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A fortnight later the Delegacy waited on the Secretary for War, and were solemnly introduced by the Burgesses of the University. Here is their own account of the interview :
The delegates severally stated the objections which they, as representing the convictions of Convocation, entertained to the proposal, and enumerated the risks which were likely to ensue to the University in case a body of soldiers was permanently settled in the neighbourhood. They were told that the depot would ordinarily be small, and that it would be presided over by officers of experience and character. To this they answered that a small evil was still an evil, and might under peculiar circumstances be a great evil; that the risk was needless, and that they had not permitted themselves to criticise the character or conduct of the officers or soldiers who might be sent, but the inconvenience of a collision between military life and academic discipline.
The delegates could not be charged with any lack of candour in expressing what they thought of the soldiers. It would be interesting to know what the soldiers thought of them. Soon after the interview the War Office sent down a couple of distinguished officers to Oxford, to attempt to explain to the authorities there that the establishment of a depot in the neighbourhood need not necessarily sap the morals of the blameless undergraduates or wreck the peace of the University. But their arguments fell on deaf ears. The Dons knew better, and remained wholly unconvinced. Then came the Long Vacation, and for the usual four months the University for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Immediately Michaelmas term began the Dons returned to the charge, with another futile blast.
On October 28, 1872, a memorial, signed by twenty-four University Professors and eighty-nine College tutors and lecturers, being nearly the whole of such resident members of the University as were engaged in its education and discipline [it is refreshing to find that there were at least a few sane men among them), was forwarded to the Secretary for War, deprecating, on grounds identical with those alleged by the delegates, the adoption of the project.
The War Office abandoned all further efforts at conciliation. It was clearly hopeless to argue with prejudices so deep-rooted, with misconceptions so blind and so puerile. They pursued thenceforth a steady course, punctuated by periodical splutterings of academic fury. In vain the Dons protested that the University has been probably imperilled, and certainly slighted, for no other apparent reason than that of furthering two electioneering intrigues.' In vain they put up members of Parliament to repeat these futilities in the House. Their shrieks that the level of local morality would be seriously lowered' either passed unheeded or met with the scorn they deserved. Slowly but surely the dreaded barracks arose, not, it is true, on the ground originally
selected for the purpose between Oxford and Summertown, then open fields, now covered with continuous streets of villas-so far the local opposition had been successful—but 'in a dreary and desolate locality,' as the inspecting officer had justly termed it, at Bullingdon, incidentally destroying one of the finest cricketgrounds in England, which gave its name to the most famous of Oxford clubs. In due course the buildings were completed, and the handful of officers and few scores of men that form the normal establishment of an infantry territorial depot took possession. Their presence, of course, affected University life not at all, and even those of the Dons who had screamed the loudest were soon bound to admit that their dismal forebodings had been devoid of any kind of foundation.
All this sounds childish enough, and it would be unjust, as well as untrue, to suggest that it represents the existing attitude of the University towards the Army. The occasional soldier who may penetrate the seclusion of a Common-room finds himself in a community whose language, ideas, and modes of life are as the poles apart from anything he has ever experienced before; a community to his eyes strangely ignorant of the outside world and utterly unconscious of its ignorance, deeply stirred at times by trifles of merely academic interest while cold to questions of national importance, but at any rate not actively hostile to his profession. They incline to regard him as a probably wholly uneducated individual of violent propensities, belonging to a calling with which they have no sort of concern. Indifference, in fact, rather than antipathy, is now the prevailing note in the relations of the greater part of the University authorities toward all things military. Some few, indeed, among them do devote a generous amount of their none too numerous leisure-hours to the military activities of the place, which, moreover, have enjoyed the inestimable advantage of a whole-hearted support from the present and late holders of the highest academic office. But these are the rare exceptions, and there are still only too many colleges where the official attitude towards anything of the kind is at best one of half-reluctant tolerance.
No such charge can be laid against the undergraduate. Of late an astonishing enthusiasm for soldiering has seized upon him. The numbers of the University contingent of the Officers Training Corps have increased by leaps and bounds, until now it comprises more than a third of the entire University. During the last two years the development has been more remarkable than ever, and figures have been attained undreamt of even in the war-fever days of twelve years ago.
No less than 964 members of the corps were returned as 'efficient' in October last, and in January the corps embarked on the New Year with a strength of 1140
of all ranks. A like increase has taken place in the number of candidates for commissions in the Regular Army, who are under charge of a body known as the Delegacy for Military Instruction. Previously to 1910 the candidates dealt with by the delegates never totalled and rarely approached 100. Last year they rose to 132, of whom thirty-one received nominations to commissions in the Regular Forces.
How long this state of things will last remains to be seen. The popularity of the Training Corps, exceptionally fortunate of late in its staff, may not maintain its high level, though it is never likely to sink again into the obscurity that in former days, except at rare intervals, hampered the efforts of the old University Volunteer Corps. A few years ago it required no little moral courage to cross a college quadrangle clad in the uniform of the corps. Almost was it the mark of the beast. Now all the best people' belong to the Training Corps, and what that means to the success of a University institution it is needless to explain. Probably the introduction three years ago of a new regulation requiring all Army candidates to be efficient members of the corps helped to turn the tide of undergraduate fashion in its favour. And if the Army candidate has helped to further the interests of the corps, it is no less certain that the popularity of the corps, by turning undergraduate thoughts into military channels, has tended to react with great advantage upon the numbers of candidates for commissions in the Army.
