HL Deb 30 May 1916 vol 22 cc204-19

LORD CHARNWOOD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether there is not work important for the successful prosecution of the war, to be done by Volunteer Training Corps, for the sake of which the Government desires that all available men (other than men able to serve in the Navy or Army) should join such corps.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put this Question on the Paper in the hope of eliciting from the noble and gallant Field-Marshal a clear declaration that the services of the Volunteer Training Corps are of some real use and importance in relation to the war. I will tell your Lordships in a few moments why I conceive that a mere statement of that kind will, if the noble and gallant Field-Marshal is able to give it, be of great value to the Volunteers. If I first say a word or two as to the general scope of the Volunteer movement I need not detain the House long, because I believe your Lordships remember well the debate which took place here in November, when the whole matter was well laid before the House by several Peers, and particularly by my noble friend Lord Desborough, to whom we Volunteers owe so much, and who speaks on the subject with an authority which I am very far from possessing.

The Volunteers consist of two main classes. There are those of us who are rather too old for military service or who suffer from some, trivial medical disability. Our decrepitude is a matter of degree and of comparison; and it is obvious that there might be, great value in training us against the day when our services may be required—to which I would add that I think the people of this country will prepare their minds more speedily and thoroughly for the long struggle which seems to lie before us if they see that every preparation of this sort is being made for the last resort which may come. Then there is the other large class of men who will be, but are not at this moment, available for service in the Army. There are keen lads slightly under military age; there are keen men employed in important civil avocations who may only be temporarily employed as they are, or whose employment might be brought to an end by such an event, if it were to occur, as an invasion; and there are, lastly, men fit for and liable to military service who have not at present been called up. In relation to all these, groups of men it is obviously of use that they should receive some preliminary training before they enter the Army.

On the other side, there were, of course, at first obvious difficulties and possible objections to the movement for the organisation of the Volunteers. Those difficulties and doubts have been solved. I think that all that could be said on this side was fully before the House when the Volunteer Bill, presented in November, was passed by your Lordships with the approval of the Government and with something like a chorus of assent from this House. What is more, the military authorities in this country who have been brought in practical contact with it have shown in many ways their keen appreciation of the Volunteer movement. Nothing can exceed the helpfulness towards the movement and the ready and quick understanding of the conditions of our work and our exact capacities which have, been shown by many General Officers in important Commands in this country. But I want to remind your Lordships of certain things which have happened since the debate in November to which I have referred. I can hardly refrain from saying a word of the gallant conduct of the Dublin battalion of the Irish Volunteer Training Corps—helped, I believe, by some men from other battalions—during the recent uprising in Ireland. Speaking as I do as a representative, of a great number of ordinary Volunteers in England, your Lordships will allow me to express the keen satisfaction and pleasure with which we noted, not the gallantry, which was a matter of course, but the promptitude and efficiency with which our comrades in Ireland acted on that occasion.

My noble friend Lord Desborough, last November, described to your Lordships certain work then being performed by the labour of Volunteers, work in one way not exactly relating to their possible combative duties but certainly inducing to their military efficiency for any purpose. Work of that kind on the part of Volunteers has very largely developed since then. It has developed to an extent of which possibly some of your Lordships, and certainly the public at large, are hardly aware. I do not know that I ought to attempt to go into detail on the subject. For one thing, the use of the Volunteers in different parts of the country necessarily varies, and there may possibly be corps in parts of the country to whom what I might say did not strictly apply. For another thing, if I were at all to particularise it is conceivable that I might be saying something to which the noble and gallant Field-Marshal would rather I did not refer. But this I can safely say, that there are operations being carried out at this moment in the country to which clearly the War Office attach high importance, because a great deal of the time and thought of important military officers is devoted to directing those, operations, and because considerable expense to the taxpayers is being incurred in relation to them. These operations are being carried on by the work of Volunteers, and to carry them on speedily and successfully it is exceedingly desirable that the numbers of Volunteers should be kept up.

