Arthur William À Beckett.

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Later on there was another attempted revival.
The Prince de Joinville in the time of Louis Philippe,
King of the French, threatened " the perfidious
-toion" with a hostile visit. It was at a time when
" Dicky " Doyle was delighting the readers of Punch
with those charming pictures of the manners and
customs of the English, to which poor " Professor "
Percival Leigh in his " Mr. Pipp's Diary," furnished
the letterpress. Mr. Doyle showed in a panorama
how the French army would leave France to suffer
the tortures of mal de mer m the Channel, how " the


Iron Duke " would watch their movements through
a telescope from a Martello tower, how, on their
arrival in London '" Monsieur JuUien " would be
arrested, how 85, Fleet Street, would be besieged,
and how the entire French army would have to
retreat, hotly pursued by Mr. Punch and his dog
Toby. That was the tone that was taken about a
French invasion some fifty years ago, and on the
whole it was not an entirely satisfactory tone. Its
result was much good-natured chaff when the
Volunteer movement again appeared. About 1850
rifle corps were proposed, and John Leech and his
collaborateiir, the author of the " Comic History of
England," laughed " the movement " out of court by
their admirable series of " The Brook Green
Volunteer." We were not prepared to take things
too seriously in those days, and were inclined to
believe that the Regulars in their white ducks on the
First of May were quite sufficient to meet all military


It may be possible that the merry treatment that
the solitary defender of Brook Green received at the
pen and pencil of his biographers made people
a little nervous about a revival. I think that Captain
Hans Busk was the first to suggest the establish-


ment of Rifle clubs. He did not venture at first
to carry his idea any further. There were to be
rifle clubs where men should fire at targets repre-
senting enemies instead of potting clay balls in lieu
of pigeons. The clubs were a great success, and very
shortly after their inauguration the brilliant notion
occurred to someone to convert them into regiments.
From that moment to this the Volunteers have
flourished. They have had their ups and downs.
They have been chaffed, but they have lived it down.
In Pictures from " Punch " there are several speci-
mens of the humour that found its subject in the
doings of the Volunteers. The reason that a more
encouraging tone was adopted later on is possibly
attributable to the fact that Charles Keene was a
private in the Artists' corps and Tom Taylor
a captain in the Civil Service Rifles. Be this
as it may, there is no doubt that Mr. Punch ever
since i860 has done his level best to support the
Volunteers, and with excellent results. " The Sage of
Fleet Street " usually sets the fashion, and certainly
in this case the mode has been followed by all his
more serious contemporaries. John Leech often
sketched the riflemen after their revival, but the
Brook Green Private was never reproduced. And
a propos of this series, I may note that Gilbert Abbott
a Beckett, the author of the " Comic History of
England/' was himself the son of an officer of


Volunteers. His father was a captain in the St.
James's Corps in 18 10.


And now we come to the present time. As luck
will have it I have had an opportunity of seeing
something of volunteering, first in England and next
in France. In the days when an officer of the Militia
could also hold a commission in " another place," I
commanded a small corps. I can speak with con-
fidence of the sincere efforts that my gunners made
to become worthy of the title of soldiers. Both com-
manders and commanded took an infinity of pains
to learn their duties. Men become Volunteers
because they are born soldiers. No man joins the
ranks, either commissioned or non-commissioned,
unless he really loves the profession of arms. Very
often the Service " Tommy Atkins " joins in a
moment of pique, and frequently regrets his action
within a month of its occurrence. He has been
crossed in love if he is a clodhopper ; he wants to
spite his relatives if he is a " gentleman born." In
the latter case he begs his father to buy him off when
he finds his barrack life rougher than he anticipated.
The best thing his father can do is to sternly refuse
to assist him for at least a year. After he has had
twelve months of " stables," or " fatigue duty," he



will be cured of the " scarlet fever." If his discharge
is purchased within the statutory time for a reduction,
on the next occasion he will enlist again. If the
lad has really something in him, it is not impossible
that he may work his way up from the rank and
file into the sergeants' mess, and ultimately into the
officers' ante-room. If he has not, why, then let the
boy have a good " bucketing." A year's work in a
regiment will do him a world of good and not an inch
of harm.


