§ £5, Supplementary, Medical Establishment, Pay, etc.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
I make no complaint, but I own that I am somewhat taken by surprise at finding that the hon. Member for Westminster has not opened this debate. [Opposition cries of "Why?"] I infer that he, having put forward certain statements, desires to hear a reply from the Government without adding anything to them. I have road those statements with the attention which is due to the interest—the absorbing and painful interest—of the subject which the hon. Member has brought to the notice of the public, and also, I say freely, with the attention due to the earnestness with which the hon. Member has been actuated. But I do not propose to follow—and I think it would be almost out of order to do so—his statements point by point in the order in which they have been raised, not in this House but in an organ of the public press. I think my duty to-day, if I construe aright the wishes of the Committee, is to answer, if I can, the question which I believe to be uppermost in the minds of the Committee and of all our countrymen throughout the length and breadth of the land. Unless I misinterpret the wishes of everyone here and in the country, the questions which they wish answered are these. In the first place, are these statements true? In the second place, if they are wholly or even partially true, could the evil which they point to have been avoided either by a keener foresight or by a more lavish provision and expenditure on the part of the Home Government, or by greater zeal and 90 intelligence on the part of our officers;, and more especially on the part of the Royal Army Medical Corps, in South Africa? The third question which presses for a reply is this—are those evils, now remedied or are they in the course of being remedied? I put these three questions forward, and as the hon. Member did not rise I rose myself, because I thought it right to discuss these questions before any other matters which are-more or less germane to the debate are dragged into it. It would be quite easy and even proper to discuss this evening whether the establishment of the Royal Army Medical Corps is adequate or not. Many other questions will occur to hon. Members. But I feel that if these questions were raised before the others were answered I should be led away against my will from the topics which are of vital and immediate moment. They belong to the larger and wider considerations. Whether this Government and its predecessors have properly gauged exactly the military needs of this Empire is a well-worn topic. We have covered that ground before and shall do again. But this afternoon we have to consider whether certain circumstances did or did not happen at a certain spot on a certain day; whether they could be prevented; and whether such events are less likely to happen again by reason of the steps which have since been taken. I answer the first question by saying frankly that to a certain extent—to a lamentable extent—it is true. It is true that our wounded and sick at Bloemfontein have in this campaign, as I believe in every other campaign, been exposed to terrible hardships, the full extent of which has not, perhaps, been always gauged by those who have not seen war. I have no quarrel with the hon. Member, but he must allow me to point out to this Committee the nature of the methods which he has adopted. He has painted a picture of one place at one time, and he has painted the circumstances which occurred there, without hinting at many other facts and at many other things which ought, I think, to have been presented at the same time, in order that a just estimate and judgment might be formed on the matters. That is a legitimate method of bringing a serious evil forward—to paint a picture of it, to make it vivid, and to do it vigorously, so that it strikes the hearts and the feelings of the people. I do not 91 complain of it, but I believe that it is a method more usual in the domain of art than in the domain of sober politics. It would have been open to the hon. Member at the same time to have gone into other details which it will be my duty to put before the Committee this evening. But taking this picture as being to a certain extent—to a great extent—true, I maintain that you cannot get at the full truth unless it is supplemented by other facts and considerations. Now I am called upon to defend, as I have said, the foresight of the Government and the zeal and energy of our officers in South Africa; and in doing that I may seem—for we are all conscious of our own weakness—to make out too good a case and to prove that nobody has been in error Let me begin by disclaiming any such intention. Humanity is liable to error. I have no doubt that it has not been possible for men in this war to do what men have never been able to do in any war; and I am sure that this Government have not been all-wise and specially assisted to avoid all error. But, having said that, I shall have to argue that no stone was left unturned and that no man has spared himself in trying to mitigate, as they have been mitigated, to an extent never attained before in any campaign, what are, after all, the inevitable hardships of war. We are convinced that we have much to learn by experience. It has been the hope and the wish of the Government, openly stated in this House at the beginning of the session—and I beg leave to say that it is the hope and the wish of the Royal Army Medical Corps—to learn by the experience of this war, and also, no doubt, by the inquiry which will be instituted. But as to foresight, is it true that this Government went to war in South Africa without taking account of the possibility of an outbreak of enteric fever on a large scale? I venture to give the facts, and to tell the Committee that long before the war broke out, during last summer, sickness was anticipated in South Africa, and, of course, particularly in the form of dysentery and enteric. The importance of exercising every precaution to prevent it was specially emphasised by the Director-General of the Army Medical Corps in London to all the medical officers who might possibly have to proceed to South Africa. A pamphlet on the sanitary lessons of the recent war between 92 America and Spain, by Surgeon-General Sternberg, was, with the author's permission, reprinted and issued to every medical officer sent to South Africa. In anticipation of the outbreak of hostilities, recommendations were made that each unit of 100 men should be supplied with a sterilising filter; and it was laid down that quicklime should be stored in quantities of one ton to every 1,000 men wherever standing camps were formed, and that it should be constantly issued. Medical officers were urged before the outbreak of the war to ask for anything they might require in addition to the materials at their disposal. There is no case of stinting, of deliberate or careless stinting no case. The medical officers in South Africa have been begged to ask for all they need and the surgeon-generals at home for anything they may require. The Director-General of Ordnance has given all that has been asked for through the quartermasters and the principal ordnance officer in South Africa. Every demand that has been put in has been complied with, and the Treasury has never suggested that we should be otherwise than lavish within the most extreme bounds of generosity in all stores needed for the welfare of our sick and wounded in South Africa. It might interest the Committee to hear what are the appliances and the personnel in South Africa now, and what they were in January. I take those two dates for this reason. I think an idea has got abroad that, after that week in December which brought us the news of the three disasters, when we suddenly began to increase very largely the forces in South Africa, no corresponding increase was at once made in the provision of doctors, nurses, and hospital appliances. This is not so; and I can illustrate the great difference between the resources available then and now if I take the date of 15th January and the most recent date for which I have the figures—namely, 15th June. On 15th January there wore in South Africa 351 Army medical doctors; on 15th June, 446. In January there were seventy-nine civil medical doctors; in June, 348; and thirty-two are now proceeding there. Of consultants, highly-paid specialists, there were three in January; in June, seven. The doctors employed in civilian hospitals in January were four; in June, fifty-two. Or adding them together, on 15th January there 93 were 437 doctors employed by the War Office, and in June, 853. That was the number on 15th June, but I have the later figures up to yesterday, when, I think, the total was 906. I leave out of account the local civil practitioners in South Africa, because I have not had the figures; but there are many eminent doctors there well qualified, and I know that they have placed their services at the disposal of the Government. The figures which I will now give as to the Army nurses will, I know, excite surprise. It is true that our staff of Army nurses on the establishment is always a small one. In South Africa there were forty-three in January and fifty-three in June; but the system designedly contemplated that there should be employed in time of war qualified nurses, who are taken into Army employment; and thus there were in January twelve and in June 335; so that the total of nurses in January was fifty-five; on 15th June, 482. But the last date which I have gives 566, and with those who are now on passage 639. I will now give the number of beds in South Africa. There are 5,000 in Natal and 13,600 in Cape Colony, or 18,600 in all. Here again I am able to draw a comparison. On 15th January there were five general hospitals, four stationary hospitals, twenty-six field hospitals, and one special hospital organised by civilians. On 15th June there were twelve general hospitals; two are embarking—one of them goes to-morrow—five stationary, thirty-one field, and ten special hospitals organised by civilians, but with Army doctors at the head of them and under the control of the War Office; so that on 15th January there were thirty-six and in June sixty hospitals. On 15th January there were in these hospitals 5,960 beds; on 15th June 18,814 beds. The number of sick and wounded on 19th January was 3,731, and on 18th May, the last date for which I have the figures, there were 11,903. I know that down to the most recent period there is an excess of beds in South Africa, because we received a telegram on 19th June to say that the Ordnance Department in South Africa had beds in excess of the demand. The difficulty has not arisen from any stinting of supplies, but from the inseparable difficulties in taking those supplies to the base of operations. I do not wish to put the case too highly, or to use any expression which may give a more favour- 94 able picture of affairs than is absolutely true, and in the figures for beds I have included the field hospitals because I am not able to distinguish. In the field hospitals there are 100 beds which some people say are not beds. With every brigade there is a field hospital. This gives a 10 per cent. bed accommodation, and we ought, perhaps, to deduct a slight fraction and say that our provision has been not a 10 per cent. but an 8 per cent. of beds. What is the scale on which provision was made for this campaign? The scale was a 10 per cent. bed accommodation for the whole force—the highest scale ever contemplated. It is a scale fixed for campaigns in the most insalubrious climates, for campaigns prosecuted in Ashanti, in jungle or fever-riddled regions, but never applied in such a country as South Africa, which is, barring the terrible epidemics which have suddenly taken place, a healthy country. I ought, perhaps, to tell the Committee that that scale of 10 per cent. of beds has been applied seriatim to every increase made in our forces in South Africa. Each division ordered forth has been accompanied by its proportionate quota of medical appliances and medical staff. So, again, I remind the Committee that I do not say no mistakes have been made, or that five or six days delay here or there has not occurred owing to information that some Australian or Canadian corps was coming in. I have no doubt that there have been such lapses, and that five or six days have been lost in giving orders to keep pace with the increases of forces from all quarters of the world. The number of men who have gone from this country, from India, Australia, and Canada, within a few days, have made that proportionate increase in the personnel and in the stores necessary. I do not know whether the Committee wish to know what the organisation of the medical service is. I hear complaints that there is too much red tape. I am quite prepared to defend that organisation. With every general there is a principal medical officer. He is in the secrets of the general; he is in his confidence. He is told what number of troops are to be marched, what distance, in what time; and he requisitions through the chief staff officer for the amount of stores necessary for such an operation. That system runs from the top to the bottom of the organisation of a campaign. It may seem 95 too rigid to those who stop into a particular hospital and wonder why the doctor cannot rush off in any direction and seek by his own energy to get supplies. You would have a breakdown of the most irreparable character unless you co-ordinated the demand of your medical services with the other demands which are necessary for the existence of the Army. For the doctor, the engineer, the commander of the military unit, it is essential that they, having been told what is required of the force for which they are responsible, should through one channel make these demands, and that that channel should be in the closest contact with the general officer responsible for the whole operations. Otherwise you would have the various component parts of the Army naturally out of their zeal rushing against each other; and you might have medical stores and no food, or food and no medical stores, according to the opportunities which might fortuitously fall to one or other officer. Having dealt with organisation, perhaps I ought to refer to field hospitals and beds. There are in the front line of the army bearer companies with six ambulance wagons. Then comes the field hospital. Though the bearer company takes the man out of action, he may have to lie on the field until seven o'clock in the evening, since it may be impossible to approach him. The field hospital on a larger scale cannot give to the wounded man all that is given to him in hospital at home, or beds as in a general hospital. The wounded are collected from the field, and it is a necessary part of army organisation on service that field hospitals should be temporary in their character, since they have to move rapidly with the army and clear the wounded back to the stationary hospitals which are established near the base. That may be done by wagons or trains. In this war it has been done largely by hospital trains. There is terrible hardship, in the first place because the wounded cannot be at once removed out of the firing line and taken to the hospital; and in the second place they have to be conveyed over a rough country in an ambulance wagon and put into a train, and then convoyed by a train on a single line blocked sometimes with stores going the other way, taking twenty-six hours to cover a short distance; all this means terrible hardship to the wounded. I know there has been 96 a good deal of criticism levelled against the ambulance wagon; but it is a wagon which is devised after four years of experiment by men who know what are the conditions of service in the field, notably by Sir Redvers Buller. The wagon has been tried over rough country. It must be a stout wagon, or else it will break down, and a breakdown means some deplorable catastrophe. Your wagon must carry some stores necessary for first aid to the wounded. If those stores were not there, what legitimate attacks might be levelled against a wagon which could not carry those stores which were necessary for first aid. Then it is said, "If one wagon why not four wagons? Expense is nothing to us." If you had four wagons, and a rapid advance was ordered, three would be left behind. When horses begin to die you can only take one wagon, and the others would be left. These things must be matter of compromise, and the compromises of war carry with them many lamentable hardships to those engaged in it. To make my point clear that there has been no stint of supplies from home, I have two telegrams here despatched very near the dates so prominently brought forward by the hon. Member for Westminster. One is a telegram despatched by Lord Roberts, dated Bloemfontein, 24th March, and it runs as follows—Unless the forces now in South Africa are considerably increased, the eleven general hospitals should be sufficient if the 500 men asked for are being sent.These 500 men were sent long ago, and although the forces in South Africa have not been considerably increased, two more general hospitals have been sent out. Then there is a telegram relating to stores received on 31st May from the General Officer commanding lines of communication. I quote it only because of the date, and I have selected only those telegrams which bear upon the hon. Member's questions. This telegram reads—Please stop sending for the present surgical material mentioned in Army Order No. 112,119; enormous quantities in base medical stores.[An HON. MEMBER: That is at the base.] That is my point, and I will try to bring home to hon. Members what the difficulties are. My point is to show that there has not been any lack of foresight or prevision. The keenest foresight and lavish- 97 ness of expenditure are the two points I am endeavouring to deal with. I do respectfully submit to the Committee that such telegrams as I have read point to the conclusion that, whilst we have neither refused a demand nor reduced a demand, we have, on the contrary, made spontaneous offers of supplies, till at Cape Town stores have been piled up to an almost embarrassing degree. I come now to Bloemfontein and Kroonstad, which the hon. Member for Westminster has so prominently brought under notice. First I will quote two other telegrams, one of which has been sent and one received since those telegrams which have been printed and circulated among hon. Members. On 27th June my noble friend Lord Lansdowne telegraphed to Lord Roberts—The Times contains letter from Mr. Burdett-Coutts reflecting in strongest terms on hospital administration. He takes as an illustration a field hospital within a mile of Bloemfontein, which, he says, neither has nurses nor beds nor mattresses, although it was practically doing the work of a stationary hospital. He describes the overcrowding and suffering as deplorable. Your telegram explains the difficulties experienced at Bloemfontein, but I should like to know whether this hospital, which can probably be identified, is really typical of the rest.Lord Roberts, in his reply on the 28th June, says—I cannot say without careful inquiry what hospital at Bloemfontein is referred to. In many cases patients were not tit to be moved after admission. It was however, impossible to provide beds and mattresses for 5,000 patients all at once. I can safely say that any deficiencies of the kind were accidental and temporary, and certainly not typical of our field hospitals as a whole.Then I go to the contemporary records, written at the time, of what there was at Bloemfontein at the date mentioned. On 27th April there were at Bloemfontein six fully-equipped general hospitals, with 2,000 beds in all and with considerable capacity for extension. There were altogether 2,291 patients in the military hospitals on that date at Bloemfontein, 873 being cases of enteric. There were six field hospitals, of which all but one had to be prepared for being moved at any time. One was regarded to be more or less stationary. On 27th April there were six medical officers and three nursing sisters on duty there, in addition to the Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies. There were 251 patients, of whom 96 98 were enteric cases. In the remaining five field hospitals there were 236 cases of enteric. The return from No. 1 field hospital indicates that it was overcrowded, but this may have occurred during a period of temporary pressure. The difficulties of moving up supplies extended even to stretchers, and it is true that in some cases patients may have had to lie on the ground, as it was impossible in every case to get a sufficient number of stretchers. Although the number of doctors present is not stated, I myself believe, and indeed am informed by the director-general, that the number of medical officers in attendance must have been twenty or thirty, which was one to every ten or fifteen enteric patients. With reference to the allegation that patients wandered about half naked in the camp during the period of delirium, I find in the diaries which wore sent home a note that a patient suffering from an old gunshot wound escaped in the early hours, that an exhaustive search was made for the patient, but that no trace of him could be found, and that inquiries at the various hospitals failed to discover him. It may be that the impression created on the minds of the searchers was what the hon. Member for Westminster heard of, and led to the rumour that patients went about the camp in their delirium. On 14th May the principal medical officer reported in his diary that Lord Roberts had expressed the opinion that the arrangements at Bloemfontein were most satisfactory, and that is a later date than that to which the hon. Member for Westminster has called attention. Then we had the telegrams from Lord Roberts circulated yesterday, and I also invite the attention of the Committee to the lecture by the Member for Central Sheffield at the Royal United Service Institution, in which my hon. and gallant friend made some most useful and pertinent observations. [Laughter.] This is made the subject of laughter by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but surely such laughter will be misunderstood by the men out there who have to deal with those difficulties, and who have striven to labour and smooth over these difficulties. I am going to show what those difficulties were, and surely that is not a legitimate matter for laughter, derision, or contempt.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
We did not laugh at that; 99 we laughed at the authority you quoted. [Cries of "Vincent."]
