HL Deb 09 July 1913 vol 14 cc830-40

LORD WYNFORD rose to call attention to the recent special Army Order of June 20 affecting the establishment and organisation of the Royal Field Artillery, and to ask whether the changes therein ordered cannot be carried out equally efficiently and at no great expense to the public without ruthlessly destroying the long record of service of the batteries concerned.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the methods by which the recent decision of the Army Council to reduce certain batteries of Field Artillery is to be effected, methods which, if carried out as contemplated, will cause a great deal of resentment. Lord Midleton a week ago, when Lord Lucas replied to some Questions of mine, referred to this matter, and Lord Lucas then asked for notice of the noble Viscount's Question. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will put forward the plea of economy, but I would urge that on occasions like these such considerations should give way to those of old associations, memorable traditions, and a feeling of esprit de corps, and that the saving of a comparatively small sum of money is not justified when it involves bitterness and resentment.

Your Lordships, I hope, will allow me to explain what is to happen on August 1 next. His Majesty's Government have decided to make alterations in fifteen batteries. Three of these are to be disbanded altogether. The remaining twelve are to be reduced in establishment; they will be allotted to stations where their depots are at present stationed, and to all intents and purposes will become amalgamated with those depôts. They will cease to be efficient batteries; they will never go abroad nor carry out practice, and will never be more than a training school for Special Reservists. Of the 150 batteries which now exist, numbered from 1 to 150, all above the nineties have been formed since the year 1898. Your Lordships would think that the natural course to adopt would be to take the fifteen batteries with the highest numbers, and reduce the three of those batteries which had the highest numbers and carry out the necessary changes with the other twelve. But that is not the course which recommends itself to His Majesty's Government. It is rather difficult to explain to your Lordships what exactly is to take place, but I will endeavour to do so. In order to save the cost of moving the personnel to the particular stations to which these batteries are to be sent—or, as the Army Order has it, "as it is impracticable to change the personnel, etc., of the batteries affected from one station to another"—the changes will be carried out by batteries exchanging their numbers, records, and digests of service, and no actual move will take place.

Then follow in the Army Order changes in detail by which batteries, all formed over 100 years ago, are to hand over their numbers, records, and digests of service to batteries formed since 1900. More than half of these old batteries have a continuous record extending back to the latter part of the 18th century, and all but two have histories which go back to the time before Waterloo. If Artillery carried Colours, all these batteries, or the majority of them, would be entitled to have inscribed on those Colours such names as Seringapatam, Corunna, Salamanca, Vittoria, Aliwal, Chillianwalla, Sevastopol, Afghanistan, Lucknow, Cawnpore, Tel-el-Kebir, Tirah, and Omdurman. From their list of service, which I have been able to extract from the regimental history which I hold in my hand, I see that two of them were actually at Bunker's Hill in 1775, and others in places as far apart as Java in 1811 and the West Indies in 1796–1810. With such records as these what wonder is it that officers, non-commissioned officers, and men are proud, and justly proud, of belonging to the batteries which hold them? and your Lordships can understand their feeling of indignation and resentment when by an Army Order and at a mere stroke of the pen these batteries are directed to hand over such records as these to batteries none of which have been formed earlier than 1900, and none of which have any record at all of active service even in South Africa.

No one would dream of ordering two Infantry regiments or regiments of Cavalry to change their numbers or names and hand over their records. Such a thing would never be tolerated. I know the analogy in this respect is not a true one, and I will tell your Lordships why. The majority, in fact nearly all the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of a regiment remain during all their service in the one Infantry or Cavalry regiment, but this does not take place in the case of a battery. The officers change much more frequently. At the same time there are non-commissioned officers and men who have done all their Colour service in the battery and a great many have spent their whole military life in the battery. I believe this is the first time on record that the whole of the rank and file of as many as fifteen batteries have been transferred in a body against their wish from old batteries to new ones. That is really the effect of this Army Order. Every man in a battery with such records as these has a legitimate pride in them and an intense feeling of esprit de corps. I do not know that I need cite to your Lordships any illustrations of this, but one does occur to my mind of which I have personal experience. A non-commissioned officer of many years service as a sergeant was asked whether he would accept promotion and become the senior non-commissioned officer—the sergeant-major—of a battery which had only recently been formed. He belonged to a battery which had a very good record, and his reply was that he would rather be the junior non-commissioned officer in his old battery than the senior one in the new.

