THEDECLINE OF RECRUITING. "N OTHING," said Major Myles O'Reilly, in the
debate of Monday on the Army Estimates, " has been reduced but the soldiers, and they have reduced themselves." Owing partly, it may be, to the spread of Fenianism, partly to the drain of adventurous men towards America, but chiefly to the increasing prosperity of the country, the supply of re- cruits for the Army has for five years steadily declined, till the complement which was in 1861-62 only 574 short, was last year deficient by more than 6,000 men—a number equal to five well filled battalions. So regular indeed is the decline, that it alarms the Government, and a Royal Commission will shortly be appointed to inquire into the causes and remedies of such a dangerous phenomenon. We hope when Lord Hartington makes his selection he will not forget to include one or two men who understand English labourers as well as Pnglish soldiers, and at least one with some experience of barrack life in the tropics. And we trust when th Qommis-- begins its labours it will secure some evidence from the men themselves, evidence not to be published, and given only after an express intimation that whatever the witness may say can do him no manner of harm. " Lawyers " are a nuisance in a regiment, but a free-spoken corporal may be able to give a Commission valuable hints, and if his sugges- tions are useless the only loss is one of a little time.
There is, we fear, too much reason to doubt whether the increasing reluctance of Englishmen to enter the ranks is altogether a question of pay. Americans are very like Englishmen let loose from social pressure, and in the American Army before 1860 not one man in a hundred was an American, and there was not, we have heard, a New Englander in the ranks. Of course the pay affects the supply in the Army, as in every, other department of life, and of course also it is quite possible by enormous pay to extinguish for ever any obstacles to recruiting. If the country were ready to pay a pound a week to any unskilled labourer who would submit to discipline, there would be recruits enough and to spare, and we might have in England, as in India, a free army, in which every private could resign as readily as his officer, and dismissal would be considered one of the heaviest penalties. But the object is, we take it, to secure a good Army without excessive cost, to induce men to enlist, that is, for wages not greatly in excess of those they would earn in civil life. If a home Army only were required, we could probably get men more cheaply still, the soldier's life in England having many temptations for the large class which dreads nothing except monotonous daily toil. The British Army, however, is really enlisted for service all over the world, and the problem is to tempt men to endure bad cli- mates and great restraint for the pay which they could earn in freedom and in their own land. To solve that problem, the pro- position should, we think, be divided into two. We want to tempt men into the Army for ten years or other limited period, and we want also to tempt them when their service is over to enlist again. The two objects are quite distinct, and should not be lumped together, as they are in the House of Com- mons. The second must, we imagine, be secured. by money, simply because we have no other temptation to off eh If a man during his ten years' service has risen into the non-com- missioned grades he may be, and we believe often is, easily tempted to stop, but as all cannot rise, our necessity is to attract the disappointed. What is to tempt the man who, though a fair soldier, has not risen, to try another ten years' spell. He sees an assured prospect of occupation outside, for old soldiers are sought for eagerly, he is almost certain not to be promoted, he cannot be deluded by tales of glory or lies about plunder, he ought not, as he often is, to be re-enlisted when drunk, and there remains only pay. Let him be made• as comfortable as he would be in civil life, encouraged to marry, treated in fact very much as he would be if he had won his stripes, and the old soldier may remain contentedly in the service which he un- derstands. If not he will not, and we shall have to fall back upon a constantly changing succession of men, to whom we must give ten years' pay and out of whom we can only get six years' efficient work. It takes four to transform the gawky, half-fed, shambling lout who enlists into the well made, well filled, sharp, but obedient soldier. A rise of pay to the " veterans," the men who have served their term, is, we believe, inevitable, even if it has to be provided out of the Treasury, and not, as it ought to be, out of reductions in less useful expenditure, and reformers had better face a visible necessity. To secure the experienced is, we repeat, a matter of pay- ment, but to attract the inexperienced very much more must be done. We have no longer to deal with louts almost as ignorant as animals, absolutely incapable of an opinion as to what foreign service is like, but with half-educated lads, trained in the national schools, able to question and calculate, to weigh the statements of older men, and to realize at least something of the pleasures and miseries of tropical life in barracks. These lads are not unwilling to enlist. They have no profound liking, as farmers will testify, for agricul- tural labour, no particular fancy, as employers know, for the lengthy apprenticeships which artisans enforce. A life of comparative idleness broken by spasms of fierce exertion would suit them very well, but they have one passion stronger than indolence or the love of adventure, the passion which English- men recognize and admire in every