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I have admitted that the sick and wounded were exposed to great hardships at Bloemfontein, and I say that those charged with their care had to exercise and did exercise, and show the greatest devotion, labouring for their charges day and night. It will be a matter for universal consolation and satisfaction that their labours were, to a wonderful extent, successful; because it is not the case that the rate of mortality at Bloemfontein was abnormally high. That is wonderful testimony to the efforts which these people made under great difficulties. The percentage of mortality in enteric cases during this war, and more especially at Bloemfontein, has been 21 per cent. of the admissions to hospital. It is fair to compare that with the percentage in other campaigns. In the Nile campaign of 1898 the percentage of mortality was 28 per cent.; in the Dongola campaign of 1896, 50 per cent.; in the Matabele war of 1896–97, 32 per cent.; in the Chitral campaign of 1895, 28 per cent.; and in the Soudan campaign of 1884–85, 39 per cent. Therefore, although I own and admit and regret that the conditions at Bloemfontein were what they were, still our Army doctors brought down the percentage of mortality far below what it has been in recent campaigns. I will even dare to compare it with the percentages in time of peace when every appliance is at hand. I will take the case of soldiers in our own hospitals at home. During ten years the percentage of cases of mortality from enteric in these hospitals was 20.4, and in the year 1897 it was 23.9, or 2 per cent. higher than the percentage of mortality at Bloemfontein under these conditions. In India, taking soldiers admitted to hospital for enteric in a time of profound peace, the percentage of deaths for ten years was 26.4, and for the year 1897, 27.5. I will not pursue similar comparisons for wounds, because I may tell the Committee that the percentage of deaths from wounds and from disease generally in the present war have been lower than has been the case in other campaigns. I think the Committee have listened to these statistics with the interest and satisfaction which I admit they aroused in me when I read them, for I had feared that many lives which could 100 have been saved had been lost, and I am now almost led to believe that this is not the case. I do not quarrel with the method which has been pursued of painting a picture of this one spot at its worst, but there ought to have been a companion picture to make it fair and give the whole truth—of where the bridges had been broken down at Norvals Pont and Bethulie, of the trains one behind the; other, of the stores piled up, of the deviations laid down and the food and ammunition for the Army being painfully-taken over pontoons and reloaded into such rolling stock as had been left on the other side of the river by the Boers when they retired. That was the problem that had to be faced. Lord Roberts landed at Cape Town on the 10th January. By the 11th February he had collected 44,000 men near the Modder River and started to, relieve Kimberley. He relieved it on the 16th, and then he concentrated his force; again at Paardeberg, and on the 13th of March he entered Bloemfontein, after marching 120 miles away from the railway. Lord Roberts, owing to the limited amount of transport, had to restrict his, baggage to the lowest scale, and. he arrived with his horses wholly starved, and his men half starved. What was the problem before him? He had to supply his army with its daily bread and with the munitions of war. He had to collect more troops and to accumulate stores for a further advance. Now will it be said that therefore his march was a mistake? No one will say that. It was not a showy march to capture the capital of the enemy's country. That huge curve which Lord Roberts described was really a march of relief of the beleaguered garrisons of Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking, and that is the excuse and the ample justification for that daring move for which it is hard to find a parallel in military history. Bloemfontein is a town of 5,000 inhabitants, and all the stores and cattle in it had been removed, and therefore for the very existence of his army Lord Roberts had to depend upon, such food and so many cartridges as could be brought up by the line behind him. He had to draw up stores from De Aar, 250 miles distant, and from places on the coast 750, 450, and 350 miles away. For the last 85 miles from Springfontein there was only a single line. Lord Roberts had not restored his railway communications 101 until 19th March. I do not know when the bridges were restored, but on 16th March Colonel Girouard estimated that it would take at least sixteen days to restore them. What was the problem of feeding the army? Lord Roberts had 45,000 men when he arrived at Bloemfontein, and he increased that number to 75,000 by 30th April. It takes ten tons for every 1,000 men every day during a campaign. That gives about 221b. a day to each man, including food, ammunition, clothes, forage, medical stores, and engineer stores, but not including the carriage of the men who come up or their horses. Take an average of the 45,000 men at Bloemfontein on 13th March and the 75,000 men there when Lord Roberts moved, and you will find that he had to bring up to keep his army alive 550 tons a day. But then he had to collect his supplies for a further advance, because if he had not advanced Mafeking would have fallen, and the whole of that glorious move would have ended in a mere useless waste of men's lives. To prepare for a further advance he had to collect twenty-five days provisions for the whole 75,000 men to take on with them. This represented a further 18,750 tons that had to be brought up, or 470 tons a day for the forty days he was at Bloemfontein, so that this single line, the bridges of which were down, up to the last day of March was carrying 1,020 tons a day in order that Lord Roberta's army should not starve or be defeated owing to want of ammunition. I have left out of account the 6,000 horses as remounts and the mules and the tents that had to be brought up. I have a letter supplied to me by my friend the hon. Member for Wimbledon, who is a governor of Guy's Hospital. It was sent to him by Dr. Fripp, who is not in our employ, and it gives such a graphic description of the difficulties of getting up stores that I will trouble the Committee with passages from it. It is dated from Bloemfontein, 4th June. Dr. Fripp says that in Bloemfontein there were at that time over 5,000 sick, most of whom were suffering from enteric fever; while in Kroonstad the three hotels, the town hall, and the church had been converted into hospitals, even the billiard tables being requisitioned to accommodate eases of enteric fever. He adds that as the railway had been opened the Surgeon General was engaged in rapidly pushing up adequate hospital accommodation, and 102 that as Lord Roberts was now at Johannesburg, where there were public buildings suitable for the purpose, hospitals would be established there.We have now heard," the letter states, "of the bridge over the Vaal being blown up"—and hon. Members will see how this bears on the point—and the possibility of establishing adequate hospital accommodation across the Vaal depends entirely on the question how early the railway can be established. At each river the bridges have been blown up, deviations have to be made, the engines are worn out—they cannot pull their loads across these steep gradients without a subdivision of the train. Each train delayed in this way affects the whole section of the line. The track is a single one, and therefore trains going both ways are delayed. The train we have travelled up from Bloemfontein to Kroonstad, although first on the line, took twenty-six hours to do the 120 miles. There is also a scarcity of fuel and water, which renders it necessary for the engine-driver sometimes to abandon his train and run the engine on to fill its tanks and then back to pick up the train.If hon. Members will realise these facts, if they will realise what it means to take 1,020 tons a day in order to keep the army alive by such a machine of locomotion, I think they will understand that it was possible, that it was inevitable, that the necessary stores should not be in Bloemfontein for days and even weeks after they were required. The picture drawn by the hon. Member for Westminster rests upon this fallacy—it assumes that Bloemfontein was a base hospital in perfect security. It was as I have described; the means of access to it were as I have described; and during the whole of that time when Lord Roberts was accomplishing this superhuman task. Far from being free from attack, his right flank and his line of communication were being threatened and actions were being fought every day. What I have said is an inference from the conditions of warfare in South Africa, an inference from the facts before us—a legitimate inference—which I think should be accepted by all. But I do not rest on inference alone. The inference I have drawn is confirmed by contemporary evidence. If the Committee will bear with me a moment longer I should like to read some extracts from the diary of the principal medical officer at the base at 103 Cape Town, showing these daily difficulties.5th February.—Our railways are being blocked, and I cannot get up beds and bedding as quickly as I desire.22nd February.—I have received a telegram from Lord Roberts that more medical officers are urgently required.15th March.—Received wire from the Commander-in-Chief at Bloemfontein to be ready to send on thirty nurses as soon as the line is open.21st March.—No. 8 general hospital has arrived. As the main line is blocked it must be days before it can be pushed through.5th April.—Nos. 8, 9, and 10 general hospitals have arrived. All are under orders for Bloemfontein. No. 8 is now at East London, and as part only of the equipment can be forwarded, I cannot say when 9 and 10 will get through. Hospitals are urgently required in the Free State. I was fortunate to get the advance depot stores away.10th April.—Two hospital trains arrived yesterday from Bloemfontein. I hope to get them away this evening, as they are urgently required. I am sending one hundred beds. There are three general hospitals trying to get to Bloemfontein. The traffic is so great that I am unable to get them through.Does not that account for the terrible, the deplorable state of affairs that the hon. Member for Westminster found at Bloemfontein? I have tried to give the Committee the facts—the full facts. I am sure the Committee in taking them into account, will weigh the considerations that have been urged by Lord Roberts—a general who is making history by these difficult marches, and while doing that is winning an enduring place in the affections of the men who serve under him for his incessant solicitude for their welfare. But is there not also the testimony of the wounded who have come home? Is there not the almost unbroken silence of the press? [HON. MEMBERS on the Irish benches: No, no!] I am not talking of the leading article; I am talking of the press gentlemen who are out in South Africa, and who have eyes to see; and are we to believe that if they saw these things they would not have written home about them? [HON. MEMBERS on the Irish benches: They have done so. What about the Censor?] Letters are not censored. [HON. MEMBERS on the Irish benches: They are.] I beg that I may not be interrupted. What I say is that what was open to the hon. Member for Westminster was well within the competence of others to see at Bloemfontein. No 104 one will suggest that these gentlemen were parties to a conspiracy—some conspiracy of mistaken good nature or loyalty to those with whom they were associated in danger and in hard days. If they saw those scenes, they believed they were inevitable in war, and therefore they did not feel justified in harrowing the feelings of people at home by descriptions of them. They had seen war before, and having had the experience of war they grasped the conditions of war and all that it means. We are a rich people, and being rich we sometimes think that money can do everything. Money has been spent freely, money voted by the House with the full sanction of the people; but even the money voted so unstintedly by the House, even the intelligence and zeal of the medical officers in South Africa, even the devotion they have displayed, though they have mitigated, could not abolish the horrors of war. What is it that we honour and respect in the soldier? It is not wholly or mainly because he gives his life in battle for the cause of his country; but because he bears with uncomplaining heroism the hardships that are inherent in his lot in war.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
I feel that I must in one respect ask the indulgence of the Committee. I was perfectly well aware that I returned single-handed to face a tremendous combination of influences and impressions. I am aware that I have taken upon myself a great and grave responsibility. But it is not on that account that I ask the indulgence of the Committee. I am not afraid of the responsibility. What I ask is that, in stating a case so important from a national and every other point of view, any personal shortcomings of mine should not be allowed to interfere with the Committee in judging the question upon its merits. I am bound to make one or two preliminary remarks. In the first place, with regard to Lord Roberts, I desire to take this the only opportunity I have had after having seen Lord Roberts's work to pay my tribute to the great services rendered to his country by that distinguished soldier, and to say I believe that no kinder or more humane heart breathes than his, who braced himself to a great public duty under very painful circumstances. But I must refer to Lord Roberts in regard 105 to another matter. I observe that in his published correspondence Lord Roberts makes a personal reference to myself. I must therefore ask to be allowed to make a personal explanation in regard to that. Lord Roberts states that if I had called upon him at Kroonstad he would have explained certain matters to me. Immediately after my arrival at Cape Town I wrote to Lord Roberts a somewhat long letter fully explaining the objects of my visit to South Africa and asking permission to join the troops at the front. I received no reply to that letter; but I am bound to say that at the time Lord Roberts received it he was fully occupied with other and more important matters. The day after my arrival at Bloemfontein I called upon Lord Roberts, but was unable to see him. I did see a member of his staff, and that gentleman argued very strongly against my being with the troops at all, stating, amongst other things, that if Lord Roberts desired to make a report to the public upon this matter he would make it, founded upon reports sent to him from his principal medical officers. I could not avoid replying that that theory would do away with all correspondents at the front, adding that this was a matter in which the public were deeply interested and with regard to which they might possibly be glad to have some independent and full information. However, I quite accepted the position, and was not altogether sorry, because it left me free to make my inquiries in a perfectly independent manner. With regard to Lord Roberts I wish to say one thing more. However generously he may take upon himself the responsibility for all these things, I do not believe that anyone will allow it to rest upon his shoulders. When we consider that the Commander-in-Chief of an army of 200,000 men, operating in different columns in divers parts of the country, has to hold in his head and his hands all the complicated plans and threads of these operations, it is absolutely impossible to expect him to supervise, or even to inform himself as to details of a medical system. There is another remark I ask leave to make, because I see that one of my public critics—one of those two gentlemen I have felt compelled to criticise very strongly—began an answer to my statements by saying that he thought the public ought to know that 106 the doctors and nurses had not acted with brutality. Has there ever been a suggestion of that kind in any letter or published utterance of mine? On the contrary, I have given every possible credit to the loyalty and devotion with which those who have had the care of the patients have acted, and I take this opportunity of expressing my deep regret that many—far too many of them—have lost their lives in the performance of their noble task. Unfortunately, in the course of my informing the public upon this subject, the last chapter, so to speak, was not completed. The article upon which this debate is founded broke oft' at a field hospital at Bloemfontein, and it has not been possible for me to put forward the rest of my account of Bloemfontein, which was to have started with a description of the town hospitals. There were eight hospitals in that town, and they accommodated at first about 700 patients. Some of these hospitals were then in a fairly good condition; there were three which had nurses resident in them at the time the troops arrived, who confined their duties to these hospitals. I heard a great many complaints of the imperfections of the other town hospitals, and a great many accounts of the sufferings of the patients in the early days. I never had the slightest intention of giving any publicity to those accounts, simply because knew that the equipment of those hospitals was the outcome of a forced march, and because, until the railway was opened I did not think it fair to criticise them. The hon. Member who has just sat down made a great point of the forced march and the difficulty of carrying equipments for hospitals, but I might state here that, after the railway was opened, there was one of the hospitals containing typhoid patients which had no disinfectants of any kind, and another in which the corpse of one of the patients who had died during the night had been stuffed into the only lavatory there was in the hospital. It was found by the patients who went to use the lavatory in the morning. That is a question of management. But as to these hospitals, they were, on the whole, in a fair condition when I arrived at Bloemfontein. Most of the sick or wounded officers went into them; but some officers went into the 107 private hospitals, which were moved up to Bloemfontein after the first month. A few officers went into the general hospitals. The private hospitals, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, all did admirable work, but I may say they were considerably hampered by the absence or deficiency of nurses; a deficiency solely due to the objection of the Department at home to allow them to take out sufficient nurses in the first instance. They had all been anxious to have a proper quota of nurses, but their request had been refused by the Army Medical Department here. Now, may I venture to say a word with regard to myself? I went out to South Africa because I believed that this was a question which greatly interested hundreds of thousands of people, and I was determined that if the treatment of the sick and wounded was satisfactory the public should know it, and that if it was not satisfactory they should also know it. I want to ask two questions in my own defence. In the first place, am I a sentimental witness? My experience of war was gained in the Russo Turkish war. That was a barbarous war—a war in which there was practically no medical service on the Turkish side. I only recall this to show that I am the last person to be exigeant with regard to the treatment of the sick and wounded in war. Then, am I a prejudiced or an unfair witness? I appeal to the series of articles I have published and which described the base hospitals at Cape Town. Those hospitals were in an admirable condition when I arrived at Cape Town, and I appeal to everyone whether I have not given every possible credit to, and the most favourable picture I could possibly portray of, those hospitals. There is an article of mine published this morning which gives a long account of one of them. The detail into which I have entered proves, I think, that I have been careful in my examination of the hospitals, and the favourable view I have expressed proves the fairness with which I have acted. Now I come back to Bloemfontein. There is one word in my published letter which I regret, and only one; and that is where I speak of the field hospital I have described as an "illustration," without having guarded that phrase by saying it was the worst field hospital there. It was undoubtedly much the worst, but the other field hospitals had no attempt at beds, not sufficient stretchers, insufficient staffs, 108 and were altogether, if they were to be occupied for any length of time, unfit, to my mind, for that purpose. Now I want to explain to the Committee a point which I think has been missed in treating of these field hospitals. The Under Secretary gave a description of the use to which a field hospital is put when it accompanies troops, and how impossible it is to equip it with the equipment of a stationary hospital. I quite admit that that is the case when the hospital accompanies troops, but the Committee must remember that this hospital was not accompanying the troops. It was stationary outside Bloemfontein, within less than a mile of the town, and it has frequently happened in this campaign that where a field hospital was to be used as a stationary hospital it was treated and equipped as such. The chief authority on this subject, Colonel Stephenson, states most emphatically that "where a field hospital is going to be occupied for any considerable time, every effort should be made to raise the patients from the ground." With regard to this particular hospital, there is no need to labour the point, because on the occasion of my first visit to the hospital the officer in command of it told me it was going to be a stationary hospital. With regard to that hospital, and as regards the question of overcrowding, I think my description has been read by most members of the Committee, of the state of things which I witnessed there. Well, I declare that every word of that description is absolutely true, and a picture of what I saw with my own eyes. But I cannot examine the reasonableness of the impression produced upon my eyes except by an appeal to figures. As I stated, there were ten men crowded into a bell tent. The measurement of a bell tent is known; I cannot give it to you exactly. But I see it is stated in a letter in to-day's Times that bell tents hold sixteen people. All I can say is that they do not hold sixteen patients. Possibly sixteen people might be crowded into them, but how I cannot imagine. Ten patients, at any rate, are so crowded that when you want to speak to a sick person—a man whose voice is so weak that it cannot reach you standing—and you kneel down and put your face close to his, you have to kneel on one knee and put the other foot behind, because there is not room to put both knees side by side. I 109 am told by one of my critics that it is not true that patients lay upon the hard ground. All I have to say is this—that there wore 316 patients in the field hospital, and I saw the greater number of them lying on the ground on a single blanket each and a thin waterproof sheet. I doubt if all the patients had waterproof sheets. I adduce in support of this statement the fact that that field hospital had half the equipment of an ordinary field hospital. It had been divided into two on the march. An ordinary field hospital has 100 stretchers, and, therefore, this should have had fifty; but eight of these had disappeared, and there remained forty-two stretchers in the hospital. There were 316 patients, and therefore, as I stated, there were 274 patients who had to lie on the ground. I have further to state that these figures and all the figures which appeared in my article on this subject were given to me by the medical officer commanding and in charge of the hospital. I observe that in the cabled messages, of which we have heard quotations just now, Lord Roberts states as the reason for not vacating these hospitals that the patients were not fit to be moved. I have given an instance where, unfortunately, at the close of the career of the hospital, twenty patients who ought never to have been moved were moved—three or four of them in a most critical stage of a dangerous disease. Anyone who knows about typhoid knows the local conditions of it. They were put into ox wagons There were no ambulances. This was two months after our entrance into Bloemfontein. The men were put into these wagons and jolted over the veldt, over the roughest possible ground, and one man was in that stage where his case was hopeless. They were taken to another and more permanent hospital. I have stated in the press that four of these men died in a few days. There is another remark I might make under the head of the field hospitals, and that is with regard to the insufficiency of the personnel. Such was the insufficiency of orderlies that patients could not be prevented when in a delirious state from getting up and wandering into the cold air at night. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War has referred to a case, and for some reason or other—I did not quite catch the argument—inferred that it was a solitary case. Why, it happened 110 not only in this hospital but in many other hospitals night after night, solely on account of the insufficiency of the personnel and the insufficiency of men to take care of the patients. I could give the hon. Gentleman other instances, but I will not detain the House. I can only take the hon. Gentleman's arguments and reply to them by facts, which I must state in the interest of bringing out the truth in this matter. I greatly regret if I have erred in decorum, or in the judgment of the House, in not rising first to speak. I considered the subject, and it appeared to me that I had laid a charge, and I thought that I might reasonably expect to hear what explanation the Government had to give. I desired to give them an opportunity of making a statement of their case. Of course, it is perfectly competent for the hon. Gentleman to reply to me, as we are in Committee. The first thing that struck me when I saw the crowded state of these field hospitals surrounding Bloemfontein was why more houses and more buildings were not taken to supply hospital accommodation. As I have shown, there were seven or eight buildings taken, which contained an aggregate of 700 patients at a time when there were 2,200 patients in and around Bloemfontein. There were three considerable hotels in the place, there was the town hall, there were large stores, all of which might have been turned into hospitals. In addition to these there were a considerable number of most comfortable private houses which were not occupied by their owners. Their owners had left the town. The houses had grounds around them, in which tents for the attendants might have been placed. Why were they not taken for hospitals? Houses wore taken, and legitimately taken—I am not making any complaint—for staff officers and military authorities. [Opposition cheers and Ministerial cries of "Oh, oh!"] I do not make that remark—[Opposition cheers and renewed cries of "Oh!" and an hon. Member: "Shame!"] Well then, I repeat—and I say it without any arrière pensée—that such houses were taken as residences for military officers, and I could not see any reason why many more of them should not have been taken for the men who were allowed to remain ill in the tents. I am not saying that the staff and the military officers and authorities should have given up houses that they were in; 111 I am only arguing that there were other houses there that could be taken for hospitals. The real reason was that there was no one and nothing to put into them in the way of medical personnel or medical equipment. With regard to personnel, I do not claim that the personnel suitable to these hospitals should have come with Lord Roberts on the forced march to Bloemfontein. But a comparatively few days after, the road to Bloemfontein—for the deviation at Norval's Pont was open—was clear, and troops were constantly coming up in numbers, even supplies were coming up. It would have been perfectly possible to have sent up doctors and orderlies. I also say it would have been possible to have sent up nurses, because the road was safe and Bloemfontein was safe at that time. With regard to nursing; I considered myself, like a great many others, that the evils which occured at Bloemfontein were owing to the absence of a proper female nursing staff. They might have gone there if they were in the country in sufficient numbers. They might have been there by 1st April, and they might have been there in greater numbers by 15th April, and hundreds of them might have been there at the end of April, the date at which I saw what I have described. There was no possible reason patent to the eye there why they should not. The nurses of the three extemporised hospitals were there. The women of the town population were there, going about their normal occupations. But the women nurses of England were not there to attend to those soldiers, and if they had been I believe a great many lives might have been saved. I now come to the question of the equipment of these hospitals, which involves the question of transport. The hon. Gentleman has given a very graphic and, in some respects, a powerful account of the difficulties of transport to Bloemfontein. I had myself made some very careful calculations on this subject, but I will not trouble the Committee with them, because I think the hon. Gentleman has cased my way. The Under Secretary said that 1,000 tons of material came up to Bloemfontein every day for forty days. I ask, supposing one train a day—I believe there were twelve luggage trains per day—had contained some hospital equipment, what an enormous boon it would have been to those poor people who wore there? 