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British Regimental System - 1872 Reforms

To Lord Cardwell is due, in the first instance, the introduction of the principle of localisation of the military forces, the linking of battalions, and the admission of short as well as long service the first steps towards the creation of an efficient reserve and the abolition of the purchase of commissions by officers. Long service (21 years with the colours) was previously general; but any soldier could leave at the end of 12 years. If he did not, he was re-engaged, with a penny a day extra pay, an allowance of some 3 to 5 in lieu of a free kit, and the certainty of a pension at the end of other 9 years if he conducted himself well. His pension could be increased by a penny a day for each good-conduct badge acquired during that time: thus Is. 5d. a day was often obtained for life after 21 years' service.

In 1872, Cardwell and Childers produced a "localisation" plan, which divided the country into 66 areas, based on county boundaries and population centers. In each area, regular and volunteer Infantry were organised to have a depot and 2 regular battalions. The militia were trained to act as a reserve in the event of an emergency. The increasing demands of imperial expansion together with inefficiencies highlighted during the Napoleonic Wars led to the changes and gave the British Army its modern shape. This shape was largely defined by the regimental system. Colonel Stanley continued the real reorganisation of the British army during Lord Beaconsfield's administration; and Mr Childers, during Mr Gladstone's second tenure of office, practically completed the work, by his measure bearing date, July 1, 1881.

Lord Cardwell had in view the linking of battalions and the more intimate connection of the militia with their territorial regiments. The abolition of promotion by purchase was a necessary step in this plan, in order that, without injury to the positions which officers had purchased in their own battalions, they might be placed on one list for promotion with those of their linked battalion. In 1871, therefore, Mr Gladstone, in the face of strong parliamentary opposition, abolished the system of purchase, and the localisation scheme was initiated by the establishment of brigade dep6ts.

By the new organisation the militia came more into the foreground. The ranks were composed of much the same material as before, but they gain by being in more direct contact with the line, and their efficiency and discipline have much improved. The officers are now under military law, and when opportunities occur sit on courts-martial with officers of all branches of the service. Formerly they were nominated by the lord-lieutenant of the county; since 1871 they have been appointed, though without an examination as yet, by the Secretary for War and the Queen. Many officers now enter the army through the militia by a special examination.

In comparing the system of linked battalions with the old regimental system, it is necessary first to remember that the infantry counted 109 regiments of the line, beside the Rifle Brigade. Of these 109 regiments, the Rifle Brigade and the 60th Regiment had 4 battalions [a total of 8], 25 regiments had 2 battalions [for 50 battalions], and the remaining 83, each 1 battalion [83 battalions], for a total of 141 battalions.

In 1881 these were so reorganised as to produce 71 regiments (linked battalions). Or, in other words, many of the former 109 regiments disappeared, and by uniting, in many cases, two one-battalion regiments (linking them, as it was now technically called), 71 regiments of two (or more) battalions were formed. But these did not for the most part remain two-battalion regiments; one or more battalions were added from the militia. In these new regiments the first and second battalions were line battalions, except the former 60th (now Kings's Royal Rifle Corps) and the old Rifle Brigade, in each of which the first four battalions were regulars of the line; any subsequent battalions were militiamen. Volunteer regiments were likewise affiliated, with the same regimental districts, to these regiments.

In place of the former regimental numbers, territorial designations were chosen in preference, and each regiment recruits chiefly in the territory from which it takes its title, called the "Regimental District". Its depot always remained in that district, and local volunteers are attached to it.

In 1897-98 additions were made to the strength of the army amounting to nearly 17,000 men. A third battalion was added to the Coldstream Guards and also to the Scots Guards, thus making each of the Guard regiments three battalions strong; a battalion from each is in future to be available for ordinary garrison duty in the Mediterranean and Egypt. Two additional line battalions were added to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Royal Fusiliers, and the Lancashire Fusiliers, making each of these regiments of four battalions each. A second battalion was also added to the Cameron Highlanders, which np to 1897 was the only single battalion regiment in the regular army. The West India Regiment was increased by a third battalion, and the Royal Malta Regiment by a second battalion.

The artillery was also increased. The cavalry was reorganised to some extent, and regiments have been grouped into three corps, Dragoons, Hussars, and Lancers respectively. Enlistment is for one of these corps only, and not for any particular regiment, the men being liable to serve in any regiment of their respective corps, the fighting and working dress being identical for all regiments of a corps, though each regiment retains its distinctive full-dress. The 21st Hussars were armed with the lance and changed to the 21st Lancers. Four Cavalry Brigades, with their headquarters at Aldershot, Canterbury, Curragh, and Colchester respectively, have been formed for the better training of cavalry in masses.

The new arrangements as to short service produce gradually for the British army an element which it long wanted an efficient Reserve. And on the two occasions when the reserve men were called out viz. in 1878, on a prospect of war with Russia; and in 1882, when many of these reserve men took part in the Egyptian campaign the results are considered to have justified the anticipations conceived of this new plan.

Some important steps were taken to improve the material of which the rank and file of the army was composed, and the terms of enlistment have been somewhat modified. Enlistment is still for a period of 12 years, but a recruit is now given the option of enlisting for 3 years with the colours followed by 9 years with the reserve, or for 7 years with the colours and 5 with the reserve.

Men serving abroad were liable to be kept an extra year with colours. Men of good character who after 7 years' service with the colours had joined the reserve, may rejoin the colours to complete 12 years' service provided they have still not less than 2 years' service to complete. Deferred pay was abolished, and in its place an addition of 3d. to the soldier's daily pay, making it 1s. 3d. provided he is 19 years of age and certified to be an efficient soldier.

The distribution of regiments into divisions and army corps, which previously was wanting, had been completed. The actual regiments had been told off; and in 1887 arrangements were made for maintaining two army corps and a division (6 regiments) of cavalry at fighting strength. Thus about 66,000 men, with 180 guns, were kept ready to embark immediately on the outbreak of hostilities. These troops were independent of those already abroad; and the battalions composing these two army corps would be those next on the roster for foreign service, whose strength would not be much below the war establishment. This state of things did not exist at the outbreak of the South African and Egyptian wars. Some battalions had their complement of seasoned men; others required reserved men or volunteers from other regiments to swell their numbers. The Reserves amounted to over 75,000 men, all of them trained soldiers; and 32,000 men from the militia reserve, who take a double bounty, and thereby render themselves liable to be called to the colours under the same conditions as the men who have served their time in the regular army.

As to artillery, the militia and volunteer artillery were considered sufficiently good to garrison the home forts, but cannot provide field artillery. A siege-train was always ready at Woolwich. Great progress had been made as to the organisation of the Transport Service, and during the Egyptian campaign of 1882 a post-office corps was added, with much advantage to the army in the field. Experiments have been made in reconnoitring by means of captive balloons, and in transmitting information by carrier-pigeons. Field telegraphs have been used in all recent expeditions, and the telephone has been tried on outpost duty. Volunteer corps have been invited to enrol cyclists to act as orderlies and messengers, and excellent results have been obtained from preliminary experiments. The conveyance of troops by sea "has also been provided for: plans for embarkation, transport, and disembarkation lie ready at the War Office, and the capacity of all steamships fit for carrying troops is known to the Admiralty. A vanguard for the First Army Corps may be said to be comprised in the garrisons of Gibraltar and Malta.

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Page last modified: 25-04-2013 17:44:04 ZULU