The Minute Book
Friday, 16 September 2016

Col Hughes' Vagaries
Topic: Sam Hughes

Col Hughes' Vagaries

From archived Governor General's office documents held by Library and Archives Canada comes this critique of Sam Hughes from Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada, to Sir Robert Borden, the Prime Minister.

3rd December, 1913.

Private & Personal

My dear Mr. Borden,

With reference to our conversation yesterday, I think it desirable to write to you in order to emphasize the various points then raised.

The regrettable incidents which have occurred in connection with Colonel Hughes, may not be of very great moment if taken singly, but their cumulative effect is likely to be of very real importance from a political point of view. Out of a number of incidents I may mention:—

(1).     The Vancouver speech, which caused a sensation throughout Canada and which has been used with effect at elections, more especially at South Bruce.

(2).     The trip to Europe with 20 officers and 19 ladies, which has given rise to a crop of newspaper articles similar to the enclosed.

(3).     The Halifax speech at which, at a public dinner, he referred to the officers of the Permanent Force as "bar-room loafers" — with other similar expressions.

It would be easy to enlarge this list indefinitely.

There is no doubt that these continual incidents and the vanities and eccentricities of the Minister of Militia are doing the Government a very great deal of harm. It is openly stated by Conservatives and true friends of the Government that Colonel Hughes is weakening it to no inconsiderable extent, and surprise is expressed that apparently no steps are being taken to deal with the question. From the military point of view the fact that the Militia Department is now little else than an autocracy, and that the Minister will listen to no advice from either Canadian or Imperial officers is making their position absolutely impossible.

The Imperial officers are a valuable tie between Canada and the Mother Country, quite apart from their military duties. Hitherto these have been the pick of the British Army. Their numbers are now being gradually reduced, the remainder are much discouraged by their treatment. In consequence it will be difficult to induce Imperial officers to come to Canada in future, and those that do come will not be of the same high quality. This fact will not tend to the efficiency of the Militia.

I hardly need say that it is profoundly distasteful to me to write to you in this strain about one of your Ministers, On the other hand, as Governor-General, I feel that I should be wanting in my duty if I did not draw your attention to a question which is being generally discussed in the country at the present time.

Believe me, yours truly,

(Signed) ARTHUR

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Colonel Hughes— Notes

Colonel Hughes' assumption of the role of Commander-in-Chief is contrary to law, as laid down in the Militia Act, and also to established military custom, both at home and abroad.

(a)     General

1.     Colonel Hughes' vagaries have now reached such a pitch that they constitute a weakness for the Government. Firstly, his vanities and eccentricities, such as his ordering artillery salutes for himself, etc., etc., are becoming bywords, and bring ridicule upon him and consequently upon the Government. Secondly, the various wide-spread pieces of gossip concerning Colonel Hughes — typewriter gossip, drill halls built for no military reason, etc. — may culminate in a real scandal at any moment, which could prove most embarrassing to the Government. His recent tour through Europe with 20 officers and 20 ladies has produced a crops of articles similar to the enclosed.

2.     A valuable tie between the Mother Country and the Dominion is that hitherto formed by the Imperial officers in Canada. Hitherto they have been taken from the cream of Staff College officers, and have done invaluable work, not only in a military, but also in an Imperial sense.

Under Colonel Hughes' regime, not only are their numbers being reduced, but the high standard of efficiency which now distinguishes them, is bound to be lowered.

The last 4 vacancies have not been filled, and the officers who still remain in Canada are so discouraged and disgusted by the methods of the Minister of Militia, that they will take the first opportunity to return home. Even if the vacancies thus created are filled from England, the newcomers are certain to be officers of less valuable type.

3.     The reports of the General Staff officers who have returned to England are bound to find their way to the War Office. When then Chief of the Imperial General Staff learns how his best officers are being treated, the natural consequence will be, either that all Imperial officers will be withdrawn, or that only second or third class officers will in future be sent to Canada. In either case considerable friction will be engendered, and friction which is quite unnecessary.

4.     Colonel Hughes' treatment of the officers of the Permanent Force has caused grave discontent. Militia officers who have had little practical experience, and who have not even passed the necessary examinations, are brought into high positions in the Permanent Force, over the heads of the Permanent Force officers. Colonel Morrison, a professional journalist, is given the highly important position of Director of Artillery, for which a very technical training is essential. At a dinner in Halifax, Colonel Hughes, in a public speech which was reported in the Press, alluded to officers of the Permanent Force as "bar-room loafers," with other expressions of the same sort. The supposed breach of discipline which caused this outbreak was, as a matter of fact, the act of a Militia officer. The consequences of this is that the permanent officers consider that their position is impossible, subject, as they are, to the whims and vagaries of a Minister, who allows himself such license, and shows no little discretion in a public speech.

(b)     Military

1.     Colonel Hughes' assumption of the role of Commander-in-Chief is contrary to law, as laid down in the Militia Act, and also to established military custom, both at home and abroad.

2.     This centralization of all power in one man must inevitably lead to the destruction of the Militia. This may only take one year, it may take 5, but every day that the regime goes on is one additional step towards the disappearance of the Militia.

3.     Colonel Hughes' so-called democratic methods of dealing direct with junior officers, N.C.Os., and even private soldiers, has undermined discipline throughout the Forces. Nowhere is discipline so necessary as in a Militia, and in no country is discipline more necessary than in Canada.

4.     I am led to believe that the Militia Council rarely meets, and has practically ceased to exist as an entity. The Minister has replaced its authority by an autocracy. Even on so technical a matter as the details of military training, he claims a decisive voice.

This action shows that he will not admit that the duties of Minister, as laid down by law, and as established by universal custom, are those of an Administrator. The fact that the Minister bears the rank of Colonel does not affect this principle. The present War Minister in England is a Yeomanry Colonel, but he would no more attempt to lay down the principles of cavalry training than would have his predecessor, Lord Haldane.

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Other Minute Book posts on Sir Sam Hughes:

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 16 September 2016 12:02 AM EDT

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