112 As far as I can make out there was no provision for hospital equipment coming, up to Bloemfontein at that time. I have stated very clearly what my own position is, and what I feel, with regard to the relation between military exigencies and humanity—that, where military exigencies are entirely incompatible with the proper treatment of the sick and wounded, military exigencies must come first, but that where considerations of humanity can be carried out, by a reasonable inroad upon military exigencies—that is to say,, by something that will not endanger your military success—humanity ought to be considered. I want the Committee to consider for a moment what the position was in Bloemfontein. The greatest pressure of sickness came, I think, in about the second week off May; I was with the troops on the march at the time. For six weeks previous to that time the railway had been running freely, and all these luggage trains and troops had been moving up. Many of us, and, I fancy, many other people in the world, were very much astonished at the long delay at Bloemfontein. I do not say it was unnecessary; it is not for me to express an opinion upon that. All I say is that there was no apparent necessity, and I cannot conceive anybody showing a positive reason, why the general advance from Bloemfontein Severn weeks after the troops arrived there should have taken place on the 1st rather than on the 2nd or 3rd of May. My point is that one day's trains on that railroad would have saved the whole position as regards the sick and wounded, and unless it can be shown that there was an imperative necessity for the general advance taking place on that particular day, I think the facts show that the necessities of the sick and wounded were postponed for considerations which were not in any way vital or important from a strategic point of view. I have spoken of what seems to me to have been a very unnecessary delay in sending up the equipment. I am bound to weary the Committee somewhat, because I am dealing with the facts of the case, which are rather full. No. 9 general hospital arrived in Bloemfontein on the 8th April, and the tents were erected. They stood there perfectly empty until the 22nd April, because there was no personnel and no equipment of any 113 kind to put into them. The heaviest parts of the hospital had been brought up; the lightest part was kept back or not brought up for a whole fortnight, although every day the working of the railway was becoming easier. I cannot conceive any reason, except disorganisation, which separated that hospital, which might have contained 520patients, from its equipment, which was necessary before the patients could go into it. I should be the last to minimise the difficulties of transport to Bloemfontein, and it has been suggested that there were broken bridges and all that sort of thing; but the time with which I have dealt covers a period from the 1st April to the end of May, during the whole of which the railway was open, at first by a deviation, and afterwards over the bridge. From the great number of trains which came up every day to Bloemfontein, and the character of the material which they carried, I myself was more and more astonished that the equipment of these hospitals was not brought up. Now I come to another question. I have spoken of the two general hospitals, one of which came up on the 22nd April, and the other somewhat later. Those general hospitals were capable of holding, in the first instance, 520 patients. I think the limit of 520 which has been applied by the Army Medical Department to a general hospital is a very wise one; I do not think it is advisable to crowd more than that number together in one locality and with one sot of tents. But these two general hospitals were stretched to the extent, in one case of 1,500, and in the other, 1,700 patients. No. 8 with 1,500 patients was placed in a good position about a mile from the town, and I cannot speak of it from personal observation, because before I left Bloemfontein it was hardly ready, and I had not time to see it on my way down from the front as I passed through Bloemfontein. But No. 9 general hospital, by containing 1,700 patients, to my mind was a tented city of pestilence. There was no attempt at classification. You had men carried or staggering in, one under a disease called "N.Y.D." and another under disease called "S C.F." "N.Y.D." means "not yet diagnosed"; and "S.C.F." means "simple continuous fever." These patients were placed one on either side of a typhoid patient. I ask what hope or chance had these two men of escaping the deadly disease of the man 114 between them? In many of the hospitals there was this absence of classification. I do not say that in all eases it was possible, but at least in a hospital where the patients could be placed in separate tents, it was possible, and this want of classification was one of the greatest evidences of the want of management that I saw under the Army medical, system there. This hospital had no kitchen; the food had to be cooked outside in pits. It was what is called a non-dieted hospital, which means that it had no special arrangements for making those delicate diets which are necessary to fever patients. At the end of two months after we got to Bloemfontein it had only twenty nurses for 1,700 patients. Of course, it is open to anyone to object to female nurses in military hospitals altogether—that is a perfectly legitimate position to take up; but if you have female nurses at all I am justified in complaining of the number of nurses, there were in this and many other hospitals. It is a number founded on the old Army medical theory that a nurse is not to nurse, but is simply to superintend the men in nursing. I do not know exactly the number of orderlies there were in the hospital, but the great proportion of them were entirely untrained private soldiers taken from infantry regiments. I want the Committee to consider for a moment what this means. I do not know that I can put it better than by suggesting that if any hon. Member here had a typhoid patient in his house it would be an absurd thing for him to go into the street and call in a navvy and say to him, "Nurse me that typhoid patient." I do not say that a private soldier who is used as a hospital orderly does not do his best. Of course he does his best. But he has absolutely no knowledge and absolutely no training, and no one will suggest that he has the natural tenderness of touch which would make him any more suited to be a nurse than any other man from the working classes. And a great many of these orderlies—those untrained private soldiers—were convalescents. I protest against the use of convalescent soldiers as orderlies in a fever hospital. What does it mean? It means that a man who has only just got up from a serious illness, who is still ill and weak and unable to concentrate his attention, who wants rest, fresh air, and quiet, is sent back into these fever- 115 stricken tents to breathe the same bad air and to see these horrible sights, when he is too weak to perform the proper duties of a nurse, and when his faculties of watchfulness and attention are so enfeebled that he goes about his work drowsily, and is really incapable of discharging the duty. All over the hospitals at the front convalescent private soldiers were employed as nursing order-lies, and it seems to me it was a most inhuman practice. If there had been a sufficient number of properly-trained attendants, it 'would have been absolutely unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War said something about my not bringing forward any new matter. I have a great deal more new matter which I think the Committee ought to hear, but I wish to submit myself entirely to the judgment of the Committee. I will be as brief as possible. ["Go on."] I started with the troops from Bloemfontein, but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I did not succeed in seeing any real action. I wanted to see the treatment of the wounded on the field, in order to complete my inspection. I did my best, but with a front extending so many miles, and the enemy not holding any position very strongly, I found it very difficult to find any real action going on. But as far as I could see the ambulances and doctors with the troops while on the march were fairly sufficient. I do not say they were absolutely sufficient, but they were fairly so. However, I do not feel really qualified to express an opinion about that. But I feel bound to state that on one occasion the following incident came to my notice. I heard some firing a few miles off on the left, and some other firing on the right. I went in the latter direction; but on the left there had been a very serious mishap to our troops—the disaster to the mixed squadron composed of Inniskillings and Scots Greys, who were cut up by an abuse of the white flag at a Kaffir kraal. They were only four miles from their brigade. It was known, of course, by their brigade that they were to occupy this position. The action took place at nine o'clock in the morning, and the Boers retired shortly afterwards. But no one came near these wounded soldiers until half-past four in the afternoon The firing could be heard, and I could not understand why, if the brigade was properly supplied with ambulances and doctors, these wounded soldiers 116 should not have been attended to. As a matter of fact, about half-past four the bearer company of the New South Wales medical contingent came up. I may tell the Committee this contingent is one of the finest specimens of medical service seen in the war. It consists of a bearer company and field hospital, perfectly disciplined and wonderfully efficient. Great use has been made of it wherever it has been, and its units have been broken up and taken in different directions. It is entirely composed of civilians, and the most eminent doctors in Australia are serving freely upon it. The particular officer in command of this bearer company which came to the rescue of these men was a certain Major Eames, who was always, if his own brigade was not fighting, cruising about with his bearer company to assist anybody in distress, and, fortunately, he found these men. He took them to a tin house on the railway, and formed a temporary hospital there. He supplied all the necessaries he could, and then left the men in charge of a medical officer and rejoined his own brigade. I came across these wounded later on. Many of the men were in a very dangerous condition; four of them died that night. Two days afterwards the doctor who was left in charge of these men received an order to evacuate this hospital and send the wounded away, and ox-wagons were sent for the purpose. He was a civilian doctor, and he protested, but his orders were very express. He did, however, insist on keeping three officers there. It seemed to me to be a strange thing that the men who were dangerously wounded—for he did not disguise the fact that the lives of these men were endangered by their being moved—should be taken away from that hospital while officers should be left in it. Of course, I can understand circumstances under which it would be necessary to evacuate a hospital of that sort, but if the doctor was compelled to send the men away while he was allowed to keep the officers, there seems to me to have been some unfair distinction. I now come to Kroonstad. We arrived at Kroonstad on a Saturday. On the Thursday after, an endeavour was made to equip two buildings—a church and a hotel—as hospitals but there was absolutely nothing to; put into them. There were 300 patients, 117 but there were only two doctors; there were no nurses and no trained orderlies. There were four untrained orderlies in the church with 115 patients, and there were four more in the hotel with about 160 patients. I remind the Committee that I went up with the troops; dozens of other correspondents went up with the troops; innumerable attendants and nondescript people of different positions in addition to the Regular army went up with the troops; why, then, could not doctors and orderlies have gone up with the troops? If, as it has been maintained by the Under Secretary of State for War, there had been a sufficient personnel in South Africa, there was no possible reason why that personnel, putting aside the nurses if you like, should not have been at Kroonstad on the day we arrived there, ready to take their place in these hospitals. Then we come to the question of equipment—that is to say, beds, and so on. I will not detain the Committee by stating certain facts concerning the beds. There are very light collapsible beds, which can be used in emergencies, hundreds of which can be packed into one wagon. I would suggest that in this matter there has been a great want of prevision and a great amount of obstinacy on the part of the Army Medical Department. They use a tent which is called a marquee, but it was perfectly well known to them from the first that there is another hospital tent, called the "Tortoise" tent, which weighs half as much as a marquee, and yet holds two more patients. The Department knew that transport was going to be the great difficulty—that is the argument of the Under Secretary of State; they also knew that the tents formed more than half the weight of the hospital; and yet they did not take the trouble to provide themselves with the class of tent which would lessen the weight by one-half. I want to make my point quite clear about these hospitals at Kroonstad. We were followed by the army supplies, the transport service, and so on. There was a long train of bullock-wagons, each wagon capable of carrying between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds nett.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
My information comes from the head of the Army Service Corps, but it doesn't make much difference to the argument.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
I cannot say how many bullock-wagons there were, but I made a calculation that if the army started with rations and forage for five days supply—and I believe that was considered to be the minimum with which they ought to start—there would be something like 360 bullock-wagons in the Army train. Will anybody tell me that a train which contained 360 bullock-wagons could not have contained four or six more for hospital equipment? The proposition is absurd. There is no fixed limit at 360. If the Department had had the prevision to prepare these hospitals for Kroonstad it would have been perfectly easy to obtain the equipment and personnel. The great vice, the great fault and error at the front, has been the absence of a proper system of stationary hospitals—that is to say, hospitals which may possibly want tents, but which can generally be put into buildings on the line of march. An army advancing under ordinary circumstances does not leave its communications in danger; therefore the line between the army and its base is a continuous line of stations which are fairly safe, strategically speaking, and in these stations what are called stationary hospitals naturally find their place. On the question of preparation, I want to ask why, in all that idle time after the black week in the middle of December, if this equipment was there, was it not pushed up that 500 or 600 miles to Do Aar, the rail-head? If it had been there when the communication was established with Bloemfontein the greater part of the distance would have been traversed, and it would have been perfectly possible and easy to have got that equipment further on. But during that period, as far as I know, nothing was done in the way of moving up any equipment to the front. It is not as if there was any uncertainty about our progress. The way was marked out clearly before us; we knew we were going to pursue it to the end; and certainly the equipment might have been got up to the rail-head, as it then was, in order that when the road was open, the road being practically a railroad, these stationary hospitals could have been established. I saw all through the ultimate result of this neglect of prevision. But I have not done with 119 Kroonstad. There I saw the patients brought in from the field hospitals. They were carried by untrained hands. They were put down on the floor with no one to attend to them, although many of them were in dangerous stages of illness. The doctors themselves complained bitterly of the want of assistance. In consequence of the absence of stationary hospitals there, or of any proper hospital accommodation, convoys of sick and wounded moved off in ox-wagons—not ambulances, but ox-wagons, the bottoms of which are shaped like a V, so that the men cannot lie flat. I saw convoys of 150 sick men in various stages of illness, and many wounded men, put into these ox-wagons and sent a journey three days and nights over the veldt, with its burning heat at midday and its freezing cold at night, without any extra clothing, without any pretence of medical comforts, without any medical man, without any trained orderlies to accompany them. I saw one of these convoys stop at a station on the railway, and the man in charge of the convoy came to a doctor who was there and said, "I have got a man here who is dying; I have got no medicine, and I do not know what to do with him." The doctor, who knew something of the regulations, and that even under the Army Medical Department it was not only illegal, but a crime to send a convoy of sick and wounded away without a doctor, asked the man, "Are you in charge of these patients?" The man said, "No, I am not in charge of the patients; I am in charge of the list." That was the only attendant sent with this convoy for three days and nights over the veldt, and there was another convoy of 150 sick and wounded who were treated in exactly the same way. ["Shame!"] I do not want to pile on those accounts, but at the same place there was a man came into the house whose history I will tell the Committee. He had had enteric fever; he had been on milk diet for three weeks; he was sent immediately from that to rejoin his regiment. He was sent with a detail, of course by road, and he stopped at this particular place I am describing. As soon as he got on his horse the first day he tumbled off; he tumbled off his horse five times; the next day he kept tumbling off, but the men helped him on again, and he 120 tumbled into this tin house a dead man. He had been sent on this journey to rejoin his regiment after he had been on a milk diet for three weeks, without the slightest rest or period of convalescence. These are incidents which I could go on multiplying, but it is not by my own wish I have already taken up so much time. I will come, back to Bloemfontein once more for a moment. This was on the 23rd May. The troops, you will understand, were at Kroonstad. Bloemfontein was perfectly well equipped by that time, except that it was the scene of the pressure of enteric which I have described. On the 23rd May I was informed there were eight wounded men lying on the platform at Bloemfontein station. I went down and saw those men lying on the platform. They had arrived at Bloemfontein after a fifteen hours journey in open trucks, at six o'clock in the morning; they were out on the platform, and there they lay until half-past three in the afternoon with absolutely nobody to attend to them. ["Oh, oh!"] Bloemfontein was as safe and comfortable then as Bloomsbury. The Railway Staff Officer telegraphed at eleven o'clock to the Principal Medical Officer in the town saying these men were there; but no one, doctor or orderly, came near them the whole of that time. Early in the morning there happened to be a hospital train in the goods station close by; some of the sisters heard of these wounded men and went to them, and gave them two tins of condensed milk and a tin of beef-tea, and these were shared by the eight sick men and several others. The station was in full swing; porters, passengers, and so on were walking about, but these men were left unnoticed. Four of them were dying. I knelt down and put my face close to theirs, but could hardly hear their whispers; I tried to get names and regimental numbers. I say that to allow those men to lay there from six o'clock in the morning until half-past three in the afternoon was a disgrace. At last, the ambulance of the Irish Hospital—which is a magnificent hospital, and has the great advantage of having its own transport—came down to the station, and took these men away. I believe that two of the men died after-wards. I do not know that I want to argue the case further with the Under Secre- 121 tary of State for War. He has given a contrast between the personnel in South Africa on the 15th January and that on the 15th June. By the 15th June the tragedy was over. It is no use to quote the number of people there on the 15th June. What I want to know, and what the Committee and the country want to know, is when these people went out. It throws no light on the occurrence to toll us that there were so many people there on the 15th June. My whole point is that we have not been prepared, that there has been no prevision. I think that point ought to have been answered by stating whether, on the 1st March—to take a very easy date—there was a personnel in South Africa sufficient for the requirements of the situation. If the hon. Gentleman can tell me that, I, as a loyal member of his party, should be only too glad to hear it.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
He has told you.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
was understood to say he had not the figures for any particular date, but that he had already given one figure with regard to the 16th April, and that medical equipment and personnel had proceeded on the same scale throughout—namely, 10 per cent. of beds to the numbers despatched to South Africa.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
I am glad to have made this point clear. I shall be all the happier if we can localise the responsibility for these deficiencies in South Africa. My own personal opinion is that the fault lay not here, but in South Africa. But I think I was within my right in calling attention to the fact that to contrast the number there on the 15th January with the number there on the 15th June does not really answer the question whether they were there in time. The epidemic and the great pressure was in the month of May. I have come back to Bloemfontein. I will not pause on the long journey between there and Cape Town. With regard to Cape Town, as I found it on my second visit in the first week in June, I have not a very favourable report to make. The two general hospitals at Wynberg had been admirable, and, I think, remained so. The normal number of patients in each 122 was 520, but they had been extended so that at one time one accommodated 1,400 and the other 1,200 patients. The staff' and nurses of No. 2 hospital at Wynberg have now been ordered to Bloemfontein, with the result that the twenty-five nurses in No. 1 hospital have now to attend to the 2,000 patients at present in both hospitals. There again, it seems to mo, with hundreds and almost thousands of nurses in this country ready and willing and anxious to go out to South Africa, a position of that sort might have been relieved by a little care and attention on the part of the authorities. A Convalescent Home had been established at Maitland Camp, about two miles from Cape Town. I have urged throughout the establishment of Convalescent Homes in order to relieve the hospitals of their patients. I visited that at Maitland Camp, then only just established, and these are my notes. "Saw convalescents in new huts. There are huts erected for 150 men—ten huts—but they are bare and miserable. There are no beds or conveniences, and the men lie in blankets on the floor. How far these men are convalescent I cannot say; I found several of them in bed at three o'clock in the afternoon. The ordinary idea of an Army convalescent is that he is a man fit for duty. I found one of these a man in the Australian Horse, with a very high temperature and quick pulse. He had had enteric and bronchitis, and spoke with difficulty. He had been at Wynberg for a few days, and was then sent on to Maitland Camp. He was formerly at No. 9 at Bloemfontein"—which happens to be the general hospital I described. Another man was suffering from dysentery. He was on a milk diet, and had had no milk forfour days. All this was happening within two miles of Cape Town, where every convenience might have been provided. Now, who were these people in charge of? They were in charge of a sergeant—not a trained sergeant of the Army Medical Corps, but an untrained man, himself recovering from enteric. I had a long talk with him. He told me no doctor attended them unless he (the sergeant) went for him. Therefore it was left for this untrained man, knowing nothing at all about medicine, to say whether the man on the floor required a doctor. After a conversation with the man on the floor I sent a doctor to 123 him, but the sergeant did not know that he wanted one. I afterwards heard that he was dangerously ill. In the same camp there is an institution called the Yeomanry Hospital. I want to distinguish this entirely from the magnificent hospital at Deelfontein, which is one of the best manage I and ordered hospitals it is possible to see. The one in Maitland Camp is called the Yeomanry Hospital because it is filled with Yeomanry patients; it holds fifty patients. It consists of one Cape hut with 6 inches of draught under its roof, and six bell tents, one tortoise tent, one doctor, and no trained nurses of any kind, orderlies or otherwise.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
Has the Yeomanry hospital at Maitland any connection with that at Deelfontein?
