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Army—Deaths From Sunstroke On March—Question

Volume 202: debated on Monday 27 June 1870

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said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been directed to two paragraphs in "The Times" of the 24th of June, stating that a soldier of the 9th Regiment died from sunstroke on the march from West Ham to Kingston, and a corporal of the 94th from the same cause on the march from Guildford to Alder-shot; that both these deaths occurred on Wednesday last, and that the troops were marching during the middle of the day exposed to the extreme heat of the sun; and to ask further, by whom the marches of troops are regulated; and, whether during hot weather arrangements might not be made for the march to take place in the early morning or in the evening?

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether he is aware that a private in Her Majesty's 9th Regiment dropped down dead on the march on entering Kingston on Wednesday last, the 22nd instant, and that a sergeant in the same Regiment is also reported to have died from the extreme heat of the weather on the march on the 21st instant; and, whether, if the removal of a Battalion of Infantry from Warley in Essex to Alder-shot by Railway cannot be arranged, it would not be better to change the quarters of Home Regiments at a cooler period of the year, so that the men may be spared the intense suffering of a four days' march in heavy marching order in the heat of the day?

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether the statement is true that the 2nd battalion of the 9th Regiment, or that portion of it quartered at Warley Barracks, having received orders to proceed to Aldershot, were on Wednesday last marched to that camp in heavy marching order, a distance of some 15 miles; whether there were not two separate remonstrances made to the Quartermaster General or other department of the Horse Guards by the officer commanding the detachment, or other officer on his behalf, against marching the troops such a distance under a tropical sun, and in heavy marching order, which suggestion represented that the men's kits might be conveyed by railway or other conveyance; whether the officer in command did not earnestly suggest that his men should not be unnecessarily subjected to a march under a tropical sun; whether the billeting arrangements were neglected to such an extent that many of the soldiers of the 9th were obliged to sleep under hedgerows adjoining Stratford le Bow; whether the result of the neglect of the commanding officer's suggestion has not been suffering and consequent dissatisfaction in the Regiment, accompanied by the fact of the death of one soldier on the line of march from exhaustion, and of another being affected by "coup de soliel." Also, to ask who is responsible for the marching of those troops in heavy marching order, against the wish of their commanding officer; and, whether similar complaints have reached the War Office relative to the route of the 94th Regiment on the same day?

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether he is aware that three cases of sunstroke, one of a very serious character, occurred on Wednesday last in the town of Alton during the march of detachments of the 46th and 96th Regiments from Winchester to Aldershot, in the hottest part of the day, and that the effect of the march generally was distressing to the troops in the highest degree; whether it is a fact that the detachments in question were unaccompanied by any surgeon, so that the cases referred to were treated by a medical gentleman of the locality; and, whether there is any reason other than motives of economy to prevent these soldiers from being conveyed by the railway which communicates directly between Winchester and Aldershot?

said, he wished to know who had the responsibility of ordering these marches?

Sir, I have gone fully into the particulars of this lamentable occurrence with the Field-Marshal, Commanding-in-Chief and the Quarter-master General, and will state the circumstances to the House. Two men have died; one from the effect of the heat, and the other from causes which I shall explain in the course of what I have to say. The circumstances have; been as follows:—It was the period of the usual moves of troops for the summer drill at Aldershot, which, as the House is aware, are made when the Militia Regiments depart and leave the quarters vacant. The 9th moved from Warley, the 94th from Woolwich, and the 46th, with two depôt troops attached, from Winchester. Two men have died—Malone, of the 9th, and M'Ewen, of the 94th. The sergeant of the 9th, reported in the newspapers to have died, has recovered. The routes are issued from the Quartermaster General's Department some days before. The hours are left to the commanding officers; the Queen's Regulations, par. 1,087, say, "All marches are to commence at as early an hour as the season of the year will admit of." The route of the 9th prescribed four days, beginning on the 21st—namely, to West Ham, 14½ miles; Kingston, 18; Guildford, 19; Aldershot, 11. Malone died on arriving at Kingston on Wednesday, the 22nd, the heat of which day all who hear me will remember. The medical account is—

"He fell down suddenly on arrival at Kingston, at 5 p.m., and died of heat apoplexy at 10 o'clock that night. I may add that he did not come under my observation previously, but marched the whole way and carried his pack."
Tuesday's march began at 9 a.m., and ended at 5 p.m., resting two hours in the middle of the day. Wednesday's began at 6 a.m., and ended at 5 p.m., resting three hours in the middle of the day. For the 94th the route prescribed three days, beginning on the 20th—from Woolwich to Kingston, 18 miles; Kington to Guildford, 19; Guildford to Aldershot, 11. The march on Monday began at 8.15 and ended at 3; on Tuesday it began at 8.15 and ended at 5.25; on Wednesday it began at 9.15 and ended at 1.45. M'Ewen, who died, was carried in the ambulance two days, and would have been carried the third if he had reported himself unable to march. He had only marched three miles when he was put into the ambulance. He died on arriving at Aldershot, and this is the medical report—
"I have no hesitation in saying that his death may be ascribed almost altogether to drink, which rendered him unable to bear the effects of a march in hot weather; and from inquiries made by me I find that this man had been drinking hard on the previous day and upon that morning."
Of the 46th, which marched from Winchester, the route prescribed, to Alton, 18 miles; to Aldershot, 13. The battalion moved in three detachments, and as it has only two surgeons belonging to it, no doubt one detachment was without a surgeon. I have not heard anything of the circumstances mentioned by my hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) except from himself; and, as I only heard that this morning, I have not yet received replies to the inquiries which I have instituted in consequence. The reports from the Regiment dislose no sickness. I will now answer the several questions which have been put. The 9th had their knapsacks carried for them the last two days. The 94th never carried them at all. The men had no ammunition in their pouches. No remonstrances from commanding officers reached the Quartermaster General directly or indirectly. The billeting arrangements at Stratford are reported to have been good, but the houses widely dispersed; and, so far as my information goes, one man only failed to find his billet and slept in the open air. I am informed that there is no dissatisfaction in the Regiments, but that the men are in an excellent spirit. The 9th and 94th have now very moderate hospital lists, and the only sickness to be traced to the march is three men footsore in the 9th and one in the 94th. Economy has not been the object of these marches. General officers have complained that the troops got out of the way of marching, and the authorities have been desirous, when the distances have been suitable, to accustom them to it. In conclusion, I may say that the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief will take care that attention is drawn to the Regulation which requires that marches shall begin at as early an hour as the season of the year will admit.