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The original Volunteers Act of 1863 remains, in its main features, unchanged, and forms the charter of the institution. By it the active services of the force are available only in case of actual or apprehended invasion. The Crown has no power to call out the force under any other circumstances; neither has the Crown power, even in the event of imminent national danger short of invasion, nor of grave emergency, to accept the offered services of the Volunteers even in the case of their asking to be allowed to serve.
Many people are of opinion that it should be made lawful for the Crown to have the power of accepting such proffered services for a limited period, not exceeding say six months. But to accomplish this the existing law would have to be altered, and there are many persons whose opinions carry weight, who would strenuously oppose
uch a change, on the ground that internal troubles might not impossibly be considered as constituting a national emergency under which Volunteers would be allowed to offer and to give their services —a change which would involve many difficulties and complications. The adoption of any such measure would, in my opinion, be fraught with danger, and I would therefore advocate continuing to restrict the services of the Volunteers within the lines of the regulations framed in 1863, which differ in some respects from the original Volunteer Act which was in force at the beginning of the present century.
It is true that the possible contingency must be taken into consideration of our being involved in a foreign war of such magnitude that every nerve and sinew would be strained to the utmost, and in such a condition of things it would be hardly possible not to seek in some way or other to utilise the services of the Volunteers in a manner suited to the exigency of the case. But such an exceptional emergency may safely be left to be dealt with by special Act of Parliament when the necessity arises; and on this the country may reasonably rely.
The existence of a force so vast and powerful, so thoroughly armed and disciplined, can only be looked upon with perfect complacency— can only be acquiesced in and sympathised with by all classes and parties at home, and regarded without jealousy abroad, so long as it is known that it can be brought into active use only against a foreign and an invading foe.
It was the dread of invasion, and of the fearful consequences it must entail, that called the Volunteer force into being twenty-two years ago. Invasion of our country is the one and only national danger that would silence all party differences, and unite the whole nation in an overwhelming sense of the necessity of action. It is also the one danger that would cause every one to disregard personal inconvenience and to overcome the difficulty of abandoning for a time their ordinary avocations. The remarkable absence of jealousy with which the Volunteer force is now regarded is due to its thoroughly non-political character, a character which it is of vital importance to retain.
At the same time, the question must inevitably arise—Is it expedient, or indeed possible, to restrict the availableness of so vast a body of armed men to a single possible emergency which may never arise ? Is it not a waste of power and a voluntary throwing away of a valuable addition to our limited resources ?
The problem of how the Volunteer force can be made of service to the regular army, without changing its peculiar character and object, is in my opinion capable of being in some degree solved by utilising the force as a feeder to our regular Army Reserve. That it is already such, though in an indirect manner, must be conceded, as is shown both by the military spirit which it engenders among the people, and by the number of trained men who pass annually through its ranks into civil life. Practically it has become impossible, in making calculations as to the strength of our national armaments, to pass over the Volunteers. The fact that we possess 200,000 armed and disciplined troops, the pick of the nation, cannot be overlooked, nor can we forget that this number represents but a portion of those who have passed through the ranks, and have retired into civil life, but whom a great national danger would doubtless bring back to their regiments in large numbers. In the regiment with which I am best acquainted 1,400 men have during the last seven years passed through the corps, showing an entrance into the service of 200 men a year, and an exit into civil life of trained soldiers to the same amount. This, on an existing regimental establishment of 1,000 men, gives an average service of five years to each Volunteer.
Military legislation during the last few years has tended in the direction of the recognition of the Volunteers as an acknowledged branch of the service, and of the bringing together into working combination the three forces—the Regulars, the Militia, and the Volunteers; a system which may be further extended by drawing the Volunteers into the territorial system, of which they obviously form an essential part. Military men are daily growing to look upon the Volunteers less as amateurs and more as real soldiers. But it must be clearly understood that the intention of the Volunteers is not to take the place of the regular army, nor to abandon the civil element of their own lives. This feeling is truly expressed in the saying of a noble lord, which was frequently quoted in the early days of the movement-viz., that the Volunteers would fail in their purpose if one soldier less was maintained in Her Majesty's army in consequence of their existence.
