“ten years no great war”

Discussions between the War Office and Colonial Office in September/October 1919 concerning the return of the Imperial Garrison to the Cape Peninsular in South Africa, specifically to safeguard Simons Town and Table Bay carried the following statement following the Union’s objection to the garrison returning:

“… I am inclined to think that it would be very difficult now to justify doing so [send the garrison], especially in view of the decision to assume that for the next ten years no great war need to be anticipated and of the consequent sweeping reductions which we propose making in the strengths of the garrisons at other places [including Sierra Leone].” (TNA: CO 323/708 51212 Colonial Garrison; italics added)

Does this mean they expected one after that? What does it imply regarding the role and future of the League of Nations. Jan Smuts took Leo Amery to task for his cynical view of the League earlier in the year (Hancock and van der Poel, Selections from the Smuts papers, vol 4).

While the garrison for the Cape was to protect the maritime bases, that for Sierra Leone concerned “maintenance of internal order”. The thought was that the British West Indian Regiment which had traditionally filled this role was no longer of a sufficient standard to do so, suggesting perhaps another force (not specified) be considered. Mauritius, too, was felt in need of internal order being maintained. The acting governor there suggesting a force of “100 European Regulars”. In terms of numbers, there was an overall reduction of British forces for Sierra Leone while the local WAFF garrison increased by two. Of the British forces, there was an increase of 20 amongst the Royal Engineers suggesting infrastructure development. Mauritius was to see a significant decrease in British forces and the introduction of local peace keeping regiments – of a size similar to that of Sierra Leone. Figures were not included for the Cape Peninsular.

While a greater war wasn’t anticipated for at least 10 years, what internal unrest was expected in Sierra Leone and Mauritius? And what of the other African territories, especially those which had recently been under German control? The difference in treatment might well revolve around who was responsible for the different territories: the War Office having traditionally supplied armed support for those mentioned whereas the Colonial Office undertook its own peace keeping in the remaining territories.

And where does all this leave “the war to end all wars”?

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