MR. H. R. BRAND
asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether it is true that the troops at Aldershot were seven hours under arms during the greatest heat of the day on Monday 4th July, and that the result has been that four men have died from this exposure, and many more are in hospital invalided from the same cause; and, if this is the case, whether he will take steps to pre- 236 vent in the future the exercise of the troops in summer weather at such unseasonable hours; and, whether any provision has been made for the shelter of the Volunteers engaged in the review on Saturday, who will in some cases be under arms from twenty-four to thirty-six hours? He wished also to ask a Question of which he had not given Notice—namely, Whether a great many of the men were not paraded at 7.30 on Monday, and whether they had to march in some cases four miles before the operations began; also, whether there were any water-carts accompanying the regiments in this review?
§ MR. MACFARLANE
also asked whether the Secretary of State was aware that the troops at Wellington Barracks were being drilled on Monday, the warmest day of the year, at 2 o'clock in the day, without having anything but a skull cap on?
§ MR. CHILDERS
The Questions last put to me are Questions of which I have not had previous Notice, and I cannot undertake to answer them at present. With regard to the other Questions, I have to say, first, that as soon as I heard of the deaths at Aldershot on Monday last, I called for full information on the subject, and the following are the facts:—A field-day had been appointed for the 4th instant some days before, and the weather at Aldershot on Sunday and Monday being cloudy, with a strong breeze on the Fox Hills, the troops went out as usual in field-day order—that is to say, carrying nothing except their water bottles—at half-past 8, after breakfast. The manœuvres were over before 1 o'clock, and until then there were no casualties, and few men fell out. About that time, however, the heat greatly increased, and, unfortunately, the usual anxiety to get back to their lines led to the Regiments hurrying the pace, and this in the heavy dust and increased heat, probably caused a good many men to fall out. Of the 19 men who were sent into hospital, the greater part fell out then. Three died of sunstroke—one a very stout man of 45, who did not fall out, and two men of long service, aged 32 and 33, one of them found, On post-mortem examination, to be highly pre-disposed to illness of this kind. The third was a healthy man. There was a fourth death of a driver, an officer's servant, from heart disease; but 237 he was riding on a waggon all day, and had undergone no fatigue, nor did he complain till later in the day. It is remarkable that from the Brigade which went over the most ground and did the hardest work the smallest number of men—only 12—fell out, and none went into hospital. In reply to the next Question, I find that there is nothing in the Queen's Regulations limiting the hours for parades or exercises in this country; but it is well understood, and the practice is universally acted upon, that at times of exceptional heat all parades are to take place in the early morning, so that troops may be back in camp before the power of the sun becomes excessive. I do not think that, beyond this well-understood rule, attention to which has been especially called by a Circular issued on Tuesday, the discretion of commanding officers need be hampered. We are all greatly distressed by, and deeply lament the deaths of these men; but I think I have stated plainly the exceptional circumstances under which they occurred. With reference to my hon. Friend's last Question, it may interest the House to know what precautions have been taken as to the Volunteer Review by the Quartermaster General, who has been for some time past engaged in preparations for the comfort of the men taking part in the Review. With respect to the conveyance of the 52,000 men to Windsor, the Railway Companies have heartily co-operated with the military authorities, and all practical arrangements have been attended to. As to the supply of food during the day, this has always been arranged by the commanding officers of the respective regiments; but we endeavoured to help them by suggesting to some large firms accustomed to such business that they should establish booths for the sale of provisions on the ground, under arrangements with the Ranger of the Park. We found, however, that no well-known firm would undertake this; and it was then settled to revert to the ordinary plan, which seems most acceptable to the corps themselves; and I have authorized, as a special and exceptional arrangement, having regard to the unusual number of men assembled on the ground, the issue of a ration allowance of 1s. or 2s. a-head, according to the distance the men have come. Ample supplies of water and 238 large blocks of ice will be in the rear of each division and at the railways, and great attention has been paid to the medical arrangements, both on the ground and at the stations. Should the day be very hot, care will be taken to keep the men under the trees as much as possible. I must apologize to the House for giving so long an answer; but it is perhaps justified by the public interest in this matter.
MR. H. R. BRAND
said, he would be much obliged if the right hon. Gentleman could direct inquiries to be made how it was that the men were not able to take a rest after the Review, and before they returned?
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he thought he could answer that Question now. Nothing was more disagreeable to the men than not to go back promptly to their dinner; and certainly the greater part of the casualities which occurred took place directly in consequence of that somewhat natural desire, after being out all the morning, to get their dinners as soon as possible.