The Minute Book
Friday, 25 April 2014

Lessons Learned in South Africa
Topic: Canadian Militia

Lessons Learned in South Africa

"Ottawa Letter," by J.D. McKenna

Militia Matters Freely Discussed in the Commons
Radical Changes that the Lessons Learned in South Africa Have Forced to the Front

St John Daily Sun; 25 April, 1901

"Canada has taken her place among the nations of the world, and she must be prepared to assume at least part of the responsibilities of a nation. In every civilized country the prowess of the Canadian soldier is recognized. He is a man, the conditions of whose life enables him to successfully compete with the best soldier of the world."

Ottawa, April 22.---Militia matters were discussed in the House of Commons on Friday before and after going into supply. The speeches of Col. Thompson of Haldimand and Monk; Hon. Col. Prior of Victoria; Mr. Fowler of Kings, N.B., and Mr. Kaulbach of Lunenburg, N.S., show that an entirely new feeling has been produced by the South African was in regard to our volunteer force. The day had gone by when members of the Canadian militia will be referred to as feather-bed soldiers. Fighting side by side with crack British regiments, they were not only able to hold their own, but often went one better and taught the regular "Tommy" that "Johnnie Canuck" was equal to any emergency in the firing line. Col. Hutton stated that it would be useless to send Canadian militia battalions to the front, unless they were associated with regular line regiments. How his judgment erred in the particular was demonstrated repeatedly and during the course of the campaign and with Canadians recommended for the Victoria Cross, and other distinguished honours, the rewards of the bravest of the brave, it is no wonder that we feel proud of the men who so nobly upheld the honour of their flag and their country. During the course of the debate, Major Gen. O'Grady Haly occupied a seat in the speaker's gallery, and he heartily applauded the sentiments expressed in regard to the courage of our men.

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Having found in the Canadian soldier traits which have been attributed only to British troops of the regular force, it is not to be wondered that parliament feels something must be done to make available the splendid force which can be mustered in this country. Therefore, they are inclined to look upon the militia force from a common sense standpoint and to be governed by the lessons gathered from recent movements in South Africa. It was urged that there was altogether too much lace and feathers about the style of dress now provided for in militia regulations. Dress does not make a soldier, and it often prevents capable men from offering their services as officers. The Boer was found to be a man who could shoot straight, and to whom dress was a matter of little concern. Officers could not be distinguished from men, and the result was that the English troops had to fall in line and a superior officer had to place himself on a level with the private in so far as dress was concerned. The Australians already have a uniform for their volunteers which necessitates a very small outlay for an officer to place himself in a position to qualify for a commission. It was pointed out that in military schools, even for a six months' course, it is almost necessary that a man should be provided with regular mess and dress uniforms, involving an expenditure of hundreds of dollars, which many young men who would doubtless make excellent officers, are not prepared to make. The opinion expressed by members of parliament, representing all parts of Canada, was favorable to a scheme which would abolish the system of dress now in vogue and make it as domestic as possible. Although the rules of the military schools do not require a man to provide himself with mess and dress uniforms, hardly any man could be induced to enter the military course, where nearly everybody was fully supplied with all necessary clothing, without feeling that he was more or less humiliated without them. And so it has been suggested that the militia should be made a poor man's organization, as well as a rich man's paradise, and that every encouragement should be given to those in the humbler stations of life who desire to seek commissions.

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Shooting is looked upon as the most essential feature of a soldier's drill in these modern days. It was urged upon the minister of militia that too much attention could not be given to this department of militia drill. In Switzerland every soldier is a crack shot, and the result is that that little republic could defend herself against almost any of the great powers of Europe. The authorities there recognize the fact that to shoot straight means that a small army only is necessary to protect the country. And so it is proposed to make Canada a land of sharpshooters. Then, in the event of an invasion from the United States or other countries, our forces would be able not only to make a good showing against any foreign army, but could more than hold their own against very superior forces. Col. Thompson desires to see the company and battalion drill largely replaced by rifle practice during the time men are in camp. Under existing circumstances forty rounds of ammunition are served out, and the men are allowed to blaze away at the targets until the supply is exhausted. This is neither conducive to good shooting nor profitable to the country which supplies the cartridges. What is needed is more ammunition and more time to fire it in, and then a marked improvement in shooting may be expected in the militia ranks.

