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The State of the Army,

A military correspondent of the “ Times,” writing on the above subject, says that though exception may be taken to the assertion that the army is in a state of collapse, the following facts clearly prove that the term is no exaggeration. On the Ist of this month the total number of soldiers above three months service in 55 battalions of the line in the United Kingdom and Ireland .amounted to 21,950. The 18 battalions of the line which stand first on the roster for foreign service number but 10,421 men, and of these 6082 are under two years service. These battalions are 2413 beneath their peace complement, and to bring them up to a war footing would require 9579 transfers. Even the five battalions at the head of the roll for active service are 886 under their peace establishment. The five battalions which recently embarked for South Africa were high on the roster for foreign duty, and presumably were in a fit condition to embark; yet, owing to one cause or another, upwards of 1000 from these five battalions were rejected on'the regiments being detailed for embarkation. We may assume that the rest of the army is in a like condition. Consequently, deducting 200 men from each corps as unfit, we find there are about 11,000 efficient soldiers of over three months’ service in the infantry of the lino. It is not in point of numbers that the regiments are practically inefficient, but also in discipline. It is well known that non-commissioned officers are the backbone of the army. With good non-commissioned officers a colonel may take his battalion any where ; with bad noncommissioned officers the battalion has no motive power. The one great cry throughout the service is the want of non-com-missioned officers. Owing to the short service system, smart young fellows are passed rapidly through the ranks and promoted in the hope that they will turn out well. Often, too often, they are untried men—men with little self-restraint. Instead of bearing with the hasty recruit, they needlessly harass the men, and petty acts of insubordination are the result. Insubordination increases, courts-martial are of common occurrence, and a general tone of unhappiness pervades a corps thus cursed. In one regiment that embarked for South Africa there were no fewer than 32 men in prison, in two others 15; another corps, now at homo, which a few years

ago stood almost unequalled for the absence of crime, has had, during the last 12 months, 27 courts-martial, and five sergeants within a few weeks have been reduced for drunkenness on duty—in olden times an almost unheard of offence. The linked battalion system, too, lias confessedly broken down. The object sought to be obtained by this arrangement is tiiAt the battalion at home may serve as a feeder for the supply of casualties in the twin battalion of the same district serving abroad. This, we are assured by Lord Cardwell, would be comparatively simple as regards the double battalion regiments. Yet, at the present moment, instead of 71 battalions being at home to 70" abroad, wo have but 55 in England to 86 on foreign service ; and of the double battalion corps, the Ist Royal Scots, 3rd Bulls, 4th King’s Own, Gth Royals, 13th Light Infantry, 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, 14th, 17th, and 24th Regiments have all their battalions abroad. Not only has the scheme failed to work well, but it is ex-. ceedingly unpopular among officers and men. So unpopular is the scheme of compulsory transfer on reduction that the officers of 40 regiments in the ariny have absolutely declined to accept even promotion out of their corps. Officers of the 38th elect to abide by the Ist Staffordshire rather .- than be turned over to the 80th, the 2nd Staffordshire. Indeed, sc strong-is the feeling of this point that, pending the. decision of the Committee oh Army Organisation, all transfers will, pended in the case of officers who objectiff ', to the step. If the linked battahtyhL system has broken down,„go, too, the Reserves proved a failure. It is true that last year, when they were mobilised, the men came up readily for re-enrollment, about three per cent only being absentees, but in point of numbers-they fall far short of what was anticipated. In March, 1871, the Secretary of State for War stated that in seven years the Army Reserve would amount to 81,811 men ; on l ithe Ist of June, 1879, it numbered 16,949,.a grave error in calculation.

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Bibliographic details

The State of the Army,, Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 26, 25 November 1879

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The State of the Army, Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 26, 25 November 1879