HL Deb 25 July 1890 vol 347 cc864-77

(In rising to call attention to the late occurrences in connection with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards; and to move for papers) said: My Lords, I should not have been so anxious to call attention to the deplorable cases which are referred to in my notice had we been able to get from those who are in office, more information upon the subject. I am well aware that, up to this time, no question has been asked in your Lordships' House, but I think it would have been of public advantage if, in another place, where questions have been asked, some statements on the general circumstances had been made. The only source of information that we have is an article in the Times newspaper of July 22nd, and various statements in, other newspapers, more or less vague in their character, and, apparently, without authority, but uncontradicted. There are, however, three points which are tolerably clear, and upon which we may be quite certain. One is that, lamentably enough, there has been an émeute of some description, though of what description is not quite clear, in the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards; the second point, on which we are quite certain, is that the regiment has been banished—sent to the Bermudas; and the third point, upon which there is equally no doubt, I fear, is that Courts Martials have taken place, at which sentences have been given ranging between two years' imprisonment, with hard labour, and 18 months', with hard labour. Now, as to the first of these points. What I want to know is what was the description of this mutiny, and whether the whole of the battalion was concerned in it, or whether it was limited to a very small number of the men of that regiment? What was this mutiny which has involved these heavy consequences? I cannot see why there should be any mystery about it. The circumstance was known all over Europe by noon, with the exception of one individual, the Secretary of State for War, who answered about 6 p.m. in the Commons that he had no information. I pass from that, however; he might have been overwhelmed with business. There has been a Court of Inquiry, we are led to believe, formed of distinguished officers, and I should like to be told what course that Court of Inquiry pursued; whether the full statement of the case of the Commanding Officer was gone into or not, and whether the Commanding Officer had every opportunity of being heard before that Court of Inquiry? I should also like to know whether the non-commissioned officers' case was also thoroughly gone into, and whether there remains no shadow of doubt that the non-commissioned officers of that battalion are free from suspicion which might have brought them to trial before a Court Martial? Because it seems almost impossible to believe that the men of this battalion could be in a state bordering on mutiny, and finally breaking out into open mutiny, and that the non-commission officers who live with them, and who in the Guards are to a great extent responsible for them, could be absolutely ignorant of these occurrences. Did they know nothing of the intended action of the men? Besides, if the noncommissioned officers did not know anything about it, there were plenty of other people who did, for I am informed it was the common rumour in the streets, and that there were no less than five reporters endeavouring to fight their way into the barracks half-an-hour before the meeting commenced. As I said before, unless the Board of Inquiry was satisfied beyond the shadow of doubt that there was no ground for suspicion against these non-commissioned officers I think some of those men ought to be arraigned to take their trial. I want to know whether a survey of their conduct was included in the deliberations of the Court of Inquiry, and whether it was considered so satisfactory as to allow them to escape suspicion and Court Martial. Then the next thing I want to know is whether the case of the Commanding Officer was thoroughly gone into. I will say at once that I hold no brief for Colonel Maitland. I have not seen him for months, and I have not communicated with him. But there is one particular point upon which I should be glad to be allowed to say one word, and to ask the Under Secretary of State for War whether it is correct, as is commonly rumoured, that this gallant officer, when the Court of Inquiry was sitting, or after it had sat, either wrote or spoke to the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief, or to the General commanding, to the effect that if his battalion was either not dragged before the public or was spared from being banished, he was willing to resign his command and be the scapegoat—that he would enter into no correspondence or take any steps whatever with the view of putting himself right before the public, and that he would sacrifice himself. Well, I do not say whether it was a right course that was pursued—whether it was right to refuse to accept such a resignation, or to accept it; but I do think that when an officer has been for 31 years in a regiment, and has ended by commanding it, that it was a noble proposition to sacrifice himself entirely, so that the reputation of his regiment may be spared; and I hope that, if the facts are as I state them, the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War will inform us that such is the case. Before leaving Colonel Maitland, I would ask why he has been forced to resign? I may be told it is owing to the fact that his regiment mutinied. Well, let us follow that a little to the logical conclusion. Every time that men mutiny in a battalion or in a regiment, is the commanding officer to be forced to resign? Because, if that is so, I do not think that the office of commanding officer of any regiment would be worth one day's purchase under such conditions. But, then, again, if