HL Deb 25 July 1918 vol 30 cc1183-94

LORD SYDENHAM rose to ask the Under Secretary of State for India whether steps are being taken to grant commissions to selected native officers of the Indian Army who have rendered distinguished service in the war; and whether provision is being made to confer commissions on young Indians trained in the Imperial Cadet Corps or elsewhere.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a short time ago Lord Lamington and the noble Earl who was then Secretary of State for War paid a most deserved tribute to the gallantry of the Indian Cavalry at Cambrai. There were episodes on that occasion which will always shed lustre on the annals of the Indian Army, but they only form part of the very fine services rendered by the Indian Army to the Empire during the war. The India Office very wisely published an interesting book, written with great ability by Colonel Mereweather and recounting the achievements of the Lahore and Meirut Divisions, which began to arrive in France on September 26, 1914. Those divisions played a notable part in the desperate fighting by which the early German attempts to reach the Channel ports were shattered, and they helped to save a very dangerous situation. To Indian troops the experience of shell fire was quite unknown, and the terrible cold of the first winter in the trenches was a most severe trial of endurance.

I do not think it is realised what those two Divisions suffered. About 24,000 men landed originally at Marseilles, and I understand that in eight months 30,000 drafts were sent from India to fill up the ranks. Thus these divisions required their original strength and 6,000 men more to fill up the casualties. It is easy to understand what that means; and in addition there was a very heavy loss of British officers, on whom the Indian native regiments so much depend. Subsequently this much-tried Force went to Mesopotamia, to incur fresh sacrifices and fresh losses, and reflect new glory upon the Indian Army. Little can be done for these gallant men to whom the Empire owes so much. Some time ago I raised the question of land grants, and I was told that the subject was under consideration. I hope that by this time it has got far beyond that not very interesting stage.

To-day I want to ask whether the King's commission is to be offered to selected native officers of the Indian Army who have specially distinguished themselves during this war. There is no finer body serving in His Majesty's forces than the native officer class, which represent the pick of the yeomen of the warrior races of India. They constitute our greatest safeguard against the determined attempts to sow sedition in the ranks of the Indian Army which have been made in recent years. The number of them qualified by education and position for commissions is not large, but of late years a good many men of good families have entered the Army in the hope of promotion. There must also be a proportion who are not only well trained in the school of war but who have shown high qualities of leadership.

The question of admitting young Indians to direct commissions is one of quite a different kind. I well know all the difficulties which arise from the ancient customs and caste prejudices of what is really the most aristocratic country left in the world, but careful selection is essential, and Indian officers should serve only in regiments composed of classes which would naturally look up to them. I think the noble Earl the Leader of the House did hold out a hope that commissions would be given from the Imperial Cadet Corps, but after he left India I think nothing was done; and at Simla about nine years ago I pressed the matter upon Lord Kitchener, but he did not at that time see his way to take any step in the direction which I wanted. I think that a beginning should now be made with certain Cavalry regiments, which might in time be officered entirely by Indians, who, beginning at the bottom, would later on reach the command of the regiment. Already commissions have been granted to nine young Indians who have distinguished themselves during this war, and I think a few more are serving as officers in the Royal Air Force; but there must be others who, if well trained, would show really fine military qualities and qualities of leadership. I hope that my noble friend, whom I am glad to see back in the House after a very severe illness, will be able to say that these important questions have at last reached a satisfactory solution, and that we may in future be able to look forward to drawing upon the inherited military qualities of the families of the Princes, Chiefs, and gentry of the fine fighting races of India.


My Lords, my noble friend prefaced his remarks by a very well-merited tribute both to the splendid gallantry displayed and the great suffering which at one time was experienced by our gallant fellow-subjects from India attached to the forces of the Indian Army. I am sure that all that he said finds a very warm endorsement by every member of your Lordships' House. My noble friend has asked me to give him all the information I can with regard to the appointment to commissioned rank of officers of the native Indian Army, and I am going to take, if I may, this opportunity to broaden the subject and give an answer which will embrace other branches than the one which my noble friend specially dealt with.

This question of granting the King's commission to native officers in the Indian Army is an innovation, and one of such great importance to the future of the Indian Army, and also I may say to the interests of the Empire, that I make no apology for giving a considerably protracted answer, because I believe that your Lordships' house and the people of this country and of India are desirous of having as full a statement as possible in regard to all that has been and is being done in this connection.

