1 SEPTEMBER 1939, Page 19


[Correspondents are requested to keep their letters as brief as is reasonably possible. Signed letters are given a preference over those bearing a pseudonym, and the latter must be accompanied by the mane and address of the author, which will be treated as confidential.—Ed. THE SPECTATOR] FAIR PLAY FOR THE TERRITORIALS

Sia,—Your leading article under the above title in the issue of August 18th was refreshing reading Amidst the glut of articles in other papers dwelling (quite rightly, of course) on the keen- ness of all ranks to learn their work, and the nauseating ,:omplacency of well-bred, well-fed ladies and gentlemen with the value of other people " roughing it," to find the training of our citizen volunteers for war a matter of objective criti- cism is indeed welcome. At the same time, it is important in so serious a matter to obtain a true perspective ; and the variations in conditions between one camp and another which I have found to exist this year and in previous training seasons make this a not altogether easy task.

" When the problem of organisation is considered," your article states, " the Territorial soldier has indeed sufficient cause for alarm. . . . The new recruit in particular auto- matically compares the standard of organisation in the Terri- torial Army with what he is accustomed to in business life ; a conclusion commonly expressed is that under competitive conditions the Territorial Army would be forced out of busi- ness in a few weeks. And is not war the most competitive of businesses? "

Such a conclusion is no doubt commonly expressed, though personally I have never heard it so. But in any case I ven- ture to think that it is ill-founded. However competitive war may be, before entertaining alarm as to its results it is necessary to take into account the qualities of one's com- petitors ; and all armies have certain characteristics due partly to their peculiar requirements, partly to the fact that military discipline allows to Army staffs a certain measure of ineffi- ciency which the customers of a private business, having the option of transferring their custom elsewhere, would not tolerate. This inefficiency must necessarily be greater—so far, at any rate, as the requirements of the man in the ranks is concerned—in a totalitarian State with a censored Press than in a country where your leading article is permitted to circu- late. And, apart from the administrative shortcomings of foreign armies it is not at all certain that the administration of an army ought to be conducted in the same way as that of a private business. Business men might prove no more successful in running the army's business than they were in running the nation's.

Your article raises three points of specific criticism which seem to merit discussion: the quality of Territorial officers, food in camp, and the facilities for recreation during the training-period.

The first is an extremely difficult question. That there is a certain disparity between the quality of the officers and the quality of the men probably few would deny. But it must be remembered that we are at the end of a year of abnormal expansion. In ordinary years the Territorial Army has not attracted the brains of the nation. This year, in your leader's words, "they have enlisted, despite that profound antipathy to the Army and to soldiering which most Englishmen share." A little time must surely be allowed for the position to rectify itself and the newcomers to assume the positions to which their ability entitles them: that there are obstacles in the way of this process and that they must be swept ruthlessly aside, I would be the first to agree.

I am a little doubtful about the implications of the remark about " the officers, some of whom treat the Territorial Army as an extension of public school life." Public school life gives a certain type of boy a scope for the exercise of a kind of leadership and authority which civilian life later on usually doesn't. If it be assumed that the function of a Tersitorial officer is socially valuable, why criticise a man for exercising his bent in this way? The man who is attracted to Territorial szvice because he feels lost unless he has a dearly marked place in a fairly small community may be personally rather Irritating, but if, as the writer of the article says, " such an attitude is tolerated by the ranks," we may with profit follow the ranks' example. The best type of Territorial officer is actuated by a combination of pure patriotism and a passionate interest in tactics, such as some men devote to gardens and others to golf. It is crying for the moon to expect every officer to be of the best type.

As for the food in camp, to say, as a generalisation, that it "would be rejected with disgust in civil life" is, I am con- vinced, going too far. The first question is, whose civil life? I believe that taking most units and most men in each unit, the men are better fed in camp than at home. In two at least of the units which I have visited in recent weeks elaborate pre- cautions have been taken to see that food is served hot and that it has been well cooked. The diet itself certainly has con- tained fresh vegetables, because I have seen them; I cannot speak with certainty as to the fresh fruit, though I do not believe it was entirely lacking—in arty case, the cheaper fruits are available at the canteen. I don't know about milk, but has the leader-writer been informed that when the Army drinks its tea preserved milk is used?

One cannot expect the same standards from Army food and cooking as from a well-to-do private house or a good hotel or restaurant. In camp the niceties are not to be found. But a friend of mine, a private, heir to a peerage and himself a cook of no mean skill, told me that the food in his camp was excellent. I myself was at least on one occa- sion impressed by the anxiety of the authorities to suit the diet to the tastes of the men. You or I, Sir, would probably be aroused to an " incredible violence of language " which would astonish even Janus if we were given steak and onions for breakfast. But if we had been agricultural labourers from Shropshire we should have liked it—and got it.

As to the gibe that the War Office prefers the soldier's recreation to be beer, it was not, I presume, intended seriously, and certainly ought not to be so taken. The Territorial's recreation has about as much to do with the War Office as the flowers that bloom in the spring. Administrative arrange- ments for Territorial units are made, not centrally by the War Office, but locally by the County Associations. Perhaps the system ought to be changed—but that is a matter for politicians, not officials.

I hold no brief for our military authorities. I have an instinctive suspicion of a man when he puts on uniform, and if your article has the effect of stimulating thought on the fundamental problem of so adapting the Army as to get the best results from its recruits, now of unequalled merit, instead of trying to fit the latter into a machine which was devised for men not their equals in quality, it will have performed a great public service. I have only written this letter in order to question what I believe to be certain minor inaccuracies which may be not altogether fair to hard-worked—in some cases overworked—men who are now controlling the Terri- torials.—I am, Sir, yours, &c., W. T. WELLS.