Nursing for the soldier--Pacification of Burma considered --Measures recommended--The Buddhist priesthood --The Regimental Institute--The Army Temperance Association
Many interesting and important questions had to be dealt with during this my first year as a member of the Viceroy's Council, and it was pleasant to me to be able to bring before the Government of India a scheme which my wife had had very much at heart for many years--for supplying skilled nursing to the military hospitals in India. That our sick soldiers (officers and men) should be entirely dependent for nursing, even in times of the most dangerous illness, on the tender mercies of 'the orderly on duty,' who, whether kind-hearted or the reverse, was necessarily utterly untrained and ignorant of the requirements of sickness, was a source of unhappiness to her, and had been felt as a cruel want by many; but whenever she had discussed the subject with those who might have helped her, she was told that proposals for supplying this want had already been made, that the Government could not, nor would they ever be able to, act on such proposals, on account of the prohibitory expense, so she felt there was no use in making any appeal until I might be in a position to see that any suggestions made by her would be certain to receive the careful consideration of Government. This time had now arrived, and almost directly Lady Roberts returned to India in 1886 she drew up a scheme for supplying lady nurses to the military hospitals throughout India, and set to work to try and get the support of some of the principal Medical officers. To her great joy, her recommendations were accepted by Lord Dufferin and his Council, and her note upon the subject was sent home to the Secretary of State, strongly backed up by the Government of India. Lord Cross happily viewed the matter in a favourable light, and consented, not only to a certain number of nurses being sent out the following year as an experiment, but to the whole of the cost of the movement being borne by the State, with the exception of the provision of 'Homes in the Hills' for the nursing sisters as health resorts, and to prevent the expense to Government of their having to be sent home on sick-leave when worn out by their trying work in the plains. The Secretary of State, however, declared these Homes to be 'an important part' of the nursing scheme, 'and indispensable to its practical working,' but considered that they should be provided by private subscription, a condition my wife undertook to carry out. She appealed to the Army in India to help her, and with scarcely an exception every regiment and battery generously responded--even the private soldiers subscribed largely in proportion to their small means--so that by the beginning of the following year my wife was able to set about purchasing and building suitable houses.
'Homes' were established at Murree, Kasauli and Quetta, in Bengal, and at Wellington in Madras, and by making a further appeal to the officers of the army, and with the assistance of kind and liberal friends in England and India, and the proceeds of various entertainments, Lady Roberts was able to supply, in connexion with the 'Homes' at Murree and Kasauli, wards for the reception of sick officers, with a staff of nurses in attendance, whose salaries, passages, etc., are all paid out of 'Lady Roberts's Fund.' My wife was induced to do this from having known many young officers succumb owing to want of care and improper food at hotels or clubs on being sent to the Hills after a hard fight for life in the plains, if they were not fortunate enough to have personal friends to look after them. Although it is anticipating events, I may as well say here that the nursing experiment proved a complete success, and now every large military hospital in India has its staff of nurses, and there are altogether 4 superintendents, 9 deputy superintendents, and 39 nursing sisters, in India. There are many more wanted in the smaller stations, where there is often great loss of life from lack of proper nursing, and surely, as my wife pointed out in her first appeal, 'when one considers what an expensive article the British soldier is, costing, as he does, £100 before landing in India, it seems certain that on the score of economy alone, altogether setting aside the humane aspect of the question, it is well worth the State's while to provide him with the skilled nursing care' which has up to now saved so many lives.
That officers as well as men might benefit by the devotion of the 'nursing sister,' I was able to arrange in all the large hospitals for some room, or rooms, used until then for other purposes, to be appropriated for an officers' ward or wards, and these have proved a great boon to the younger officers whose income does not admit of their obtaining the expensive care of a nurse from one of the large civil hospitals in the Presidency towns.
The next most interesting question, and also the most pressing, which had to be considered by the Viceroy's Council during the summer of 1886, was the pacification of Upper Burma. People in England had expressed surprise at this being so long delayed. It is extremely easy, however, to sit at home and talk of what should be done, but very difficult to say how to do it, and more difficult still to carry it out. To establish law and order in a country nearly as large as France, in which dacoity is looked upon as an honourable profession, would be no light task even in Europe: but when the country to be settled has a deadly climate for several months in the year, is covered to a great extent with jungle, and is without a vestige of a road, the task assumes gigantic proportions. In Upper Burma the garrison was only sufficient to keep open communication along the line of the Irrawaddy, and, to add to the embarrassment of the situation, disaffection had spread to Lower Burma, and disturbances had broken out in the almost unknown district between Upper Burma and Assam.
It was arranged to send strong reinforcements to Burma so soon as the unhealthy season should be over and it would be safe for the troops to go there, and Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Macpherson (who had succeeded me as Commander-in-Chief in Madras) was directed to proceed thither.
