HC Deb 18 May 1857 vol 145 cc408-11

said, before Mr. Speaker left the chair he was anxious, seeing the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) in his place, to give him an opportunity to explain certain reflections which he had cast, not only on the military reputation, but upon the personal courage of the officers of the British army. A certain degree of importance was always attached to a speech made by a Member of that House out of doors, but that importance must be much increased when the speech containing such reflections was made by an hon. Member of that House, whom, according to his own statement, both the Queen and the Government delighted to honour—who had refused the highest honours which could be offered by the Sovereign or the Administration—a speech, therefore, which carried with it considerable authority. Now, the speech to which he wished to call the attention of the hon. Member was addressed by him to his constituents a short time ago, and like all the speeches made by him, consisted principally of an attack on the army. The hon. Member first of all attacked the highest personage in this country, for passing days and nights at the camp at Aldershot, for reviewing her troops, and for showing hospitality to her officers. According to his view, the officers of the army were the only class of Her Majesty's subjects who ought not to be honoured with her attention and kindness. But the part of his speech to which he wished particularly to call the attention of the hon. Member, and of which he hoped the hon. Member would have the frankness to give some explanation, was as follows:— It was said by many, that when the late war broke out, the army was totally inefficient, and so it was, except with regard to the discipline and bravery of the soldiers, who saved the credit and honour of the country when the officers alone were incapable of discharging their duty. That reflection contained the most severe charge which it was possible to bring against a British officer, and one which no man ought to make on light grounds. He (Colonel North) saw before him three gallant Generals—the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Greenwich, and the distinguished veteran the hon. and gallant Member for Calne, and he would appeal to them to say from experience whether British officers were accustomed to hang back in the moment of danger. But he would rather take the verdict of the soldiers themselves. There was no feature in the late war more striking, or one which made a deeper impression on the gallant army at large, than the example which the officers showed of patient endurance under unparalleled hardships, and the way in which those boys in form, but lions in heart, led their men on the day of battle. He would read some returns which had been laid on the table, and leave the House and the country to judge whether the stigma cast by the hon. Member on the honour of our officers, and cheered by the persons whom he addressed on the occasion in question, was justified or not. The result of the four battles which were fought in the Crimea, so for as regarded officers, was this: at the battle of the Alma no less than 25 officers were killed and 81 wounded, making a total of 106; at Inkerman 43 were killed and 101 wounded, making a total of 144; at the battle of Balaklava 13 were killed and 27 wounded, total 40; on the 14th June, 89 officers were killed and wounded; and at the final assault on the Redan, 153 were killed and wounded; making a total, as regarded those four battles, of 532 officers killed and wounded, independent of the number of officers who fell in the trenches. The total number of officers who died in the Crimea, either from wounds or otherwise, was not less than 383, and of those invalided, 1,412, being a total of 1,795 officers put hors de combat in that short campaign. In the ranks of that army, not only were the four divisions of the kingdom—England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales—represented, but among the officers of that army were to be found the representatives of every class of the community, from a Prince of the royal blood to the son of the humble peasant who, by gallantry and good conduct, had raised himself to the rank of an officer; and he maintained that, from his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge to the son of that humble peasant, there was not an officer who did not do his duty, and was not worthy of the respect and admiration of his countrymen. The hon. Gentleman had ever since he (Colonel North) had had a seat in that House, undertaken the unamiable task of endeavouring to sow the seeds of ill-will and bad feeling between the officers and men of our army. Now, he could tell the hon. Gentleman this, that in no two classes of Her Majesty's subjects—considering the differences of birth and station—a difference rendered greater by the stern but necessary laws of discipline—could there be found more good feeling and affection than that which existed between the officers and men of the British army. He could only assure the hon. Member that he who undertook the task of sowing bad feeling and dissension between them had indeed undertaken a difficult and herculean task, and one not likely to be carried out by a gentleman who never lost an opportunity of vilifying the officers, a course which was anything but agreeable to the good and well-conducted soldier—nor of speaking and voting against every measure tending to the comfort, happiness, and prosperity of the private soldier.


thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman might have put his question, which was a very simple one, to him, without having recourse to a long harangue. He (Mr. Williams) did not feel himself accountable to that hon. and gallant Gentleman, or any one else, for what he said elsewhere; but he had no hesitation in answering his question, although he had given no notice of it. He should wish, however, to know where the hon. and gallant Member had seen the statement upon which his observations had been founded, because upon that point he had given no information to the House. [Colonel NORTH: In The Times.] Well, be that as it might, he would venture to assert that he had never expressed an opinion with regard to our army, from the highest to the lowest, but in terms of the greatest possible respect. Indeed, in the statement to which the hon. and gallant Member had referred, it did not appear that he cast any reflection on the officers of the army. At all events, his sentiments on that head were quite the reverse of those which the hon. and gallant Member seemed to impute to him, for he believed there was no body of officers belonging to any army in the world who displayed more courage than the officers of the British army always did. On many occasions, when the conduct of officers high in command, and the management of our army, had very properly excited grave comment and no slight disapprobation in that House, he had always borne his testimony to the gallantry by which our troops had invariably been distinguished. He had not, it was true, always greatly complimented those who were engaged in connection with the highest departments of the army while in the field; but, of the conduct of the soldiers and regimental officers he had never spoken in any other language than that of the highest admiration. He felt surprized that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should, in order to make an attack upon him, base his accusations upon a report in a newspaper, which contained only a portion of a speech which, if it had been given in full, would have shown that, even upon the very occasion to which the hon. and gallant Member had called the attention of the House, he had expressed himself in terms the most laudatory of those brave men whose conduct he was told he had aspersed. What induced him (Mr. Williams) to make the observations complained of, was the feeling which he thought existed among military men in this country to impose great expenses on the nation merely for the purpose of promoting their own interest. If we had occasion to go to war again a few years hence, he felt sure that, notwithstanding all the improvements in our system, we should find ourselves in precisely the same difficulty which we experienced during the late war with Russia. That was the opinion which he entertained, but it might be wrong, and all he could say was, that he should be extremely glad to discover his error; but to accuse him of endeavouring to produce an ill-feeling between officers and men was a charge totally destitute of any foundation. The hon. and gallant Member said he never lost an opportunity of vilifying the army; he should like him to point to any particular occasion when he had attempted to do anything of the kind. He (Mr. Williams) had certainly opposed reckless and useless extravagance in the army, but he never recollected the hon. and gallant Member getting up to address the House except to defend some proposal for taking money out of the pockets of the people for purposes in connection with the army which were totally unnecessary. He (Mr. Williams) was not opposed to granting public money to make the army and navy efficient, but he objected to its being squandered in the way it had been with the consent of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He would only further say that he entirely agreed to all the hon. and gallant Member had said in favour of the army, and was as anxious as the hon. and gallant Member himself could be to maintain the honour and efficiency of the army.