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THE QUEEN'S SERVICE
Being the Experiences of a Private
Soldier in the British Infantry
at Home and Abroad
BY HORACE WYNDHAM
Late of the --th Regt.
LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
21 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.
[Illustration: DRAGOON IN FULL DRESS UNIFORM OF 1880]
A Private Soldier of the
"Three Years in Savage Africa"
_With Eight Illustrations by H. Chartier_
FIRST EDITION _August 16, 1899_
REPRINTED _August 26, 1899_
_This Edition enjoys Copyright in all Countries Signatory to
the Berne Treaty, and is not to be imported into the United
States of America._
_All rights including translation
_It is right to state that the following pages have not had the
advantage of final revision
by the Author, as Mr. Decle was called
upon to take charge
of an important mission
to Africa on behalf
"Daily Telegraph," and was thereforeunable
to complete the preparation
of his MS. for the press._
The bitter and protracted discussions which have arisen
out of the
Dreyfus case, and which have divided France into two hostile
have concentrated the attention of the civilised world on the French
army, but nobody has done more to disgrace
it, and to lower it in the
eyes of friends and foes alike, than Frenchmen themselves.
Those who, persuaded of Dreyfus' innocence, made superhuman efforts
to further the noble cause of justice and to obtain
one of the greatest wrongs ever committed against a human being,
spoiled their noble task by indiscriminate and wholesale
abuse of the
army in general, holding
the thousands of French officers responsible
for the conduct of a few of their number. Those, on the other hand,
who believed in the guilt of Dreyfus, based their conviction
their blind belief
in the infallibility of half a dozen officers who
had passed judgment upon the condemned man. Trusting to unworthy
subordinates, the highest officers of the General Staff made of
Dreyfus' guilt a matter on which they staked their own honour and
reputation, and when they discovered that they had been deceived, they
found themselves in the position of having either to acknowledge
they had been befooled, or else of having to stand by those who had led
them into their awkward
predicament. They chose the latter alternative,
and their friends and supporters played into the hands of those who so
fiercely attacked the army, by refusing to admit that there could be a
single black sheep in it, and by thus linking together the whole body
of French officers and making their collective
honour of every individual member.
A time came, however, when even the most determined partisans of this
system had to turn against those they had extolled but the day before.
First came Esterhazy, the liar, the swindler, and the traitor; then
Henry the forger, and de Paty du Clam, his accomplice.
It is a remarkable
fact that amidst
all these scenes of violent
there should be but one man who maintained implicit trust in the good
faith of his worst enemies--Dreyfus himself--the victim
of this most
His case is, unfortunately, but a greatly magnified example of what
daily happens throughout the French army, and the recollections I am
to the reader, of the time I served in its ranks, will
show that Dreyfus has been a victim
not so much of the malice
individuals as of a faulty
system. It will be seen how, in a regiment,
the Colonel forms his opinion of a private from the character
him by his Corporal or Sergeant, and how the mere fact of appealing
against a punishment
is considered as an act of insubordination. It
is always the same principle--_le respect de la chose jugee_ (the
upholding of a judgment, without considering
upon what grounds or
evidence it has been delivered).
I wish it to be clearly understood that this little book has not been
written for the purpose of attacking the French army as represented
by its officers. It is intended merely as a faithfulaccount
hardships I endured when I served my time in the ranks--hardships which
every Frenchman has still to bear. I cannot follow M. Urbain Gohier in
his virulent and indiscriminate attacks upon all French officers--among
whom individuals differ
as in other classes of men; but each one of my
readers will be able to draw his own conclusions with regard to the
system which, in practice, is universally
_Dragoon in Full Dress Uniform of 1880_ _Frontispiece_
_Dragoon sitting on his bed eating from Mess-tin_ _To face page_ 56
_The Plank Bed_ " 90
_A Fatigue Party of Dragoons_ " 108
_Exercises in Riding School_ (_vaulting_) " 128
_A Duel in the Riding School_ " 244
Every Frenchman is liable
to military service during twenty-five years
of his life--viz., from the age of twenty until he is forty-five.
In time of peace this period of service is thus divided:
(i) Three years of active service.
(ii) Ten years in the reserve of the standing
army, during which two
periods of a month each with the colours must be undergone.
(iii) Six years in the territorial
army, with two periods of thirteen
days each with the colours, and
(iv) Six years in the reserve of the territorial
The conscription lists are thus made out:
Every year the Mayor of each "Commune" draws up a list of all the young
men who have arrived at the age of twenty during the past twelve months.
These lists must be posted up by January 14 at the latest. The names
of the sons of foreigners, if born in France, are included, and unless
they claim foreign nationality
they are liable
to serve, and on failing
to do so when called upon are regarded as deserters and punished
Domicile is established by the parents' residence.
Every year the War Minister fixes the number of conscripts required
to serve three years with the colours; those in excess
of that number
are called upon to serve for one year only; but during the following
two years they are liable
to be called upon to complete their time of
In order to determine those who are to benefit by this arrangement
_tirage au sort_ (drawing lots) is resorted to.
In time of peace, conscripts falling under any of the following
categories, among others, are also called upon to serve for one year
(_a_) The eldest
of orphans, or the eldest
son of a widow, or of a
family whose father is blind, or has reached his seventieth year.
(_b_) The only son in a family of seven children or more--or the eldest
son of a family of at least seven.
(_c_) The elder of twins.
(_d_) Brothers of men engaged in active service.
(_e_) Brothers of a man who has been killed, or who has died in active
service, or who has been invalided on account
of disease contracted, or
wounds received, while serving.
