5 AUGUST 1905, Page 5


THE natiOn should be grateful to Lord Roberts for the note of warning which he sounded in his speech before the London Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. Lord Roberts told the business men of London what .he had told the House of Lords on a previous occasion, --that our military forces are not in a position to do the work which we expect of them. The Boer War showed the grave imperfections of our military machine, but since the conclusion of peace we have done literally nothing to put our house in order. Our rulers have known by the most obvious tokens that things were going wrong at the War Office, but no serious and coherent effort has been made to put them right. Except that our officers and men have had experience of actual war, we are quite as unprepared as we were in 1899. It is not an agreeable task for a man in Lord Roberts's position—a servant of the State who is enjoying a well-earned repose—to tell the nation such home-truths as these. But like a true soldier and true patriot, be has not been deterred from doing what he deems his cliity because that duty is painful and burdensome.

With all that Lord Roberts says as to the inefficiency and inadequacy of our present military system we are in hearty agreement. We have wasted in the most profligate way three precious years. Even if only a little could have been accomplished during that period, some- thing at any rate might have been done in the way of reform. With a great part of Lord Roberts's suggested remedies we are also in agreement, though in one par- ticular—that of making service as well as training universal—we disagree. Let us deal first, however, with Lord Roberts's strictures on the present position. We are convinced that he is absolutely right when he tells us that our chief need is some system under which in times of emergency our military forces can be expanded. We want, that is, a reservoir from which at a crisis men can be drawn who have received the elements of military training and who understand the use of the rifle. Such men, if ° they have stout hearts and a keen desire to serve the Mother-country—and of ' this in the case of the British people we have no doubts whatever—will give us, as far as the rank-and-file are concerned, the force we need. How is that reservoir to be provided ? In our belief, it can be provided by the present Auxiliary Forces, if only we will not neglect them, but increase and improve them. If we were to encourage and develop the Militia, and were to organise a true Militia Reserve, we should have a most important reservoir from which to draw. If the Militia, after generations of deliberate neglect, could give us ninety thousand men for the Boer War, what might not be accom- plished with a properly organised Militia Force ? The Imperial Yeomanry, also endowed with an appropriate Reserve, would be another, though smaller, reservoir. Far more important, however, than either of these reservoirs would be that which might be provided by the Volunteers were the Volunteers, we will not say sympathetically handled, but treated merely with bare justice and common- sense. Lord Roberts spoke of twenty thousand men having placed their services at the disposal of the nation during the war, but he has taken only the grudging and imperfect official figures. As a matter of fact, at least seventy-five thousand men offered to serve abroad of their own free will, and without any strong appeal being made to them to do so. In spite of the fact that no appeal was made beyond that for the men for the service companies, no less than seventy-five thousand, and more probably eighty thousand, Volunteers endeavoured to force their services on the Government. Of these, eighty per cent. were refused the privilege they claimed of fighting in South Africa. Remember, too, that these seventy-five thousand men were drawn from a force num- bering in all only some two hundred and four thousand. In other words, about thirty-five per cent. of the force volun- teered for active service, and this though the war cannot be said to have been one which roused the nation, as would a war for the defence of the Indian Empire from foreign invasion. We say without fear of contradiction that in the case of a life-and-death struggle for India, not thirty- five, but fifty per cent, of the Volunteers on the rolls might be counted upon to volunteer, provided that no attempt were made to force them to take up arms, and that the question of volunteering were left solely to their own patriotic feeling and to their own judgment as to whether their individual circumstances would warrant them leaving the country.

In view of these facts, we contend that the proper way to provide for that expansion of the British Army in face of a great national crisis which Lord Roberts desires is to increase, and not diminish, the Volunteer Force. If a serious appeal were made by the Govern- ment to the nation to fill the ranks of the Volunteers, and if 7olunteer Regulations were planned in a reason- able spirit, and not in one essentially hostile to the force, we believe that the Volunteers might easily be made to number, not two hundred thousand, but four hundred thousand men, and that in any moment of real national peril forty or fifty per cent. of them would freely, and without compulsion, come forward to fight for the Motherland oversea. We know that we have in the Volunteer Force as it exists to-day a force well disciplined and intelligent, and one which exactly suits the temper of the British people. Since the Boer War we know, too, that it can be relied upon not merely for home defence, but to offer at least thirty-five per cent. of its numbers for oversea service. Surely it is madness to think of destroying that force, or of altering its condi- tions of service. Would not the wise thing be to develop along the lines which have proved so useful,—to enlarge, that is, and encourage it, and not to spurn it as worthless or redundant, and try some new expedient? Before we cast away the Volunteers let us at least try what can be done by handling them sympathetically, and giving them every encouragement we can in the matter of an increase of numbers and the creation of a bond-fide Reserve.

