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The Post Crimean War Period History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

During the post Crimean war period, the British army was a hodgepodge of antiquated and even cruel traditions and regulations. The army was far flung, scattered throughout the territories, colonies, and dominions that made up the empire with a small and insignificant army stationed at home. Hide bound officers and arch conservative types were determined to maintain their privileges and their institutions that had been handed down by their hero the Duke of Wellington, who in the wake of his victory over Napoleon in 1815 had remade the army to suit his own purposes. He was a martinet and a hard unyielding sort of commander who, as he was from the aristocracy had a dim view of the lower orders and wanted them to be kept on a tight leash. His institutions became etched in stone, so that even a minor deviation caused great anguish to his supporters. However, certain opponents to the rigid and unyielding dictates of the Duke, came to power and began a series of reforms that changed the nature of the British army for good.

Cardwell Reforms

The initial reforms of the British Army instituted by Sir Jonathon Peel in 1858, in direct response to the ineptitude and incompetence demonstrated during the Crimean War. He established a Royal Commission to examine the army and make recommendations for its improvement.

By 1868 when Edward Cardwell, a former soldier himself, took over the War Office he was appalled that the mis-administration of the Crimean War Effort and subsequent Indian mutiny, and took steps to try to implement the commission recommendations. He was determined that using the entire useable British army to fight in the first instance an army of only 25,000 in the Crimean War and a smaller force during the Indian mutiny was a priority that needed to be addressed. There was no “home front” army and this disturbed many in the government as well as the citizenry.

However, as early as 1862, the Royal Commission reported there [i] were a number of obstacles that stood in the way of full implementation of the recommendations. Although it was no longer operating, The East India Company had long maintained its own private armies and its executors wanted to continue with maintaining a private military establishment. There were also some very conservative and intransigent senior officers who opposed almost any reform based on principle and their own outdated beliefs on how the army should be run. These politically connected -conservatives were led by the Commander in Chief, Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, who was Queen Victoria’s cousin, and:

“… almost the last of the typically Hanoverian characters thrown up by the English ruling dynasty, and derived his ideas on drill and discipline from Butcher Cumberland and the Prussian school of Frederick the Great.” [1]

By 1870, an additional 20,000 troops and two million pounds were allocated by Parliament. A brilliant and fear enticing pamphlet campaign helped bring about the needed reforms. Colonel (eventually General) Sir George Chesney, head of the Indian Civil Engineering College, called it “the Battle of Dorking”. He raised the spectre that Britain faced a possible German invasion and that despite the additional troops and money credited by Parliament, it was not enough.

This spurred on Edward Cardwell, who was a protégé of William Ewart Gladstone and had been the Secretary of State for War since 1868, to update the British military and to reform it as well. This dual purpose was to be a nearly insurmountable battle, but to leave things, as the status quo was not an option. There were critical needs to create the army into a modern force and the complicated lessons of the Crimea were being dismissed, forgotten, or disregarded. As British historian R.C.K. Ensor wrote:

“If… [no] criticism had made headway; it was that England had no notion of the art of war. British officers were expected to be gentlemen and sportsmen; but outside the barrack-yard they were…’entirely wanting in military knowledge’. The lack of it was deemed no drawback, since Marlborough’s and Wellington’s officers got along without it. Only the rise of the Prussian military…availed to shake this complacency.” [2]

Cardwell’s Initial Reforms:

1868 – Abolishing Flogging in Peace Time

Cardwell’s first act caused an uproar by nearly every senior officer in the Army. It was their considered opinion that flogging was absolutely necessary. They cited the Duke of wellington who was thought to have observed that you needed to be able to flog the men for minor infractions or that discipline would decay. The army officers used this to validate their opinions since the Duke was considered one of the foremost officers the British army had ever produced. Cardwell on the other hand felt that in order to attract good quality recruits by ensuring the private soldier’s life was dignified and more of a career option than penal servitude. While Cardwell was unable to get rid of flogging during war time because it was felt that this extraordinary powers of punishment might be required in the field by officers it finally was abolished in 1880 for all times – peace and war.

1869 – Troop Withdrawal from Self Governing Colonies

Cardwell brought his troops home in 1869 from those self-governing colonies. He felt that they were able to raise local forces and not be dependent upon the British army for their security. After all they were “self-governing”. Again he met with Wellingtonian followers’ opposition, as the Duke was the one who implemented scattering troops over all the colonies – self governing or otherwise. Wellington had done this to keep a standing army in the field and ovoid the usual opposition to the very fact of a professional standing army (led by the Whigs). Doing this had been an economic nightmare and there was also an inability to train strategic and tactical operations above battalion level. Cardwell prevailed and by 1871, 26,000 British troops had been withdrawn from overseas territories and returned to Great Britain.

