HC Deb 08 May 1885 vol 298 cc24-7

asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether it is in accordance with the policy announced in presenting the Estimate for the Vote of Credit that the engagement of 5th May took place at the village of Dakhdul, in which an encampment of Arabs with their women and children and their flocks was attacked by General Graham, and 150 men killed, though it is alleged by eye witnesses that "they never made any serious attempt at a stand?"


asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been called to the following statements of a "correspondent" in The Times of 7th May, dated 6th May:— Daylight broke almost imperceptibly. We were nearer the village of Dhakool, when the friendly scouts came running in with the news that the inhabitants were at prayer, and that if we attacked at once we should catch them. General Graham pushed on with a troop of the Bengal Lancers. … The enemy fled on camels in all directions, and the Mounted Infantry and the Camel Corps, coming up, gave chase. Some two hundred attempted to stand, and showed a disposition to come at us, but evidently lost heart and disappeared, not before having at least twenty men killed. … It was curious to witness the desperate efforts of the enemy to drive their flocks up the steep mountain side, turning now and again to fire on the Bengal Lancers. The 'friendlies' tried to cut off the flocks, and succeeded in capturing some hundreds of animals. … The village was looted and burnt. … We also destroyed the well with gun cotton. …But for our being unaware of the existence of some narrow hillock walks, up which the enemy retired, we might have exterminated them. Our loss has hitherto been only two Mounted Infantry men wounded. … We have done the enemy all the harm we could; thus fulfilling the primary object of war; and, whether Her Majesty's Government approve of this mode of carrying on warfare; and, if not, whether immediate orders will be sent to the commanders of the English forces in the vicinity of Suakin, ordering their immediate cessation?


wished, before the noble Lord answered the Questions, to ask whether it was true that Her Majesty had telegraphed to General Graham congratulating him on this massacre?


I am afraid I can add but little on this subject to what I stated yesterday. Since Questions were then put I have carefully examined the official despatch, and also all the accounts of the operations which were given by correspondents; and it appears to me that the object of the operations is perfectly clear, and that it is not inconsistent with the declaration made by my right hon. Friend in laying the Vote of Credit on the Table. I have referred to that statement, and I find that it was as I stated yesterday from recollection—namely, that the Suakin Railway would be continued to a point which would be decided on, in consultation with the Military Authorities, as being the best for the troops. Therefore no pledge was given; on the contrary, it was distinctly intimated that the progress of the railway was not to be immediately stopped. It appears from the official despatch that the force at this place was the only organized force of the enemy which seemed to be in existence; and it appears from special correspondents' reports that it is believed that it is this tribe which has been engaged in making constant attacks upon the railway, and upon the troops employed in guarding it. Under these circumstances, it seems to me to have been a perfectly legitimate operation on the part of General Graham to make an expedition against this place, and to disperse this force, and thus, so far as it was in his power, to obviate the necessity of further fighting. I have no knowledge of the telegram spoken of by the hon. Member for Wicklow.


May I ask if it is not the fact that the newspaper correspondents are prevented by the Press censorship from forwarding certain details?


Is it the case, as stated in the papers this morning, that an attack was made on General Graham's troops when returning with the cattle, which were recaptured by the Arabs and again retaken by the British?


I have seen these statements; but they do not appear to me in any degree to affect the answer I have just given. It is perfectly well known that telegrams sent by correspondents are under Press censorship. I have no reason to think that that censorship has been exercised for any other purpose than that of preventing intelligence from being sent, the communication of which would be injurious to the Public Service.


I should like to know whether Her Majesty's Government consider it to be within the operations of legitimate warfare to loot and burn villages and destroy wells?


asked if the noble Lord could state whether the camp at- tacked was an ordinary camp of Arabs and their families; and whether he was in a position to say how many women and children were killed during the attack?


I: have no reason to think that any women and children were killed at all. According to the Report of General Graham the number of the enemy killed was 50. As regards the Question of the hon. Member for Northampton, of course it is a great subject of regret that proceedings of this kind should have to be taken; but I apprehend that they are inseparable from warfare. The object of the operations appears to have been to break up a concentration of tribes threatening the security of the line and of the troops guarding it. The object of any measures taken appears to have been to prevent a renewed concentration which it would have been necessary to deal with, thereby involving loss of life, not only to many of our troops, but also to the enemy.