IT was with huge misgiving that I faced the ordeal of taking up this "Blue Riband " of the Cavalry service, implying as it did responsibility for the efficiency of the regular Cavalry and the Yeomanry in Great Britain and Ireland, and of the Cavalry in Egypt and South Africa.
A pretty large order!
My first step in taking over my duties was to educate myself as far as possible in up-to-date Cavalry methods. With this intent I visited personally, first the Cavalry Schools of France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy and America; and secondly the Cavalry maneuvers in France, Germany and Italy, in order to see the results of their training actually in the field and in large masses.
When I visited the Cavalry School at Saumur in France, I was struck by the good all-round training there given to the Cavalry officers. It was not merely restricted to the equitation, veterinary knowledge, and horse management usual in other Cavalry Schools but included reconnaissance field engineering military history, tactics, and strategy. The training at Saumur was so practical that we eventually got leave to send one or two of out officers to be trained there.
In Germany I had a most interesting time at the Cavalry School at Hanover. Here, under the Kaiser's orders, they kept a pack of hounds as part of their equipment. Since there were no foxes in that part of the country I was told they hunted pigs.
At Darmstadt as I was getting into my carriage in the special train to go to the maneuvers a voice behind me called my name, without any prefix, and with a good English pronunciation, and I turned round to find myself face to face with the Kaiser. He was most genial and full of wise sayings, asking me many questions on Cavalry points and never failing to cap my answers with some superior criticism-and that not a bad one sometimes.
STEPS IN DEVELOPMENT
After visiting most of the Cavalries of Europe and America I called a Conference of Officers on the steps in development which I proposed for our Cavalry. I had favourable opinions from the Duke of Connaught, Sir Evelyn Wood, Lord French and Lord Chesham (representing the Yeomanry). Also from Colonel Rimington, Innisskilling Dragoons, Colonel Lumley, 11th Hussars, and Colonel Fowle of the 21st Lancers, all approving generally the ideas put forward.
These ideas included such items as:
One. Responsibility for junior officers,
desirable under the new conditions of service.
The Boer War, with its appalling losses in horse flesh, might well have caused some of us to think whether we British were after all the best horsemasters in the world. There had been some doubt about it even in Peninsular days when, while the British Cavalry horses were worn to rags, those of our Hanoverian auxiliaries managed to keep their condition.
It was a matter of faith or tradition that we British were, par excellence, a nation of horsemen, but tradition is not always reliable.
Long before I had reached field rank I had studied the Cavalry journals of other countries. I took in La Revue de Cavalerie and was an honorary member of the Fort Leavenworth Cavalry Association in America. We had no Cavalry journal for Great Britain. Also, I attended the long-distance rides on the Continent. In spite of all our experience in South Africa we could not compete with the foreigners in this practice.
Horsemanship, as we knew it then, meant ability to stick on the back of a horse It did not include, as it should have done, horsemastership. The riding master of those days was usually more of a rough rider than a horseman, and he taught his men as well as his horses much on the same principle, namely, by breaking them in by what would now be considered fairly rough methods and rule of thumb.
It mattered not to him that a recruit officer was one of the most promising polo players in the Regiment, or a rider to hounds; his remark to him would invariably be: " Lengthen them stirrups three 'oles, sink yer 'eel and sit up like a soldier. I can't 'ave you a-setting like a broody hen."
All this we altered. A result of the improvement then brought about in the training in horsemanship was to be seen in the Great War, when the work of the horses, in Palestine for instance, compared with that of which they were capable in South Africa years before, showed a wonderful advance.
In that waterless country the horses of the three mounted divisions went for seventy-two hours without water after the third battle of Gaza, and were still capable of work. The Lincolnshire Yeomanry went for eighty-four hours without water; the Dorset Yeomanry covered sixty miles in fifty-four hours without water. In the final operations the 5th Cavalry Division covered 550 miles in thirty-eight days.
The Cavalryman is no good without his horse, hence horsemastership is an integral part of horsemanship. But equally the horse is no good without his man, hence manmastership is essential on the part of the officers, as described in Chapter VII.
Hitherto we had almost over-exaggerated the value of having horses in good condition to the neglect of having men equally so to ride them. Manmastership, however, is comparatively easy under the prevailing spirit of camaraderie which pervades the Cavalry.
The comradeship between officers and men is strong through their common sporting interest in the horse. Thus when at long last we started the Cavalry School it became not merely a school of equitation, not merely one of horsemanship, but also of that thrusting team energy which constitutes " the Cavalry Spirit."
