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At the very exercises, moreover, the same cheese-paring spirit went far to nullify the benefit and instruction they might have afforded. I have frequently seen on the Berkshire Downs the whole object of some movement nullified by the inability of troops to cross a field of stunted and withered turnips, the whole value of which did not amount to ten pounds, while the possible damage caused might have been compensated by a few shillings. As, however, there was no Manoeuvre Act, the troops were only there by the goodwill and sufferance of the inhabitants, and there was no money available to pay even a few shillings of damage.
It is, however, only fair to say that the present Secretary of State for War and the present Commander-in-Chief have worked very hard and done their very best to introduce a new state of things, and to give our troops those manœuvres and exercises which can alone render them efficient in war. The Government came into office in July 1895, and immediately they set about acquiring an exercising-ground on Salisbury Plain, and in the session of 1896 they introduced a Manœuvre Bill. This bill met the most violent opposition from extreme Radicals, some of whom are noted as anti-vaccinationists and land-law reformers, and the bill had to be dropped; hence there were no manoeuvres either in 1896 or 1897 except on the usual stunted and starved scale. Again, in 1897, the Manœuvre Bill was reintroduced, and was threatened with
the same opposition. The session wore on, and it seemed very probable that again the bill would have to be dropped, although both Lord Lansdowne and Mr Brodrick, then Under-Secretary of State for War, were most eager to pass it, and thoroughly realised its vital importance. Accordingly, a meeting of service members was summoned, and a deputation was sent to Mr Balfour to impress on him the importance of passing this bill before the end of the session. He received the deputation with his invariable courtesy and consideration, and listened patiently to all they had to say; but he left the impression on them that neither he nor the Council of National Defence, which, not inaptly I think, was compared recently by Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice to the Aulic Council of Vienna, in any way realised the absolute necessity of manœuvres for the practical training of troops,in fact, that many of the other insignificant bills then down on the programme were considered of far greater importance than the Manoeuvre Act. Nor, indeed, is this attitude surprising, since it exactly reflected the feeling and the attitude of the House of Commons at that time and of the nation at large. They are paying dearly now for this indifference and niggardly spirit, since I maintain that almost every one of our reverses in South Africa may be distinctly traced to the want of continual and efficient manœuvre training.
However, in 1897, before the end of the session, the Manœuvre Bill was with some diffi
culty passed-it is true in an emasculated and amended condition, which did much to impair its usefulness—and the manœuvres of 1898 and 1899 were the result. In the former year there was, indeed, a huge concentration of troops, but I fear the instruction given was in no respect proportionate to the money spent. What is required to ensure efficiency is careful and systematic training of comparatively small bodies of men, where all are encouraged to use their brains, where self-reliance is taught, and where able officers are tried and recognised, while those who are hopelessly useless and incompetent have an opportunity of exhibiting their inefficiency, and hence of being weeded out. It is, however, now to be hoped that, after the terrible lesson we have had in South Africa, the people of this country and their representatives in Parliament will at last have awakened to the fact that to send troops into the field without previous careful and regular training under service conditions is to send them to inevitable defeat and disaster. In fact, that they will not again allow "a good ship to go to the bottom for the want of a hap'orth of tar."
In order to illustrate the importance of such training, perhaps I may be permitted to relate an anecdote. I do so with the less hesitation, as it is a story against myself.
For about seven months in the year 1881 I was quartered at Ladysmith as second-in-command of the 14th Hussars. We were awaiting the ratification
of what is known as the Majuba Convention. The regiment had come from India, and was nearly 500 strong and in a high state of efficiency; the average length of service among the men was eight years, and the officers were all experienced, and had been highly trained and exercised in India by their very able colonel, the late General Arbuthnot. Time hung rather heavy on our hands, and there was no portion of the adjoining country, now become historic, for many miles round, which we did not explore, while either shooting or manoeuvring. It chanced one day that I was given command of the regiment, and my mission was to follow and attack a squadron, which was detached to hold a certain line of country about fifteen miles distant.