1870 – Abolishing Bounty Money and Setting Guidelines.

Cardwell abolished bounty money paid for recruits and thereby stopped a lot of press ganging into the army as well as the navy. He also set out specific guidelines for discharging bad characters from the military, thereby making the service a more respectable and safer place to be employed.

Army Enlistment Act

The year 1870 was also a milestone for Cardwell’s reforms as well as for the military itself. He introduced legislation into Parliament the Army Enlistment (Short Service) Act 1870,[3] that reached the floor of the House of Commons in late spring, 1870.

Up until Cardwell’s reforms life in the British army was akin to servitude. From the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 to 1847, the hitch in the army was for 21 years. That means when a lad signed up for the service he had to endure 21 years of flogging, verbal abuse and of course in some cases, a lifetime commitment. Again that paragon of fighting men, the Duke of Wellington, on the heels of his defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo implemented this concept of lifetime servitude to the Crown.

The Time of Service in the Army Act 1847, allowed for enlistments of ten years,(later increased to twelve) but this was still felt as too long. There was also a nasty caveat to this term of enlistment. Soldiers could be discharged after ten years but they would not be eligible for a pension for the time that they served. The only way to vest in a pension was to re-up their enlistments for an additional 10-12 years. If they chose the latter they would be rewarded with two months furlough, another enlistment bounty, and a pension on completion of their term. This stacked the deck in the Army’s favor, as most of these men had no other than soldiering. Many discharged soldiers chose to re-enlist immediately and of those voluntary discharges, one in five signed on again within six months of their discharge as they were unable to face life with no trade, no pension and no future options. For the Army it was a win-win situation.

While this existing system had created an army of experienced veteran soldiers, there was no back-up or reserves that could be recalled to serve in case of a national emergency. Cardwell observed the Franco-Prussian war and was convinced of the necessity of having an army reserve of well trained men in good health and vigour. Again due to the Wellington system of far flung enlistments most British soldiers served more than half their enlistments abroad. While many of the places were in tropical climates such as India there were also the attendant fevers and diseases that accompanied this service so that when the soldiers came home, their health was seldom good. This was not a robust reserve force but a tired and often depleted force of exhausted unhealthy soldiers.

It was with this in mind that encouraged Cardwell to bring before Parliament the idea of “short service”. The Act of 1870 permitted a soldier to choose to spend time in the reserves rather than the regulars and be paid fourpence a day for his service. In return for this daily fourpence, he would engage in a short period of training each year and an obligation to serve when called up. While men enlisted for a maximum term of twelve years, the most enlistments were those who opted for six and the reserve duty. The minimum length of service varied, but on discharge a soldier would now remain with the reserves for the remainder of the twelve-year term. Therefore when necessary, a well trained reserve force was ready and able to stand for Queen and country

Of course there were howls of opposition, however Parliament passed the act, despite the objections of conservatives and the Army’s senior officers who saw their powerbase and forces being freed from what was indentured servitude. Even Queen Victoria “most reluctantly”,[4] signed the act into law. Cardwell though was vindicated since the new system worked, by increasing enlistments and thereby producing an immediate increase in the army’s strength.

Localisation scheme

Another major reform that Cardwell instituted was the Comprehensive Regulation of the Forces Act 1871. Once a soldier had enlisted for General Service, and he was apt to be drafted into any regiment regardless of stated preferences. This was another reason that joining the army was considered harsh and recruitment difficult. It was not as if this were a secret. In 1829 by Lord Palmerston found that:

“…there is a great disinclination on the part of the lower orders to enlist for general service; they like to know that they are to be in a certain regiment, connected, perhaps, with their own county, and their own friends, and with officers who have established a connection with that district. There is a preference frequently on the part of the people for one regiment as opposed to another, and I should think there would be found a great disinclination in men to enlist for general service, and to be liable to be drafted and sent to any corps or station.”[5]

Nevertheless, the Army had insisted for years that it could be administered only based on General Service. This was partially due to the inherent class system that regarded the “lower orders” as servants and exploitable

Lord Cardwell had a different view. He envisioned that instead of a general service enlistment that could send men anywhere he saw a localisation scenario. Cardwell divided the country into 66 Brigade Districts (later named Regimental Districts). He based the divisions on traditional county boundaries and population density. He determined that line infantry regiments would now consist of two battalions, sharing a depot and associated recruiting area. One battalion would serve overseas, while the other was stationed at home for training. The militia (reserves) of that area then became the third battalion to be called up when needed.

