Notes On The Canadian Militia (1886)

By a Foreign Correspondent of Council
Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, Vol. VII., No. XXVIII, December, 1886.

Kingston, Canada, Sept. 16, 1886.

For the last two months the militia of Canada has been ardently engaged in competition for money prizes, for skill in rifle-shooting. Every province has its rifle association. Every association has its annual meeting. As a grand climax to the whole comes the meeting of the Dominion Rifle Association at Ottawa, with its score of matches for cups and prizes. As many as 850 odd prizes, of an aggregate value of over $6,000, have this year been competed for. A number of the best marksmen produced at this meeting are selected for the team which pays a visit each year to Wimbledon, England. The last Wimbledon team has just returned from the old country, having scored as many successes as usual.

Looking at the number of competitors at these gatherings, the time consumed in the competitions, the large amount of money expended, and bearing in mind the fact that individual accurate shooting is of comparatively little value in war, it is hard to suppress the thought that so much energy might be far more beneficially employed if extended in the direction of rendering the officers and men of the militia better soldiers as a body.

The artillery spend their energies in much the same manner as the infantry. Prizes are offered by the Dominion and other artillery associations for target practice and competitions in "shifting ordnance." The latter operation consists in dismounting a gun from its carriage and replacing it in a certain limited time, and may be looked upon as a relic of ancient days. A team of gunners is likewise sent home each year to compete at Shoeburyness, England, with their British fellows. Beyond the fact that both the members of the Wimbledon and Shoeburyness teams get a cheap trip to the old country at the expense of their respective associations, it is difficult to see what benefit is derived from the custom in a military point of view. As a matter of policy, and as in some way tending to strengthen the maternal ties, it may be advisable and expedient.

Certain battalions, batteries. and troops of cavalry have been assembled in camps during the summer for the annual training of twelve days. These camps have been. in some cases, inspected by the general commanding the militia. The reports have not yet been issued.

A force of three battalions and two companies of infantry, two batteries of artillery, and a regiment of cavalry has been assembled here in camp since the 7th inst. The weather has been unusually unfavorable, and the tents have had a soaking nearly every night. Out of the twelve days allowed for training one must be deducted for marching in, one for marching out, and one Sunday, leaving nine days for actual work. Of these nine days one is occupied in marching round the town, and another in a popular performance known as a "sham fight," whilst a third is devoted to inspection. The number of days available for useful work may therefore be put down at six, and a part of these six days is allowed for firing at the butts. The amount of drill that each man gets is very limited in consequence. It may be remarked that, out of the 1,100 odd men assembled here, about two thirds are recruits, and perhaps have never previously handled a rifle. Again, take into consideration the fact that a large part of the training consists in mounting guard, and an idea of the efficiency of the force may be imagined. It can hardly be contended that the instruction of a man for five or six days fits him for the exigencies of war, and it is not to be wondered at that the major-general spoke strongly in the report last year of the advisability of a longer annual training, even if it should necessitate the reduction of several rural battalions on the score of public expense. A walk round the camp and a few words of instruction to the men will reveal at once how anxious these latter are to learn, and how readily they accept hints with regard to their military duties. A talk with the officers reveals the weak point exactly where there should be a strong one. The company officers, upon whom almost every thing depends, in modern warfare, if weighed in the balance, would almost invariably be found wanting. The "sham fight" of to-day, introducing the spectacle of infantry advancing to the attack of a fort, utterly regardless of cover; and pushing forward over a bare fire-swept glacis up to the very edge of the ditch; standing there for some minutes blazing away without a sign of fire discipline or control, whilst a battery accompanied the firing line, and in the space of eight hundred yards came into action and limbered up five times in full view of the enemy; such a sight would provoke laughter were it not for the more serious thoughts suggested of the disastrous results which might follow such teaching.

It is pleasant to turn from this to a camp held in New Brunswick, where some really good work was done by a company of engineers, one of the three companies of which the country may be proud. But again competition comes into view, this time for a "challenge shield," awarded for the best piece of work done in the year. The inspector of engineers was present to make the award. The piece of work for this year's competition is a bridge. Major Vince, commanding the Brighton Engineers at the camp in question, sends me the following details of his work:

"The bed of the stream was 107 feet wide from bank to bank. At this time of year the water is shallow, and only a part of the bed covered with it.

"On the day previous to the construction a section of the stream had been taken, and the lumber necessary for the construction cut by the men and hauled on wagons to one bank near the place of construction.

"The party consisted of six non-commissioned officers and twenty-six sappers. The bridge consisted of eight trestles, with span of about twelve feet. These eight trestles were built by four parties, each party consisting of one sergeant and four sappers, a memorandum being given to each sergeant as to the dimensions of his trestles. One party of one N.-C. O. and four suppers prepared road bearers, and another party of one N.-C. O. and four sappers prepared the covering, which consisted of tamarac poles of from two-inch to four-inch diameter. The remaining two sappers prepared treenails.

"We were somewhat short of saws and angers, so that there was only one set (such as it was) to two parties.

"The first trestle was a four-legged one, made with only one transom (8" diameter). The other trestles were single. The transoms were laid on top of the standards, and were beaten off a little with an axe so as to bear easily.

"The transoms were pinned to the standards, as also were the legers and diagonals, and the diagonals were pinned together where they crossed, so that each single trestle had nine pins or treenails:

"2 x 2—inch pins through transom.
2 x 1 ¼-inch pins through leger.
4 x 1 ¼-inch pins through diagonals.
1 x 1-inch pins through diagonals.

"After the trestles were got in position the outside road bearers were pinned to the transoms, and the inner ones were carefully prepared and layed so that they did not in any way cause the floor to be uneven. The covering, which was sawn in ten-feet lengths, was laid on and fastened down by ribands which were held in their places by wooden pins. The hand-rail was made and fastened by the use of saw, axe, and auger only."

The time allowed for construction is six hours. This bridge was fit for the passage of troops within four and a half hours, and was complete in every particular, including notice board. This original piece of work seems to deserve high praise. The New Brunswicker is an adept with the axe; it is to him what the "khookrie" is to the Goorkha, and the "dah" to the Burman.

Two events which concern the empire in general, and Canada in particular, deserve notice.

Col. O'Brien, of the Royal Engineers, is paying a visit to British Columbia, to report upon the fortifying of a harbor and coaling station on the Pacific coast. The selection of a strategic point on this coast has long been matter of talk; it is brought more nearly home to us by the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Canadian government has voted £20,000 for fortification of Esquimault, and the Imperial government £30,000 for guns and torpedoes.

A commission has been sent from England to buy horses for British regiments, and to report upon the quantity and quality of such as are available for export. The matter is one of importance to the British government, great difficulty being experienced in finding suitable horses at reasonable prices at home. The commission has, I believe, met with fair success, but no report is yet issued. It is stated that in many parts of the country the American dealers have formed a "ring!" A northwest ranche-owner stated lately in London, England, that he could land suitable horses in England at£15 a head without loss. The price paid by government is now £40.

E. N.