*MR. BURDETT COITTTS
It has nothing to do with the Yeomanry hospital at Deelfontein, which, as I have said, is excellent. There is one thing I must call attention to here. There was a hospital at Cape Town, on my first visit, which was a disgrace to any army or any community, called the Woodstock. The building in which it was housed was an old building, condemned over and over again, yet it was taken to be used as a hospital for the troops who arrived from England in the transports sick. Everybody who came off a transport ill was put into this hospital. It was a horrible place, and full of vermin. I will read you a passage from a letter written by a surgeon-general, which appeared in The Times this morning—As regards the 'Woodstock' Hospital he speaks the truth. The building is a discredit to any Government. When I reported on it in 1894, I stated that it was situated on the sea shore, that close in front one of the main sewers of Cape Town discharged its contents, which were driven back on the beach when the wind set that way, and sent a stench through the wards so bad that it was frequently necessary to close the windows.Immediately behind ran the railway. On the right, within a couple of hundred yards, is the military cemetery; on the left some open ground, the resort of the bad characters of Cape Town.As regards vermin, I say there were none present during my incumbency, though the Cape Town barracks swarmed with bugs.Now in spite of its situation this hospital has been taken as a centre to create and establish around it a large tented hospital. 124 Anything more injudicious than to choose such a position, when you have miles and miles of beautiful suburbs around Cape Town, I cannot conceive I have only one more remark to make. The Under Secretary for War referred to the fact that no other accounts had come home of all these imperfections. I do not think that is absolutely true; but I want to point out to the Committee—and this is a very important point—that we have had a great many favourable accounts of, a great many letters have appeared in the papers from patients in, hospitals who have been well treated. But I want to point out that those letters coming from other places dated at other times with regard to favourable treatment can do anything to shake the specific statements which I have made. With regards to the correspondents, when the Under Secretary of State referred to the fact that there were no accounts from the war correspondents, someone interpolated the words "Press Censor." The right hon. Gentleman replied that letters were not censored. All I have to say is that if a correspondent wrote and published a letter showing the sort of thing I have shown, and its purport was telegraphed back there within perhaps two weeks and a-half, I should not envy the position of that man as a war correspondent, the performance of whose duty largely depends upon the authorities whose conduct he might have impugned. There is one other point with regard to evidence. I do not deny it, and I think it is a very good trait in the British soldier—that he is very sensitive with regard to sickness. He does not like to make complaint with regard to his treatment in hospital. In the first place, he is even ashamed of being sick. Then he does not want to be thought namby-pamby, and docs not want to be talked about for having made complaints as to his treatment in hospital. It is a sort of esprit de corps amongst them. Moreover in the old days there was in the ranks an absolute terror of the authorities in the hospital. I do not know if any such feeling exists now in the Army, but I believe the tradition of it still prevails. Sir, you will got plenty of evidence when men know that it is not unmanly, that it is not cowardly, and that it is not unpatriotic to come forward and tell the truth in this matter; and when they are assured that it is their bounden duty 125 to their comrades, to their country and themselves, in order that these things may be remedied and may not recur. I have not troubled the Committee with any of the innumerable letters I have received, but I cannot refrain from reading one short letter I received this morning, dealing with this point—Dear Sir,—I arrived in England the 10th of this month, being invalided home from Africa, having had enteric. I feel very pleased, and mast thank you very much for the plucky manner by which you have exposed the state of things which existed at Bloemfontein. I am one of those that muse consider myself lucky in having lived to get back to dear old England, and can give my evidence as a proof of what you have written, for I laid on the ground for three weeks without a change. If you consider my evidence of any use, I should be pleased to give it you at any time; at the present I trust you will keep my name anonymous, as my term of service has not expired and am on sick furlough.I call attention to the last words. I hope at any rate that this House of Commons, which is higher than any Department or authority in this country, will be willing to see that any such man who comes forward is protected, and that his future is not prejudiced by reason of the story he has to tell. I must apologise most humbly for having detained the Committee all this time. I have not said half of what I wanted to say, but I presume that I have said enough to show that there has been disorganisation, and a want of prevision, and a want of proper management somewhere. I am not myself inclined to think that the blame rests upon the individual personnel of the Army Medical Corps; I feel pretty certain that it does not. I am afraid it rests upon a system which is entirely inelastic, and from deficiencies in that system which result in unnecessary want of provision. I do not wish, and I do not intend, to lay blame upon individuals, or to lay it all upon the Army medical system. I feel myself that the policy which has governed the question of transport has not shown sufficient consideration for the needs of the sick. I cannot but say that; otherwise the whole responsibility would rest upon the Army Medical Corps. To go back once more to the question of evidence, I say with pain that my best evidence lies in South Africa, in the men who are buried there, brave men, many of whom, I believe, if a different system had prevailed, would have returned to their homes and their friends. It has 126 been a notable war. In a few days I hope it will have been a successful war. I do not know whether it has boon a glorious war. [Cries of "No, no!"] Yes! It has been made glorious by the bravery of these men on whose behalf I speak here—the men and their regimental officers. But for my part, having seen what I have seen, its darker side will ever be present to my mind. I shall think always of those silent, though not, I hope, forgotten, witnesses, men to whom we can raise but one real monument—the determination that such errors as I have described shall never occur again.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
The two interesting speeches to which we have listened to-night have been made in a somewhat different order to that usually adopted in debate. I am sorry that that order was observed. I am, sorry for the logical sequence that the hon. Member below the Gangway spoke after the hon. Gentleman the Undersecretary for War. It appeared to me that the hon. Gentleman practically admitted the chief of the contentions that were raised by the hon. Member for Westminster, and, admitting the conditions, he rather pleaded that the difficulty of transport and the enormous distance that had to be covered were an explanation and an excuse for these evils, and in apologising for them intimated that they were unavoidable incidents of a terrible and prolonged war. I cannot admit that the evils described by the hon. Member for Westminster were inevitable. They were, I think, all foreseen, and might have been prevented or provided for, and I make these remarks because I think there would be similar incidents in every campaign if steps were not taken to prevent them. Hon. Members are aware that we lost a large number of officers and men in the Egyptian campaign through enteric fever, but few are aware that the medical officers in that campaign who sent in certificates as to enteric fever were snubbed. This most terrible pest was absolutely kept from the public records, the system of the War Office being to discourage a medical officer who returned a case of enteric fever instead of returning it as continued fever or fever. Knowing that, I was anxious that the Government should take steps to prevent similar action and similar loss of life in the war. I do not think it is the fault 127 of the Army Medical Corps that these things occur. Every officer of the Army Medical Corps has forces to contend with that are unknown here, and he would be stronger if he had some independent assistance to look into these matters from the outside. The War Office would have done the best thing for the army in Africa and saved hundreds of lives if they had sent to South Africa some in dependent authority in the shape of a small sanitary commission to intervene between the military commanders and the medical officers on matters of sanitation. The military commanders are of course anxious to do everything they can for the soldiers, and I do not think the losses we have had in South Africa from typhoid fever—the most terrible scourge that armies have to contend with—are due to Lord Roberts. These terrible losses in South Africa must have been foreseen, and anyone who knows anything of the history of such outbreaks might have foretold it. We had an epidemic of it in Lady-smith before it was relieved, and we all remember the letter of Mr. Treves, in which he said he found 800 cases amongst the invested army. We had the greatest stress of the epidemic at Bloemfontein, and everyone who knew the conditions that arose before Bloemfontein knew that within three or four weeks of the surrender at Paardeberg there would be an outbreak of fever at Bloemfontein, for the reason that the soldiers there were obliged to drink the water of the Modder River, poisoned by all the refuse from Cronje's laager. Within three or four weeks there was certain to be an outbreak. The result was that the death-rate from sickness, which in February and the beginning of March had varied between 120 and 90 a week, went up to 180 three weeks after the Paardeberg incident—exactly the time typhoid takes to develop. That figure has nothing to do with wounds. It has simply to do with disease, and it represents a condition of things which any medical man could have foretold.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
If it was foretold, then more preparation ought to have been made. And we would not have had cases of sick men being without doctors, of one doctor having to attend 300 men, of fifteen men being in a single bell tent suffering from a disease which 128 makes their condition so horrible. Anyone knows that with fifteen men placed in a small tent in such conditions, the ground must have been saturated with discharges to such a degree as to make it a perfect pest-house. If that condition of things was foretold, as we are assured it was, then it ought to have been provided for. The same thing occurred after the unfortunate incident at the Bloemfontein Waterworks. The loss of good water entailed the use of bad water, and within six or seven weeks we had the terrible death-rate of 370, as compared with 90 in the early stages of the campaign. And only when the troops were moved out of Bloemfontein and went northwards to Kroonstad, to find the medical arrangements no better there, but the sanitary conditions less poisonous, did we find the general mortality becoming less. In this disease the conditions always become better when you change camp. In the old days the Romans prevented the spread of fever by changing camp frequently. One of the great causes of the mortality was the detention of the men at Bloemfontein drinking the contaminated surface water. I have said that if we had some means of bringing pressure to bear on the authorities such as I have described, the foresight which did exist amongst the medical officers might have received more attention and they might have had more done in the way of giving relief to the sick and suffering who were placed under the conditions so graphically described by the hon. Member for Westminster. All that the hon. Member had said has been practically admitted by the Under Secretary for War, and it has been confirmed from other sources. Not long since, Mr. Bowlby, of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, who was in charge of the Portland hospital, in South Africa, wrote home that, in spite of utilising many public buildings, the field hospitals rapidly became overcrowded, so that they had to accommodate three or four times the number for which they were equipped, and it became impossible to treat or nurse the patients satisfactorily. Of all maladies, the one that requires not only space and pure air, but careful and constant nursing, is enteric or typhoid fever, and I think it is the highest compliment, not to the arrangements, but to the salubrity of the South African climate that the mortality has not been greater. If we had had the patients in 129 England under the same conditions of overcrowding in a pestilential atmosphere the mortality would have been much greater. Then we have had further confirmation of the statements of the hon. Member for Westminster from Surgeon-General Hamilton in The Times of to-day. Surgeon-General Hamilton was at one time principal medical officer in Cape Colony, and he stated that the criticisms of the hon. Member carried on the face of them evidence of their truth. So that we are bound to accept these statements as giving a fairly accurrate account of the horrible conditions which had existed among our soldiers in South Africa. Seeing that these things were foretellable, and that they were foreseen to some extent, I do not think we have had any adequate explanation of why they were not provided against. If trains could run up in the manner they did with general supplies, surely some could have been taken to provide medical necessaries for these unfortunate soldiers. I do not think that the record which the hon. Gentleman gives us as to the cause of that state of things is satisfactory. The hon. Gentleman has said he is satisfied that in. no previous campaign had the sufferings been more mitigated. I do not think we can admit that with reference to the sufferings of those whose condition has been described by the hon. Member for Westminster; but the mitigation of suffering is a totally different thing from the death-rate. He tried to make out that the death-rate being low, there was mitigation of suffering, but we have incontrovertible evidence that the suffering was such as has been described. But if we go into the question of death-rate we find that even that is not altogether satisfactory. According to Lord Roberts, the death-rate in this campaign from enteric or typhoid is 21 per cent. In the Nile campaign, where there was the same painful lack of foresight, the same lack of nurses and of provision for hospitals, it was 28 per cent.; but there we had the disease occurring under climatic conditions very much less favourable than those which exist in South Africa. In Natal itself, when we had an epidemic of this disease a few years ago, the death-rate was only 16 per cent., which is considerably less than in the present campaign. Speaking generally, the death-rate from this disease throughout this country is only from 12 to 16 per 130 cent., or possibly 17 per cent. in the case of the worst epidemics. But the comparison of all these death-rates is full of fallacy, because no two typhoid epidemics have the same death-rate. It varies from year to year, and from season to season. And therefore, though it is higher than it ought to be, it is difficult to make a comparison with what it should have been under proper conditions. I believe myself that if these unfortunate people in South Africa had been nursed and cared for properly, the death-rate might have been reduced from 21 to 12 per cent. I stake my professional reputation on the statement that under these favourable conditions the death-rate might have been lessened by nearly one-half. We have also had evidence, which has not been contradicted, as to the inadequacy of the provision of hospital accommodation. The hon. Gentleman says that the War Office provided beds for from 8 to 10 per cent. of the total force of the Army in South Africa. On this question there is some difference of opinion amongst sanitary authorities. In this case the difficulty was that the 8 or 10 per cent. of beds was not on the spot when they were wanted. If they had been the overcrowding and mortality from disease would not have reached the pitch it did at Blosmfontein. Professor Parkes, the greatest authority, said that more than 10 per cent. was wanted for the sick and wounded in a time of war, and Professor De Chaumont placed it at 25 per cent. I am sure myself that the proportion of 10 per cent. of beds is not an adequate provision for the amount of sickness likely to-be engendered in the conditions which exist in South Africa. There is another point I would like to mention. The mortality from this disease in South Africa has been less than in many previous campaigns, but it has been greater than it was in previous epidemics in Natal, and I think it is greater than that which occurred during the Spanish-American War, in which every man among the American troops practically went into hospital twice-during the campaign. The admissions to hospital were over 2,000 per 1,000. In one of the most disastrous campaigns in recent history, that of the French against the Hovas in Madagascar, the mortality from typho-malaria was less than amongst our troops in South Africa. I want to point-out that this condition of things is preventible. The late Dr. Parkes, the 131 highest authority we had in this country, more than once said that this disease could be prevented. I cannot do better than read his words—Enteric, or typhoid, fever ought certainly to be prevented in a camp, and recent experience in Afghanistan, South Africa, and Egypt shows what ravages enteric fever can make, and how rapidly it becomes generated and spreads in camp, especially when the men are mostly young.Then he says—This is certainly due to improper hygienic measures.That is written in the leading textbook by the highest authority in this country, and I say one of the first duties of every administrative body connected with the health of the Army is to foresee and to prevent an outbreak of that disease. I believe that if the Government had shown more foresight in this matter the lives of hundreds of those gallant fellows who went out to fight our battles might have been saved. My opinion is that the evil has arisen from the cheese-paring policy of the War Office in regard to the Army Medical Department in years gone by. They have been cutting it down and interfering with it in many ways, making the service unpopular and reducing it below its proper strength. One of the late directors general of the Army Medical Department, Sir Thomas Crawford, laid it down that 890 medical officers was perilously low for a peace establishment. We have heard to-day from the hon. the Under Secretary for War that when we are approaching the conclusion of the war we have not 890 medical men in the service, and yet we have a larger army in the field under the colours of the Queen than ever within the memory of any man in this House. I say that that is a cheeseparing policy, and that it was bound to bring with it the disasters which had resulted in the terrible ravages of disease exposed by the hon. Member for Westminster, and which have even been admitted by the Government. I hope the policy of the Government will be changed, and that they will provide against these things in the future. The hon. Member has said nothing about the suggestion made by Lord Roberts, that some Commission should be appointed now that the injury has been done. Even now such a 132 Commission might do good. I hope to hear before the debate concludes that there will be an inquiry.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
I ask the permission of the Committee to say a few words on this very important matter. I only do so because, when in South Africa for three months this year, I did my best to make myself acquainted with all the arrangements for the sick and wounded. I admit I was not so long there as the hon. Member for Westminster, and that I went no further north than Paardeberg; and therefore I cannot enter into his criticisms in regard to the hospitals at Bloemfontoin or Kroonstaad. I am quite sure that Lord Roberts will weigh all the hon. Member's statements with the utmost care, and do everything he possibly can to ascertain the exact truth. I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman seems to have seen everything in South Africa through the darkest-possible spectacles. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!] We have heard nothing but the most harrowing details it was possible for him to give to the Committee.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
May I call the attention of the Committee to the fact that I published a series of articles, six of which have been devoted to presenting to the public the most favourable possible picture of the work done by the Royal Army Medical Corps?
