HC Deb 11 May 1866 vol 183 cc817-26

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether a Committee to inquire into the present system of Musketry Instruction is not sitting; whether any notice of such Committee has been given, enabling those desirous of giving evidence to do so; whether General Hay is a Member of the said Committee; and whether the attention of the Secretary of State for War has been called to a letter written by General Hay to The Times, on April 7th, relating to the discussion which took place in the House of Commons upon the subject of Musketry Instruction? The question had been upon the paper for a week, and had been answered by what had appeared in print, so that he might assume that a Committee was sitting, that no public notice had been given of the fact, and that General Hay, the commandant of a school of musketry, was a member of the Committee. He did not wish to refer to the letter in The Times to complain of the unusual warmth which General Hay had exhibited, nor of the motives, attributed to himself. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), could have no reason to complain of General Hay stating that the noble Lord proved himself "a very indifferent rifle shot" at Hythe, when he was a good shot before, and continued to be one still. The real facts of the case were, he believed, that the process of instruction, as at present carried on, was extremely annoying to the army at large. As the letter of the gallant General appeared a month after a discussion in that House, it might be supposed to contain his deliberate opinion, which was that the discussion in the House was all nonsense; and as the General defended the present system, it might be inferred that he thought it admirable and incapable of improvement. In bringing the matter before the House his object was to get the original popular system restored, because it was less ex-pensive and quite as efficient. An impression prevailed out of doors that General Hay was put upon the Committee, because he was the only practised person qualified to give an opinion on the question. The history of musketry instruction in the army began with the Committee of 1851 on small arms, which introduced the Minié rifle. A member of that Committee was Captain Lane Pox, who thought it strange that there was no system of teaching the soldier to use a weapon of precision; at his own expense he spent several months on the Continent, visited the schools of musketry at Vincennes, in the camp of Belgium, and at Turin, collected the codes of instruction in the foreign services, translated them, compiled a system of musketry, and laid it before Lord Hardinge, who approved it and expressed his regret that its author, being only a captain, was not high enough in standing to be placed at the head of the projected school of musketry. Some difficulty was found in obtaining any one to take that position, which was ultimately accepted by General Hay, Captain Fox being requested to act as a sort of assistant to launch the system. At first the system was popular with both officers and men. The officers clubbed together to give a few prizes, and the present Government system of giving prizes was an admirable one. But, step by step, vexatious orders had been introduced until the system had become extremely unpopular. As we were upon the eve of arming our troops with the breech-loading rifle, some modification in the system would be rendered necessary; and that offered a fitting opportunity for the reconsideration of the whole system. He did not wish to say anything disrespectful of General Hay, but he must say that he thought that a full and impartial inquiry would hardly be made by a Committee, as a member of which General Hay sat in judgment upon his own system. Whilst concurring to a great extent with the hon. and gallant General the Member for Huntingdonshire (General Peel) as to the inconvenience of discussing military questions in that House, he confessed he did not know where else such a question as this could be raised with the hope of attaining a beneficial result. The fact that the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War previously regarded his statement about General Hay as a joke, showed how essential it was that attention should be directed to such matters. In this case he hoped his joke would prove a practical one; that it would attract to the subject the attention it deserved, and that the result would be the restoration of a popular system of instruction, which would save the country a large sum annually.


vindicated his friend General Hay, who, if he had not originated the present system of musketry, had at all events brought it to perfection. He, however, agreed that, if the subject were to be investigated, it ought to be by practical men, and not by men who of necessity could know nothing about it. Of the members of the Commission, General Hay alone had any practical acquaintance with the subject. One officer on the Committee had gone through the system of instruction with his regiment, and that was all. He had done the same, and had worked hard, and was convinced that there were many things that required alteration. The system was unnecessarily long, subjected the soldier to unnecessary torture, and unnecessarily worried the officers. The soldier was bullied at every turn, and those who could not see were punished for their defective vision by being obliged to drill all the winter. One soldier, who was a third-class man, said to him, "I cannot shoot—I cannot see the targets;" but when this man put on glasses he became a first-class shot. He had seen the officers and inspectors at Aldershot order the shooting to be discontinued on account of some trivial wish of some one officer at the end of the ground. The consequence was, that sometimes a whole company had been kept very unnecessarily exposed to a broiling summer sun until perhaps six o'clock in the evening. In his opinion, such a system required some investigation in the interests of the men, and he believed it might be so amended as to render the course of instruction a pleasant recreation for the soldier. He would detain the House no longer, but he had felt it his duty to make these few remarks.


