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Saturday, 16 May 2009
A speech by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, July 1902
Topic: MilitiaRC - Rifle Clubs

The Rifle Club Movement

A speech by Field Marshal Lord Roberts.

 

Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, a portrait by John Singer Sargent.

 

The following is extracted from a speech by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, July 1902 circulated by Colonel John Charles Hoad, Deputy Adjutant General (DAG), and issued with General Order No. 162 of 13 September 1902. 

While Australia was with the winning side toward the closure of the South African War, one element of this war becomes remarkably clear in the development of Australian military policy, the ability of the individual Boer as a guerrilla fighter in resisting the British war machine. Seeing that Australia suffered analogous conditions as that of the Boers, viz., little money for defence, low population numbers and vast areas to defend; it was only natural to take the successful strategies from the war and apply it to the local conditions. The result is this letter by Colonel Hoad with his remarks framed clearly withing this context.

 



Military Forces of the Commonwealth

Headquarters

Melbourne, September 1902

In view of the recent Minute on the subject of Rifle Shooting in Australia, issued with GO No 23 of 1st April last, the General Officer Commanding the Military Forces of the Commonwealth desires to invite attention to the following speech made by Field Marshal Earl Roberts, Commander in Chief of the British Army, when presiding over the prize distribution at the Meeting of the National Rifle Association at Bisley, England, in July last.

By order,
J. C. HOAD, COLONEL,
DAG and CSO

 

Field Marshal Earl Roberts spoke as follows:-

Since I had the honour of addressing you a year ago, I have been able to consider more fully our musketry experiences in South Africa, and I believe that we have arrived at a peculiarly important and interesting stage in the history of rifle shooting. The campaign which we have just passed through bas been a long and arduous one, during which I should be afraid to say how many millions of rounds of small arms ammunition have been expended in the kind of shooting which societies like the National Rifle Association are formed to develop. It seems, therefore, that now is the time for us to consider our position carefully, and decide whether we are working on the right lines as regards the training of our soldiers and volunteers - whether, in fact, shooting, as practised at Bisley, and other kindred meetings, has produced the result which, presumably, they desire - viz., to enable our men to use their rifles with the best possible effect against an enemy. We soldiers most readily bear testimony to the fact that rifle associations have been of the greatest valve in the past, not only in encouraging rifle shooting, but in making those who take an interest in the subject realize the extraordinary power of the Service rifle in the hands of experts. But I venture to think we are not quite up-to-date, and we should now determine whether the class of shooting as carried on at these meetings is in all respects the best suited to the conditions of modern warfare, `which are so different to those of former days, and whether also it may not be necessary to make some radical change in our system of musketry instruction to meet the altered methods of fighting. The experience gained in South Africa will, I think, assist us greatly in coming to a satisfactory conclusion on those very important points. We have learned that fire discipline can be insisted upon to such an extent that it leaves no room for intelligent independent action, and actually prevents men from taking the initiative and using their rifles when circumstances admit of this being done with advantage. We have learned that volley firing can hardly be employed when troops are in extended order, or when they are exposed to a heavy fire. We have learned that a judicious use of the magazine by small bodies of men at long ranges may* often produce important results. And we have learned---sometimes by very bitter experience-that, while opportunities occasionally occur for highly trained experts to fire at individual objects at long ranges under conditions more or less approximate to those which obtain at Bisley, it is skilful snap-shooting at the shorter ranges which is most constantly required, which is of the highest value, and upon which (as I said last year) the results of battles in the future will, as far as we can now see, depend. While, therefore, I most thoroughly recognise the usefulness of careful target practice, I earnestly commend for the consideration of the Council of the National Rifle Association the necessity for gradually introducing such changes in their annual programme a-s will admit of shooting being carried on more in accordance with modern warfare than obtains at present. I am aware that objections may be raised to this proposal, as it entails a greater expenditure of ammunition, and, consequently, there is more wear and tear of the rifle ; but I feel sure that a change in the direction I have indicated is absolutely essential if our soldiers are to make the fullest use of their admirable weapon. For improvements in the other details of musketry which the experience of the late war has taught us, we, to whom the training of the Army is intrusted, are responsible, and we are determined to give them our earnest attention. We must make commanding and company officers, and also musketry instructors, clearly understand that good shooting; is not acquired alone by practice on the range, but that men must be taught in the barrack square to handle their rifles with ease and confidence before proceeding to the range. And we must endeavour to make officers realize that, while fire discipline is as essential as ever, the aim of all teaching must be to secure the prompt interpretation of signals, and intelligent individual action when opportunity offers. And we must not lose sight of the fact that to obtain the full value of the modern rifle a very high order of training is essential. I sometimes doubt whether skill in shooting has kept pace with the improvement of the rifle.

Great efforts are being made to improve the shooting in the Army. The number of rounds allowed for practice has been considerably increased, and additional ammunition has also been provided for the training of recruits and Volunteer Cadet Battalions. Then 95 new ranges have been completed during the last thirteen months, and 22 more are in the course of construction ; while to meet the difficulties attendant on suitable open ranges in populous districts, plans for safety and miniature ranges, such as fire largely made use of by other European powers, have been approved and published. Safety and miniature ranges may not be as useful as open ones, but they are a long way better than no ranges at all, and men can become good shots b careful practice at them. I think too that such ranges close at hand, where they can be constantly used, by must contribute more to efficiency than an open air range at a distance, and, therefore, not always possible to get at."


Further Reading:

John Charles Hoad

Australian Rifle Clubs

The Australian Militia, 1899 - 1920

 


Citation: A speech by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, July 1902

Posted by Project Leader at 11:09 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 16 May 2009 11:19 AM EADT

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