HL Deb 15 July 1901 vol 97 cc360-7

My Lords, I rise to call attention to the new Army scheme and the omission of all reference to the cavalry, and to ask His Majesty's Government what will be the future establish- ments of the cavalry regiments in the three Army corps proposed to be stationed at Aldershot, Colchester, and in Ireland; also whether the warrant which prohibits the seconding of cavalry officers above the rank of captain will be continued, and, if so, what provision will be made in future for an efficient cavalry staff on service. I had intended to raise this question the other day on the motion of my noble friend the Duke of Bedford, who stated in his speech that he only spoke for the Infantry and the Militia, and not for the cavalry, but unfortunately I did not get the opportunity of bringing it forward on that occasion. I have, therefore, put it down in the shape of a question to-day. The Secretary of State for War used the following words in another place, in speaking of the lessons of the war— It has been obvious that our artillery is insufficient, and that our field artillery requires to be supplemented by heavier field artillery. It is also perfectly clear that the exigencies of modern warfare, the greatly extended positions which are held, and the necessity of rapid movements, make it necessary that we should be provided with a much larger body of mounted troops. The deficiency of mounted troops was due to neglect of the cavalry before the war, and I wish to know what is going to be done to remedy the defects which then existed. When the war broke out the cavalry regiments, as is proved by the return I moved for last year, were mere skeleton regiments, without sufficient men or horses. Regiments which were ordered to the front had to be filled up with reserve men, men from other regiments, who were worse off than themselves, registered hunters, and omnibus horses. Every squadron had to be reformed and reconstituted. Surely it must be wrong that such disorganisation amongst every squadron, troop, and section should take place just when a regiment goes on service. But when the regiments arrived in South Africa, and got fairly into working order, Lord Roberts requisitioned about five-and-twenty of the most efficient lieutenant-colonels and majors for staff and special service duties. They became brigadiers, colonels, etc., on the staff, with increased rank and pay; whilst regiments were commanded for months by majors, and squadrons by captains, without the rank or pay of their positions. This was no fault whatever of the Commander-in-Chief. It was the result of a warrant which, I am told, was forced upon the War Office some years ago by the Treasury—I suppose to save the 2s. a day—that no lieutenant-colonel or major of cavalry or artillery should be seconded. If these twenty-five officers could have been seconded, the officers who took their places would not have been deprived of the rank to which their duties and responsibilities entitled them. The most absurd part of this arrangement is that while these majors in command of regiments and captains in command of squadrons were not given the rank and pay of their positions, the lieutenants who succeeded the captains, and did captains' duties, were made captains, and the sub-lieutenants who did lieutenants' duties were made lieutenants. Therefore, while the senior officers could not obtain the rank to which they were entitled the junior officers did. I think it is highly creditable to all ranks of officers that they were found equal to the duties on the staff, as well as in their regiments. But surely the warrant under which this arrangement exists ought to be abolished, and regimental officers not deprived of the rank to which their duties and responsibilities entitle them. All our cavalry regiments went out to South Africa with three squadrons, the reserve, or fourth, squadron remaining at home. Since then these reserve squadrons have been massed together to form what are called "provisional regiments," but, as a matter of fact, there is not one single officer or man in them who does not belong to the regiments at the front, and who is not liable at any time to be drafted to South Africa.

With regard to the question as to what in future is to be the establishment of the cavalry, I should like to call your Lordships' attention to a very important Paper which was issued last September or October by the War Office. Under this Cavalry Reorganisation Order there are in future to be six different establishments of cavalry, three in England and three abroad. In the Order officers and their chargers were included in the figures given of men and horses, but I have deducted them in each case in order to get the figures correctly, and have assumed that each establishment will include 23 officers and 55 officers' horses, according to the regulations of the Army. After deducting them we get the following curious results:—No. 1 (the higher establishment at home), 678 rank and file and 405 horses—only two full squadrons of service strength; No. 2 (the higher establishment, with an "extra squadron," as it is called, though I am utterly unable to find the extra squadron), 865 rank and file and 538 horses—hardly three squadrons of mounted men; No. 3 (the lower establishment), 615 rank and file and 302 horses, or two men to each horse, and there is no reserve squadron. In these numbers I have included every man and horse, and not deducted any recruits or remounts. Then we come to No. 4 (colonial cavalry establishment), with 570 rank and file and 372 horses, but 110 rank and file and 50 horses are to be at the depât, leaving a regiment of 460 men and 322 horses; No. 5 (in Egypt), 465 rank and file and 300 horses, with the same number of men at the depât as in No. 4; and in No. 6 (India) the establishment would be 603 men and 470 horses. In no case are there three service squadrons, much less any reserve squadron, in any cavalry regiment.

Now it is perfectly clear that this ever-changing system in no case provides even three squadrons, and two men cannot ride one horse. I am not going into the question whether there ought to be four squadrons or three squadrons; but surely, whatever system is right, the squadrons ought to be complete and ready for service when called upon. It is enough to break the heart of any cavalry officer, after the time he has taken to make his men perfect, that his units should be disorganised the moment they are wanted. Even with three squadrons of 200 rank and file, each cavalry regiment is only 600 strong, and a brigade of three regiments amounts only to 1,800 men, while in Continental armies the regiments consist of four squadrons of 200 sabres each, or 800 men, and the brigades of 2,400 rank and file. This means, on service, that if patrols are to be kept up at equal strength at night English cavalry soldiers and officers have to do four nights duty to their opponents' three nights. With regard to the warrant, to which I have referred, and seconding, I contend that if officers are to be taken away from their regiments they ought to be allowed to be seconded as in the infantry. At the present moment there are four commanding officers of regiments on staff or special service duty, and nineteen majors away from their regiments; but under the warrant they are not seconded. In the Navy any officer who is acting in a higher rank has that rank conferred upon him temporarily; and, what is more, his service in that higher rank counts to him for service when he attains that rank in the Navy I do not see why the same should not be done in the Army. At any rate, cavalry and artillery colonels and majors ought not to be treated differently from infantry colonels and majors.