this mutiny is not the cause of Colonel Maitland's resigning, there must be some charge against Colonel Maitland of which we at present are ignorant, and I should like definitely to ask the Under Secretary for War whether he, as the head of the administrative part of the Army in this House, has any charges to make against Colonel Maitland; and I would further ask the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief whether he has any charges to make against him. If not—if Colonel Maitland's character, beyond the circumstance of the mutiny, is as clear as I believe it to be—I hope, with that sense of candour and honesty which the case demands, it will be so stated by the high officials who represent the War Office and the Army. There is one thing which I should like to remark with regard to Colonel Maitland and this mutinous battalion. Five days before the mutiny occurred the battalion was inspected by the General Officer Commanding, and I am told that he highly complimented Colonel Maitland on the appearance and condition of his men, and that when, as is customary, the men were asked whether they had any complaints to make, they shouted with one voice that they had no complaints at all Well, then, how does the story go on?. We can presume that the Authorities at this Court of Inquiry came to the conclusion that the Commanding Officer must resign or be superseded; that the battalion must leave this country, and that there must be courts-martial held. I have dealt very briefly, and in perhaps rather a lame way, with the Commanding Officer, and I would now call attention for one moment to the sending of the regiment abroad. But, apart from that, I am told that between the time when the mutiny took place and the time the regiment left the country, this regiment of actual mutineers went on guard for what are termed "the West End duties," that is, at the Royal palaces, Government buildings, and elsewhere. But I have always understood that employing a man or a regiment on a duty is condoning the offence. I only mention that fact to show that these proceedings have not been as regular from one end to the other as one could have wished them to be. Well, then, the whole battalion is sent away. But only a portion of this battalion was in the barracks where this mutiny took place. At Wellington Barracks there were only four companies, and two more companies were at Kensington Barracks, two miles off. I should like to know very much whether, in the opinion of the Authorities, those other two companies are implicated in this mutiny, and why, if they were not implicated in this mutiny, they have been banished with the rest of the battalion? Were any men from them tried by Court Martial? Then the next point is that you are sending this battalion abroad as a punishment, you are practically only sending them on a routine duty which has to be performed by every other regiment in the Service, except the Guards, in turn; so that any other regiment, when told off for foreign duty, might very well retort that, "after all said and done, it is rather hard to be sent abroad on what is called 'punishment duty' for another regiment, though it is considered quite good enough for us as ordinary duty." That appears to me to be a pretty compliment for the high Authorities of the Army to pay to the regiments of the line and the reft of the Service. I do not know whether there is precedent for this extraordinary step; but this punishment—if punishment foreign service really is—is cheerfully undertaken by the rest of the Army, and, what is more, cheerfully acquiesced in by the men, who will most likely prefer life in the Bermudas to sentry duty in London. Then, as regards the time-expired men. Is that going to lead you into no difficulties? Before very long there will, no doubt, be a certain number of men due on the expiration of their period to be sent home. I believe it is possible to extend their service for a year. We know not how long this punishment is to last, but if these men are due to come home before the expiration of the punishment time, which they will owe to the good luck of having been enlisted a little before their fellows, it does appear to me that will be the most happy-go-lucky kind of justice possible. Such an extraordinary mode of inflicting punishment I never had the misfortune to meet with before. I now come to the Court Martial. You must remember that in these deplorable proceedings you have practically broken your Commanding Officer. We may, therefore, presume that the mutiny is regarded as having been his fault. But what is to happen to the private soldier? Steps must, of course, be taken to vindicate the discipline of the Army; and so you have put back one man from each company, according to the reports we have seen, who are tried by a District Court Martial; and to get at those who are most culpable, I presume you follow the plan of taking the senior soldier from each company. The notion that you can get at the most culpable and guilty men by that process seems to me a species of reasoning which I do not think will bear investigation. And when you have got this man from each company have you really found out that he is guilty? I should like to see the whole proceedings of this Court Martial. I should like to see who the witnesses were, or who it was who got these men condemned to two years' imprisonment. If you have contented yourselves with punishing these men because they were the senior soldiers, another consideration arises. I know it used to be the case that it was always the younger soldiers who were the most insubordinate, and for the obvious reason that they are less accus- tomed to restraint, and less brought under military discipline; but at any rate the men who have suffered in this case apparently are the oldest soldiers, the men who have served longest in the regiment. I