What is the position at this moment in regard to this important question of numbers? We have been successful in passing into the Army after a certain amount of preliminary training, which I believe has proved of high value to them, numbers of men who joined the Volunteer Corps in the first instance because for temporary reasons they were not then able to enlist. That is so far a proof of the success of the Volunteer movement. But, of course, this draws down our numbers. To keep up and, if possible, to increase those numbers we have to look to men who are willing to do anything they can to help the country, but, like reasonable men, before they commit themselves to an extra heavy expenditure of time when there are plenty of other things they might do, desire to be quite clear that the work which they are entering upon is of real use to the country; and there has been a good deal which, in the public mind, has thrown doubt upon the utility of the Volunteers. What has happened? I have referred to the Bill which passed your Lordships' House in November last, the passing of which and its reception here was a great encouragement to the Volunteers. It brought them, I believe, very many recruits. But then what happened? Six months have gone by and that Bill, instead of passing through the House of Commons, has long ago been dropped. I am not complaining. I do not know what the reasons were for which the Government decided in the end to drop it. Very likely they were good reasons; but the effect was enormously discouraging to the Volunteer movement.

Since then—two days before Easter—came out, to the very great pleasure of the Volunteers, the announcement of the new Regulations under which the War Office intend shortly to put them. That, again, was a moment, as I have said, of great encouragement. But considerable time has gone by since then, and no apparent and manifest steps have been taken to carry out the intention then expressed by the War Office. Again I am not in the least complaining. I know that there is a great deal to be considered and to be arranged. But all this delay does keep up in the minds of the Volunteers themselves and in the minds of those who would readily join them a real doubt as to whether the movement is of value. It is for that reason mainly that I am asking this Question, because I am sure that nothing would so stimulate men to join the Volunteer Corps as the words of encouragement which the noble and gallant Field-Marshal may be able to give to the movement, and which nobody else could give with the same wide and deep effect as himself. It is important that the Volunteers should rapidly be increased in their numbers, because the work that they do is most effective in the summer season when the days are long, and the summer is now some distance advanced. I hope, therefore, that it may be possible for the War Office to proceed quickly with the work of actually enrolling Volunteers under the new scheme, and of bringing as many individual Volunteers as possible within the scope of the Volunteer Act, even if there may be some delay in settling those complicated but not really insuperably difficult questions of organisation and command which will arise.

Since I put this Question on the Notice Paper there has been a statement on the subject in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister. It was an encouraging and valuable statement; but to the invitation which the Prime Minister gave to those who were able to join Volunteer Corps he added a qualification. He appealed to men who could join the Volunteers "unless they were engaged on work of extreme importance in civil life." I forget his exact words. I regret that there should have been that qualification to the invitation, for these two reasons. In the first place, the number who can be present at any particular drill of a Volunteer Corps is a fluctuating number. The difficulty is in getting sufficient men to make the drill of any use; and even a man whose civil employment is such that he would necessarily be withdrawn from the Volunteers on Government employment of a civil kind if the Volunteers were called out can in the meantime be of service, simply because his presence helps to make possible the effective training of the other men. There is this further way in which he can be of service. There is the work to which I have alluded, carried on every week-end, at which it is possible for a man to lend a hand even though his employment in civil life—it may be in munition work or something else—is one for which he would necessarily be kept back by the Government if the Volunteers were ever called up and embodied.

I hope for such a statement from the noble and gallant Field-Marshal as will have a wide effect in stimulating the Volunteer movement. But I have to contemplate the possibility that he may not be able to make quite so encouraging a statement to us as we could wish. If that be so, I should like to say this. We are not, of course, wanting compliments on the patriotism which we have shown, or anything of that kind. But we wish to know very clearly whether we are or are not of use; and if it should be the case—though I do not think it is—that after these many months of consideration the noble and gallant Field-Marshal does not set a real value upon the Volunteers—well, we are busy people and can occupy ourselves to the country's good, as well as our own, in other ways, and if we are not really of use we are entitled to be told so. But I do not think the answer is likely to be of that discouraging character. I am not going to ask any question as to the details of the steps which the War Office will take with regard to us hereafter, because I believe there are several of your Lordships who have questions of this kind to raise; but I can assure the noble and gallant Field-Marshal that words of invitation from him to those who are able to take part in the Volunteer movement will bring to that movement a great many men who are willing to give their best service, if only they are told that the corps are of use. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, I intervene before the noble and gallant Field-Marshal replies because I am desirous of raising a point regarding the relation which it is suggested that Volunteer Corps should bear to the, Territorial Force. We who have to administer the Territorial Force have been asked in the most courteous fashion by the War Office also to undertake the administration of the Volunteer Corps under their existing Regulations, and on general grounds I need hardly say that there is not a Territorial Association which would not gladly do so. But in the case of the Territorial Association with which I am personally concerned—and I suspect, from what I hear, in the case of many others—we are faced with this difficulty. We are asked to take over what we hope and trust may in the future be a considerable force in addition to the Territorial units with which we have now to deal, but we are specifically told that we are to have no grants whatsoever in addition to our present Territorial funds for providing either arms, equipment, clothing, or anything else for the Volunteer Corps, and no capitation grant under the existing Regulations is given to the Volunteers.

