(1901) Melbourne Herald : ARMY SWORDSMANSHIP
Herald (Melbourne, Vic), Thursday 14 November 1901, page 2
IS IT NECESSARY? AN EXPERT’S OPINION.
IS IT NECESSARY? AN EXPERT’S OPINION.
So in Australia we have an excellent resource with the NLA called Trove.
It is a digitisation of newspapers that has been OCRed so you can see the text. It makes it one of the most useful archives for newspapers I have seen worldwide since it is comprehensive, free and uses its audience to correct the errors in the Optical Character Recognition.
So I have been (for years) collecting stories of Swordsmanship in Australian papers and done nothing with them. Now I am going to aim at picking one up at a time, correct the text on trove and post it here with some extra information to share here.
If you like these, please let me know so it is worthwhile doing more. There are some gaps in the information (three people mentioned by Hutton who I cannot find) so any insight there from anyone would be welcome (and I will edit the post and add the information).
ARMY SWORDSMANSHIP – IS IT NECESSARY? AN EXPERT’S OPINION.
Lovers of swordsmanship have for once, been In full sympathy with critics of the War Office during the last few days; for the new Army orders Just issued by the Commander-in-Chief seem, at first sight, to be likely to ruin swordsmanship In the cavalry, and to deprive infantry officers of any chance of using their weapon except for the picturesque purpose of greeting various notabilities.
The Infantry officer. In fact, will learn how to draw his sword, how to salute with It. and how to put it back again. For some time It has merely formed a part of his uniform, which he gladly laid aside with the rest of his official trappings. The new orders appear to confirm this view. Do they really mean that the sword is to be taken from the British soldier altogether, and that among the various changes which “modern progress” has enforced the oldest and most picturesque of all man’s fighting-tools is to be consigned lo mere oblivion?
If there is one man who knows more of modern swordsmanship than most, It Is Captain Alfred Hutton (late of the famous K.D.G.), and to him, therefore, we went at once for some consolation, If that were possible, under the sudden blow that had been dealt to all our notions of what was fit and proper for a soldier, “The sword and lance exercise,” says the order Issued on the 26th ult., “will not be performed at reviews or any other parades as parade-practice.”
“And quite, right, too.” said the captain, who was sitting In the midst of a most fear-some collection of weapons when the terms of the Commander-in-Chief’s announcement were brought to his notice.
“Sword-exercise in the cavalry was a pretty sight for the entertainment of ladies In carriages on the parade-ground, when it was done uniformly by a whole squadron; but it was utterly worthless as far as personal skill with the weapon was concerned.
Nobody minded very much whether the men led the edge or not. so long as they all swung together and recovered at tho same instant.
But if the Army gymnasiums give up fencing as part of the officers’ and men’s physical exercise and training, I think it would be a very had thing. Display is one thing. But practical utility is another.
After a long discussion on various weapons we returned to the main point again, and the captain admitted that 1901 was a different thing In many ways from 1692; “but,” said he, “the War Office has gone too fast, as is usual after prolonged periods of lethargy. Now they have abolished so much, how do they propose to fill the gap? It Is not the first time authorities have done much the same thing.
When Angelo was teaching In London he produced a system of cavalry sword-exercise In which he grafted the Hungarian method upon his own principles, and elaborated a system of defence for horse and man us well.
This was suddenly abolished, and the horse was left to take care of Itself. Of course if they had all fought as well as Baron Marbot’s man-eating charger that would not have mattered. But Marbot was a Frenchman.
Then, again. the War Office suddenly adopted Maclaren’s system of foil-fencing, which was radically and anatomically wrong, contrary to the opinion of all the best masters In England and France. They have abandoned It now, but they have no other handbook on the foil, although they certainly possess the handbook of sabre play, which Is based upon what Mariello taught them on his visit to this country.
“My point is that foil-fencing is an in-dispensable foundation for proficiency in all hand-weapons. Don’t stop at the foil, of course, but begin with It, and go on to other things. I have heard a great deal about the lessons of the South African campaign,. but I have yet to learn that Boer warfare has abolished all possibility of hand-to-hand conflict.
You can never tell when a sword will not be of use. Do you remember that letter which was published in one of the papers about a party of ‘cavalrymen’ who charged some Boers with nothing but rifles in their hands? ‘If we had only had swords.’ said the writer, ‘we could have accounted for the lot.’ And so they would have.
What Is a mounted man to do, at close quarters, with a rifle? Is he to have a revolver as well? We shall see. The rifle Is almost as useless as the lance in a really close melee, but nothing Is better than a lance for pursuit. A good tent-pegger will pick a man out of a ditch like a winkle out of Its shell, and at full gallop too. Ah!”
