Topic: Canadian Militia
The Militia Under Fire
The Toronto Daily Mail, 2 February 1893
As a rule the British general who settles in Ottawa as the commander of the Canadian forces opens his regime with a flattering description of his army and closes it with a deadly fire all round. It has sometimes been said that the changed attitude towards the country's defenders has resulted from a very slight circumstance. Sir Selby Smyth, for example, is reported to have lost confidence in the military because he was saluted by a subordinate with an everyday "how do?" instead of the regulation movement; and General Luard, after a quarrel about a towel, is alleged to have suffered his respect for the soldier-citizenry to diminish.
But possibly these trivial yet suggestive affairs were not the actual causes of the official outbursts. The various general may have found after a brief experience that there was a weakness in the organization and equipment of the militia that Ministerial responsibility was not sufficiently prompt to repair.
General Herbert is pursuing altogether different tactics to those adopted by his predecessors. He is commencing with an assault, in the hope, no doubt, that he will be able to terminate his command with a well-earned eulogy. The General's first report upon the militia was a severe criticism of the entire establishment. He pointed out, first, that the permanent corps were composed too largely of recruits and that the instruction these men received was too frequently wasted, seeing that they retired to make room for raw men after a very brief experience in the regular corps.
Then he turned his attention to the militia. He mentioned that the rural battalions suffered by comparison with the city corps, that their instruction was not efficient, and that the money voted for drill instruction went for other military purposes that ought to be separately provided for. The equipment moreover was inferior and the physique of the men, in some cases, "wretched."
This year's report is not less sweeping than that of last year; but it deals chiefly with the materials upon which the men have to work. Everything in use is obsolete and bad. The stores are filled with old and worn out material. The clothing is issued under an imperfect system; the leather of which the boots are made is of the consistency of paper. The rifles are useless; the ammunition manufactured at the Quebec cartridge factory is antiquated. The soldiery will not stand a twelve days' drill. The rifle ranges are, with one honorable exception, too small for practice with a modern rifle. The great guns are ancient, and the gun carriages cannot bear the strain of heavy firing. Altogether the War Department is in a very bad state, and it is a serious question with the General whether in a case of emergency we could defend ourselves.
There can be little doubt that the comments which dotted General Herbert's report of last year on the subject of the condition of various battalions were the result of the remarkably high standard he has set for the militia. He is accustomed to the discipline and the physique of the regular army, and he expects to find our battalions made up of middle-aged men exhibiting, as a result of their ten days' drill, all the military knowledge of the veteran who is answering to the word of command day in and day out for years. That the regulars should be made the standard by which to gauge a militia is unfair. But it is the more so when we come to reflect that in arduous service the volunteers who have not made so impressive a display on parade have shown themselves to be, upon the testimony of so good a judge as Lord Wolseley, excellent soldiers.
But there is a great deal to be said on General Herbert's side in relation to the equipment. Out militia is working with much of the cast-off material that was sent here after the Crimean war. That these old munitions ought to have been replaced goes without saying. But the fact is the General's predecessors have pressed upon us permanent establishments, as, for example, the Military College, which, however good in themselves, help to eat up the vote which otherwise might have been applied to the militia proper. Out of the $1,270,264 spent last year upon defence no less than $513,000 went to the permanent corps and the college. When it is remembered that of the balance only $325,000 was devoted to the drilling of the militia, and that nothing was spent upon war material, there is little room for surprise that the main body of the force is not up to the high standard of the regulars of that the equipment is getting out of date.
If the General can pursue the equipment question with the success which attended the efforts of the former Generals to supply us with a regular military establishment, he will not find it necessary at the end of his Canadian career to offer rasping criticisms touching the appearance of the rank and file at inspections.