I would like to ask the noble Lord what is to happen in the case of these batteries to the officers' mess plate—pieces of plate presented by former officers in the battery, many of them of historic interest and all of them associated with the records. Are these to be handed over with the records? Some of the batteries, too, have prizes, such as challenge cups and shields, which were presented by old officers with a view to increasing the skill and efficiency of the men. Are these to be handed over with the records? Some of these batteries, by long and careful and judicious management, have amassed considerable funds which are invested and the income used for the benefit of the non-commissioned officers and men of the battery. Are these sums to be handed over also with the records? I would appeal to the noble Lord and ask why it is impracticable to move the personnel of the battery and thereby allow officers and men to retain their own records and digests of service—in fact, to keep their own property?

I am fully aware that the plea of economy will be put forward, and it will be argued that the cost of moving the personnel cannot be entertained. I should like, however, to point out that of the fifteen batteries in which these changes are contemplated, all except three have been two years or over in their present station and some have been actually four years. These batteries would, therefore, in the ordinary course, be transferred to another station this autumn. If economy is pleaded, I would ask why three field batteries were moved from Sheffield in 1911 to Ireland, only to be moved twelve months later out to South Africa; or why three other batteries which came home from South Africa only in January of this year are to be sent out to India next October. I do not wish to occupy too much of your Lordships' time, but I think it is only right and proper that this matter should be brought to your notice. That there is a very strong feeling, amongst all ranks of the batteries concerned I feel sure your Lordships will understand. After all, does not the success of our voluntary system depend to a great extent on the sense of pride in the traditions the past and in the records of regiments and batteries? I would appeal to the noble Lord to represent, seriously to the Secretary of State for War whether with equal efficiency and very little extra cost to the public the personnel of these batteries could not be moved to their new stations and thereby avoid this ruthless disregard of the traditions of the past.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has raised this question has stated the case, I will not say unfairly, but at any rate not fully as it stands at the present time. The facts as he has given them are accurate, but the conclusions drawn by him from them are in a great many cases not quite justified by the facts that he has already quoted. It is perfectly true, as he says, that certain portions of the, batteries composing these training brigades are going to be transferred and exchanged with other batteries, but the thing to which the noble Lord attaches importance, and rightly—namely, the personnel, the guns and horses—will remain. Their places will be taken in these training brigades by the eighteen youngest batteries on the Army List at the present time. His suggestion is that instead of doing what is proposed in the Army Order the actual batteries, including the men, guns, and horses, should leave their present quarters and change places with the batteries which are going to take up their position.

The noble Lord suggests that the only reason for not doing that is a question of expenditure. No doubt it would involve considerable expense to take these eighteen training batteries, move them out of their present quarters, and bring into those quarters eighteen other batteries, six of which would subsequently be reduced. That is a consideration, as all questions of expenditure are. At the same time it is the fact that if that had been the only consideration in the case very likely the decision that has been come to would have been different. There is another consideration, and one which has weighed on the whole more with the Army Council in arriving at this decision than the question of expense, and that is the question of efficiency. The establishment of the training batteries is different from that of the batteries allotted to the Expeditionary Force. But more important than their establishment is their training. The training brigades are instructional cadres. Their establishment is given to them for that purpose, and their time has been devoted entirely to instructional work. They are not in any sense trained as a unit in the way that a battery has to be trained, and if they were to be suddenly put into the Expeditionary Force it would be difficult to mobilise them and they would not be able to act with the unity which is essential to make a successful battery. That is the main difficulty at the present moment. The batteries forming part of the Artillery of the Expeditionary Force have been trained as batteries, trained in Artillery work, trained to take their place in the Divisions to which they are respectively allotted; and what the noble Lord is suggesting is that we should take these instructional cadres and ask them at a moment's notice to take their place in the Expeditionary Force. The result, in the opinion of the Army Council, would be a serious loss of efficiency to these Divisions, and that is the main reason which has actuated the Army Council in making this change.

