HL Deb 08 March 1900 vol 80 cc344-7

My Lords, I rise to ask the Secretary of State for War whether he will state what warm clothing is being sent out for the troops serving in South Africa during the approaching winter in that country. I venture to ask this question because I think there is at the present moment a feeling of uncertainty and even of anxiety abroad as to the question of the clothing for our troops at the seat of war. I notice in The Times of February 20th, in a private letter, a quotation from a telegram sent home by Major-General Barton, in which he asked for warm strong underclothing for his men, who were beginning to suffer greatly from the chill of the nights. It appears to me a serious matter when a general officer has to telegraph home in terms of that description for clothing which is really absolutely necessary if the men are to continue efficient and healthy at their work. Some time ago I had a letter from a colonel of one of our Line regiments who had had some money sent out to him with the request that he would provide his men with tobacco and other comforts. He replied that the Government had given the men thin linen drawers, which in a climate like that of South Africa, where men perspire, become damp and cold next the skin, and that he had spent £100 in procuring warm clothing. It must be remembered that this letter and this telegram were sent at a date when they had practically summer weather, and that they are looking forward to a time when the weather will be much colder. Although at night the thermometer may not reach any low degree, the variation between the heat in the middle of the day and the temperature at night is very great. I know that to provide warm clothing will entail expense, but I am sure the noble Marquess will be one of the last to let the question of expense interfere with the reasonable supply of proper clothing for the regiments in South Africa. But behind the noble Marquess there always stands the Treasury. Even as a matter of economy warm clothing should be sent out. Every man is worth to the country at the lowest estimate £150, and if his health gives way not only are his services lost, but he becomes a burden, for he goes into hospital. Therefore, if you lose one man through the want of proper clothing you lose as much as would supply a regiment with the necessary articles that are required. A question on this subject was asked the other day in another place, and Mr. Powell-Williams is reported to have said in reply* that two flannel or worsted belts were issued to every man going to South Africa, and a reserve supply was being sent out. The Financial Secretary to the War Office also said that considerable reserves of warm clothing had already been sent out, and more would be sent as supplies came in. I do not think anyone would urge that flannel belts are sufficient, and I hope the noble Marquess will be able to remove the impression which certainly exists in many quarters, that if the men are to have the absorbent clothing necessary in that climate it will have to be provided by other means than at the expense of the Government.


My noble friend may rest assured that we are quite alive to the necessity of supplying the troops in South Africa with warm clothing of a kind suitable to enable them to stand the climate, which we all know is likely before long to become somewhat severely cold. I think the best way in which I can answer his question is *See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxviii., p. 1226. by giving him an idea of what we are doing, or are about to do, in regard to the principal articles of the soldier's wardrobe. In the first place, there is his fighting suit. That, as the House knows, is made of what we commonly call khaki—a word which, of course, describes the colour and not the material. The khaki clothing which, until the present campaign, has been issued to the Army has been cotton khaki, commonly called khaki drill. Of that khaki drill two suits have usually been issued to each soldier, besides the ordinary clothing for campaigning purposes. We are substituting for one of these suits a suit of khaki woollen serge, which is obviously much more suitable to the climate. Of these khaki serge suits, 140,000 have been sent out, either with the men as they embarked, or so as to follow them. That number ought to provide one suit for every man who has already started for South Africa. In addition to that, we hope to send out weekly consignments of from 10,000 to 15,000 suits of khaki serge. I am a little uncertain as to the exact number, because in this matter we are, to a certain extent, in the hands of the contractors; there are very few of them who are able to produce material of the quality which we require. Then, as regards shirts, each man takes out with him two flannel shirts. Besides these we have sent out 96,000, and we hope to go on sending them out at the rate of about 25,000 per week. Each man has a woollen jersey as part of his kit. We have already sent out 42,000 more to meet additional requirements, and we hope to send out jerseys at the rate of 20,000 a week. Then, each man has two flannel belts to start with. We have sent out 40,000 more, and expect to be able to send out others at the rate of 50,000 a week during the next few weeks. We are also sending out weekly a consignment of 50,000 pairs of woollen socks, and 330,000 pairs have already gone out. We have sent out 26,000 great coats, and hope to send out from 3,000 to 8,000 a week to replace those which originally went out with the men, and, no doubt, are beginning to show signs of wear. Then we shall send 10,000 woollen caps weekly to replace the woollen caps which went out with the men. I may also mention that in this campaign we have for the first time made an issue to the unmounted troops of woollen drawers. Hitherto, I believe, it has been customary to give cotton drawers only, and these only to the mounted men. Therefore we have made a new departure which, I am sure, will commend itself to my noble friend. Before the cold weather sets in in South Africa we shall issue two pairs of woollen drawers to the whole of the dismounted troops; 200,000 pairs have already gone, and it is hoped to send out 20,000 pairs a week. The only other matter which I need notice is that of blankets. Each man took out two blankets with him. We have sent out 166,000 more, and we are continuing to send them out at the rate of 30,000 a month. Of course I need not tell your Lordships that these articles of clothing are issued quite irrespectively of those which the great generosity of the public has in many cases supplied to the troops. I have only to say before I sit down that I heard with regret that part of my noble friend's speech in which he endeavoured to persuade us that as a mere matter of economy it was desirable that we should supply a soldier liberally with clothing of this kind. He said—"Your soldier is worth £150 to you; therefore do not let him impair his health." I can assure him that that is not the point of view upon which we have gone, and I must also be permitted to add that in matters of this kind I have on no single occasion found the Treasury at all averse to supplying me with the funds which were required.


My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to thank the noble Marquess for his answer, and to express my satisfaction that these articles are being sent out. I had no intention of suggesting that the noble Marquess would look upon the supply of clothing to the troops from the point of view of economy, but what I said was that behind the noble Marquess there might be someone with whom the question of expense would weigh.