HC Deb 11 August 1871 vol 208 cc1479-92

said, the question he had to bring under the consideration of the House was one which had arisen out of the great war that had so lately ceased. That war, so full of stupendous events that it absorbed the attention of the whole world while it lasted, had now become a thing of the past. Intense as was the interest it excited, the impression it made was already beginning to fade from their minds. The mists of time rising up between them and it would soon obscure its features, and new events would shut it altogether out of sight. Let it go, then; but, before it was forgotten, let them discharge the two duties it had bequeathed to them. The first of these was to put in practice the lessons it had taught. They were making an attempt to perform this duty, and he feared not a very successful one; but he need not dwell on that, for that was not the duty to which he had to refer. The second duty was that of which he had to speak, and it was that of rewarding those who, by their conduct during the late war, had deserved well of the nation. In that direction, too, they had been doing something; but, in his humble opinion, much remained to be done. He rejoiced, indeed, that Her Majesty's Ministers had rewarded the services of a comparatively young diplomatist, who was intrusted with most important duties at Versailles. He should be glad if he should receive the higher reward which was said to be in contemplation for him, and the bestowal of which would, he should imagine, excite a salutary spirit of emulation among all the officers of the service to which he belonged. Other honours had been conferred upon other deserving men. But he contended that there were persons, of whom he was about to speak, whose services had been second to none in importance, but who, nevertheless, so far from receiving any of the sunshine of favour, had had, on the contrary, the cold shade of discouragement cast upon them. He spoke of those who throughout this war were charged with that onerous, responsible, and, he would say, perilous duty of ministering to the sick and wounded in the field, and who, in fact, were the representatives of the British nation in carrying out their part of that most Christian and most hallowed of all treaties, the Convention of Geneva. The Convention of Geneva was signed by Her Majesty's Government on the 18th of February, 1865; but, so far as he knew, no attempt had been made up to the commencement of the late war, at all events, on a grand scale, to fulfil the sacred task imposed on them by that Convention—namely, the succour of the sick and wounded of foreign Armies in the field. At last, however, the attempt had been made, and made with the most perfect success, and on account of the charitable help thus rendered, if on no other, this last war might be reckoned among the most memorable that were ever waged. He said that if it were better to save life than to destroy it, to keep up a store of friendly and enduring memories rather than one of hatred and vengeance, then the war which had just ceased must be regarded as, in the truest sense, the most glorious which they had on record, and that to which they must ever look back with the most unalloyed and enduring satisfaction — so far, at least, as they had had anything to do with it. But, lest he should be thought to be exaggerating the value of charitable help to Armies during a war, he would quote to the House a sentence from a well-known writer on the subject, M. Frégier. He says— At every period and among all nations, from Cyrus down to Napoleon III., the personnel and matériel of the Army medical departments, charged with the care and transport of the victims of war, have been insufficient. This was an undisputed and incontestable fact, written on every page of the world's military annals. Indeed, up to 1797 no attempt whatever had been made by belligerent States to provide even for their own sick and wounded, and it was only in the last few years that any real progress had been made. To go no further back than the beginning of this century, the book called Help for the Sick and Wounded, showed that six days after the Battle of Eylau thousands of wounded were weltering in their gore, untended, in the town of Thorn, to which they had been conveyed. On the third day after Solferino many wounded still remained on the field of battle, exposed to a fierce sun and suffering from the agony of their wounds and the horrors of thirst. The wounded at Alma passed two nights on the field of battle, untended. No single State could provide a sufficient medical staff and comforts enough for the wounded after a great battle. When they thought of the care required by a single sufferer the firmest mind succumbed at the idea of 40,000 wounded all at once invoking assistance after such battles as Solferino, Sadowa, and those of the three memorable days before Metz, as described to us by the graphic pen of Mr. Winn. All honour, then, to those who were introducing the great and blessed change in war prescribed by the Convention of Geneva. The help rendered by the English nation to the French and Germans during the late war was not unworthy of a great people in such a cause, and was most honourable to those who stood at the head of the movement by which it was supplied, of whom he would mention only the Duke of Manchester and the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire (Colonel Loyd Lindsay). But let not the labours of those by whom it was dispensed be overlooked. It would occupy too much time to refer to all of these. He would mention only three names, and those the most conspicuous. In the first place, there were Deputy Inspector General Gordon and Dr. Wyatt, who were sent by the War Department as Medical Commissioners to the French Army, and who arrived in Paris on the 2nd of September. Those gentlemen might easily have followed the example set them in higher quarters, and have left the city during the siege. But they remained, and became honorary members of the ambulances, and subsequently members of the committee for distributing the £20,000 brought by the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire as a donation from the people of England to the sick and wounded. They gave professional assistance to the wounded in the field at the great sorties of Malmaison on the 21st of October, of Champigny on the 30th of November, and of Drancy and Bourget on the 21st of December. For those services they were created by the Provisional Government Officers of the Legion of Honour, but they had not received permission to accept and wear the decoration. The third case was that of Captain H. Brackenbury, of the Royal Artillery. That officer commenced his labours in connection with this subject so long back as 1867. He was one of the original working committee of