Now I come to the question of the transfer. I do not think it is quite fair for the noble Lord to speak of it in the terms he did. His comparison, though he did qualify it, between these batteries and Infantry regiments is not a fair one either. I think we are much too prone in this House to discuss all Army organisation in terms of Infantry. To suggest that there is any analogy at all to, let us say, the converting of the Royal Fusiliers into the Oxford Light Infantry is absolutely misleading. The Field and Horse Artillery is one corps; these batteries are all parts of that corps, and it is a normal thing for men and officers to be transferred from one battery to another. An officer is constantly, I should think usually, transferred, on promotion, into another battery, and very often during the time he is in a particular rank he is transferred from one battery to another. Is is a normal thing, and a thing that every gunner expects to occur to him—namely, to be transferred from one battery to another.

The noble Lord talks about the continuous record of these batteries. What is there, after all, in the battery besides the actual record contained in its digest of service? The officers and men are not continuous. What is continuous is the digest of service itself. At the time of the South African War, when the Artillery was considerably increased, very large changes of personnel were made in batteries. I have not got the figures with me at the present moment, but I think cases could be quoted where almost as large and complete changes of personnel had been made in batteries in order to provide for the cadres of the new batteries, and so on, as are being made in this proposal. Yet did anybody at that time suggest that because of the transfer you were therefore smashing the records of the older batteries and transferring them to the new ones?


They were never all swept away.


I admit that it is a question of degree, but it is the normal practice to transfer officers and men from one battery to another. It is the regular and usual routine of the Artillery to do that. Because it has been done in a greater degree here than usual is no reason for saying that therefore the unit as a unit has ceased to exist, and that, in the words of the noble Lord, we are ruthlessly destroying the long records of service of that battery. They are carried to the new battery and will continue in it, and very possibly in time as changes go on the personnel of that new battery may be very much what the personnel of the old battery was before. This, I think, is the point of the whole thing, that what the noble Lord is really asking for is that the Horse and Field Artillery as a whole should no longer be treated as one corps. Once you set up the idea that you cannot make transfers you break down the corps idea of the Artillery and nothing could possibly be done which would militate more than that against the efficiency of the Royal Artillery.


My Lords, in my opinion the speech to which we have just listened is entirely misleading. It is quite impossible to make any comparison between what happened during the South African War and what is now proposed. It is not so much a question of transferring officers and men from one battery to another as it is of transferring records from one battery to another. That really completely brings to an end the life of the battery and starts it under another number. It is virtually the same thing as a corps being dismissed and a new corps being formed possibly with an entirely new name and everything completely changed. There is a certain amount of analogy between the Infantry and these batteries in this matter. It is perfectly true that the Artillery is one corps. But take an analogy inside a regiment. A certain number of companies have had plate given to them for competitions. If that plate or the company Colours were transferred from that company to another company, it would be felt as a very great grievance indeed. It often happens that men are transferred from one company to another in a regiment, but plate and things intimately connected with the records of the company are never exchanged from one company to another. That is the grievance which the Artillery have, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that it is a very real grievance indeed.


My Lords, I think there is great force in what has fallen from my noble friend behind me. Any one not versed in the affairs of the War Office listening to Lord Lucas would judge that his speech was a direct negative to that of my noble friend. I submit that the noble Lord opposite carried his argument a great deal further than he was entitled to do. I know that these cases of reduction are extremely difficult, and I do not dissent from the principle that you must have regard to economy and efficiency in making them. But when the noble Lord carries us to the point of telling us that there is no analogy between reducing a battery and reducing a regiment, I do not think he will find a single military man of any standing to support him. There is an analogy. It is not the same thing, but it is a great deal nearer the same thing than the noble Lord admits. When you are dealing with records, with trophies, with funds—in all those cases you are depriving batteries of things which date back to the Battle of Waterloo or earlier. I submit that it is a strong measure to transfer what are to the battery in question most cherished insignia and memories to a new battery formed twelve years ago; and I am quite sure that nobody would feel more than the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who throughout his period at the War Office was most careful of the traditions of the Army, the undesirability unless absolutely necessary of taking this step, which is condemned by every soldier.

