• THE RETURN OF THE GUARDS.
THE selection of the six battalions of the Foot Guards for review by his Majesty the King out of all the corps which are returning like homing pigeons from the storm and stress of the late war is a signal honour to the Brigade. We are glad that it is to be paid. Until this decision was announced we can understand that there was in the mind of the army that has endured to the end a certain sense of ingratitude and of unrequited labour. We appeared to the lonely watchers of the blockhouses or the weary horsemen of the driving lines to have shouted ourselves hoarse over the C.I.V., who, though they did good work, did not see a year's service, and in our annoyance at the prolongation of the war to have forgotten that after all it was finished, and how. By his welcome to the Guards the King is showing honour to the whole Army. As it was impossible that he should present their medals to some hundred thousand men, it is right that his choice should have fallen upon his Guards.
To many of us this review will recall a similar ceremony performed by Queen Victoria at the close of the Crimean War. The reminiscence is two-edged. It reminds us of that terrible ghost-story where the tenants of a haunted house, in their search for the cause of the apparition, dis- covered walled up in a secret chamber, not the mortal remains of the unquiet spirit, but the book and the bell and all the other apparatus of the exorcists of long ago. Our latest war has shown the same repetition of mis- management at home and—if we except Lord Roberts's five months' advance on Pretoria—of want of generalship in the field. Like Alma and Inkerman, Belmont and Graspan were soldiers' battles ; and though even the Crimea shows no such dismal reading as the Natal Cam- paign, the dreary work in the trenches before Sebastopol finds its counterpart in the long months on the block- house line in South Africa. Neither of these expedients for bringing our enemy to his knees can rank high in military history; a military genius of the first rank would certainly have found speedier means with a beaten foe. The spectre of military incompetency is still with us, and the end of the war and the Royal review remind us irresistibly of the exorcisms attempted with so little success in the " fifties," and renewed almost exactly in the same form to-day. But if the gloomy side of the picture has been repeated, so has the brighter. British infantry have once more been called upon by dint of dogged perseverance and cheerful endurance to make good the want of genius in our generals. Once more they have responded to the call, and once more the Foot Guards have done their full share of the work. They would themselves be the last to claim that they had done more, though it was a strange task for a corps d'elite, whose first place is supposed to be around the person of the Sovereign, this of two years of guerilla warfare conducted in a Colony five thousand miles away ! The First Brigade of Guards (3rd Grenadiers, 1st and 2nd Coldstreams, and 1st Scots Guards) left England in October, 1899, and after the well-known battles in the advance on Kimberley, in two of which they succeeded by their gallantry in that most impossible of all enterprises, a frontal attack, they took part in the famous march to Bloemfontein and Pretoria, and in the subsequent advance upon Komati Poort. From that place they were on the point of returning home with Lord Roberts, when the serious recrudescence of the war compelled their retention in the country, and they were sent down to hold the line of the Orange River against the raiders from the North. There- after for close upon two years they have been maids-of-all- work to Lord Kitchener, building and defending block- houses, manning armoured trains, marching over many thousand miles as escort to a baggage column, or even, as a disgusted Guardsman put it, on horses, " jumping about all over the country like those confounded Yeomanry,"— surely no job for a Foot Guardsman ! The second detachment (2nd Grenadiers and 2nd Scots Guards) joined General Rundle's " starving Eighth Division" in April, 1900, took part in the operations which led to the surrender of Prinsloo, and after that General's arrival at Harrismith were employed on the same tedious business in the North-East Free State as their comrades of the First Brigade in the South. Yet they did their work thoroughly and without a murmur; and their officers made it a point of honour to stick to regimental duty, though soft Staff billets would have been easily procurable by them, for obvious reasons, had they chosen to take them. Hence, though they provided several capable column leaders, hardly a single other officer was induced to leave his battalion. As troops we have it on high authority that their great merit was their adaptability, and that a Guards officer could always be relied upon to take a common-sense view of any situation, however novel or unexpected. You could rely upon him never to be "routiny," and he did not mind taking responsibility. During the course of the war it is calculated that over twelve thousand Guardsmen have served in South Africa, and the battalions were at all times far nearer their war strength than those of any other regiment. No doubt their large Reserve accounts for this ; but something must also be set down to discipline. Professor Oman in his " History of the Peninsular War " notes the fact that after the retreat from Corunna those regiments which were best disciplined showed the strongest muster-rolls. Whereas in many cases the losses by straggling and sickness amounted to 50 per cent. of the strength, the strong Guards battalions had lost but eighty men each. Their successors have kept up their Peninsular traditions.
There appears at first sight to be in the admittedly high services of the Guards a strange contradiction of the principles we have steadily advocated in discussing the question of Army reform. We are ourselves by no means surprised at their success ; but the Brigade will acknow- ledge that by their previous training, so dear to the heart of every Guardsman, they ought, according to many reformers, to have been unfitted for war. In drill, precision itself, in discipline, martinets, no troops think more of simultaneous movement or of smartness of dress and " turn out." They appear to be par excellence the soldiers of the barrack square, of the Court, of bands and ceremonies and all the pomp and circumstance of war. They are short-service men, and so we might suppose that in their three years of service, with all their ceremonial duties, they could not be expected to be as familiar with field-work as their comrades of the Line. Then' officers are by no means examination products ; indeed, a lower standard is required at Sandhurst from candidates for the Foot Guards and the cavalry than for the Line. They are generally wealthy, and might there- fre be expected to be lazy ; their social position is of the llighesk and the temptation to neglect soldiering for society great ; whilst, if they choose, they have im- mense backstair influence. Yet for all this, the Guards Brigade stands nulli secundus. Our readers may possibly think that because we have made this admission they may justly taunt us with our depreciation of drill, our odious parallels between the "position of a soldier " and that of a "trussed fowl," our advocacy of a serviceable and not a smart kit, and of what the enemies of the movement call " the motley rabble of a rifle club." We shall endeavour to show that we are at least consistent in our view by exploring somewhat deeper into the character and organisation of the Guards.