This spirit is of value not solely to that branch alone but to the whole Army. This fact was borne in upon me in conversation with King Albert of Belgium after the Great War, when, in commenting on the reduction of Cavalry Regiments in our Army, he said that in the Belgian Army he maintained the Cavalry at full strength in spite of criticism as to its value in modern war, and in spite of its undoubted expense, for the sole reason that it was the breeding place of the fighting spirit for the whole Army.
Personally I feel that it has an additional value in supplying not merely the aggressive spirit but also that of loyalty and patriotism, and this is where I look on the Army as an invaluable school for the nation for inculcating the right spirit into the flower of our manhood.
War Office Amenities
In these notes I may appear to be having a dig at the War Office. I am sure that the War Office people of to-day will not bear me any ill-will for my gibes, for these are directed not at them but at their predecessors of long ago. Things are very different now.
But even in those days the powers that then were took my sallies very good-naturedly-considering.
I found on more than one occasion that official correspondence did not pay so well as getting a smile on. For instance, when I commanded a Division of Territorials, an Army Order was issued that each Battalion was to be supplied with two machine guns and horses to pull them.
The guns were supplied, and beautiful horses with them. But the harness needed for connecting the two together was not forthcoming. So the guns stood dumb and idle for weeks, while the horses ate their heads off on tons of government forage in their stables. "But never the twain did meet."
I wrote to the War Office again and again praying for at least a little bit of harness. Acknowledgment but no action taken. Time went by with no result.
One day a bright thought struck me. I wrote asking them to cancel my previous requests, and saying that they meant necessary. I was now having the horses trained to back against the guns and to push them into action, as per drawing annexed.
That did the trick. The cartoon afforded some little amusement in high quarters and was passed around the office, till it prompted someone to ask whether the idea was founded on fact and that we really had no harness.
This before long, the harness department, which had hitherto been overlooked, received official invitation to co-operate and send us what we wanted.
Until I came to be appointed to the post the Inspector-General of Cavalry had always carried out his duties in a gentlemanly way. He sent due warning months beforehand to each Regiment to tell it the date on which he would make his annual inspection of it, giving the full programme of what he would see each Squadron do, and directing that every officer must be present for the inspection.
In this way everybody knew what was expected of him, and each Squadron set to work to practise up the particular item of military duty in which it was to be examined. in fact the thing became a sort of game.
Tdhe Squadron had to be perfect in its, subject and the I.G. had to find a fault in it. If he succeeded he wonif he didn't the Regiment won..
Well, when I was a. Captain I bad realised. this point and also found that it was tactful to let the I.G. win ; so, having been warned that my stables would be inspected, 1 had everything spic and span, straw plaits down, horses filled up with water a few minutes before the General came round (in order to fill up hollow flanks), etc., etc. Everything that spit arid polish could do was done ; the betting looked all in favour of the Squadron winning.
But I took care that it shouldn't. One stable lantern was left, hanging cobwebbed, dirty, and uncleaned.
The I.G. went round, nosing for faults but finding none, and getting more and more on edge as he saw his chances of winning were growing less, every officer and man on tip-toe with anxiety.
He had almost passed through the stable when his eye fell on the lantern. Then came the explosion. " Good God, what's that? Dammit, man "-and so on. Then under a good flood of acerbity his rage gradually gave way under the realisation that he had won, and his tone altered to that of the large-minded winner.
"It's a pity, my dear boy, that there should have been that blot on what I am bound to say was otherwise a most creditable stable ; your horses were good, your men were good, your forage was good, and so on, but really that' lantern-well-you'll see to it, won't you ? "
And the great one strutted out fully satisfied with himself and his win, while a great surge of relief came over every jack man in the stable, for we felt that neither had we lost.
Yes-I am inclined to think that tact rather than merit won the day with some inspectors. It was much the same story as school exams. over again; a general's inspection was not a real test of the efficiency of a Regiment.
When it fell to me to be the Inspector-General I didn't .bother about programmes and I didn't infect the wretched officers with the virus of "inspection fever," for my practice was rather to run down and stay with Regiments for a few days, and to see them in their ordinary daily work and play. One gets a far fairer and more practical insight into their efficiency, and I secured a far greater enthusiasm on the part of the officers for new fads that I wanted to get tried out.
It was the personal touch instead of the official memos. that brought the result.
