HC Deb 13 March 1924 vol 170 cc2617-9

There remains the question of the maintenance of an Expeditionary Force which can be sent wherever it is required. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester, when Secretary of State for War, explained the limits within which we were able to mobilise such a force. I am glad to say during the past two years, thanks to the settlement in Ireland, as well as to the withdrawal of troops from Constantinople and the East, we are in a better position than we were. One main source of difficulty is the fact that the Army Reserve is now only 85,000 as against 145,000 in 1914. The shortage in the Army Reserve is due to the fact that since the War a large number of men have been serving on special short engagements without any liability for reserve service after leaving the Colours. These short terms of enlistment have now been abolished, as the House knows, and the resumption of normal terms of engagement will soon result in an improvement in the position of the Army Reserve.

Our second great difficulty is to supply the necessary technical personnel on mobilisation. To meet this requirement a Supplementary Reserve, consisting principally of technical classes, has been inaugurated. The sum of £500,000 has been set aside to provide this Reserve, which will consist of men who will be organised into technical units and trained in such, and of others who will require no technical training because their duties will be practically the same in war as they are in peace. The question of the Supplementary Reserve of technical personnel is really bound up with the whole question of the development of the Army. The tendency of the last War was to mechanicalise the Army, to use machinery for the purpose of saving the lives of men, but we cannot mechanicalise an Army without having mechanics, and it is naturally difficult to attract the highly-skilled men into the Army if they can earn high wages in private employment. That being so, steps have been taken to establish at Chepstow a technical school for training our own boys into skilled mechanics. There are only 220 boys at Chepstow, but there will shortly be 550.

Perhaps I can put the necessity for developing the technical side of the Army more clearly if I describe what we have been able to do in the mechanicalisation of an Artillery Brigade. In the spring of last year the 9th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, at Deepcut were equipped with dragons, as artillery tractors are called. After a short period of training in the use of these dragons, the Brigade marched in one day from Deepcut, Aldershot, to Larkhill, Salisbury Plain, a distance of over 60 miles. In the autumn the Brigade took part in manœuvres near Petworth, and the equipment was found to be very satisfactory. It is the present intention to equip all Army Field Artillery Brigades (i.e., non-divisional brigades) with these tractors, and we have already built sufficient dragons to equip a 2nd Royal Field Artillery Brigade. This year we are also equipping four medium batteries with a similar type of dragon (medium battery—6-inch howitzers and 60 pounders). I can assure the House tank research is proceeding satisfactorily.