Territorial Associations are asked by the War Office to undertake a considerable amount of additional work, which we are very willing to do provided that some means are afforded us for carrying out that work. The Association with which I am connected feel that they cannot undertake it unless certain grants are made, at any rate for providing rifles, clothing, ammunition, and equipment. If we were to undertake this additional work and at the end of the year had expended a considerable sum of money in arming, clothing, and equipping Volunteers, what would be the position? We should be surcharged by the Government auditor, and the Association would find themselves in trouble with the Office over which the noble and gallant Field-Marshal presides. We are therefore impotent in the matter. We are most anxious to assist the Volunteer Corps, but we feel that we cannot do so in any way adequately or efficiently unless a certain sum of money is granted for the objects I have mentioned. I believe that in certain Territorial districts the Associations have taken over the responsibilities attaching to the Volunteer Corps and have agreed to administer them, but I shrewdly suspect that in those particular areas there are certain extremely wealthy gentlemen who are willing to come forward and subscribe sufficient money, at any rate to purchase clothing and a certain number of rifles, and, equally, that a certain number of the Volunteers may be in a position to fit themselves out individually. But there are a great many poorer counties where this is not the case. Personally, I do not think this is a satisfactory way of dealing with a large and important subject. I hope we shall not inaugurate a sort of subscription day throughout the country for equipping the Volunteer Corps. Let the Government, if they want these corps, as I assume they do, supply the necessary arms, equipment, and clothing.

I am confident, from the communications I have received from Volunteer commandants, that you are losing a large number of men out of these corps daily because they can get no definite information as to what their status is to be, or whether they are to be recognised financially by the Government. The commandant of a large Volunteer body writes— I consider it advisable that the obligations accruing— that is, the obligations on the Territorial Association to supply the necessary clothing, arms, &c.— should be more explicitly explained, and I hope that your Lordship may be able to obtain information particularly as to finance. I have dozens of similar communications. But there is a rather cynical observation in the last communication which I received from the War Office on the subject, in which they say— Any extra expense to the Territorial Force would not be appreciable. The War Office do not say that there will not be considerable expense, and they do not in the least say how we are to get the money to meet those charges. The Territorial Associations would have no power, as far as I know, to spend a shilling on the Volunteers.

I earnestly hope that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal will be able to enlighten us on the financial side of the question, because it is essential, if you are to get an efficient Volunteer Force which can relieve men now doing duty in this country in a great many ways in which they have already to a small extent relieved them, that you must adequately arm and clothe these Volunteers. I do not see how the Territorial Associations can be expected to raise sums sufficient to do this, and I hope that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal may see his way to make some statement of a satisfactory nature on that point. I can assure him that the settlement of this matter is essential for the future welfare of the Volunteer Corps. Territorial Associations have been placed in a very difficult position in being invited to administer this considerable body of men without being promised adequate means to do the work; and that is a point which I hope, in the interests not only of the Volunteer Corps but of the Territorial Associations themselves, will be cleared up.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord who asked this Question referred to the conduct of the Volunteers in Dublin, and I wish to add our appreciation at the War Office of the gallant manner in which they behaved. I should also like to inform the noble Lord that we thoroughly appreciate the services of the Volunteers.

