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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Our Sons

By Captain Rowley Wynyard, R.A., R.M. College
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 348

III. -- Our Cadets.

Few are the parents who, on taking up the paper the morning on which the Woolwich or Sandhurst list is "out," do not feel a kindly interest in looking down it to see whether So-and-so's boy has passed this time, even if there be no keener feeling of anxiety with regard to the readers own kith and kin. The extraordinary competition that prevails for the limited number of vacancies at these military establishments (Sandhurst especially) may be accounted for partly by the keenness for soldiering which fortunately for us inspires nine-tenths of our boys, and partly by the feeling of parents that, however unprofitable an investment the career may be, it gives for a fair outlay an unquestionably honourable profession.

Perhaps, in addition, the fact that no special gifts beyond those of sound common-sense and a gentlemanly bearing are necessary to ensure at any rate a livelihood in this profession may have its weight with the parents of those whose talents hold out no prospect of the House, the Bar, or the Mitre. That it is not profitable career from a business point of view goes without saying. The outlay at the start, i.e., in preparation for the college or academy, the expense at either establishment, and the subsequent embarkation on regimental life are out of all proportion to the future remuneration, and when all this over, an annual allowance of no small dimensions, for a large portion of the young soldier's service, has to be placed to the Dr. side of the account. In addition to this the possibility of compulsory retirement as compensation for exceptional ill-luck in promotion, the chance of even greater disabilities in the future, and the absence of any business contract between employer and employed, all these things make the rush for commissions somewhat difficult to account for.

On the other hand, there are many things and weighty to be said in favour of this undoubtedly popular profession. The social position which it gives, though perhaps not so high with us as with our cousins the Germans, is no doubt a great point in its favour. The life is a very rare combination of active, mental, and bodily excercise, the balance being well-preserved which is essential to the mens sana in corpore sano. The discipline of mind and body, and the habit of ready obedience, are no doubt of excellent service for the moulding of character. The high tone of chivalry, personal honour, and devotion to duty, which obtain in many regiments, are very strong recom- mendations to the truly parental mind. Writing as we are for parents we have omitted from one side of the balance the question of danger, actual danger from battle or climate, for the same reason that we have omitted from the other any mention of the honour and beauty of self-sacrifice. For this the higher and less matter-of-fact view of the profession, we cannot do better than refer to the late rs. Ewings's stirring conclusion to her beautiful and well-known tale of "Jackanapes," evoked, as her sister tells us in her biography, by her coming to live among business men after a long time of soldiering at Alder- shot.

"A sorrowful story and ending badly? Nay, Jackanapes, for the end is not yet.

"A life wasted that might have been useful? Men whi have died for men in all ages, forgive the thought?" There is a heritage of heroic example and noble obligation not reckoned in the "Wealth of Nations," but essential to a nation's life, the contempt of which, in any people, may not slowly mean even its commercial fall. Very sweet are the uses of prosperity, the harvests of peace an progress, the fostering sunshine and health and happiness, and length of days in the land.

But there be things --oh! sons of what has deserved the name of Great Britain, forget it not! --the "good of" which and the "use of" which are beyond all calculations of worldly goods and earthly uses; things such as Love, and Honour, and the Soul of Man, which cannot be bought with a price, and which do not die with death. And they who would fain live happily ever after should not leave these things out of the lessons of their lives."

But to descend from the heroic to the practical :-- The immediate preparation for the military career is the curse at the Military Education Establishments -- Woolwich or Sandhurst, and here comes in at once the question of the branch of the service for which the boy is to be entered. Woolwich, for Artillery and Engineers, means a stiffer prepara- tion at school or tutor's, and notably a greater turn or better head (who shall say which is the more correct term?) for mathem- atics. The usual course for the young soldier who aims at the scientific corps and who is pronounced worth trying for them, is to go up first for Woolwich, the age for admission to which is lower, and, failing that, for Sandhurst. Inclination often decides independently of capabilities.

Let us therefore glance at the relative careers of the Woolwich and the Sandhurst cadet.

The former means a two years or longer course, a great part given to indoor and scientific work, and besides keeping up the languages, %c., which helped the candidate to pass in, special training is imparted in military subjects with a view to the two corps into one of which the cadet will eventually pass, to top few into Engineers (oddly enough a junior branch of the service to that of their defeated comrades) and the remainder into the Artillery.

The Sandhurst course is at present only the inside of a year from February to December, or September to July, and is entirely devoted to the general military subjects which every officer has to keep up. The cadets here are more fortunate than their blue-coated rivals in having a very large share of practical outdoor work in their course, a good deal owing to the superior natural advantages which the position of Sandhurst confers. At the end of these two parallel courses of chrysalis life the butter- fly emerges, the line officer being at a slight disadvantage as regards age with his rival in the race for promotion.