(_f_) Young men who have signed an engagement
to serve during ten years
as teachers in the National schools.
(_g_) Students in law, science, or medicine who have already obtained
to the Government Universities or other institutions
mentioned in the Act.
(_h_) Students of the religious institutions who are studying to become
ministers of one of the religions recognised by the State.
Provided that, in classes (_f_), (_g_), (_h_), such young men have
obtained their final degree before their twenty-sixth year, or
that religious students have been ordained before the end of their
twenty-sixth year, failing which, they are called upon to complete
three years' active service.
Whoever has been convicted of theft, obtaining money by false
pretences, rape, and other crimes against morals, and has been
sentenced to more than three months' imprisonment
for such crimes,
or has been sentenced twice for similar offences, is sent to special
battalions in Algeria. If, at the time a conscript is called upon to
serve, he is undergoing imprisonment, he begins his service at the
expiration of his sentence.
Instead of joining their regiment
like other conscripts, these men
have to report themselves on a certain date at the headquarters
the military district to which they belong, and they are thence
by gendarmes to the depot of their battalion. They are subjected to
an iron discipline, being commanded by officers and non-commissioned
officers picked out from other regiments where they have distinguished
themselves for their harshness. Many are the tales of dreadful
taken by these conscripts on their officers. It is no uncommon
for a few of them to play away the life of an officer at cards, the
loser being obliged to kill him within a certain time. To quote but
a single instance: A few years ago one of these battalions was being
marched from Biskra to Tuggurt in Southern Algeria. Before leaving,
four of the men had played away the life of their Major at cards. The
loser, who was to carry out the deed, pretended to be ill, and kept to
the rear of the column. On the second day he kept still farther back,
and sat down pretending to be exhausted. The Major, who had fallen
far behind, seeing
the man, spoke to him kindly, telling him to make
an effort. "Oh, sir," said the soldier, "I can't; I am done for." The
Major kindly handed the man his flask to take a pull from, and as he
was replacing it in his holster, the man fired his rifle point blank
at his officer. Fortunately the horse swerved, and the bullet
Thereupon the Major drew his revolver, and blew the ruffian's brains
out. A few months later a stone was found on the spot bearing
ON THE 10TH OF DECEMBER 18--
WAS MURDERED BY MAJOR X.
The man who placed the stone there was never discovered, and, although
it was removed by order of the military authorities, another one
bearing a similar inscription
soon afterwards stood in its place. Six
times these stones were removed, and six times they were replaced, yet
parties were never detected. It is hardly to be wondered at
if the officers of these battalions usually carry loaded revolvers.
To return to our description
of the mode of recruiting.
The lists having been duly posted up, a day is appointed for drawing
the lots. This public ceremony
is presided over by the "Sous-prefet" of
the "Arrondissement." Having counted the number of names on the list,
the Sous-prefet places a corresponding
number of tickets, each bearing
a number, in an urn: he then calls out the names of the young men, and
each in turn draws a ticket; in case of absence
of one of them his lot
is drawn by the Mayor. As already explained only a certain number of
men being required to serve three years, those who draw the highest
numbers stand a chance of serving for but twelve months, besides those
who have a right to claim the privilege, although the latter are also
bound to draw lots.
All the young men whose names appear in the lists have next to appear
before a _Conseil de Revision_ (Revising Commission).
This Commission consists of:
The Prefect of the Department, who is ex-officio President.
A Conseiller de Prefecture.
A Member of the Conseil General.
A Member of the Conseil d'arrondissement.
A General or Field Officer appointed by the military authority.
An Intendant militaire (Commissariat officer).
The chief Recruiting Officer of the district.
A military Surgeon, or a Doctor, is appointed by the military
authorities to make a medicalexamination
of all the conscripts, and
upon his report the Commission decides by vote whether each individual
conscript shall serve or not. It should be added that the minimum
height is 5 feet 01/2 inch.
The Commission also decides upon claims of exemption made by sons of
foreigners, and upon the claims of those entitled to a service of one
Each conscript subsequently
receives his _feuille de route_, stating
he must join, and the date on which he must join it,
and making an allowance
for his journey to the town where he is to
be quartered. From the moment conscripts receive their _feuilles
de route_ they are under military law, and can only be tried by
court-martial for any crimes or offences they may commit.
Men while serving for a month in the reserve, or for a fortnight
territorial army, are also exclusively
law for the time
being. Even in the case of a soldier who has finished his service the
fact of his assaulting one of his former superiors (from a Corporal
upwards) renders him liable
to be tried by court-martial "should such
assault be considered the result of revenge
for a punishment
during his service."--(Art. 223 and 224 of the Code of Military
Justice.) So that a man who has been abominably treated during his time
of service and who gives a good hiding to one of his former officers
ten or twenty years later, is liable
to be tried by the military
I may add here that the act of striking
a _superieur_, meaning any man
superior in rank to one's self, from a Corporal upwards, is punished
with DEATH, _even in time of peace_. Two instances occurred while I
served. In the first instance
a private had struck a Corporal who had
bullied him in a most shameful
way; in the second instance
had struck an officer who had called his mother by a vile name. Both
men were found guilty
shot in the presence of their
regiment on special parade. It very seldom occurs that a man who has
struck even a Corporal is reprieved.
In each subdivision of every military district is kept a register
which are inscribed the names of all the men in that subdivision who
are serving, or have served.
In this register
is stated the date at which each man has been
incorporated, as well as the date of his leaving the service, the date