By Captain and Brevet-Major C. E. D. BUDWORTH, Adjutant of the H.A.C.
Having been asked to write a few lines of criticism on the H.A.C. in war, I venture to do so in the hope that they may prove of some assistance to ns in living np to our motto of ‘Arma Pacis Fulcra.’
I ask those to whom these criticisms may appear harsh, to remember that the writer is proud to have shared in his comrades’ trials and difficulties in South Africa, and would not, if he could, dissociate himself from their errors or failings. It should be the chief source of their pride to have overcome those trials and difficulties, in their humble efforts quietly and steadfastly to do their duty as soldiers, and uphold the honour of their Country and Regiment. The picture of war as a series of cavalry charges and infantry attacks is a false one, and the South African War, even in its early stages, was no exception to the rule. Food, sleep, weather, and petty details play a much more prominent part than fighting.
Not that the H.A.C. was not called upon to bear its part in the more brilliant episodes. What more noble, if melancholy, story than is told by our death-roll? Moeller, Lieutenant in our Battalion, mortally wounded whilst covering the retreat of a shattered British force; Ward, driver in ‘A’ Battery, and Lieutenant in the Yeomanry, preferring death to surrender; Watney, Trumpeter in ‘A’ Battery, and Lieutenant in the Yeomanry, killed whilst facing certain death in the endeavour to retrieve the fortunes of his side; Bobbins, Private in the Battalion, and Lieutenant of Yeomanry, and Tremearne, driver in ‘B’ Battery, and just appointed to a Commission in the Militia, returning to South Africa a second time, only to meet their deaths; Hutchings, Private in the Battalion, dying almost within sight of home.
Nor is the story confined to individuals. The steady discipline of the Battery at Barkin Kop, when death, and indeed annihilation, were very nigh, will in days to come be a proud remembrance ; and the glorious souvenir of their conduct at Bethlehem—the flag presented to them by the General commanding the troops engaged—such a souvenir as is possessed by no other Auxiliary Force in the country—will always be a cherished and inspiring possession.
2. —On the Employment of the H.A.C. in future Wars
For purposes of Home Defence, for which, of course, the H.A.C. exists, we should take the field as a regiment; hut if ever we are called upon again to furnish men for foreign service, it is to be sincerely hoped that we shall do so as an independent unit, or, failing this, that our members will be attached to a regiment of the Regular Forces. Composite volunteer regiments, in my opinion, have no advantages to recommend them. Fortunately, in the case of the Battery, a large majority of the men were drawn from one corps, our own. Otherwise the difficulties of taking the field would have been more than doubled.
Even were the efficiency conditions much more severe than they are at present, to say nothing of those prior to the war, members of our Regiment, like those of any other Auxiliary corps, must expect to go through the * whooping-cough and measles,’ on first taking the field. As an independent unit, esprit de corps would soon free them from such ailments. Attached to Regular troops they would find them of slight consequence, thanks to serving with men who have learnt their work. Moreover, the presence of a body of well- educated men in the ranks would be a source of increased strength to a regiment of His Majesty’s Regular Forces.
3. —On Mobilisation
Mobilisation presupposes its personnel, horses, weapons, ammunition, clothing, stores, transport are held in readiness, or that arrangements have been made' previously for obtaining the same promptly when required. This is easier in the case of Infantry than of Artillery. Our Battalion requires but the addition of a few transport waggons and stores to take the field. But to put a Battery on a war footing is a very different matter. Going down to camp with a few guns and waggons gives but a faint idea of what is wanted.
It is hoped that the mobilisation arrangements for the H.A.C. will soon be completed, but these arrangements, in the case of the Auxiliary Forces in general, are not such a simple affair as they might at first sight appear, nor indeed purely a military question. To place all our Auxiliary Forces on a thoroughly sound mobilisation footing would entail the expenditure of an enormous sum of money, and whether the country is prepared to sanction this 1 am not in a position to say. The commencement of the war found the H.A.C. mobilisation arrangements in a very rudimentary stage, if indeed they can be said to have existed at all. In spite of this the Battery mobilised in the space of about four weeks, thanks, largely, to the energies of Lord Denbigh and his staff, and to the patriotism of many members of the Regiment, who were unable to go to the front.
