HL Deb 07 July 1873 vol 216 cc1835-9

asked the Under Secretary of State for War, Whether arrangements might not be made whereby gentlemen who have qualified for direct commissions, and who may have to wait for some considerable time before being appointed to regiments, might not be sent at once to undergo the prescribed course of study at Sandhurst? He regretted that a question of so much importance should not be brought under their Lordships' notice by some one more competent to deal with it—but what he objected to, in common he believed with the great majority of the military profession, was that young men entering the Army, having successfully passed their competitive examination, after being a year with their regiments, were sent to Sandhurst for a year's study. In fact, after being for a year recognized as regimental officers, they were re-converted into schoolboys. This was said to have been adopted from what was done in Prussia. But what might suit the Prussians very well, where the whole system of training was arranged in conformity, he thought it would be found repugnant to the habits and feelings of young Englishmen. If the young gentlemen who had qualified themselves for direct commissions were sent to Sandhurst at all, it should be immediately after passing the competitive examination, when still accustomed to the restraints of scholastic life, and when they were more likely to render a strict obedience to the regulations. It was unwise, when they had had 12 months' acquaintance with regimental duties and with their brother officers to take them from their regiments and send them to a military seminary.


replied that, as a rule, gentlemen who proved themselves qualified for direct commissions would obtain them without delay, and when any delay occurred, it was highly improbable that the interval between the date of their qualification and that of their appointment would be of sufficient length to enable them to complete the prescribed course at Sandhurst. He was happy to say that the gentlemen who qualified at the last examination would probably be provided with commissions within a very short time—probably within two or three weeks. This remark did not apply to a certain number who had passed for West India regiments or the Household Brigade. There were some cases, also, of gentlemen who might have obtained commissions without loss of time, but who had signified to the military authorities that they preferred to await a vacancy in some particular regiment rather than accept a commission in some other regiment actually vacant. It should be borne in mind that the last year or two had been exceptional, the new system having been introduced at a time when there were a very large number of names on the Commander-in-Chief s list, and when moreover a considerable reduction had been made in the establishment of officers, and the delay arising from these circumstances would not be likely to recur. It was intended in future to accept only as many candidates as there was a reasonable prospect of providing with commissions at once. The noble Lord's suggestion would involve the inconvenience of sending to Sandhurst young men waiting for commissions, together with those who had been a year with their regiments. Moreover, the limited accommodation at Sandhurst precluded the admission of a fresh class of students, and the course of study presupposed a year's military experience, acquired with the officer's regiment, without which the instruction provided would not produce the desired advantages. Whatever the House might think of the expediency of making the Sandhurst course the beginning of the officer's career, it was obvious that this and the existing system could not be tried concurrently.


said, it was incorrect to suppose the Military Education Commissioners recommended the present system, or that it was adopted in imitation of the Prussian, or any military system of education. When he, as a Member of the Education Commission, in common with his Colleagues, desired to obtain infor- mation as to military education on the Continent, they deputed Captain Hozier, who was an excellent linguist and well acquainted with the subject, to go over and make inquiries, and his Reports, printed in the Appendix, showed that nothing of the kind was practised in foreign armies. He could not conceive anything more injudicious than the present course. Young officers were taken away from their regiments just as they were acquiring a knowledge of their duties, and by an absence of 12 months at the College of Sandhurst would certainly on their return have forgotten much they had learned. Such, at least, was the opinion of some of the best lieutenant-colonels, whom he had consulted on the matter. The Duc d'Aumale had remarked that soldiers should not only receive military instruction, but should belong to a military family; should have a military home; where they know and were known to everybody. If this applied to the soldiers, it was still more applicable to the officers, but the 12 months at Sandhurst interrupted this thorough acquaintance with the regiment, throwing together a number of young officers strangers to each other, under no wholesome control of senior officers, whom they must look up to and obey during their future regimental career, and subjected to an anomalous academic discipline, as disagreeable to their feelings, as useless for any military training. Moreover, some of the existing arrangements were singularly injudicious. For instance, cavalry officers sent to Sandhurst were not allowed to take their horses with them unless they paid for their care and keep at an inn, though every military man was aware that for any extended reconnoissances an officer without being mounted could learn nothing. Again, military administration and military law could be much better mastered with the regiment than at Sandhurst. Strategy was taught there, but this was beginning at the wrong end; and history and geography were unwisely omitted. As to geography, it was the element of all others most important in any military education. It could not be cultivated too early, and it was a study that must be followed up by an officer throughout his whole career. It was well known that if one thing more than another contributed to the late successes of the Prussians, it was the wonderful knowledge of the geography of France shown by their officers of all ranks. Moreover, the well-informed and the ignorant officer alike had to stay 12 months at Sandhurst, learning what could be better acquired with the regiment. He objected, as a professional man, to a system which was fraught with mischief.


asked for an explanation of the statement that an officer could wait for a commission in a particular regiment? He had not understood that an officer was left any choice as to the corps with which he would serve.


explained that it sometimes happened that a gentleman would desire a commission in a particular regiment, and took the chance of having to wait a little longer than would otherwise be the case.


said, he presumed the noble Marquess did not intend to convey the impression that a cadet had a right to a commission in a particular regiment. Hitherto appointments to first commissions had rested with the General Commanding-in-Chief, and no such thing had been heard of as a young officer having a preferment for going into this or that regiment.


said, no change had been made in that respect.


said, he had heard from all officers with whom he had conversed an unfavourable opinion on the arrangement by which young officers after a year's service with their regiments were sent to Sandhurst for study. With the regiment, they were in the position of commissioned officers. After having passed their drill, they mounted guard, sat on courts-martial, acted as orderly officers, and were the companions and equals of their brother officers. A young officer was the object of the kindly interest of his brother officers, and with the prospect of an honourable career he viewed his regiment as his home, and felt indemnified for the home he had left. After 12 months all this was interrupted, and he was sent to Sandhurst, where the companionship of his equals in social life was not possible. Moreover, it was impossible in a year with the regiment to acquire the proper degree of efficiency, and Mr. Cardwell, in instituting this system, could not have been aware of the wise provisions of the Queen's Regulations.


in reply, urged that officers awaiting their commissions should be allowed to go at once through the Sandhurst course, and that some other mode should be devised of instructing officers who had joined their regiments.