For a great number of years a small number of commissions in the Regular Army had been offered to University candidates, and occasionally, in times of emergency, whole stacks of such commissions had been showered upon bewildered Vice-Chancellors for instant distribution among their charges. But it was only some seven years ago, when the dearth of candidates from other sources began to make itself seriously felt, that the War Office gave any great attention to the Universities as possible recruiting grounds for the commissioned ranks, and cast about for means of tapping them. One of the first difficulties they had to encounter was the entire ignorance of one another's methods that has always raised a barrier between the War Office and the Universities. To the Don the manners and customs and the requirements of military life are a sealed book, while the soldier is in general equally in the dark with regard to University habits and procedure." The War Office therefore had recourse to a newly devised body, called the Advisory Board on Military Education, which they invited representatives of the various Universities to join, in order to receive evidence from experts on military education and from prominent University officials, and to draw up, in consultation with the Headquarter Staff, new regulations for entrance to the Regular Army through the Universities. The Board heard a mass of evidence, took an infinity of pains, and the new regulations of 1904 were the result. Some very drastic and altogether admirable changes were introduced. Under the former system the only academic qualification required was that the candidate should have passed Moderations, or its equivalent at other Universities, and have been one year in residence. The witnesses who gave evidence on behalf of the Universities almost unanimously complained-and very justly complained—that to describe this as a university education was a sheer absurdity. The new regulations, therefore, insisted upon three years' residence and a degree, or at least the passing of all examinations for a degree. The few commissions previously offered to the Universities were awarded to candidates-when there was any competition for them—who gained the highest marks in a competitive and purely literary examination. Not the least of the merits of the revised system was that it frankly threw overboard the principle of selection by competitive examination, and ordained that the appointment of the candidates, after they had fulfilled the necessary conditions, should be by nomination pure and simple. Each University was required to furnish its own Nomination Board, to which the Army Council add two representatives of the General Staff, with powers of veto. The Nomination Boards are also charged with the duty of superintending the military education of the Army candidates of their University.
1 The writer was four years an undergraduate, one a Sandhurst cadet, fifteen a soldier, and for the last ten has been a Don-a somewhat rare experience.
The institution of these boards has undoubtedly done much to bring about a better understanding between the military and the academic authorities. Besides forming permanent committees responsible for the military education and training of Army candidates, they enable the War Office for the first time to deal with an authoritative body which can voice the ideas of the University on military matters, when it has any, or formulate them when, as is more often the case, it has none. The Regimental Staff of the Officers Training Corps are ex-officio members of the Board, as well as the Vice-Chancellor and Proctors, while the elected members are usually chosen for their actual military experience or for the strong interest they have displayed in military affairs.
Seven years have now elapsed since the new regulations came into operation, and it may be instructive briefly to review the results. The number of candidates who have been nominated under them totals 282. Beginning in 1905 with no more than nine, the figures rose from fourteen in 1906 to thirty-five in 1907, forty in 1908 and 1909, seventy-one in 1910, and seventy-three in 1911; and there seems every reason to believe, from the number of candidates registered at the principal Universities, that the great increase in the last two years is likely not merely to be maintained, but to rise to a considerably higher figure. Of the 282 nominated, 131 have been furnished by Oxford, 110 by Cambridge, thirty-four by Dublin, and seven by other Universities. This increase is all the more remarkable from the fact that it has coincided with a striking decline in the number of candidates supplied by the older and more regular sources. Competition for the cadetships at Sandhurst threatens to become almost a thing of the past, while for the last five years candidates for the Regular commissions offered to officers of the Special Reserve
- formerly the most valuable sources of supply, after the military colleges—have grown steadily and ominously fewer. The decline began to be serious in 1907, when only 105 candidates could qualify for the 112 vacancies available, and culminated in 1910, when 140 commissions were offered, and no more than forty-six candidates could be accepted.
What the reason of this lamentable shrinkage in the supply of officers may be forms no part of the object of the present article to explain. The question has been thoroughly ventilated of late in the columns of the daily, weekly, and monthly Press; and the likeliest explanation seems to be neither the increased attention to military duties entailed by the higher efficiency now demanded in all professions alike, nor the insufficiency of the officer's pay to cover his expenses. Money-making can never have entered into the motives that induced anybody to join the Army. Nor is the Secretary of State for War very convincing when he asserts, as he did in Parliament not long ago, speaking of the scarcity of officers, that 'The question at the root is . . . the burden of the cost of education of candidates for the position of officers in the British Army.' Mr. Haldane's theory is surely disproved by the fact, which the official figures establish beyond dispute, that, while the two older sources of supply are gradually drying up, the Universities, which unquestionably form the most costly avenue to a commission, are every year furnishing a growing number of candidates. The opening up of a variety of new careers, in addition to the Army, the Navy, the Church, and the Bar, which in old days were considered the only professions for a gentleman, may to some extent have affected the case. But the main reason is to be found in the reduction in the size of families now almost universal among the classes that have always been the mainstay of the commissioned ranks of the Army--the country squire, the clergy, Army officers themselves, and other professional men in like circumstances.