However, it is not the " hard bargains " of the
service who join the volunteers, but men who would
make their way anywhere. Many give for love what
is in the other class extorted by fear. And here I
am reminded of a conversation I once had with a
young German during the war of 1870-71. We were
in a railway carriage travelling between Cologne and
Coblentz, and my companion was full of abuse of
everything British. We had no army, no fleet, " no
nothing." He abused our soldiers as slaves.

" Come," said I at last, " they are not quite that.
They are all volunteers."

When I had more fully explained he was absolutely
astounded. Did I really mean that every soldier in
the British forces was a warrior by his own choice .!*


I acquiesced. Then he was silent for quite a quarter
of an hour.

" I beg your pardon," said he at last, in a subdued
tone, " but can you tell me how a German can become
naturalised ? "

As for the fighting qualities of the Volunteers I
can say that the hastily raised troops of the French
during the great war acquitted themselves as well,
and better, than the regular army. Again, the
Americans on both sides — Federal and Confederate
— fought gallantly, although two-thirds of them were
the rawest of raw recruits. Lord Wolseley has said
somewhere that the discipline of an ordinary militia
regiment is quite good enough to serve as a model for
the entire service when an army is in the field. The
marching of the Guards is a thing of beauty and a
joy for ever, but something more is required before
the enemy. That something more is obtained in a
very short space of time. Only recently we have
heard of the admirable conduct of Volunteers in
Africa. It does not require much " polishing " to
make a citizen soldier into a first-rate " fighting-man."


But to leave generalities to come to particulars.
On two distinct occasions the Rifles have shown

themselves to be excellent troops. A few years ago



the Canadian Volunteers gave a good account of the
Fenians, and a httle later the Post Office Volunteers
sent an admirably disciplined force to Egypt. And
more recently our Colonial Volunteers have worked
wonders in our Cape possessions.

The German system has shown us how a man
who has had a soiifqon of military training as a lad
can be recalled to the colours in middle age and
become a first-class warrior. The moment hostilities
broke out between Prussia and France, hundreds of
quiet sober young clerks threw up their situations in
London and hurried away to the Fatherland. They
proved themselves thoroughly capable as cavalry,
infantry, and artillery, and I venture to think that if
the volunteers were called to the colours in defence
of their native land they would be equally reliable.
Under these circumstances it seems a folly, a shame,
a crime, to " snub " our citizen soldiers. Nothing kills
so surely as ridicule. The comic papers are more
merciful than the officials of the War Office. If
there is a field day regulars are given the principal
commands, and the Volunteers' " C.O.s " are left in
the cold. This is one of the many grievances that
should meet with redress. In spite of C.B.'s (Civil)
and long service medals the citizens are distinctly
snubbed. Of course an invasion would set every-
thing to rights, but that is a blessing that we would
not desire. Until the days of disaster arrive, then, the


Volunteers must be accepted on trust. They are
certainly a very fine body of men. And here before
I conclude these brief remarks I may refer to the
proposed Ladies' Ambulance Corps. The members
of this novel gathering are not only to act as nurses
in the hospital but soldiers m the held. They are
emphatically to hold their own. I cannot help think-
ing that the idea is a mistake. When I was in France
and Germany during the war I saw a good deal of
the " Sisters." Of course, amongst them were some
conscientious, self-sacrihcmg persons. But there were
exceptions (possibly proving the rule) in the shape
of a few fussy and tiresome females. These ladies
were anything rather than popular with the doctors,
and, I must add, anything rather than popular with
the patients. It appears to me that Amazons may
be all very well at a music-hall, but will be decidedly
out of place at the seat of war.

In conclusion, may the London Volunteers increase
and prosper. Let not the citizen soldier be ridden
rough-shod by the regular. After all, they are both
Englishmen, and the amateur is frequently the equal
of the professional. This is true enough with
cricket ; then why not with soldiering .?




