Military history pages.

Building an Army


By Frederic W. Walker

As the present year will largely determine the success or the failure of the new Territorial Force, this dramatic account of the creation of that new National Guard must prove very wide interest. It is written by Mr F. W. Walker, the war correspondent who did such admirable work in the South African War, and who has for some years been one of the attractive writers on military subjects in the "The Standard." In places this article is as fascinating as a novel. It also contains some exceedingly amusing anecdotes.

There is something about the voluntary military spirit of Britain that is irresistibly attractive to the foreign mind. With our own people unaccustomed to conscription, or possession of dangerous home frontiers, the self-sacrifice of men who join the irregular element of the land forces is seldom acknowledged at its true value. Yet the German Emperor is reported to have said that the volunteer spirit of Britain is an asset of unique character, and, whilst most foreign Governments look with respect upon the voluntary system, they themselves, having no complete sea barriers, are compelled to maintain enormous armies seemingly out of proportion to the national life and population.

Herein lies the peculiar fascination which our voluntary troops possess, and, although no one has solved the great problem of adequately training them, the latest development of Home Defence, the Territorial Force, offers the framework for a National Guard without disturbing the labour market. And as the year 1909 will, to an extent, determine the measure of success or failure of the Territorial Force, some account of the experiment and the work of the training season now commenced should prove of more than ordinary interest.

The present Territorial Force is the modern development of that call to arms which in 1860 resulted in the establishment of the Volunteers. This venture forty-nine years ago attracted far more serious attention on the Continent than in these islands. Frenchmen and Germans, Austrians and Danes, knowing something of the bitterness of war as it affects the home viewed the rise of a British Volunteer Force as a serious experiment which might serve an island power very well. In Britain, however, we had the other side of the picture. Ignorant of horrors of war round the homestead, owing to the centuries of unbroken peace with regard to invasion the mass thought on military affairs, and the nation scarcely possessed a military policy. The Volunteers were almost strangled at first by ridicule. "Fireside soldiers - dare not go to war!" This was the gibe of the street urchin thrown at the rifleman as he walked to his armoury, although he was the embodiment of an ideal. This juvenile comment reflected the adult view, for the masses' unthinking idea was that war happened abroad, and, therefore, in the words of the gamin, "fireside soldiers" were of no use since we did not have fireside wars. Long periods of peace had helped towards this apathy of the nation, but the minority - a splendid one - hung on the Volunteer idea, and it triumphed.

When the first Volunteer made his appearance in 1852 a curious state of military management was fast coming to an end under which the Colonial Office transacted war matters and the Home Office dealt with the Militia and Yeomanry. When the Volunteers became strong no one knew quite what to do with them. They were tolerated officially, and a clerk, Mr. Marshall, seems to have had more to do with them than anyone else until an inspector was appointed. What followed between 1860 and 1878 is laughable when one looks back upon it. The Volunteers were dealt with by the Militia Branch, then by one officer, then by the military commanders, then the Commander-in-Chief had a cut in, followed by the Adjutant-General supervising, after which came a newly awakened interest on the part of the Secretary of State.

In 1880 the Commander-in-Chief again had the force under his wing, but before long distributed the duties, whilst in 1894 the Inspector-General of Regular Recruiting took on the work of the force! A year later there was more shuttlecock work between the Commander-in-Chief and the Adjutant-General as regards responsibility, but in 1900 Lord Landsdowne cut the knot by appointing an Inspector-General of Auxiliary Forces. Four years later the Adjutant-General lost the control of the Volunteers, recovered it, and then came another distribution of the work. The new post of Inspector-General was abolished for the third time, and a Director of Auxiliary Forces was made instead. From all this it will be realised that everything was tried except the essential common-sense act of establishing a Volunteer Department and of giving the force due organisation.

The soldiers who have from the first had charge of the Volunteer Force laboured under many changing difficulties. They include some well-known names. Col. Percy Douglas handled the first 10,000 men raised, and then came Lord Paulet, Col. Ersking, Major-Gen. Hon. J. Lindsay, Sir Garnet Wolseley, Major-Gen. Stevenson, Lieut.-Gen. Armstrong, Major-Gen. Elkington, Major-Gen. Hon. J. Dormer, Major-Gen. Lyon Freemantle, Sir R. Gipps, Sir Francis Grenfell, Sir T. Kelly-Kenny, Major-Gen. Borrett, Sir Alfred Turner, and Sir William Mackinnon.

For forty-eight years - that is to say, from 1860 until last year - no official attempt was made to give effective organisation to the Volunteer Force, and it existed as an immobile mass of riflemen and garrison gunners who could not have taken the field for lack of stores, and not an army at all. Foreign officers ridiculed us for want of enterprise. The professional soldier did not assist the Volunteer movement. As an amateur body it was "kept under" and starved lest it prove a serious menace to the Regular Army and postpone indefinitely the day of universal service.

Up to the present year the force had not been tried and trained under serious conditions, but we are in the middle of an experiment which will make or mar the system, and the result of which will change the whole policy of defence preparation. The Volunteers and Yeomanry have been abolished as such and formed into a Home Defence Army with a complete organisation of 14 Divisions and 14 Mounted Brigades, and the composition of each runs on Regular lines. A reversion to the old County or Territorial system has been made for the purpose of raising recruits, maintaining units, and administering them. Each county has its Association under the Lord-Lieutenant, and comprising military and civilian members. The training is in the hands of the Regular generals commanding various divisions. The force consists of the following numbers:-

56 Yeomanry Regiment26,000

41 Field Artillery Brigades25,000

14 Howitzer Brigades5,500

14 Horse Artillery Brigades3,100

14 Heavy Batteries3,100

1 Mountain Brigade800

95 Garrison Artillery Companies7,500


193 Infantry Battalions193,000

10 Cyclist Battalions800

Army Service Corps9,100

Royal Army Medical Corps18,000

Army Vet. Service, Ordnance,

Postal, Headquarters, etcvarious

Grand Total --, Officers11,895

Other ranks302,199

Chapter II