THE VETERAN RESERVE HOW TO ORGANISE AND USE IT.
THE interest in the Veteran Reserve continues to grow, but unfortunately, though perhaps not unnaturally, there still seems to be, as regards the whole question, a great deal of confusion in the public mind,—a confusion which is reflected in Parliament. In the debate on the Army Estimates there were a good many references to the Reserve, but for the most part they showed that Members had not grasped the essentials of the problem. Those essentials we desire to discuss once more. Before doing so, however, we should like to point out that there is a very real danger of the Veteran Reserve suffering from the zeal of its friends, and, as so often happens in practical life, of a good thing being overdone,—in fact, killed with kindness. If the Veteran Reserve is kept on the lines laid down by the Surrey Territorial Association, it may prove in some moment of national peril an asset of enormous importance. On the other hand, the movement may easily have its back broken by being overburdened by kindly and well-meaning but unintelligent schemes for extending and improving it. The essence of the idea of the Veteran Reserve is the obtaining of the names and addresses of all the trained men in the country under fifty years of age,—that is, of all the men in full bodily vigour who, in the old phrase, are " men of their hands " and are familiar with modern military conditions, who can shoot and can practise that co-operative obedience which is called discipline. The supreme object is to keep in touch with these men, and to know how to lay one's hands upon them at a moment's notice, not to worry them with peace obligations and duties or to make them feel that their patriotism may be made an excuse for calling upon them in peace- time to undertake this or that duty which, though honour- able and pleasant per se, may be of an onerous character. The men are warned to " stand by to serve their oountry," but only in case of imminent peril,—that is, of the enemy having actually landed. Then, as was seen by the spirit of the Surrey Veterans, and by what they have in fact offered to do, no obligation, no burden, no duty will be too great for them to undertake. Till, however, that imminent peril arises their only obligation, if it can be called an obliga- tion, is to keep in touch with the military authorities— never to forget to notify their changes of address to the County Associations—and to make old friends and comrades aware of the Veteran Reserve and its aims.
The military authorities, including the County Associa- tions, have, however, plenty of obligations and duties in regard to the Veteran Reserve, such, for example, as drawing up a skeleton organisation, seeing that sufficient arms and equipment are stored and ready in case of necessity, and also affording facilities for the men, on a purely voluntary basis, to keep in touch with one another by means of an annual parade, rally, rendezvous, or such other gathering as may seem convenient. This should be purely a matter of invitation, and must involve no burden on the men. As we have said before, and cannot say too often, no obligation in peacetime must rest upon the men except that of keeping in touch. Obligations begin when the enemy has landed, or is in process of landing. Then at a word the Veteran Reserve will spring into active military existence. Till then the Veterans are as absolutely part of the civilian population, and as absolutely un- hampered and unburdened, as the men who have never shouldered a rifle or done a hand's-turn for their country in their lives.
Thoughtless people may conceivably aek whether a Veteran Reserve with obligations which seem so slight can be of any use. The answer was given at the Horse Guards' Parade by the Veterans of Surrey. They showed, in the first place, how splendid was the human materiel which has hitherto been running to waste, and next, how little " rusty " the men had got in the matter of drill mold the power of co-operative obedience. They marched and obeyed the orders given to them to admiration. Further, they showed that they were capable of individual action and of the initiative which is sometimes supposed not to belong to the well-drilled soldier. Quite a considerable portion of the men were countrymen who knew nothing of London. Some of them had never been there before in their lives, or had only passed through London. Yet without any nursing " or shepherding they found their way to t e Horse Guards' Parade at the time which had been intimated to them, and, when they were there, without confusion or difficulty they placed themselves under officers and non-commissioned officers whom they had never in their lives seen before, and stood shoulder to shpulder working with men whose faces were utterly unknown to then, five minutes before they fell in. The machine moved on greased wheels, though not only had it never been put together before, but the parts had never been assembled before,—so great is the power of willing and intelligent co-operation. The men knew what they were about, and even though it had not been possible to explain to them the nature of the parade or to give them any details, they understood instinctively what was expected of them, and did it with that will which makes a body of trained men that awe-inspiring thing which is something between a piece of mechanism and a human giant,—a creature with the strength of a thousand men, though movable and moved by a single brain. Great credit is due to Major Scudamore, the secretary of the Surrey Territorial Asso- ciation, and to Captain Groves, the Adjutant of the 4th Battalion of the Queen's—one of the Surrey Territorial units—who organised the parade, for their able, and indeed brilliant, work. They would, however, be the first to admit that their efforts would have been unavailing but for the high quality of the material with which they had to deal. People need have no fear of the Veteran Reserve, if it is properly worked, not being under sufficient obligations. The obligations will be real enough and terrible enough when war comes. Till then, as we have said, only the obligation to keep in touch is necessary. We fear we have wearied our readers by this iteration. It is not unimportant, however, but vital to the whole matter. We must remember not to burden the men in peacetime by rules, regulations, or calls, or by any other fussiness, but to keep to the simple idea of an organised Register. This is the sign in which we shall c,onquent—" No red-tape in peacetime. Blood and iron if once an enemy has landed."
But though the men must not be hampered by regula- tions, and though we must keep in mind the fact that the men who will join the Reserve are all in work and in good positions, and unable to devote time to military duties of any sort or kind, very great obligations in peace- time will rest upon the War Office and on the County Associations. Let us take those of the War Office first. The chief essential in the treatment of the Reserve at headquarters is the provision of arms, equipment, and ammunition. This provision must be specific, not general. By this we mean that the War Office must not say:— "The Veteran Reserve will number one hundred and fifty thousand men. Therefore we had better provide another hundred and fifty thousand rifles in case they should ever have to be called out.". What they must say is :—" Surrey has three thousand men [that is the number which we hope and believe will be reached] on its Veteran Reserve. Therefore there must be three thousand extra rifles for Surrey, which must be ear- marked for this purpose, and not be liable to be begged, borrowed, or stolen by anybody else." Next, these rifles must be stored at places where they can easily be dis- tributed, and not be laid up under regulations which will make it impossible to give them out to the men in the confusion of a general mobilisation. Clearly, they should be entrusted to the Territorial Associations, and kept by them, under the supervision of the War Office. This would cost a little money, but less than it would cost the Govern- ment to keep them in their own storehouses. For ourselves, we would go further. We should like the War Office to give leave to the County Associations to place the rifles in the care of the Veterans. The rifle would act as a material symbol of the Veteran's obligation for war. The men know perfectly how to use and keep a rifle, and the rifle hung up over the Veteran's mantelpiece would be an honourable distinction of which he would naturally be proud. No doubt a great many red-tape objections can be urged against this proposal. To say, however, that the men would neglect the rifles—as if men who have undertaken the kind of obligations the Surrey men showed they were willing to undertake could not be trusted with firearms—is a piece of childishness about which we have not patience to argue. Again, certain old-fashioned persons may think that possibly the rifles might get into the hands of Socialists and revolutionaries. On the other hand, the Socialists will no doubt be alarmed lest the rifles should fall into the hands of those they will call reactionaries, and thus might be used against them. In our opinion, such fears as these on both sides are foolish. The advantages of having the rifles in the men's hands in case of sudden mobilisation are obvious, and if they were distributed in this way it would be impossible for the Government to count them twice over. As the Government would be saved the cost of storage, we suggest that a shilling per annum should be allowed each man as a fee for keeping the rifle for the War Office, and for bringing it once a year to the nearest headquarters of the Territorial unit to be inspected and passed. When a man left the Reserve he would of course be obliged to return it.
