[Sidenote: Various employments of British Army.]
Every army necessarily grows up according to the traditions of its past history. Those of the Continent having only to cross a frontier, marked by Royal, Imperial or Republican stones, have, in their rare but terrible campaigns, to pursue definite objects that can be anticipated in nearly all their details years beforehand. The British army, on the contrary, throughout the nineteenth century, since the great war came to an end in 1815, has had to carry out a series of expeditions in every variety of climate, in all quarters of the globe, amidst the deserts of North Africa, the hills, plains and tropical forests of South Africa, the mountains of India, the swamps of Burma, or the vast regions of Canada. Such expeditions have been more numerous than the years of the century; each of them has differed from the other in almost all its conditions. Amongst its employments this army has had to face, also, the forces of a great Empire and troops armed and trained by Britain herself. Accordingly, it has happened that the experience of one campaign has almost invariably been reversed in the next. To take only recent illustrations, the fighting which was suitable for dealing with Zulu warriors, moving in compact formations, heroic savages armed with spears or assegais, was not the best for meeting a great body of skilled riflemen, mounted on well-managed horses. Moreover, the necessary accessories of an army, without which it cannot make war, such as its transport and its equipment, have had to be changed with the circumstances of each incident. Just as it has been impossible to preserve throughout all its parts one uniform pattern, such as is established everywhere by the nations of the Continent, so it has not been possible to have ready either the suitable clothing, the most convenient equipment, or the transport best adapted for the particular campaign which it happened to be at the moment necessary to undertake. More serious than this, and more vital in its effect on the contest about to be described, was the fact that the services thus required continually of British troops prevented the formation of larger bodies of definite organisation in which the whole staff, needed to give vitality and unity to anything more than a battalion or a brigade, was trained together. For such wars as those in Egypt, or for the earlier wars in South Africa, in Canada, or in many other countries, it was much more practical to select for each enterprise the men whose experience suited them for the particular circumstances, and form staffs as well as corps of the kind that were needed, both in strength and composition, for that especial work. This was a very serious disadvantage, when it came to be necessary to make up a great host, in which not a certain number of battalions, batteries, and cavalry regiments had to be employed, but in which ultimately a vast organisation of 300,000 men, many of whom were entirely new to army life, had to be brought into the field. It is one thing for the army corps of a great Continental State, in which everyone has been practising his own special part precisely as he will be engaged in war, to march straight upon its enemy in its then existing formation, and it is quite another to draw together a staff formed of men, each of them experienced both in war and peace, none of whom have worked together, while few have fulfilled the identical functions which they have to discharge for the first time when bullets are flying and shells are bursting. It will so often appear in the course of this history that the operations seriously suffered, because the necessary links between a general in command and the units which he has to direct were inadequate, that it is only fair to the many officers of excellent quality who were employed on the staff that the nature of this comparison should be clearly appreciated. It was no fault of theirs, but a consequence of that past history which had built up the British Empire, that they had neither previously worked together, nor practised in peace time their special part in an organisation which had, in fact, to be created anew for the immediate task in hand.
[Sidenote: The total forces of Empire.]
[Sidenote: Short service.]