We believe, though the Guardsman would only admit it very unwillingly himself, that the excellent character borne by these troops in the late war is largely due to the short- service system. Though the actual men who have just returned are serving with the colours, they only recently went out, and the brunt of the service has been borne by Reservists. These in the Guards were men who, having completed their three years' stern apprenticeship in London or Aldershot, had returned to civil life, not, as in the case of the Linesman, after seven years of garrison duty in a bad climate, utterly spoilt in most cases for the skilled labour market, but at twenty-one years of age, in the bloom of youth, vigorous and active after a first-rate course of physical and disciplinary training in theirown country. Their military service has been to them, in other words, an excellent pre- paration for civil life. So trained the Guardsman is able to make a fair start in the trade of his choice ; he is no military derelict cast upon these shores by the Indian Ocean. But the ex-Linesman is often too old a man to adapt him- self to the conditions of civil life; he is unaccustomed to support himself, to fend for himself, to think for himself. If he makes a good artisan or labourer, he does so in spite of his military past,—the Guardsman does so because of it. In civil life he gets to know the world as it is ; he is a rational, thinking being, standing on his own two legs ; he ceases to be a military machine. Recalled to the colours in time of war, he exercises the mind that civil life has given him, while the habit of discipline, of respect for himself, and of pride in the Brigade, so carefully incul- cated in his youth, completes the perfect soldier. He is not merely Private Jones who wears the King's coat, and eats the King's meat, and does what he is told ; he is also Mr. Jones with a valuable experience of life, which serves him in good stead when his intelligence is matched against that of other human animals in a struggle for mastery. In other words, a Guards battalion when mobilised for active service is full of men who are civilians well instructed in the art of war rather than professional soldiers. Their intelligence has not been deadened by years of routine drill, but sharpened by the countless needs and duties of civil life.
It is the same thing, and to a greater degree, with the officers. There is no regular mess in London, and con- sequently no anteroom life ; the majority live out of barracks, and so have a considerable individuality outside of the regiment. They are men of the world, proud enough of their corps, and with strong views on officers who shirk their duty ; but for all that, with many civilian interests, and considerable sympathy with the civilian point of view. Witness their appreciation of the Volunteers, and the ungrudging help and encourage- ment they have always given them at a time when it was the fashion in the Army generally to sneer at the " amateur " soldier. Their professional zeal is not, therefore, limited to their own branch of the Service. They are glad to welcome the keen soldier wherever they find him; and to the School of Instruction at Chelsea, instituted and run by Guardsmen, and to the untiring and patient assistance of the Brigade on every possible occasion, much of the present efficiency of the Volun- teer Force is due. Extremes meet : the Cinderellas of the Service have ever found a Prince Charming in the enthusiastic officer of the proudest corps in England.
We are confirmed in our view as to the reasons for the efficiency of the Guards by the admitted inferiority on active service of those apparently model non-commissioned officers, the drill-sergeants of the Guards. We have learnt to admire their parade rasp and their knowledge of the drills, their extraordinary power of waking up their men, their smart, irresistible appearance, pipeclayed and polished ad unguent ; and they deserve all the homage they receive at the hands of the London crowd. It is their finction at home to know the Drill Book and to teach it; the slightest deviation from it or from the established order of things is with them a crime of the first magnitude. Hence they are bewildered and shocked when called upon to face a war that breaks every rule. There is an authentic story of a non-commissioned officer of the Guards who, his company officer killed, showed conspicuous skill and gallantry in leading on his section The criticism of a Sergeant-Major who was spectator of the deed was simply that Smith was all very well at that sort of game, but he was no use at "soldiering" and the " real thing." By " soldiering " and the " real thing " he meant Chelsea Barracks ! • The Brigade of Guards have done yeoman service (we do not hint in this phrase at any invidious comparison). But this is only one more proof that, given true discipline —i.e., the obedience which is co-operative and not mechanical—and esprit de corps, the best regiments on active service are those whose officers and men are some- thing more than soldiers. The Guards themselves no doubt attribute their efficiency to the stern course of discipline which is the marked feature of their training. We, on the other hand, although we may applaud this training as an education for any man, just as we applaud the stern discipline of a public school, are convinced that it is to the shortness of the educational period rather than to its severity that such admirable results are due. It is well that a boy should be thoroughly grounded in the " three R's," but teach him nothing else till he is eighteen, and you spoil a "full man." That is why we welcome so heartily the short-service system and Lord Roberts's Drill Book, and yet wish a grateful welcome to our returning Guards. We do not in the least wish to disparage the men or officers of the Line, and recognise in them many splendid qualities ; but we cannot close our eyes to the fact that the more purely professional soldiers become, and the more completely they eliminate the civilian element, the less fit they grow as combatants. They may know how to die—indeed, none know better—but they lose the knowledge of how to get the better of the enemy. The Guards, officers and men, have in them an element of civilianism which proves an invaluable antiseptic against the putrefaction of routine.