HL Deb 28 July 1909 vol 2 cc799-804

*THE DUKE OF BEDFORD rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War if, among the Territorial Infantry included in the swiftly moving central force described by the Secretary of State for War on the 30th November last, men will be excluded who are (1) under twenty years of age; (2) have never fired a recruit's course of musketry; (3) have tired a recruit's course of musketry, but have never fired the annual musketry course of the trained Territorial soldier; and what is the present estimated average strength for active service of Territorial Infantry battalions included in the central force, after making the deductions necessary on account of immaturity, physical unfitness, and lack of musketry training.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War the Questions standing in my name on the Paper. We know now for certain that Territorial battalions are to be used in combination with Regulars in the swiftly moving central force designed by the Government to crush any sudden invasion. Hence they cease to be Second Line troops and we must consider their immediate fighting value. We have never been told whether it is the intention of the Government to include boys of under twenty years of age in their central force. Boys in their teens are no more fitted for active service at home than abroad, because they are physically incapable of carrying the necessary weight of ball ammunition, plus a great coat and rations. Without a pack of that kind the utility and mobility of an Infantry soldier vanish. But this pack, with the rest of the clothing and equipment, according to the Field Service Pocket Book issued by the General Staff, means a weight of sixty lbs. on the man. Tens of thousands of the boys of the type we see in the Territorial Army do not themselves weigh 120 lbs. Are they to march and fight carrying a burden equal to more than half their own weight? We are all agreed that boys are quite unfit to do the work of men in time of peace; therefore, why should they be considered fit to do so in time of war?

My next Question concerns recruits not trained in musketry. It is inevitable that in every Army there must be untrained recruits, useless for the field. At present in the Territorial Force there are 67,087 noncommissioned officers and men who have never fired a recruit's course of musketry. As the strength of the Territorial Force is 260,676 that is rather more than a quarter not available on account of being totally untrained in musketry.

My third Question refers to those men who have fired a recruit's course of musketry, which is completed by firing twenty rounds of ball ammunition on the rifle range in one afternoon, but who have not yet fired the annual musketry course, which is to convert them into trained Territorial soldiers returned as efficient in musketry. I ask if these men on the strength of their having discharged twenty rounds of ball ammunition on a single occasion are to be included in the firing line of the central force without further training. Anyhow, we have 67,087 totally untrained recruits and 53,367 men who have once fired twenty rounds of ball ammunition, giving a total of 120,454 untrained and partially trained men in the Territorial Force, and leaving 140,222 trained but up to the musketry standard of the Territorial Force. Now the annual musketry course of the trained Territorial soldier, as far as practice on the rifle range is concerned, consists of one afternoon when he fires twenty-three rounds of ball ammunition. There are certain other shooting gallery practices, but none other obligatory on the range. I believe in the utility of the shooting gallery, but I refuse to believe that firing toy ammunition is any reliable substitute for practice with ball ammunition. As regards the standard of efficiency in musketry of the Territorial Army, it is measured not by the ability of the men to hit the object aimed at but by the number of rounds of ball and toy ammunition discharged. A man may fire his twenty-three rounds of ball ammunition and never hit his target. Then if he fires 445 rounds of Morris tube ammunition in the shooting gallery with the same result, that man will be returned as an efficient soldier as regards musketry. This appears from the last paragraph on page 4 of the War Office Memorandum of November 13, 1908.

What has happened is this. The Government having designed the Territorial Army as a force of the Second Line, now propose to use portions of it as a First Line Army, but do not consider that this change of duties necessitates any corresponding change in musketry training. Can there be any doubt as to the result of the conflict of two firing lines, the one composed largely of boys who do not profess to have either drill or discipline and whose knowledge of musketry has been acquired by firing once a year twenty-three rounds of ball ammunition plus toy ammunition fired in the shooting gallery, and the other line composed of physically fully matured men, disciplined to the highest pitch and trained to a first class standard of musketry by continually firing an ample supply of ball ammunition in the field?

My last Question is as to the strength of the Infantry battalions in the central force. I do not see how you can reckon—but I am now asking for information—on more than an average of 350 men per battalion. The noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War will remember that he once told us that every Infantry Brigade was to consist of four battalions, and that a weak battalion meant a weak Brigade, and a weak Brigade weakened its Division. The Brigade ought to be 4,000 strong. Well, if so, you must put ten or twelve Infantry battalions into every Brigade, and how can such an amalgamation be made at a moment's notice? However, the strength of a Territorial battalion in the central force must depend on whether it is the intention to exclude or include boys of under twenty.


