The seven years of war were now to be succeeded by fourteen of peace. On the General’s return to England he was made Deputy Adjutant-General at Headquarters, but was shortly afterwards called to a different sphere of action. Affairs in Ireland needed a strong hand. In August 1886 Buller was sent there to reorganise the Constabulary, which was at the time somewhat dispirited by a period of hard and anxious work extending over several years. The magnetism of his sympathetic nature evoked warm response. His bluff, outspoken manner, his unvarying cheerfulness and sense of humour, above all his appreciation of hard work loyally performed, encouraged the men to persevere and stopped depression in cases of failure. His power was soon felt throughout the police; he infused new spirit into the men under his command, was always ready to take responsibility, made allowance for failure, and revived the weary forces of law and order.
'Within a single fortnight they had all rallied round him' says Mr. Gosse,’and one man expressed the general feeling in declaring “there is not a policeman in the county of Kerry who would not lay down his life for Sir Redvers.” ’
This immediate task done, Sir Redvers, at the end of the year, was made Under-Secretary for Ireland. He was now less in his element. Not that administration was unsuited to his powers. On the contrary, administration—as in the case of so many good soldiers—was probably his strong- point. But he had no knowledge of Ireland and did not understand the ways of the Irish. The sense of justice, which was perhaps his most prominent characteristic, became therefore to some extent wasted. It is of course absurd to suppose that the man who mastered the history and peculiarities of the native tribes on the Gold Coast was unaware of the essential difference between land tenure in England and land tenure in Ireland, or of the difference in weights and measures. He had also associated with plenty of Celts in Devonshire, and knew that, partly from desire to please, partly from inaccuracy of mind, exactitude of speech is not always to be found among the race; but his logical mind failed to grasp the fact that in Ireland two and two may make three; more probably, five; but rarely, if ever, four. His conclusions were consequently at times made rather too rapidly; and his opinions, perhaps too openly expressed, elicited strong criticism. His sympathy with the Irish peasantry caused him to be spoken of as a Radical Home Ruler. The report was quite untrue. Sir Redvers never swerved from his Unionist principles, but his views probably differed a good deal from those of the Government which he was serving, and it is possible that his independence of view was remembered to his disadvantage in later days. Although he did a great deal of good work, and the Dublin Castle officials said they had never met his match in the transaction of business, it can hardly be said that his success as Under-Secretary was as great as it had been in reorganising the police.
In October 1887 the General returned to military duty as Quartermaster-General to the Forces. He was not yet forty-eight. His rise during the last nine years had been astonishingly rapid. With the single exception of Lord Wolseley, he was looked on as the ablest man in the Army.
For three years he remained Quartermaster- General. On the 1st October 1890 Sir Redvers was appointed Adjutant-General in succession to Lord Wolseley, a distinction unprecedented for a Major-General, and it is no unkindness to say that the change was welcomed by the Commander-in- Chief, H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge, with whom he was a prime favourite. He is pronounced by a competent judge to have been the best Adjutant-General that ever ruled at the War Office. His tenure of the appointment was marked by an administrative reform of the first importance, the reorganisation of the Supply and Transport of the Army.
‘The status of a non-combatant and relatively insignificant department/ says a distinguished officer,‘ was raised to that of one of the most important branches of the administrative staff of the Army. By this change—only possible from the strong personality of its author—by raising its emoluments and by improving the professional prospects of its members, Sir Redvers succeeded in attracting to this previously unpopular Service many of the ablest officers from the ranks of the executive branches of the Army and from the Staff College. A new spirit was thus infused into the administration of this most important department, to the lasting benefit of the British Army. It is generally acknowledged that the supply and transport services of an army, under abnormally trying conditions, have never been more successfully carried out than in the late South African War (1899-1902), and the result of this great achievement is largely due to the metamorphosis effected by Sir Redvers in the reorganisation of the Army Service Corps.
'It is not too much to say that throughout the whole of his career as Adjutant-General, the traces of his early training under Colonel Hawley were plainly to be discerned. The adoption of a more elastic system of infantry drill and tactics, the improvements effected in the discipline of the soldier by a more intelligent treatment, and the betterment of the soldier’s life in barracks, were the result of the principles learnt as a young man from the methods and teaching of his old preceptor, Colonel Hawley, deepened and enlarged by his own peculiarly sympathetic nature.’
