THE ARMY . AND ODD JOBS
By A 1914 SOLDIER
ACERTAIN misapprehension appears to exist in the public mind as to the part the Army can play in helping in the essential task of civil defence. There can be no question, of course, that when there is a real emergency—when men, womea and children are buried under rubble, and have to be extricated; when the feeding-arrangements in a bombed town have broken down—that then the Army should heip, and indeed does. But it has been suggested in certain irresponsible quarters that units of the Army should be taken off their work for specified intervals to engage in such routine work as fire-watching. This reveals a mistaken notion of the Army's task at the moment.
This task, it need hardly be said, is training, ever more specialised, and above all more rigorous. To be fighting-fit in these days means more than to be merely healthy and in good condition. It means real toughness, an ability to make exhausting marches for many miles, during long hours, and still be able to manoeuvre and fight at the end. It means attaining a condition where spiritual and physical endurance are accepted as natural things, in which no fatigue can lower morale, and no disappointment cause dismay. It means making light of cold, wet, and hunger; of heat and thirst; of lack of sleep. This is a state of super-training, far beyond that re- quired by the athlete, and can only be reached by constant progressive work. To relax would be highly injurious; and to take soldiers away for civilian routine-work would mean not only that they would stand still in technical training—to put it modestly—but would lose moral and bodily qualities which it would take at least as long again to make up.
It is sometimes urged in support of the argument for using troops for routine civil defence that our Army is over-manned; that in these times of high specialisation numbers are illusory. The last statement is true, but to say that our Army is too large for the immense tasks which confront it in so many parts of the globe is to fly to a dangerous extreme. In any event, the condition of success for a small army—and our Army is a comparatively small one—is that it should be trained to the highest possible point of efficiency. Even apart from the question of physical toughness, not a moment can be lost. Military training today is infinitely complicated by mechanisa- tion and by new weapons, a point it is worth while to develop.
In the last war, training could be comparatively short. A man had to be reasonably fit. needed to know how to handle his own weapon, and to throw a bomb ; all he required to know of tactics was how to occupy a trench. In this war he has to be something of a jack-of-all-trades. No man's training can be confined to knowledge of one weapon; any infantry- man may have at any moment to exchange his rifle for a tommy- gun, a light machine-gun, a mortar, or an anti-tank rifle. Many must be highly trained mechanics, others expert wireless- operators. In tactics the soldier has to be able to act on his own, without waiting for orders; he must know the why and wherefore of movements, and therefore has to be exercised in these things. Training takes very much longer than it used to, so here again no time can be wasted.
Moreover, in the last war, a man's training could be hurried through in a matter of a few months, because his education could be completed in the field. It was largely a static war, with periods of so-called " rest " behind the trenches, where training was fiercely pursued to supplement what was gradually learnt in the front-line, in routine occupations, in raids, and in the repulsing of local attacks. Where half-trained men had to be used, owing to some sudden development, or some crisis of man-power, the result was deplorably high casualties. But in this war, no man must be put into the field who is not both morally and physically at the top of his highest possible form; to send out half-trained men would be a sacrifice as cruel as useless. All experience in this war so far has shown that men not " conditioned " (as we now say) to the new weapons, and new methods of warfare, stand a poor chance.
Nor is it as though mechanisation or invention in weapons had come to a standstill ; training must keep up-to-date with developments. There is much glib talk about the equipment coming from America being our salvation; so it will be, but only on condition that we have men ready who are fully trained to use it. It is worth remembering also that, besides the fighting man, who needs the experience in handling his weapons which only time and constant practice can bring, there are the mechanics and the expert technicians. These are not made in a moment; nor can they intuitively learn the best way to treat new machines.
At any moment the emergency may be upon us. If it is an attack upon this country we cannot afford to have men away from their stations employed on such work as fire-watching, even if they were fighting-fit and fully trained. If the men are needed for action overseas, we cannot afford for a single one to be under standard in toughness, or a little below the highest technical efficiency. However irksome it may be, the task of fire-watching must be undertaken by civilians. After all, it is no more than the ordinary guard and picquets under- taken by the soldier in addition to his training, as part of his domestic existence. For him to perform these duties, which in themselves demand no special physical or technical qualities, is not the same thing as taking him away from his training. The Army will undoubtedly co-operate at critical moments with all its resources; but a brief consideration of the points raised above would suggest that to interfere with training, except at moments of the utmost urgency, is to risk the lives of our soldiers in battle, and compromise our chances of victory.