I deprecate the overstatement of his case by Lord Lucas as to its being the normal thing to transfer men and officers from one battery to another. I know that it is done, and has to be done. But I am sure that if the noble Lord had been longer at the War Office than he has he would know that these things are done only with the utmost discretion and care, and in some cases we have avoided sending men from batteries to India because of the very strong feeling that men who were holding particular positions in a battery or who had been long in a battery should not be severed from their comrades and sent to a battery where they were not known. I have been asked to intervene myself to save even a dozen men going from one battery to another, and have had the support of the Adjutant-General. Therefore so far from its being the normal thing to break up what I may call the esprit de corps of a battery, every attempt has been made by past Adjutants-General to avoid doing it. I cannot, of course, deal without more information with the plea of efficiency—the plea that these particular old batteries have been trained to something which enables them to be broken up, while the new batteries having been trained to something different can be allowed to take over their work; but I believe the noble Lord will find that everybody who has had to administer the Army has endeavoured to avoid doing the very thing which the Secretary of State is now doing.

If I might make a special appeal it would be on this ground, that the necessity for reducing these batteries at all is challenged by the vast majority in this House and by every military man in the other House. We regard it as a retrograde step of a most unfortunate and of a very shortsighted character. There is not a military man in this House who will rise to support it. These batteries were granted by the Cabinet of the day after great consideration in deference to a very strong public feeling; and certainly the emergency which the Army in 1900 had to meet was not greater than the emergency which under the present Government and with the difficulties they have to encounter our Army may be called upon to meet either at home or abroad. For that reason I regard with great distrust this policy of reduction. But, quite apart from that, if it is carried out I would say, in the interests of the esprit de corps of the Artillery, that I hope that the very temperate observations made by my noble friend will be reported to the Secretary of State, and that even now he will consider whether the strong wishes of the batteries affected, whose old records are a treasured memory to them, may not be considered.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down referred in the early part of his speech to a point on which we must all feel sympathy with these batteries. Every one would wish to keep their records intact and to make as few changes as possible; and the present Adjutant-General has worked with a desire to keep that steadily in view in such changes as he has to make. But the real point is the question of efficiency. The changes to which attention has been drawn are made at the suggestion of the General Staff, and the Secretary of State has acted on the advice of the General Staff. The purpose of the General Staff was this that the Expeditionary Force should have the most efficient Artillery service that could be given to them. Great progress has been made in recent years with the Artillery service of the Expeditionary Force, but it was in the opinion of the Chief of the General Staff desirable that more of the batteries should be placed on the higher establishment than had been the case.

I doubt whether the public knows the immense changes which have been made in the Artillery service in the past few years. I remember the first experience I had of the Artillery. We were then in a position in which we could have mobilised only forty-two batteries, with one hundred men over. The reason for that was not any fault of the noble Viscount, because when he was at the War Office he was dealing with batteries which had a different kind of gun requiring less ammunition and which made a smaller demand on personnel. But this position was obsolete when we came to the use of the quick-firing field gun. Our position as regards mobilisation when I went to the War Office was, as I have said, a lamentable one. All that has been completely changed. We can now mobilise without any difficulty up to the full extent of our Artillery capacity; and the point that remained, the personnel being there, was to make the Expeditionary Force so equipped that it should be at least on a level with any other Force in Europe. In my time we got it up to a much better point than it had been, and we made it, I believe, efficient. But it has been strongly impressed on the mind of the General Staff that it was essential that the standard of the Artillery service should be raised to a yet higher level, in view of what has been done in France and in Germany, and that has been carried out in the recent changes.

No doubt a certain amount of suffering has been occasioned by this change. In my experience I have always found that people were apt to look at what immediately lies before them; and what immediately lies before every soldier is the tradition of his own unit. But what those responsible for the Army have to look to is the good of the whole, and I doubt whether the change could have been made with less alteration. I deprecate very much that the War Office should be hampered in what they are doing, and I do not doubt from my knowledge of the Adjutant-General that everything in his power will be done to mitigate any hardships which may be involved by the change.