When the Secretary of State for India announced on August 20 last that the Government had decided to remove the bar that had hitherto precluded the admission of Indians to commissioned rank in the Indian Army, and announced at the same time that nine officers of the native Indian Land Forces, who had served in the field in the present war, were to be immediately commissioned, your Lordships may remember that he added that the whole general conditions under which Indians should in the future be eligible for the King's commission would be at an early date discussed by him with the Government of India and the Army Council with a view to the preparation of a carefully considered scheme both for the selection of these officers and their training. This scheme, as your Lordships will understand, is necessarily difficult and complicated in the extreme. It has taken a long time—longer, indeed, than was anticipated. While therefore an apology, I think, is due from me to my noble friend for the long time that has elapsed since he first placed this Question upon the Paper in this House, I feel sure that from his knowledge of the subject he will fully appreciate the reason for the delay. I am afraid this delay may even have created a certain amount of dissatisfaction and impatience in India on account of the long time that has elapsed since it was commenced and the recent announcement made in India on the subject. It has certainly been due to no desire to hold up the question, but has been due entirely, as I have said, to the complexity and delicacy of the subject and to the many issues attaching thereto.

I will now explain, briefly, the proposals which the Government have made and which have been approved. They fall under different categories. There is, first of all, the category which allows that every year a definite number of permanent King's commissions in the Army shall be given to young Indians who will go through a course of training at a Military College prior to the commission being granted. For the present it has been decided that ten a year will be granted under this category. Cadets so appointed are to come to this country and to be trained at the Military College at Sandhurst. On receiving their Commissions they will be posted to the Indian Army as second lieutenants. The appointment of these Indians to Sand-burst cadetships is not to be by means of an open competitive examination, but by nomination by the Viceroy, on the recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief, Local Governments and political administrations in India. Arrangements are also to be made by the Secretary of State in Council for the consideration of claims of any suitable candidates who may be going through their education in this country. The question as to the age of these candidates has not been finally decided, but it will, I hope, in a very short time be settled. It is under discussion now by the Government of India, and we are communicating with them on the subject. The Army Council—I think properly—are anxious that the age of the Indian candidate who goes to Sandhurst should approximate as nearly as possible to the age of the British cadet who is being trained there.

It is proposed that the qualifying examination which will be held shall include an oral examination, similar to that which is in practice by the Admiralty for the examination of naval cadets for the college at Osborne, designed as a test of general intelligence. The standard of education required to pass this qualifying examination will approximate to that which is necessary now to obtain a diploma at one of the Chiefs colleges in India—either that, or the school-leaving certificate which is recognised by Local Governments or the matriculation of an incorporated University in India.

At Sandhurst the course of training for these Indian cadets, when they are admitted, will be precisely the same as that for British cadets, and it is hoped that the first batch of these cadets will he admitted to Sandhurst in the month of January next.

This question of training cadets who are to be admitted to the commissioned ranks of the Army has exercised the attention of the Government of India, the War Office and the India Office for a long time. As I have already said, for the present it has been decided that all cadets should come to this country and should pass through the course at Sandhurst. I may say that there are two views held on this subject of training. The Government of India, including the Commander-in-Chief, and the War Office strongly urge that all these cadets should go to Sandhurst. There are, however, others—and they are competent to give an opinion on Indian questions—who believe that this course might well be carried out in India, provided a college could be established, in that country of a similar standard, from every point of view, to that of Sandhurst in this country, and that, if such a scheme could be established, it offers certain very preferable advantages to bringing these young boys away from their homes over the seas to this country. Speaking for myself—I only speak on this occasion for myself, and in no way with any responsibility for the India Office—I believe that India is the best place for the training of these cadets, provided always, of course, that a college is established there where the standard is in every shape and form equal to that of Sandhurst. As I shall show presently, a training college is now being established for Indian cadets who are to come under another category of commissions. I may also add that there are now established and in full swing two cadet colleges—with training in almost every respect similar to that of Sandhurst—in Quetta and Wellington, in India. I believe the Quetta college was formerly a staff college, and it may, it probably will, revert to that purpose after the war; but there is a college at Wellington as well which will be available. Speaking for myself, I am not without hope that the experience that will be obtained of the class of training that can be afforded in India will satisfy the military authorities both in India and in this country that a permanent training college can be established in that country after the war.

I now come to the second category of those who are to receive commissions. It refers to native officers alluded to in the Question and speech of my noble friend. A limited number of permanent and substantive King's commissions are to be given as special rewards to those native officers in the Indian Army who have distinguished themselves in the present war. There is already a not inconsiderable number about to be appointed who will come under this category. They have not been yet "gazetted," and the number of them has not yet been announced or actually decided upon, because, as the House will understand, it takes a considerable time to obtain all the information necessary from the General Officers Commanding in the various theatres of war, and all of them are being applied to. I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in rendering a testimony to the splendid and invaluable services of our Indian officers and troops who have fought with such gallantry on all those fronts of the war, and, who, indeed, are to-day lighting on some of those fronts and bearing, numerically, the main burden of the engagements.

