The Minute Book
Friday, 20 May 2016

Canada's Permanent Corps (1896)
Topic: Canadian Militia

Canada's Permanent Corps (1896)

A Safe Target for Distorted and Misleading Criticism
The Cost of the Force and Its Good Work for the Dominion

Canada cannot afford a large standing army, nor from her isolation from the great military nations of the world does she require one.

The Quebec Saturday Budget, 14 November 1896

The officers and men of the permanent corps are so restricted by regulations as to be practically prohibited writing to the press: they form, therefore, a safe target for the criticisms of the amateur "who knows it all." Honest criticisms the corps should not object to; they are the servants of the public and the public has a right to have, as the Hom. Minister of Militia expressed it, "a hundred cents worth for every dollar expended." But as a rule the written attacks upon them either lack the 'essential element" or are so distorted as to be quite as annoying.

As an example, somewhere about a year ago the Military Gazette, published in Montreal, presented in an attack upon the permanent corps, an array of figures, evidently with the intention of persuading its readers that these corps absorb the greater portion of the militia funds, and it was boldly asserted that they were not worth their cost. Figures it is said, will not lie, but they may be presented as to lead to very erroneous conclusions.

In the article referred to it is made to appear that the permanent corps cost the country the previous year in round numbers $476,000, while the remainder of the militia cost only $211,000; as the whole militia vote for that year was $1,360,000, it might have spoiled the writer's argument, but it would have been more satisfactory to some at least of his readers, if he had told what became of the remaining $672,000.

The writer truthfully observes that "even this statement does not give the whole case." A careful examination of the Auditor-General's report and the official papers leads me to believe that the cost was much nearer $383,000 for the permanent corps and $477,000 for the "other militia," the balance being expended on fortifications, etc. For these sums we had on the one hand about one thousand officers and men well drilled, equipped and clothed ready to take the field at a moment's notice for the stern duties of war, who performed 329,960 days duty; on the other hand, 17,686 officers and men, many of the officers without sufficient military knowledge to make good non-commissioned officers, the majority of the men in the rural districts raw recruits, with scarce any equipment, who performed 212,232 days of elementary drill.

We have been told that the permanent corps have been a failure as schools of instruction. If it is meant that they have failed to grant certificates to men who did not deserve them, it is probably true. Experience has taught us that a small available force is a necessity in aid of the civil power, and all arguments to the contrary, notwithstanding, will be a necessity until the arrival of the millenium. The presence of a permanent corps in Quebec in times past has saved the authorities thousands of dollars, and even Montreal has not objected to them on several occasions. During the North-West unpleasantness the permanent corps were first in the field and last to leave, were always kept to the front, sustained the heaviest losses, did the hardest work, and got the least kudos. In other words, they have done their duty and their reward has been the approval of a good conscience and slanderous attacks which they are practically forbidden to reply to. That they are not perfect in every respect as their critics are, I will admit; there is room for reform and economy in the administration as there is in every department and profession, but in suggesting the better way do not drive truth from the field in order to score a point. Personally I object to the title of permanent corps, they should have retained their original titles as schools of instruction.

Canada cannot afford a large standing army, nor from her isolation from the great military nations of the world does she require one, but she does require "that degree of protection for self-defence that would compel other nations to hesitate before making war upon her" and this degree of preparation can be best secured by maintaining in the highest degree of efficiency schools of instruction for the militia, from which politics are entirely eliminated.

We read periodically, laudatory reports of the ability, knowledge and zeal of some 25,000 men, of the large quantities of military material and of the 600,000 men we have in reserve; but have these 25,000 men, beyond elementary drill, any real and valuable military knowledge? In no other calling in life would a similar amount of knowledge be considered worth a thought. Fancy even a college graduate, reading for the first time, theology, medicine or law for twelve days in a year, and their claiming to be an expert.

Of what use are 100,000 knapsacks if the material of which they are composed is rotten from age of insufficient care? Of what use are fuzes that will not act? Of ammunition of various makes and ages and unknown power or of obsolete patterns? What particular value are crumbling walls in the heart of a city armed with smooth bore guns on rotten carriages? Are 600,000 men invincible, without military training, modern arms and equipment, and without trained officers and non-commissioned officers to promptly organize, instruct and care for them and direct them in the field? It seems to me there is a very large field here for those military critics who are affected with cacoethes scribendi.


The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT

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