Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

In the times referred to the Regular Army stood alone as the available armed strength of the country—it was besides the sole exponent of military power.

The Militia had been allowed to die out so far as practical purposes were concerned. The old pensioners had not yet been enrolled as a first attempt at Reserve. A quarter of a century was to elapse before the Volunteers should spring into existence. The country was not only officially disarmed by the constant reduction of the forces proceeding after the Battle of Waterloo, but it was absolutely disarmed in the largest sense of the word, and the population was wholly untrained to the use of arms. It was said, and with truth, that in these years, with the exception of the squires, the gamekeepers, the poachers and the broken-down discharged soldiers, Englishmen knew not how to load a musket. And, as we have seen, just as men were wanting in the regimental cadres, so the Artillery, as we understand it in the present day, did not exist.

After the accession of her most gracious Majesty, the establishments from one cause or another began slowly to increase. India, China, the Cape, in succession made demands on the Horse Guards for reinforcements, and the condition of Ireland during the career of Daniel O'Connell and the Repeal agitation caused the axiom to be laid down which has been generally since acted on, that the number of troops in that country should not be less than 20,000 men.

The return from which a quotation has already been made shows the numerical increase of the Home Forces. In 1847 the numbers had reached 64,018, a figure made up as follows:

Cavalry Artillery Engineers Infantry

7,811 5,294 759 50,154 64,018 This year has been particularly quoted because it is the year in which the Duke of Wellington wrote his celebrated letter to Sir John Burgoyne. That letter awoke the country fairly to the strange condition of insecurity in which it had been so long content to remain, and was the parent of those ebullitions of public feeling, miscalled panics, but really proclamations of well-founded alarm, on account of the reckless manner in which the duty of the national insurance of England was neglected by her rulers. It may still be studied with advantage by those entrusted with the responsibility of the safeguard of Great Britain. The Duke wrote, “ We are, in fact, assail• able, and at least liable to insult, and to have contributions • levied upon us in all parts of our coast; that is, the coast of these, including the Channel Islands, which to this time, from

Total

the period of the Norman Conquest, have never been success• fully invaded. I have in vain endeavoured to awaken the

attention of different administrations to this state of things, « as well known to our neighbours (rivals in power, at least, • former adversaries and enemies) as it is to ourselves. As a result of this appeal, an augmentation of the Companies of Artillery took place, and from that time forward began the policy of keeping a larger regular force in these islands than had been considered necessary since the termination of the war in 1815.

The organisation of the Field Artillery may be said to date from 1852, when Lord Hardinge took it in hand as MasterGeneral of the Ordnance, and raised the number of field guns, properly manned, horsed and equipped, to 120. But for this precaution the British army would have been literally without field artillery when war was declared against Russia.

In 1847 the Duke of Wellington asked for the reorganisation of the Militia at about the same strength as that permitted when the country had been last in a state of war. In 1852 he had the satisfaction of helping to carry the Bill giving effect to his proposals—the last act in the long career passed in the defence of England. The accession of Lord Hardinge to the chief command on the death of the great Duke, although as yet the coming conflict with Russia was but casting its shadow before, was signalised by new activity at the Horse Guards. The commencement was made of assembling the troops in large camps for divisional and army exercises after the fashion prevailing in Germany. The system of promotion of field and general officers was revised and reformed. Attention was drawn to the new improvements in fire-arms. Schools of instruction were organised for their proper use, it having come to be recognised that with regard to the improvement of the modern arm as compared with the old musket, the value of each individual soldier rises in proportion to his skilled application of his rifle, whereas in former times, with the very imperfect arms conceded to the men, the general could rely on the weight of fire only, individual dexterity being of little account.

With the Crimean War was renewed our old experience of the extraordinary difficulty of sufficiently filling vacancies in the ranks caused by the casualties of service, of finding the necessary reserves, and therefore of enabling England, when she commits herself to a struggle in the field, to give it the form demanded alike by the position of one of the great European Powers, and by that reputation which is a chief ingredient of the security of nations and the preservation of peace. The war in the Crimea read us a painful lesson.

The Ministry which drifted into war was wholly inexperi: enced regarding the conduct of one. The little army, less than thirty thousand men, which could be scraped together, was sent on a perilous undertaking. It seemed to have escaped the attention of the authorities who, in 1854, despatched Lord Raglan's force to Turkey, Bulgaria, and finally to the Crimea, that war cannot be carried on without much of sickness and death from various causes ; in short, that in an active campaign, however ably and successfully conducted, an army quickly wastes away. No serious measures were entertained at home to supply the want thus caused, to find the fighting army with reserves till almost half of it had disappeared.

Then Parliament was assembled in hot haste at the close of 1854. The nation was fairly aroused. That awakening, although twenty-one years have elapsed, has not been forgotten; but unhappily it may still be said that the means are wanting as yet, that the measures remain insufficient by which we may be guarded in future from results similar to those of 1854, if this country should, amidst at present unforeseen circumstances, find itself compelled to take part in a European struggle or to defend her interests against a first-rate Power beyond her own shores.