I will first deal with the question put to me by the noble Duke. The Volunteer Training Corps, as your Lordships are aware, owe their existence to the public-spirited efforts of Lord Desborough and others, who early in the war saw the valuable use which could be made of the patriotism of the many men who from age or private circumstances were prevented from joining the Armies then being formed. These efforts were recognised in a letter from the War Office in November, 1914, giving the new organisation recognition and encouragement. The War Office were not, however, in a position to promise any support in money or in kind from public sources, and care was taken in the letter I have mentioned to make this clear. In this letter it was stated that no arms, ammunition, or clothing would be supplied from public sources, nor would financial assistance be given.

Subsequently, at the commencement of this year, the Government went a step further and brought the Volunteer Training Corps under the Volunteer Act of 1863. Regulations giving effect to this step were then framed by which certain grants of money were made to assist the Corps in meeting the expenses of travelling and food for members who were called upon to perform certain services in which they could be of assistance to the Army. The Regulations also promised non-effective grants for men killed or incapacitated while performing services of this kind. It was, however, made clear that beyond these grants no assistance could be provided. Your Lordships will realise how essential it was for the War Office to assume this attitude. The expenditure on the Army is very great. We cannot look without misgiving at any increase such as would be initiated, for example, by the payment of a capitation grant for these volunteers. We must also look at present with misgiving at any demands for arms, equipment, and clothing, owing to the difficulties of supply. The utmost that we could see our way to do would be to endeavour to find part-worn equipment and arms with which to fit out Volunteers who may be employed in the partial relief of Regular troops on military duties, such as that of guards, etc., That is the situation at present.

We can see no way of giving further pecuniary assistance except at the expense of the Army, which would have to be reduced proportionately. The Volunteers are all business men and cannot undertake continuous military duties. They can, however, do work which is of importance, and this is being undertaken by rosters of members, from which men can be found for certain guard services. For this they receive pay under the Regulations. The Government have endeavoured to find more work for them which they can do under this system, but it is not an easy task, having regard to the limitations imposed upon members by the necessary calls made by their private businesses and other circumstances. The noble Lord behind me (Lord Charnwood) invites the Government to express a desire to use largely increased numbers, even to the extent of getting all available men to join the Volunteer Corps. I am afraid we have not reached that stage yet. We must find the work for them to do. Then we must look at the expense that would thereby be incurred, which, I can assure the noble Lord, is a very serious consideration owing to our enormous expenditure. In describing the work which he asks the Government to find for the Volunteers the noble Lord spoke of "work important for the successful prosecution of the war." He means, I think, work of a military or semi-military nature. But is it not a fact that in the present conditions the conduct of the civil businesses of the country is also important for the success of the war? May we not run some risk in encouraging the diversion from the businesses in which these men are engaged of energies which are available primarily for that work? May not the country's interests suffer in that way? I suggest that we must show considerable caution in dealing with this question. The present is not the moment when we should embark on schemes involving new expenditure of large sums, which can only be provided out of Army money if corresponding reductions are carried out.

At the same time do not let me be misunderstood. The Government recognise fully, and cannot speak too highly of, the work which the Volunteers have done and the spirit which they have always shown in offering their services to the country. The Volunteers have been most useful in meeting many emergencies, such as furnishing guards for munition factories, patrolling the coast, providing labour for digging trenches and other manual work, such as unloading trains. As I have said, they have set a fine example, and the country is both proud of and grateful to them; and personally I welcome the presence in the country of a large body of disciplined men who might prove of great service in the case of sudden national emergency.


My Lords, as one who has been connected with the Volunteer movement from its inception, perhaps your Lordships will permit me to say a few words. I would first like to thank noble Lords who have welcomed the services of the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps, which have been carried out now for nearly two years. But I am afraid that the Volunteers throughout the country will hear the statement from my noble friend the Secretary of State for War with somewhat mixed feelings. We are grateful to him for the recognition which he has given of the services so freely rendered in the past, and I am sure that the Central Association in Ireland will highly appreciate the tribute which he paid to the loyalty and bravery of the Volunteers there on a recent occasion. I have had several letters from them. Although they were only exercising themselves on the Easter Monday with dummy rifles—I think some of them had Russian arms for which ammunition had not been made for forty years—as soon as they were informed that there was insurrection in Dublin they hurled themselves into the fray. They climbed into barracks, and although under constant fire for eight days they maintained their position and gave an excellent account of themselves. I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the English Volunteers, of paying a tribute of respect and admiration to them for what they did on that occasion.

