HC Deb 26 July 1869 vol 198 cc720-5

said, he rose to call attention to Major M'Guire's Camping System, and to move an Address for Copies of all Reports and Correspondence on the subject, from the first Report by Lord W. Paulett in 1864 to the present date. The blanket hammock consisted of a blanket hung upon two light sticks, which raised the man when sleeping in it 10 inches from the ground. It had been tried on campaign and favourable reports were made of it. He had seen a great many letters from commanding officers who spoke of it in the highest terms. Gentlemen high on the medical staff also spoke favourably of it. Lord William Paulett, when commanding at Portsmouth in 1864, made an exceedingly favourable report of the system; but they all knew how difficult it was to induce any public Department to move in a matter of this kind. He begged therefore to ask whether Government had any intention of adopting the system in the service, and if not, why not?


seconded the Motion. He was surprised that the system had not attracted more attention. Some of the best qualified judges had spoken highly of the merits of the invention. The chief diseases which were found to devastate a camp were camp fever, dysentery and diarrhœa, and pulmonary affections; most of them were actually generated by the continued exposure of sleeping on the ground, and all were undoubtedly greatly aggravated by that hitherto inevitable evil. In July, August, and September, 1854, the British Army in the Crimea lost at the rate of 293 men out of every 1,000 per annum—96 per cent of this loss was from disease. During the next three months—October, November, and December, 1854—their loss was at the rate of 511 out of every 1,000, seven-eighths of which loss was by disease. In January, 1855, it was at the rate of 1,174 per 1,000 per annum, 97 percent of this loss being due to disease. During the first three months of that year it was at the rate of 912 per 1,000, and 98 per cent of this loss was due to disease. These figures were quite appalling, and if any of the men thus lost could have been saved by such an invention as this it was surely the interest of the War Office to adopt it. It was perfectly well understood what was the great cause of this enormous mortality. A letter from Captain Gordon, dated Balaklava, December 3, 1855, stated that every exertion was made during the Crimean War to obtain straw and other material for filling the palliasses, but nothing suitable to the wants of the whole Army could be found. He would also read an extract from The Times' Correspondent's letters— Before Sebastopol, Jan. 2, 1855. I cannot conceive much greater hardships than those to which men in the trenches are subject when, at the end of twelve hours' watch, they return half-cramped and frozen to their damp, cheerless tents.… It is an actual truth that our force is deprived day by day of the services of 100 men in every twenty-four hours." Again— Jan. 19, 1855. … I know of regimental hospitals in the front, where the sick men, in wet marquees, have now only one blanket to lie upon—on the ground —at this very date. He wished to direct the attention of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India to the question. The Secretary of State for India had estimated the expense of the Army of India at £16,000,000 per annum, and there was a loss per annum of £388,000 attributable to diseases which were preventible. Colonel Hort, of the 36th Regiment, wrote to Captain M'Guire as follows:— As I have been upwards of five-and-twenty years in the service, and was all through the Eastern Expedition — besides having knocked about a great deal under canvass in India—I ought to have a certain amount of experience in camping, and I have no hesitation in saying that keeping the body free from contact with the ground is one of the most important considerations in preserving health during service in the field. I hope to see every soldier ordered under canvass provided with one of your blanket hammocks—which he can perfectly easily carry on his pack—feeling satisfied that it will save many a fine fellow from hospital, invaliding, and even the grave. I believe lying on the damp ground has done more to fill our hospitals, when on service, than probably any other cause. Colonel Valentine Baker, commanding the 10th Hussars, an officer twenty years in the service, whom he had himself met at the Cape, during the Caffre War of 1851, reported that— September 27, 1865. An experimental tent, with ten hammocks complete, was received from Captain M'Guire on the 2nd instant, and ten old soldiers of the regiment were detailed to occupy it, and have done so up to the present period. Colonel Baker added— I beg to say that I consider the hammock a great improvement, being conducive to the health and comfort of the men; and the occupants of the tent, who are old soldiers, accustomed to tent life in India and the Crimea, are unanimous in their approval. The next testimony in their favour was from Lieutenant General Sir James York Scarlett, commanding the division at Aldershot, who said— I have the honour to attach true extracts from the reports of commanding and other officers who have had under trial the hammocks and tents of Captain M'Guire's pattern, for the information of his Royal Highness the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, from which it will be seen that both officers and men are unanimous in their approval of the invention. I have myself inspected and tried these hammocks, and I fully concur in the opinions expressed in the accompanying reports. The difficulty appears to be the additional weight to be carried, as the field blanket weighs 31b. 12oz., while the hammock, staves, and pins weigh 61b. 8oz. In standing camps, or when transport was available, these hammocks could not fail to be beneficial to the health of the troops, as the men would never be required to sleep on the ground, and the issue of straw would be done away with. He showed the hammock and tent to a medical officer of his own regiment—Mr. Turner, assistant surgeon to the Scots Fusilier Guards—who had been in the Crimea, and he said— Had this invention been discovered before the troops landed in the Crimea, what a boon it would have been, not only to the men, but also, I might say, to the surgeons, who might have then looked for some good results to remedies which, for a patient lying on wet soil, could have very little effect. Lord Napier of Magdala was strongly in its favour, and telegraphed for 1,500 hammocks for the Abyssinian Epedition. Mr. Fawcett, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General, Abyssinian Expedition, reported— From its lightness and portability it makes an excellent sick carriage, and was almost the only one in use for the sick and wounded on our return from Magdala, many of whom I heard speak in high terms of its ease and comfort. The Times' Correspondent, writing from Senafé, and describing the vigorous measures taken to reduce the baggage, &c, to the minimum, said— After a hard morning's work, the carriage was cut down to the extent mentioned By substituting M'Guire's hammocks, which weigh only 81b. each, for the heavy 'dhoolie' (hospital bed) ordinarily used, two ' dhoolie wallahs ' were given the work of six. This shows a saving of 300 per cent in an item of land carriage in one of the most difficult countries ever traversed by British troops. As we had 64,000 British troops in India, many of whom necessarily often camped out, the matter was one of great importance. He thought that, after these reports, the military authorities and the War Office would be blameable if they sent out any field force in future without at least hospital marquees supplied with this camping system.