While the senior twenty-five regiments of the line already had two battalions, the other regiments had only one battalion. The plan combined these regiments to create to produce two-battalion regiments, through a very complex process that involved debate over regimental traditions and seniority that was not finally completed until many years later during the Childers Reforms. Nevertheless, Cardwell’s measures quickly produced more cohesive units that were ready to protect and defend.

Cardwell’s Other Reforms

Lord Cardwell wasn’t quite done in reforming the military under his command. He was a former soldier and the way he went about reforming the army reflected many years thought and intelligent repositioning of what the army meant and how best to build a strong and vital fighting service. Cardwell introduced a number of minor yet far reaching reforms through Orders in Council or other Statutory Instruments.

In 1871 an Order abolished some little-used disciplinary practices such as branding for infractions;

Cardwell also eliminated the sale of commissions as well as some subordinate junior ranks of cavalry Cornet and infantry Ensign. These ranks were replaced with Second Lieutenant. (The style “Cornet” is still used for Second Lieutenants in the Blues and Royals and the Queen’s Royal Hussars, and the term “Ensign” is still used by the Foot Guards regiments, for instance during the ceremony of Trooping the Colour. However, these are exceptions and not the rule and certainly not the actual title as held by the individual in his or her troop.)

Units were placed on the same establishment (number of soldiers in each unit) whether serving at home or overseas. Prior to the Reforms units serving overseas had previously had a larger establishment, because of anticipated losses to disease or climate that would be awkward and difficult to replace. This however left the units at home under strength since these units were traditionally stripped of soldiers in order to bring overseas units up to strength. Once the reforms were implemented, these home units could now be used to form an effective expeditionary force while the overseas units would be recruited to full strength without depleting the home unit.

Cardwell also got rid of the infighting in the War Office by abolishing the separate administration of the Reserves and Volunteers and unifying other parts of the administration of the services. The defence policy of Canada, Australia and New Zealand followed his dictates of the self-governing colonies (or in this case dominions) to replace small garrisons of the British army by locally-raised units.

Cardwell’s reforms began the long path to turning British forces into an effective Imperial force that is recognizable today. When a change of government put Cardwell out of office in 1874, his reforms stayed in place. This was despite desperate attempts from the Army and its hidebound officer class to abolish them and return to the bad old days of Wellingtons draconic post-1815 mandates.

Childers Reforms

Secretary of State for War Hugh Childers, in 1881, continued following Cardwell’s reforms by restructuring the infantry regiments of the British army. He was reluctantly the secretary but despite some fierce opposition from regular army regiments, continued to implement ways to improve the army and create a viable fighting force

Childer’s main contribution to reform was to rename and restructure all the Regimental districts that had been established by Cardwell. He did this through General Order 41/1881, issued on 1 May 1881, amended by G.O. 70/1881 dated 1 July, where he created a system of multi-battalion regiments. England, Wales, and Scotland regiments were to have two regular or “line” battalions and two militia battalions. Irish regiments were to consist of two line and three militia battalions. Childers renamed and renumbered regiments of foot and county militia into these other regiments. He also allocated that the different corps of county rifle volunteers were now volunteer battalions. Each of these regiments was linked by headquarters location and territorial name to its local “Regimental District”. The reforms came into effect on 1 July.

In 1881 Childers formally merged the Cardwell Brigade districts into new regimental identities, and incorporated the volunteer movement into the system as well. The county regiment was solidified, with anywhere between four and a dozen battalions that shared a regiment’s traditions. This kept the regiment’s accumulated glory by transferring it into county districts. The regimental seniority numbers were abolished and battalions came to be known by their number within the regiment and the regimental district name. While many regiments were still unofficially referred to by their numbers per their own officers and men as a tradition and a point of pride many were not. Some regiments such as “The Buffs”, The Cameron Highlanders, and “The Black Watch”, lobbied to keep their distinct names as part of their battalion titles and did so.

Sometimes in those early days, it was not possible for the strict definition of the order to be applied. For example, the Cameron Highlanders only had one regular battalion, and other regiments had sometimes more than the required militia regiments or even fewer, depending on their district and location. Some of the regiments like the Rifle Brigade and King’s Royal Rifle Corps had no local regimental districts as they were royal regiments and as such the their militia and volunteer battalions were selected not on a territorial basis, but due to their “rifle” traditions. However, this Childers structure lasted until 1948, when a rearrangement of every regiment of line infantry cut regular battalions to one, with only the three original Guards Division regiments retaining two regular battalions. Change and reform are always slow, but significant.

