HL Deb 05 July 1904 vol 137 cc606-16

My Lords, I rise to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War whether in deciding upon a second weapon for the Yeomanry regiments due consideration will be given to the fact that, while fully armed for fighting on foot, they require a weapon for use when mounted and carrying out the work of scouting and patrolling, in the execution of which they would be liable to sudden attack by those of the enemy's forces engaged in the same duties.

I have to ask your Lordships' indulgence on rising to address the House for the first time. About six weeks ago a Question was asked relating to the Yeomanry by a noble Lord who served with great distinction in South Africa, and who is now in command of one of the newly raised Scottish Yeomanry regiments. Out of that Question a somewhat long debate arose, in which the necessity for a second weapon for the Yeomanry was freely mentioned. I think the consensus of opinion in your Lordships' House was entirely in favour of such a weapon. I cannot help thinking at the same time that the main factor in deciding what that weapon should be was rather overlooked. The Yeomanry are now, like the Regular cavalry, trained to fight on foot, and for their foot work they cannot want a better weapon than the one they have got—the long-range magazine rifle. But they are taught other duties which I venture to think are even more important than their foot work—namely, those of scouting and patrolling.

The Yeomanry, though they are now a kind of mounted rifles, described by Sir John French as a "form of cavalry," are in reality, I think, the cavalry of the Auxiliary Forces, and on them, whenever the time should come for our Militia and infantry to be placed on the footing of active service, much of the scouting and patrolling would fall. If that patrolling is to be of the kind described by the present Inspector-General of Cavalry in India as "Blind-man's-dog scouting," then it is a waste of time to have it; but if, on the other hand, the scouting and patrolling is to be efficiently carried out, it will carry with it not the risk but the certainty of frequent hostile collisions with small bodies of the enemy. We cannot hope, I suppose, for the second time to be fighting a nation who will have no weapon except the rifle. You may take it for granted that whenever we are at war again the enemy's scouting will be done by men armed with other weapons than the rifle. In a wooded country the land lends itself to such fights; they will be short, and, if the Yeomanry are left as they are at present, I do not see what they can be expected to do.

It is now nearly three years since the war ended, and the Yeomanry are in just the same position as they were then. They have only one weapon. When the noble and gallant Earl the late Commander-in-Chief spoke in the debate to which I refer, he told your Lordships that he was unable to remember why the issue of bayonets was discontinued to the Yeomanry. I think I may say with some confidence that 90 per cent, of the Yeomanry are deeply grateful to the person or the circumstances that caused that issue to cease, for a more unpopular weapon I do not think you could devise for the Yeomanry, and at the same time it would be an absolutely useless weapon. If it comes to bayonet work such as we have heard of in Manchuria, you cannot expect dismounted cavalry to compete with infantry. Masses of Yeomanry on foot would have very short shrift at the hands of trained infantry.

The noble and gallant Earl seemed to be in favour of bayonets and against swords, but I should like to suggest that there are swords and swords. I am no advocate of the present sword. It is an ill-balanced weapon, it has a cutting edge, and it requires no little skill to properly handle. It has the great disadvantage of requiring a considerable amount of instruction and an enormous amount of practice before a man can even be considered a fair swordsman; but because this particular type of sword is not a satisfactory one I fail to see that it is beyond the powers of the military authorities to design a weapon which, while being perfectly efficient, would be much simplified, and the use of which would be more easily acquired, The weapon that would be an ideal one for the Yeomanry would be one about the length, perhaps a trifle longer, of the present naval cutlass without a cutting edge and merely a point, but with the same hilt. It would only require very simple sword exercise, and if the Yeomanry were armed with such a weapon and with the rifle they have now they would be sufficiently armed for any work they might be called upon to do, I see no objection, if necessary, why that weapon should not be able to be fixed on the end of the rifle, provided that such means of attachment in no way interfered with its efficient use as a weapon for unmounted fighting for which it would, of course, be specially designed.

The amount of dissatisfaction that exists in the Yeomanry now on the subject of their armament and equipment, I do not think is realised in quarters where it would be well that it should be. In common with many other Yeomanry I officers, I attach very serious importance? to our half-armed condition at present, and I hope the noble Earl the Under, Secretary of State for War will be able to ' give some assurance that the question of the helpless condition of the Yeomanry will receive that consideration at the hands of the authorities which I venture to think it deserves, and that no attempt will be made to turn the Yeomanry into a miserably bad mounted infantry by forcing that unpopular weapon, the bayonet, upon them.