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A suggestion has also been made that more money should be voted for the construction of rifle ranges in country sections. In the cities large armouries are erected, while the rural districts get little or nothing in the way of public works to encourage militia bodies. With fewer armouries in the towns and more rifle ranges in the country, a number of members of parliament think that the question of marksmanship will be solved. An opportunity will also be afforded for the formation of rifle clubs, and in this way the defensive forces of the country will be greatly strengthened. When it is remembered that only 36,000 militia are organized throughout Canada, the demand for recruits in time of danger will be fully appreciated. Thousands of business men who have never carried a rifle would have to bear arms, and it is proposed that the militia forces should be extended so as to take in all classes. The rifle clubs will have the effect of meeting this demand to a certain extent, but the only practical way to utilize the material at hand is to provide facilities for general rifle practice.

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Considerable attention was devoted to the condition of the rural corps. Col. Thompson claims that men enlisting for three years should be paid in proportion to the time actually served in camp. His proposition is that the first year a soldier goes to camp he shall receive fifty cents a day, in the second camp he shall receive 65 cents a day, and for the third and subsequent camps he shall received 75 cents a day. He contends that if this graded system were authorized, complaints of the lack of interest in non-attendance on the part of the men after the first year would entirely disappear. Rural camps should also be supplied with many comforts which are now lacking. For instance, it was suggested that a mess tent should be provided, so that the men might have a place to partake of their meals in comfort. Although a soldier on active service has frequently to sleep in the open and submit to many inconveniences, that is no reason why he should do it in times of peace. If more attention be paid to little comforts of this kind, many men who now stay at home after their first experience in camp, would gladly return and participate in the drill year after year.

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In connection with the absence from the camp of men who have served their first year, it was shown that as a rule rural camps are largely made up of recruits of tender years. It has been demonstrated on the battlefield and in the marches of South Africa, that well matured and developed soldiers are best suited for campaigning purposes. In order to get these men to participate in the annual drills ir is almost necessary that provision should be made to increase their pay. They often have families to support, and are therefore unable to neglect their work for the miserable pittance now allowed by the militia department.

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Another scheme which promises to increase the efficiency of the Canadian militia forces, is that suggested by the minister of militia in reference to mounted infantry. These forces will be raised largely in the rural districts. It is proposed to have at least one company of mounted infantry attached to each line regiment. When in camp, the different companies can be brigaded for special drill and in this was an efficient force will be assured. In the west it is proposed to make provision for two composite regiments of mounted infantry and they will be drilled on lines which were found serviceable in the South African war.

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Exception was taken to the present system of storing rifles in central armouries. The twentieth century rifle is a weapon that is liable to become obsolete at any time. It may be fitted for use in an army today, and tomorrow be good for little more than scrap iron. Under these circumstances it is urged that the troops in the country districts should be allowed to use their rifles on every possible occasion, so that they might become familiar with their use. By storing them in central armouries, the militia department renders the practical use of rifle impossible.

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It would seem, therefore, as if the day for a complete reform of the Canadian militia forces has arrived. Canada has taken her place among the nations of the world, and she must be prepared to assume at least part of the responsibilities of a nation. In every civilized country the prowess of the Canadian soldier is recognized. He is a man, the conditions of whose life enables him to successfully compete with the best soldier of the world. Brought up in a vast open country, he has inherent qualifications which peculiarly fit him for a place in the ranks of the great British Empire. Canad is fast learning to appreciate her responsibilities. With so many reforms suggested and concurred in by the minister of militia, we may not be considered optimistic, if we look upon the Canada of the future as a country whose troops will command the respect and fear of every civilized power in the world.

Canadian Army Battle Honours

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT

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