With regard to the life before these two a few words of comparison may be useful. Looking at the profession as an investment, the officer of Engineers has an undoubted pull over all others. His pay is very much better; the good things open to him, especially in the junior grades, are many, and his expenses are in most cases considerably less than those of other corps. In India, too, there are well-paid civil appointments open to him. On the other hand, he has often a solitary life, the comfort and camaraderie of a regimental mess are rarely his, and the circumstances of his life often lend a powerful additional argument to the many in favour of matrimony. Promotion, also, is slower in the Engineers than in any other branch.

His late comrade, the young Artillery officer who passed out of Woolwich with (but below) him, enters a branch of the service whose chief recommendation, among many, is perhaps the extremely interesting nature of the work.

If posted to the mounted branch, the young gunner has three distinct kinds of work in which to interest himself-- the drill and interior economy which falls to the lot of every soldier: the management of horses and stables (so dear to the cadet's heart); and, last but not least, the science of gunnery. The hard work which the study of these three entails is not perhaps, from the parent's point of view, its lightest recommendation in a profession at which the taunt of idleness is sometimes leveled. The gunner, though more fortunate as a rule than the sapper in what may be called mess-life, has such constant changes of battery and station that the thorough knowledge of each other and close comradeship which distinguish a regimental mess do not often fall to his share. There are, however, one or two points to his advantage even in this apparent drawback, such as the wider knowledge of his fellow- man which it confers. Such is briefly the life set before the Woolwich cadet.

His Sandhurst brother is destined for the Cavalry or Infantry of the Lone or Guards, but by far the larger proportions have an infantry line regiment before them, and with this view the course at Sandhurst is regulated, infantry drill, musketry, and riding being obligatory for infantry and cavalry cadets alike. Towards the end of this course the afflicted parent has to face the follow- ing somewhat appalling questions: -- What regiment shall I try for for my son, or advise him to enter his name for? Into what portion of the civilised or uncivilised globe shall I advise his projection? Into the tender mercies of which of these fire-eating colonels shall I entrust him? To the temptations and luxuries of which of these crack regiments shall I advise him to commit himself? The cadets at Sandhurst are allowed, shortly before their passing out, to enter their names for the regiment they may select, and those who pass high enough have a fair chance of their applications being granted,* except in the case of regiments for which there is much competition. In this case, they may have to wait some time for appointment, an important consideration in view of compulsory retirement for age in the future. For parents who do not know much of military life these are hard points to decide, and recourse is usually had to old family friends who know more about it, and whose know- ledge--it is fair to add--is in many cases limited to past days and past conditions.

* [An order has just been issued limiting these applications to the choice of home or foreign service, which--if it applies to private as official application--will save parents considerable perturbation of mind at the expense of the loss of control over their sons' futures.]

Many considerations should influence the decision. A regiment well spoken of for its good tone and gentlemanly bear- ing; a commanding officer and adjutant of the kind likely to give the right start to the last-joined sub. at that most critical and most impressionable time of "joining"; a style of living suited to the means of the young soldier; and, perhaps more than all, the existence of a strong brotherly feeling among the officers of the regiment--all these are points which parents anxious to do their best for their son should investigate at any cost of time and trouble. The place at which the regiment may be then stationed (probably only for a short time) should certainly rank after the points named above, save that the question of means very often decides for or against service in India; and while touching on this point it should be remembered that India is not now the land of plenty which our forefathers recall. Greater comfort (in some ways) and the ability to live more "like other fellows" is doubtless a great attraction to a poor man, but there are several important set-offs to this. One is that leave in India (say twp months in the year) is usually as expensive as serving with the regiment, in some cases much more so; while at home, or within reach of home, the two-and-half months winter leave is usually spent at the family fireside, at which the additional month makes little difference and is gladly welcomed. A small point, perhaps, but one which should be considered by those who are doubtful if the small allowance they can make it sufficient for home service or necessitates India. The question of the Indian Staff Corps need not here be touched on, save to note that its advantages are, the increased rate of pay, after the first few years, the long leave obtainable, subject to the same condition, and the higher pension in days to come; the disadvantages being the long service in a trying climate, the necessity of exceptionally good health and physique, and (in many cases) the less interesting nature of the work. The period of probation, however, prevents the step from being irrevocable, and so lessens its responsibility.

Perhaps the greatest hardship which can be inflicted on a lad just joining is to place him, for old association's sake, or from ambition, in a regiment for the normal expense of which his allowance is insufficient. Regiments differ in this, as in other points, and to place a young man in the dilemma of either having to decline to join in occupations or enter- tainments which his brother officers may take up, or of incurring expenses which he is unable to meet without further calls on his parents, is a cruel and unwise a course as can well be adopted, especially if those calls are to be met by reproof and hard judgement. One of the hardest things for a father to realise is the difference which, as time goes on, comes over the value of money and the style of living, and, however deplorable the fact may be, it is a fact which must be faced and allowed for if the son is to start fair in the new life for which his father has entered him.