I did not press for all officers to be present at my inspections, as it was through the results of their work that I judged them. The state of their Squadrons gave me pretty exactly the measure of the officers' qualities.
As a consequence, although there was no order about it, precious few officers failed to be there. On the one hand, they did not care to be judged in their absence, and on the other, with the increased responsibility which had now been given to them, there was a corresponding keenness and desire to show off their Squadrons as effective for service.
"There is a grave danger hanging over our country which is patent enough to anyone who travels and who is in touch with military thought abroad. Our business in the cavalry is to make our branch the most perfect fighting machine of its kind, in order to compensate for its excessive weakness in numbers. These number cannot be made up on the outbreak of war.... Cavalry is the force of all others which has to be in being on the very first day of hostilities. We must do it by patient systematic work-and not too slowly lest get left, for our neighbours are pressing forward on the same line also."
In the course of my inspections I found incidentally that in many cases the Cavalry Barracks were totally unfitted for occupation.
In one case, at Norwich, I reported them in a dilapidated condition. No notice was taken of this. In my report
the following year I stated : " Barracks in the same unsatisfactory condition as before, except that one kitchen has since fallen down."
While inspecting the Greys at Piers Hill Barrack Edinburgh, I asked in the usual way: " Has any man any complaint to make ? "
One trooper replied in a most aggrieved fashion, saying: Yes, sir. I used to sleep in a bed at the far end of the Barrack-room and now I have been ordered to sleep 'ere I don't want to move 'cos at that far end 1 was able to look down through a nice 'ole in the floor and see my 'orse his stall below."
He conducted me to inspect the " nice 'ole," and there was no doubt that he had got a very fine view of his horse stabled beneath.
I reported this incident to the War Office and added the fact that when the upstairs barrack rooms were being scrubbed the horses, whatever the weather, had to be removed outside to avoid the shower baths of dirty water, which though perhaps of no very great consequence to some Regiments showed up rather conspicuously in the case of the Greys.
On the 5th Of May, 1907, my term as Inspector-General of Cavalry came to an end. A number of my Cavalry comrades generously gave me a farewell dinner at which were present:
My A.A.G. was Lord Errol, of the R.H.G., and my A.D.Cs. were Harvey Kearsley, 5th D.G., Owain Greaves R. Horse Guards, and Tom Marchant, 13th Hussars.
I was tremendously taken by this unexpected expression of their goodwill, accompanied as it was by numerous letters expressing approbation for the steps that we had been taking for bringing the Cavalry up-to-date. These were finally topped by a letter which the Duke of Connaught sent me in which he was kind enough to say thin which made me blush with pride and pleasure.
These generous praises were really undeserved by personally, since our success was due to the whole-hearted team work of the officers of the Cavalry.
Now that it is too late for me to be demobbed I don't mind confessing that personally I was entirely unfitted both physically and intellectually, for the position of I.G. of Cavalry. Physically because I had long had a loose leg as a result of a shooting accident in Afghanistan, and more recently I had broken the cartilage and ligaments of the other knee so that both legs were like bits of string, and I could supply, as I ought, an example of hard riding horsemanship. Intellectually I was deficient because I had not been through the Staff College and my knowledge of strategy and military history was limited to common sense admiration of Oliver Cromwell's methods.
Fortunately at this juncture I had the support of Douglas Haig, who was my opposite number as Inspector-General of Cavalry in India. We were personal friends, constantly in communication, and in complete accord in our ideas, and I was thus indebted to him for much far-seeing and practical advice.
Douglas Haig was unique. He was a first-rate horseman (not the Hindenburg on a swan-necked horse as threatened in the design proposed for his memorial in London) ; he was full of the Cavalry spirit with a quick and resolute mind, and at the same time he was a serious student of military science, a very rare combination then in a Cavalry officer, and one which was the saving of us in the Great War.
The fortunate coincidence that he should be in the was the greatest bit or luck for the nation.
Perhaps one result of the Great War may tend to show that military service is an education in itself, for officers as well as men, and though certain branches are called the scientific side of the Army there is no doubt to my mind that the training given to the Cavalry officer by his practice in the field develops in a high degree those points in character such as quick appreciation and prompt and resolute action, and other such qualities as go to make a leader in war.
If proof were needed one has only to look at the names of those who led our armies in the field, the large majority of whom had gained their experience in the mounted branch, French, Haig, Allenby, Byng, Horne, Plumer, Gough, Rimington, and the rest.