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
It is greatly to be regretted that the hon. Member did not sign his name to these articles in the same way that he has done to the very violent article which appeared in The Times of the day before yesterday. It is only now we are able to know who is the author of the 133 previous letters. All that we have to deal with to-day has nothing to do with anonymous letters, but only with a signed letter, and the speech which the hon. Gentleman has made to the Committee this afternoon. I have no desire to do any injustice to my hon. friend. I am sure he is actuated by the very best of motives, but I am not exaggerating when I say that he has presented to us a very dark picture of what he has seen.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
The hon. Member gave us harrowing details about other hospitals at Capo Town, at Maitland, and of the Yeomanry hospital, which I know quite as well as he does. I am not going, however, to enter into any personal controversy with him. All I desire to do, if the Committee are kind enough to allow me, is to give the result of my observations at the hospitals I visited. I may be wrong, or the hon. Gentleman may be wrong. The Committee have hoard the hon. Gentleman. I will give the other side of the picture, I hope with moderation, and without any exaggeration or other desire than to load the Committee to a right conclusion on the point. I was interested in this matter on several personal grounds. I quite recognise that in every campaign of late, and every civilian in the country will admit it, much has been done to mitigate the horrors of war. Within a few hours of my arrival in Cape Town I called on Surgeon-General Wilson. I found in him a man of great energy and activity, of warm sympathy, and without the slightest prejudice or desire to be bound by red tape, or by any system which could possibly improve the condition of affairs. Although I had no introduction to or previous acquaintance with him, he said to me—Go everywhere and make inquiry. You can go into the hospitals at any time, and every information that can possibly be afforded is at your service, and if yon desire to see me again you can do so.He gave written authority to visit the large base hospitals and a considerable number of stationary and field hospitals. I visited the hospitals at Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Ladysmith, Kimberley, 134 and elsewhere. This was in February, and it would be very surprising if from that time they had gone so much to the bad as the hon. Member for Westminster would lead us to imagine. I do not think that anything could possibly be better than the provision for the sick and wounded during the month of February, when I was visiting the different hospitals. On 27th June the hon. Member said there were in South Africa two plagues, the plague of blindness and the plague of whitewash. I do not think I am quite blind, and there is no reason whatever why I should lend a hand at whitewashing. I do not think I have ever shown in speech or otherwise any desire to stifle inquiry. On the contrary, I have determined to do everything that possibly can be done to enforce the lessons of the war. No one would say that the Army Medical Department is absolutely perfect. There is some truth in the statement of the hon. Member for Ilkeston that there has been too much cheeseparing in the past. But that is not a matter for which the present Government is responsible, any more than their predecessors. In a way they have not attracted the very best students from the medical schools into the Army; but no one could possibly exaggerate the heroism the Royal Army Medical Corps have shown under fire, their devotion to their duty, and their desire to do the best they possibly could under the circumstances. A great deal has been done lately to improve the position of the officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. They have been given increased pay and allowances and the titular rank which they have been wanting for a very long time. It was pleasant to hear from the officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps in all parts of South Africa that they were perfectly satisfied with their condition, and the consideration given to them, not only by their equals in the combatant branch of the service, but by the general officers and others in authority. There are many things that may be done to improve the knowledge and ability of the Royal Army Medical Department. They ought not only to be encouraged, but they should be obliged to attend for a certain number of months some modern metropolitan hospital in order that they should keep up to date. I have been informed by a registrar of an hospital, an officer who sucked the poison from the 135 throat of an enteric patient, that there is no such thing as military surgery. It is an emergency surgery, and the Army Medical Department should keep itself up to date. In this war the Government invited and accepted the services of Sir William MacCormac, Sir William Stokes, Mr. Treves, Mr. Cheyne, and other distinguished surgeons who were sent out to assist the military surgeons. Then 400 civilian surgeons were attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps. These had rendered the greatest possible service in performing many wonderful operations and superintending others which were thought almost impossible a short time ago, and they had given the greatest comfort and assistance to men who were suffering. I believe that those gentlemen are better aware of the state of affairs in South Africa as regards medical matters than any man without any personal experience of them. I saw the hospitals myself and the way in which the medical corps did their work, and when I heard from Sir William MacCormac that things were working perfectly, I believed him, though I had not seen everything, and if anybody is wrong in this matter it is not myself, but rather the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster. With regard to Lord Roberts, whose name the hon. Gentleman mentioned, everyone who is acquainted with him knows perfectly well that there is nothing so dear to his heart as the care of the sick and the wounded. He never arrives at a base without inspecting the hospital, and he does not go with a large staff with great form and ceremony; he goes without any ceremony and converses with individual patients, sitting on their beds and doing his best not only to encourage the sick and wounded, but also to repair or remedy any defect which he sees in the organisation. In a few days Mr. Cheatle will arrive from Lord Roberts's headquarters; he had charge of the hospital in which were the worst cases. In those cases Lord Roberts took the greatest interest, and from Mr. Cheatle I heard that the first question Lord Roberts put to him at Paardeberg was, "What do you think of the condition of the transport of the wounded from Paardeberg to Modder River?" Everything that Lord Roberts could do to mitigate pain and suffering throughout this campaign he has done. I greatly regret that my hon. friend the Member 136 for Westminster did not take the obvious and proper coarse when he found this condition of things existing at Bloemfontein and Kroonstad, and seek an interview with Lord Roberts and tell him of the state of things that existed. He did not tell us that he waited on Lord Roberts.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
I did. I called on Lord Roberts the day after I arrived at Bloemfontein, and I made two-other attempts to see him.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
And at Kroonstad I wrote to his military secretary, Major Cowan, a letter, bringing forward the defects which I had seen, and suggesting remedies. When I got back to Bloemfontein. I wrote to the same gentleman another very strong and long letter.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
I am in the recollection of the Committee, who will recollect that the hon. Member never said anything of the kind; therefore I have done a considerable service to the hon. Gentleman in giving him the opportunity of saying so. But I cannot conceive that Lord Roberts, who is accessible to everybody and anybody, would not see him. I am sure that any representations from the hon. Gentleman would be received with prompt consideration, and I cannot understand how it was that the: hon. Gentleman failed to see Lord Roberts and put these matters right. Did he see Surgeon-General Wilson and tell him the result of his personal observation?
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
Then perhaps this accounts for the fact that at the very time the hon. Gentleman wrote this letter in Cape Town Surgeon-General Wilson was in. Bloemfontein seeing to these things. I have had extreme difficulty in arriving at the truth in this matter. Although I am personally acquainted with hundreds of men in South Africa, I have not seen a letter of complaint as to treatment in hospital. One thing is pretty well known, and that is that if I had received any complaints I 137 should have sifted the matter to the bottom; but I have not received a complaint of any sort or kind, though I receive letters from the front by every mail. The Lord Mayor of London has received no complaints; but the difficulty of arriving at the facts of this matter is illustrated by this one fact. I heard of two men who had been invalided home, and I telegraphed to them to see me here to-day. One man said that he only saw the doctor once for five minutes during the seven weeks he was in the hospital, whilst the other, a man who came home in the same ship, and who was in the same hospital at the same time, said the doctor attended regularly in the morning and in the evening. That shows the Committee the extreme difficulty of arriving at the truth. It does not do to take hearsay evidence in this matter. Why, I heard of one complaint of an enteric patient that all the food he got was a little milk and soda. I have had enteric myself, and everybody knows that that is the only diet you can have. The complaint went on to say that the patient would have starved unless he had been fed by those who were well. Everybody knows that the result of giving solid food to a typhoid patient would be almost certain to be fatal. With regard to the attendance, this man said there were no nurses. It was true there were no female nurses, but there were male attendants, and he thought the majority of the men preferred them to female nurses. That is only individual opinion, of course, and I only quote it as such. I then asked him if he had any complaint to make, and he said, of course, it was not comfortable, they were on the ground; but that he recognised the difficulty of the authorities, and did not complain. That is the evidence of individuals who have no interest in disguising the truth. There are hon. Members in this House who have had relatives at the front; some, to their great sorrow, have lost them. Is it likely that the relatives of hon. Members would not have written to them as to the condition of affairs if it is so black as is represented? Amongst them is the son of a Cabinet Minister. Is it not certain that he would write and complain? There have been passing through the hospitals 1,500 or 1,600 officers, and is it likely, if this condition of things existed, that they would not have written to Lord Lansdowne asking for an immediate inquiry? I do not wish to cast discredit on the 138 observations of the hon. Member for Westminster. He has been actuated by the best of motives, but he has trusted too much to hearsay evidence.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
Then he has trusted too much to appearances, and has not perhaps made sufficient inquiry into the origin of things. At the same time, I am sure his only desire was to bring about the best conditions possible in the treatment and care of the sick and wounded. I am certain that every officer of the Army Medical Corps would spare no effort to bring those conditions about. If such a state of things as the hon. Member has depicted existed it would be the duty of the Government, and I am sure the Commander-in-Chief would not shirk that duty, to find out who was responsible. The Government have been charged with want of foresight; it has been said that they ought to have foreseen the epidemic at Bloemfontein; but I have been told by one who lived in Bloemfontein that a more salubrious town there could not be, and I do not think anyone could have foreseen such a thing. No one could have conceived such a state of affairs as I saw at Paardeberg, with the river filled with putrefying corpses. Everything in this war has turned out differently to what was expected, and if there has been any lack of foresight which stands conspicuously before the country, it is that of the Leader of the Opposition and those who support him. He has published statements to the country, and the country will be able to judge whether everything has been done which it was possible for the Government and private munificence to accomplish. I hope my hon. friend, instead of writing sensational letters and making sensational speeches, will devote his abilities and leisure to improving the condition of affairs and doing all he can to provide for the better care of the sick and wounded.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said that if the conduct of the hon. Member for Westminster was open to any charge, it was not the charge which had been made by the hon. Member who last addressed the Committee. He believed that the 139 result of the inquiry would be to show that the circumstances which the hon. Member for Westminster had pointed out as existing on one portion of the line of advance existed on at least two other lines of advance. The last speaker had made an unfair attack on the hon. Member for not having signed the letters in The Times except the last letter but one. He knew nothing of the circumstances in which those letters were produced, but he pointed out that the earlier letters were mainly in defence of what the hon. Member had seen. It was therefore rather honourable on the part of the hon. Member that when he had to make definite charges and attacks he should have promptly added his name to the letter. The hon. Member for Sheffield attacked the hon. Member for Westminster for having brought a charge against the management of the hospitals at the Cape. Of all the heavy charges brought by the hon. Member against the Army medical system, he thought that the charges with regard to the Cape were the heaviest of all, because none of the excuses necessarily made as to the limitations imposed by Lord Kitchener on transport prevailed here. When Lord Rosebery took the chair at the dinner in April he said that "our medical and hospital service has been perfect," and he proceeded to give the whole credit for that perfection to the Government which had organised the system. But those hon. Members who for years past had called attention to the deficiency of the system had shown that a breakdown would occur. At the time Lord Rosebery thought our system perfect the epidemic of enteric had not reached the high level now known. But we did know of what occurred at Intombi camp and Stormberg, and when the inquiry was held it would be found that the same facts which had been alleged with regard to Cape Town and Bloemfontein had also to be alleged with regard to General Gatacre's line of advance, and he thought the inquiry would also reveal that the breakdown had been general. Now, of course, war was always horrible, but the unnecessary horrors of war which were easily preventible naturally and properly shocked the public even more. In his opinion the hon. Member for Westminster had proved beyond doubt that in the rapid advance Lord Kitchener cut down unduly the 140 transport for the sick, and as regards Cape Town the absolutely preventible suffering, which had been described would also shock the conscience of the country. He did not charge the War Office with a policy of direct concealment, but he must say they seemed not to want to know too much. Personally he had asked questions of the Under Secretary of State for War with regard to circumstances which were well known to himself on information which he had from sources beyond all question as to the very horrible state of things prevailing at the Intombi hospital. The answers to these questions showed disinclination to press for reports or to obtain information. He had asked specifically about Intombi Camp. It was claimed in The Times that day, in a letter from one high in the secrets of the medical service, that that camp was placed under the charge of the best man they had got, and that that man, having done so well there, was then sent on to Bloemfontein and was responsible, as he understood, for some of the hospitals described by the hon. Member. The organisation of the medical department of the War Office had been year by year before the House, and the complaints made had turned mainly on the shortness of supply of trained orderlies, which had been the definite cause of the breakdown in this war. They had never been told in Parliament of the nature of the working, arrangement established between the Government and the Red Cross Society. He understood from what he had heard that there was a working arrangement in imitation of the Prussian system. They were told that these breakdowns had occurred in all previous wars. He would point to the circumstances of the last war in which the Prussian army engaged. In 1870, after fighting two days, separated only by one day (16th—18th August), the losses were gigantic. The Prussian losses were greater than the French. There were actually 40,000 men, partly French, brought in by the Prussian ambulances in fifty or sixty hours, and under the joint system in operation for the treatment of the wounded there was not the slightest hitch. The system worked like clock-work and nothing went wrong. That was a case of perfect organisation in a successful war. Afterwards in the beaten French army, with a confluent smallpox epidemic to deal with, there was equally no break- 141 down until the snow began. In the case which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Westminster, and also by the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division, the circumstances ought to have been absolutely foreseen. It was not like the outbreak of smallpox in France. It was a case where enteric fever was to be presumed to exist on a large scale, as was shown in the Report of the Army Medical Department for 1898, and the figures there given of mortality at Ladysmith before the war and with a small garrison, and the statement specifically made that enteric fever in South Africa was assuming grave proportions, especially in Natal. It was associated with polluted soil and the pollution of the Klip River. The utter breakdown at the Intombi Camp was, in his view, an even greater scandal than the facts revealed by the hon. Member for Westminster. The Under Secretary said that Sir George White was not responsible for that camp, but it was a camp for which the British military authorities were responsible, and they held at least one court-martial in regard to the proceedings which took place there. In the hospital at Intombi robbery took place on an enormous scale. Stimulants were stolen and consumed, and the tinned milk on which the lives of the typhoid patients depended was also stolen and sold. He ventured to say that deaths which occurred among the typhoid patients in the Intombi hospital in the latter portion of the siege were directly due to the robbery of the stores at the commencement of the siege. One court-martial was held, and one man was reduced in rank and sentenced to imprisonment. Although an opponent of capital punishment, he should have been glad if the man had been shot, because the shooting of a man or two for such offences was likely to do good to the British Army in time of war. It was likely to show people as nothing else would the great dishonour of offences of that kind, and that they were not to be allowed to go on in future campaigns. They could not insist too strongly on good management in these matters on which the lives of our soldiers depend as much as on military skill pure and simple.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said that as one interested in the welfare of soldiers, he had a feeling 142 of sympathy with anyone who showed up a system under which soldiers suffered. He had at the same time a great disinclination to go against anyone representing properly-constituted authority. He approached this question, therefore, with no intention whatever of finding severe fault with the hon. Member for Westminster, who had apparently been actuated by good intentions. He thought the hon. Member for Westminster had in some measure damaged his own case. Instead of confining himself simply to pointing out the state of things that existed during the short period that he was at Bloemfontein, the hon. Member seemed to find it necessary to attack the whole conduct of affairs by those in supreme command in South Africa, and some of them were driven to choose between his opinion and that of Lord Roberts and those who acted under him.. The hon. Member had, he thought, mistakenly chosen to suggest that a great portion of the administration of affairs there was wrong, and that things were done that ought not to have been done. Although he sympathised with the hon. Member in his desire to see everything done for the sick and wounded, he must say that he would prefer the dispositions of Lord Roberts to those of the hon. Gentleman. He did not understand exactly what was the position occupied by the hon. Member. It would add very much to the difficulties which surrounded the Commander-in-Chief if he was supposed to be at the beck and call of every itinerant sightseer who went to the front.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
My position was that of special correspondent of The Times, not entitled to use the military wire.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
still failed to see how the commanding officer was not to have his action considerably hampered if he was supposed to be always at the beck and call of even a correspondent of The Times, or of any other amateur, whether male or female. The Government had not disputed the fact that at Bloemfontein for a certain time there was a sad and grievous breakdown of the hospital arrangements, but they had explained that it was unavoidable, in consequence of there being but one line of communications. Unless they were in a position to say that Lord Roberts should have post- 143 poned the bringing up of men, guns, and supplies until the hospital stores were brought up, they were not justified in challenging the defence which the Government had made. The outburst of fever at Bloemfontein could not have been prevented by the hon. Member for Ilkeston, or any other member of his profession, unless, indeed, they had been able to prevent the Boers from throwing their dead into the Modder and to undertake the sanitary arrangements around Paardeberg. That and that only would have prevented the outbreak of enteric fever at Bloemfontein. That should be borne in mind in dealing fairly and properly with this question. Let them by all manner of means take steps that errors and mistakes do not occur again, but do not let them be misled into the idea of thinking that in any campaign it would be possible under all circumstances to prevent entirely such a condition of things as took place at Bloemfontein. Unless they provided more than one line of communication, and made the base much nearer where they wished to use the supply, they must and always would be face to face with possibilities of some such unfortunate occurrences as those at Bloomfontein. His hon. friend the Member for Central Sheffield laid considerable stress on the divergence of testimony on these points. He thought the Committee would be pretty well satisfied that with the best endeavours in the world they would not be able to arrive at a definite conclusion. The wife of a well known and esteemed Member of the House had boon very much before public notice lately on account of the part she had taken in the working and organisation of one of the hospitals sent out to South Africa. That lady had been speaking at a gathering in her own county, and her remarks formed a curious commentary on the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster. [Cries of "Name!"] He referred to Mrs. Bagot. She said—At the time of the epidemic at Bloemfontein she could not estimate fewer in the hospitals than 5,500 patients, and it was almost impossible to cope with such overwhelming numbers. There was one general hospital for 500 beds which had 1,700 patients crowded into it; another 1,600. The Portland Hospital had to stretch out its numbers from 100 to 150, and all other voluntary hospitals in the same proportion. One field hospital, intended for 100 men, to her certain knowledge at one time had over 400 patients, lying mostly on the ground. But what could they do in 144 a place where the only communication was a small railway line, by which everything required at the front, including food, horses, and men, etc., had to be brought? It was amazing that Lord Roberts was able to provide food for his men and horses during the whole of that anxious period. Despite the sufferings of the wounded and the sick, she never heard so much as a murmur or a complaint. As to the Government hospitals, they had done magnificent work. The staffs were simply untiring and devoted, and the patients were in every case as well looked after as was possible.He thought he was justified in reading that expression of opinion from a fairly competent authority. [An HON. MEMBER: It is corroboration.] He joined issue with the hon. Gentleman opposite. He considered contradiction what the hon. Member considered corroboration. It had been shown that as far as human foresight could go every possible effort was made to deal with these matters. It was clear that the relatives and friends of those engaged in the campaign had no right to accuse the Government of any lukewarm-ness.