cannot commend the idea, and to talk of the justice of the Plan would, to my mind, be waste of time. Then there is one other point, these men were tried by an inferior Court, a District Court Martial, instead of a General Court Martial. The substitution of a District Court Martial may very likely have been looked upon as an act of clemency by the Authorities at the War Office. I have have no doubt that is the case. But there is one great danger in turning these men over to the inferior Court: that the officers who form an inferior Court—I am not now alluding to this particular Court, I will take any Court Martial—are just as likely as not where they have a bad case of insubordination before them to sentence the men to the maximum punishment in the power of that Court. And for this reason, they say to themselves, "It is lucky for the man that he is before us; he might have been tried before a general Court, and then he would have had a much heavier sentence." So that there was danger in it on that head. Well, now, what actually occurred? Four of these men received sentences of two years' imprisonment with hard labour, one of them being sentenced to be discharged with ignoming, and two others received sentences of 18 months' imprisonment with hard labour. Two years is the maximum sentence. And this is after you have declared the Commanding Officer to be guilty by causing him to resign—breaking him—and have punished the whole battalion by sending them abroad That seems to me such a method of procedure as to be almost incredible. Now, as to this sentence of two years' imprisonment. There are a great many eminent legal authorities in this House, and I venture to think there is hardly a Judge upon the Bench in this country, or a noble and learned Lord in this House who would not condemn those sentences as being excessive. But if a very excessive sentence is passed upon anybody in the Courts of this country there is the Press to take notice of it. It is true that in the case of a Court Martial the confirming officer has the option of remitting the sentence or not; but there is none of that great pressure for the protection of men so dealt with brought to bear upon the Military Authorities, which is brought to bear upon the Civil Authorities in the country. Well, I cannot congratulate the Government or the War Office Authorities, or whoever is responsible in this matter for the action which has been taken. You have broken the Commanding Officer, although by passing these very severe sentences of imprisonment you tell us that the men were guilty. On the other hand, you have given very heavy sentences to the men, although you tell us that the Commanding Officer was guilty, and has, therefore, been forced to resign. That leads us to suppose that it is his fault, and that the men were badly used. In addition to that, you have sent the whole battalion away for a certain period of time for a holiday ! I hope very much that if the Royal Commission which was asked for some time ago by my noble and learned Friend behind me (Lord Herschell) into punishments is ever given him, it will include the sentences of Naval and Military Courts Martial. I hope very much I shall be able to extract from Her Majesty's Government some information which will expunge from my mind, at any rate, the idea, and I must say I think it is an idea which affects the public mind, that there has been grievous mismanagement in this case and great injustice done both to the Commanding Officer and to the men.

Moved, That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty for Papers relating to the late occurrences in connection with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards."—(The Lord Sandhurst.)


As one of the oldest Guardsmen in this House, I trust your Lordships will bear with me while I say a few words upon this grave question. I do not propose to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken into all the details of the question whether the Civil and Military Administration should be fused together. It rather appears to me that there has been too much of the civilian element mixed up with the Military Administration of the Army. It appears to me that if we had had fewer civilian Secretaries of War and one or two more military officers engaged in the administration, as is customary in Germany, in France, and in every other military nation that I know of, the Service might be better administered, although it might entail a little longer term than at present. England is the only great country which has a voluntarily enlisted Army, and I have it upon the testimony of one of the most illustrious warriors who have lived within the last 50 years, one who is now dead, and who was the head of a princely house, that short periods of service are inconsistent with the voluntary principle of enlistment. In that matter I remember I was scouted at by a noble and gallant Friend of mine who used to adorn the Cross Benches, but who is now seldom seen in this House. I have known the 2nd Battalion of Grenadier Guards for 49 years. I served with them in Canada in 1841. I have known them, when under very gallant commanders, who afterwards became distinguished generals in the Service, and I have never heard one word of complaint of them, whether on board ship, in camp, under great and heavy suffering from starvation, from cold, and from want of necessaries arising from the maladministration of the civilian bodies connected with the Army. I have never heard one word of complaint from them beyond the grumbling of some soldier who had, perhaps, imbibed more freely than he should. I never heard a word of insubordination except from one or two madmen during the long period of my service that could at all compare with what occurred a fortnight ago within a few hundred yards of this House. As I was walking down to this House at 4 o'clock