I should also like to thank the noble and gallant Field-Marshal for what he said of the work that has already been carried out by the Volunteer Corps. I do not believe there is any single organisation or any single effort made in the country when service was voluntary which has added more Regular troops to our Forces than the Volunteer movement. I know of one corps—it is a small corps—which has sent 660 officers to the Army, men who received their drill and training in the Volunteer Corps. In all, no fewer than a million men have gone from Volunteer Corps to serve in the Regular Forces of the Crown. And we have done a considerable amount of voluntary work which I venture to think has its cash value, for I do not suppose, if the work was not required, the Volunteers would have been asked to perform it. All round our coast, from Cornwall to Wick, Volunteers have been patrolling day and night for a year and a-half at no cost to the country. Only last week I was arrested by one of these patrols when walking along the coast. Naturally, when I explained that I had some connection with the Volunteer Force my incarceration was not of long duration. I asked how long Volunteers had been employed on this work, and I ascertained that this particular gentleman had been at it for over a year. That is one small item. There are a great many of these men now guarding works of importance, and in one county forty miles of trenches have been dug by Volunteers. That surely is work which must have its cash value. Volunteers have also cleared certain ground for aeroplane works. They are in sole charge of this ground, and have the duty of lighting the flares to guide landing aeroplanes. Volunteers have also done a good deal of work—and I am happy to think that I have helped them—at ordnance stores throughout the country in loading trains with munitions. The officer in charge remarked on one occasion that two Volunteers did as much work as three of his ordinary men. On some days I have taken down 1,300 Volunteers for this work. In one town threatened with Zeppelin raids there are no fewer than ten guard rooms manned by Volunteers every night. In case of warning, each of these squads has its definite post assigned; and they would assist the civil authorities and help to quell any commotion that might arise.

Over and above the cash value of the work which the Volunteers have done, they have encouraged the spirit of the dignity of military service, and they certainly have assisted in the way of recruiting to a greater extent than any other single movement. But the Volunteers would never press their own claims in any way that might conflict with the higher interests of the country. If we are informed on the authority of the Secretary of State for War that the daily expenditure of the country has reached such a point that nothing can be done for the Volunteers without taking away from the Regular Forces of the Crown, I am quite sure that Volunteers throughout the country will accept that position. There is no Volunteer who would wish to take one single rifle if by so doing he was depriving a man facing the enemy at the Front, of that rifle. I feel that the presence in this country of a large population who have had some drill and discipline would, in case of any sudden emergency, be of great value in many directions; and I am sure that the Volunteer Corps, although they regret that in the circumstances there is little chance of their obtaining that equipment and those arms to which they were looking forward, will loyally accept the position and continue to do their drill as before. At the same time, there were some words of encouragement in the statement of my noble and gallant friend, and they were these—that when the time comes and the Government are able to arm and equip those who are willing to place their services at the disposal of the authorities, the Government will take the first opportunity of doing so.


My Lords, as a full private in the Volunteer Corps—though I fear a useless one, owing to age—perhaps I may be allowed to point out from the private's point of view how very important it is, in our opinion, that more should be done to show the recognition of the Government. I am thankful to the noble and gallant Field-Marshal for the words he has spoken to-day, because I think they will do something to encourage the Volunteers. But the great mass of the Volunteers feel that they have been devoting a great deal of time and trouble to work for which it is said they are not wanted."The Government do not want you," it is said; "they do not recognise you." That is not the case, but that is the feeling among the privates. I fully realise that we have to be very careful how we increase expenditure. At the same time I would ask the noble and gallant Field-Marshal to consider whether it is not possible to give official proof in other ways of the gratitude felt by the country. I do not like to make any proposals because they might be foolish ones, but I would ask him to consult with his officers as to whether there are not certain things that might be done to encourage the privates. I was going to propose that a list should be compiled of those privates and officers who passed a medical examination and had been fully drilled, and who felt that they could be of service in case of need, so that if the war was prolonged and all our troops had to leave the country, or supposing, which God forbid! that another rising should take place in Ireland, the services of these men could be utilised. My humble suggestion is that there should be a list of these men and that they should be paid. But I ask that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal should consult with those round him and see whether there are not other ways in which the Volunteer Corps could be encouraged.