As Adjutant-General Buller’s innate sense of justice vindicated his action on a particularly difficult occasion; and his judicial turn of mind and practical wisdom were the subject of notice by his legal colleagues in a committee appointed to revise the’Manual of Military Law.’’I was greatly impressed by his powerful personality,’ writes one of them. ‘He struck me as a born leader of men, to be obeyed and followed without hesitation, and as being furthermore endowed with a penetrating and shrewd judgment. In short, I do not remember ever meeting any man who made on me such a rapid and strong impression, which further knowledge of him only strengthened. In the transaction of business he was admirable; clear-sighted, firm and reasonable; he knew exactly what he wanted, though he was quite prepared to take less if the House of Commons was not disposed to legislate to the full extent of his views, i.e. for increasing the powers of commanding officers.’ . . . The report of the Committee . . . was unanimously adopted.
In his dealings with the Government his homely satire would occasionally come out. A project for an expedition to be fitted out against French encroachment in Nigeria was under discussion, and the Adjutant-General was asked of what the expedition should consist. Convinced that nothing was to be dreaded from men who, if encountered, would be found overcome by malarial fever, his reply was, ‘ It had better consist of a doctor with a bottle of brandy,’ an answer the common sense of which was undeniable, even if not quite appreciated by the august body to whom it was addressed!
In 1891 Sir Redvers became Lieutenant-General. In 1893 he was offered the Command-in-Chief in India vice Lord Roberts, then returning home after his long and distinguished career. Looking at the matter purely from the point of view of Sir Redvers’ personal career, it seems unfortunate that he should have declined this compliment. It was time for him to be in the saddle once more. The Indian command would have afforded ample scope for his energy, and would have released him from the slavery of the desk.
Two years passed, and then occurred an episode in Sir Redvers’ life which has sometimes been incorrectly narrated. The time for the Duke of Cambridge’s retirement was evidently at hand. Buller was asked, nay pressed, to succeed H.R.H. as Commander-in-Chief. To anyone with a less keen sense of duty the prospect would have been dazzling in the extreme. Sir Redvers, however, declined, because he looked on Lord Wolseley as being a better man than himself, and would not be a party to superseding him. But the Government of that day refused to nominate Lord Wolseley. It was, however, obviously too weak to last long. Buller, therefore, procrastinated on the chance of its fall, and in the hope that a new Government would appoint the man whom he thought most fit. And this actually happened, although only just in time, for the Commission appointing Sir Redvers Commander-in-Chief was ready when the defeat of the Government caused its resignation, and the new Premier at once appointed Lord Wolseley. In high circles Buller’s self-denial was well known and appreciated. ‘ I congratulate you on not being Commander-in-Chief,’ wrote an old friend at Court. ‘ The part you are known to have played in the matter is better than any Commander-in-Chief-ship in the world, and in the long run will, I hope, bring you infinitely more satisfaction.’ And the Queen remarked to him that though he had declined to be a Commander-in-Chief, he had made one.
Under Lord Wolseley, Sir Redvers continued to serve as Adjutant-General until the expiration of his term of office in September 1897. To the country at large, and to the Army in particular, the advantage gained by his long term of office work was enormous. Anomalies had disappeared, abuses had been reformed. His untiring industry and talent had never been more conspicuously displayed; but to the General himself the desk was less advantageous. Circumstances had increased the labour of the Adjutant-General almost beyond human power of endurance, and his grey hair betrayed the strain of the hard work which he had undergone. But if he was no longer in all respects the Buller of 1885, it must be remembered that the wear and tear had entirely been incurred in his country’s service. Events were shortly to prove that his powers of endurance were unabated; but lie was no longer a young man, and thirteen years had elapsed since his last personal command of troops. In the summer of 1898 manoeuvres took place on an extended scale. They are chiefly notable for the fact that they gave Sir Redvers, who commanded one side, the chance of noticing the work done by Colonel French, the result being that twelve months later French was appointed to the command of the Cavalry Division in South Africa with the rank of Lieutenant- General. In the following October Sir Redvers took up the command at Aldershot. Both with officers and men he was very popular. He harassed no one, yet imparted a great deal of quiet instruction to the Division at large and to his own Staff in particular, his object being to encourage independent thought and initiative among the junior officers, and even among the rank and file.