As my noble friend truly said, the number drawn from this particular source must necessarily be somewhat modest, because, in spite of the magnificent character of their work, the majority of native officers, both owing to their age and to their educational qualifications, are hardly suitable to carry out the duties required of an officer holding the King's permanent military commission. Therefore as a mark of recognition of those whom it is found impossible for this reason to select for substantive commissions, it has been decided that a certain number of King's commissions for honorary rank in the Indian Army should be granted to specially selected Indian officers. These officers will be taken from those who have rendered distinguished service, not exclusively in the present war, though, of course, the majority will be selected from those who have served in this war.

The substantive King's commissions, to which I have alluded, will be granted in the rank of second lieutenant. The honorary commissions, which I have also alluded to, will have the rank either of lieutenant or captain, in accordance with the native rank of the officer, and it will be similar to the honorary rank which has been given in the past to Indian officers; but with this difference. Hitherto this honorary rank has been granted to them only on their retirement from the Service; now it is proposed that it should be given to them during their active service in the Army. These honorary commissions will confer no special powers of command. The amount of pay and pension that these officers are to receive is still under consideration. It is anticipated that it will raise their status in the regiments in which they are serving, and it is hoped and believed that it will be highly esteemed by them as an honourable recognition of their valuable services. The grant in these three forms which I have described to your Lordships is in compliance with the announcement of the proposal to grant commissions made by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for India on August 20 last year.

My noble friend asks me a question with regard to the Imperial Cadet Corps. The Imperial Cadet Corps, which as he knows, was initiated by Lord Curzon during the time of his Viceroyalty and composed of the sons of chiefs of Native states, and sons of distinguished Indian gentlemen in British India, has been suspended during the war. At the outbreak of the war there were twelve cadets attached to that corps. Several of the Imperial Cadets were given commissions in the Native Indian Land Forces, and nine of them, from the Indian Native Land Forces, were given King's commissions on August 20 last, when the announcement was first made.

In addition to what I have said let me add a further development, which has been briefly announced in another place, in regard to the granting of commissions. The Government of India represented the other day at the recent Delhi Conference that at the present time more was required in this connection than had already been promised and announced. I would ask your Lordships to consider the circumstances under which the conference of native chiefs and leading men in India was called together by the Viceroy some months ago. The collapse of Russia had not only enabled the Germans to throw their forces on the Western Front, straining the man-power of this country and the Dominions to the utmost to resist it, but it had introduced a new threat to India, by opening to Germany another door through Southern Russia, the Caucasus, along the northern borders of Persia to the east, right to the frontiers of Afghanistan. In the face of this new danger an appeal was made by the Prime Minister to India to make still further greater efforts than that which they had already made during the war. That appeal of the Prime Minister's was promptly and loyally responded to by the Viceroy, on behalf of the people of India, who set to work to call upon India for further efforts in addition to her already great achievements. I would remind your Lordships that India has already during the war recruited over 1,000,000 men for the service of His Majesty's Forces. India has now, in response to this appeal by the Prime Minister on behalf of His Majesty's Government, offered to raise a further 500,000 during the present year, and I may say that all arrangements for the recruitment and organisation of this large additional force are now in active process of accomplishment.

It was felt, both by the Government of India and especially by the Commander-in-Chief in India, that such fresh sacrifices for the common cause could not rightly be taken advantage of without Indians in some measure of proportion being granted further commissions to correspond, in some sense at any rate, with the expansion of the Indian Army. On the strong recommendation, therefore, of the Government of India His Majesty's Government have approved the grant of a considerable number of substantive King's commissions, which are not to be permanent but are to be held temporarily during the war. The Indians nominated to these temporary commissions are to be drawn both from the civil life of the country and from the Army. The age limit is to be between nineteen and twenty-five, and those selected from civil life are to be nominated by the Viceroy, on the recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief, of Local Governments, and the political administrations. They will be drawn, I hope, largely from gentlemen who have rendered good service to the Government during the war, and especially from those who have actively assisted recruitment in India during the war. I may say also that it is hoped that many young Indians of high territorial position in the country will now come forward whose social status hitherto has made them refrain from joining the Army under the limited career that was then open to them. They can now come into the Army and make a life career, and I hope that they will come in large numbers, and that they will induce many in their districts to join the Army and so render valuable assistance to recruitment.

As regards those who will be granted these temporary commissions from the Army, preference will be shown to officers and non-commissioned officers who by their service have proved an aptitude for leadership. Every candidate will be subjected to a qualifying examination as a test of his general education. The standard of that examination will be prescribed by the Commander-in-Chief. In regard to those who are drawn from the civil community the standard of examination which will be prescribed for them will be identical to that which I have already described for those who are to enter for Sandhurst.