§ *DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
I am very glad that we have had this debate, but I am bound to say that it has been to me a very sad and painful one, because I had looked upon the Army Medical Department work as the one bright spot in the many dark clouds which have passed over our military operations in South Africa, and it is a great and grievous disappointment to me to find that there has been this breakdown, assuming, of course, that the statements of the hon. Member for Westminster will bear the test of the examination to which they will be submitted. I am very glad that the First Lord of the Treasury was able to accept the idea of sending out to the seat of military operations a band of skilled physicians and sanitarians who will be able to give that substantial aid to the doctors out there which I think they require in order to hold their own and to meet the military necessities of the moment. My hon. friend has confessed that there have been grave drawbacks and difficulties at the front, and we hope, therefore, that this inquiry will be made a full, complete, and searching one, and that they will be able to put the saddle on the right horse. The hon. Member for Westminster has brought a series of indictments against the Army 145 Medical Department in South Africa. In a speech of two hours duration it is quite impossible to grasp the situation, and those of us who have not been to South Africa are not able to give an opinion as to how these things are working. I am bound to say, in justice to the Army Medical Department, that in spite of all these difficulties and complications, it is only right that we should judge them by results. The Under Secretary of State for War has stated to the Committee the very remarkable results in the case of typhoid fever. He has shown that the death-rate amongst enteric patients was only between 20 and 21 per cent., and I may say that that would be considered a fairly good ratio of success even in a London hospital, provided with all the attributes of modern civilisation; but out in South Africa, with bad sanitary conditions, no beds, and very little comfort, with everything going wrong, and with all the conditions of treatment considered by medical science to be necessary, we have better results than have ever before been attained in any large campaign, and the rate of mortality compares favourably with our military hospitals at home. I think the success which has been attained in this respect is truly remarkable and very creditable to those concerned. We have to remember the serious injury which expansive bullets had inflicted, for the use of these bullets by the Boers has been proved beyond doubt. I think that the ratio of success of from 90 to 95 per cent. in the treatment of the wounded is a testimony to the devotion and skill of the Army Medical Department. Much of this success has been due to the skilful way in which the first dressings were carried out on the field of battle. Of course the further treatment and dressings had to be carried out not only by the medical staff but by the skilled surgeons whom my hon. friend and his colleagues have sent out to the seat of war. I take exception to some of the statements contained in my hon. friend's letter. The hon. Member for Westminster has sneered at the opinions expressed by Sir William MacCormac and Mr. Treves at the dinner given in their honour when they came back to this country, after an arduous campaign. We are bound, I suppose, to admit that certain difficulties have occurred in the management of affairs out in South Africa, and what we 146 have to consider is who is to blame and how much of what has happened was avoidable. I am very glad that my hon. friend has paid a tribute to the devotion of the Army Medical Department. These men had to go out on the field of battle night after night, and I hope this House will recognise in every possible way that whoever is to blame, at all events the doctors on the spot, who were short-handed and working under very difficult conditions, are not in any way responsible for the condition of things which we all so much deplore. We have to find out exactly how the matter stands. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean seems to think that the Medical Department ought to have foreseen the awful conditions under which the troops have been obliged to serve, and the dangers of typhoid fever. If the water was contaminated with putrid masses of festering humanity typhoid, under those circumstances, would be un-preventible. I cannot free the Government from blame for not having foreseen the overwhelming possibility of a thing of this kind taking place, and for not remembering that a pestilence of this kind often dogged the footsteps of an army in the field. This outbreak of typhoid fever, although inevitable under the circumstances, might have been met a little more actively, and there might have been a little more completeness and elasticity in the arrangements made. I believe that the Government have sent out ample stores, but there has been a want of organisation in the distribution on the spot. It seems to mo to be something like what occurs during an Indian famine—there may be plenty of corn in one place, but because there is none at all in a certain spot the people starve. No doubt part of these disasters may be due to a very old cause, and that is that commanding officers have not always taken the principal medical officer into their confidence as much as they might have done. Upon this point I might go into an historical retrospect, and I could show how the medical arrangements in one war completely broke down because the principal medical officer was not taken into the confidence of the commanding officer. I may be wrong in this instance, but such things have happened in the past, and it is just possible that a similar reason may apply in the present 147 case. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, and other hon. Members in this House, have repeatedly brought up the question of the undermanning of the Army Medical Staff. They have repeatedly complained that the Army Medical Department has been too hard worked, and that they do not get that opportunity of studying which is necessary in order to keep them acquainted with the modern conditions of medicine and surgery. The refusal to thank the Army Medical Department for what they did during the Soudan War stung them very deeply, for not a single word of appreciation was expressed for the work which they had performed. Lord Roberts sympathises deeply with the sick and the suffering, and he has expressed his enthusiastic desire to do the best he can for the soldiers suffering from disease in the field. My opinion is that, whereas the military authorities at the War Office underrated the fighting capacity of the Boers, they also underrated the fighting capacity of enteric fever. Enormous possibilities might arise during a war in a country like South Africa, although there are a good many extenuating circumstances connected with the question under discussion. I should like to think that all they do is for the best, and I quite believe that all the preparations made here by the director-general were good, but muddling took place in consequence of want of organisation out at the front. How far this was due to the military exigencies under which the chief of staff took the transport which ought to have gone to the doctors we do not know, but the enormous extent of the country and the rapidity of Lord Roberts's movements are, I think, extenuating circumstances which may induce us to take a different view from that taken by my hon. friend the Member for Westminster. The mobility of the enemy in South Africa and the extent of the country has not been perhaps so fully appreciated as they ought to have been by those who made the arrangements for the campaign. But however that may be, and whatever may be said about the arrangements, I want to say the doctors out there have done good work and have done the very best they could under very difficult conditions; and not only this, but they have attained a measure of success, both on the medical and the surgical side, which is absolutely unprecedented in the history 148 of warfare, either ancient or modern. Whatever the faults may be, or on whoever you may place the responsibility, the doctors have done their work admirably, and in the treatment both of the wounded and of enteric patients they have achieved a result which is absolutely unknown in any campaign of former times. I am glad that we are going to have a full inquiry, and I think the hon. Member has done a, public service in bringing this matter forward, although I do not admit many of his statements. The hon. Member says he has seen these things, and all we have to do now is to find out who is to blame, and then we can put the saddle on the right horse.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
I agree with my hon. friend who has just spoken, that this debate must be, to a great extent, a very sad one to many of us, for we, nearly all of us, have close friends or relatives engaged in this war. A debate which in any way suggests that something has been left undone which might have alleviated the sufferings of those of our friends and near relatives must be a painful matter to consider at the present moment. I only wish to say one or two words, because I happened to be in South Africa when the war commenced, and I saw a good deal of what was going on during the early stages of the war in the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, Cape Colony, and Natal. I think it is idle to say that many mistakes were not made, for many things were left undone which might have been done. But we must remember that a very large war was sprung upon us, so to speak, and I think that it is a pity that we should exaggerate and emphasise those mistakes which have been so forcibly painted by the hon. Member for Westminster. War is a dreadful calamity, and perhaps it is an advantage that it is so, because it prevents nations from freely indulging in it. But after all, it is hardly fair to pick out isolated cases and paint them in vivid colours in the imagination of the public of this country, who are now grieving over the losses they have sustained, without also putting before them the other matters which the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War has mentioned. After the rapid march from Paardeberg there is no doubt 149 things were in a very serious condition, and enteric fever developed largely, as might have been expected. But anyone who, like myself, has travelled from Cape Town to Bloemfontein along the narrow line of railway, and who considers the enormous effort that it must have been to convey what was absolutely necessary to keep the Army alive, can hardly wonder that during the first few weeks some branches were not served with provisions and other necessaries as well as we should have wished them to be. I travelled over that line myself before the war broke out. It is a very small and narrow line, and there is not only the difficulty of getting things up the line, but there is also the difficulty of getting the empty trucks back again to bring up another load. I agree most heartily that there should be a most careful investigation, not so much with the idea of proving anybody wrong, but of seeing if we can by any possible means, as was suggested by Lord Roberts, do something which may prevent any such sufferings or calamities occurring again. That seems to me to be the great object of this inquiry. When I was out in South Africa I saw one or two incidents, which I could paint and exaggerate, and possibly make as much of as I am sorry to say I think the hon. Member for Westminster has done. But I do think that, in discussing a question such as this, we must bear in mind the whole of the circumstances; and knowing the distance and the difficulties of transport, it does seem to me that we should dwell more upon the brilliant successes of some phases of hospital life at the front than on the mistakes which were made. It is satisfactory to think that in spite of the difficulties of long marches—and I dare say it is quite true that many of the men had no beds, and that appliances were not forthcoming—by the heroism of our Army Medical Department such very remarkable results have been achieved as those which have been alluded to. The hon. Member for Westminster referred to the absence of female nurses. That is a question which I think should be freely discussed and gone into with great care. I think in the early stages of the war enough was not thought of supplying female nurses. The orderly system is, after all, a rough-and-ready system, only justifiable when nothing further can be undertaken. I am glad that the Government are going to send out a Commission, 150 particularly after what has been stated in the public press, because the public ought not to be left as things are with these statements before them. We must remember that if they have not themselves suffered, there is hardly a family which has not lost a member or a friend in this war, and if there has been any culpable negligence which has caused this great loss I think the nation should know of it. I have seen the country and know the distances and the difficulties, and I know Lord Roberts to be one of the most humane generals of the time, and we ought to hesitate in believing that there has been any neglect. The hon. Gentleman referred to a corpse being found in a hospital lavatory. Mentioning such a thing as that gives a certain jar to our feelings; but when one comes to consider it, it is a thing that might happen in the emergency of the moment and not be so bad as it seems to us, and I think to publish a statement of that kind to shock and upset the public in the way it has clone was wrong. By all means inquire into everything that has been done, and let us know the worst, though I should have preferred to have waited until the war is over. What we want is that this investigation shall not be governed by vindictiveness in any way, or by party feeling, but solely with the idea to throw a brighter light upon this matter and to learn, if there have been blunders, from our experience in the past.
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Many hon. Gentlemen have found fault with the hon. Member for Westminster for exaggerating and drawing on his imagination and drawing lurid pictures of matters which it would have been better to have concealed. I do not agree with that at all. I think that he is entitled to the greatest credit for putting before the public that which he no doubt saw. I am as content to take his statement as to what he saw as I should be to take the statement of the hon. Member for Central Sheffield as to what he saw. One fact which shows the importance of the subject to which attention has been drawn is the question which was put upon the Paper this morning by the hon. Member for York, which showed that 5,000 officers and men died of disease, and that 18,000 were invalided: thus you have 23,000 officers and men put out of 151 action by disease, and if that is not a fact justifying our attention I do not know what is. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster deserves the greatest credit not only for publicly describing what he saw, but for the facts which he has brought forward here. I believe he described as accurately what he saw as the hon. Member for Central Sheffield did what he saw; but they described different systems under different circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War in this debate said that in January there were 351 members of the Army medical service, assisted by 77 civilian doctors, sent from this country, and he told us that in June there were 456 Army doctors, and that 348 civilians had been sent out, and that other civilian doctors resident in South Africa were added in the later stages of the campaign. Now I do not wish to compare the abilities of Army and civilian doctors, but there is a lot of red tape in the Army. The hon. Gentleman told us that it would never do for a doctor to requisition this or that, he must go through the regular routine; the consequence is that when the Army doctor wants anything he knows where to get it; they can ruffle it with their military brethren and get what they want; but the unfortunate civilian who goes out cannot bring pressure to bear and is put aside. That would no doubt account for many of the difficulties existing to which the hon. Member referred. The Army Medical Department is totally inadequate to cope with our Army when in a state of war. It has been experienced by the Government again and again, and the utmost pressure has been brought to bear on the Government without adequate result. The hon. Member for Westminster in a number of statements, neither sensational nor exaggerated, seemed to me to point out a very grave defect in our system. He told us that in a certain hospital instead of twenty doctors there were only three; instead of, say, a score of trained orderlies there were only two or three, and that the others were untrained men, and he made reference to convalescent orderlies, that is to say men who had just recovered from illness, who were performing a duty for which they were physically unfit, and for which they had had no training, and which, owing to their not being in a good state of health, must have been neglected or improperly performed. Who would 152 imagine that the Army Medical Corps would have the nursing done by such men if they could get better? It shows that the trained orderlies are far fewer than they should be; that every fit man had to be sent to the front, and that the only men they could fall back upon were the convalescents. That could be remedied by a little more expense. There was a remark made that that was due to the deficiency of transport; I make every allowance for that and for the exigencies of war, but I cannot help thinking that it would have been very easy to have spared one cattle-truck to bring in wounded men; but that does not excuse the case of convoys sent down without any medical officer in charge, or even a trained orderly. It does not excuse the management at the Cape. That appears to be the most significant of the charges of the hon. Gentleman, and it seems to indicate that this fault lies nearer home than South Africa. He told us of two base hospitals at the Cape, each of which had a capacity for 520 patients, and that they were overcrowded to such an extent that there were 2,400 patients in them. But that is not all, he told us that the whole of the personnel of one hospital had been sent to the front, and that the care of the whole of these 2,400 patients devolved on the hospital staff which was left—a hospital staff which was calculated to cope with 520. This is a case of overcrowding and improper treatment of the sick which might have been excusable if it had been impossible to send up nurses and hospitals, but in this case nothing could have been easier than to have sent out equipment and personnel to Cape Town at all events, and to prevent any such undesirable state of things at the hospitals at the base. There has been some discussion as to the merits of female nurses at the hospitals as against the orderly system, and I do not wish to enter into that, but when you have not got trained orderlies female nurses would be infinitely better than untrained soldiers and untrained convalescent soldiers. Typhoid is a disease in which mortality varies enormously; in some cases it is extremely high and in other cases it is exceedingly low. There was an epidemic at King's Lynn some time ago where it was so low that in one hospital amongst sixty patients there was not a single death. That was not attributable to extraordinary medical skill, but to the 153 nature of the epidemic. It is impossible to compare one epidemic with another.
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON
Yes, but if you compared the King's Lynn epidemic by that average it would have shown a very good average. There is no disease in which diet is so important, and though it may be said that in the case of a soldier stricken down he cannot receive the same care and attention as he would receive at home, still, if there were loss deaths than the ten years average shows, that was not due to better care, but to the mildness of the attack. The right hon. Gentleman must admit that patients treated as these men wore must show a larger mortality than would have been the case had they been treated under more favourable circumstances. All that I wish to point out is that nothing that has been said about transport and military exigencies can explain away the condition described as existing at the base hospitals at the Cape. As to attributing these disclosures to any ill-feeling or lack of patriotism on the part of the hon. Member for Westminster, anyone has only to read his letter containing the description of the base hospitals, before he went up country, to find that it was of the most brilliant and glowing description. When hon. Gentlemen look at his letters they will agree that he described what he saw without fear or favour. I trust, without waiting for a formal inquiry, the War Office will ascertain whether this overcrowding exists at the Cape, and will at once take steps to remedy it.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
We have been in continual correspondence with South Africa for the last three months. These matters are governed by certain principles. Those principles are, however, expansible, and do expand, and we do send out more doctors as required. All we have been asked for we have sent.
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON
That is just the kind of official defence with which I am but too well acquainted.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Is it an official defence to ask Lord Roberts what he wants, and then to send on what he asks for?
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON
Lord Roberts is not at the Cape; he has quite enough to do without attending to the medical details. Here is a case where the whole staff of a hospital has been sent to the front, and the care of two hospitals, overcrowded to an extent which must have taxed the energies of the staff to the utmost, has been devolved on the staff of one. Is it too much to ask not that Lord Roberts should be bothered with the matter, but that the right hon. Gentleman should do what was done in the case of India—telegraph to the person in charge, and see what he wanted.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
All that has been done. We are in correspondence with the senior medical officer at Cape Town, and also with General Forestier-Walker, and we have done all that is to be done.
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman intended to deceive, but I do not think he can have been in correspondence with the person actually in charge. However, in the interests of humanity, a statement of the kind that has been made ought to be inquired into, and if the hon. Gentleman does not inquire into this matter the country will not consider red tape a sufficient excuse for his not doing so.
§ *GENERAL RUSSELL (Cheltenham)
said the question which was now being discussed had been before the country for the past two days, and had caused a shock almost unexampled in this generation. He personally had seen a great many officers and men who had returned invalided to this country, and he possessed a great many friends now in South Africa with whom he was in correspondence, and few had greater opportunities of becoming acquainted with what went on behind the scenes than himself. He might say there was a general consensus of opinion that the hospital arrangements at the commencement of the war had been excellent. Then there had occurred an outbreak of typhoid fever under circum- 155 stances of exceptional difficulty. He spoke with great sympathy upon the matter, having had some experience of typhoid in a campaign, and no one could read the letter from the hon. Member which appeared in The Times, or listen to the statement he had made that evening, without a feeling of the greatest horror. The Committee ought to approach this subject, not in a party, but in a national spirit, and hence he was very glad that the motion which had given rise to the debate had been moved by a Member on the Government side of the House. At the time of the Atbara campaign he drew attention to what he considered were the most defective arrangements for succouring the wounded, but he was met with a denial of his statement, a denial based, no doubt, on insufficient information, because he met men who had been through that campaign, and he found his statements had been perfectly accurate, although they were officially denied. At the time of the Khartoum expedition a great change was made, a large number of additional doctors were sent out, all the appliances which science could devise were despatched, and hence at the attack of Khartoum everything was done to mitigate the suffering of the sick and wounded. He did not think a strong case had been made out on this occasion against the War Office. The hon. Gentleman had stated that more stores were sent out than were required, and he did not think that the War Office, or the hon. Gentleman who sat before him were the persons with whom fault should be found. He thought, however, there ought to be some explanation of how such a lamentable state of things came about, and at the same time he desired to point out to the Committee that the conditions of South Africa were such as to make an outbreak of typhoid fever almost a certainty. All the water for the troops had to be drawn from streams wherein people washed, and into which cattle wandered. At Paardeberg the river was filled with dead men and horses. He remembered perfectly well after the Zulu war, under the most favourable sanitary conditions, the bodies of troops moving about being very small, there were still a number of cases of typhoid caused entirely by bullocks suffering from the rinderpest going into the water to die, and men drinking the water. The water of the 156 streams was so bad that when he was in charge of the military base hospital at Ladysmith he had scouting parties up the stream to see if any bullocks had died there, and, if so, to drag them out. Strict orders were also given that all water should be boiled, but upon a campaign of such rapid marches as that in South Africa at the present time, to boil all the water drunk was an impossibility; the men would have to drink what they could get, and typhoid was bound to appear. He failed to understand why, when there were a number of buildings in Bloemfontein unoccupied by the inhabitants, they were not used for the benefit of the wounded. Lord Roberts had been very justly called a humane general, but he (General Russell) ventured to say that had Germany or France been in that town there would be scarcely a house that would not have been cleared out, not only for the fever patients but also for the wounded. Under all the circumstances he could not believe that the facts as stated by the hon. Member for Westminster had been put before Lord Roberts. In his opinion, the Committee ought to know whether this matter was ever brought before the Commander-in Chief, or whether it only went before his Chief of the Staff, because everybody was fully aware that Lord Roberts had more to think about than hospital matters, his first care being to defeat his enemy. Many other duties must of necessity have been delegated to responsible staff officers. What ought to be done was to discover whether the representations were made by the principal medical officers, and if they went to Lord Roberts, or whether they only went before the Chief of the Staff and were disregarded by him. That was a matter which should be made perfectly plain. The question was a serious one; and another point which should be cleared up was how these hospitals at Capetown were allowed to fall into the condition described by the hon. Member for Westminster. He was sure that no one would be more anxious to prevent a recurrence of these evils than Lord Lansdowne, the Secretary of State for War. He thought that the hon. Member for Glasgow was right when he said that the Royal Army Medical Department was totally incapable of grappling with a great emergency like this, and we should have a reform and a reorganisa- 157 tion of that Department and all connected with it. He knew that the Government had had difficulties in regard to the Department, and that it was extremely hard to get good men. He thought a grievous mistake had been made in abolishing the regimental system, with the result that doctors in charge of regiments were changed almost from day to day. Hence necessarily medical officers could know nothing of the men whom they had to attend; and he earnestly hoped that the whole system would be so modified that a medical man would be attached to every regiment and battery. He could only repeat that hon. Members on his side of the House would welcome the proposed inquiry with the greatest pleasure, and he earnestly trusted that it would produce good results, so that our soldiers who went to fight our battles might have the best care and attention it was possible to give them.
§ MR. C. H. WILSON (Hull, W.)
said he had listened with the greatest interest to the courageous statement made by the hon. Member for Westminster. He had had correspondence from South Africa, and especially one letter which seemed to bear on this subject from an entirely independent and unbiassed source. He had shown the letter to the hon. Member for Westminster, as it fully supported the statements that gentleman had made, statements in which he believed he had the entire sympathy of the country, and certainly the support of hon. Members on the Liberal side of the House; but so far as he could judge, he was afraid that Conservative Members had endeavoured to minimise and lessen the intense importance of those revelations. The country knew of the frightful loss of life which had taken place, and this was a matter which ought to be brought before the House. The letter to which he referred was from his son, who six months ago went out as a member of the City of London Imperial Volunteer Corps. The date of the letter, which was to the writer's sister, was 24th April, and in it were these words—All the English papers say that the hospitals are so wonderful, but as a matter of fact they are scandalously managed. Our own men will not go to hospital now, as they get less food and attention than with the regiment.158 He simply wished to read that statement to the Committee, as it bore its own weight of evidence. The speeches from the Government side of the House had been somewhat sentimental and not matter of fact; but here was a simple statement bearing on this great question, and it was only fair to the hon. Member for Westminster, who had had the courage to bring up this subject, that he should, as far as he was able, give him his support in demanding an inquiry in regard to this crying evil. They all knew of the deficiencies of this campaign; they knew of the deficiencies in guns, and now they knew of the deficiencies in medical stores. Those who were familiar with the history of the Crimean War knew that history always repeated itself, and still at the War Office there was the same want of prevision which had resulted in this enormous loss of life among the best men of the country. Who were responsible for this? In his opinion, it was the War Office.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said the interesting point at which they had now arrived in this discussion prompted him to ask how those gentlemen opposite were going to vote. Were they going to vote for this grant of £5 to the Government, or were they not? That would be the test of their sincerity. Every kind of attack had been made against the Government. He was not given to the defence of the Government; but on this occasion it seemed to him that the Government had made a most complete answer to these attacks. The Government had been accused of every kind of official neglect: that there were not enough nurses or doctors or medical stores, and perhaps the hon. Member who had just spoken would say, not enough ships. Did hon. Members remember that war was a very terrible business, that it entailed necessarily an enormous amount of suffering, more especially when the lines of communication, as in this case, were extremely long, and that all supplies and men had to be carried over a single line of railway? It should be remembered that the distance from Cape Town to Pretoria was 1,000 miles—as far as from here to Gibraltar. He was astonished to hear the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, whose knowledge of 159 these things was very complete and very accurate, and who gave his knowledge to the House in a continuous stream of a most interesting character—[HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!]—interesting to him, at any rate, if not to the hon. Baronet's friends—he was surprised to hear the hon. Baronet adduce the German campaign against France as having some kind of parallelism with this South African war. He talked of the number of wounded after the battle of Gravelotte, and Mars-la-Tours, and said that the Germans were perfectly capable of dealing with them. But the Germans were in the middle of a network of railways thoroughly equipped with rolling stock. The difference was enormous. Let the Committee remember that the whole of this question was a question of transport. If it had not been for the length of the lines of transport these difficulties would never have arisen. It was true that something had been said about the hospital at Cape Town, whore the difficulties were not the same as up country; but he thought that that was the weakest part of the case made out by the hon. Member for Westminster. He found some defects in the hospital at Cape Town, but these defects were in consequence of the removal of some of the staff in order to cure the defects further up the line. The hon. Member said that there were not enough orderlies, but that was because they had been removed from Cape Town to Bloemfontein, and they were being replaced from day to day by constant arrivals from England. With regard to the camp at Maitland, he really thought the hon. Member had made out no case at all. It was a camp of convalescents, and in the instance the hon. Member gave the sergeant in charge apparently did not recognise that a man with a high pulse and a high temperature had fever, and did not get the man removed. He did not think that it followed that because a man had a high temperature it was at all necessary to remove him. He would rather take the opinion of the hon. Member for Ilkeston than that of the hon. Member for Westminster; in fact he should as soon have that of the sergeant.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
What I did was to secure the attendance of a doctor to see this man. The arrangements of the convalescent huts provided 160 for the patients being left in the hands of an untrained sergeant.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Quite so; but if he were in a convalescent camp, and the hon. Member came to him and said, "Your temperature is high, and I will send for a doctor," he might reply, "That might be another danger to what I am already in." This debate had been long but useful. His belief was that in no previous campaign of which there was any record had there been so little unnecessary loss of life, either from wounds or sickness, as in this. That was his deliberate belief, and he was an entirely independent person, and had endeavoured to inform himself of all the facts of the case. Of course he understood that other people might arrive at a contrary impression. What he wished to point out was. that the hon. Member for Westminster went out to South Africa not as a commissioner, or even as a Member of this House, because he was acting against the rules of the House when he went out there without permission. He went out, he was sure, for the very best of motives and intentions, and he was certain that the hon. Member's efforts and all that he said to-night would result in good. But the chief result would be the bringing homo the conviction that in this war, at any rate, the War Office had done about as well as they could, and the medical staff as well as could be expected. The hon. Member having gone to the seat of war not in a scientific or official capacity, but as a war correspondent, it was his duty to find out remarkable cases and bring them before the public in his paper. He said to himself, "If I can find any evil case in connection with the Medical Department it will be my duty to paint it in the strongest colours and bring it before the British public." [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!] He thought if hon. Members consulted the editor of a newspaper they would find that that was the view the editor would take. Well, the hon. Member had told them that in his opinion the fault was not so much here as in South Africa. If that were so, what was the case against the Government? But if it was in South Africa, with whom was the fault? Was it with Lord Roberts? Scarcely, he thought. Was it with the Royal Army Medical Department? There again, if the Government sent out a sufficient number of orderlies, nurses, and 161 doctors, surely they should not be held responsible for failure. Therefore he thought that the argument against the Government had most completely failed. It must be remembered that a general in the field had first of all to look to the safety of his army, including the sick and wounded; for unless he provided a sufficient supply of food and ammunition the whole army, including the sick and wounded, would otherwise be exposed to destruction. Undoubtedly, however sad and melancholy it might be to make the revelation, the claims of the wounded and the sick must come next to that vital necessity. The hon. Member said that there might be a reasonable inroad on military exigencies. Who was to be the judge of that reasonable inroad? Who but the general in the field? He alone could tell the necessities of the Army. Nobody else could say what road he had to take, what dangers he would have to encounter, what the enemy he would have to meet; and no person who went out from this country without a knowledge of all strategic necessities could tell what was a reasonable inroad on military exigencies. If they did not leave that to the general, they might just as well take the whole army from him. The hon. Member for Westminster complained insistently of the delay at Bloemfontein. Who was to be the judge of that? The hon. Member himself? Nobody but the Commander-in-Chief. [HON. MEMBERS: No, no!] Yes, that was part of the case. There was too much delay; military exigencies were too much considered. The point of the case was that there was not a sufficient number of orderlies. That was a question of transport. There was an inadequate supply of medical comforts and appliances. That also was a question of transport. It might perfectly well be that in a long train of wagons room might have been found for another wagon with these medical comforts and appliances. But who was to decide that? Surely the general in the field. They were not going to judge here in Whitehall or Pall Mall as to whether another wagon could be added to a long train. It would be absolutely impossible. That was a matter that must be left absolutely to the discretion of the general, and that general was the man to whom they must look with the utmost confidence. Now, in regard to Lord Roberts, it was not without pain that that distinguished 162 soldier would hear of the debate that night. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!] Yes, because he would feel that it was he who had been attacked. [HON. MEMBERS: No, no!] Lord Roberts would be as well aware as he was that the discretion of taking or leaving more ammunition, or more doctors, more food for the Army, or more orderlies rested with him, and with him alone, and he would feel that in the arrangements as between military necessities and medical necessities he was alone responsible. If there was one general in the British Army who was more keenly anxious that the sick and the wounded should be cared for it was, without doubt, that distinguished soldier; and he thought it would not be without pain that he would read some of the speeches made that night. [Ironical cries of "Hear, hear."] Another order of suggestion had been made by the hon. Member for Ilkeston. On the one hand the Royal Army Medical Department was denounced as incapable. He did not think they were incapable; neither was that the charge made by the hon. Member for Westminster, who said that there were not enough members of that corps to fill the proper places for them. That was not a charge of incapacity. The hon. Member for Ilkeston had offered to go out as a commissioner at the beginning of the war—a most patriotic offer—but he did not know whether, if he had gone out, he would have met the circumstances of the case. Did the hon. Member suppose that if he had gone out to South Africa at the beginning of October the difficulties of transport would have been less, that Lord Roberts would have taken a different view of the relative necessities of the military and medical exigencies? The hon. Member suggested that there had been too much cheeseparing in regard to the Royal Army Medical Department, but it seemed to him that if there was one Department more than another which had been absolutely spoiled it was the Royal Army Medical Department. They had received increased pay, increased allowances, and glorified titles. The view which the hon. Member for Ilkeston took of a camp was that it should consist of a medical officer with a few gentlemen to provide interesting cases. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!] He was putting it in a strong way in order to let hon. Gentlemen opposite understand what he meant. 163 His belief was, first of all that there never was a campaign, considering all the conditions, considering the length and imperfect nature of the lines of communication, and considering the rapid advance and the changes of plans, in which the wounded and sick were so well looked after. Moreover, he would add that, considering the enormous interests at stake, considering the activity, the numbers, and bravery of the enemy, although one could not but be sorry for those who had lost their lives, the wonder was not that the number of those who had lost their lives by bullet and disease had been so large, but that it had been so small—a smaller number, in fact, than we had lost in a single battle in campaigns of far less importance. This debate had shown to him, as an outside and impartial observer, that Her Majesty's Government had been scarcely impugned; certainly no case had been made out against them. The case suggested against the authorities at the Cape was of the slightest, and the other and larger case suggested against Lord Roberts, that he had attached too much importance to the military exigencies compared with the medical, had broken down. Her Majesty's Government were to be congratulated upon having given the hon. Member the opportunity of bringing this question forward.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon)
Hon. Members on this side of the House have been accused of treating this question with levity. This is a matter in which there has been considerable human suffering, and in which there has been the loss of very valuable lives, and when so skilled a debater as the hon. Member for King's Lynn is reduced to such an expedient in order to defend this case, then I think we may come to a fair conclusion as to what the character of that case must be. The hon. Member for King's Lynn has said, and said truly, that Lord Roberts has been attacked; but I should like to ask by whom Lord Roberts has been attacked? The charges brought by the hon. Member for Westminster have not even been challenged. The speech of the Under Secretary for War was simply by way of confession and avoidance. No one who knows anything about the circumstances has got up 164 and challenged the accuracy of a single statement made by the hon. Member for Westminster. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Sheffield, who delivered a very remarkable speech a few minutes ago, and whose experience and military position give his opinions considerable weight in everything he says in matters of this character, practically added the weight of his experience to the indictment which was drawn up by the hon. Member for Westminster. What is the defence of the Under Secretary of State for War? It amounts to this—that everything that was asked for by Lord Roberts was given him. What does that mean? It means that the responsibility does not rest with the Government. The facts are admitted. The Government admit this terrible array of facts, and, therefore, the inference we are called upon to draw is that the Government have cast the responsibility for what has happened upon Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener. The hon. Member for King's Lynn is perfectly right, for there has been an attack upon Lord Roberts—and a very mean attack—but the attack has not come from Members on this side of the House, but from those who ought to defend Lord Roberts. These facts have been corroborated by perfectly independent testimony. I see in papers which have hitherto supported the policy of the war throughout—in fact, who have done their very best to promote this war—letters from war correspondents not merely corroborating the case of the hon. Member for Westminster, but making even more serious charges. Take what has appeared to-day in what I will call a very well-known jingo paper from one of its correspondents at the front—and it is rather significant that this correspondent never made these charges until he came home. When he was at the front and had to get his messages passed by the censor he confined himself to attacks upon the Boers, but when he comes home what does he say? He says that all the time he was at Bloemfontein he was haunted by the horror of the neglect and cruelty to the sick. He writes a good deal more of the same category. The correspondent I allude to is Mr. Julian Ralph, and yet we are told that the responsibility does not rest upon Her Majesty's Government, who have sent an abundance and even a, superfluity of stores to Cape Colony. What 165 does this correspondent say with regard to Natal? He says that he heard there of a case where a private citizen supplied bandages to one of the hospitals in Gape Town.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
How can the hon. Member reconcile that statement with the fact stated in the telegram I have read to the Committee asking us to stop sending surgical material?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I can only reconcile it by saying that it is a Daily Mail statement. Besides, I do not think that that is a sufficient answer, because the whole case of the hon. Member for Westminster is that even if those appliances were at Cape Town they did not get to the sick and the wounded, either through the red tape or insufficient staff. The hon. Member has not challenged the accuracy of the statements. I do not suggest that what the Under Secretary for War has stated is not a fact; but if is true it rather strengthens the case of the hon. Member for Westminster that, although there was such a quantity of bandages there, they were not supplied to the sick and wounded in the hospitals. There is another case which comes from Birmingham, and I need hardly state that, therefore, on the face of it, it bears the stamp of truth. It is the case of a Birmingham soldier who was invalided home, and he says that he frequently saw naked men in a delirious state wandering about on cold nights, and that he himself had to wait seven or eight hours before he could get a drink of water, and that although he was in the hospital twenty-one days he never saw a nurse. I do not quote from papers which are in the habit of adversely criticising Her Majesty's Government, because statements of that kind must be open to suspicion. Here is a statement made in another paper which supports the war. It asserts that an officer under Lord Methuen had stated that our soldiers were absolutely tortured to death by unnecessary jolting. These are rather significant statements following the attacks which have been made upon the Boers, and the inhumanity and the barbarity of the Boer ambulances, which have proved to be so superior to our own that many of our wounded have preferred to be captured by the Boers rather than 166 endure the terrible vista of suffering which they saw before them in the British ambulance. That statement was made on the authority of the Daily Express. After all, these statements are not challenged by Lord Roberts. I have road his letters very carefully, and the facts are practically admitted by the Under Secretary for War, and by Lord Roberts us well. There is the case of the Welsh hospital. When it reached Capetown it could not get to the front for days for lack of transport. The most crying necessity existed for it at the front, but they could not get it there. At last this hospital was sent off in charge of someone at Cape Town, who did not know how to put up the hospital, and the major in charge had to do the work himself, because the men supplied at Cape Town did not know how to fix up the tents. The result there has been deplorable. Professor Jones, who volunteered to go to the front, who is one of the finest men Wales has produced, is dead, and one or two other members of his staff died, very largely through the defective arrangements. These are the complaints which have come home from that quarter. These are the kind of complaints that have come from all directions, and I think they deserve something more than the consideration which they have received to-night from several hon. Members on the other side. I venture to say that the one great lesson of the whole of this business is that it has brought home to the people of this country the inevitable horrors of war. There is nothing which struck me more in the eloquent speech of the Under Secretary for War than what he said in his opening statement to the effect that all this human suffering was inevitable. If it was inevitable, I wonder whether the Colonial Secretary knew it during his negotiations with the Transvaal? I cannot believe that any man with all this vista of suffering in front of him would have proceeded with the recklessness which the right hon. Gentleman has shown. All this suffering has taken place for the one-tenth which was "not worth fighting for." There is a statement in the papers to-day by Dr. Treves, which shows that the whole business has been one series of horrible miscalculations. He says that at the battle of Colenso instead of sixty or seventy wounded they actually had 800. This is an illustration of the 167 miscalculation which has dogged the footsteps of this war from the very outset. How is it that there is an insufficiency of medical appliances? We now have plenty of bandages, doctors, and nurses, although we did not have them at the critical moment. And why? Because the Government sent out an army of 50,000 men to accomplish a task which they now admit 220,000 is not more than sufficient for. Knowing the facts, knowing the number of guns and the number of the enemy, still they make this horrible miscalculation at the beginning. If 50,000 or 60,000 men were sufficient, of course the medical appliances would be in proportion to the number of men. But when it was discovered that the force originally sent out was utterly inadequate the whole of their arrangements absolutely broke down, transport and all. [Cries of "No, no!"] It is said the facts prove that it is all a question of transport. But, after all, transport is a question of arrangement weeks and months beforehand. Similar statements to this made in the course of this debate have been received with laughter, but let me point out that in an answer given by the Under Secretary of State for War, he stated this was a matter of weeks. Lord Roberts complained of the insufficiency of locomotives and rolling-stock. Of course you cannot got locomotives and rolling-stock in three weeks.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
My case is that if there was an insufficiency of transport it is not a question of weeks but of months, and according to the Under Secretary it is a question of nine months.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I know that rolling stock of any other gauge would be perfectly useless. The whole business is one of miscalculation. The diplomacy was miscalculated, the arrangements for the war were miscalculated, and you miscalculated the resisting powers of the Boers or whether they would resist at all. There has been a complete want of knowledge of local circumstances. There is one thing 168 which strikes me as very remarkable in the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster. He asked, when it was a question of saving so many human lives, what difference would a day make in the date of the advance? That question was received with hilarious and contemptuous laughter by the Leader of the House and the Under Secretary for War and by another great military authority. I must say that I fail to see why they laughed at such a question. There was evidently a great hurry to get to Pretoria. It was to be captured by a certain date, on which the war was to be declared at an end. Of course, I will not say that it had anything to do with the General Election. I should not have made that suggestion except for the fact that no one doubts in this House that the lives of the troops have been sacrificed in Natal and in other places to political exigencies. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] I repeat that the lives of our troops have been sacrificed to political exigencies. [An HON. MEMBER: Horrible!] But anyone who reads the despatches must come to that conclusion. There were sacrifices of this description at the Modder River in the great hurry that was shown to relieve Kimberley. It was recklessness with regard to human suffering and the loss of human life which led to the war, and that is at the bottom of all this series of disasters which have so impressed the country, and for exposing, which the country owes a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Westminster.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am not, I think, in the habit of using strong language in this House, but I deliberately say that in all my experience of our1 debates in this House I have never heard a more discreditable speech—
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
I rise to order. I wish to know whether it is Parliamentary for the right hon. Gentleman to say that an hon. Member has made a discreditable speech.