The completion of my term as Inspector-General of Cavalry was not the final act of my service, though it left me as a Lieutenant-General at the top of the Cavalry tree, a position which in my wildest dreams I had never visualised -nor indeed desired.
The custom was that one remained on half-pay for four years, and if by that time no further appointment was found for you you retired on the pension authorised for your rank.
At this time Lord Haldane was Secretary of State War, and he was considering the question of developing our military reserves by the organisation of Territorial Officers' Training Corps. He invited me to stay with him at Cloan to talk over these matters, and while I was there he asked me whether I would care to take command of Territorial Division, and to try out any ideas I might have for the better training of this branch.
This would not count as regular employment for since the command was only that of a Major-General an was a Lieutenant-General. But since it offered work, a work of an interesting kind I readily accepted the offer, and knowing something of the German plans I realised urgent need for making our reserves efficient for service in the field and not merely on paper.
I was appointed to command the Northumbrian Division which included Northumberland, Durham and North East Yorkshire. Here I found splendid men to work with more particularly those who came from the mining districts. They were pretty rough, but hearty sportsmen and brave fellows.
We had had as our adversaries in the Boer War who had never had a day's drill in their lives and yet effective in the field against our trained troops through their individual intelligence, pluck, and will to succeed.
So it was on this line that I tried to develop our train in my Division. I had a motor-car made to my own pattern which was at once a bedroom and an office, an continually toured my division, getting into personal touch with every unit and studying the local conditions under which it had to work. I organised week-end " battles," at which attendance was voluntary, but which drew better attendance than the average ordered parade
It is, of course, in the blood of the men of those par to bet. So they usually had wagers on the results of the fights. This necessitated the use of particularly good umpires : and this fact again raised the standard of the leading of the officers.
WARNING OF THE GREAT WAR
I got into hot water once over a talk to my Staff about the possibilities of a German invasion. The Germans had agreed that the most suitable opportunity for the invasion of England would be afforded by the Bank Holiday in August of a year in which we were least prepared. I decreed the Bank Holiday as a suitable occasion for practising the mobilisation of our units, and in order to explain this and the German plan, gave an address to my officers.
This brought a demand for my dismissal from certain members in the House of Commons (one of them a Minister in the late Government to-day), but, what was far more important, it drew upon me some irate anonymous letters from Germany, and also news from private friends over there that my appointment to that particular district as Lieutenant-General (in place of the usual Major-General) had caused considerable comment in military circles.
So we had hit the spot.
When I was held up as a miscreant in Parliament in this way I took the night train to London and explained to Lord Haldane that my speech that had been reported was only a private one to my officers, and should have never appeared in the press, and that I wanted to apologise for the fuss that it had caused in the House. To my surprise he replied that he was delighted and that it was a good thing that people's eyes should be opened to the fact that there was a danger from Germany.
It was a fact that people in England could not and would not believe that war in Europe could come again and building a fleet which could have no other objective than our own.
They looked on Lord Roberts and others who tried to open their eyes to this coming danger as fanatics.
It was fortunate for the country that the Army was not blind, and had its mobile force, small and " contemptible " if it was, ready for the emergency when the war was sprung upon us.
KING EDWARD AND MY RETIREMENT
But about this time another bombshell fell upon me. This was the outbreak of Boy-Scouting, on a suggestion which I had made, but which produced such a crop of Boy Scouts all over the country that the demands upon my consider whether I was justified in continuing my soldiering or whether to take up this new growth and organise it.
King Edward had invited me to Balmoral, and there he talked over the question of the Boy Scouts with me at great length, and though it was all in embryo he showed a strong belief in its possibilities and urged me to go on with it. So later, when the question rose in my mind as to whether I could do both works adequately, it came to the ears of the King that I was contemplating retiring from the Army, and he at once sent word to ask whether this was the case, saying he considered that it would be unwise of me to leave the service when, as he expressed it, I had just got my footing on the ladder.
But the next day, having thought it over more fully, he agreed that seeing the possibilities that lay before the Scout movement, and the need for its organisation it would after all be right on my part to resign from the Army and devote myself to this work.
Apropos my visit to Balmoral, I had gone there to receive from His Majesty the honour of knighthood as a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order. I had arrived in the late afternoon and was told that the investiture would take place the following day, but just as I was dressing for dinner Legge, the King's Equerry, came rushing into my room and said that His Majesty wanted to decorate me at once, and hurried me off to his dressing-room.
