The Use of the Volunteers

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Use of the Volunteers is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the The Spectator No. 4559 on 13 november 1915.

The Use of the Volunteers

The Spectator No. 4559 (p. 658)

[To the Editor of the "Spectator."]

Sir, — There are now some three hundred thousand Volunteers in the country, most of whom can claim to be trained men. General O'Moore Creagh, who has inspected many of them, has stated that the older regiments compare favourably with the Territorials at the outbreak of the war. The question now rises bow these men can be used. The State, on the one band, declares that it needs men. The Volunteers, on the other hand, are most zealous in their desire to be of use. Surely, then, some practical plan can be devised.

It must be admitted, however, that it is not an easy problem. The more closely one examines it, and the more one is familiar with the material of which the Volunteer Force is composed, the more one realizes the difficulty. That material is such that to call it all out simultaneously would be to inflict a. severe blow to the trade of the country. Nothing but a great emergency, such as an invasion, could justify such a measure. Short of that, the force can only be used in relays, each detachment serving for a certain period and then being relieved by another.

How, then, can they serve? It is usual to say that they could guard prisoners, railways, and posts of various sorts. But work of this kind is already being done by the National Reserve, who are themselves men of some age. Then, again, if the Volunteers are to be split up into small detachments all over the country, it will be impossible to train them into efficient fighting units. The only way to do this would be to have a central permanent camp from which all detachments are sent and to which all detachments return. Then the Volunteers might provide scattered posts and yet preserve their efficiency as trained infantry.

But a considerable force like the Volunteers is not formed for the sole purpose of forming posts. What more can it do, and how can it do it? There is nothing, as it seems to me, that the Volunteer infantry is so fitted for as for the garrisoning of fortresses. It is work which makes no extreme call upon a man's activity or endurance, while no call could he too extreme for the solidity and fidelity of the Volunteers. We will suppose that sixty thousand infantry would serve to garrison the chief fortresses — Dover, Portsmouth, Plymouth, &c. These men might be supplied upon terms of service in which each regiment took its turn of duty every fourth month. With an effort, and at a cost of considerable personal sacrifice, I am convinced that the average Volunteer could get away for one month in four. The authorities might use a regiment or two in each fortress as a start until they had proved their military qualities. In this way a considerable help could be rendered at once by the Volunteers. Later, when our lines of communication become longer on the Continent, I am sure that a large contingent of Volunteers would be available for holding them. - I am, Sir, &c.,

Arthur Conan Doyle.

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex.