22 JUNE 1867, Page 9


AT last, and not before old evils had become intolerable,. the War Office has set itself seriously to work to re- form the defective administration of the Army. There can be no doubt that the Report of the Committee which has in- vestigated this subject under the presidency of Lord Strath- nairn is a very valuable document. Its importance arises from the fact that the Committee, although appointed and con- stituted to deal only with the question of army transport, had the temerity, as things go, to endeavour to base their inquiries. on a general principle, and finding ready to their hand a scheme of army administration proposed by Earl de Grey, hive reported generally on that subject. The scheme pro- posed by the Committee, like the one on which their inquiries were based, is an approach to the French Intendance, the difference between Earl de Grey's and the Committee's pro- posal lying in the degree of approximation to the French system, or rather in the degree of departure from our own. For the latter little certainly can be said, except that its working produces enormous friction, that its practice is dis- similar where it ought to be identical, and that it persistently breaks down whenever it is called upon to do duty in actual warfare. In fact its defects are so obvious, and lie so much on the surface, that it requires no military knowledge to see that even a slight approach to the French system would greatly ease the machine. For instance, in the case of our army stationed at home, the Secretary of State corresponds. directly with the head of each army department, and there- are some five or six of them at each station. Hence streams of correspondence, sometimes on the most trivial subjects, are, constantly flowing to and from head-quarters,---not only to and from each station, but to and from each department at each station.

This cumbrous system is replaced, in the case of our Army stationed abroad, by the convenient, but unconstitutional, practice of investing the officer commanding with Secretary of State's functions, by virtue of which he heals all local differences, gives authority for various exceptional services, and acts as a sieve in the matter of correspondence, reducing its quantity considerably. In the French system the admi- nistrative departments of the Army are regulated more like the combatant portion than is the case with us, and wherever there is a combatant officer in command of troops there is at his elbow an officer, whom we may call a Controller, at the head of all administrative departments, ready to make the arrangements required by any contemplated operations, and whose duty it is to control the working of all transport, commissariat, and financial arrangements. This officer is the direct subordinate of the Minister at War, who combines in himself the functions which with us are divided between the Secretary of State and Commander-in-Chief. If the French system of local War-Office representatives were adopted in this country it would doubtless reduce the amount of correspondence at home, and obviate the necessity for the establishment of an irregular and unconstitutional prac- tice abroad. So much for one point in our present system ; but not only has each department with us its special corre- spondence, but it maintains its own peculiar reserve of stores, so that at each station we have as many separate collections of identical, or almost identical, stores as there are depart- ments—Barrack, Purveyor's, Commissariat, and others—at that station. We gather from the evidence, for instance, that from the general export store in this country separate consignments of (say) brooms, which of course are required by the Commissariat, Purveyor's, Barrack, and a host of other departments, may be sent to each department at any given foreign station,—a separation in the export store and the separate consignment to different individuals at the same station being necessitated by the separate existence of stores attached to the several departments. This sort of thing cul- minated in the Crimea. We all know what happened there. Our transport and account systems, equally unique and curious in their way, may be passed over, to come at once to the Committee's proposals.

All the Civil departments are to be massed together into a Department of Control, with a Controller-in-Chief at its head. This officer is to be to the civil element what the Commander- in-Chief is to the military element. He is, in fact, to be the Commander-in-Chief of the vast civil army, responsible for the sinews of war in the shape of supply and transport, the supply including money, food for man and beast, and stores. The practical result of this will be that the Secretary of State himself and each commanding officer will have to deal with one responsible department only, instead of five, as at present. The Controller-in-Chief at head-quarters will be represented by a local Controller at each station, and the Committee pro- pose to place this local man under the general officer com- manding. The executive branches under the Control Depart- ment will deal with commissariat, transport, and accounts. The first will provide provisions, stores (except warlike stores), clothing, and hospital requirements. The transport is to be provided for by means of a " train," an " ambulance train," and an " auxiliary train "—the " train " being equipped and disciplined as organized transport in peace, so that we may always have a nucleus in case of war. As far as accounts go, something like the present foreign system is to be established; that is to say, there is to be an accountant at each station, making payments in accordance with regulations, subject to audit and supervision at home. The regimental Paymasters are to form part of this branch. It has already been stated that the warlike stores are excluded from the control of the Commissariat ; for these a distinct branch is to be created, in connection with the Artillery.

