HL Deb 10 February 1888 vol 322 cc139-44

, in rising to ask the Under Secretary of State for War, Whether any steps were being taken to provide transport and field artillery for the Reserve Forces, said, that since he had been a Member of that House he had felt it to be his duty on more than one occasion to call attention to our state of military unpreparedness for war, more especially in connection with the equipment, transport, and artillery for our Reserve Forces. He hoped that the organization of the Army would be well considered by the Government, whatever Party was in Office; but seven years had passed before anything was done to satisfy the national pride. One could not, he thought, help contrasting our state of unpreparedness at home with the condition of matters in that respect on the Continent. Germany could bring into the field at once 2,000,000 of men, fully armed and equipped with all the requisites of war, and within 21 days afterwards they could call out a further reserve of 900,000 men, equally organized, and provided with all the necessaries for war. He believed that France and Russia were also similarly prepared. As regarded their Reserve Forces, it was only last year that any movement was made in their better organization, and then a Vote was taken for only 80 guns, which was exactly one-fifth of the number that the Intelligence Department had stated publicly, with the authority of the Secretary of State, to be the number necessary for the proper arming of our Reserve Forces. Nothing at all had been done with reference to transport. It was rumoured that the Government were directing their attention to the question of transport, and he hoped that they would state what they proposed to do in that matter. In Scotland they were much excited on the subject of national defence, because it had come out that under a plan which had been excogitated in the Intelligence Department in regard to mobilization all the Regular troops were to be taken from Scotland, and that Scotland would have entirely to depend upon the Reserve Forces. He held in his hand a Return containing the replies to a printed form relating to his county (Haddingtonshire), asking the farmers what number of horses they had which would be available for war, and also for drill purposes in time of peace, and likewise the number of carts that would be available for transport. Having obtained that information, he hoped that the Government would do the same thing in the case of all the other counties of Scotland and England. The tenantry of his county were fully alive to the patriotic efforts which ought to be made to meet the wants of the State in those matters. They had in that Return over 300 horses, 80 carts, and 70 drivers. If farmers were expected to come forward readily and offer their horses for that purpose, they ought to be perfectly assured that they would be fully compensated for accidents or injuries sustained in that service by the horses, which were valuable, averaging somewhere about £50 each. Volunteer field artillery would be most useful in time of war. They wanted very little money, but a great deal of organization, to put those men practically and efficiently into the field. They had allowed 27 years to elapse without establishing such an organization—an operation which the existing state of Europe required that they should carry out. He trusted, in conclusion, that Her Majesty's Government would boldly proceed to make whatever preparations were necessary to render the country secure.


said, he was sure their Lordships would join him in commending the efforts of the noble Earl, who had raised the question in promoting the Volunteer movement; he would, however, remind their Lordships that the Artillery Volunteer Force was not entirely contemporaneous with the rifle force. The Artillery Force sprang into existence a year or more after the Volunteer movement had been consolidated; and the War Office Authorities had naturally had great difficulty in deciding what kind of armament should be provided for the Volunteer Force. He could mention several cases in which regiments bad been supplied with guns of varying calibre; and, no doubt, this diversity of armament was to a great extent advantageous, because it caused the regiments to learn the serving of all those different guns. As to the lighter 20-pounder field guns which were to be granted, he had been informed that those guns did not exceed 80 in number, and that the experts had come to the conclusion that the 20-pounder gun was not so valuable as the 12 or 15-pounder gun. He wished to know whether it was true that the authorities had abandoned all idea of increasing the number of 20-pounder guns; and whether, supposing the Volunteer Force were to take the field to-morrow, they would have the service guns required? It would be a lamentable condition of affairs if the Volunteer Force should at the last moment only be provided with the service guns with which they had to meet the enemy.


