Topic: Canadian Militia
The Active Militia (1895)
There has been a distinct advantage since the days of rotten clothing and the useless eight-day drill for a small proportion of the force.
The Daily Mail and Empire, Toronto, Ont., 14 May 1895
The decision of the Government to provide for the militia drill will be warmly received by those who take an interest in the welfare of the force. When, in 1876 and succeeding years, the country was suffering from the great depression, the then Administration, under Sir Richard Cartwright's guidance, economized by cutting down the militia estimates. The result was a reduction of the drill pay, already small enough, and the abandonment in certain cases of the regular course of instruction. Sir Selby Smyth, reporting upon the economy, said:—
"In view of the reduced estimate, it would seem that we can only train one-half our force for the limited space of eight days, which amounts to the acquirement of little of no military instruction, no discipline, no habits of order, or soldier-like attainments. The system pursued appears to me to be demoralizing, because we retain nominally a large body of men who, if not brought together long enough for some amount of instruction, are little better than recruits; and if we continue to maintain the present numerical force and only train them, such as it is, for eight days, we teach them next to nothing, and at the same time incur the expense of clothing and equipping the whole force of active militia authorized by law."
There was reason in the Major-General's criticism, for the reduction was one of those experiments in economy which are more costly than a fair expenditure. It is gratifying that the Government of to-day is not going to retrench on the lines which Sir Selby, and, indeed, the entire militia service, so strongly condemned. In addition to the curtailment of the drill and the pay, the War Minister of that day pursued a policy entirely his own in respect of equipment and instruction. Sir Selby-Smyth makes this startling announcement in his report for 1877:—
"We are drifting into grave difficulties because the appropriation for clothing in last year's estimates was not sufficient to supply outfits for more than five thousand men. The clothing now used is intended to serve three years. But being of serge and of bad quality, it will not even do that; but, supposing it did, as it should, if of a proper quality of cloth, then if 43,000 men are nominally retained on the strength it would be necessary to provide 13,000 suits a year, at least. If the whole force was required to turn out it could not fall into ranks unless 14,000 suits per annum, about three times the quantity we were able to purchase this year, were procured and issued."
In other words, the Government was really clothing fifteen thousand men, and these with a bad quality of clothes, while the balance of eighteen thousand were unprovided for. The instruction was in harmony with the clothing as regards quality. Sir Selby said it was faulty. "Some officers," he added, "are incapable of properly imparting drill, which cannot be acquired by inspiration, but by application and practice."
This has reference to then infantry. As regards the artillery, there was a like comment: "Officers are retained who can barely drill a gun detachment." the equipment was also bad. Thus, the reports from the military districts related that the guns and rifles were in sad need of repairs, and that the accoutrements were like the clothing, poor and practically rotten.
Curiously enough, while this was the state of the militia the Government could find the money with which to establish the Royal Military College. In recent years efforts have been made to restore the prestige and high standing of the force. At the outset the twelve days' drill was restored. Every facility was thus given to secure a training which, from the point of view of military efficiency, shall be of service to the militia and to the country. The clothing has also been brought to a better standard. In the matter of construction and control there has been a defined improvement. The old system, as Sir Selby Smyth pointed out, contemplated the appointment to positions of responsibility of men whose knowledge of the business of war could have been acquired in no other way than by inspiration. Today the large proportion of the officers are qualified, having received their training at the schools of instruction. The Order-in-Council of January, 1893, requires that no further provisional appointments should be made except to the rank of second lieutenant, and no officer can pass to a higher rank without showing that he is possessed of the knowledge and capacity for instructing those whom he is commissioned to command.
In respect of the equipment there has also been a decided movement looking to better conditions. The Government was quite right in proceeding about this branch of its policy of reform slowly and with deliberation. Its first measure was a practical investigation into the merits of the various small arms in use. For the purposes of the enquiry the Martini-Metford was purchased in moderate numbers and distributed for trial. The reports upon this rifle, it is understood, are conflicting. There are advantages in construction and cost, and a disadvantage in respect of weight, all of which shows that at a period when changes are so rapidly made, it was well that the country should not be hastily committed to any particular arm.
In the improvement of the conditions of the force there have been drawbacks, which necessarily and properly have evoked criticism. That which comes from the political partisan does not call for examination. But there are criticisms from sound military men which, in that they are offered for the sole purpose of advancing the interests of the militia, for the good of the service and the country, ought to, and no doubt will, receive the earnest attention of the Government of the day. There is a great deal, for example, in the demand for the very best arm that can be secured. Why cannot the Minister of Militia invest in Lee-Metfords? Why should he not also expend with liberality upon the equipment of the cavalry and artillery? There can be no doubt that he will be met by objections from the Opposition to any new militia outlay, the theory of expensive economy still permeating that quarter. But Government is not devised to please an Opposition. It is its duty to place all the services of the country on a good and substantial footing, consistent with the ability of the people to pay. There is also reason in the proposition that the militia expenditure should not run too severely in the direction of a perm,anent establishment. The military schools do good service in the training of officers for militia commands; but there is a limit beyond which this special expenditure should not go, because it cannot pass this point save at the expense of the active service. There have been great improvements in the past. There has been a distinct advantage since the days of rotten clothing and the useless eight-day drill for a small proportion of the force. But, seeing that everything cannot be done in a day, there are points yet to be perfected, and to these it is to be hoped the Militia Department will apply itself in the interests of a body of loyal men, who give their services to the country at considerable sacrifice, and with no hope of any return personal to themselves.