in the afternoon on that day, and saw "Mutiny among the Grenadiers" announced in the evening papers, I could hardly believe my eyes. I would not have believed it could have occurred, nor do I believe it could have occurred under the old system of reliable non-commissioned officers. Under the old system of non-commissioned officers the biggest blackguards were kept under control. I have experienced it. I never heard one word during the 14 months that I served in the Crimea, with General Sir Frederick Stephenson and my noble Friend on the opposite side of the House, lying out in the snow, and living upon two ship's biscuits, three slices of salt pork, and five potatoes a day, for I well remember it, and I am accurate in the particulars. I never heard one word approaching to what happened on this occasion, nor do I believe, as I have said, that anything of the kind could have occurred. But as to what is to be said in defence of the officers. Much has been said about them. In no regiments in Her Majesty's Service is there better touch or a better feeling than I believe always used to exist, and, I believe, does now exist, between the officers and men of the Guards. The officers join with the men in their sports, and entertain them. The noble Viscount on the Ministerial Benches has given us to-day a vivid description of the wretched habitations of the poorer classes in London; but I do not believe that the worst of those tenements were as bad as the lodgings which the married soldier's means alone enabled him to secure for his wife and children. A lodging-house was built 42 years ago by the Brigade of Guards for the married men, to which the illustrious Duke, I believe, contributed. That building was erected by contributions from the officers, and was acquired by Government during the Crimean War. Again, in order to raise the tone and improve the moral condition of the men, the officers of the Brigade of Guards and their friends raised a very large sum to erect a palatial club for the non-commissioned officers and men of the Guards, and it is now the residence of one of the most eminent men in this country—Cardinal Manning. Now, so much in repudiation of the notion of the officers of the Guards not being in touch with their men, of which we have heard a great deal. At rowing, cricket, and athletic sports I have invariably seen the men of the regiment and the officers upon the most friendly terms possible, and quite as friendly as they should be. But we read in every newspaper, and I suppose the newspapers are read by your Lord-ships, statements to the contrary, and suggestions that if some of the officers were as they ought to be housed in barracks that would improve their relations with the men. I fail to see that at all, though I am quite sure that the officers of the Guards would accept it as the very greatest boon possible if they could be lodged in barracks instead of paying for lodgings about St. James Street and other places in the neighbourhood. But what do those gentlemen know about the matter who write so freely in every newspaper without giving their names, and notably in a newspaper which takes its name from a street not very far from St. James Street—I may say that I do not allude to the St. James's Gazette—about officers living in barracks. Have those gentlemen ever travelled abroad? Do they know anything of the armies in foreign countries? I believe they know very little about army matters at all. In no army that I am aware of—I may be wrong, and if so, I speak subject to reproof—do officers live in barracks. They may do so in some regiments in Germany, and in some of the Russian Guard Regiments, but in France, Italy, Spain, and, I believe, generally in Germany, the officers always live in private quarters. They have not even a mess. When the late Emperor Napoleon tried to establish a mess system among the French as English officers have, it was with great difficulty he succeeded, and notably on one point, that was the score of expense. Well, so much for the officers not having been in touch with their men because they live within two or three hundred yards of them, and not actually within the barrack gates. But there are always officers within the barrack gates; there always used to be, and I know there is always a great desire on the part of young officers now, who are much more hardly worked than they used to be, to obtain free quarters, for a reason which affects their pockets, and, as we know, young officers may very well make that a consideration. I only hope we shall hear no more balderdash from the Press about officers not living in barracks. That has nothing at all to do with the matter. All I can say is that I have commanded one of the most, I will use the term, "rowdy" lots possible, and I do not dislike the rowdy soldier. There are, of course, rowdy soldiers in this country, because the men are enlisted from the lowest class; and I believe there is no reformatory equal to the British Army for quieting down some of the blackguards, such as I have had the honour to command, and making decent soldiers of them. They soon begin to act properly for their own sake. I remember on one occasion I was riding round the outposts at Inkermann, and as I passed along I said to one of the greatest blackguards I ever had the honour to command, "Mind, you must keep a good look-out here;" and his reply was, "You may depend upon it, Colonel, we shall do that for our own sake." And I felt we were, perhaps, safer in that quarter than if we had had a better-conducted man. To these few words, and with many apologies to your Lordships for having detained you so long in defence of those with whom I served for so many years, I will only add that I trust justice will be done to the battalion, that due punishment may be meted out, and that the Commanding Officer may not be made the scapegoat for his men.


