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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XXXIV


1871-1874. DOVER—ALDERSHOT

Ordered to Dover—Garrisons—Short service— "Golden Rules"—Administrative duties—Lady de Ros—Alas! Alas!—M. Henry Dunant—Aldershot.

THE official Report of the mission performed had to be sent in, that done, orders directed me to take over duty in the Southeastern District, of which Dover is Headquarters. A few weeks elapsed, when I received an order of readiness for India. For the first and only time in my career I had to plead inability to proceed; long-continued semi-starvation in Paris had so lowered physical strength that reluctantly I was forced to plead the circumstance. The authorities were pleased thereon to consider that episode equivalent to a tour of foreign service; my name was placed at the bottom of the roster, and so the next three years were spent at the favourite station of England.

All that time the quiet routine of duty was more of an agreeable occupation than arduous or unpleasant work. Among some of the resident families acts of civility towards myself and family were numerous; intercourse with staff and regiments most pleasant, so that recollections of place and people remain agreeable.

Military positions and Departmental establishments connected with the ancient town itself had to be visited from time to time; so also had several throughout the "district," including Shorn cliffe camp, whence had proceeded in the early years of the century the force destined for Spain, under command of Sir John Moore; Canterbury, with its associations connected with St. Augustine; Maidstone, provincial capital of England's garden; Brighton, etc.

Gradually was the system of short service in the ranks of the Army taking the place of that to which most officers of considerable standing had been accustomed. Complications and friction occurred in such a stage of transition among departments concerned in giving the change effect. In the ranks themselves all was not propitious; the old class of non-commissioned officers gave place to young and inexperienced, whose authority, even when rightly exerted, was not always tacitly accepted by the youthful and unbroken elements concerned. Moral influence such as emanated in many instances from old and experienced sergeants had all but died out; trivial shortcomings on the part of young lads were magnified into "crimes"; more than ordinary difficulty experienced by officers in keeping things smooth, yet "going."

In matters of administrative routine difference of views between officers concerned seemed inevitable; a satisfactory phase of official life, however, was that in the few instances in which such divergence occurred it was limited to official relations. Previous experience induced me to formulate certain principles in accordance with which correspondence submitted for decision should be dealt with; to them I endeavoured to adhere. Another point taught by experience was that, in directing particular administrative ends to be attained, to leave to officers concerned the details of means by which instructions were to be carried into effect; in that way responsibility attached to the executive, while at the same time it left to them freedom of action.

As a matter of history relating to an important episode, and some personages connected therewith, it is worth while to refer to the account of the famous ball in Brussels on June i, 1815, related to me by Lady de Ros, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, and who was present on the occasion in question. How, while dancing and conviviality proceeded, sounds of waggons and other heavy conveyances, guns and tumbrils among them, broke upon the ears of the gay throng; how small groups of the higher officers entered into grave and subdued talk; how, without exciting notice, singly they slipped away; how in the early hours of morning of the i6th, "the Duke" himself took his departure; how, as the remaining guests left the room, the turmoil in the streets of the Belgian capital resounded with the bray of bugles, trumpets, and military movements; 2 and how, before the day was over, several of those who had so left were brought back wounded, some dead, from Quatre Bras.

[Subsequently, taking advantage of the sixty-one days' leave to which officers are entitled, I visited the house, now a convent, which stands on the site of the ball-room just mentioned-40-42, Rue de la Blanchisserie.]

It was while at Dover that one of those sad bereavements befel my dear wife and myself which leave their after-impress upon memory and affection. The taste for sea life had been early developed in my second son. As far as possible it was discouraged, but that having failed, he was permitted to carry his wishes into effect. Alas! alas! the result was very grievous. The ship in which he was proceeding was ultimately "declared missing" at Lloyd's; the dear, affectionate boy was never heard of. It is too painful to write even this brief notice.

A short visit by M. Henry Dunant gave me the opportunity of hearing from his own lips the story of the Red Cross convention, of which he has the distinction of being Founder. To his experiences gained among the thousands of wounded left on the field in and near Solferino without necessary help from the Austrians or Allies between whom that most sanguinary battle was fought,' and afterwards in extemporized ambulances for reception of those for whom provision could be made, M. Dunant assigned his resolve to institute, if possible, an Association whereby to mitigate in some measure at least the horrors of war such as he then witnessed. Of medical officers and their work as seen by him on that occasion he expressed himself in this way: "Certes, si tuer les hommes est un titre de gloire, les guerir, et cela, souvent au peril de sa vie, mrite bien l'estime et la reconnaissance." But in numbers they were altogether insufficient for the task required of them, supplemented as they soon were by volunteers, not only from the countries immediately concerned, but from others, including Belgium, Switzerland, and even Canada. Bearing these matters in mind, he asked himself the question, "Is it not possible to found through all the nations of Europe societies the object of which shall be aid to the wounded in times of war; that care the most prompt possible, not by mere mercenaries, but by persons devoted by high principles to so high a vocation." His appeal, formulated in a most touching narrative of what he had seen in Lombardy, produced the effect desired by him; the subject he had at heart was earnestly taken up by all classes of persons, from crowned heads to peasants, and soon he had the reward of seeing organizations according to his own model in active operation. It was while he was occupied in observing the working of volunteer ambulances in Paris that I had the pleasure of being introduced to M. Dunant.

At long last came the "gazette" of my promotion, and almost simultaneously an order to take up at Aldershot the duties pertaining to my new rank.' The chief event during my short stay at that important military camp was the annual review and exercise of the troops composing it. For some time previous the old system of regimental hospitals and medical officers was in gradual process of abolition, and now that destructive policy had been so far matured as to be experimentally acted upon in the present manoeuvres. My own duty was limited to carrying into execution orders received. But sympathies were altogether on the side of soldiers and their officers, who raised their voices against it. By what was now called the system of unification the fact became unpleasantly apparent that thenceforward the sick soldier, together with his wife and child, must depend in times of illness upon the aid of strangers, instead of, as heretofore, obtaining the help of those who personally knew them, and whose self-interest, even in the absence of higher motive, enhanced the care and attention shown towards them.


 


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