Mobilisation also presupposes that all ranks have received a training fitting them for service in the field, and to the consideration of this I will now proceed.
4. —Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers
The lessons of the South African War point unmistakably to the conclusion that the training which the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Auxiliary Forces receive, for service in the field, is lamentably deficient.
The keenest admirers (amongst whom I count myself) of the Auxiliary Forces are obliged to admit that here is the weak spot. I consider it certain that those forces, as a result of this weakness, would receive a rude awakening if called upon to face highly trained European troops. Bravery alone would not suffice; ignorant bravery is dangerous. And, in making these remarks, let it be clearly understood that I firmly believe our own officers to be at least the equal of any other body of Auxiliary officers.
Nor must it be supposed for a moment that I am making a general attack upon Auxiliary officers as compared with others; on the contrary, the majority of those whom I have met are as capable and as keen as, if not more so than, others. But it is not a question of capabilities or keenness; it is a question of military training dependent on time, business, money, and opportunities.
No individual regimental arrangements will alter it. It is a question for the country, and the country only. Training must mean time, and time must mean, to Auxiliary officers, compensation. No small pettifogging change will have the slightest effect. In the meantime the only thing we can do is to make the best of difficult conditions and endeavour to attach officers, as far as possible, to the Regular Forces. What chiefly astonishes me is how excellent they are, considering what few military opportunities and advantages they obtain. These remarks apply in but little less degree to our senior non-commissioned officers, whose standard of training should be at least equal to that formerly required from the officer. The work demanded from such men as Artillery Nos. 1 on service requires a very high military training, while colour-sergeants become of an importance undreamt of at headquarters.
The importance of the same high standard for the more junior non-commissioned officers is even greater in the infantry than it is in the artillery. Those of the former class, from the first day they take the field, are much more likely to find themselves thrown upon their own resources in positions of what may be vital importance.
The value of the fact that our non-commissioned officers are educated men, and that implicit reliance can be placed on them, cannot be over-estimated. Ap to the officers and non-commissioned officers whom we sent out in the early stages of the war, I can personally vouch for their exceptionally high capabilities. They would compare favourably, I believe, with men of any other corps possessing a relative training. Moreover, the fact that of the large number of our members who obtained commissions in the field or on the recommendations of the officer commanding the H.A.C., none but favourable reports were received, speaks for itself.
5. —On the Rank and File
Happy is the commander who possesses in his command the material of which our rank and file are composed. There may be other classes of untrained men who from the nature of their daily occupations are more fitted for immediate work in the field; but, given a short practical training, if our rank and file are not as good soldiers as any that can be brought against them, it is the fault of the instructors and not of the men.
The physique of the men we sent out was on the whole good. In the Battery the men were rather young and scarcely up for some time to the hard physical work demanded from gunners and drivers.
In the case of the gunner, particularly, muscular strength is a necessity; and speaking of the regiment generally, it is a pity that more members do not supplement cricket and football by a systematic development of their chests and muscles, opportunities for which are provided at our School of Arms at headquarters. Comparatively few of our men were invalided home.
7. —On Discipline
True discipline springs from a high sense of duty. Without it any body of troops degenerates into a mob. It holds men steady in trying ordeals, makes them straighten their backs, however long the march, and bear up cheerfully, however weary the work which falls to their lot. Our members carried with them into the field the high standard of discipline maintained at headquarters, and, as far as my experience went, individually and collectively, never faltered.
The high sense of duty which permeates all ranks should make the officers or non-commissioned officers all the more careful to remember that the men under their command are educated men and can think for themselves. Orders should be framed in accordance with common sense, and not made vexatious. When an unpleasant order has to be given—and such must be given at times—let the officer or non-commissioned officer responsible for it take the men, if possible, into his confidence, and frankly tell them the reason. Much good may result and little harm.
I believe that our rank and file would be the first to resent any breach of discipline.
8. —On the Care of Man and Horse in the Field
Ignorance of how to look after the one and the other was probably common to all Auxiliary troops on landing in South Africa, and meant much discomfort at first.