My Lords, I desire to associate myself with the remarks which have just fallen from the noble Lord. I was one of those who were very pleased to hear, in the course of the debate the other day, that the Yeomanry were going to be armed with a second weapon, but I must confess to a certain amount of alarm when I heard that it was going to take the shape of the bayonet, and for the same reason which the noble Lord has just brought forward. I should like, as a humble member of the Yeomanry, to join him in requesting the noble Earl the Under-Secretary to favourably consider the sword in preference to the bayonet. I venture to submit that the bayonet is not a weapon which can be used by a man on horseback. We were also told during the course of the debate on the Yeomanry not very long ago that the Yeomanry were not primarily intended for service abroad, and that in the event of invasion, which I suppose is improbable, their principal use would be in this country. I venture to submit that for a mounted man a sword in his hand would be a very much more useful weapon than anything else.

It may be urged against the use of the sword by Yeomanry regiments that we should not have time to learn the sword exercise. Well, my Lords, in the old days before the Boer War, and before our swords were taken away from us, we used to cut the sword exercise. It was cut, you will say, with a blunt-edged weapon, but still the sword exercise was learnt with a considerable degree of efficiency, and I should like to call your attention to the fact that we now have almost three times the amount of training that we had before. We have fourteen working days in camp, and each officer and each man in our regiment, at any rate, attended five preliminary mounted drills before the Yeomanry assembled in camp. Therefore, I think we should have plenty of time in which to learn at any rate a modified form of the sword exercises. I should also like to ask the noble Earl the Under-Secretary if he could give us some kind of assurance as to the position as a mounted force that the Yeomanry are going to occupy, whether we are to be cavalry or mounted infantry, or something between the two.

It may be that different conditions of service may be suitable to different regiments. For instance, Lord Lovat's Scouts may possibly desire to be treated as mounted infantry, although I cannot speak for them. But there are certain Midland regiments which have always been cavalry ever since they were started, and which could produce a squadron of at least 100 or 120 men accustomed to ride across country, who I venture to assert would be quite equal to undertaking any of the functions of a cavalry regiment. The whole essence of these Midland regiments, is, in the first instance, their cavalry character. There are officers and men in those regiments who would never have dreamt of joining the Militia or Volunteers, but who joined the Yeomanry because it was mainly connected with horsemanship and riding, and because there was a prospect of doing the work mounted. For that reason I sincerely trust nothing more will be done to diminish the cavalry character of such regiments. I should like to respectfully assure the noble Earl that any attempt to whittle away the cavalry character of these regiments will be most unpopular with all ranks.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for many minutes, but on an occasion like this, when the weapon of the Yeomanry is concerned, I cannot refrain from asking your Lordships, as an Officer-in-Command of Yeomanry, to do all in your power to prevent the introduction of such a weapon as the bayonet into the Yeomanry. Anyone who is accustomed to the use of the rifle knows the absolute balance in its use, and anybody understanding horsemanship must realise that no one, however fine a horseman he may be, is capable of using a rifle with a bayonet attached to the end of it when it comes to lungeing. In fact I very much doubt if even a Sandow could use it. We have seen contests at various military competitions — sword versus lance, sword versus bayonet—but I do not know if any of your Lordships have ever witnessed a competition as between a rifle with a bayonet attached to it and a sword, the mounted competitor having the rifle. I have seen it twice, and each time it has ended in serious discomfort to the horseman, for it is absolutely impossible after lungeing for him to recover himself, and a defy even a Sandow to manipulate a horse with a rifle, having a bayonet at the end of it, in his hand. When the whole secret of Yeomanry and Cavalry is dependent on the absolute balance of the man, whatever his weapon may be, with a view of remaining fixed in the saddle, it is obvious that such a weapon would be most prejudicial to Yeomanry, and it is for this reason I ask your Lordships to persuade the authorities not to introduce the bayonet as a second weapon into the Yeomanry.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will have gathered from the character of the debate that I am not being asked by the three noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships to give a final decision on this subject to-night. The matter is under consideration. In fact, I spent some time discussing it with three of my colleagues this morning, and I can assure your Lordships that it has not been lost sight of. I hope a decision will be announced in another place at an early date. I can only repeat what I have said before. Although the three noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships this evening advocated the same view, I am sure your Lordships will admit that there are very many different opinions as to what the second arm for the Yeomanry should be. I addressed your Lordships at some length on that point the other day in the debate initiated by Lord Lovat, and I do not intend to repeat the arguments I then tried to lay before your Lordships. All sorts of weapons have been recommended to us, and all sorts of variations of every weapon have been recommended, and I sincerely hops we may be able to hit upon something which will be satisfactory, if not to all parties, at any rate to most parties, and I can assure the noble Lord who raised this question to-day that we are very anxious to come to a final settlement upon the point.