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, a Copy of all Reports and Correspondence on the subject of Major M'Guire's Camping System, from the first Report by Lord W. Paulett, in 1864, to the present date,"—(Mr. Knight,) —instead thereof.

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


said, the Government would produce the Papers on this subject with pleasure. They had not formed any intention of adopting this particular method of curing or attempting to cure the evils which the hon. and gallant Member had referred to. The Papers would show that the balance of authoritative testimony was rather against than for the particular system which the hon. and gallant Member advocated. It was true that Lord Napier of Magdala had expressed himself in its favour, but the Commander-in-Chief in India, Sir William Mansfield, was against it, and the Government of India had not seen its way to adopting it.


regretted the very unsatisfactory character of the reply made by the Under Secretary of State for India, and said, that if the Government waited until every officer in the service agreed in the merits of an invention of this kind, they might wait till the day of judgment before any improvement was adopted. When a soldier like Lord Napier of Magdala spoke so highly of this invention, and when the Governments of Madras and Bombay were favourable to it, the Home Government should not allow the service to lose the benefit because one officer in high command was not quite satisfied about its merits, and because the Government of Bengal was jealous of the Governments of Madras and Bombay. The want which this invention supplied was one of the greatest experienced by an army in the field. In ordinary cases, in India, mattresses stuffed with cotton were carried for the troops, and when the ground was damp, these mattresses became saturated with moisture. The only objection to this invention was that it was a little heavier than the blanket which the men ordinarily carried on their shoulders in European warfare. But in many cases, the troops were encamped in one place for long periods, and in these cases the weight was of little or no consequence. In the Crimea the men had to wade for a long time ankle-deep in half-frozen mud, upon which they had to put their blankets. Of course, they died in great numbers, and as one of the doctors said —"What was the use of medicines, when the men had to sleep on such beds? "The Government sent out plank floors for the tents, but it was difficult to get them up to the troops, on account of their weight and cumbrousness; and, when they did, some of the soldiers used them for firewood. The practical difficulty of getting men to sleep off the ground when encamped had been got over more successfully by this invention than by anything that had over before been offered to the service. The opinion of those who had seen it in operation was almost overwhelming in its favour. The practice among European armies was to supply them with straw, which the men plaited into mats. The expense and difficulty of collecting the straw for this purpose was enormous. Lord Panmure sent a telegram to the Crimea, directing the Commissariat to supply the whole army with straw, to keep the men off the ground. Captain Gordon thereupon represented that the quantity of straw necessary to supply the troops with palliasses once a month would exceed all that the tonnage of the vessels in the Black Sea could supply. He trusted that the Government would re-consider their decision on the subject.


said, that from time to time he had been brought into contact with hundreds of soldiers discharged, on account of disease, who attributed the commencement of it to the fact that they had been obliged to sleep upon the ground at night. He hoped the matter would now be thoroughly looked into and investigated.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.