But to feed the Volunteers and to make them effective as rapidly as possible we hold that we should endow every English lad with the elements of a military training,--i,e., with the knowledge of • drill and of the use of the rifle. Boys so endowed would come to the Volunteers with half their duties already learnt, and the whole of their time in the force could be devoted to the more interesting and more useful work of field training. The advantages which would accrue from every young man who joined the Volunteers being able to step at once into the ranks knowing the words of command, and to take his place at the butts without endangering his fellows by his ignorance of how to fire a rifle, cannot be exaggerated.

In opposition to Lord Roberts, we feel confident that universal physical training of a military character, in addition to a sound and appropriate Volunteer system such as we should have had to-day but for the prejudice and hostility of the War Office, would give us all that we require in the way of military expan- sion. Universal training is necessary. Universal service is not necessary. Train the boy to the use of arms as he is trained to the use of letters, and we are quite confident that the spirit of the race will do the rest. We have no dread that men will not come forward in sufficient numbers in a moment of crisis. What we dread, and dread greatly, is that the men who come forward will have nothing but willing hearts, and that their ignorance of drill and of the use of the rifle will make their offers of service of little value in an emergency. We also dread that owing to the want of prescience among our rulers there will be no extra rifles and no extra ammunition wherewith to equip an expanding Army, and finally, that there will be no officers trained and ready to handle our forces when expanded. This last considera- tion brings us to what we believe is the most important point in Lord Roberts's speech and the greatest peril in our path,—the dearth of officers, both in the Regular Army, and still more in the Auxiliary Forces. During the war, and when these technical considerations of military policy attracted much less attention than they do now, we ventured to point out that the scarcity of officers was the essential military question for our rulers to con- sider. As we stated then, and as we reiterate now, you can improvise men, but you cannot improvise officers. A very little organisation and goodwill will get you plenty of infantry soldiers, provided you have rifles to put into their hands and cartridges with which to fill their pouches ; but officers are technical experts, and can only be created after several years of patient training. What we have got to pro- vide is some system for creating a large supply of officers both for the Regular Army and for the Auxiliary Forces. In the case of the Regulars something may be done by an increase of pay, and by appealing, as now we fail to appeal, to men who want a serious profession in life, and not simply a gallant amusement. In the case of the Auxiliaries we may do a good deal by cutting down expenses, and. by increasing the consideration in which Auxiliary officers are held. Beyond this, however, we want to establish a system of education for officers which will early set them apart as experts. We would give scholarships at our public schools in military subjects, we would have military degrees at our Universities, and we would establish Training Colleges like the Kingston College in Canada, where the training should be military, though the young men who received it might afterwards be going out into the world in civil employment. The certificates granted at such Colleges, however, would entitle them to become Volunteer officers, and later to enter a corps of Reserve officers. We do not, of course, profess to be able to sketch in a minute a complete scheme for dealing with the problem. We are confident, however, that the thing can be done if only we face the difficulty in the proper spirit,—in the spirit, that is, of sensible business men who have to build a bridge or dig a tunnel or drain a morass.

Let us recapitulate what we have said so often in these columns. The Army that we need is first a Regular or pro- fessional Army capable of providing the Indian and over- sea garrisons, and of maintaining a striking force here of some thirty thousand men of all arms, with a Regular Reserve. We want also a well-organised Militia and Yeomanry with their Reserves. Next we require a Volun- teer Force as large as we can possibly make it in order to provide for home defence, and still more to supply a reser- voir from which to draw in great national emergencies. Lastly, we require a system of universal physical training of a military character in our schools. This is, we believe, the Army that we need. It can be obtained with- out any revolution in our present system, and without having recourse to that compulsory service to which Englishmen object, partly from dislike of compulsion, and still more because they instinctively perceive that it is not suited to an Empire like our own.