said, that his hon. Friend who has just addressed the House for the first time had implied that his hon. and gallant Friend opposite, and those who had made remarks upon the present system of musketry, entertained some kind of prejudice against General Hay. Now, General Hay was one of his own personal friends, and he must say that no man had done more towards bringing the army into a state of efficiency than General Hay himself. All that his hon. and gallant Friend had said was that the present system was carried to excess, and that that excess was really detrimental to the service, because it deterred men from entering the service, and also cost the country a needless sum of money. Indeed, his hon. Friend who had just sat down had admitted the existence of things which amounted to a condemnation of the system. In the first place, soldiers under it were unnecessarily tortured, and in the second the officers were unnecessarily bullied. Now, these two expressions were an ample justification of all that had been done and said on the subject by his hon. and gallant Friend opposite. General Hay had honoured him by taking notice in The Times newspaper of a letter which he had ventured to write to that journal some time ago. The letter of the gallant General was somewhat personal, but he did not intend to enter into its personality. In his own letter he had stated that ten weeks were consumed at Fleetwood in giving musketry instruction, and he had expressed his opinion that half the time would be sufficient to teach the men all that it was necessary for them to learn. Now, he would ask his hon. Friend whether he did not believe that that was the fact? [Colonel PERCY HERBERT expressed assent.] It followed then that if the instruction which now occupied ten weeks were given in five, the power of the schools would be doubled, and either twice the number of men might receive instruction or one of the schools might be dispensed with. This was a practical question, and the House ought to be guided by the opinion of practical men. His main object in rising was to read to the House an excellent letter which he had received from a field officer. That letter would be his answer to the remarks of General Hay on the letter which he had written to The Times. The writer said— General Hay's letter induces mo to write you a few lines, to add my mite of testimony to the fact of the system of rifle instruction as at present carried on in the service being most irksome and irritating to all classes—from the commanding officer of a regiment downwards; and so much so to the private soldiers as to be without doubt one of the causes which militate against the re-engagement of our ten years' men. General Hay says:—'The whole musketry training of the soldier only employs him twelve days in the year.' Whereas paragraph 6, page 38, of the Instruction of Musketry directs that 'position drill is to be performed at least once a week by every company at other times than when engaged in the annual course, under the close and personal supervision of the commanding officer,' Ac. There are fifty days more, at all events; and no small tax on a commanding officer's time. Paragraph 28, page 80, says—'The men are to be taken into the country by companies, under their respective captains, at least once a month, to be exercised in judging distance'—twelve days more! In addition to this, all men who remain in the third class at the expiration of the annual course are exercised 'in every respect as recruits, and have afterwards to fire through the first period. For them ten days more. This last order is, perhaps, the one which hits the men the hardest. I have known many an old soldier, and many a good and valuable soldier, totally unable to get out of the third class from being a little short-sighted, and consequently disgusted to a degree by being sent to this recruit's drill, for which he gets off no other duty. A very good soldier in this regiment told the colonel a short time ago (and I believe him to be one among many) that he was taking his discharge for no other reason. General Hay further says that a soldier receives only 'a simple lecture to convey some idea of the flight of the bullet.' This would scarcely enable him to pass the examination required by paragraph 6, page 87, to qualify him for the rewards for good shooting. With regard to the 'officers some of whom vote any duty a bore,' there are in my regiment three captains, one a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel of thirty-nine years' service; and two Brevet Majors of twenty-six and twenty-three years' service respectively, besides others of seventeen, sixteen, and fifteen years. I think they may be excused if they do think going through a compulsory course of position and aiming drill with a rifle rather more than 'a bore.' And I can personally answer for the sentiments of the field officers who by a recent order are required to 'visit the drills and practices daily,' a six months' job for them. Since I had the pleasure of seeing you last, I have been for three years in India with my regiment, which has just returned to this country, and you will easily believe that what is irritating and vexatious in the musketry course in great Britain is doubly so in India, where, it should be remembered, a very large portion of the army is now constantly serving, and where it is particularly desirable that the men should, if possible, be induced to re-enlist at the expiration of their limited service. I. am very far from wishing for a moment to undervalue the importance of rifle instruction; but I feel so certain that it would be done equally well—indeed, far better—if it were carried out in a manner less irksome to both officers and men, that I sincerely hope that you and the other Members of the House who have brought the matter forward will succeed in causing a change to be effected in the system. I might mention many other causes for the excessive unpopularity in the service of the 'instruction,' and among them the degree to which a district inspector (a captain) is licensed to interfere with the lieutenant-colonels of regiments; but I have already written at greater length than I intended, which, however, knowing the interest you take in the subject, I hope you will excuse. I told the colonel of my regiment that I should write to you when we saw General Hay's letter, and he authorized me to say that it is his decided opinion that the present system of musketry instruction is to a great extent the cause of the disinclination of ten years' men to enlist. If that were the opinion of a field officer who had seen a great deal of service, the matter, he thought, was one which ought to be taken into consideration by the House of Commons when a Commission was about to be appointed to inquire into the mode of recruiting the army. On the question of the diminution of the schools, he thought he had been fully justified in the course he had taken.