In addition to placing a rifle in each Veteran's hands, the Government should issue to him a military cap, like that worn by the Territorials, a bandolier, and an arm-badge with the words " Veteran Reserve " and the name of his particular county on it. The cost of such simple equipment should not be more than five shillings per man, and yet it would last seven or eight years, and enable the Veteran to have the status of a combatant under the Hague Convention. All that is necessary is some conspicuous badge, and acting together under orders in a formed body. No doubt in the event of invasion the War Office would be anxious to issue proper uniforms and greatcoats to the men ; but still, if the plan we have suggested were adopted, mobilisation of the Veteran Reserve could take place before such issue, and at a great emergency the men could actually be employed on military duties without further equipment. Another advantage would be that if individual members of the Reserve paraded at municipal and county functions or other ceremonies, they would have distinguishing marks, and especially that most distinctive mark of the man trained to defend his country,—a rifle.
The next question to be considered from the point of view of the War Office is that of the uses to which the Veteran Reserve should be put. We have already respect- fully protested against the men being ".earmarked" to help constabulary to guard bridges and drive in cattle,—functions no doubt of immense importance in themselves. That respectful protest received the kindly consideration of the Secretary of State for War in the speech which he made at Guildford last month. We have never varied from our belief that the proper thing for the War Office to tell the Veteran Reserve is that they will be used for whatever military purposes the War Office think they can be best employed. There should be no publicly advertised alloca- tion in time of peace, for such allocation, though it will probably not be respected in war, is very likely to give a false impression to the men, and therefore to act injuriously on recruiting for the Reserve. We must never forget that no man can be compelled to place his name on the Register, but that he does so purely voluntarily. It is a thousand pities to give a wrong impression, such as is sure to be given by talking prematurely of guarding bridges and driving cattle. Though we do not ask the Government to say more than that they will use the men to the best advantage, we personally believe that the way in which to use them to the best advantage will be to add an extra section of Veterans to every company or troop or other unit in the Territorial Force. Such absorption into the Territorial Force will, we hold, prove the best means of using the Veterans. If, however, owing to the success of the Veteran Reserve as regards numbers, this should make the Territorial battalions unwieldy to begin with, it would be quite easy to form also an extra company or couple of companies or troops and detach these companies for special duties. The essential thing is not to form new cadres, but rather to strengthen old ones.
We must next consider, though it can only be very shortly, the best way in which the Territorial Associations, when they have got their Registers formed, can organise their Veteran Reserves. In our opinion, they should act more or less on the following lines. The Registers should be carefully considered, map in hand, by the officer or Committee detailed for the work of organisation. Groups of about one hundred or two hundred men—i.e., companies or double companies—should, as it were, be sorted out and named after the town or district in which they reside. There should, for example, be a King's Castle Company formed in the King's Castle district, and to this company or double company an appropriate number of officers should be allotted. These officers, provided they can do so without worrying the men, should be asked, as far as time and circumstances will allow, to keep in personal touch with their men. A simple organisation of this kind might very well be formed without placing any burden on the Veterans. We understand that the Surrey Territorial Association has already some such scheme in hand, and that it is proposed that next year, instead of getting the men together at a parade in London, eight or ten local parades should be arranged throughout the county on the same day. The men will be invited to a rally or rendezvous near their homes, and the authorities of the County Associations, and any General Officer who may inspect them, will be able to pass from one group to another in a motor-car. Such an experiment should prove exceedingly interesting, for it would necessarily be the method adopted for getting the men together in case of invasion. If this plan were decided upon, the yearly parade of men would become an experimental mobilisation.
Let us end by saying once again that the friends of the Veteran Reserve movement must be most careful not to kill it by putting too great an obligation on the men, or by asking the War Office to do too much. If once the War Office are asked to spend large sums upon the Reserve, they will end by killing it, just as the Reserve will itself perish if too much is asked from the men. Let us stick to the essential idea„—that of keeping in touch with the Veterans, providing them with proper warlike equipment when they are called out, and lastly, forming an elastic and unburdensome skeleton organisation which will make it easy to hold them together and handle them in case of war in these islands.