men; but that great changes had taken place when the regiment was about to leave England. It was easy to send draughts to regiments stationed in any part of the United Kingdom, because draughts reached those regi- ments after a short journey; but sending draughts to India was quite a different matter, for at present their journey occupied six months, and even after the contemplated improvements in the overland route were carried out it would still occupy a very considerable time. On the passage to India the draughts were mixed up, and consequently discipline could not be maintained as well as it was in a regiment under the command and supervision of its own officers. He now came to another important inquiry—namely, what was the length of time during which Europeans served with the greatest immunity from disease, in hot climates such as India. It had often been asserted that men improved in such climates as they became "seasoned or acclimatized;" but it had been successfully pointed out that such was not the case. On the contrary, fresh men escaped better. He did not mean men who had just landed, because great care was necessary immediately after the arrival of men to prevent them from catching disease. What he meant by fresh men was men doing the first few years of service in India. That these were more healthy and possessed more of native vigour than men who had spent many years in that country, was shown by the Returns which appeared in the Report of the Sanitary Commissioners. The average continuance service was not much more than five years. During the first five years' service the casualties were 8.60, or about 8½ per cent of Europeans in India. After five years they began to increase. Between five and ten years they were nearly 10 per cent, and between ten and fifteen they increased to very nearly 14 per cent, showing conclusively that the first five years of a soldier's life in India were much more healthy than those which followed. He ventured to recommend the reduction of the length of service in India to a period of five years. The proposition was a startling one, and involved a financial question, but with this he would endeavour to deal. The Transport Committee, over which the late Sir James Graham presided, called the attention of Parliament to the fact that it had been proposed to substitute for the system existing at the time they took evidence one of reliefs by battalion every five years. The Committee reported that they were not prepared to pass an opinion as to the practicability of the proposed change, but it was clear that they thought it desirable. Sir James Graham expressed his own opinion, which was entitled to great weight, that as regarded the morale and efficiency of the British army it was most desirable the reliefs should be frequent. The long service of our army in such climates had a very unfavourable influence as regarded recruiting. Much of the popular prejudice against joining the army arose from the impression that soldiers were expatriated for a great portion of their lives. The number of battalions at present maintained for India was fifty-five. The number was to be reduced. [The Marquess of HARTINGTON: To fifty-two.] His calculations were based upon fifty-five being the number, but the results would only change pari passu with the change from fifty-five to fifty-two. Fifty-five battalions of 960 men gave a total of 48,000 men, the average strength in India being 45,000 men. The present system of relieving the whole in ten years gave a relief of five battalions each year, certain contingencies being provided for. To reduce the length of service to five years would involve the sending out of eleven battalions each year, if the men were sent out in accordance with the existing system. He proposed to send out the battalions much stronger, and not send out draughts. He would have the battalions consist of 1,100, instead of 960 men; and taking the casualties from all causes to be, as at present, 10 per cent per annum, there would be ready for embarkation at the end of the fifth year 650 men. The average strength of fifty-five battalions would be 48,752, and the total effective strength at any one time 48,125. To this number, which was exclusive of any draughts, must be added volunteers from eleven regiments under orders for home, and men would naturally be more ready to volunteer for five years than for ten. This would diminish the expense. Experience proved that the proportion of volunteers would be at least 10 per cent, so that, putting together the five-year volunteers, and making deductions for casualties, there would be 53,000 men. The total strength in India, therefore, without draughts, would be 51,000 men. Again, under the new system the number of women and children would be considerably diminished. Many of them might be left in England with advantage, which would be an additional saving of expense. The number of women and children, instead of being 10 per cent, as at present, would not be more than 5 per cent. Under the scheme it would, however, be necessary to provide for 2,567 additional passages, which would involve an outlay of £41,000, the cost of transport being £16 per head. The most economical Member of the House would not shrink from so small an increase of expense in order to obtain such advantages as he had pointed out. The heaviest mortality in India and the greatest amount of suffering always tell upon the women and children. In case of any real service they must be separated from their husbands and collected in one place, and the Sanitary Commission slated that the annual rates of mortality among the women was 276 per 1,000, and among children 516 per 1,000. Many soldiers who had a large number of young children would prefer to leave them behind rather than expose them to the effects of so dangerous a climate. But, another question arose. What would become of the women and children who were left behind? There was a ready solution of this difficulty, for at the present moment there was an Indian allowance for the wives and children of non-commissioned officers and privates. Eight rupees, or 16s. was allowed to every woman per month, and four rupees, or 8s. to every child. The lowest class of private soldiers in India had more than 1s. a day after paying for their rations, and, therefore, no soldier in that country could have any difficulty in putting aside 6d. a day, or 15s. a month, for his wife and children. At present women and children left at home could not claim the Indian allowance; but there was no reason why the arrangements should not be altered in this respect. He had now gone through all he had to say upon this subject, which he would leave to the attention of the House and the country. Great advantages would be gained by a reduction of the term of service, and there was a strong opinion in the army upon this point. There were, however, two or three objections which might be urged, and he would briefly allude to them. The first was, that we could not always supply the number of battalions required for the five years' relief. He admitted there might in some instances be a difficulty in obtaining the requisite number; but then the troops would make fewer complaints at being kept an additional year in India if the ordinary tour of service was five years instead of ten. Military men might also ask what was to be done in case of unprecedented casualties. In reply to that he might express his opinion that if a battalion in India were so reduced, either by the effects of climate, or by service in the field, as to be quite ineffective, nothing could be better than to send out a fresh battalion from home to replace it. It might also be objected that we might experience great difficulty in constantly changing troops, in consequence of the great distance between India and England; but our transport service was much more systematically conducted than formerly, and it would continue to improve. At present it was the practice of the War Department to send out troops to India chiefly from Ireland. Remembering that ill the troops were to be sent overland, it would seem that they would arrive at or near Kurrachee. They would diverge in two lines from that point—one going on to Bombay, and thence to the uplands, and across the peninsula to Madras, and the other to Lahore and up the country and down the line of the Ganges to Calcutta. The natural flow of the troops would be gradually such, when the arrangements were fully made, that they would have the advantage of beginning the tour in a healthy climate, instead of beginning with the worst at Calcutta. The more completely that plan of moving troops was adopted the more effectively the five years' system would be carried out. The question arose, first, whether it was possible to provide battalions for the exchange; and next, whether the advantages were commensurate with the increased cost, which he estimated at £40,000. He believed that both these questions could be answered in the affirmative. He did not imagine that the change could be carried out immediately, but he trusted he had said enough to show that the question was deserving of the consideration of the House.


said, that the hon. Member who had brought forward the subject with great care, and in a very proper spirit, had shown the question to be well worthy of the consideration of the Government and of the House; but as he was not aware of the calculations and figures by which he proposed to make out his case, the hon. Gentleman would not, he trusted, think him wanting in respect for him if he felt himself unable at the moment to follow him. He admitted that there were strong reasons why a quicker relief of Indian troops would be of great advantage to the army. It seemed to him, however, that the hon. Gentleman's calculations of the expense were somewhat below the mark. He assumed that the cost of sending a battalion four voyages instead of two in ten years would be almost entirely met in the manner he had pointed out. The question had been inquired into by Committees of the House. [Mr. O'REILLY: I do not believe this particular subject has been brought before any Committee.] It was quite evident that these calculations could only be tested by very careful study. The hon. Member appeared to think that regiments were now kept in India longer than ten years. He believed that the regiments coming home this year had none of them been in India more than ten years; and, unless exceptional circumstances arose, he did not believe that any regiments would be called upon in future to serve in India more than that time. The subject should receive the careful attention of the Government.