As far as the main features of this scheme are concerned, we believe there will be very few who will object to them. There can be no doubt whatever that increased economy and efficiency would result from such a system, and that its introduction sooner or later is inevitable. But those who will most warmly acknowledge the soundness of the general principle involved will be the first to demur to many of the details of the present proposal. Take, for instance, the pro- posal that the representative of the Secretary of State is to be placed under the representative of the Commander-in-Chief, who thus becomes ipso facto an irresponsible Secretary of State. We do not find this in France, where, nevertheless, people are less particular about estimates than we are, and -where, moreover, the functions of Secretary of State and Com- mander-in-Chief are, as we have seen, centred in a Minister of War. In fact, in the evidence we find it roundly stated that the French Controllers really do exercise control and make objec- tions ; and one would think that, if they did not do so, they would be, to judge from their name, very useless members of the military body corporate. The Committee may quote, in support of their recommendation, the practice in force at foreign stations to which we have before referred. We contend, however, that this arrangement is wrong in prin- ciple, however convenient in practice, and that the Secretary of State can only have invested the officer commanding with his functions in the absence of a general represen- tative, and faute de mieux ; and surely such an arrange- ment should cease when there actually is a representative of the Secretary of State to do Secretary of State's work. If not, will not the subordination of all the Secretary of State's agents to the military amount to pretty much the same thing as the subordination of the Secretary of State himself to the Commander-in-Chief I The evidence of the Commissary General-in-Chief (the only civilian member of the present Committee) before a Committee in 1864, given in the present Report (p. 248), shows how the military element abroad interferes at present with any tendency towards economy. He states distinctly that if the Controller were placed in a proper position he would be able to " save large sums." Surely under the proposed system they would still go on confining themselves to a " perfunctory report of the expenditure," and otherwise hinting at economies " in a very quiet way."

Another recommendation is of a very doubtful nature. The present " Store Department " is responsible for the supply and keeping of all stores, including warlike stores, that is, shot, shell, guns, ammunition, and the like. These it is proposed to separate from the ordinary stores and hand over to a new Ordnance Department, in which the duties at present performed by members of the Military Store Department will be carried out by Artillery officers. There is abundant unshaken evidence to show that the Store officers are carefully educated to their work, and do it well ; and the proposed system will at once have two unde- sirable results,—it will take combatants from combatant work to do civil duties, and it will invest them with functions of a much lower order than one could wish, seeing that Artillery officers are among the most scientifically educated officers in the service. Taking charge of stores, be they never so war- like, seems a poor result of a long course at Woolwich, partly at the public expense. In civil life we don't generally place professors of chemistry in charge of druggists' warehouses. Moreover, to leave matters as they are would permit of a much greater simplification, for then all stores, whether warlike or other, would be under the Control Department, and the neces- sity of a new establishment, with its double personnel and double storehouses, would be avoided.

Curiously enough, while on the one hand we have the proposal to relieve artillerymen of their proper duties, the use of stores, and to make them custodians of stores merely, it is proposed to take the engineers from their pontoon train, perhaps the greatest spe'cialitlin the service, and hand it over to the ordinary transport service. But if the pontoons of the engineers, why not the field-pieces of the artillery ? A corps of engineers without a pontoon train seems very like the play of Hamlet with the Prince of Denmark omitted ; but leaving this, as we are content to do—with such authority against us—an open question, there can be little doubt that the proposed banding over of many duties at present performed by the moribund Barrack Department to- the Engineers would seriously impair their efficiency in war time. This proposal indeed we look upon as among the most ill-considered in the whole Report. The Barrack Department seems to have been objected to among other reasons, because it affords no assistance in war ; but granting this negative evil, it seems strange to remedy it by a positive one—namely, the transfer of its duties in part to men who otherwise would be free to take the field. In this connection we may also remark that the Committee propose the transfer of the duties connected with the appro- priation of barracks to the Quartermaster-General. This proposal may almost be termed reckless. We have by no means exhausted the Report, but enough has been said to show that, however well some such general scheme as the one proposed would work in comparison with our present one, the details require not only mature con- sideration by a body much more broadly constituted than the present Committee, but a complete discussion by all interested in the proposed changes. This need not take long, nor need the great advantages which are anticipated be delayed till all the details are complete. In the interim, we believe a con- sultative Committee of the heads of the present Departments of the War Office, and the appointment of a representative of the Secretary of State at every station, both at home and abroad, would prove an enormous boon, and place things in such a satisfactory position that time for discussing and com- pletely ventilating the proposed details might be fairly given, without any detriment to the public service.