Now, my Lords, before I conclude I should like to say one word with reference to stoppages in the cavalry. I consider all stoppages a great mistake. They cause irritation and a sense of injustice, and prevent soldiers being "recruiting agents" when on furlough. Lord Haliburton put the stoppages the other day at 1s. 6d. per week, but I think they are a great deal nearer 2s. in the cavalry. I was very glad to see that the Dawkin Commission, in the very able Report they issued, condemned stoppages as neither economic nor wise. To my mind the stoppages in respect to barrack damages are the worst and most unfair—they are almost a swindle. The soldiers of the regiment going out are called upon to pay to the regiment coming in the cost price for repairs. One half of the things paid for are in good tenantable repair, but the men going into the barracks know that if they pass these things they will be charged against them when they go out, and in order to make certain that things shall be replaced they are further damaged. There is another matter which is peculiar to the cavalry, and which prevents a great many non-commissioned officers extending their service—namely, that, except in the higher grade, promotion is too often loss of income. For instance, a corporal cleans his horse, but a lance sergeant, who gets no more pay, is not allowed to do so, as he has other responsibilities, and he has to pay 6s. per month for the horse being cleaned. If the lance-sergeant is not allowed to clean his horse, and is not given any more pay on his promotion, then the Government ought to find some way of having his horse cleaned without deducting money from his pay. I will now conclude by asking the two questions which stand in my name on the Paper. I do not desire now to enter into the question of the neglect of the cavalry before the war. I give Mr. Brodrick every credit for the statesmanlike courage he has shown, and I wish his scheme every success; but I do ask for some assurance that the kaleidoscopic changes of establishment in the Order of last year will not be allowed to prevail, and that the whole question of cavalry establishments of the future, including the objectionable and unfair warrant to which I have alluded, shall have the further consideration of Lord Roberts and of those distinguished cavalry officers who are really up-to-date in the matter, which the Adjutant-General's office is certainly not.


My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that although there was no specific mention made of the cavalry in the speech of the Secretary of State for War to which he has referred, yet there is not the least intention to neglect the mounted branches of the Service. The question of establishments is not a very easy one, because cavalry regiments have so many different duties to perform in different parts of the world. It is quite true that establishments to the number of no less than six were laid down in the Order of 1900, but, as a matter of fact, there always have been the same number of establishments in the British cavalry. There is the Indian establishment, the Colonial establishment—namely, the regiments serving in Natal or Cape Colony—the Egyptian establishment, and the Home establishment. The origin of the extra squadron was as follows:—The cavalry on the lower establishment had the duty of finding drafts for India, and when the revised warrant was issued there were no cavalry regiments in the country on the lower establishment, and an extra squadron was therefore added to the regiments on the higher establishments. The total cavalry of all ranks in the Vote for 1901 was 19,586 men for the cavalry, and that included household cavalry, cavalry of the line, and the cavalry depot at Canterbury. This number, as your Lordships are aware, has been very considerably exceeded by the demands of the war in South Africa. At this moment the number of cavalry actually effective and with the colours is something like 13,000 men in excess of the establishment. The number of cavalry estimated for in 1902 was 22,365, but, as will be seen by the figures I have given, the actual number at present is very considerably in excess of that, and the excess over the normal establishment will naturally be paid for out of the War Vote. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that the War Office are quite alive to the necessity of providing for an additional number of mounted men. It is quite possible that still further increases will be necessary, and that question, which is bound up with questions of barrack accommodation, is under the consideration of the Commander-in-Chief.

I must again remind your Lordships that we are still engaged in a war which demands the presence in South Africa of a very large part of the Army, and that the duty of providing the necessities of the moment is an exceedingly heavy one. In consequence of that, as I have before pointed out to your Lordships, many of the details of the permanent establishment have been left over for future consideration. To the best of my recollection the cavalry details in our army corps are considerably in excess of those in Continental armies. The question as to the seconding of cavalry officers is one that will come under consideration with the question of establishment, not only as affecting the cavalry, but throughout the Army, and I trust the whole subject will be dealt with before long, though at present I cannot give the House any definite information.


I do not wish to prolong this debate, but there is one point in the answer of the noble and gallant Lord which, to my mind, is not satisfactory. He stated that we had a very large number of mounted men, but my idea of a mounted man is a man who has a horse. I gather, from what I have been told, that in most cavalry regiments there are not enough horses for the men. The difficulties we have experienced of obtaining well-trained horses in good condition should have induced serious consideration of this subject at the War Office, and I regret that I did not hear my noble friend allude to that as a matter which was not being lost sight of. At this moment there would be no great difficulty in getting horses, but if we put it off till the last moment we shall naturally have to pay a great deal more for them, and not get such suitable horses. There may be difficulty in some places in finding stabling accommodation, but I think that in many camps the horses might be left in the open air. I hope this matter will receive consideration, and that we shall never again be in the same difficulty as we were eighteen months ago, when regiments of Imperial Yeomanry had to find horses on their arrival in South Africa.


I am pleased to be able to inform the noble Earl that a Committee, presided over by Lord Stanley, is now engaged in taking evidence upon and discussing the whole question of remounts.