We said just now that the existence of a strong brotherly feeling among the officers of a regiment was perhaps the most important point which should influence a parent's decision, and it is in this particular that the regimental mess has such a pull over the scattered and constantly-changing units of the scientific corps. The fellowship, one might almost call it the home-life, of a good regiment is unique, and has no parallel in other professions, and it is this which causes men who leave a regiment after long service in it to feel that they are losing a home. An instance, though perhaps common enough, which recently came under our notice, will help to illustrate the strength of this feeling. A young officer, who had but lately joined a line regiment, distinguished as much for their soldier-like qualities as for their esprit de corps, and whose father had soldiered for many years in the regiment before him, had the misfortune to lose him mother very suddenly. Some days after her death he rejoined his battalion, but it was not until some time after that he was pleased and touched to find that, on hearing of his loss, the officers of the battalion had sent to excuse themselves from attending a dance in the neighbour- hood (far, be it remembered, from his home) at a house where the battalion were always honoured and willing guests. A small thing, perhaps, nut it is these small acts of thoughtful and chivalrous courtesy which help to make the regiment a youngster may join a true home to him in the present, and a happy memory in the days to come. Looked at, too, from the practical side, when the comfort and gaiety of the mess is exchanged for the hardships and privations of the battle- field, the fighting-machine is non the worse a machine if its wheels be well oiled with such nice feeling and mutual good-will.

Much of what has been said above may be anything but news to the majority of parents. We have reserved for the last a consideration which is, in our opinion, of far greater importance than any of those already mentioned; one which, placed here last, is really in the forefront of the whole subject, the question of the school-boy's preparation for that competitive examination which is the key of his career.

The resort to a "crammer" for the last portion of a boy's education is now not the exception but the rule, indeed direct passes from school for Sandhurst are now only about one in five. With the question of how far the system of cramming (so-called), or special reparation for a competitive test over a limited area of subjects, affects the actual education of the boy of the present day, we are not here concerned. Suffice it to admit that the majority are so educated, and that the success of cramming as a profession is now established, and widens considerably the otherwise narrow prospect of many a retiring army man with nothing but idle poverty before him. This success has obliged public schools tp establish special classes for the somewhat different needs of army candidates, and Eton in particular has of late years succeeded to a remarkable extent in direct passes. All honour to the good old school for so adapting itself to present needs.

The great majority of boys, however, as we have said, are now sent to a crammer's for some months at least before their army entrance examination.

Now, while admitting that in face of a competitive examination for few vacancies the harassed parent has every excuse for laying exclusive stress on the educational side of a boy's life, we cannot think that the question of moral control at such a critical period should be reckoned a point of no importance. And yet this is practically done in many cases. The strict discipline and supervision of school- life is suddenly exchanged for the comparative liberty (out of work hours) of a crammer's establishment, where the treatment which was considered fitting for the boy at school is deemed --and rightly so--to be unfitting for the young man who has "left," and where the surroundings are in many cases anything but those which wise parents would select for their son's first experience of the world. We are quite aware of the difficulties with which the ruler of one of these establishments has to contend. His pupils are beyond the age at which the moral and religious training--such as they are--of school life are possible, and in many cases he holds himself in no way responsible for anything but their intellectual training. But is this all for which he is in reality responsible? Ought the training of the intellect--and that within a very limited area-- to be the sole care of one who has the immediate charge of a body of young men at the most critical and dangerous period of their existence? Those who have exceptional opportunities of judging know what too many of the young men who are couched under present conditions lose and what they gain in the process. Too often gained--a knolwedge of the world and its ways which they would have been far better without, and which it is impossible ever to unlearn; lost--the freshness of real boyhood, the habits of obedience and respect for their seniors, the keenness of interest in work and play alike, all of which characterise the schoolboy-cadet.

Now we have no wish to run down the crammer or his profession; if such finish to the education is necessary for the average schoolboy (and it appears to be so), let us accept the fact; but it behoves parents who send their sons from school to these establishments to weigh carefully the responsibility they incur by looking solely to educational advantages, and neglecting those things which, long after examinations are things of the past, bear fruit in reputable or disreputable lives.

Two points in particular seem to stand out as matters for the consideration of parents, wherein some progress towards better things may be made. These are--first, the necessity of a keener sense on the part of parents of the responsibility they incur by sending their sons to crammers without full inquiry as to the manner of life led by the students out of work-hours, and a determination that they will rather see them fail in every examination than trust them to the care of men who will not be responsible for their moral as well as intellectual welfare; secondly, the same keen sense of responsibility on the part of those parents who are crammers themselves, and a determination on their part to see that the sons of others shall have that help, counsel, guidance, and control which they would with their own sons to have under similar circumstances. Surely, if the competition-mania has not obliterated from the minds of parents all sense of the importance of such things as purity and sobriety, the crammer who is willing to under- take a higher standard of responsibility than ordinary, and whose success (in other ways than the number of passes scored) is proved to satisfaction, should have the first claim to the custom of true parents.

Typed by danni, January 2016