the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War, and on the application of the Central Committee of that society to the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of State for War his services were placed at the disposal of the Committee for organizing the society's staff on the Continent at the seat of war. Captain Brackenbury left England on the 3rd of September for Belgium, and there, in the Palais de Justice, at Arlon, on the frontier of France, he organized a depôt from which the urgent wants of the 20,000 wounded in the hospitals round Sedan were supplied. He visited the hospitals at Sedan, Balan, Bazeilles, Douzy, and Beaumont, where English doctors were at work, many of whom had laboured in the field during the battles. On the 24th of September he proceeded to the Prussian lines round Metz, established hospitals with English surgeons at Saarbrück and Briey, and supplied the wants of the hospitals in the villages within the lines, which were crowded with wounded French and German soldiers. He was present at the sortie upon Peltre on the 27th of September. During October he assisted in re-organizing the French Society's ambulances, and laid down lines of supply for the hospitals near Paris. Upon the capitulation of Metz, on the 29th of October, he was the first to introduce waggons laden with the necessaries of life into the town, by which the desperate wants of 20,000 famishing and wounded men were relieved. For this he received the thanks of the Bishop of Metz, the chief surgeon of the French Army of the Rhine, and other authorities. He then proceeded to Meaux, where he organized a depôt, which was of immense service, as well to the French as to the Saxons and Würtembergers, after the great sorties of the 30th of November and that of the 19th of December, at both of which he was present. His services were also conspicuous at the bombardment of Thionville, Mézières, and other minor places. It was easy to make this statement; but it was difficult, or rather impossible, to depict in true colours the hardships which those services entailed, the sleepless nights, the sufferings from intense cold, the wretched food—at Metz it consisted of little but half-starved horse—the constant necessity of living among horrible sights and smells, and in contact with loathsome diseases such as smallpox, typhus, and dysentery, to say nothing of the frequent exposure to the fire of the enemy. To all this were added the gravest responsibilities and mental anxiety, lest some act should unwittingly compromise the British neutrality, while every effort was being used that nowhere suffering should be left unrelieved. It must be admitted that no more difficult or important duties could have been imposed than those which devolved on Captain Brackenbury and his coadjutors. All honour to him and them that they were so well performed as to obtain thanks and proffered decorations from all the belligerents, alike from the Bavarians and Prussians, as from the French. He said proffered decorations, because it appeared that our Foreign Office regulations forbade these decorations being worn, and the Prussians, at all events, did not choose that their crosses should be sent to those who were forbidden to wear them. As the Regulations were drawn up in the first instance before the Convention of Geneva, and as that Convention had given rise to a branch of military service which was no less important and no less deserving of decoration than the combative, it would be not inexpedient that the officers who distinguished themselves in it should be permitted to accept and wear foreign Orders and medals conferred on them by the belligerent States they assisted. He could not himself see that the prohibitions in the Regulations distinctly applied to the officers of whom he had been speaking. For what was the wording of those Regulations? It was as follows:— No subject of Her Majesty shall accept a foreign Order from the Sovereign of any foreign country, or wear the insignia thereof, without having previously obtained Her Majesty's permission to that effect, signified by a warrant under the Royal Sign Manual. Such permission shall not be granted to any subject of Her Majesty unless the foreign Order shall have been conferred in consequence of active and distinguished service before the enemy, either at sea or in the field; or unless he shall have been actually and entirely employed, beyond Her Majesty's dominions, in the service of the foreign Sovereign by whom the Order is conferred. The first remark he would make on these Regulations was that they did in effect bind only the officers in Her Majesty's service, for other persons evaded or openly broke them. In the next place he was unable to see why attention to the wounded in the field should not be considered as tantamount to "active and distinguished service before the enemy in the field." But he was bound to accept the interpretation put upon the words by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He asked, then, that an humble Address might be presented to Her Majesty praying that these Regulations might be revised and so far modified as to allow of officers who had specially distinguished themselves in serving with the ambulances, or under the Red Cross of the Convention of Geneva, accepting and wearing foreign decorations given to them in requital of their services. He asked this on three grounds—first, because this appeared to be the simplest, if not the only way of rewarding such services; secondly, because it was for the honour and advantage of the State that every encouragement should be given to this new department of military service; and, thirdly, as a graceful act of courtesy to the foreign Governments by which these decorations had been proffered. He would remind the House that the services which would be thus rewarded had been spoken of by the representative of one of those Governments in the following remarkable terms:— Ces élans tous spontanés d'une sympathie fraternelle feront plus pour assurer l'alliance des doux peuples que les combinaisons de la politique ou les calculs de la diplomatic He must observe that General Walker and Captain Hozier, military attachés at the Prussian head-quarters, had been permitted to accept and wear the Prussian Iron Cross. Those officers could not have obtained those decorations by service in the field, or they would have violated the laws of neutrality. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to direct that the existing Regulations of the Foreign Office be so modified as to admit of British Subjects accepting and wearing foreign decorations given as rewards for services rendered to the sick and wounded in the field during war under the Convention of Geneva, when such services have been performed with the permission of Her Majesty,"—(Mr. Eastwick,) —instead thereof.


