[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]
Sir, — In justice to the officers of the Commissariat, I trust you will grant space in your columns for a few remarks upon the report of the Committee on Army and Ordnance Expenditure, as far as it relates to that department.
It was an unfortunate circumstance that the military officers examined before the committee, were not favourably disposed towards the Commissariat, as I have reason to believe that the majority of the general officers, who have served in the Peninsula or in the colonies entertain a strong opinion of the necessity of maintaining an efficient Commissariat staff, in order to have a body of men of business habits, and thoroughly acquainted with the regulations, to conduct the supply of an army in the possible contingency of war.
The committee has come to the conclusion that “no training in time of peace will fit a commissary for his duties in the field during war;” by parity of reasoning we might arrive at the same result with regard to general and staff officers, and therefore advocate their being dispensed with; for the duties performed by Commissariat officers in the colonies tend quite as much to fit them for being war Commissaries as the experience acquired by general and staff officers (except in India) adapts them for properly conducting the operations of war.
In time of peace, a commissariat officer acquires, besides habits of business and subordination, a practical knowledge of the organization of an army, the rates of pay, allowances, &c., to each rank, the mode of contracting for supplies, chartering vessels, negotiating bills, &c.; in short, he has experience, on a minor scale, of every kind of duty he may be called upon to undertake in time of war.
In spite of these facts, and in opposition to the opinions of Commissaries-General Sir Randolph Routh, K.C.B., and Filder, C.B., men of distinguished ability, who have served both in the Peninsula and the colonies, the committee has decided that it is useless to keep up a Commissariat staff as a nucleus from which to extend the departments in case of war.
The regimental system of contract is no doubt possible at home, and probably so at one or two stations abroad, but in most of the colonies it would be utterly impracticable.
It is absurd to have a different arrangement in each colony; and the system that is capable of universal application must needs be the best.
All men of business will agree that persons who undertake contracts on a large scale, and with ample capital, can afford to supply at much lower rates than others who, with smaller means, contract for short periods and limited quantities.
If three or four regiments be quartered in the same town, the Commissariat contract for the supply of the whole force for six months or a year will doubtless be taken at a cheaper rate than would be the case were each regiment to make a separate agreement with the butcher and baker for its won supply for a month.
Let the Commissariat, if necessary, be placed under the Secretary at War (that is, if we are not to have a Minister of War), but keep it up as a separate corps, as at present, and not destroy its efficiency by a separation of the finance and store duties.
Abroad, the Commissariat could, with advantage to the public and with very little addition to the strength of the department at each station, perform all the Ordnance duties, but in that case let the storekeepers and clerks of the Ordnance be otherwise disposed of, and not be incorporated with the Commissariat.
The Commissariat is essentially a military department; finance is but a branch of its usefulness; and an army without a good Commissariat staff is not adapted for war.
In a pecuniary point of view, no doubt the officers of the Commissariat would benefit by a transfer to the War office, for, of late, while the position of every other department of the army has been improved by increased pay for length of service, full pay retirement after 30 years’ service, servants’ allowance, &c, the Commissariat has not been allowed to participate in any of these advantages, nor are its officers even permitted to settle in the colonies on the same favourable conditions as the members of the other branches of the service.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,