In the spring of the year the newspapers are full of
accounts of the trainings of the battalions of T^Iilitia.
As a rule the press notices are extremely brief. The
public are told that so many regiments have been
called up for the customary twenty-seven days of
service with th^ colours, and so many having per-
formed their allotted duty, have been dismissed to
their hearths and homes. Some of the professional
organs of the Constitutional Force give a few details,
such as " the 4th Royal Blankshire have had their
annual inspection," and the " 12th Rifle Brigade
(Prince Consort's Own) have been sent to Aldershot,"
but as a rule, even the avowedly military journals are
a trifle reticent of the doings of " the first line of the
reserve." But it is a notable fact that the end of the
century finds half the Constitutional Force embodied.


It is not a difficult matter to get a commission in
the Militia. A lad must know a commanding officer,


must have a clean bill of health from the authorities
of his school, and be generally a good fellow, and a
sub-lieutenancy follows on application as a matter of
course. I myself have had the honour of serving in
two regiments— one a metropolitan corps, and the
other with its headquarters in the country. My
brother officers in both battalions belonged to the
same class of men. In the town regiment many of
the captains had been in the service, and our colonel
had also, as a lieutenant, worn the gold lace prior to
its adoption by the Militia. In the county battalion
most of our men (like the rank and hie) were country
born. During the twenty-seven days of our training
they were intensely military, and quite as smart as
the majority of their brothers in the service battalions.
I noticed that what may be termed the civilian
officers (to distingmsh them from their ex-service
colleagues), were, as a whole, more zealous than their
ex-professional brethren. When I hrst obtained my
company, after some ten years' faithful service as a
subaltern, a great influx of the recently-retired were
drafted into the commissioned ranks. At first the
newcomers took much interest in the proceedings
of the men on parade, but when they found that
Militiamen were a little slow in " forming fours " or
" advancing m column," they seemed to lose heart in
their work, and became as slovenly as the men they
had been sent to command. The native Militia


officers, so far from deteriorating as the training be-
came older, on the contrary, gradually improved.
They rubbed off their rust in the first week, and by
the fourth were as bright and as sharp as newly-
burnished needles. The civilians began at their
worst and ended at their best, whilst the ex-warriors
reversed the operation. Under these circumstances,
were I a commanding officer of a Militia regiment
(which I frankly admit I am not), I would prefer
civilians to ex-soldiers. Possibly the fact that I was
a civilian officer myself has made me take a preju-
diced view of the subject. But I will not go beyond
" perhaps."


It has often been my lot to be asked by some
youngster thirsting for as much military glory as can
be obtained at Aldershot or some other spot within
the British Islands, " which should he choose, town
or country .'* " My answer has depended on circum-
stances. If the boy has belonged to a county family
I have suggested that he should become a son of the
soil. There is no bond of union between neighbours
so pleasant as the regimental tie of the local
Yeomanry or the Militia. But if the budding Wel-
hngton hails from Cockayne let him join one of the
London regiments. There are several particularly
smart battalions, the Royal Fusiliers, the East Surrey,


but for choice. I take the 5 th and 7th Rifle Brigade.
The last has been immortalised by the late Charles
Keene in the pages of Tiinch. The best of our
draughtsmen drew a diminutive Militiaman accosting
an adjutant. Said the officer to the private : " And
who may you be ? " Returned the private to the
officer : " Please, sir, I'm the 7th Battalion of the
Rifle Brigade, Prince Consort's Own, better known
as the Tower 'Amlets Milishy ! " And very fine
fellows the *' Tower 'Amlets Milishy " are, were (and
if I may presume on a prophecy), ever will be. And
as one regiment is as good as another perhaps, I, in
referring to the Militia, may confine my remarks to
this distinguished regiment, as I had the honour for
many years of serving in its commissioned ranks.