I have already pointed out the rocks which lie ahead, and drawn attention to soine of the dangers which those who guide the Volunteer force must guard against as time goes on. Change is a necessity of life, and where things stand still it is only for a moment before they begin to decay. There is a danger that the force may become inanimate and may dwindle away, as the apprehension of foreign invasion passes off.--Another danger, of an opposite character, is that whilst an
endeavour is being made to obtain more from the Volunteers, and to make the force more generally available, it may become changed in -constitution and impaired in character. I believe, however, that a considerable improvement and expansion may be effected, without Tisk to the well-being and essential character of the force, and com.bining at the same time great advantage to the regular army, by establishing a system by which the Army Reserve may be strengthened and recruited by men passing into it from the Volunteer ranks. Three years' drill with the colours is considered sufficient to qualify a man to take his place in the Army Reserve, and, under certain circumstances, the Secretary of State for War reserves to himself the -right of passing into the Reserve men who have only served three
years in the ranks. The establishment of an Army Reserve has inever been popular in the service, although its absolute need has been shown time after time in our recent history. That which disturbs and vexes the spirit of our officers is, that regiments are sometimes sacrificed to the Reserve, and that men qualified by careful -training to make creditable soldiers are drawn away into the Reserve, and pass into civil life, from which they may never return-at all events, into those regiments which made them and trained them into çsoldiers. Whilst the duty of supporting the Reserve is disliked by the army, I cannot doubt but that, if tried, it would be popular with the Volunteers, and would give them that connection with the regular service which has not been provided in the recent organisation scheme. The. Volunteers form no part of the territorial regiments recently established, although down to the present moment this force is the only one which can properly claim that designation. In counties and large cities in the provinces it is the Volunteer force par excellence, and beyond all others, which the people take a pride in, and will even make personal sacrifices to maintain and support. Leaving the Volunteers out of the territorial system is a blot and a weakness which it is to be hoped will ere long be corrected.
The Volunteers and their officers have access to recruiting fields unknown to the agents of the regular army. The Volunteers deal with a class of men of greater intelligence and of more self-restraint than our soldiers usually are. They are the superior class of men who the authors of the short-service system confidently maintained would join the army as soon as long service was abolished. They are the men whom those who wish well to the army still hope to attract into the ranks at all times, but especially in time of war. But unless trained to arms, these men, however intelligent, would be worthless as soldiers.
The question is, therefore, how best to connect the Volunteers with the army, so that those who desire to serve during a campaign may find a ready path into the ranks. A Volunteer Service Reserve would, in my opinion, secure a class of men superior to any who have hitherto been drawn into the regular service. Joining the Reserve would be, of course, perfectly optional with each individual man. The qualification should be high. The men should have served a certain number of years in the Volunteers; they should be recommended by their own officers and should satisfy the inspecting officer, and should come up to any standard which it may be thought right to impose. Their term of engagement should not be more onerous than that attached to the Army Reserve, which is, that they are liable to be called out only after a great national emergency has been declared, and to serve only for the campaign ; and their reserve pay should be the same as that of the Army Reserve-viz. 6d. a day, or 91. 28. a year. It is not very material whether, after joining the Reserve, they should remain in the Volunteer service or not; but my own leaning is in favour of retaining them, if they wish to remain, in the Volunteer force, where they would continue to do the regulation drills and attend the usual inspection, and would, moreover, greatly strengthen the regiments to which they belong. Their mode of serving, in the event of their being called out, would be matter of further consideration. They might be formed into separate companies attached to the territorial regiments, of which they ought to form part, or they might be formed into regiments and brigades by themselves. A portion of their own officers would probably serve with them.
During the late Government a provision was made by which a reserve of officers has been established. To this reserve officers of all branches of the service are under certain conditions admitted. Many officers of Militia and Volunteers have already inscribed their names on the list, and have thus made themselves liable to serve in case of national emergency. The power of rapid expansion in case of war is essential both in the ranks and in the higher grades. From among the large body of English gentlemen who have served in the regular army and the militia, an almost unlimited number could be found to take up the various duties of the commissioned ranks. But in the lower grades our resources do not appear to be equally large or equally capable of rapid expansion. The present First Class Army Reserve amounts to only 22,000 men, and though it is an annually increasing body, yet it would be highly desirable to reinforce it from other sources, such as I have above suggested.
The difficulty of providing in the future proper officers for the command of Volunteer regiments and companies has often been alluded to. But it must be remembered that annually a number of officers in the prime of life will be now retired from the army with pensions from the State, men who are in every respect highly suited for such commands.
The adjutants and the drill instructors of the Volunteer force are now drawn from line battalions. It is not impossible that at some future time the commanding officers of regiments may be similarly appointed. As the territorial system develops itself, field officers who retire from the service will frequently settle in the towns and counties with which they have been associated while serving in the army. Some addition to the retiring allowances of these officers, or some arrangement by which Volunteer service in command of a regiment may be allowed to count as employment, would bring a valuable class of men into the Volunteer force. An officer of experience and ability could make for himself an important position in many of our great provincial towns, and would find congenial employment in the command of its regiments of Volunteers.
I have endeavoured shortly to describe the characteristic elements of the Volunteer force as we find it in the twenty-second year of its existence, and to point out the probable lines of its future development. Not large increase of numbers, but increase of efficiency both in men and officers, and in all the various branches whicb give completeness to an army, should be the aim of those who direct its future career.
We may thus look forward to a time when we shali posress in our Volunteers a force which, though differing essentially in constitution and in purpose from the regular army, will rival it in perfect adaptation to the end in view, and will be a lasting guarantee for the safety of our native shores.