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British Regimental System - 1907 Reforms

The system of recruitment, recognised by Lord Cardwell in the case of the Regular Army, was confirmed by Lord Haldane, in forming the Territorial Army, whereby recruits were encouraged to prefer enlistment in their county regiments. Every locality took a profound personal interest in the men who had been recruited in its neighborhood and showed its desire to follow their fortune in the field, to assist them there to the utmost of its power with comforts, and, when they came home, whether wounded or sound, to welcome them with open arms.

A complete reform of the British Army had to be undertaken. At the psychological moment a lawyer, seized with the secret of military power, and enjoying the support, like Lord Fisher, of King Edward VII, emerged from the crowd of party politicians. In Lord Haldane the nation found its military administrator. He understood the German mentality, and, as his first task as Army reformer, he made it his business to study at first hand the military organisation of Germany. He visited Berlin and learned the secret of the scheme of German mobilisation. Then, fortified by knowledge, Lord Haldane devoted himself to the task of Army reform.

He set up a General Staff for the Empire; he gave the country a splendidly equipped and highly trained Expeditionary Force; he converted the Volunteer regiments into a Second Line Field Army, as a defence for the country and a reservoir of strength of the Regular Army; he established the Officers Training Corps; and he laid the foundations of medical and supply organisations which became the envy of the world. Lord Haldane had a free hand for six years.

Before Lord Cardwell went to the War Office there had been a territorial system in existence—that is to say, there had been regiments closely connected with certain counties. But it was the introduction of the double battalion system by Lord Cardwell — the setting up of the large and the small depots, and the bringing into each of the counties concerned another regiment not hitherto connected with that particular county — which inaugurated the new territorial idea. It did not make very rapid advance, certainly not as regards officers. It did as regards the men, because there were the depots, and the county men were more likely to go to their county depots than to others. Even in the latter 1880s there was no inclination on the part of officers to join their county regiments. They were far more inclined to join the regiments to which their college or school friends belonged.

The incident which changed all this want of interest was the South African War. Suddenly the cadres of the Yeomanry and the Volunteers were called upon to do some practical work in fitting out bodies of troops, and they had, of course, to call upon the enthusiasm and the patriotism of their neighbors, and the result was an immense extension of local sentiment in local units. The gentry as well as other classes joined those units, and funds were raised in the several counties with which to equip, indeed to more than equip, those units. And when they came back from that war they were welcomed with open arms. From that day local territorial sentiment with the military units of the county was firmly established.

When Viscount, Lord Haldane, introduced his Territorial Army scheme, he found that from the point of view of local sentiment he had an easy task. The Cardwell system was one by which every battalion abroad should have a battalion at home corresponding to it, and the battalion at home was not to be filled with trained soldiers in time of peace but was only to have a small proportion of trained soldiers and was to be filled up on mobilisation from the Reserve. The recruits came to the depôt, stayed there a short time, and went on to complete their training in the second battalion. That was a localised system, in which every battalion had its local connection. The battalion abroad came from a local source; the battalion at home was local; and the depôt was local.

The Militia was essentially a local force if any force ever was local. They used to be raised and looked after by the Lord Lieutenant of the county, who was at the head of them. Then came the time when it was found that the Militia was recruited only for service at home, and the discovery dawned upon the War Office that rapidity in mobilisation was absolutely essential, and therefore it was necessary to get rid of the Militia system, which could not count on troops coming rapidly, and the Special Reserve was substituted for the Militia to go abroad. That enabled the depôt to become, on mobilisation, a third battalion; it was a large sedentary force used largely for garrison purposes, and was a reservoir from which to feed the first two battalions. Therefore these three battalions were strictly local.

Then behind the third battalion, as it became in case of war, there used to be some Militia battalions, but when those were done away with there might be a Special Reserve battalion behind the depôt battalion as it was in time of peace. And behind these were the Territorial battalions. The Territorial battalions were again strictly local, but they were not intended to be recruited at the depôt; they were intended to be recruited by machinery which was made for the purpose and which was purely local - the County Associations.

The County Associations were really in the main military bodies, consisting of men who had given their minds to military things. These were the men who could squeeze out every voluntary recruit in a county, and make appeals to sentiment and patriotism — an engine more powerful than any other engine. Nothing was comparable to the County Association as an instrument for getting voluntary recruits.

A few ungenerous things were said of the Territorial Army, but it was not that branch of the scheme that was seriously challenged, and if comparison be made with the past, it was beyond argument that the Territorial Force was of infinitely greater military value than the old unorganised mob of volunteer regiments of the pre-Haldane regime. The whole weight of criticism was directed against the preparedness and the adequacy of the Expeditionary Force, and still more against the actual military value of the 410,000 Regulars, Special Reservists, and Territorials, who were said to be available on paper for repairing the wastage of war, for garrisoning the fortified places, and for providing the Field Army of Home Defence after the Expeditionary Force had left British shores.

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Page last modified: 25-04-2013 17:44:05 ZULU