Standardisation of uniforms and colours

Childer’s Orders also included an effort to ensure that the uniform facings were standardised: English and Welsh regiments – white facings; Irish regiments – green facings, Scottish regiments – yellow facings; and royal regiments – dark blue facings. Each officer’s uniform had lace in distinctive national patterns: rose pattern – England and Wales; thistle – Scotland; and shamrock – Ireland. Regular battalion’s lace was gold, while militia battalions bore silver. While there were efforts made to incorporate regimental insignia and remove “tribal” uniform distinctions there was a national outcry against this and regimental tribalism and tradition remained a force within the Army.

This was brought to a head in 1890, when “The Buffs” succeeded in being allowed to resume the wearing of buff facings. Over the next several years other regiments replaced white facings with their own traditional colours. King George V allowed blue facings for royal regiments to lapse as he instituted three regiments as royal for his Silver Jubilee and “permitted [then] to retain their present facings”.[6] In 1939 The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who had worn blue facings since 1881, were issued buff regimental colours “by request and gracious permission”.[7] Again in 1946 three infantry regiments were designated as “royal” for services in the Second World War. Of these, only the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment replaced its (white) facings with blue.[8] Traditions are often difficult to change, even with a royal designation to back it up – especially when the King undermines the General Order of Council.

Even More Changes to Standardization

The Second Boer War brought a number of changes to the British army. For the three years between 1897 and 1900, the regular army was increased in size in response to a number of conflicts in which it was deployed. By this time The Cameron Highlanders (who had always been short a battalion) raised a second battalion. Third and Fourth battalions were added to the: Northumberland Fusiliers, Warwickshire Regiment, Royal Fusiliers, King’s (Liverpool Regiment), Lancashire Fusiliers, Worcestershire Regiment, Middlesex Regiment and the Manchester Regiment. The recruiting areas of each of these regiments included parts of large areas of urban sprawl for the time period.

The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 reformed the reserve forces in 1908. This act reformed the different militia battalions – disbanding some and transferring the rest to a Special Reserve. Volunteer battalions were now part of the new Territorial Force, and designated as numbered battalions of the regiments – no longer volunteers, but reservists as well.

Then came the First World War. The territorial battalions were duplicated and many war-time service battalions formed to meet the need of the fighting forces on the continent .

By the beginning of the 1920’s with the conclusion of the war, the special reserve battalions were placed in limbo and a number of Irish regiments, especially those that were part of the southern part of the country disbanded when Irish Free State came into existence. The rest of the regiments then reduced themselves to two regular battalions. It got much less complicated than the earlier permutations.

The Second World War expanded the regiments again however, there was nothing like the expansion that took place during WWI

In 1947, the British Army regiments underwent another permutation of the regimental structure. After India declared independence regiments lost their second battalion. Although some were reformed during the Korean War this was the exception to the new rule.

Childer’s reforms that began in 1881 finally ended with a completely new series of the reforms defined by the Defence White Paper of 1957. Many pairs of regiments were combined, regimental depots closed and recruiting and training organised in multi-regiment brigades were just some of the new order of reform that was introduced to the British army.

Haldane Reforms

While the Childer’s reforms of the 1880’s still held sway with the structure of the regiments, Lord Richard Haldane, implemented a series of reforms of the British Army made from 1906 to 1912, These were the first major reforms since the Childers of the early 1880s, and were derived as a result of the lessons manifested by the Second Boer War.

In December 1905, Richard Haldane was appointed Secretary of State for War although he really wanted to be the Lord Chancellor. Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman offered the War Office to two other men before Haldane offered to take it. Despite such an inauspicious beginning, he would become, in the words of Douglas Haig, “the greatest Secretary of State for War England has ever had”.[9] Haldane took the post with no preconceived ideas as to the role of the Army, but quickly settled on the idea that efficiency was essential as a precursor to making financial economies.[10]

Haldane began his institution of reforming the army because of a secret pact between the foreign office and France that would have to be implemented quickly if Germany and France went to war over Tangiers. While this did not happen, it set Haldane on the road to creating the British Expeditionary Force that was to prove decisive in WWI 8 years later.