THE SWORD’S USEFULNESS
For a moment the captain appeared to give himself up to a delightful day-dream. But he threw it off with an agreeable warmth, exclaiming:
“All the English authorities seem to enjoy a sudden decision very much. Look at the way they abolished duelling, and left us helpless, with nothing In its place. In these days a scoundrel may run off with a girl, and the law does nothing except punish you If you thrash him. Now. In the old days”— and the captain strode among his weapons with the light of battle In his eyes— ‘It was not possible for a man to offer you a gross affront merely because he thought he could do It safely. With the fear of a duel before him he kept his place.
Now. what are you to do? A row in the street or drawingroom Is out of the question; legal methods are no remedy. The consequence is that the commonest usages of established courtesy are rapidly becoming obsolete. Are we the better for that?”
The problem was too vast for us even to approach, so we gently led the captain back to the main question once more.
“Foil-fencing In the army useless? Certainly not,” he replied quickly to our next question. “Whatever Army orders may be Issued from Pall-mall, the Army in the field has to be ready to light with any weapon under any circumstances. Boxing. I hope. Is as natural to every British soldier as breathing. But It may happen that he will need something a trifle more deadly, and that the scope both of his offensive and defensive movements may need to be enlarged. If so, there is no finer training in the world than that proficiency in hand-weapons which the foil can teach him. It may be with the greatest regret, therefore, that I should see any diminution in the swordsmanship of the Army.
Practice In a salle d’armes teaches a man of skill .which gives him confidence, where he may have had none before. It may not turn a coward Into a Bayard all at once; but It will make a nervous man rely upon his own skill. This is the peculiar virtue of the foil. It seems to lead to so many other things. The average sol-dier may be a clumsy fellow enough, but teach him tho beginnings and the principles of foilplay, and then take him on to the sword or anything else he can hold In his hand. Walking-sticks,’ For instance!”
THE WALKING STICK
In a moment the captain was holding a walking stick In such a threatening manner that the interview seemed likely to come to an abrupt conclusion. “You see.” he went on, smiling, the thing has far more possibilities than you might Imagine. Walking-stick play, as taught by M. Vigny, for in= stance, is an extremely useful bit of knowledge. Now try and hit me on the head.” ,
We tried. As soon as the coals had been picked out of our hair, and the lower portion of our waistcoat had been removed from our collar, the captain cheerfully resumed:
“If you are mobbed, you observe, tho great thing Is never to raise your hand to strike. Always keep it low. Hold your stick at each end, and thrust the first man on the Mark, the second In the throat, clear a circle round you rapidly, and . . . But the audience bad fled. It Is not a healthy thing to pretend to be a mob when Captain Hutton displays ” a little of the art of self-defence,” and It was a prostrate form upon a sofa that the captain addressed his last remarks: . “Whether he is on horseback or on foot, the English soldier Is now practically reduced to nothing but his rifle, and at close quarters he does not even know what to do with that, for there Is no drill that teaches him the complete possibilities of the weapon as i have developed them in the chapter on ‘Butt-Fencing.’ In my little manual culled ‘The Swordsman.'”
The Manual was on the shelf with vague memories of Mulvaney and Learoyd we reached It down and read . We have been reading it ever since. The possibilities of a butt-end are as fascinating as they are endless, and Tommy Atkins is apparently in official Ignorance of an of them. What can be done with young soldiers when they are properly trained Captain Hutton has proved very conclusively in the case of those young cadets of the London Rifle Brigade, who became so proficient under his instruction at all kinds of hand-weapons, ancient and modern, that they have given displays and lectures on the subject all over England.
The result of our conversation seemed to prove that If there was one man who needed compulsory instruction in fencing It was the British soldier. Captain Hutton may be an enthusiast for the arme blanche, but he Is a practical soldier, too and he Is far from being alone in the opinion that all ranks will lose far more than they are likely to gain If the art and practice of swordsmanship Is abandoned, or even discouraged in any modern army.
- Gemeiner (web s.2018) La canne Vigny
- Hutton (1867) The Cavalry Swordsman
- Hutton (1889) Cold Steel: a practical treatise on the sabre, based on the old English backsword play of the Eighteenth century, combined with the method of the modern Italian school.
- Hutton (1892) Old Swordplay: A glance at the systems of fence in vogue during the XVIth, XVIIth, and XVIIIth centuries…
- Hutton (1901) The Sword and the Centuries or Old Sword Days and Old Sword Ways: being a description of the various swords used in civilized Europe during the last five centuries, and of single combats which have been fought with them
- MacLaren (1868) A System of Fencing