27 NOVEMBER 1915, Page 10



rre Tilt E 1 TO It Or Tat “SrtlITATOlt."1 Srae—In my opinion, it is nothing less than a national humiliation that we should discuss at what time the General Staff in Franco have their breakfast. Since, however, Lord St. Davids has thought fit to arraign, not only for cowardice but for sloth, the gallant, hard-working, and able men who arc doing our work and bearing our burdens in Fiance, whether in the office or in the field, or rather in both (I doubt whether there is a Staff officer who has not been in the trenches and under fire), and sines unfortunately he has been answered, when the contempt of absolute silence would have been infinitely preferable, I will ask you to let me add my testimony. I am veritably ashamed to give it, and I offer my sincerest apologies to all Staff officers, who would be fully justified in bitterly resenting any attempt to defend them in public. First on this wretched breakfast point. I happened to be breakfasting with a portion of the General Headquarters Staff just a week ago. The breakfast- hour was a quarter to eight, and when I came down at ten minutes to eight I found these despicable "sluggards" half- way through their luxurious, nay, wanton, eggs and bacon. How many civilians who talk about soft billets and lazy incompetents have as good a morning record as that ? And here I may mention, though again it is with a sense of humiliation, that an accidental circumstance made me note that Sir John French had finished his first conference with some of his Generals by ten I

As I have no desire to he lynched, I am not going to parade the wounds or battle records of members of the General Staff before the public eye. Englishmen happen to dislike the " wounded hero" business particularly, and the Staff are anything but an exception here. But even at some personal risk, and with a hope that these words may never reach his eye, I may mention that one of the breakfusters at a quarter to eight has a wound record which might have won hint honourable leisure for the rest of his life. Yet there he is, doing extremely hard and soaring aloe work, and enjoying a fourteen hours' day under a fire of criticism from men whose office ideal is eleven till five, and no hurry over their after- luncheon coffee!

Before I leave the subject of the General Staff I should like to point out how futile is the accusation that there are too many of them. There are too few. What is called "G.H.Q." is really an exiguously manned War Office on the other side of the Channel. Do what you will, you cannot run a force of a million men or so without an organization which, though you may call it a General Sea is really a local War Department, and in many cases a sweated War Department, if by "sweated" is meant overworked and underpaid. The denunciation of the members of the Staffs of Army Corps, Divisions, and Brigades on the old conventional " gilded popinjays" lines is really so preposterous and nbsurd that 1 cannot lime the task of combating it. I shall not even seek to discover whether there is truth in the allegation that

the Staff keep all the yellow jam for themselves, and only let the red varieties reach the regimental officer ! Until we abandon the idea that great bodies of men when in the field require cohesion, co-ordination, and concentration in order to secure that quickness and unity of movement which is the secret of war, and until armies are allowed to he mobs of regiments, we shall not get on without Staff officers, by what- ever name we like to call them. That Staff work is always perfect is, I should think, most unlikely—as unlikely as that regimental details are perfect. Again, it is hardly likely that, if you expand an Army with an extreme limit of three hundred thousand in peace to three millions, you will find sufficient perfectly trained Staff officers ready to your hand. Further, as Lord Melbourne told the girl Queen when she talked with all the solemnity of youth of the necessity of sending "really good men" here, there, and everywhere, there are, "unfortunately, very few good anythings in the world." As long as human nature remains human nature, Staff officers and all other officers will make mistakes. Personally, I think we are very lucky that they make so few. The truth is that war by its nature is the most difficult busi- ness in the whole world, and the wonder is not so much that it is often ill done as that it is done at all. That of course is no ground for excusing blunders in the field, or for suggesting that they are inevitable, and therefore need not be bothered about. Every soldier knows that war is too grim and terrible a thing for excuses, and that failures due to mistakes, or pieces of pure ill luck, or combinations of both, which would be overlooked or be objects of sympathy in the work of a public office, or in the Law or the Church, must in war meet with the sternest treatment.

But though we cannot prevent our Staff officers from fight- ing, as it wore, with ropes round their necks, we can at least refrain from calling them names, and adding a sense of injustice to the terrible weight of responsibility which is inevitably theirs. We must be hard taskmasters, visit failure with severity, and refuse to let good intentions be an excuse, but at least we can refrain from vulgar and idiotic talk about "jobbed" appointments, "soft billets," and the like—talk so dangerous that it deserves to be punished under the Defence of the Realm Act. What could more discourage our officers and men in the trenches, or more encourage our enemies, than the spread of the belief that they are being mishandled by an incompetent Staff P Happily, however, the British regimental officer, like the British private, is not easily moved. He will go on grumbling with "comic relief " complaints—in which of course he does not really believe— for example, about the Staff scooping all the yellow jam, and the Staff will continue to shrug its shoulders and do its duty. But all the same, it is for us civilians a national humiliation that we should let men fight our battles and bear our burdens under criticism po gross and so unfair, and, I must add, so babyish.—I am, Sir, &o.,CIVIS IGNOTIIS.