I now come to the point raised by the noble Lord on the Cross Benches (Lord Willoughby de Broke). He is extremely anxious that nothing should be done, more especially in connection with the corps in the Midlands, to decrease what he calls their cavalry character. I can assure the noble Lord that we have no intention of any action that could lead to that end. Your Lordships will, of course, understand that there are town corps and country corps of Yeomanry. The country corps generally consist of good riders, and not very good shots, when they are recruits, and the town corps generally consist of not very good riders and not very good shots, but still, as a rule, their shooting is better than their riding when they first come; and our desire is to train these two classss to reach as high a standard as thay possibly can in both these considerations. Our efforts naturally in the country corps are concentrated more on rifle shooting than on riding, and vice versa.


My Lords, it may seem somewhat presumptuous in me to interpose in this discussion in a House where so many of your Lordships are professionally acquainted with the matter before us, but I do think this House will be doing a good service in turning its attention for a short time this evening to this question of how you are going to arm your mounted troops in the future, and how those arms are to be carried. For my own part, I quite agree with what has fallen from the noble Lords who have spoken, that as a weapon for mounted men the bayonet is ridiculous. It is all very well to have a bayonet, no doubt, for a man to use if he is acting as an infantry soldier, but it is ridiculous to say that a bayonet can be of any use to a man on horseback. I have seen a very ingenious invention by which the great part of the stock of the rifle was cut away in order that the man might get a better grip of the rifle and use it at arm's length as a lance, but I agree that it would require a Sandow to use a weapon of that sort with any success.

The question we have to consider is, is it not right that mounted men, now that they are used so very much in a double capacity, sometimes on horseback and sometimes on foot, should at least have one weapon suitable for each position? I think most people will agree to that, and I think that the idea which we sometimes see portrayed in the illustrated papers, of a gallant mounted infantryman galloping full speed, with his reins loose on the horse's neek and his rifle up to his shoulder taking aim, is quite impossible in modern warfare. It is possible to use the carbine on horseback, but if it is to be used effectively it must be sufficiently short to be used in one hand as a pistol. I remember many years ago, when there were still buffalo in the United States, that I killed a number of buffalo with a carbine used in that way; it is far better than any revolver that was ever invented. What is the weapon you are going to give to your mounted man? The two suggested are the lance and the sword. It seems to me that directly you give your mounted man a rifle the question of a lance drops out, because I do not see how a man can carry a rifle and a lance as well. Therefore, you are tied up at once to the sword. I believe that the sword should be such an one as Lord Ashburton suggested, and that it should be attached to the saddle so that it should be essentially a weapon which the man would rely upon on horseback to use from the horse.

Then we come to the question of the rifle and how it is to be carried. It seems to me one of the most extraordinary incidents of the whole of the rearmament of our forces that a shortened rifle should have been adopted for the purpose of being handed to every mounted man— for that was the object of shortening the rifle—and that the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of shortened rifles should have been entered upon before any decision had been come to as to the manner in which that rifle was to be carried on horseback. All sorts of methods have been tried. A very distinguished general officer at Aldershot told me the other day that they were at their wits' ends to find a way of carrying this new rifle on horseback, and I have seen a number of the new rifles that have been so carried very much damaged by the operation. My Aldershot friend leans to carrying the rifle in a bucket on the saddle in the same way as the old carbine was carried, but that is not so easily done. Noble Lords who have tried it will not have found it so easy as in the case of the old carbine, and, if you fix your rifle in a bucket on the saddle, then, supposing your man is dismounted, both his sword and his rifle are left on the saddle, and he is without any arm at all.