When I joined, the first story that was told me at
mess was a legend connected with the embodiment
of the regiment during the Indian Mutiny. It was in
a splendid state of efficiency when a second battalion
was added to the 24th, and a number of raw recruits
were sent to Aldershot to occupy the lines close to
where the King's Own Light Infantry (as the Tower
Hamlets were called forty years ago) were stationed.
On a Christmas Day a quarrel arose between the
King's Own and the 24th as to the respective merits


of the dinners supplied to each regiment. The 24th
ran to their quarters, seized their guns and ammuni-
tion and blazed away on their brethren in the Militia.
The King's Own stood the fire unflinchingly, but did
not retaliate. The Second 24th were marched out
of camp, and the Duke subsequently informed them
that had he his way he would send them to a spot
not recognised by the Queen's regulations. " But,"
said H.R.H. " as I cannot send you there you shall
go to the next best place, the Mauritius." And off
went the Second 24th, and remained away from
England many years. Since then the 24th have
never met the K.O.L.I.M., but the old feud is kept
up, or was until very recently. It would be still, I
fancy, a dangerous matter to put the two battalions
in adjoining lines. I will undertake to say that the
Militia have not forgotten the old quarrel, and I will
be bound that the incident, nearly half a century old,
is still fresh in the memory of the Second 24th.


And having told a true story about the
K. O.L.I. M. I may relate one that I know to be
false. As a matter of fact there was never a
steadier body of men than the rank and file of
that renowned corps. While I had the honour of
being an officer on full pay (for twenty-seven days a


year) we received votes of thanks from the aristo-
cracy, gentry, and inhabitants of Hackney for our
lamb-Hke conduct whilst protecting Dalston from
■' the hoofs of the ruthless invader." Still, in spite
of this testimonial to our respectability, we had a
reputation (amongst the ignorant and malicious) of
being occasionally doubtful about the exact value of
the words meum and tuum.

Possibly it was because we suffered from this un-
just stigma that a detective once presented himself
when the regiment was on parade and asked per-
mission to examine the ranks with a view to dis-
covering a gentleman belonging to " ours " who was
wanted by " the civil power." Permission being
given to the detective, that worthy representative of
Scotland Yard, accompanied by the adjutant of the
regiment, made the tour of the various companies,
front rank and rear rank. When the official had got
to the last man of the rear rank of the rear company,
he stopped suddenly and gazed earnestly at the
rather embarrassed warrior who by position was on
the left of the column.

" Why, you surely have made a mistake ! " ex-
claimed the adjutant indignantly. "Why, you have
pitched on the best man in the battahon. He has
been with us for more than twenty years and he is
our pattern soldier. His arms are a mass of good
conduct badges, and he is the example of all that is


best in the life of a soldier. You surely do not know
him? "

" No," replied the detective, " I do not — but I know
all the others! "

This story in military circles will be regarded as a
" chestnut." And I must admit that it has not even
the " additional advantage " of being true.


It has been of late the fashion to cry up " Tommy
Atkins," and I must confess that my knowledge of
the gentleman, as represented in the old Constitu-
tional Force, is distinctly in his favour. Take them
all in all our soldiers are an excellent set of fellows.
Treated well they will go anywhere and do any-
thing. During one of the trainings we were
stationed at Aldershot, and for our sins were sent on
a flying column. Sometimes we had to march thirty
miles a day and not one of our lads (off duty they
were costers) would knock off and seek shelter in the
ambulance cart. One man m my own company was
sent by the doctor to the rear because he had a sore
foot, but when we came into camp there was the
wounded gentleman tramping by the side of the
ambulance cart, and pretending to be guarding it.
He had stoutly refused to enter it.

" Leave that sort of game," said my gentleman,


" to those beggars," and he pointed with scorn to a
cart-load of Guardsmen who had broken down under
the stress of the intense heat and the heavy marching.

" They may have their faults, sir," said my sergeant
to me, " far be it from me to deny it, but they are
good plucked ones ! "

And so they were.


