HC Deb 10 May 1837 vol 38 cc775-9
Sir C. Broke Vere

seeing the hon. and gallant Member for Hull in his place, he would take that opportunity of referring to a statement made by the hon. Gentleman on a former night, relative to certain proceedings which that hon. Member alleged took place at the attack on Buenos Ayres, in 1808, and which he (Sir C. B. Vere) took the liberty of contradicting the accuracy of at that time. Since that time he had written to several officers who were present at the attack on that place, who confirmed the view he had taken of the subject. The first was from a general Officer, who said, that no such order had been issued as was described by the gallant officer; the next was from an officer who was an aide-de-camp of the commander, and he stated he did not know of any such order being issued. The next was from an officer commanding one of the columns of attack, who stated, that no such order had been issued. He had also similar letters from several other officers who were present, who stated, that no such order had been issued; he, therefore, was justified in asserting that no general order, no brigade order, no regimental order, and, indeed, no order of any authority, had been issued similar to that described by the hon. and gallant Member, namely, that the soldiers should spare the old men and the women and bayonet all others. He had felt it to be particularly his duty to apply to officers belonging to the same regiment that the gallant Member belonged to, and all the officers, except one, said that they did not know of any such order; and that one officer to whom he had alluded was at the time of the same rank as the hon. Member opposite; and that Gentleman said that he recollected an officer passed along the column to which he was attached, urging the men to the free use of the bayonet, but he did not recollect whether the particular expression stated by the hon. and gallant Member was used or not.

Colonel Thompson

said, there was a proverbial difficulty in combating the evidence of one man who did see, with the evidence of any number of men who did not see. The question brought forward was, whether he had wrongly stated, that he heard an order for giving no quarter carried by a field-officer down the column in which he was, at the attack of Buenos Ayres. He was no party to the policy of bringing this subject a second time before the House and the public. He had introduced it once, as matter of just and, perhaps, inevitable recrimination. But as a man put now on his defence, he felt assured he should be heard with patience. The first fact with which he was furnished by the hon. Baronet opposite was, that an order to the effect described was in the General-in-chief's plan of attack two days before. The hon. Baronet would think it no discourtesy if he read again the extract from the evidence on the trial of General Whitelocke. Lieutenant-Colonel Bourke, Quartermaster-General, says, on the 3d of July, two days before the attack actually took place, "I called at General Gower's quarters and he showed me a plan of an attack on the town which he appeared to have just finished, and which was completely detailed in. all its parts; it was the same which was given out the next day in orders, with some very trifling alterations." Whether the order to give no quarter was among these trifling alterations he had not the means to ascertain. "I proceeded to inspect the advance posts at the centre, and left General Gower going, as I understood, to head-quarters with the plan. I reached head-quarters after dusk, and in the course of the evening General-Whitelocke asked my opinion of the plan of attack, which was to take place the next day at twelve o'clock. I stated my objection to one clause, which directed that no prisoners should be made, as I conceived in an action of that sort, in an open town, it would be impossible to prevent a great deal of butchery." An ugly word in an official proceeding. "I said I thought the plan would succeed, but it appeared to me to be completely a new case, as I did not remember to have heard before of a similar order of attack. The General said he would leave out the order for making no prisoners, and would summon the town the next morning before he attacked it." Whether he did either must be doubtful. Was it what mankind at large would vote unreasonable, monstrous, or incredible, that what was in the General-in-chief's plan two days before should be heard by an individual officer on the attack? The hon. Baronet had further stated, that an officer in the same regiment with Colonel Thompson said, he thought he remembered an order being passed along by a field-officer to "use the bayonet freely." Now this officer, who happened to be one of the most valued comrades he ever had, he had always understood was in a different column from himself at the time he heard that order given. There were either eleven or thirteen columns; and the time when he heard the order was not when the troops were collected previously to entering the town, but after they were broken up. But he had further evidence, from an accidental and perhaps a hostile source; he would read a description of what took place on the same day, at the same hour, in a different column still. It was from a work which was put upon all mess tables, and into the hands of the babes and sucklings of the army, in all places where the young idea was taught to "shoot." It was the description, by an eye witness, of what took place at the attack of another part of Buenos Ayres, the Retiro. After describing a good deal of bayoneting, which might all be fair enough, for when men were sent to fight with bayonets they were not to be expected to use them like a turkey's feather — but why was not the same said for the British Legion, in whom it had been brought forward as a crime? the narrator went on to say, that some of the enemy feigned dead; on the arrival of reinforcements "the pretenders to death now tasted it in reality" a battery was attacked, and the party there consisting of about sixty men, made a precipitate retreat; but in place of being able to reach the theatre, they took temporary refuge in a barrack, and were so closely followed up as not to give time to shut the gates. Here there was a regular row in a barrack-room, and not one of the sixty was spared. The only fellows that escaped were five prisoners in the black hole." But this was not all— there was a bonne bouche to come. "When this bustle was over I returned to the barrack, and met, coming out, Corporal Mackay, a regular-built Highlander, of my own company [sorry he was to read anything discreditable to a Scottish soldier, but the fault was not his], with a sword well stained in one band [perhaps some hon. Gentlemen might have sons in the army, and wish to know what a well-stained sword was]—with a well stained sword in one hand, and a pair of boots in the other. I asked him what he had been about? He said the Spaniards were some of them uneasy, and he was quieting them—in fact, he had been putting all the wounded out of pain." [A gesture of incredulity from a Member on the Opposition side] Nay, here it was (holding up the book, and turning it on the two sides), in page 504 of The United Service Journal for December last; "and having seen that I had lost my boots in a muddy lane, he had unbooted a dead Spanish officer for the sake of his captain." This was the way the Spaniards were treated. Within four hours afterwards he was a prisoner in. the hands of the Spaniards, and was asked whether the orders he had described were what they had entered the town with, and of course he told the truth. A Spanish officer pulled out his purse, and asked if he wanted money, offering to supply him. If any thing could add to the misery of entering a town with such orders, it was the pain of being so treated afterwards. But he had not done yet. The hon. Baronet had not found any person who heard the exact order, but he had. He had a letter from an individual whom he would not name till he had ascertained from him that he was under no fear of suffering from the disclosure, which ran as follows: "Sir—having read in a newspaper a communication from you to your constituents, wishing to know if there was any old soldier in their neighbourhood who was at Buenos Ayres, although not being in the neighbourhood you write to, I beg to acquaint you that the regiment I served in, [regiment's name mentioned,] and in a different part of the army from any mentioned before got orders not to spare any persons except old men, women, and children, and were forced to act accordingly. One or two revolting cases I beg to mention. As the company I belonged to advanced up the street, there appeared at the door of a House, as we passed, a clergyman; he wore white robes. He was killed where he stood, and fell out on his face in the street. The next was a man who thought to secure himself under a woman's petitcoats" [loud laughter from the Tory side.] Colonel Thompson said he had waited for that laugh. Perhaps when hon. Gentlemen opposite had known him longer they would be less incautious. "The man had two bayonets put though his body in that situation. To describe the agony of the distracted mother, which I believe she was, would take an abler hand than the humble individual's who addresses you. But the order of the day was, 'You know your orders; do your duty, or—.'" And so, said the gallant officer, ends my military report. He would leave the facts before the House, and he submitted that he had shown reason to believe that in four several parts of the army orders tantamount to what he had reported had been given.

Sir Charles Broke Vere

did not doubt but that the hon. Member saw an officer riding along the line making the remark that he had stated, but he was satisfied that it was not a general order. He was anxious that the character of the army should be free from any thing approaching to the shadow of a stain, and therefore he had made the observations which he did.

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