1 SEPTEMBER 1900, Page 13



Sra,—The open discontent of the corps of Royal Marines, as manifested in the recent Parliamentary agitation and public correspondence, has been such common knowledge amongst naval officers for generations that few of them are inclined to do more than accept the fact that it always must exist while the present position is maintained. Almost all agree that for the all-sufficient reason of discipline, which comprehensive word includes command, relative rank, and the administra- tion of justice, the powers that be are well advised in the light of their long experience in the limitations they have imposed upon, and which are so galling to, the Marine officer afloat. The general public hears little of the continuous growl, and is content to rest happy in the knowledge that the Marines always have and always do distinguish themselves mightily whenever there are hard knocks to give and take or a tug-of- war to be won at the Military Tournament. One is half afraid to say it, but many have hazy notions as to what a Marine actually is, and certainly few unconnected with the Services have more than the most nebulous ideas of the constitution and duties of the corps. For the benefit of these, then, let me state briefly that the corps of Royal Marines consists of two huge regiments for service in the Navy. One is known as the Royal Marine Light Infantry, numbering fifteen thousand men, and the other as the Royal Marine Artillery, number- ing four thousand men. The latter go through a more ex- tended course of instruction in gunnery, and must be of higher physical development ; but otherwise the duties and constitution of the two are the same, and for service afloat a proportion of the two units are blended into one detach- ment. This detachment is under the command of an officer, or, in small ships, a non-commissioned officer, of either corps, and no distinctions save those of uniform and pay are drawn between the two. Vast headquarters have been established at Gosport, Devonport, and Chatham for the Royal Marine Light Infantry, and at Eastney for the Royal Marine Artillery; and while serving on shore the Marine is for all purposes a soldier of the Line, and is under the Army Discipline Act. His first entry into the Service is made under precisely the same con- ditions as a recruit for the Line, and his first training is the same. Up to the time when the two are perfect in their drills, and in all respects duly qualified soldiers of the Queen, the parallel is naaintained, but then the lines diverge, and widely. Whereas the soldier's knowledge of the sea is confined to certain unpleasant memories of the troopship which takes him from England to " Gawd knows where," and on board of which he is still a soldier in all his ways, words, and hopes; the Marine when he is played out of his barrack gates past the waving handkerchiefs and weeping women has already become in very truth one of those who goes down to the sea in ships and whose business is in the great waters. Henceforth for three years, or perhaps four, at a time, he must live, mover and think as a "soldier and sailor too," and with the abiding knowledge that, save for uncertain periods in barracks, his life in the Service will be passed at sea. In his time in the Service he differs from his comrade of the Line in that the Marine is a continuous or long-service man,—i.e., engages for twelve years for the Si at period, and then re-engages, at his own option, for another nine years if he wishes to earn a pension. In detachments varying in number from half-a-dozen to a hundred, he serves her Majesty all the world over, per mare, per terram, forming a welcome and highly trained addition to the force at the disposal of any military Commander-in-Chief who needs him. Great, indeed, are his rejoicings when there is a chance of becoming a soldier again, while his officers' feeling is something deeper and more heartfelt still. But men-of-war are not troopships, and obviously this large force is not trained and maintained solely on the off-chance of its being a useful auxiliary to the Regular Army in distant operations. Originally (as Major Edye points out in his admirable history of the corps), "fleets were raised and manned, in most cases, with the specific object of carrying out some predeter- mined military descent, and not with the object of meeting the enemy at sea." Hence arose the desirability of soldiers with some sea training who would not be more or less incapacitated by a sea voyage, and later, the crews being numerically weak, for sea duties generally. Later still (though here I differ from Major Edye), when these soldiers had evolved into Marines, they became recognised as the example and embodiment of the highest naval discipline, and the natural protection of the officers of the ship, while the companies on shore were naturally regarded as a magnificent reserve for the manning of the Fleet. At the present day they still remain as a magnificent reserve, but their duties on board ship have narrowed down to the following limits :— Firstly, as guard and sentries, in which department they are undoubtedly at present specialists; secondly, as working hands, where their military training is more of a draw- back than otherwise ; and, thirdly, as domestics, in which department they do anything but shine. As a fighting unit in the ship for ship purposes they man a comparatively insignificant number of guns and supply a small proportion of ammunition. As a mobile military force for shore pur- poses one can pay them no higher compliment than by saying that they always act up to their glorious history and traditions. I hope it will be seen from what I have said that many points present themselves for argument, though we have not reached the main point yet. In these days of education, and under the system that prevails of entering bluejackets as boys and bringing them up in the way they should go, the necessity for a guard of sworn men as a