My Lords, the improvement in the position of these corps compared with what it was a year ago is a matter of satisfaction to those of us who have taken an interest in the Volunteer movement. We are very grateful that His Majesty the King has accepted the offer of the county regiments. But the noble Duke opposite has started a fresh idea altogether concerning Volunteer Corps. When the Volunteer Bill was passed unanimously through your Lordships' House in November of last year it was on the distinct understanding that we did not ask either for money, arms, equipment, clothing, military rank or military honours. All we asked for was recognition and employment, and to a great extent those two requests have been granted. As I understand, Volunteers are accepted as soldiers in case of raid or invasion, in which event they will be attested and called out.

But there are two vital points the clearing up of which would have an immense effect in putting heart into these brave and patriotic men. The first is this. When the Volunteers are called up in case of raid or invasion, will they be entitled to the allowances in addition to pay under Sections 18 and 19 of the Volunteer Act, 1863? I have had a communication from the War Office stating that, as far as pay is concerned, that is so; but if it could be stated by the highest authority that pay and allowances, including separation allowance, will be paid to those Volunteers who are called up in case of raid or invasion it would be an enormous inducement, and I believe we could get every man in my county to join.

The second point which should be cleared up is this. A large number of Volunteers are also Special Constables, and they consider that their obligation as Special Constables comes first. It is not very long ago that we were ordered in the county of Bucks to guard certain portions of the Great Western and North Western railroads, as we would have to do in case of invasion. That was just before Easter; and on Easter Sunday at four o'clock we had the Slough battalion out and posted twenty men a mile between West Drayton and Maidenhead. Those men remained on duty for four and twenty hours; they had rifles, bayonets, uniform, including greatcoats, and twenty rounds of ammunition apiece—all provided by themselves or the county. They all know their places and how the sentries and guards are to be relieved; and in the event of mobilisation I think I can say, as regards the Great Western Railway, that within four or five hours every man would be at his post. But, as I say, some of these men are Special Constables. It seemed to me, as Lord Lieutenant, that the defence of the military lines of communication was far more important than diverting carts and pedestrians from the high roads kept for military use. Therefore I took it upon myself to say to the Chief Constable that in case of mobilisation every man, whether he was a special constable or not, would be required on the lines of railway communication. I sent that order to the War Office and to the Home Office, stating that it would be in force until I was instructed to withdraw it. I have received no letter from either of those Departments, and therefore I presume that what I did was the sensible and proper thing to do in the circumstances. But it would be satisfactory if we could be told officially whether Volunteers who are detailed for the duty of protecting lines of communication are to consider this their first obligation irrespective of the fact that they may happen to be Special Constables.

I do not expect a reply at the moment, and I do not bring this matter forward to embarrass the noble and gallant Field-Marshal, but I hope the points will be considered. Personally I have a great belief in this Volunteer movement, and have done what little I could to further it. In my county we have a capital brigade of four battalions, with 2,000 rifles, 900 bayonets, and over 100,000 rounds of ammunition, and most of the men are equipped. I feel certain that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal, after the gracious words he has used towards this branch of the Service, will do everything he can to help us in our endeavour as honest citizens to do our best in the event of raids or other troubles to serve the country and the King.


My Lords, I can assure noble Lords that I will do my best to find some means of encouraging the Volunteers. I will study the question as closely as I can with the officers engaged, and I hope it will have some successful result. In reply to the noble Marquess, I would say that Volunteers when called up on the occasion of a raid or invasion will, of course, be entitled to pay and allowances. But he mentioned the separation allowance, about which I am afraid I cannot say anything at the moment. The Treasury would have to be consulted on the subject.


There would be pay and allowances, but not the separation allowance?


That is so. With regard to the order which the noble Marquess gave, I can assure him that he acted in a way of which the War Office would thoroughly approve. As Lord Lieutenant he had a perfect right to give such orders, and I hope all Lords Lieutenant will do so and will take the responsibility of seeing that their Volunteers are used for the best service of the country. As special constables they no doubt carry out a great task, but when they have military duties to perform those military duties come before those of special constables.