I think a method of carrying the rifle or carbine should be decided upon which would allow of its being attached to the man, so that when he is dismounted he has a weapon with him, and that weapon the one which it is most convenient for him to use when on foot. I have another witness to call with regard to the question of carrying the rifle. A very capable cavalry officer writes to me— We have not yet discovered how we are to carry the new rifle. We have been supplied with shoes to fit on the saddle, but the rifle is too short to carry with the sling and shoe. I understood that that was the great object of shortening the rifle, that you were to be able to carry it with a lance attachment and in a lance shoe. The extraordinary result of shortening the rifle has been that you cannot carry it in this way because the rifle is too short. This officer continues— I hear the cavalry at Aldershot are carrying them slung on their backs with their butt in the shoe, which must be very dangerous and uncomfortable. They complain of having lost a lot of bolts. A bucket to carry the new rifle is too clumsy for words. My point is that it is an extraordinary thing that you should invent a new rifle for the express purpose of supplying to the cavalry, that you should shorten your rifle throughout the whole British Army and re-issue it to the cavalry, without making up your minds in which way it is to be carried by horsemen. I think the House may well give a little more time to this question, and I hope the result will be that our mounted men may be given an arm suitable to be used on horseback and another arm to be used on foot, and that both may be carried in a convenient way for man and beast.


My Lords, as I have had something to say on this question of the rifle, the sword, and the bayonet, perhaps it will not be out of place if I make a few remarks on this occasion. When we went to South Africa the cavalry were armed with the carbine and sword or lance, as the case might be, or both. A very short time after I arrived out there I received a request from the officer commanding the 18th Hussars asking that his men should be given the rifle. He said that the carbine was practically useless against the Boer Mauser, and he hoped that his regiment might be given rifles. I was able to meet the request, and in a very short time all the other officers commanding cavalry regiments followed this officer's example and begged that their men should be given rifles too. Consequently rifles were given to them. I cannot understand how, if the cavalry found the carbine useless when on service, anyone can possibly propose that they should be armed with it now.

Before the war began a Committee was sitting to see whether the existing rifle could not be made a little handier for general purposes by being made lighter and a little shorter. That Committee did not conclude its proceedings until the war was over, but when I came back to England I remembered that the cavalry had all begged they might have the rifle. It seemed that if this proposal, which had been made before the war began, that the rifle should be shortened could be carried out, it would be as well to have a rifle which would do for infantry and cavalry alike. That was the origin of the shorter rifle. It is as effective in every respect as the long one; it has the advantage of being 5-in. shorter and a pound lighter; and for cavalry purposes, therefore, it is more convenient. As to the question of how the rifle should be carried, the carbine has now a sling attached to it, so that it can be worn across a man's shoulders when on service. It is, of course, only on service that it is necessary that it should be thus carried, but, as the noble Lord has said, it is then essential.

In Afghanistan on one occasion I had about two squadrons of the 9th Lancers numbering about 195 men, and on 11th December, 1879, when we were fighting beyond Kabul, the 9th Lancers were a great deal engaged, and lost a great many horses and a fair number of men. But what surprised me was to find that they had lost more than forty carbines. On inquiry I found that this was due to the fact that the carbine was carried in the bucket, and that when the horse was shot and fell over the weapon was lost. I saw many of the men on foot in this pre- dicament, their sword was dangling between their legs, their lance was in their hands, and they were trying to recover the carbine from the horse. I immediately gave orders that the swords should be attached to the saddle, and that the carbine should be carried on the trooper's back. That did not find favour for many years in this country, and has not up to the present moment; but I believe that it is now to be settled that the carbine shall be carried in the bucket in peace time and in a sling across the back in war time. The proper place for the sword is, no doubt, on the saddle. I would observe, however, that, if the Yeomanry are given the sword, it is essential that they should learn how to use it. I remember hearing a story in the war of some Yeomanry who were chasing a Boer. They overtook him, and the Boer fell down, and they began to slash at him with their swords. Not very much damage was done, and one officer said, "Shoot the poor devil." Then the Boer, who said nothing so long as they merely hacked at him with their swords, called out, "Don't shoot me, Sir." When they proposed to shoot him he begged for his life. Therefore, if the Yeomanry are given swords they should know how to use them, and unless they have sufficient time to learn their use it would be no good giving them swords. I only made these observations in order to tell your Lordships why the cavalry are now given the rifle and why it is difficult to give the sword to men unless they learn how to use it.