But for the protection of those shores against such insult as that contemplated by the Duke of Wellington, it must be admitted another story may be told. In addition to the development and instruction of the Militia, the latter being now very fairly attended to, we have to boast of the Volunteer association or army, which has stood the test of a formation of upwards of fifteen years' standing. Considering the foundation of intelligence and patriotic feeling on which the force rests, the self-sacrifice so readily incurred by its many constituents, it cannot be doubted that this Volunteer Army is an element of enormous importance in the system of national defence, as would be found if at any time its mettle should be put on trial. It does, in fact, double the strength which would be at the disposal of the central authority in the form of Militia, as asked for by the Duke in his letter to Sir J. Burgoyne. The Volunteer force does not, of course, escape the fate of all British institutions. In its very early days senseless panegyrics were heaped upon it. In later and quite recent times the popular wind has changed, and the detraction of the force, commencing we fear in the regular ranks, has been as unjust as the early eulogy was undeserved. The comparisons to the disadvantage of the Volunteers with the hasty levies of Paris at the commencement of the siege are simply foolish and untruthful. We have in the Volunteers an organised force of upwards of 150,000 men, who have acquired the habit of assembling by military order, the art of moving and living together according to a rule of discipline, and are fairly practised in the use of arms which, as we all know, require a certain scientific training; this remark applying to the rifled musket as well as to the rifled cannon. The English generals must be indeed unworthy of their position and reputation if in the time of trial they cannot so apply such a force as to produce results obtained from constituents of a precisely similar character after the second year of the American war. For be it remembered the men who fought the first battles in that conflict were without the training and half-formed military habits which have been imparted to the Volunteers. The Volunteer movement has besides had the effect of accustoming the population to arms, the numbers of men who have passed through the ranks being now very considerable, and probably to be reckoned at from 300,000 to 400,000 men. A large proportion of these would be available in time of need for home defence, and would spring to arms if required by a real national necessity.

By way of recapitulation and to keep the facts before the reader in the clearest manner, extracts are given from the estimates of the years 1875–76 :

At home-all arms . . . . . . 96,279
On passage from India

1,365
On passage from Mediterranean

1,775 to Bermuda .

813 In the Colonies and Mediterranean Garrisons . 23,003 East Indies, including drafts on passage out . 63,197

186,432 Establishment for 1874-75. . . . 185,838 Militia-Permanent Staff . .

5,066 ,, Training Services . . . . . 133,952

139,018 Yeomanry Cavalry Establishment . . . 15,380 Deduct absentees . . . . . . 2,630

13,750 Volunteers

161,150 For the rear 1874-75 the number of Volunteers

stood at . . . . . . . . 153,266

The number of horses maintained by the State at home on a peace establishment for Cavalry, Artillery, Army Service and Engineers stands at 14,808. The number of field guns horsed and equipped is 372, the establishment of an army in the field of 150,000 men,

The forts for the protection of the coast, designed at the instance of the late Lord Palmerston, are now near completion, and have already received much of their armament. Arrangements are in progress, though as yet they are very imperfect, for the methodical location of the different descriptions of force, so that in case of need their assembly and their mobilisation may proceed with some of the regularity and ease we admire in Germany. The so-called Intelligence Department, a new one in the office of the Quartermaster-General at the War Office, is occupied with the great questions affecting the distribution of the troops and materiel, the study of positions; in short, all the conditions of national defence according to the means afforded by military and civil resources. The education of the officers of the army has received the proper impetus with regard to the tactical changes suggested by improved armament and the contemplation of what was recently effected on the Continent,—and secondly to the application of science in the exercise of their profession. The results as shown in the regiments are satisfactory. It may be said, then, with regard to the number of troops, &c., which have been cited, to the facts of their training, whether we consider the Regular Army, the Militia or the Volunteers, and to the general arrangements for national defence, the organisation of the land forces has now been put in a condition to afford a real and effective support to the Navy for the safeguard of these islands; in short, that our shores are now sufficiently guaranteed against the chance of such aggression and insult as were contemplated in the Duke's letter. The precautions he demanded in vain in 1847 have become thoroughly effective and have an enduring form. Indeed, the proportions they have assumed are much in excess of what he ventured to ask for, and are ample for the domestic purposes of Great Britain and Ireland.

The garrison proper of these islands, the guarantee from aggression or insult of the coasts, having been thus fairly assured, the points have been forced into prominence the consideration of which is more especially the object of this paper. We may be permitted to restate them for the sake of exactness. The first of these points is that for the more assured defence of our homes, for the maintenance of our place in Europe, for the assertion of treaties for which we are

VOL. CXLIJI, NO. CCXCI.

« AnteriorContinuar »