said, he had entered into the question of arming the Volunteer Artillery at some length last year, and had explained the ground on which the assistance would be given to our Artillery Volunteers to horse those guns. He might say that during the Recess the corps had been selected to which were to be issued those field batteries of position. The guns were ready and waiting for issue, and orders had been sent out to the Volunteer Corps in question to demand those guns and equipments. The delay, he thought, had principally arisen from the difficulty of finding the requisite store accommodation, which was insisted upon by the War Office. He thought the noble Lord was labouring under a misconception as to the weight of the gun it was proposed to issue to the Volunteer Force. He believe it was intended that 40-pounders should be issued up to the number that they had, and that then 20-pounders would be brought into use. With reference to the lighter or 12-pounder field guns now being introduced into the Regular Army, he thought it obviously necessary that they should have good experience of that gun in the Regular Army before it was used in the Volunteer Artillery. It was not at all comparable with the gun to be issued to the Volunteer Artillery at present. On the subject of regimental transport, he thought the noble Earl took him at his word last year when he stated that he was not aware of any movement in the Volunteer Forces in the direction of forming a field transport service. He had in his mind at the time the fact that there was one experiment going on, and that he did not see any attempt being made in any other part of the country of the same character. They owed a debt of gratitude to the noble Earl for the interest he had taken in the Volunteer movement, and for the spirit of patriotism which he had aroused in the breasts of all Englishmen in support of that movement. But the noble Earl was evidently determined not to rest upon his oars, and was again pushing forward in the direction of field transport and Volunteer Artillery. The attempt made by Colonel Sir William Humphery, commanding the 1st Volunteer Battalion Hampshire Regiment, in 1885 to provide transport for his battalion of 1,100 strong was repeated in 1886, and with such success that the Secretary of State for War had decided to extend the experiment, not indiscriminately, but with due regard to the provisions of the mobilization scheme. A War Office letter was being sent to the general officers commanding districts directing them to select battalions not allotted to the garrisons of fortresses or commercial ports. Ten battalions were to be selected, and a grant of £45 to each, in lieu of forage, capitation, and camp allowance, had been sanctioned by the Treasury. This amount was based on the experience gained by Sir William Humphery's experiment. Beyond the grant named the organization was voluntary, the supply of carts, carters, and horses being lent by neighbouring owners. The establishment, according to the strength of the selected battalion, had been taken from a modification of The Manual for Regimental Transport (Infantry), 1887. There was good reason to anticipate the success of this movement if they might be guided by the impression made on the general officer commanding that district, who personally inspected the transport of the Hampshire Regiment. He reported that— During the march of 14 miles the transport followed close in rear of the battalion in the most orderly and military manner, and there was no straggling or falling out. During the mid-day halt the transport was regularly parked and the horses were watered and fed. On arrival at the camping ground the battalion took up its position and the transport filed to the allotted ground for the camp, and formed up most regularly. The camp was pitched very quickly, dinners were cooked, and in an hour the camp was completely, formed in all respects, the whole of the equipment and supplies for over 800 men having been moved by the Volunteer regimental transport from the camp near Basingstoke, where the battalion bad been under canvas for six days. Had it been necessary the battalion could have inarched right away to any part of the country, convoying all its equipment and stores with it, without requiring outside assistance of any sort, beyond a route being laid down and authority to obtain rations and forage en route." The noble Earl had made a reference to the movement taking place in Haddingtonshire. In these favourable circumstances, the Government had thought it wise to be prepared for a future extension of this organization, and would invite Volunteer Corps, according to a list prepared by the Mobilization Committee, to keep a register of suitable transport obtainable under like conditions in the neighbourhood. Her Majesty's Government had been considering the point, which had been suggested last year by the Tactical Society, and during that year His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief had sanctioned the issue of guns of position to the Volunteers, and had expressed his satisfaction with the march-past of one of the Worcester Volunteer Artillery regiments which he had personally inspected during that year. In these circumstances, he trusted that the noble Earl would be satisfied that the Government were not neglecting to take the necessary steps to strengthen the Force in which he took so much interest.


said, that the noble Lord had not answered one very important point to which he had referred. It had been given in evidence before the Commission which had sat to consider the subject of our national defences that if an enemy could succeed in avoiding our Fleet in the Channel, and in landing a force of 150,000 or 200,000 upon our coasts, there would be nothing to prevent their marching upon and taking London. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, that steps should be taken for the defence of the country; and, therefore, he wished to know whether Her Majesty's Government, having already done much good work, were prepared to go on in the same line, and to supply the Volunteer Artillery with the proportion of guns which Lord Wolseley and the Intelligence Department had stated were absolutely necessary for the safety of the country? His own impression was that the time had come when the Government of the day should have the courage of their opinions, and should imitate the example set by Lord Palmerston by appealing to the people, and asking for a loan to enable them to provide the country with sufficient ships, to supply our forces with the necessary armaments, and to defend our coaling stations and our home ports. Portsmouth itself was not at this moment properly armed.


said, that undoubtedly Her Majesty's Government were prepared to extend the armaments of the Volunteer Artillery if the present experiment proved successful; but he must decline to pledge the Government to further expenditure in this direction until the experiment had proved successful.