Posted 05 May 2010 - 02:28 PM
Speech by Francis Grenfell during a House of Lords debate on the Training of the Nation on 26th July 1916
(Note BOLD TYPE)
My Lords, before I say a few words on the question of national training I should like to join with the noble and learned Lord (Lord Parmoor) in his high appreciation of the action of the noble and learned Viscount in the creation of the Officers Training Corps. The movement was welcomed highly in the Army when it was first initiated, and after the war had progressed for about a year I do not know what we could have done to supply officers for the Army had it not been for this corps which the noble and learned Viscount so wisely formed. Only a few days ago I was at Winchester and inspected a detachment of the Officers Training Corps there. About twenty of these young men were going away to regiments, and were so highly trained that they would require but a very short time before they would be able to join their units at the Front. Winchester has already lost fifteen officers killed and many wounded, and has supplied an extraordinarily large number of officers through this corps.
The most rev. Primate, in his speech on the second day of this debate, referred to a corps with which I am connected and about which I wish to say a few words. As was stated by the noble Viscount, at the age of 14 a boy, as a rule, changes his habits; he breaks away from all moral, social, and very often religious influences, and that is the time when he most requires a guiding hand. I think that the various cadet corps are most useful at that particular period. Of the one with which I am connected, the Church Lads Brigade, I have been governor and commandant for eight years; I was preceded in the commandant-ship by my noble friend Lord Methuen, and before him by Lord Chelmsford; and I may say that now, after twenty years' hard work, the brigade has arrived at a very great state of efficiency. Your Lordships will pardon me if I speak about my own corps, but in doing so I do not wish to depreciate in any way the work of other boys brigades which are doing such excellent work.
In the Church Lads Brigade we have now 60,000 lads in England all under training; and in Australia, Africa, Canada, Newfoundland, and the West Indies we have companies of the brigade. The other day, when I was inspecting a battalion which had been raised from this brigade, I noticed two very dark-looking youths. I asked who they were, and was told that they had paid their passage from the West Indies, they having been members of the Church Lads Brigade there, to come over and join a battalion which was then going out to the Front, which shows the enthusiasm these lads display for the Service. In addition to the 60,000 youths that we are now training as best we can, we have a system of an old comrades association, and when the war broke out I asked Lord Kitchener if he would permit me to raise a battalion from those ex-members of the Church Lads Brigade. He said he would be glad if I did so, and I proposed to provide a battalion of 1,100 strong. In a few days I had offers of 2,500. That was at the very beginning of the war. Out of them I was able to form one of the finest battalions of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, which I served in and of which this battalion now forms a part. This battalion, I regret to say, is now very greatly diminished in strength. It lost in one of the attacks during the last week nearly half its strength, and more than half the number of its officers. But I am glad to say that it behaved with the greatest possible gallantry. The colonel, writing to me, wounded as ho was, from one of the dressing stations, said— The objective was a trench 1,000 yards distant, with unbroken wire before it, and enfiladed on one flank by the German machine guns, but the battalion was as steady as if on parade; the men behaved splendidly. And he added that there were hardly any officers—only two that he knew of—who had come back unwounded. I do not mention this as anything peculiar, because every battalion of the New Armies has behaved in that gallant way; still it is a great satisfaction to those who have taken an interest in the Church Lads Brigade to know that these men, all drawn from its ranks, should have behaved in such a gallant manner.
I believe that the training which these lads get in the various brigades—especially so in the Church Lads Brigade, because it is connected with religion—is most valuable, and we owe the deepest thanks to the most rev. Primate for his assistance and for the interest he has taken in the movement. But I do not speak of soldiering only. In various walks of life we keep up with these boys; most of them belong to the old comrades association, and in nearly every walk in life we find that the boys who have passed through these brigades—not only our brigade—succeed a great deal better than if they had not passed through the curriculum which we give them. Therefore I am anxious, as a finale to my few remarks, to press upon the Government the great advantages of these cadet corps. At present we get no grant. We do not particularly ask for one, because we do get transport occasionally, and we get bands, and armament, and occasionally munitions. But we hope that this question, after the war, will be taken up seriously in the elementary schools. We know what a great advantage this training is, and we trust that this question will be taken up and cadet corps initiated generally. There are very few at present; in fact, the Church Lads Brigade consists of half of the whole of the cadets in England. We should like to see our brethren growing up round us in greater numbers. And when the question is taken up we hope that the existing corps will be left alone, to a certain extent at least, to manage their own affairs, and that some scheme may be arranged whereby the various new corps may be as similar as possible to the corps which at present exist. I feel sure that the education they get can rightly be considered as part of the training of the nation, and I sincerely hope that this matter will be seriously taken up at the end of the war.