said, he could assure the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Eastwick) that it was with extreme regret that he felt called upon on the part of the Foreign Office to offer a negative to the Resolution. He regretted it, first of all, because the hon. Gentleman, who with very good taste had introduced the subject, had bestowed only merited praise on the gentlemen who had taken so conspicuous a part in the relief of suffering; and, secondly, because it was always an ungracious task to offer opposition to the expression of feeling on the part of the House with respect to the rewards of persons who had distinguished themselves, whether in civil, military, or naval operations. But the rules of the Foreign Office on this subject, though they might seem harsh, were perfectly fair, because they were so simple that no private influence could be brought to bear to allow this person or that person to receive and wear a foreign decoration. The rules with regard to foreign Orders were strictly limited to subjects of Her Majesty who had performed distinguished services before the enemy in the field or by sea, or who were employed with Her Majesty's permission in the service of a foreign Sovereign. Non-combatants in any war, whether Great Britain was or was not a party to the war, were excluded by those rules. Therefore under these regulations no decorations offered by the French and German authorities could be accepted by British subjects. The rule with regard to foreign decorations, although very stringent, did not apply with the same severity with regard to foreign medals. They might be received with permission, supposing the services rendered had been performed by persons with the knowledge, sanction, and express authority of those acting on behalf of Her Majesty, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State for War, or the First Lord of the Admiralty. It was on that principle that General Walker and Captain Hozier had been allowed to accept the Prussian Iron Cross, which was a medal, and not a decoration, and which was also presented to them as a souvenir of the campaign. He was sure there was no one in the House who would not render a most grateful tribute of praise and sympathy to the persons referred to by the hon. Gentleman for their most humane services to the sick and wounded during the late war, but unfortunately that work did not come exactly within the category he had stated. They were able to leave that work if they felt disposed to do so; they were not called upon to report on the subject to Her Majesty's Government. The Royal licence had always been necessary for acceptance of foreign Orders. They had been rare till the present century, but Queen Elizabeth committed Sir Anthony Shirley into close custody in 1593 for having accepted a French Order without having permission, and made him send back the insignia to the French King. The present rules were established by Lord Castlereagh in 1812. In his note to the Prince Regent he said they were intended "to prevent a spirit of political intrigue among the persons employed on foreign service." Men very distinguished not only in politics but in every branch of public life had frequently received offers of decorations from learned societies in Prussia, France, and Denmark, but in everyone of these cases permission to accept these decorations was refused. And when he mentioned the names of Lord Macaulay, Sir David Brewster, Sir John Herschel, and Professors Owen and Faraday, who were offered foreign decorations, but were not allowed to receive them under these regulations of the Foreign Office, he was quite sure the House would be of opinion that no private or political influence was allowed to interfere with the enforcement of these rules. The Constitution of the United States forbade any officer in their service accepting a decoration without the consent of Congress. He was not aware that consent had ever been given. In 1865 the United States Government declined to apply for that consent to enable Lieutenant Pearson, of their Navy, to accept the C.B. which the British Government offered to him for services in co-operation with the naval forces of England, France, and Holland in Japan. There was good reason to believe that the late lamented Mr. Peabody was precluded by the rules of his own country from accepting a decoration which was offered to him by Her Majesty. If these rules were altered he believed the Secretary of State would be put in a painful position with reference to the adjudication of claims of persons to be permitted to accept these decorations. He hoped the House would think that no better rules could be adopted than those which at present existed at the Foreign Office.