I will give you an illustration of the class of candidate we hope to obtain in not inconsiderable numbers for this temporary commission rank. There are three whom we are recommending to the Government of India now, and who, we hope, shortly will be occupying that position. One is the grandson of Mr. Naoroji, who will be remembered as a well-respected member of the House of Commons; another is Mr. Rudra; the third is Mr. Handit Singh. These three have distinguished themselves in British units in France during the war, and two of them are now being given the opportunity of joining a training battalion prior to their being accepted for temporary commissions in the Army.

All candidates who are to attain this position of a temporary commission will be required to attend a school of instruction and it has been decided to use for this purpose the Daly College of Indore. Their status in that college will be exactly that of the cadets in a British college. The length of the course will depend upon the attainment of military knowledge that the candidate possesses, but generally speaking will never be less than a year. No cadet will be granted a commission unless at the end of his course he is reported thoroughly qualified and fit as an officer, and then he will be commissioned, and when commissioned will be posted to an Indian regiment as a temporary second lieutenant. During his period as a commissioned officer he will be subject to the same regulations, he will enjoy the same status, position, and emoluments as a British officer, and at the end of the war all these temporary comissioned officers will be eligible for permanent commissions. Those selected who have proved themselves fit in the war will be gazetted to the permanent rank.

The proposals which I have described to grant Indians an opening in the commissioned ranks are now being carried out in India. It marks the close of a controversy which, as your Lordships are aware, has been of long standing. The subject has been discussed both here and in India by successive Secretaries of State, Viceroys, and Commanders-in-Chief. You have to-day all three of these high authorities strongly in favour of and indeed urging that the experiment should be tried. There are also to be found many statesmen and military officers of high distinction in the history of India who have urged this reform in the Indian Army, and I may say that you have also a united Indian people in favour of it. And among those who urge it most strongly in India to-day are to be found such conservative elements of the population as the Native Chiefs and the Zemindars. The present Commander in-Chief in India, in urging the adoption of the scheme, fully appreciates the delicacy of some of the issues involved, the consequences which might arise from ally hasty or ill-considered development, and the consequent need, therefore, of proceeding with caution and care. There has been no overlooking of the importance of maintaining the popularity of the Service, so that no falling off either in quality or quantity of the British officers of the Indian Army should ensue.

Let me say, in conclusion, that there is no intention of granting a commission to an Indian merely because he is an Indian, but only when, as in the case of an Englishman, he earns it and proves himself fit and qualified to occupy the position. The war has proved beyond question that there are many Indians available who fulfil to the letter this fundamental condition, and now, in opening the door for them to enter the commissioned ranks of the Army on a gradual scale, and after the most careful selection, there should be no ground for apprehension that there will be any falling off either in the quantity or quality of British officers entering the Indian Army. Those British families who have in the past contributed a splendid body of officers to the Indian Army will, I trust, realise that the fresh departure now being made, to which they have not hitherto been accustomed, as have been for some time past those who send their sons to the Civil Services in India, in no way lessens the need for a continuing supply of their best sons to maintain the high tradition of the Indian Army and to follow a career no whit less honourable because it will henceforth embrace comradeship with their Indian fellow officers.

The Army in India of the future should be in a more complete sense than has hitherto been the case a composite Army of British and Indian officers and troops. Upon its continued efficiency and loyalty must depend in no small measure the future access to all its ranks on terms of equality of both British and Indians. Service in this Army, with all its splendid traditions of the past, will I hope in the future, as hitherto, be regarded as a profession attractive to the very pick both of British cadets and Indian cadets. The measures which we are now taking will, we hope, be regarded as the first step of a great and inevitable Imperial advance which, as time proceeds, may bring more and more British and Indian fellow-subjects into their proper and natural relation to each other as comrades in arms, engaged in the common cause of the defence of India and the maintenance and security of the Empire


My Lords, I beg to thank my noble friend for the extremely full and most interesting statement he has made. I am certain that it will go far to remove a soreness which has undoubtedly existed in the Indian Army and in India itself. I am glad that in the first instance the cadets who are to receive permanent commissions are to go to Sandhurst. I hope that the time will come, and that it will be soon, when an Indian College will be set up which will maintain the same standards as those maintained at Sandhurst, and which will replace the necessity for those young Indians coming to this country. I think I understood the noble Lord to say that native Indian officers would have open to them an honorary King's commission, and a full commission. The only question that I was not quite clear about was whether these honorary commissions, when given to native officers of the Indian Army, would carry with them the duties which their new ranks impose.


No; they will confer no powers of command. I said that in my remarks.


I am certain that the effect will be to link closer the best elements of the Indian peoples with our own officers, and to make the Army stronger than it has been in the past.