Topic: Canadian Militia
Our Militia System (1892)
Some Comments on the General's Criticism
Increased Interest in Drill is Looked For—The Government gets a Severe rap for Allowing such Wtretched Arms and Equipment to be Used—An Expression on County Corps
The Montreal Herald, 11 April 1892
The publication of Major General Herbert's report in The Herald on Saturday caused a genuine sensation in military circles in this city, and many were the compliments paid to the herald for its enterprise in first laying this important criticism upon Canada's militia system before the public. Of course it formed almost the sole subject of conversation among our local soldiery and many and varied were the comments upon its details.
"Major General Herbert," said an officer of the highest rank, "is a born organizer. He has made the militia system of Canada the subject of most exhaustive study, and he understands it as no other General has ever done. Besides this, he has the full courage of his convictions, and is not afraid to award blame where it is deserved. It is this fact that has so astonished volunteer officers. In the past they have been so accustomed to receiving what is vulgarly termed "taffy," that the plan statements of General Herbert came upon them like a shock. Will it do our local corps good? Of course it will. The fact that the general is prepared to single out corps for praise or blame will undoubtedly arouse a spirit of emulation that must have the most beneficial results. I look for increased interest in drill, and expect a marked improvement in the coming inspections."
"As to whether any improvement in the working of the Militia Act will result from the report it is difficult to say. Political exigencies will have to be considered. Every one recognizes the fact that unless country corps are fully drilled every year it is no use drilling them at all. To allot money for the drilling of corps for twelve days every second or third year is simply throwing it away, from a military point of view, and yet, what is to be done? No doubt 10,000 men in good city corps would be more valuable to the country than our present horde of half-drilled bumpkins; but what country member would not rebel against the withdrawal of the amount of the pay from his district? No; from a political standpoint any improvement is impossible, but at the same time, the fact that the General has boldly pointed out the defects of the Act, may possibly klead to the elimination of some of its most glaring absurdities."
"Am I satisfied with the General's report?" said an officer of the Sixth Fusiliers. "Why, of course I am." He distinctly says that the Sixth are the best corps in drill and appearance of any corps in Montreal and coming from so stern and practical a soldier as General Herbert that is praise enough. I attribute his appreciation of our drill to the fact that in Lieut.-Col. Massey we have one of the fastest drills in the country. Look at him on parade, and see how he keeps the men constantly in motion! There are never any waits with him. Naturally the men become bright and alert in every movement and this was precisely the trait which so delighted General Herbert."
"The general hit upon our weak spot," said an officer of the Scots who was approached by The Herald man. "We were a trifle slow at inspection. This was due to the fact that there are in the ranks on inspection day many men who never attend any other drill. They just turn up for inspections and that is all. Naturally they are rusty, and the necessity of waiting for them, and nursing the companies in which they are, makes the more complicated movements slow. I am glad he praised the Cadets though. They thoroughly deserve it, and are a credit to the regiment."
"I think General Herbert was a little hard upon us," said an officer of the Vic's, "probably the men were a little cramped; but you remember what a fine body of men we paraded. Why in a few days our fellows would have been able to go anywhere and do anything! And yet, because we did not do as well at inspection as we did st many previous drills, the general dismisses us with the remark that our drill was indifferent! I don't think that was the verdict of the military critics at the time, if I remember right."
"The General could not go too far in his condemnation of our arms and equipment," said another officer. "Look at our rifles. The Snider at best is an obsolete weapon; but ours are not even good Sniders. In nine out of every ten the foresights are so worn down that they are practically worthless for accurate shooting, and the grooves so damaged by constant usage that a man desirous to shoot must either purchase his own Snider, as most of our good shots do, or search over a whole arm-rack before he can find a decent shooting weapon. And then look at our accoutrements! Cartouche boxes of the date of the Crimean war! Broad old-fashioned cross-belts, and antiquated ball-bags like our grandfathers carried in the Peninsula! Look at our knapsacks, with their straps still marked with the numbers of the English regiments who cast them aside fifteen years ago. We have neither valises nor water bottles and if we want a forage cap of fatigue jacket we must buy it ourselves. Do you call that equipment for a modern regiment? How do you suppose we could take the field against a well equipped opponent? The General cannot lay too much stress upon these points although few officers expect that his strictures will have any effect upon the officials at Ottawa. Not a single General has ever come here but has made the same complaints, and yet not the least step has ever been taken towards remedying the deficiencies, nor is there likely to be until the Militia Department is thoroughly overhauled and a man who has the interest of the militia at heart is placed at the head of it."