class but the lowest. They want to get on, and if the Army is to attract them it must be shown that it offers that possibility. At present it does not offer it. The chance of becoming a sergeant is indeed for a decently sharp man very good, but the vista is bounded, and it is a vista without limits which attracts. They want to see the possibility, if they are very lucky, and very brave, and very well qualified, of rising as far as they might in civil life, that is, to anything of any kind which the career has to offer. In civil life if a ploughboy succeeds, say in getting into a small shop, there is no limit to the position he may if he can attain. He may rise to the possession of wealth as great as that of any noble, as Mr. Morrison did ; to be a respected member of Par- liament, as Mr. Brotherton did ; to be Master of Trinity, as Dr. Whewell, the carpenter's son, did ; to be, in short, anything for which he has ability and opportunity. Very few do so rise. Only a small proportion ever escape from the anxieties of the class which is paid wages to the comparative ease of the class which possesses property, but every one may, and in the vast lottery every one is free to hope for the prize. The career is open, and the lad tries it as he would try the Army, if that were open too. At present it is heavily barred, and seems to be barred even more heavily than it is. Soldiers do pretty frequently in time of war obtain commissions, and even in peace many are granted to men in the ranks, but then every case is individual, and seems to be the result of individual luck or official caprice. A sergeant's stripes seem to the recruit the end of the assured prospect before him, and ccn- ;sequently to enter the ranks is not only not to accept a career, but actually to forfeit one, to become the black sheep of the family, the scapegrace son of the house. How is it possible with a population becoming educated to fill the ranks, when to enter them is to be disgraced, when a cottage mother would sooner hear that her son had broken his leg than that he had " gone to be a Boger "—when for a mechanic to " con- sort with soldiers" is a discreditable thing ? Once throw open the career, once reserve avowedly and openly a fixed propor- tion of all commissions for those who have risen from the ranks, and this idea, the root of the dislike to the Army, would at once be removed, and in England, as in France, the recruit, however reluctant, would feel that if he had forfeited his home life he had at least adopted an honourable profession. Of course with the change some others must come ; a sterner and more honourable discipline ; the total abolition of flogging, even if we have to substitute, as in the French Army, death for disobedience ; much greater care in purging out disgraceful characters from the ranks. But the root of the matter lies there, the assimilation of the Army as a career to all civil employ. Till that has been accomplished, till an officer can say without shame " When I was a sergeant in the 00th," the Army will remain, as it has now become, out of rapport with the ideas, and the wants, and, if you will, the prejudices of the day, and will be filled either with boys duped into it, or men who have failed in other walks of life. Suppose the Volunteer force as it stands placed for five years under military discipline and in- cessant drill, does anybody believe that any army in Europe would resist its onset ? Yet that is precisely what, were " the ranks " once believed to be an honourable service lead- ing to careers, the British Army would be. Cromwell's Army was that, and this country has never seen such another. The system of purchase I Vested rights ? Our aristocratic consti- tution I Is inventiveness really dead among us, and our statesmen struck suddenly barren, that we cannot devise ex- pedients to get rid of difficulties like those, difficulties which, were England in serious danger, would disappear like flax before flame.
The plain state of the case is this. A strong English or Scotch lad educated in a national school, with some spirit of adventure and some disgust at his daily life, has now two adventurous careers before him. He can emigrate, or he can enter the Army. The mental effort is in either case almost equal. In either he cuts himself off from his family, and his native village, and all with which he is familiar. But in the one case he sails to a land with a pleasant climate, where everything is open, and competence assured to all who work, where his marriage need not be postponed longer than his own fancy dictates, and where no position except the Governor- ship or the Presidency is beyond his reach ; in the other he goes out to swelter -ten years in the tropics—for Indian service is now understood in all villages to be part of soldiering —without a chance of marrying, or of rising above the grade in which he has been born, or of saving a shilling, and with the prospect of returning " a discharged soldier." Which of those two careers is it likely that the sort of lad who must for the future be tempted to enlist will be likely to prefer ? Ireland is from this very cause fast closing as a recruiting ground, and as the sergeants come year by year into closer con- tact with the national schools, so year by year they will find the alternative thrown in their teeth. The ignorant class which once filled the ranks is disappearing, and if we cannot replace them with the class which swarms towards the factory and the workshop, the great city and the distant colony, the career of the British Army, which has traversed earth, will be nearly over. To bring them into the ranks service in the Army must be made at least as honourable as a handicraft.