said, the remarks made by his hon. and gallant Friend were directed to the appointment of General flay on the Committee. He did not think they went beyond it. But he should like to say a few words with regard to General Hay, who had been the subject of this conversation. General Hay had to a great extent brought about a very valuable reform in the service. When he (Colonel Lindsay) first entered the army, there was utter ignorance as to all matters in reference to musketry instruction. He remembered when the Minié arm was first served out, that there was a discussion in his regiment as to whether the ball should be put down the barrel with the point or the base foremost. Such ignorance was almost equal to that of persons who were unaware whether the powder or the shot should be put in first. After the battle of Inkermann he was present when no fewer than ten bullets were extracted from one rifle, they having been put in by a soldier who fancied that "every bullet would find its billet." Since the Crimean War, however, General Hay had instructed the army in the system of musketry, and, in fact, by himself or emissaries had taught the whole of the army, the Militia, and the Volunteers to shoot. He believed that the navy and the cavalry also had had persona at Hythe under the instruction of General Hay. It was true that other persons were aware of the necessity of teaching musketry in the army, such, for example, as Colonel Fox, no doubt a prominent man, and Colonel Kennedy, but the gratitude of soldiers was mainly due to General Hay; for while other persons saw the necessity of the system, General Hay carried it out. He believed Macadam was not the first person who discovered the method of making roads which was called by his name, but he was the first person to put it into practice. General Hay was so completely master of the situation that it would hardly be possible to have a Commission unless that gallant General were a member of it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Percy Herbert) had spoken of officers being bullied. Unless that word were withdrawn there might possibly be another sharp letter in The Times similar to that which General Hay had fired off against the noble Lord. For his own part, he never heard of any officer being bullied. Nor did he think the noble Lord was right in saying that the musketry instruction deterred men from entering the service. He believed that the musketry drill was as pleasant to soldiers as it was to Volunteers, and he thought musketry in the army should be put on the same footing as in the Volunteer service. He also thought it would be useful if more encouragement were given to the soldier in the way of prizes for shooting, and he was of opinion that for that purpose the Vote of £10,000 should be increased.


begged to explain that the opinion he had quoted of a field officer of very considerable standing did not refer to new recruits, but to the ten years' men, and they disliked the system so much that they would not re-enlist.


thought that when a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into any alleged abuse, it ought to be composed of men who, while possessing on the one hand a thorough practical knowledge of the subject, were, on the other of free and unbiassed minds; and General Hay being the originator of the school of musketry at Hythe, could hardly be considered to be a man of unbiassed mind in this matter. It would appear to an ordinary unofficial mind, that it would have been proper to call General Hay as a witness to be examined before the Commission, rather than appoint him a member of it, when the inquiry was into a scheme which he himself had originated. It was not the recruits who were frightened at the system of musketry instruction in the army but the ten years' men whom it was so desirable to keep. He hoped, if there was to be a Commission of Inquiry into the mode of recruiting in the army, the officer whose letter had been read by the noble Lord would be examined by the Commission.