said, the noble Lord (Viscount Enfield) always gave very clear answers to any Question that was put to him, but the noble Lord had altogether abstained from stating to the House the reasons upon which these rules were founded. If such rules existed at all he thought they ought at least to be impartially and completely carried out. It appeared to him very anomalous that our military officers were allowed to wear the Medijie, a Turkish Order granted for service in the Crimea. Again, those persons who were sent out at different times to a foreign Court on the occasion of a ceremony such as a coronation were allowed, and very properly allowed, to wear the Orders which the foreign Sovereign conferred on them. He thought that Englishmen betrayed great shyness in wearing decorations of any kind. At present he thought the system was not at all well regulated, some men being allowed to wear foreign decorations and others not being allowed to do so.


said, he must express his regret that the Government intended to oppose the Motion. He would remind the noble Lord (Viscount Enfield) that these Regulations were made before such a thing as the Red Cross Society was heard of. He thought the Foreign Office took a very narrow view of the question. Surely if officers of the Army, such as Captain Hozier and General Walker, were allowed to receive foreign decorations, those who had served in the cause of humanity ought also to be allowed to receive them. The only persons who ought not to receive them were those connected with our Diplomatic Service. For a long time he had doubts as to the value of these ambulance corps in time of war; but it was now an accomplished fact, and they must play an important part in all future wars. The more thoroughly the fact was recognized the better, and the sooner those who served under the Geneva Convention were brought under the control and discipline of the Army they were serving the better. It was a great thing to encourage the movement, and allow those who served under the Red Cross to wear the decorations of the country they had served, as it must tend to greater cordiality between all parties. He hoped the Government, at no distant day, would consider the matter and consent to the alteration which had been suggested.


said, he concurred in the principle of the Motion, but he thought it would be invidious and unwise to limit the decorations to those only who were in Her Majesty's service. It would be unjust and cruel so to exclude those men who had rendered valuable assistance in the field because they were not attached to the Army. Under the circumstances, he must oppose the Motion.