Men cannot well learn to look after themselves except on service. Much can be done by officers to increase the comfort and well-being of those under their charge; unfortunately ignorance of how to set about it, and even ignorance that it is their duty to do so, has accounted for much unnecessary suffering in the field. Probably those of our members who were with their own officers saw comparatively little of this; but from what I am told by others, it was much felt by some regiments with which our members were not unconnected.
Field cooking forms a useful part of a soldier’s education, but unhappily there is no time for teaching it in camp during peace. The best we can do is to encourage individuals to go through courses. There must always be a considerable amount of inventive ability in any body of educated men, and this may also be turned to useful account for the general good.
Horse management is a severe stumbling- block. The more we look after our own horses in time of peace the better. As to the officers, they can pick up something by being attached to Regular troops; but a thorough knowledge is not to be guaranteed even by several years of constant service.
9. —On Scouts, Patrols, and Orderlies
It is marvellous how little the war appears to have impressed us with the necessity of moving with patrols, scouts, etc. as a protection against sudden surprise.
Speaking from experience with the Battery, in whose work on the lines of communication the training of patrols and scouts was by no means neglected, our men were very quick to learn the work, and some of them soon became quite expert at it. This was only natural, as the principal quality required is common sense.
An orderly often becomes an important man in the field. Probably no general officer would regret acquiring a few of our men for the purpose.
When we mobilised, our artificer ranks were in a sadly deficient state, not only in numbers, but in ability to perform the duties of the posts held. And yet it would be better for a battery to take the field without a man who bad ever done a day’s gun drill, than without good shoeing-smiths.
No man should be allowed to hold any artificer’s position the duties of which he is not prepared to perform on service.
The artificer question is the hardest our batteries have to tackle.
Unless we can .get sufficient members to make a hobby of these jobs in peace time, as some do at present, the necessity of falling back on the professional element should be acknowledged, and steps taken accordingly.
In South Africa, of our bead artificers, two were ex-soldier artificers, and one was a professional civilian. The subordinates were all H.A.C. men, some of whom not only learnt their job, but became very good at it. These, however, were exceptionally good men, and slaved to learn it day and night.
11. —On the Battery
The men who composed the Battery were neither in training nor physique up to the average standard of an H.A.C. Battery, and many of them had but lately joined, and were very young.
We started for the docks on one of the most abominable nights imaginable, and it was a happy augury that men and horses reached their destination without mishap.
On the whole it was a motley crew which landed in South Africa. A few knew their job. There was a percentage of old H.A.C. hands, who could ride and drive, and had done some manoeuvring in the field; but the majority may be said to have been as ignorant of artillery work as they were keen to learn it; and, thank goodness, they were keen. Even had they been up to our present H.A.C. standard there would have been much to learn. Our peace training provides us with non-commissioned officers, gunners, and even drivers, who can both lay and fire a gun, understand how to handle ammunition, and can set fuses in a modicum of time. A good proportion can ride fairly well, and the drivers can take their guns over indifferent ground without upsetting them; but, unfortunately, we have not the time to learn much of the more prosaic duties connected with horse management—the practical care of the horse in stables, camp, and on the march, rapid and good grooming, a thorough knowledge of harness, how to keep it in good order, and how to put it on a horse rapidly and correctly. To this must be added work connected with the interior economy of a battery. It is only in camp as a Regiment that we can attempt to learn these things.
An artillery man is not made in a month, nor an officer in a year; and, unless we had had educated men as keen as mustard, and no trouble about discipline, I doubt if the Battery in South Africa would have been much good for a long time. As it was, the delay on the lines of communication, though unnecessarily long, was useful.
Officers and non-commissioned officers had first to learn experience in the care of horses, and in ‘running’ their sections and sub-divisions. At home they are handicapped by the very limited opportunities of exercising that control and supervision of those under them which becomes their duty in time of war.
Both, at first, displayed a curious disregard of business principles in managing their sections or sub-divisions. It was difficult to persuade them that they must constantly have at their fingers’ ends the number of men, horses, sets of harness, etc. under their control, without which it is impossible to make the necessary rapid arrangements to meet emergencies.
Every subaltern and No. 1 should carry a notebook, and keep a careful account of casualties to men, horses, equipment, etc. besides carrying in their heads peculiarities connected with both man and horse.
All things considered, they came well through these difficulties, showing initiative and common sense, when, as often happened, they were thrown on their own resources.