My diary records : While outside the door Colonel Legge took off my miniature medals and pinned on two safety-pins outside my coat, calling at the same time to a footman to bring a cushion and another a sword.
It was like preparation for an execution.
Then we walked in.
The King, in highland dress, shook hands, smiling most genially and kept hold of my hand while he told me that for my many services in the past and especially for my present one of organising the Boy Scouts for the country he proposed to make me a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order.
He then sat down and I knelt on the cushion in front of him, the equerry handed him the sword and he tapped me on each shoulder and hung the cross round my neck and hooked the star of the Order on my coat, and gave me his hand to kiss. Then he laughingly told me that his valet would put the ribbon right for me, and out I went.
(Oddly enough, the other day when I went to hang up my hat for the first time in the House of Lords, the usher who received me reminded me that he was that same valet who had helped me, and he also told me that I had slept that night in the room next to the King.)
This operation delayed me for a few minutes and when I got down to the drawing-room I found all the party were awaiting me, and those who possessed the Victorian Order formed a sort of little Guard of Honour inside the door waiting to shake me by the hand. It was all very
Later I found that the reason for this undue haste was that the dinner cards were already printed beforehand, and the Staff Officer in charge of this job had supposed I would be knighted that day instead of the next and had therefore put me down as " Sir Robert," and it was in order to make the card correct that the King had had to do the knighting without delay!
King Edward's quickness for noticing mistakes in detail of dress was proverbial, and I experienced an instance of it that evening. He had in attendance upon him behind his chair at dinner an Egyptian servant who was an artist at making coffee. He was dressed in a gorgeous livery but the King, apparently having eyes in the back of his head, suddenly growled a reprimand to the man in French. The man darted out of the room-he had omitted to put on his medals. In a few minutes he was back again, only to meet with a more furious tirade; he had put them on the wrong side of his chest I
After dinner King Edward called me aside and sat me down on the sofa beside him and talked for half an hour about my Boy Scouts.
The movement was not two years old then, but it had spread rapidly. The previous day I had been at Glasgow for a rally at which 5,640 boys were present, and the previous month 11,000 were present at the Crystal Palace gathering.
His Majesty asked me all about our aims and methods and expressed his great belief that the movement was just what the country needed. He said that it would grow into a big valuable institution, and that he would like to review the Scouts the following year in Windsor Park. He agreed to my suggestion that boys who worked hard and passed special tests for efficiency should be ranked as " King's Scouts."
I went to bed a happy man that night.
THE END OF MY LIFE NUMBER ONE
On my sending in my request to retire from the Army there arose the question of my pension. To my horror I was told that the Royal Warrant did not allow of a pension for one of my age.
My promotion had been so rapid that I was a Lieutenant-General at fifty, whereas the Warrant did not allow for anybody holding that rank under sixty-two.
I had had phenomenal luck, of course, in getting brevet promotion at every step in rank, thus:
I had got a direct commission instead of two years at Sandhurst.
Two years ante-date was granted to me as Sub-Lieutenant on passing Examination with honours for Lieutenant.
As Lieutenant and Adjutant I had promotion to supernumerary Captain.
As Captain I acted as Military Secretary in the field and so was promoted to Brevet-Major.
As Major in Ashanti awarded Brevet-Colonel.
As Lieutenant-Colonel in Matabeleland awarded Brevet full Colonel.
As full Colonel in the Boer War special promotion to Major-General at the comparatively early age of forty-three. Thus becoming Lieutenant-General before I was fifty.
Arrangements, however, were eventually made for my pension.
I was appointed Colonel-in-Chief to my old Regiment, the 13th Hussars, and the King then conferred on me the honour of the K.C.B.
Ian Hamilton, in congratulating me, wrote: "It never rains but it pours, and on you it has poured to the extent of giving you a Bath."
It was a big wrench to take this last step out of the Service that I had loved so well though at the same time I did not mind taking my foot off the ladder, for I had no wish to do any further climbing up it. I was not built for a General. I liked being a regimental officer in personal touch with my men.
It was no small consolation to receive from the Secretary of State for War the letter which he sent me, expressing his kindly regret in losing me from the Army, in which he added
"... But I feel that the Organisation of your Boy Scouts has so important a bearing on the future that probably the greatest service you can render to the country is to devote yourself to it."
And so ended my Life Number One.