Did space permit I could (to the great distress of
my readers) write pages about my pet Metropoli-
tan Militiamen. But I must desist and be practical.
I would strongly advise every parent with a lad who
can spare a month a year, to let him take it out in
the old Constitutional Force. It need not be very
expensive. The uniform, carefully chosen, should
not cost more than a fifty pound note, and the pay
and allowances should go a long way towards liqui-
dating the cost of the training. Of course, on
joining the newcomer will have to pay an entrance
fee in the shape of a contribution to the Regimental
Fund, and every year there are payments regulated
by his rank. But if he does not take much wine at
mess, and has the nerve to avoid useless extrava-
gance, he should pull through without materially
lessening his parents' banking account. Of course
there are regiments and regiments. If the battalion


is entertained, and entertain, all the officers, without
exception, must bear the cost. But a quiet London
battalion — especially if sent to Aldershot — should
be within the means of almost anyone. All that a
lad requires is good health and good temper. If he
has these requisites, I will warrant that he will find a
training in the Militia — with its wholesome disci-
pline and its tone of service chivalry — the most
delightful of experiences.

At least I know that when I was in the service I




Once a year the artillery Volunteers hold their
annual meeting at Shoeburyness. The newspapers
at the time have entered the " silly season," and find
room to record the doings of the gunners, and it is
instructive to note how much less space is devoted to
Shoeburyness than is reserved for Bisley. And yet
of the two meetings I should say (and I believe that
most professional soldiers would agree with me) that
the competition on the Essex coast is the more impor-
tant. But there is no doubt about it, the infantry arm
of the Volunteer service is the popular branch. Not
only with civilians, but with our citizen soldiers them-
selves. This is easily proved by statistics. I have
not the figures at hand, but I believe that out of the
whole number of our enrolled volunteers only about
a fifth are gunners. This is not surprising, as the


infantry have more chances of showing themselves in
pubHc than their " scientific " comrades. The pohcy
of the authorities is nowadays to keep the artillery
to their field-pieces or guns of position. Thus march-
ing out and battalion drill, the delight of the " foot
soldiers," are discountenanced in favour of service at
the batteries and work at " repository."



I fancy that if we distinguish amongst the Volun-
teers we shall find that the gunners are more earnest
than their less gifted comrades. I possibly have a
slight bias in favour of the gunners, as many years
ago I had the honour to command a regiment of
Volunteer artillery. It was in the early days of the
movement, when batteries, battalions and brigades
were small but not particularly compact. My corps
consisted of a couple of batteries, with a permission
from the War Office to raise a third battery. The
regiment had been founded by a gentleman who was
connected with literature, and when 1 took over the
command I had amongst my men no less a person
than the late Lord Tennyson. The Poet Laureate
never appeared on parade, but he showed his good
will to the corps by writing some stirring lines, that
were set to music, in praise of the guns. These


verses vveie never publicly acknowledged, and were
signed " T.," but, for all that, they were known to
have emanated from the pen that had given to the
world " The Idylls of the King." I was sorry that
I was never able to receive the salute of Gunner
Tennyson, for I am sure he would have looked re-
markably well in our uniform. Leaving the H.A.C.
out of the question, we were the only regiment of
Horse Artillery. As a matter of fact, I do not think
we ever appeared in full rig. Although harness was
served out to us by the War Office, and we had the
right to wear plumes or "shaving brushes" in our
busbies, we never horsed our guns. When I had the
honour of taking over the command we were acting
as infantr>-, or perhaps I may say garrison artillery.
One of my batteries rejoiced in the possession of a
" dummy gun," and that was the extent of our ord-
nance. However, for all that and all that, "Alfred
Tennyson, Esq., Poet Laureate " was on the strength
of the regiment, and although he was not exactly
" efficient," we were very proud of him.


When I was in command I duly qualified myself
for duties by passing " the School at Woolwich." At
the time I was at " the headquarters of Ubique," the
Duke of Connaught, then a captain in the Rifle Bri-



gade, was learning gun drill with a neighbouring de-
tachment. Some new breech-loaders had been re-
cently introduced into the service, and consequently
H.R.H., although he had served as a subaltern in the

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 10 of 19)