I did not rise at an earlier period to answer the question of the hon. and gallant Member, because I thought it better that I should hear what hon. Members connected with the army had to say on the subject. But what I have heard has made me regret that I did not rise earlier to attempt to dispel some of the very considerable delusions that appear to exist as to what is going on at the Horse Guards. The hon. and gallant Member who introduced the subject is very much mistaken if he supposes that an affirmative answer to his first three questions will give a correct idea of the state of the case. What has happened is this: After the discussion that took place in the House on this subject I thought it necessary to call the attention of the Commander-in-Chief to the complaints that appeared to be very general in the army as to the present system of musketry instruction, and His Royal Highness concurred with me in thinking that it was a very proper subject of inquiry. The Commander-in-Chief directed that inquiry should first be made of general officers commanding in the several districts, who should forward their opinion to the Horse Guards, and who should also call on officers commanding regiments to send up their opinion on the subject. When these reports had all been received, including a great many also from musketry instructors, the Commander-in-Chief did what he had a perfect right to do, without asking the concurrence of the Secretary of State, namely—he appointed a departmental committee to sit at the Horse Guards to look over these reports, to sift them; and to report to him the nature of the objections entertained against the existing system, and what modifications, if any, they thought ought to be introduced into it. The House will see this is anything but a committee of inquiry into the system of musketry instruction. It is not a committee on which General Hay is sitting as a judge. It is appointed only to report the opinions of the officers who were called on to give their opinions, and to state to the Commander-in-Chief what the result has been. So far from General Hay being a member of a committee sitting on his own system, it seems to me that this committee very properly appointed by the Duke of Cambridge would have been most imperfect, and would have lacked one of its most important features, if General Hay had not been a member of it. The House will see that nothing can he more different than the committee I have described from what has grown, in the hands of the hon. and gallant Member for Dover, to be a Royal Commission on the subject of recruiting in the army. As the question has been raised I may as well mention to the House the names of the members of the committee; these are—Sir J. Scarlett, President; Lord W. Paulet, Adjutant General; Sir R. Walpole, Sir A. Horsford, General Hay, General Ellice, and Colonel De Bathe. Even if it were a question as to General Hay and his system, I think the House will agree that the other members are not likely to allow themselves to be influenced by that officer. The hon. and gallant Member has asked me if my attention has been called to the letter written by General Hay to The Times newspaper. I cannot say that it has been more particularly than that I read the letter next morning in The Times. The hon. and gallant Member has referred to that letter, but he has made no sort of allusion to that part of it which directly contradicted the statements made in the House. I am not the person to say whether it was prudent on the part of General Hay to take notice in a letter to the press of discussions in this House, but as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has thought it worth while to refer to it, perhaps I may advert to that passage which contains a denial of some of the statements made in this House. It seems to me that it was altogether unnecessary to bring this particular matter again before the House, although I admitted when the hon. and gallant Gentleman made his speech on the Army Estimates that the general subject was a very fair one to be brought under the notice of the House. Any grievance supposed to exist in the army is no doubt a most proper subject of discussion, and if the result of inquiry should be to make any modification of the existing system or to leave it as it at present is, it will be perfectly competent to the hon. and gallant Officer and his friends to call attention to the fact, and to move for a Committee to inquire into the whole system. But I do not think it is a function of this House to attempt to dictate to the Commander-in-Chief in what way he is to seek and to obtain the opinion of officers on a subject so materially affecting the interests of the army as the present.


hoped the House would allow him to read one portion of the letter of General Hay to The Times.


It is not according to the rules of this House to read a letter which makes comments on our debates. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has used a wise discretion in not doing so.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.