Our gunners in South Africa, though they had to handle a gun and ammunition which they had practically never seen before, and though some of them had never done gunners’ work in their lives, gained proficiency very rapidly, though not all became expert layers.
But it was a long up-hill task for the drivers (and for the gunners too, as far as horses and harness were concerned), except for a few old hands. That the drivers did ultimately surmount their difficulties and become efficient, speaks volumes for their determination and hard work; and in the end, from * Whistle’ to * All Beady,’ probably few could give them points.
An artillery driver takes long to make; but the task would be certainly a much lighter one if the vast quantity of unnecessary harness, which clogs the progress of a battery, was done away with.
Range-takers were at a discount, one officer and the quarter-master sergeant representing all that were available.
The men were invariably keen and generally cheerful, and a long wait on the lines of communication will try the humour of the best troops.
Of their conduct under fire I will only say this, that not only were they always on the most friendly terms with their Regular comrades, but that I believe the latter were always right glad to have the Battery with them; and there are no better judges.
Every member of the Regiment, and it must be remembered that the Battalion as well as the Artillery Division was represented in the Battery, has a right to be proud of the reputation which the latter gained in South Africa. Its shooting has been cited in Parliament, and the opinion of the General under whom it principally served is too well known to require quoting. Something of this is no doubt due to the reputation which the gun, justly or unjustly, made for itself; but there can be no doubt that the Battery became a thoroughly efficient unit.
12.—The Infantry Detachment
The members whom we sent out to serve in the C.I.V. as Infantrymen were, as a body, in many respects readier for service in the field than were our representatives in the Battery, Mounted Infantry, and Imperial Yeomanry.
Shooting, esprit de corps, fire and marching discipline can all be learnt at or near headquarters. For educated men, an annual field training as private soldiers of some two weeks in camp should suffice.
Free from the worries of horse management, the infantryman on service quickly shakes down. On the other hand, he is not without his difficulties. He has to walk whilst others ride, and often to watch whilst others sleep. His transport is often very restricted, and he has not the same opportunities as his mounted comrades of replenishing his larder.
Our annual training in camp is of course very short—shorter indeed than the minimum of two weeks quoted above—and does not allow of a thorough standard of field training being attained. A percentage of members are, moreover, always prevented from attending the yearly training, such as it is.
Owing to the widely extended order of modem fighting lines, the difficulties of control and supervision on the part of infantry officers and non-commissioned officers have so increased, that initiative and resourcefulness on the part of the most junior privates have become a necessity, A thorough field training, therefore, is now of the highest importance.
The standard of musketry efficiency is of paramount importance, and indissolubly bound up with it is the provision of suitable rifle ranges. This, again, is a question for the country.
Our detachment, whose history is related in a previous chapter, was too small for me to speak of its members as a body; but from careful inquiries made in South Africa from the officers under whom they served, I know that they worthily sustained the credit of our regiment.
13.—On Mounted Infantry and Imperial Yeomanry
Of the members whom we sent out to act as Mounted Infantry or Yeomanry, a few could both ride and shoot. Some could ride, but not shoot; and others could shoot, but not ride. Some again could neither ride nor shoot—that is to say, to the extent required for service. A man to be an efficient mounted infantryman must be able to ride and to look after his horse, in addition to his infantry duties and qualifications.
The regiment possesses no mounted infantry section, as the number of mounted infantry obtainable from Imperial Yeomanry and existing mounted infantry sections is sufficient for home defence. But any member of our Battalion can learn to ride, as our gunners do; and any member of our Artillery can learn to shoot, as our infantry do. Both branches would be rendered all the more valuable, from a service point of view, if, to this extent, they learnt one another’s duties.
Moreover, I think (though perhaps the wish is father to the thought) that in the future there may be opportunities for those members of the Auxiliary Forces who can ride and shoot of seeing foreign service.
The experiences of our Mounted Infantry and Imperial Yeomanry, scattered about as they were amidst all classes of men, were in many respects rougher than those of our other branches. It is not for me here to speak of individuals; but, knowing the stamp of man we sent out, I am not the least surprised that so many favourable reports have come to hand, and that so many who left as privates have returned home as officers.