When the war began, and when there were in South Africa, as already narrated, 27,054 troops, there nominally stood behind them, if all those who were armed and equipped throughout the British Empire be included, more than a million men. These were of every religion, of many colours, types and classes. On the 28th July, 1899, the Prime Minister had made for the kingdom a self-denying declaration by which one vast body of these forces was eliminated from the campaign. He announced that none but white soldiers would be employed by us. Of white men, 67,921 were in India, 3,699 in Egypt, 7,496 in Malta, 5,104 in Gibraltar, 738 in Barbados, 570 in Jamaica, 1,599 in Canada, 1,896 in Bermuda, 962 in Mauritius, 1,689 in China and Hong Kong, and 1,407 in the Straits Settlements. Even these are only examples of the nature of the duties on which the great mass of the British army was employed. They are chiefly interesting, because the proportion between the 67,921 men and the millions of the subject races of India, between the 3,699 men and the vast regions throughout which they maintained order under the sway of the Khedive, suggests to how fine a point had been carried the doing of much with mere representatives bearing the flag and little more. The extent of territory, the numbers of possible enemies, the vastness of the interests which the 1,689 men in China and the 1,407 men in the Straits Settlements had to watch, are perhaps, to those who realise the geography, almost as significant. Always it had been assumed that, if at any time some addition was necessary to reinforce these far extended outposts of Empire, it was to be provided from the regular army stationed at home. Up to the year 1888 no official declaration had ever been made of the purposes for which the home army was to be used. In that year Mr. Stanhope issued the necessarily often mentioned memorandum, which declared that, though it was highly improbable that so large a force would ever be required, yet two army corps, with a cavalry division, or a total of 81,952 men, were to be available for the purposes of action beyond the seas. As will be seen from the chapter on the work of the Navy, it was only in the year 1899 that the Admiralty, who necessarily would have to transport whatever strength was thus employed, became aware for the first time that the War Office would need shipping for more than one army corps. The British army has had more, and more varied, service during the nineteenth century than any other in the world. It undoubtedly included more officers and men, who had experienced what it meant to be under fire, than any other. But these experiences had all been gained in comparatively small detachments, and each was so unlike that of any other, that it was practically impossible that those trainings by service, which are much more efficient in their influence on the practical action of an army than any prescriptions, should be uniform throughout it. At the same time, this had given both to officers and men a habit of adapting themselves to unexpected incidents which may perhaps, without national immodesty, be said to be unique. In the year 1870 what is known as the short service system had been introduced. Under that system there were, in 1899, in the British Islands, 81,134 reservists available to be called up when required for war, retained only by a small fee. The principle on which the scheme was worked at the time was this: that as soon as the army was ordered to be mobilised all those men who had not completed their training in the ranks, or had not yet reached the age for service abroad, were relegated to depôts; their places were taken by the trained men from the reserve, and out of the excess numbers of the reservists and the men who gradually each month in succession completed their training, a supplementary reserve to maintain the cadres of the army in the field was created. Inevitably, as the numbers ultimately employed in this case far exceeded the two army corps for which alone provision had been made, these supplies of men only lasted for the first twelve months; but as long as they did so, the waste of war was compensated to an extent such as never has been known in our campaigns before, and hardly in those of any other Power except Japan, who appears to have borrowed our methods exactly for her great struggle with Russia.
[Footnote 79: See Chap. I., p. 2.]
At the time of Kruger's ultimatum of October 9, 1899, the British regular army was composed as follows:--
[Sidenote: Regular White troops.]The Project Gutenberg e-Book of History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 1 of 4; Author: Sir Frederick Maurice.
[Footnote 80: Not including Royal Malta Artillery, 833 of all ranks.]
[Sidenote: Their dispersion.]
These were all white troops; but it is essential that their distribution over the surface of the globe should be realised. The remarks which have been made as to the special cases quoted could easily, with slight modification, be shown to apply in practically every instance.
There were, including troops on the seas, on 1st October, 1899:--The Project Gutenberg e-Book of History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 1 of 4; Author: Sir Frederick Maurice.
[Footnote 81: Includes Royal Malta Artillery.]
[Sidenote: White Officers with natives.]
This total does not include the white officers employed with native troops, who numbered in all 1,814. The functions of these, however, will be best understood when the figures which follow have been considered, and the yet greater area of the earth's surface covered by those who served under the British flag has been taken into account. They are not matters for an appendix, but for the close study with a map of every adult and every child in the realm.
[Sidenote: Total strength and dispersion.]
The effective strength of the armed land forces of the British Empire (exclusive of the Royal Marines, but inclusive of local colonial naval contingents for harbour defence), in September-October, 1899, was:--The Project Gutenberg e-Book of History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 1 of 4; Author: Sir Frederick Maurice.
EAST AND CENTRAL AFRICA.
The local troops serving in Uganda, British East Africa, British Central Africa, and Somaliland, are not given. The aggregate area of these Protectorates is nearly four times that of Great Britain. The majority of their inhabitants were, and still are, but semi-civilised or wholly savage, and internal order has often to be maintained by serious fighting. In 1899 the force included three and a half battalions, but as it was then in process of reorganisation into one corps, the "King's African Rifles," its precise strength at that time cannot now be ascertained.