In October my wife and I, with some of my staff, started from Simla on a trip across the Hills, with the object of inspecting the stations of Dhurmsala and Dalhousie before it was cool enough to begin my winter tour in the plains. We crossed the Jalaurie Pass, between 11,000 and 12,000 feet high, and travelling through the beautiful Kulu valley and over the Bubbu mountain, we finally arrived at Palampur, the centre of the tea industry in the Kangra valley. Having been cut off from telegraphic communication for some time, we went straight to the telegraph-office for news, and found at the moment a message being deciphered which brought me the terribly sad information that General Macpherson had died of fever in Burma. In him the country had lost a good soldier, and I a friend and comrade for whom I had a great regard and admiration. We were discussing his untimely end, and I was considering who should replace him, when a second message arrived. This was from Lord Dufferin, telling me that he wished me to transfer my Head-Quarters to Burma, and arrange to remain there until 'the neck of the business was broken.'
I hurried to Calcutta, embarked in the first mail-steamer, and landed at Rangoon on the 9th November.
Sir Charles Bernard (the Chief Commissioner) and General White had done well under very difficult circumstances; but owing partly to large districts being impassable from months of heavy rain, and partly to the change in Commanders, unavoidable inaction had been forced upon our troops, and the dacoits had in consequence made head against us.
Having been in constant correspondence with General White, I had been kept informed of his plans, and, as his responsible Chief, I had approved of them; I therefore had the somewhat complicated military situation at my fingers' ends, and did not need to lose a single day in arranging for a series of combined movements being carried on all over the country.
It was hoped that the recently arrived reinforcements would be sufficient for all requirements, but it soon became apparent that the difficulties connected with the pacification of Burma had been under-rated, and that, in addition to more troops, an efficient civil administration would have to be provided, to take the place of military authority so soon as anything like organized resistance had been crushed; for to deal with ordinary robbers I conceived to be work more suited to police than to soldiers. Upwards of thirty years' experience had proved that the Burmese could not be relied upon for this kind of service; I therefore recommended that a large body of police should be raised in India without delay, and given a semi-military organization, and in the meantime I asked for, and was given, five additional regiments.
I felt very confident of success, for I had taken great care in the selection of the brigade commanders and staff officers, and I knew the troops could be depended upon in any emergency that was likely to arise. Nevertheless, as the work they would have to perform was of rather an unusual character, irksome as well as difficult, I thought it advisable to issue some general instructions for the guidance of the officers in command of the different columns. These instructions were carried out so intelligently, and the troops did such good service, especially a very fine body of Mounted Infantry raised and organized by Major Symons, of the South Wales Borderers, that before I returned to India in February, 1887, I was able to report that the country was gradually becoming quiet and the Burmese reconciled to our rule. Most of the principal dacoit leaders had been killed or captured, and villages which had been in their hands for months were being reoccupied by their legitimate inhabitants; caravans were coming into Mandalay almost daily from districts on the Chinese borders; contracts for making roads were readily taken up, and there was no difficulty in obtaining labour for the railway then being constructed between Lower Burma and Mandalay, the first sod of which was turned within a month of my arrival at that place.
In achieving these satisfactory results I was materially aided by the hearty co-operation of Sir Charles Bernard and the civil officers serving under him; while the entire absence of fanaticism amongst the Burmese, and their cheerful, happy natures, facilitated our intercourse with them. I received, besides, most valuable assistance from the Buddhist Poonghies, or monks, with many of whom I made friends. From the fact that education, secular and religious, is imparted by these monks, and that every male, from the King to the humblest peasant, was obliged to enter a monastery and wear the saffron garb of a monk for a certain period, the priesthood had enormous influence with the Burmese. There are no hereditary Chiefs or Nobles in Burma, the Poonghies being the advisers of the people and the centre round which Native society revolves.
Our occupation of Upper Burma was necessarily a great blow to the Buddhist priesthood, for many of the monasteries were kept up entirely by the King, Queen, and Ministers of State; and, as it was most advisable to have the influence of the monks in our favour, I recommended that a monthly stipend should be paid to the Archbishop and two senior Bishops of Mandalay. They showed their gratitude by doing all they could to help me, and when I was leaving the country the old Thathanabain (Archbishop) accompanied me as far as Rangoon. We corresponded till his death, and I still hear occasionally from one or other of my Poonghie friends.
I remained only a short time in Calcutta on my return to India, and then started off again for the North-West Frontier, in company with General Chesney, who had previously expressed his general concurrence in my defence proposals, but was anxious to see the several positions and judge for himself, from an Engineer's point of view, of their suitability to be treated as I suggested. It was a great source of contentment to me to find that the sites chosen and the style of entrenchments I had advocated commended themselves to my expert companion.
