Topic: Canadian Militia
It is stated, for example, that at Niagara last year eighty per cent. of the men had never before handled a rifle.
The Militia Camps (1889)
The Toronto Daily Mail, 27 May 1889
In a few weeks the town and rural militia corps ordered to perform drill will be under arms. Though the city regiments would have liked to have participated in the exercises at the coming camps the militia authorities have not seen their way clear to admit them. It is understood that the expense involved stands in the way, and that the regular training the men receive throughout the year at headquarters is regarded as ample to ensure their efficiency.
Altogether 19,225 officers and men will receive training at the camps. This number is 1,464 less than last year. In every province a decrease in the strength for drill has been effected. There is, for example, a decrease of 521 in Ontario, of 265 in Quebec, and of 372 in Manitoba. It is noted as a curious circumstance that while in each province there is a reduction in the number ordered for drill, there is in one district in Quebec an actual increase of 120 men. This district is No. 7 — that in which the Minister of Militia himself is most interested, his associations all being there.
These camps cost us annually just upon $300,000. Last year the figure was $281,000. That they do good it would be impossible to deny. They afford the men at least an insight into the business of soldiering, and teach them that, regardless of social distinctions, they must obey their officers. In this country, where in civil life the men are sometimes the superiors of the officers, the strict idea of military duty is somewhat difficult to enforce. It must, however, be impressed upon all concerned, or in the time of service the militia will be unmanageable. In the matter of actual military work the camps have a good purpose, but it is feared they do not invariably fill it. They give the men a brief drill and they afford them the opportunity of firing twenty rounds at a target. The drill is frequently of no permanent value, owing to the circumstance that many rank and file arrive at the camp completely innocent of military orders. This results in part from the failure to drill men at headquarters during the interval between the former and the present camp, and in part from the practice of filling up the regiments at the last moment with recruits who have not received, as the candidates for camp life should receive, elementary instruction in their duties.
In the use of the rifle the firing of twenty rounds at a camp is no guarantee of proficiency, and very little assistance in that direction. Some of the musketry instructors speak in their annual reports very dolefully of their pupils. It is stated, for example, that at Niagara last year eighty per cent. of the men had never before handled a rifle. To march these men to the targets and to suppose, after allowing them to fire five rounds at 100, 200, 300 and 400 yards, that they really know anything about the use of the weapons, is to practice the grossest self-deception. The instruction is altogether insufficient. It is gratifying to observe that the department had made an endeavour to improve matters by ordering that this year men shall not be advanced from one target to another until they should have made at least four points at the shorter distance. This will do good, in that it will cause the men to demonstrate that they can hit a barn at a hundred yards before they are allowed to try the same experiment at two hundred yards; but it will not afford all the instruction necessary. At best, twenty rounds shot by a man in two years—for two years elapse before the militiaman returns to camp, if he has not tired of glory in the meantime—is but poor practice. It should be supplemented by training at the local headquarters in the interval.
While a small reform is to be effected in the musketry business, no change, though it has been earnestly petitioned for, is to be made with respect to the equipment of the men. On of the hardships of camp life is the sleeping accommodation. Allowed but one blanket, the volunteer is compelled to wrap this as a martial cloak around him, and to seek repose on the bosom of mother-earth with his clothes on. This might be a very necessary experience during actual service, but it is not essential at the camps. As the country has bales of blankets in store, the men have urged the allotment to them of two blankets instead of one. The Government, however, holds that they are warm and dry enough with one blanket, so no inroads are to be made upon the stores. The path of glory must therefore be pursued in the face of hardships, some of which are altogether uncalled for.