27 NOVEMBER 1915, Page 8


WE bad intended to say nothing more than we said last week on the subject of Lord St. Davids's deplorable remarks in the House of Lords about the Headquarters Stuff and other Staffs in France. We wrote, we think, with restraint and without provocation in the hope that the subject would be allowed to rest. But since this has not happened, either in the newspapers or in public speeches, it may be as well to offer a few comments, and we trust that no fresh occasion for doing so will ever occur. We agree with a corre- spondent, whose letter we print in this issue, that the fact that such a speech as Lord St. Davids's should have been made is a national humiliation. We have no reason, and no inclination, to overpraise the Staff work at the front. There is no doubt that there have been serious defects, though, as we shall show presently, it was only natural that there should have been, and the wonder is that there were not more and worse mistakes on the part of is country which resolutely refused to prepare itself for a great war. What we do resent is that Lord St. Davids's remarks should have followed the familiar vulgar course of personal gossip, insinuation, and detraction. He must be very ignorant of history if he does not know that in nearly all wars the Staff has been the object of whispered calumny and aspersed by ridiculous exaggera- tion of harmless acts. The Duke of Wellington was traduced ; Lord Roberts, for all the notorious simplicity and honesty of his character, also suffered. Insignis tots eantabitur urbe—a Staff seems bound to be the victim of tittle-tattle throughout the whole town. But that the tittle-tattle should be gathered up and repeated by a member of the House of Lords for the enemy to revel in and neutrals to ponder and wonder over is a fact that makes one utterly ashamed. In our experience, the poisonous gossip comes from those who have never seen the Headquarters Staff at work. They may believe in the stories of incompetents appointed by crass favouritism, of idleness, of late bridge parties, of the visits of ladies, of officers appointed because they can give a good " tip " for a horse-race, and so forth, if it is congenial to their minds to do so, but the remark- able fact is that those visitors who have personally watched the Staff at work are agreed that the routine of Headquarters is regular and laborious, far beyond the standard attained by ordinary men of business at home.

We have never had a General Staff in Britain in the German sense, for the simple reason that we have never contemplated war on a grand scale. Of course wo ought to have provided for a great war. We ought to have had all men trained on the easy Swiss terms, and have created a large Staff versed in the proper functions of a Staff, and have held a great supply of equipment in readiness, so that if ever war came upon us the whole skeleton would be there to be turned instantly into strong flesh and blood by a willing citizen Army, But we did nothing of the sort. Army Corps and Divisional Staffs have had to be improvised out of men who for the most part have bad no staff training proper. Our staff College has never been large enough. It is a pygmy compared with the German War College. Of course we never needed to conduct our preparations on the German scale, but they should have been proportionate to our Deeds and were not. No wonder, then, that there have been defects. Neuve Chapelle and Loos, it is said, might have been very much greater successes if Staff work somewhere (not, we believe. the Staff work at Headquarters) bad not failed. We can easily believe it, though we do not know the facts. But what Lord St. Davids argued from what is known would have been laughable if it had not been deeply painful. He talked as though the Headquarters Staff timidly kept themselves out of harm's way, and the ratio of their casualties to those of the ordinary regimental officers were discreditable. But every boy in a Public School O.T.C. knows that it is the business of Staff officers in a general way not to be killed. A Staff officer does the worst possible service to his country if he takes risks which aro not inherent in the efficient discharge of his duty. His job is to arrange for the movements of others. If by rashness) be deprives the troops of his experience and learn- ing by being wounded or killed, lie has) done a very wrong thing. Risks he must take, but he must not go out to look for them. Our own impression is that in this war Staff officers have put themselves in danger too often rather than too seldom. Everybody who has ever been with an army iii the field knows that chaff about the alleged comfortable billets of the Staff is the common form of those who are in the firing line. Is it possible that Lord St. Davids has taken this traditional humour quite seriously? One would almost think so.

Again, Lord St. Davids does not seem to understand that Staff work is highly technical, and that it cannot be done by natural inspiration, any more than a man who has never learned to play the piano can sit down and read off music at sight. Officers who enter the Staff College have to pass to stiff examination. The letters " p.s.o." after an officer's name in the Army List are a genuine distinction. When tt. Staff is formed—the Headquarters Staff, or an Army Corps Staff, or a Divisional Staff—the most difficult work is given whenever possible to officers who have passed through the Staff College. But the Staff College is not large enough to go round. The remaining places have to be filled by regi- mental officers. As we understand Lord St. Davids, he thinks that the ordinary regimental officer would do Staff work better than the ordinary Staff officer. I3ut that is nonsense. That way chaos lies. Moreover, there is no real distinction between regimental and Staff officers so far as physical experi- ence of fighting goes; the man who becomes a Staff officer has usually seen a good deal of fighting as a regimental officer. His Staff College learning enables him to apply his experience to the movements of troops. We shall be surprised if we do not learn at the end of the war that many of our mistakes were caused by regimental officers being set to do work for whicb, through no fault of their own, they had not the necessary capacity.

Yet again, Lord St. Davids draws no distinction between the personal Staff at Headquarters and the technical Staff. For his personal Staff any Commander-in-Ohief rightly prefers to have officers whom he knows well or about whom be has heard much. In other words, he looks first among hie own friends or his own section of society, No doubt this gives flight to rumours of all sorts of social favouritism, but in so far as these rumours depend upon a misconception of the double nature of a Staff they are always unfounded. NO high officer has an opportunity to make appointments to his Staff of his own unfettered will. Every appointment has to be sanctioned by the War Office. It is is lamentable—we wish we could say surprising—fact that the very persons who prevented the country from creating the means of having Staff work done skilfully throughout the Army are the persons who sling mud at the Staffs who have laboured according to their lights. What is expected P Is it supposed that the country can whistle up Staff officers to compare in numbers and quality with the Great General Staff of Germany, which is the product of generations of militarism P "Suspicions amongst thoughts are like bats amongst birds; they ever fly by twilight." So said the wise Bacon. "There is nothing makes a man suspect much, more than to know little. . . . Suspicions, that the mind of itself gathers, are but buzzes ; but suspicions that are artificially nourished and put into men's heads by the tales and whisperings of others, have stings." To take the tales and whisperings of others and use them to sting honourable and brave men who are spending themselves at the front in the cause of tis all—that is the last word in Parliamentary unseernibsees.