said, it was not often he had the misfortune to differ from his Friends and support Her Majesty's Government; but on that occasion he hoped the Government would not accede to the Motion, but would persist in their determination to oppose this very improper and un-English innovation. It had always been the pride of Englishmen to rely on their reputation, and not on paltry Orders and decorations as a return for their services. Everyone knew that foreign decorations were distributed more for political services than for real merit; and people who chose to spend money when they were abroad could get any decoration, or even title, which they desired. The Motion appeared laudable and plausible enough; but he liked to see an Englishman distinguished by the acts he did, and not by the tomfoolery of trumpery things to be worn upon his breast. He was once on board a steamer with a Queen's Messenger who was in private dress; but on arriving at a foreign port, the Queen's Messenger pulled out a string of decorations and placed them on his breast—it afterwards appearing that he was an Isle of Dogs man who had served under the late Sir De Lacy Evans.


said, he would support the Amendment, on the ground that the Government ought to give every encouragement to persons who had rendered service to the sick and wounded under the Geneva Convention. It was not the general opinion of the public that these decorations were tomfoolery and trumpery things. He thought the noble Lord's (Viscount Enfield's) argument was not supported by his reference to America, because Republicanism was opposed to honours like those in question.


said, he took a similar view. He hoped an exception to the general rule would be made in favour of such men as Captain Brackenbury and Mr. John de Haviland. His objection to the Motion was that it confined foreign honours to officers in Her Majesty's service. He suggested that the hon. Member (Mr. Eastwick) should amend his Motion by adding the words, "where such permission was required."


said, he did not undervalue the services of soldiers in the field; but he submitted it was unfair that the man who spent night after night in attendance on the wounded and dying on the field of battle should receive no reward because he was a non-combatant officer — because he had not helped to kill. He did not see how the modification of the Foreign Office rules relating to honours would give rise to the exercise of private influence, or cause innumerable applications to be made to the Department. The honours were to be given by those who had the best means of judging of the merit of the men upon whom they were to be conferred. He hoped the Government would accede to the Motion. No valid argument had been adduced against it, and he thought the sooner the existing ridiculous red tape Regulations were abolished the better.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 47; Noes 48: Majority 1.

Question proposed, "That the words 'An humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to direct that the existing Regulations of the Foreign Office be so modified as to admit of British Subjects accepting and wearing foreign decorations given as rewards for services rendered to the sick and wounded in the field during war under the Convention of Geneva, when such services have been performed with the permission of Her Majesty,' be added, instead thereof."


said, he would move to omit the words, "when such services have been performed with the permission of Her Majesty," which, in his opinion, gave the Motion the limited character to which he had objected.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out from the word "Geneva," to the end thereof.—(Mr. Whalley.)


said, he intended to have framed his Amendment in such a way as to include all persons. He was therefore willing to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley.)


said, it would be his duty to take the sense of the House again upon the subject, for this was a matter that ought to be considered fully, and not with reference to an isolated point. He felt a great objection to indicating in a precise and positive manner one particular subject on which Her Majesty should be requested to alter existing Regulations on a matter which the House had not been accustomed to take into its hands, and with respect to which it was desirable that if any representation was to be made to Her Majesty, that representation should be made in general terms, so as to leave to the Crown as much liberty as possible in dealing with the subject. An Address of a definite and pointed nature, indicating a particular class of persons to be exempted, was not the proper mode of dealing with the matter, for all the various classes of persons who came under the rules should also have their cases considered.


said, the object of his Amendment was exactly in accordance with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Question put, "That the words 'An humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to direct that the existing Regulations of the Foreign Office be so modified as to admit of British Subjects accepting and wearing foreign decorations given as rewards for services rendered to the sick and wounded in the field during war under the Convention of Geneva, when such services have been performed with the permission of Her Majesty,' be added, instead thereof."

The House divided:—Ayes 41; Noes 52: Majority 11.

Amendment proposed, to add after the word "That" in the Original Question, the words "this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply."—(Mr. Gladstone.)

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair.