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Crimean texts

[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]

The Times 1 Aug 1855 p 5



Sir, — While the army generally has very justly been repaid for its services in the Crimea with every honour and reward that could be extended by the grace of the Sovereign or the liberality of the nation; while money is expended with lavish profusion and army estimates are voted without a cavil, there is one branch of the service — second to none in the importance of its duties — which has been entirely excluded from participation in either honours or rewards, the members of which have shared neither in the large promotions nor in the honorary distinctions which have compensated our troops for their arduous labours.

The officers of the Commissariat have shared, if not the more prominent dangers of the battlefield, at least all the more trying hardships and privations of the winter campaign. They have been subjected to sickness in every form, exposure to all weathers, and hard work under the greatest of all difficulties — the absence of appreciation; and more than one has sunk under the fatigues and mental anxieties inseparable from his duties in the field, and returned home broken in health, or left his bones to whiten on the heights before Sebastopol, without one word of encouragement or any stimulant except the sense of duty.

The difficulties with which the officers of the Commissariat had to contend during the winter can only be understood by those who themselves struggled through that miserable period. They knew that upon them depended the very existence of the army, and each increasing calamity increased the necessity for their exertions. The winds of Heaven scattered their supplies on the seas, rains destroyed their roads, the frost killed their horses, sickness, misery, and despair carried off their men; but their responsibility remained; the army must be supplied, and “Give us food!” was still the daily cry of 30,000 men.

In spite of a good deal of very stupid abuse, the services rendered by the Commissariat are now acknowledged throughout the army. Lord Raglan, the Duke of Cambridge, and the generals of divisions have at different times borne testimony to the individual exertions and merits of their Commissariat officers, and the report of the recent Parliamentary committee has gone far to exonerate the department from the responsibility of the late sufferings of the army. It is now pretty well understood that the want of proper roads, the absence of huts and clothing, the scarcity of medical stores and hospital accommodation and of shipping cannot be attributed to Commissariat neglect; but that the Quartermaster-General’s department and the home direction of the medical and transport services must be held answerable for these shortcomings, to which, indeed, all the other wants of the army are clearly to be traced. Yet, while the representatives of those services have been rewarded or distinguished, the Commissariat have been excluded from all advantages; and a stronger contrast cannot be drawn than by a comparison between the treatment of the Quartermaster-General and that of the Commissary-General, the former — having proved so notoriously incapable that an officer was sent from England, nominally as head of the staff, but in reality to relieve him from the responsibility of his position — was rewarded by promotion and a K.C.B.-ship, while the latter, whose labours and whose difficulties it is impossible to exaggerate, has met with neither approval nor reward. Every officer of the Quartermaster-General’s department in charge of a division was likewise promoted and decorated without reference to efficiency or service, while the divisional Commissariat officers have remained altogether unnoticed.

Can this be attributable to the circumstances, as dwelt upon so humorously by Lord Palmerston, that the officers of the Commissariat do not belong to the aristocracy, but to “other communities?” If so, let it in common justice be declared, lest so marked an exclusion from all honour be attributed to misconduct.

And here let me mention that the greatest credit is due to the Commissariat for the manner in which they have, by dint of their upright and honourable conduct, eradicated the prejudice which in former times existed against their service. It is no longer the custom to believe that a man’s fortune is made when he enters the Commissariat; he is not now suspected of collusion with contractors or peculation by any of those numerous means open to those holding an extensive trust with comparatively few checks, and even the old joke of hanging the Commissary is becoming confined to very old quartermasters and very young subalterns. This result alone, attributable as it is to personal character, entitles the Commissariat to the consideration of the Government.

But the fact is, that this department is in the position of the man who sat between two stools, and thus fell to the ground. Recently detached from the Treasury, it is not yet fairly admitted to the War Department. Under Sir Charles Trevelyan’s direction it met with considerable attention; the more prominent defects were remedied, and inducements for exertion and efficiency were held out to its officers. Lord Panmure, however, is said openly to declare his entire ignorance of everything connected with this service, and, as his control would cease with his removal from office, he cannot be expected to take much interest in it. The management is thus left to subordinates, who avail themselves of the patronage thus afforded, but pay little attention to past services or future efficiency.

The result is, that a general feeling of discouragement pervades the department. Its best men have either left it or only await the opportunity of finding a more grateful and less laborious duty; while those whom necessity compels to remain are fast losing that interest in their profession which affords the best guarantee for useful and honourable public service.

I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,

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