The Battalion remained at Portsmouth in the Cambridge Barracks, but Buller’s period of home service was short. Being promoted in December to the rank of Lieutenant, he joined at Quebec the 4th Battalion, commanded by that foremost of Riflemen, Colonel R. B. Hawley. The enormous advantage to a young man of serving under a first-rate commanding officer can perhaps be best realised by those who have not been equally fortunate. "Were it not that Colonel Hawley’s life and character will shortly be the theme of an abler pen, one might be tempted into a digression. Suffice it to remark that his light infantry practice was taken from that of the 5th Battalion of the 60th, which served throughout the Peninsular War, and on being disbanded bequeathed it to the 1st Battalion. It was as true of Hawley as of his prototype, Sir John Moore, the centenary of whose death falls this year, that ‘ the officers were formed for command and soldiers acquired such discipline as to become an example to the army and proud of their profession. Though drill was an important part of the instruction it was not by that alone that the soldier was formed. It was the internal and moral system, the constant superintendence of the officers, the real government and responsibility of the captains which carried the discipline to such perfection.’ Every single thing connected with the food, comfort, and training of a regiment was brought by Hawley to its highest pitch of perfection. His system, like that of Sir John Moore, was based on the cultivation of the morale and self-reliance of the individual. Among his many distinguished pupils maybe mentioned Lord Grenfell, Sir Edward Hutton, General Terry, Colonel Donald Browne, Colonel Montagu Walker, and Captain Brownrigg, but the most brilliant of all was Redvers Buller himself. Lord Wolseley was not more facile princeps on the Staff side of the Army than was Hawley on the Regimental.
Buller had a carpenter’s bench fitted in his barrack-room, and always found time to do something useful instead of loafing. Whatever he did was done thoroughly and on sound principle. He was devoted to fishing, and, being clever with his fingers, was an adept at tying salmon flies. His accomplishments in general were very varied. It was, e.g., noticed that he could point out at a glance the colours appropriate to any particular room, or even describe the details of a lady’s dress. It was indeed observed of him that he was particularly sensitive to colour, and the observer remarked that ‘this faculty is but one manipulation of a mind the genius of which lies in great part in its orderly arrangement, its absolute sureness of movement. In later life he was fond of urging on young men the cultivation of the eye, which he thought could be deliberately studied and mastered, even when there is no natural gift for it.’ His instincts and interests at this period were sporting rather than military. He spent his winters on hunting expeditions in the company of a few Indians, and became an expert in the art of the back-woodsman. All his plans were well thought out. For this education in what he called the ‘ hunter’s instinct,’ which proved an excellent foundation for a more purely military training, Canada was an unequalled school. Colonel Hawley was not a man to allow any officer to neglect his work, and in any case Buller’s sense of duty was far too great to let him do so. He probably, without knowing it, became by degrees a soldier. At all events in 1867 we find him in a post of responsibility. As ‘look out' officer in Western Canada, his duty was to visit selected soldiers posted at the frontier stations in order to prevent deserters crossing the border into the United States. This involved a great deal of travelling, during which he gained experience in various ways.
An old friend writes:’I first met him when travelling by train from St. John’s, New Brunswick, to London, Canada West. He came up to me and said, “Is your name H? I see by your baggage you are joining my regiment, so come into my carriage and I will put you up to the ways of the country.” This was an instance of his great good-nature and of looking after the helpless. In society Buller was a great favourite. Girls idolised him though so blunt in speech, but always with a laugh. Among the regimental institutions of that date was a pack of hounds. Donald Browne was master, Redvers Buller a whipper in. When we got under trees where the crust of twenty feet deep snow was so soft that the big foxhounds sank up to their middles and could not flounder along, Buller would take a hound under each arm and snow-shoe to a harder surface. In the hot summer four of us drove out to fish, and getting into impenetrably thick bush had to walk. The two men carrying the big basket of provisions were soon “ done ” by the heat, mosquitoes, and sandflies, so Buller took it from them, put it on his own shoulders, and walked off with it. What struck me was his extraordinary energy, fearlessness of any authority, wiriness and good temper, and nothing seemed to escape him.’
In the messroom Buller would love an argument, always taking the unpopular side. He liked to contradict people in order to elicit their reasons for an assertion, and had no objection to be contradicted himself. In his conversation he was a very Palace of Truth; but his apt, though sometimes uncomplimentary remarks were always accompanied by a laugh which deprived them of half their sting. If, in his opinion, however, occasion demanded it, he could show that he was not to be trifled with. An officer who had come to us from another regiment and had disgraced himself, ventured to look at a game of billiards through the glass door of the ante-room. Buller gave him a hint that he was not wanted, and the hint being ignored, followed it up by catching hold of the back of a chair and driving the four legs through the glass.
It was at this period that he first made the acquaintance of Lord Wolseley, at that time Assistant Adjutant-General in Canada. Of their first meeting I have heard three irreconcilable accounts. That to which I give credit states that Buller, desirous of an interview with the General in Command, was stopped by Colonel Wolseley, who told him that the General was unable to see him. The subaltern, however, insisted that he would see him, and so he did.
The years which followed were possibly the most important of Buller’s life. He went out to Canada a raw and self-willed young man, with perhaps no great interest in his profession. He returned to England a trained and experienced soldier. The moulding of his character must be put down to Hawley’s gentle guidance. A shrewd judge of men, the latter quickly discerned real genius underlying the new-comer’s somewhat rough exterior, while Buller at the same time discovered to what heights the art of training and administering a regiment could be raised. Colonel and subaltern became fast friends. In spite of the difference in age they associated with each other. One day they were in a canoe together near rapids. Hawley pointed them out and wished to disembark, but Buller, in his self-confident way, refused to admit the danger. The force of the current increased; the peril became undeniable. 6 We had better go to the shore and get out,’ said Buller. 6 No,’ returned the Colonel; ‘ I have come so far for your pleasure, you will now kindly go on for mine.’ A quarrel in the canoe would have meant instant death, and Buller was forced to obey. The rapids were shot and safely passed. But the incident was never forgotten by tutor or pupil. Colonel Hawley had broken in the colt, and in doing so had conceived the greatest admiration for him.
One day in the year 1868 the Adjutant, Lieut. Brownrigg, was going home on leave. The Colonel asked Buller to undertake the duties in his absence. Buller protested, saying that the one thing he knew nothing about was soldiering. ‘I will teach you' replied Hawley; and after thinking over the offer for twenty-four hours, Buller accepted it. This was the turning-point of his life.
Having made the plunge, he became as fond of soldiering as of sport. The Colonel and his Acting- Adjutant were more inseparable than ever. Hawley, with great tact, often asked Buller for his opinion, and Buller was never reluctant to give it; sometimes perhaps with undue freedom, for he always spoke his mind to anyone and everyone in the most uncompromising way, and a sense of subordination to his superiors was not one of his strong points. On one occasion a difference of opinion as to the promotion of a sergeant took place, and Buller remarked,’Of course, as Colonel you can do as you like, but you will destroy the company! ’ For the next fortnight they only addressed each other officially, but it was merely a lovers’ quarrel. Hawley came into the ante-room one afternoon and said,’Buller, I want you to come out for a walk with me.’ They returned the best of friends, for Buller thoroughly realised that Hawley was a master of his art and a generation in advance of his age. At a regimental dinner many years later he observed that although Hawley had come to us from another regiment, lie had, in an infinitesimally short time, been voted the finest Rifleman in the world; and added that the manoeuvres embodied in the Field Exercises for the first time in 1896 had been habitually practised by the 4th Battalion of the 60th in 1862.