HL Deb 19 March 1901 vol 91 cc381-5

My Lords, I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for War if. in future, it would be possible to establish the rule that commissions for cavalry and infantry in the Regular Army should only be granted to candidates who have served for four years in a Militia regiment, and who have reached a certain standard of efficiency in specified courses of military instruction. I do not wish to detain your Lordships by a lengthy programme for the education of young officers, but to make my moaning clear I must mention the outline of the plan, the possibility of which is the subject of my question. I suggest, then, that commissions in the cavalry and infantry of the Regular Army should be given only to those candidates who. have served for a period of four years in the Militia, the limit of age being from seventeen to twenty-two. Four months of each year would be spent with the Militia battalion; that is, three months preliminary drill and one month training. The remaining eight months, with some deduction for leave, would be available for courses of military instruction, comprising the School of Musketry at Hythe and use of machine guns; a garrison class very similar to the present course at Sandhurst; signalling; elementary field engineering, similar to a course which used to be, and, I think, still is,. conducted at Chatham; the principles of sanitary science especially applicable to the dangers arising from large numbers of men crowded for a. considerable period on a small area; instruction in Army transport duties and in the care and management of horses, to be learnt by actual work in the stables, and pro ficiency tested by the condition of the horses trained by the pupils themselves. It is very possible, as your Lordships are aware, to be a brilliant horseman but an utterly useless horse-keeper.

I would add one more subject, and that a most important one. A regimental officer's duty is to instruct his men. A staff officer's duty is to instruct officers. Yet the art of imparting instruction to others, than which no more difficult art exists, is not a recognised branch of study in the Army. Your Lordships, no doubt, remember that in those days, when you contended with examinations, one man could teach in a few weeks what another could not teach in eternity. Ignorance of the art of teaching is by no means confined to regimental officers. It is very-conspicuous amongst those exalted heroes who dwell completely in the clouds on that military Olympus of the Army—the staff. All your Lordships who have been connected with the Service will recal countless field days conducted by brilliant staff officers, which for the purposes of instruction to regiments and battalions and officers were the sorriest farces imaginable. The distinguished staff officer and the learned scholar are alike useless as instructors if they scorn to learn how to teach. The entrance examination to the Militia for Army candidates should be purely literary and qualifying, to ascertain if the candidates come up to a good standard of general capacity. The final examination at the end of the four years must be competitive, assuming that there are more candidates than vacant commissions; but with the details of these examinations I need not trouble your Lordships. During the four years, sixteen months would be given to regimental duty and thirty-two months to courses of military instruction.

The advantages which I claim for my proposed plan are as follows:—First, the problem of finding subalterns for the Militia is immediately solved. The Secretary of State for War has announced that by a rearrangement of bounties, by a stamp of his foot and a stroke of his pen and three copper pennies a day, 50,000 men are to be straightway added to the Militia. He does not mention the further magical means by which officers are to be produced. Secondly, Army candidates are, at present, useless as company officers whilst in the Militia, because they have not yet learned the A B C of their duties. I would ensure the four years Army candidate being during the last three years an increasingly useful company officer in the Militia by removing him from that service if he showed that the reverse was the case. Thirdly, officers retiring from the Army, after a preliminary four years in the Militia, are likely to return to the Militia battalions in which they have served, and in which they have friends. The return of officers from the Army to the Militia is most desirable. A last advantage is this. I expect, my Lords, that nearly every Militia commanding officer has had the experience of having his battalion inspected by some distinguished soldier, whose remarks reveal an absolute ignorance of the peculiarities of the force which he is called upon to inspect. If every officer passed through the Militia into the Army Army officers would per- force become much better acquainted with the Militia than they are now, and the Militia and the Line would be more closely welded than at present.

The advantage which the Army would derive from my plan is the disappearance of the school-boy officer. When officers join the Line under the conditions I suggest, they will have done all their elementary schooling, and be available for continuous regimental duty. At present, young officers, during the first six or seven years of their service, have to be sent away continually from their regiments to go through some of those courses which I propose they should thoroughly accomplish before joining the Army. Taking young officers away from their regiments is most undesirable, and throws extra duty upon those officers left with the regiment. I well remember, not so very long ago, and my noble friend the Under Secretary of State for War will have the same recollection, that officers were supposed to go to Hythe and other classes of instruction out of their leave, in order to avoid throwing extra garrison duty on officers remaining with the battalion. The disadvantage which I see for the public service is on the score of expense. It will be necessary to give subalterns' pay to all Army candidates all the year round. But a good and useful military training will be given to a very much larger number of young men than is at present the case, and this military training will be very useful in times of emergency such as we have for the last year and a half experienced.

I foresee, my Lords, great opposition to the scheme I suggest from many quarters. I have not myself had the advantages of a Sandhurst education, but I know that Sandhurst is a most sacred institution in the eyes of the War Office, and that changes such as I suggest would be strenuously opposed for the sake of preserving Sandhurst as it is. Public schoolmasters would probably be opposed to my plan, for it does away with the Army classes at public schools. I daresay that Army tutors and crammers will not approve of it. Then parents of unsuccessful candidates will ask, "What are we to do with our sons when they are returned to us at twenty-two years of age, having failed to get into the Army? "My Lords, there is but one answer to all such objections, and it is, I think, an amply sufficient one. The Army exists for the defence of the country. It does not exist for the benefit of Sandhurst professors, public school pedagogues, or even prolific parents. If the particular interests of particular classes are to come first, the interests of the Army must come second and suffer accordingly.


My Lords, although the noble Duke's question was a very small one on paper, his speech embraced a variety of subjects, for he alluded to everything from the first appointment of officers to the final inspection of their battalions. I am not in a position to give a thorough description of all the methods which might be adopted for the first appointment of officers to commissions, whether candidates for the Militia or otherwise. The whole question, as the noble Duke is aware, is a very difficult and a very complicated one, and requires most careful consideration, which we propose as soon as possible to give to it. The suggestion that every officer should serve for four years in a Militia battalion, and the other suggestions of the noble Duke, would be very startling changes in the present system, and if they were adopted officers would either join the Army at an unduly late age, or else would leave their school at an unduly early age. As a general rule neither of these courses would be a good one. I can assure the noble Duke that at this moment in the War Office there is a tendency to look with greater intelligence on the claims of Militia officers than perhaps was the case in the past, and with that tendency I most cordially sympathise.


The noble Duke seems to think it would be a capital thing to do away with the Army classes in public schools. I have only risen to say that in my opinion to do that would be a very retrograde step indeed. Those classes have done a great amount of good work in the past, and I should be very sorry to see them abolished.