May I be permitted to interpose for a moment? I hope this discussion will not be further prolonged. I trust your Lordships will feel that it is utterly impossible for any man to maintain discipline in the Army if such matters as these are to be discussed publicly in Parliament. If my noble Friend or any other noble Lord has not confidence in those who have discipline to maintain in the Service they would have a perfect right to attack their conduct; but as long as they have the perfect confidence they profess in the authorities, I am bound to say they must have that trust in them which will enable the authorities to carry out what they believe to be essential, absolutely essential for the interests and well-being of Her Majesty's Service, and for the well-being of the Army, which they must wish to see efficient in all its details. It is all very well for people to talk about mutiny, but I do not call this occurrence mutiny. It was, no doubt, an act of gross insubordination that was committed by these men, and if that gross act of insubordination was not to be dealt with in the way that we thought best, most just, and most thorough, in order to restore entire discipline and obedience amongst those who had forgotten themselves, I say it would be utterly impossible for either myself or any officer who has the honour to be at the head of the Army to conduct the duties of that position in a manner which would be justifiable to those whom he commanded, or to the country which he was desirous to serve conscientiously and to the best of his ability. My Lords, I trust that this discussion may not be prolonged, and I must say that I do most deeply regret that any noble Lord should have started it. I am sorry for it, because the noble Lord is a friend of mine, and I wish, if he had anything to say in this matter, he had come and said it to me confidentially, in order that if anything was wrong it. might have been put right, instead of bringing the matter before the public in a discussion which I can only think will lead to mischief instead of to good.


My Lords, I cannot help expressing my surprise that the noble Lord, who has himself served in the Brigade of Guards and who has had some experience as Under Secretary of State for War, should have thought it desirable to bring this subject forward for discussion in your Lordships' House. Deprecating discussion on the matter, as-I do most strongly, I will reply as briefly as possible to the points the noble Lord has mentioned, and I will take them in order. The first question was whether the case of the non-commissioned officers had been investigated. My answer to that is that their case was investigated; and I would ask the noble Lord to remember that these non-commissioned officers were at the time of the outbreak on parade, they were not with the disaffected men in their rooms. Another point which the noble Lord raises is this. He asks why the six senior soldiers were selected to be tried by Court Martial. My answer is, they were not selected to be tried by Court Martial. The reason that they were tried was that in accordance with the custom well-known in Her Majesty's Army, in the absence of non-commissioned officers the oldest soldier is technically, I may say, in command. These old soldiers were in the barrack-rooms when the non-commissioned officers were where the old soldiers ought to have been—namely, on parade —and therefore they brought upon themselves a trial by Court Martial. Another point raised by the noble Lord was as to whether the case of the commanding officer was gone into. Un- doubtedly it was. Colonel Maitland has had every opportunity of making his defence before the Court of Inquiry, and the result has been that he has been allowed to resign his command, but I cannot admit, for one moment, that the commanding officer has been in any way made the scapegoat for the regiment. Another question asked by the noble Lord is whether the other companies of the regiment stationed at Kensington were implicated in the mutiny. My answer is in the negative. I believe those are all the points which the noble Lord has raised, and I have endeavoured to give him as brief and as concise an answer as possible. The noble Lord, in his Motion, moved for Papers. The only Papers I know of are the proceedings before the Court of Inquiry and the Court Martial, and it is not considered it would be for the good of the Public Service that those Papers should be laid upon the Table.


Of course, I will not press the Motion for Papers; but I must say I am extremely sorry to hear no word either from the noble Earl or the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief as to whether they have any charge to make against, or can, on the other hand, say anything generous of, Colonel Maitland. I think it is a great pity that something has not been said upon the point, but I will not discuss the matter further.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.