The primary reform was the institution of the British Expeditionary Force. This force was to be specifically prepared and trained for deployment in the event of a major war. While there had been other forces before that were ostensibly to accomplish this they had been unprepared for overseas service. The newly BEF would remain as a permanent peacetime force and also have full complement of supporting troops at the ready.

Haldane also restructured the reserve forces, thereby expanding on the reforms of Cardwell and Childers so that the overseas forces could be efficiently reinforced and supplied with new recruits. He did not neglect home defence either.

The Volunteer Force, Militia, and the Yeomanry were reorganised into a new Territorial Force. These reforms grouped in the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 as we discussed earlier. The Army at home was reorganised into six divisions by a Special Army Order dated 1 January 1907, with one “heavy” four-brigade Cavalry Division and two mounted brigades for reconnaissance, along with some Army troops. By February 1907, Haldane announced the coming year’s spending estimates and proved that he was able to save money 2-3 million pounds despite creating this new fighting force. Those disbanded units and some other reform measures such as administration consolidation etc had managed to reduce overall spending and provide an increased efficiency in the army as well. [11]

Haldane also determined that encouraging the development of military skills required an Officer Training Corps to be established in public schools and universities were a priority. As with any army, an ongoing supply of skilled Army officers needs to be prepared in case of war. A commission was established and made two recommendations. The primary recommendation was to reorganise the existing school Cadet Corps and university Rifle Corps, which had formed as an unplanned, unorganized structure and change it into a uniform force, that was administered and supported by the War Office with all the requisite discipline and training that was needed to create an outstanding officer pool.[12]

In 1908, Army Order 160 established that there were to be contingents of the “Senior Division” at universities, and contingents of the “Junior Division” at public schools to create the core groups. Later that year Army Order 178 set forth standard regulations and indicated that this new type of military training was to provide officer candidates for commissions when needed.[13]

By the end of 1910 these officer training sessions were really popular since the Senior Division boasted , 19 contingents and there were 152 Junior Division cadets. Within a year this popularity caused 55 and 155 Senior and Junior Divisions respectively to produce a total of 23,700 cadets as of 1st January 1912. The training had graduated 630 officers, and 830 former cadets who had already accepted their commissions in the auxiliary forces.[14] Haldane’s reforms for a standing officer corps was working, despite the fact that buying commissions had long been abolished.

While there was resurgence in the officer corps with new members joining regularly, Haldane also instituted a new Imperial General Staff. The General staff was required to redevelop military strategy into a common set of guidelines and strategic aims among the various military forces of the British Empire.

As indicated under Cardwell, the emphasis military policy shifted from a single centralised Army and Navy scattered throughout the empire to allowing the self-governing Dominions to provide forces for their own defence. This also encouraged them to take responsibility for strategic interests and bases in their own geographic areas and areas of internal interest. 15]

Although the Dominion forces were responsible for their own defence, at a meeting of the Dominion leaders in 1907, the military suggested that all forces throughout the empire follow a standard model for training and strategic aims. The Dominion leaders not only approved this concept, but also recommended that to implement it more fully that the general staff be recruited from the entire Empire. This way the Imperial General Staff was a common bond between the Dominion forces and the British Army and could develop a uniform defence. The other advantage was to ensure that consistency between the forces ruled although it was stipulated that the Imperial General Staff was a guiding body to the local government and General Staff, and not and would not have any binding authority over the national forces.[16] Dominion and British army approved this new system and confirmed r the new structure, and the principle of standardisation, as well as emphasizing that it was not to limit the autonomy of the self-governing Dominions.

Meanwhile, Haldane had the Regular Army reformed by the development of a new operational and training doctrine, laid down in Douglas Haig’s new Field Service Pocket Book. In 1907, the new “Field Service Pocket Book” was produced, amended and finally became the standard for all operations in 1909 as “Field Service Regulations, Part I – Operations” in 1909. This standardised training for all branches of the service, and was the synthesis of the generally agreed tactical and strategic principles that had emerged from the South African War and the new BEF focus on the regular army. (17)

With WW1 beginning in August of 1914, the bulk of the changes put to the test. Quickly and effectively the British Expeditionary Force was off to the Continent. At home, the Territorial Force and Reserves were mobilised as to provide a second line. It went according to plan.

These reforms changed the way that the British army was operated and organized. Gone were the days of the private armies such as the British East India Company or the 21 year servitude that made the army feel like prison instead of an honorable occupation. In their place was a good sized well trained standing army that could be sent into combat situations overseas without depleting the protection of home. Well trained officers and soldiers now provided the backbone of the army, and were ready to defend at home and abroad.

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