My Lords, in answer to the noble Duke I have first to say that we do not intend to exclude men under twenty from the Territorial Force. We have laid it down that men under twenty should not be employed on foreign service or sent out to India because of the question of health, men under that age being more liable to certain diseases than those above it. But in our view there is no doubt that in a climate like this if the Territorial Army had to go into action men under twenty would be just as good soldiers as those over that age. We see no reason at all for excluding them from the force or from the campaign that the force would be called on to undertake. We do not propose on mobilisation to include recruits or men who have not fired their recruit's course of musketry until they have completed it. The course has been worked out very carefully, and if a man goes through it, including the rounds on the open range and with the Morris tube or at the miniature range, it should make him under ordinary conditions a fairly good shot, and we consider that he would be fitted to take his place in the ranks of the force.

I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Duke a precise answer to his last Question. It is always rather difficult to estimate the actual number of men who are available in any unit on mobilisation, and at the present time the data we have with regard to the Regular Army do not altogether apply. In the Regular Army we exclude men under twenty, and take as a general average ten per cent. over and above that for men who would be rejected as unfit for foreign service. But in this country there would be no necessity to put so severe a test on the men, so that presumably the number of rejections would be rather under ten per cent. But that is only approximate, and it is no use for me to try to give the noble Duke any actual figure as to the strength at which these battalions would take the field. In these circumstances, if the Territorial Army had to mobilise it would mobilise considerably under strength. We are perfectly aware of that, and are devising means to meet it in order to bring the units up to full strength.

Section 7 of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act gives us the power of forming a Reserve to the Territorial Force, and we have now completed the scheme and are about to issue instructions for the formation of a Territorial Force Reserve. We propose to form a Reserve in three separate categories to be called the Territorial Force Reserve, the Technical Reserve, and the Veteran Reserve. The Territorial Force Reserve will have an establishment of 100,000 men. It will consist of captains and subalterns of four years completed service in the military forces of the Crown since 1900. The men who will be eligible to join it will be serving soldiers who have completed four fifteen days camps or their equivalent. That means that if a man has done less than fifteen days in camp it will only count as half a camp, and he would have to put in another half camp afterwards. Those men will be provided with uniforms, and will be allowed to attend camp if they wish—there will be no compulsion—with their unit up to the establishment of the unit as it goes to camp. If you have a battalion of 900 serving men going to camp, it will be permissible to allow the difference between the 900 and the full establishment to be taken from the Reserve. They will be allowed to draw twenty rounds of ammunition every year to keep up their musketry. These men will make an agreement under which they will be called upon under the same conditions as the Territorial Force on mobilisation. From these men we propose to complete the ranks of the Territorial Force on mobilisation.

In the Technical Reserve it is proposed to enrol those men who, having some specialised knowledge of a technical nature, might be able to render very valuable service. That would include people belonging to the medical or veterinary services, railway and telegraph personnel, balloonists and aeroplanists, all of whom might certainly prove useful. Finally, as regards the Veteran Reserve, we are establishing that in order to enable the War Office to get into touch with that very large number of men who have passed through any of the Military, forces of the Crown and have a knowledge of soldiering, and who would be prepared to register their names to be called up for service in case of emergency. The Veteran Reserve will be open to ex-Regulars, ex-Militiamen, and ex-Special Reservists, as well as other men who have served in Irregular corps in the South African war. It is not proposed to organise that force or spend money upon it in the way of equipment or training; what we want to get is a register of the names of those people in order that, if it should become necessary, we might call upon them.

This is an important step in advance. We have always realised the soundness of the criticism of the noble Duke, that you cannot have a force whose peace establishment and war establishment are the same unless you have same reservoir to draw upon. That is why we have formed this Reserve, and it is hoped by this means to enable units not only to take the field on mobilisation at full strength, but also to go under training at full strength or something very near it.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for his answer, especially for the statement concerning the proposed Reserve which was quite unexpected as I had not asked for it. But I should like to know whether or not it is intended to put into the firing line of the swiftly moving central force which is to be called upon at a moment's notice to resist invasion boys of less than twenty years of age who have only fired twenty rounds of ball ammunition in their lives?


I answered that in the affirmative. Men who have fired their recruit's course will be called up on mobilisation to take their place in the ranks.


And the veterans, too?




I am sure the House must have listened with great interest to the concluding part of the answer given by the noble Lord opposite. It is, as far as I am aware, the first we have heard of what seems to me a most important new departure—namely, the creation of a new Reserve outside the members of the Territorial Force as we know it at this moment. I will not comment upon that, because we have not yet had time to consider the statement of the noble Lord. But I should like, if I may, to ask him one question which I think arises out of his reply to my noble friend. We now understand that the Territorial Force is to be used not merely for Second Line purposes, but on occasion as part of the central force which on emergency is to be used for the purpose of meeting sudden invasion. I should like to ask whether those members of the Territorial Force who will be told off to serve upon this central force, will be given any special instruction in musketry or whether they will be simply on the same footing as the other members of the Territorial Force.


Perhaps the noble Marquess will give me notice of his question.