Simla was more than usually gay during the summer of 1887, in consequence of the numerous entertainments given in celebration of Her Majesty's Jubilee. We had just added a ballroom to 'Snowdon,' and we inaugurated its opening by a fancy ball on the 21st June, in honour of the auspicious anniversary.
My name appeared in the Jubilee Gazette as having been given the Grand Cross of the Indian Empire, but what I valued still more was the acceptance by the Government of India of my strong recommendation for the establishment of a Club or Institute in every British regiment and battery in India. In urging that this measure should be favourably considered, I had said that the British Army in India could have no better or more generally beneficial memorial of the Queen's Jubilee than the abolition of that relic of barbarism, the canteen, and its supersession by an Institute, in which the soldier would have under the same roof a reading-room, recreation room, and a decently-managed refreshment-room.
Lord Dufferin's Government met my views in the most liberal spirit, and with the sanction of Lord Cross 'The Regimental Institute' became a recognized establishment, a fact which my colleagues in Council referred to as a second Jubilee honour for me!
At a time when nearly every soldier could read and write, and when we hoped to attract to the army men of a better stamp and more respectable antecedents than those of which it was composed in 'the good old days,' it appeared to me a humiliating anachronism that the degrading system of the canteen should still prevail, and that it was impossible for any man to retain his self-respect if he were driven to take his glass of beer under the rules by which regimental canteens were governed. I believed, too, that the more the status of the rank and file could be raised, and the greater the efforts made to provide them with rational recreation and occupation in their leisure hours, the less there would be of drunkenness, and consequently of crime, the less immorality and the greater the number of efficient soldiers in the army. Funds having been granted, a scheme was drawn up for the erection of buildings and for the management of the Institutes. Canteens were reduced in size, and such attractions as musical instruments were removed to the recreation-rooms; the name 'liquor bar' was substituted for that of 'canteen,' and, that there should be no excuse for frequenting the 'liquor bar,' I authorized a moderate and limited amount of beer to be served, if required, with the men's suppers in the refreshment-room--an arrangement which has been followed by the happiest results.
At first it was thought that these changes would cause a great falling off in regimental funds, but experience has proved the reverse. With good management, the profits from the coffee-shop and the soda-water manufactory far exceed those to be derived from the canteen, and this without permitting anyone outside the regiment to purchase from the coffee-shop and without interfering at all with local tradesmen.
Another measure which I succeeded in carrying through the same year was the amalgamation of the various sectarian societies that existed in India for the prevention of drunkenness in the army into one undenominational society, under the name of the Army Temperance Association, which I hoped would admit of more united action and a more advantageous use of funds, besides making it easier for the Government to assist the movement. The different religious and 'total abstinence' associations had no doubt done much towards the object they had in view, but their work was necessarily spasmodic, and being carried on independently of regimental authority, it was not always looked upon with favour by officers.
There was of necessity at first a good deal of opposition on the part of the promoters of the older societies, but those who were loudest in denouncing my proposals soon came to understand that there was nothing in the constitution of the Army Temperance Association which could in any way interfere with total abstinence, and that the only difference between their systems and mine consisted in mine being regimental in its character, and including men for whom it was not necessary or expedient to forego stimulants altogether, but who earnestly desired to lead temperate lives, and to be strengthened in their resolve by being allowed to share in the advantages of the new Institution.
To make the movement a complete success, it was above all things important to secure the active co-operation of the ministers of the various religions. To this end I addressed the heads of the different churches, explaining my reasons and the results I hoped to attain in establishing the amalgamated association, and I invited them to testify their approval of the scheme by becoming patrons of it. With two exceptions, the dignitaries to whom I appealed accepted my invitation, and expressed sympathy with my aims and efforts, an encouragement I had hardly dared to hope for, and a proof of liberal-mindedness on the part of the prelates which was extremely refreshing.
The Government of India were good enough to sanction the allotment of a separate room in each soldiers' Institute for the exclusive use of the Association, where alcohol in any shape was not admitted, and to the grant of this room I attribute, in a great measure, the success of the undertaking. The success was proved by the fact that, when I left India, nearly one third of the 70,000 British soldiers in that country were members or honorary members of the Army Temperance Association.
[Footnote 1: The homes at Quetta and Wellington were eventually taken over by Government, and Lady Roberts' nurses, who worked in the military hospitals at these stations, were replaced by Government nurses when the increase to the Army Nursing Service admitted of this being done.]
[Footnote 2: When the 'Homes in the Hills' are closed during the cold months, these nurses attend sick officers in their own houses in the plains, free of charge except travelling expenses.]
[Footnote 3: These instructions are given in the Appendix. (See Appendix XI.)]
[Footnote 4: Monasteries in Burma are not merely dwelling-places for the monks, but are the schools where all education is carried on.]