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THE VOLUNTEER REPORT.

Whetiier war be the national relation of mankind or not it is to be feared there will be a good deal of fighting before the millenium begins. Never were there so many men trained to arms as at present, and never were the implements of destruction of such a deadly character. In Europe alone there are some twelve million soldiers. Militarism is, in fact, the curse of the old countries, even of those which account themselves the most highly civilised; and, however fondly men have dreamed of founding a society to dwell in peace in some remote part of the world, we find that even here in furthest New Zealand we have to keep our powder dry. Though British colonies have no standing armies, for the small " permanent force " which some of them maintain can scarcely be so called, the cost of defence has become a very considerable item in their public expenditure. Australia and New Zealand have recently taken measures for the protection of their ports, and they also contribute towards the maintenance of what is to all intents and purposes a Colonial navy. Our principal dependence for defence, however, is on our Volunteers. The instinct of self-preservation is nearlyas strongin the nation as it is in the individual; and in a young country, which could not afford to keep that most undesirable of all establishments, a standing army, it seems to be natural that the youth and vigorous manhood of the community should volunteer their services for the common defence. Volunteers would besides make better soldiers than mercenaries if they were as well trained and disciplined. This is their weak point. It is hardly possible to train them as thoroughly as men who have taken the shilling; and as long as human nature remains what it is there will be a tendency in Volunteer rank and file to ignore the authority of their officers. The difficulty of maintaining discipline is, moreover, greater in the colonies than at Home; owing, no doubt, to the stronger spirit of independence by which colonists are animated. But the Romans, who were certainly not a craven people, knew what gloria obsequii was; and the time may come when British colonists will also take pride in obeying their official superiors for the sake of the common good. These remarks have been suggested by Captain Hume's report on our colonial Volunteers. He says that he has made a thorough inspection of the force, company by company, in order that he might be able to "judge of the " material and qualifications of the "ranks composing it before investigating the larger unit." With the rank and file he was agreeably surprised, especially with the country corps, and he isof opinion that with good officers and efficient non-commissioned officers and instructors they could soon be drilled into very valuable citizen soldiers. His method of inspection enabled him to see whether all ranks were versed in the duties which they would would have to perform on active service, such as guard-mounting, skirmishing, outpost and vidette duty, forming advance and rear guards, etc., which he says are of much greater importance than " showy march pasts " and such like review movements. Our Volunteers, in a word, ought to be specially trained for the emergencies likely to arise, rather than for the Old World style of campaigning. It is so far satisfactory that Captain Hume finds the rank and file of such excellent quality. In very few instances would the physical test need to be applied. Their desire for drill seemed strong, and the amount of attention given to it was very commendable, while their behaviour during the inspections was admirable. The great difficulty is to get the corps properly officered. Some were underofficered; in others the officers were not fit to command, captains and subalterns being alike incompetent. The unfitness in some cases was due to ignorance; in others the cause lay deeper—in natural incapacity for command, a defect which chiefly shows itself in undue familiarity with the men while underarms; and in a number of instances there was actual physical incapacity. Some officers, also, were too old for active service. The dearth of good officers is ascribed by the Inspector partly to the fact that their position entails on them a good deal of expense. The volunteers are equipped by the State in all ranks up to the highest grades of the non-commissioned officers. Now, as the non-commissioned officer is socially, in many cases, on a level with the lieutenant, it is not fair that the latter should be so heavily mulcted as paying for his own uniform and other things implies, while the former is gratuitously supplied with all his requirements. The new dress regulations have, to some extent, remedied this evil, so that it is to be hoped there will be fewer resignations in the future. It is, as the report says, of more importance to get active young men to qualify in every respect than to get men who will not take the trouble to pass the examinations because they happen to be well off. Captain Hume is strongly against the practice of allowing men to elect their officers. It tends to keep good officers out of the force, and to introduce bad ones; and there can be no doubt that it is a great hindrance to discipline. Of the non-commissioned officers the Inspector found that a large number were excellent, and a large number the reverse; while between the two extremes there were various degrees of

efficiency and inefficiency —on the whole, not a very flattering description.

Nor is the equipment all that could bo desired. The Inspector was struck by the " enormous expense" which has been caused by allowing each corps to choose its own uniform. Some companies, for instance, have the full valise equipment, which could never be required in this Colony. Others had adopted a most expensive Highland uniform. But, strange to say, there "was <L not one company that I inspected " with sufficient pouch accommodation "to take the field, even armed with " the Snider rifle ; whilst several are " not provided with greatcoats, water- " bottles, leggings, or haversacks." It is evident that the ornamental has been more considered than the useful. The very shoes of tire men were not of the right kind, those worn by the various ranks in the inspection parades reminding the Inspector of the variety of patterns exhibited in a fashionable boot shop window, and a large proportion of them being quite unserviceable for anything like hard work or inclement weather.

The officers commandingdistricts and the officers in charge of the permanent Militia are entirely of each other. This dual command is a notable defect, aird might entail serious consequences. "As it stands ' : now, the officer commanding the dis- " trict is entirely ignorant of the mem- " bers of the permanent force actually " stationed within his command, or of " the amount or description of ordnance " and ammunition available in case of " need in his district. On the other "hand, the officer commanding the "permanent force would be totally <: unable to work his guns without the "assistance of the Volunteers from "the district commanding officer." From this it would seem that the Colony is not yet very well prepared to defend itself from the attack of an enemy. Captain Hume holds that if the capitation system is to be continued, the amount must be increased ; and he evidently would like to see the practice adopted in New South Wales and Victoria introduced here—namely, placing each man under contract to render certain services in return for a certain pecuniary solatium ; the pay being in exact proportion to the rank attained and the service rendered. He thinks this system would do away with much of that political element which has proved so prejudical to the Volunteer force. But this question .of the mode and amount of remuneration would have to be very carefully considered. The more the Volunteer character is preserved the better; and the difficulties as to discipline and efficiency could surely he overcome by evoking an esprit de corps among the men.

There can lie no doubt that the New Zealand Volunteers are a fine ibody of men, capable of being drilled and disciplined into the very best description of citizen soldiers. But there is just as little doubt that their present condition is far from satisfactory. They are poorly officered, imperfectly or improperly equipped, and not trained with such a regard to the particular kind of service likely to be required of them as they ought to .be. Perhaps there has been a little too much playing at soldiers. And yet they are, after all, in a higher state of efficiency than might have been expected, when it is considered how stingily they have often been treated by the Government. If the Colony, however, is to depend on its Volunteers for security from invasion, it is very evident that the defects pointed out by Captain Hume must be remedied.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890919.2.2

Bibliographic details

THE VOLUNTEER REPORT., Issue 8016, 19 September 1889

Word Count
1,502

THE VOLUNTEER REPORT. Issue 8016, 19 September 1889

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