pro- tection for the officers or for the maintenance of discipline has ceased to exist. The methods of a military fatigue party being totally different from those of a bluejacket working party, it is no exaggeration to say that as regards work on board a ship oil and water mix roughly as well as blue- jackets and Marines. The seaman gunner of to-day is almost as highly trained and every bit as good a shot as your artillery. man, and has shown that on shore he is fit and ready to,take his place in any fighting line or work any field battery with equal success, while for ship purposes generally he is incom- parably superior. The domestic question is not so important, but a corps of trained domestics would add immensely to the offiePrs' comfort, and could be taught to supply ammunition easily. With the establishment of naval barracks on shore bluejackets are rapidly learning guard and sentry duties, and would of a certainty show themselves more than equal to these duties were they definitely required to perform them as part of their work. From the ship point of view, then, one may say that there is nothing that a Marine does which a bluejacket with all his marvellous adaptability could not soon learn to do, while of the seaman's craft in general the Marine remains HS ignorant as our friend " Tommy " on board the troopship. The ship and the best possible method of manning her is the great consideration, and it must surely be obvious that a man who has been brought up in a sea

school pure and simple must be the better man for ship purposes. The Empire will stand or fall by what we accomplish or fail to accomplish on blue water, not by what a handful of men may do on shore, so that the method of manning our ships is an Imperial question of the first magnitude. So far we have not mentioned the officers, yet this is where the main point lies. The Navy could not under any circumstances stand the loss of twenty thousand trained men, and if any change is made it must be very gradual, and such as not to affect numbers in any way, but Marine officers might, from a seaman's point of view, just as well remain on shore. They are a splendid set of fellows, but there is no place for them on board a ship. Apart from an hereditary interest in the corps or family connections with it, the great majority who enter are attracted by the prospect of seeing the world, avoiding the heavy expenses of a military mess, and the knowledge that the direct commission gives them the coveted position of "officer and gentleman" without the ordeal of eighteen months in leading-strings through which their comrades of Sandhurst must pass. Soldier's drill and soldier's routine are vigorously pumped into them to fit them for the sea service, and when they are at last sent to sea, they certainly inspect and report their de- tachment, and are endowed with a limited power of punish- ment, but of ship duties from a navigational or tactical point of view they are necessarily and absolutely ignorant. While the naval Lieutenant is keeping watch, navigating, looking after guns, torpedoes, or whatever his duty may be, the Marine is, and must be by reason of his training, content to read a novel or study the profession of a soldier in the privacy of his cabin, varying the monotony by writing letters in a wardroom which is empty save for himself. Is it any wonder then that when active service calls for men on shore the naval Lieutenant should hardly take it kindly when this passenger, who in so many cases has little interest in the ship and no esprit de Navy, emerges from below and says with all the weight of authority behind him : "I am the man for this" ? That is, however, but a side issue. The point that calls for the most thoughtful consideration is that in a first-class battle- ship of to-day you have three officers, who, for all the good they are for working a ship at sea, might just as well be classed as non-combatants. There is one great difference, however, and that is that no officers of the other non-com- batant branches on board could possibly be spared, and the Marine officers could. In no way can they relieve the un- speakable strain that must be brought upon the naval executive in time of war, and their departmental duties are almost nominal, while the others are vitally necessary. It is no use blinking facts. and I will only venture to state as my opinion that if the Marine officers afloat at this present moment were replaced by duly qualified Lieutenants, the con- sequences of more even distribution of ship work and less continuous strain on nerves and constitution which the addi- tion of men available and competent for watch-keeping, &c., in time of war would ensure must mean vastly increased efficiency for the first line of defence. It is a big question, and space forbids that I should discuss the tremendously important questions of finance, recruiting, and scheme of amalgamation that it involves. On the question of sentiment my answer must be that for the same reason as an obsolete ship is put out of commission, no matter how good her lines or how glorious her fighting record, so some day the Marines as a separate entity must cease to exist. If it pleases my angry critics better, let us say that all bluejackets will become Marines. So be it, always pro- vided that they are not half soldiers, and that their officers are wholly seamen. Messieurs the Marines, I have the honour to number among you many staunch friends and good com- rades, and if by any chance these words of mine should meet the eyes of any of you I crave your pardon for treading on your toes. I can only ask you to believe that in what I have written I have been actuated by the sole desire of, if possible, at any rate giving rise to discussion as to what, in regard to your magnificent corps, is the best method of ensuring the strength of the British Navy, on which, under the good providence of God, the wealth, safety, and strength of the Kingdom chiefly depend.—I am, Sir, &a.,