I took every precaution, I sent out scouts and officers' patrols, I had an advanced guard and flankers, when suddenly, on crossing a drift of the Klip river with the main body of the regiment, I found myself surrounded and a heavy fire poured on me by a hidden enemy from neighbouring kopjes. Had it been real war I should have had no alternative but to surrender after heavy loss,-in fact it was an incident, from all accounts, similar to what occurred at Koorn Spruit. I found that all my patrols, scouts, and advanced-guard had been taken prisoners without firing a shot, they having omitted to proceed in such formations as would make certain that at least one man should escape to give the alarm. I, on the other hand, had fallen
into the fatal error in war of concluding that no news news was good news, and before committing my main body had not waited till one of my scouts returned or signalled to me that the coast was clear. I mention this incident to show how easy it is in such a country as Natal, even with highly trained troops, for such an accident to occur, and how necessary it is, in order to avoid such misfortunes in war, to have the most careful practice in peace under service conditions. I think I may safely say that there was one present on that occasion, officer or man, who ever forgot the lesson; and had it been our good fortune to cross our swords with the Boers nineteen years ago, not one of us would ever again have fallen into such a trap. Alas! nineteen years make a good deal of difference. Many of the officers who were then in the regiment are now dead; the remainder, like myself, are retired, with one exception, that of Colonel Hamilton, who commands the regiment, now in South Africa. In his case I feel sure that the lesson taught at this drift of the Klip river in 1881 has not been forgotten.
In conclusion, I think it only right to call attention to the enormous advance made by the British army in recent years as regards practical training and efficiency, and how much it owes in this respect to Lord Wolseley, the present Commander-in-Chief.
When I first entered the army, now more than thirtyseven years ago, and for many years afterwards, the officer
who was a keen soldier, who really studied his profession, was a very rare exception. Now the rare exception is the other way. Formerly the only test of efficiency exacted at an inspection of a cavalry regiment was that they should be clean, should ride fairly, should have fat horses, should march past smoothly, and should be able to execute a few obsolete and complicated movements without many mistakes. regards outpost duty or the requirements of actual warfare, these were not even mentioned. In point of fact, there was no official text-book of outpost duty in existence. I remember spending a winter at Hanover in 1871 for the purpose of studying German. When there I saw a good deal of the 13th Uhlan Regiment, then fresh from the experiences of the 1870 campaign. I had an opportunity of studying the laborious
and painstaking manner in which outpost duty and reconnoitring were taught in the German army, and on my return to England I translated their text - book, by a General Von Mirus, which was immediately adopted by several general officers for the divisions. under their command, as in those days there was no English text-book, as I have already mentioned, nor did the British army receive any regular or systematic training in this most fundamental portion of their military duty. It is very different now. For years past there have been admirable guides to scouting incorporated in both the cavalry and infantry drillbooks, and inspections are now
directed to ascertain the real efficiency of regiments and the knowledge of their officers under service conditions, and are not solely confined to buttons and blacking, the fit of their uniform, or the smoothness with which they can salute and march past.
Ever since Lord Wolseley reached a position of influence at the War Office, he has laboured incessantly to make the British army not merely smart and soldierlike in appearance, but fit for actual service in the field. He first introduced those company and squadron spring trainings, previously unknown, which at least ensured that every officer and man in each regiment should, so far as possible, practise annually the main essentials of military instruction.
Then again, as regards the selection of officers for command, in some instance, no doubt, mistakes may be made and injustices may be done. This is, unfortunately, inevitable; but every effort is now conscientiously made to prevent those who are notoriously incompetent being intrusted with the lives of others. When dealing with this point, it may not be out of place to refer to a celebrated speech made by Mr
Sidney Herbert in 1856 on the instruction of the officers of the army.
In it he quoted the following remarkable passage dictated by Napoleon to Montholon at St Helena, in allusion to some observations he had made to his brother, Louis, at Toulon :
Louis entered on the life of a man at Brought to France when fourteen, the siege of Toulon, hearing me say to him in the midst of the corpses of 200 grenadiers, slain through the ignorance of their commander at the assault of an impregnable side of Fort Pharon, 'If I had commanded here, all these brave men would be still alive. Learn, Louis, from this example how absolutely necessary instruction is to those who aspire to command others.""
In the same way I trust that the British nation and the British Parliament will learn from this example of the South African war that their officers need facilities to acquire instruction not hitherto granted them; that in future, opposition to Manoeuvre Acts, calculated to render them ineffective, will not be tolerated; and that the few thousand pounds necessary to carry them out will not be grudged. In this way, and in this way alone, can we avoid the recurrence of surprises and consequent disasters.
FRANK S. RUSSELL,
Note. Since the above was written there have been reported at least three other instances of surprises that might have been avoided namely, that which occurred to Colonel Plumer's column, resulting in its repulse; that of the camp at Sunday's river in Natal, whereby some valuable lives were lost; and lastly, the ambush of a squadron of Colonel Bethune's Horse, involving about sixty-six casualties. There are rumours of other and minor surprises which have occurred, but the details have not been substantiated.
SAID he not well, the bard, who wrote with proud
And have we not responded to the call?
1 "King John," Act V. scene vii.