I do not see anything un-parliamentary in the expression, which I have heard frequently used on both sides of the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think the interruption of the hon. Baronet was wholly unnecessary. I repeat that in all my political experience I have never heard a more discreditable speech than the one which has fallen from the hon. Member for Carnarvon. He was not content with deliberately suggesting that the Secretary for the Colonies had, for his own purposes and with an utter disregard for the sufferings of other people, rushed the country into this war; but he went on to say that the lives of our soldiers in Natal, in the Orange Free State, and in the Transvaal had been deliberately sacrificed for political objects—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Meaning by that, obviously, that the generals in the field—spurred on, we must assume, by directions from home—had engaged in military operations not otherwise justifiable, not in themselves humane, but prompted solely by political exigencies—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not sully my lips by saying that that is wholly untrue. I do not stoop to defend either my colleagues or myself from insinuations of that kind; but I say for a Member of this House to accuse our generals of being the tools of party, of being men prepared to see their soldiers unnecessarily butchered before their eyes, or subjected to untold tortures to please a body of politicians at home—for that is what the hon. Member said—I say that to adequately characterise such a statement as that the word "discreditable" is utterly inadequate; and if I could use a stronger expression which would be consistent with our Parliamentary manners I should undoubtedly make use of it.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I never made any charge—[Cries of "Oh!"] Will you kindly wait until I finish what I am about to say? I never made any charge against our generals. The charge I brought was against politicians, and I adhere to it. But the allegation of my having made a charge against the generals in the field is absolutely untrue. Whatever orders the generals in the field got they were perfectly justified in carrying out. It is a lie.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will not express my opinion at greater length in regard to the speech of the hon. Member, and I turn to other Members who carried on this controversy with little actual fairness to the Government, but certainly with no desire, I believe, to misrepresent the Government or the actions of our officers in the field. I regret the nature of some of the attacks which fell from my hon. friend the Member for Westminster—attacks not dwelt upon at any length,, but which, I think, were insinuations or suggestions that might with advantage have been left alone. There were two which specially remain in my mind. One was against the newspaper correspondents in the field, because he distinctly implied that these gentlemen, on whom we so largely rely for our information, doctored that information for the purposes of their own newspaper, or in order to maintain favour with the authorities at the front.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
As far as I can remember, I most distinctly deny that I ever charged the correspondents with doctoring their information for any purpose.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My hon. friend did say that we could not absolutely trust the statements of the correspondents in the field, because they had a strong motive for making their reports agreeable.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
I made a very long speech, but I believe that I am in the recollection of the Committee when I repeat that what I said was that a correspondent could not cable owing to the censor, and that if he wrote home he was open to the danger of whatever he wrote being cabled back within two and a half weeks, and that then I did not envy the position in which he was placed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It may be my own denseness, but I certainly interpret the statement which my hon. friend has just repeated as carrying with it the suggestion that a correspondent would not write letters of that kind because he should have a very unenviable lot if he did write them. That is all I suggest. [An HON. MEMBER: You said "doctored."]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have many other important matters to deal with. There is only one other observation of my hon. friend of an incidental character to which I will call attention, and that is his suggestion that the tradition which he represents as having been in force some time ago among soldiers to be afraid of the hospital authorities was one which still had some force. I am sorry my hon. friend made that suggestion. I believe it to be wholly unfounded. All the information which has reached me, from whatever source, shows that the soldiers, whether there has been a sufficient amount of medical attention or not, at all events have appreciated, from the beginning to the end of those unhappy military operations, the unvarying kindness of the doctors and other attendants, and I am sorry that my hon. friend should have made a suggestion which must cause the greatest pain to those who have devoted themselves to the sick and wounded. I now pass to the main sub-stance of the attacks which have been made to-night. Those attacks may be divided into the attacks on Her Majesty's Government and the attacks on Lord Roberts. The attacks on Her Majesty's Government are evidently what really animates hon. Gentlemen opposite. They want to extract from this episode, and from my hon. friend's letter, material for a party fight. I make no such suggestion against the only hon. Gentleman who has spoken from the Front Bench opposite; but those who have heard the speech we have just listened to, and other speeches which have preceded it, will not for a moment suggest that my statement is overcoloured. Unfortunately, it is impossible in this debate, with the best will in the world, to strike an effective blow at Her Majesty's Government without striking that blow through Lord Roberts, and that is the real perplexity in which debaters of the class of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon have found themselves from beginning to end in this matter. My hon. friend whose letter to The Times started this debate has himself reiterated over and over again that, so far as his observation and his knowledge of the facts are concerned, he does not believe that any defi- 172 ciency is to be traced to an insufficient supply of medical stores at headquarters. With the supply of an adequate number of men and an adequate amount of medical stores in South Africa it is evident that the direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Government ends, and must end, and afterwards that it rests with the military authorities on the spot to use those stores and those men to the best advantage. And if the amount of medical stores and the men be sufficient, the only question we have got to ask is whether those men and those stores have, after they arrived in South Africa, been used to the best purpose by the authorities on the spot. I do not believe that it has been seriously asserted by anybody that an insufficient amount of medical stores has been sent. Directly we come face to face and close with the facts, it all turns on the question of transport, and that was admitted by—in fact, it was part of the argument of—my hon. friend the Member for Westminster. It is, and must be, admitted by anyone who has heard the facts that we are really ultimately driven to consider whether or not the military authorities—Lord Roberts and his subordinates—were well advised in using the limited means of transport in the way that, as a matter of fact, they actually did. That really is the question, and therefore you are, and must be, attacking the military authorities on the spot and not the Government at home when you deal with the deficiencies, or the alleged deficiencies, which have occurred at Bloemfontein and elsewhere. And that is why I say that, with obviously most earnest desire to wound her Majesty's Government, it is the general in the field who really has been struck at. Let me now, parenthetically, allude to the one constructive suggestion I have heard in the course of this debate. Most of it, as I have said, has been criticism, some of it party criticism, but there was a suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ilkeston Division which I think is the only contribution of a constructive character to the problem with which we have to deal. The hon. Gentleman suggests that there ought to have been a kind of roving committee of independent medical men who should, in his own phrase, stand between the military medical authorities and the generals in the field. I do not think I misrepresent his views. Was ever such 173 a proposal made for rendering impotent an army in the field? As I understand the hon. Gentleman, Lord Roberts is to say to this roving consultative medical committee, "I mean to make a rapid march through the country, covering such and such a distance, and I shall be able to take with me only such and such an amount of medical stores." And thereupon the medical committee will say, "If you do that a great many of the soldiers will remain without adequate medical comforts and with an insufficient number of medical attendants, and, in the name of humanity, we must ask you to march a little slower." I really cannot imagine anything which would at once more effectually dislocate both our military arrangements and our medical arrangements, and, whatever shortcomings there may be in the present system, the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say, with all respect, that that system is much better than the one he recommended. Before leaving the hon. Gentleman, may I make one other observation on a matter on which he speaks with far greater authority to the Committee than I can pretend to. He has discussed, with all the knowledge of a great doctor, the amount of mortality which ought to attend this outbreak of typhoid—a mortality, let me remind the Committee, of 21 per cent. of the cases, and admittedly lower than the mortality in such cases in any war in which we have ever been engaged, and lower, I believe, than in any war in which any other Power has ever been engaged. [An HON. MEMBER: No!] Yes, I believe so; and comparing favourably not only with the mortality among soldiers in time of war, but with that among soldiers at home in time of peace, with the use of every possible medical appliance. Then the hon. Gentleman comes and stakes his medical reputation on the statement that if there had been proper medical attention and appliances the mortality might have been reduced from 21 to 12 per cent. I am glad to think the hon. Gentleman's medical reputation is far too solidly based to be upset even by such a wild hypothesis, otherwise I should really be tempted to say he was indulging in the most extravagant imaginary statistics. Remember, the soldier in the field is at the time of life when a man is most susceptible to typhoid. The ordinary statistics in populations in 174 civil life give 15, 16, or 17 per cent., including infants, who do not usually succumb to the disease, and, of course, the percentage presents a much more favourable result than when it is applied to men in the prime of life at the most susceptible age. If we at home with our hospitals and appliances cannot reduce the mortality among soldiers below 21 per cent., is it not straining our faith in the hon. Gentleman's ability to ask us to believe that the percentage could be reduced to 12 among soldiers on service? I cannot really believe that the hon. Gentleman will, on reflection, adhere to his conjecture. I have said this is really an attack upon Lord Roberts and his staff, and that statement met with expressions of disfavour from the other side. But the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean said deliberately, if I do not misinterpret him, that the military authorities should have managed their transport so as to bring up more medical supplies.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
I do not deny that. I stated that I agreed with what had been said on that point by the hon. Member for Westminster, that under the circumstances of the case what had been done by the Germans at the moment of greatest pressure before Metz was equally open to Lord Roberts.
§ MR. BALFOUR
The right hon. Baronet not only says it on his own great authority, but also on that of the hon. Member for Westminster. That, then, is an attack on Lord Roberts and his staff, and nothing else. The whole question is one of transport, avowedly one of transport. If there could have been tents, doctors, nurses, medical supplies brought up to Bloemfontein with the desired speed, these things would not have occurred, and they occurred because the transport was not supplied. The hon. Member for Ilkeston says an outbreak of typhoid should have been foreseen and provided for. Well, it was foreseen, but how could it be provided for? How could we provide for an outbreak of typhoid when we could scarcely get to Bloemfontein the necessary supplies for the Army? I should almost be ashamed to labour the point after the brilliant speech of the Under Secretary for War, but it has been systematically disregarded all through. Has the Committee the least notion of how narrow 175 was the margin of supplies on which Lord Roberts made his phenomenal and historical march? Recollect, the success of the war, the rapid and effectual success of the war, turned upon the extreme rapidity of Lord Roberts's movements. So rapid was his advance that on one occasion we know as a fact from Lord Roberts that for a few hours he was in serious anxiety about the supplies of food and ammunition requisite for the existence of his army. The actual occasion was, I think, upon his getting into Johannesburg; but all through his march he was working on the very narrowest margin; men were sleeping in the open air night after night because tents had not come up, and the supply of provisions was the smallest compatible with safety. It was therefore impossible, fighting and marching at the rate he did, that he could have all the comforts and conveniences of a London hospital, or even the comforts of a hospital at the base; and, therefore, preparation at Bloemfontein was impossible. It could not be done. You may say what you like about the outbreak of fever, no amount of prevision would have prevented what happened in consequence of the difficulties of transport, and the difficulties of transport alone. I want to know whether the House thinks that anything is seriously gained by criticising in this way the decisions of generals in the field? My hon. friend the Member for Westminster brought forward many cases which came under his own personal observation of hardships, deplorable and lamentable, to the wounded at Bloemfontein and afterwards at Kroonstad. On the details of these statements I should not cast the least doubt, but I think we should hear what the doctors have to say on the other side. My hon. friend had a harrowing story of eight wounded men left on the platform nine hours at Bloemfontein. It is a horrible thing to contemplate. It makes one's blood run cold. But before we condemn the doctors—and I suppose they were the responsible persons for that at Bloemfontein—I think we ought to hear their case, and the more so as it is manifestly difficult to get at the truth in these matters. My hon. friend said the hospital at Cape Town was built opposite the mouth of an open sewer. I am told that that is a statement in which my hon. friend is mistaken. At all events it has been contradicted on high authority. 176 It is evident with regard to this particular case of the eight men left on the platform at Bloemfontein that we must have, and ought to have, the justification, if justification there be, of the local authorities; we ought to hear what the other side has to say before we pass an indiscriminate opinion. It is quite clear that the House is not capable with the information now before it of dealing with the details of the situation. I pass to the broad issue I wish to lay before the House, which is whether we should condemn the general in the field. [Cries of "No, no!"] What is the use of saying "No, no" when the hon. Baronet admits that I have not misrepresented him? When it is admitted, it may please hon. Gentlemen to allow me to make my statement without these interruptions. The broad issue is whether we should condemn the general in the field—[Cries of "No, no!"]—for making his military arrangements so that necessarily for a short period there was an insufficient supply of medical comforts, whether we are to insist that he shall limit the sphere of his operations, check the rapidity of his movements, dull the strength of his blow in order that there shall be not a moment's delay in tending the wounded. Sir, that is not war or humanity, nor the way to be successful in military operations, nor the way to save human life. If there is one truth more surely learnt than another in military history it is to bring war to a rapid conclusion and limit the inevitable human suffering by striking rapidly and hard, even though the immediate result may be momentary loss of human life. For my part I cannot imagine a worse lesson to teach the generals of this country than that whenever, by the exceeding rapidity of their operations, these sufferings are caused they are to be the subject of comment in Parliament and used as the counters of politicians like the hon. Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs, and that their credit and honour is to be made the plaything of contending parties. I hope the House will never lend itself willingly to this procedure. Let hon. Members attack the Government as much as they like. We are accustomed to it; it is our trade to listen to these comments, and we do so with the utmost philosophy. But do not let the House lend itself to attacks which, under the guise of attacks on the Govern- 177 ment, are attacks on generals in the field, and by attacking generals in the field sap the very foundations of our military strength.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
In the few words, Mr. Lowther, which I shall address to the Committee, I hope I shall be able to maintain a somewhat calmer temper than has been exhibited throughout the course of the somewhat long harangue—
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The speeches of the right hon. Gentleman never seem long, but this one did seem longer than usual in consequence of the high tone that was maintained. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by rebuking my hon. friend the Member for Carnarvon for having made a "discreditable" speech. Without applying such an epithet as that applied to the speech of my hon. friend, I think the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman at least commenced his observations was not worthy of him or the House or the occasion which has created the debate. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is an attack on Her Majesty's Government which really animates us, and I am not at all surprised to find that that sentiment was largely endorsed by the Secretary for the Colonies, for he gives us no credit whatever for any sympathy with suffering, no credit for a desire for an inquiry into what amount of faulty proceedings there may be in relation to the treatment of the sick and wounded in South Africa. According to the right hon. Gentleman we do not share at all the anxiety, the thrilling feelings which the people of this country have experienced by the revelations made by the hon. Member for Westminster. We have no feelings, apparently, of that kind; our one squalid idea is to attack, rightly or wrongly, Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that in a debate of this nature, originated in the manner to which I shall allude presently, it is worthy of his position as Leader of the House to make such an imputation. I have said I would refer to the circumstances in which this debate has arisen. How has it arisen? The hon. Member for Westminster published the letter in The Times to which such 178 frequent reference has been made. That letter so deeply moved public opinion that a number of us felt obliged to ask simple questions in order to ascertain what the view of the Government was with regard to it, and the right hon. Gentleman then got up, and what did he say? He did not blame the hon. Member who had written this letter. He did not blame us for asking questions on the subject, but he said that "the matter is so serious that the state of things disclosed so rightly calls for inquiry that we ourselves will institute an inquiry. We will send out a commission." [Mr. BALFOUR: No.] Did he not say so? Then what was the meaning of the indignation with regard to my hon. friend the Member for Ilkestone when he asked whether an inquiry would be made? The reply of the right hon. Gentleman was, "I said so yesterday." The right hon. Gentleman laid so much stress on this inquiry yesterday, he so recognised the natural desire of the House of Commons to discuss this serious matter, these great revelations, that he said, "We will go out of our way and invent a new method by bringing in a Supplementary Vote of £5 in order that the House may discuss the subject." Now he thinks that we forget all this, and says that it is we, with the world behind, who have invented this occasion to get up this attack, this rigged-up attack, on the Government. No, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman will find, I think, when he cools down a little that we have a perfect right to discuss this matter without having such imputations made upon us.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I call it an imputation. In a matter of this great gravity, of this solemn character, involving as it does the lives and deaths and sufferings, or escape from suffering, of thousands of our brave fellow-countrymen, the right hon. Gentleman will find that we are merely taking an opportunity which he gave us, and that we are not really animated by the sole desire to have a good party attack on the Government. The hon. Member whose writings in The Times originated the whole of this discussion must, I think, be on the whole thoroughly satisfied with the proceedings 179 of to-night. I am merely repeating what has been said before when I say that not one of his allegations, as I understand it, not one of the facts he has stated, has been disputed, certainly not controverted, on the part of Her Majesty's Government. And, therefore, the hon. Member stands in this position, that he has disclosed to the country a part, at all events, of the truth of this great matter, and he has done it in such a way that he can receive nothing but thanks from the community for doing it. Now, Sir, I have heard no reference made to-night to two curious passages in the paper that was circulated this morning. We have heard all along of the hon. Member for Westminster and of his papers in The Times. But in the War Office telegram to Lord Roberts the War Office say, "We are receiving private telegrams complaining of alleged general breakdown in hospitals," and then they go onto say, "A complaint of your hospitals at the front has just come in." That one complaint which has just come in was obviously a telegram from the hon. Member. But what are the other private telegrams complaining of a general breakdown? We have not heard any explanation of those. That telegram was sent on 5th June. A goad many days, and even weeks, elapsed, and on 20th June the War Office, who profess to have no knowledge of these mistakes and defects pointed out by the hon. Member, write, "We continue to receive disquieting reports as to the state of hospitals." We have heard nothing of what those disquieting reports, rumours, and complaints are. But, at all events, they show that Her Majesty's Government are not indebted only to the hon. Member for their information upon the subject. But the country at large is. The hon. Member's information came like a thunder-clap upon the country, because up to that time we had all been saying that, although many departments of the Army administration had surprised the country by their efficiency during this war, there was one which had excelled all others—namely, the medical department, and the country was under the belief that in regard to medical matters everything was at its best in the best of all possible departments in South Africa. The disclosure came as a great blow upon the country. Now, Sir, I cannot altogether divorce the surprise with which these revelations were received from the 180 very uneasy feeling which has pervaded a largo portion, at any rate, of the community, inducing us to doubt whether we were receiving really full and true information, not only in regard to hospitals, but in regard to other matters in South Africa. This is the first time, so far as I am aware, that this country has engaged in. a war on anything like this scale under the influence of what is called a censorship. To a censorship applied to purely military questions, to a censorship which restricts news which may be of a character capable of giving undesirable information, to the enemy, we all willingly bow and submit. But when we find, as we do, that military censorship applied to political matters, to private letters, to private telegrams, how can we fail to have some doubt—I will go no further than that—whether, after all, with all the newspapers and teeming intelligence around us, we understand really the full facts of the case? Now, Sir, the hon. Member's allegations have not been disputed nor disposed of, as I have said, but merely explanations and excuses have been made for them. This debate must necessarily be incomplete and unsatisfactory, because we are not in possession of the facts which would enable us as individuals to judge of what has happened. We do know certain bald facts. We know, for instance, that for every one man who has died of his wounds. in South Africa, two men have died of enteric fever. Roughly, I think, that is about the proportion. The question we have to consider is, generally, was this danger of great sickness and enteric fever realised and provided for by the Government and by their advisers? My hon. friend the Member for Ilkeston has related to us the part he took. He suggested that when you were sending out eminent surgeons to see that the surgical treatment of the wounded was properly conducted, you ought not to have neglected the weightier matter of sending out eminent physicians to advise as to matters affecting the sick. The right hon. Gentleman made game of my hon. friend's proposal. He talked of it as a roving commission which was to dictate to the generals what they were to do. Why did he send out surgeons? What is a patriotic act in a surgeon cannot be quite a crime in a physician. With regard to the general question, we have evidence on all hands that the probability of a great prevalence of this particular dis- 181 order was known to every one acquainted with the circumstances of South Africa. The right hon. baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean quoted from the Army Medical Report an account given last year of the liability of Ladysmith and that quarter to this particular disease. We want to know whether that danger was fully realised. The Under Secretary says that it was. Then was it fully provided for? We do not know, and we cannot know until this inquiry takes place. The second question is this—whether, during those weeks of waiting at Bloemfontein everything was done that could be done. The first epidemic was incubated elsewhere; but there has been a second outbreak since. Was not each of these attacks capable of being guarded against, or the results modified, by certain steps which might have been taken? The Under Secretary says that Lord Roberts's first duty was to feed the large army under him, and that then he had to accumulate stores as well as he could to keep them during their rapid advance. I suppose that the supply of nurses and orderlies would come afterwards. Some of us are not sure that they should have come afterwards.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I did not say they must come after accumulation. I said they must come after bare subsistence.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
That is a military matter. If they could come before accumulation of stores, it disposes of all your argument.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. You must prepare fifteen days subsistence for the advance, or you cannot make it.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
That is obviously a matter of opinion and judgment. The right hon. Gentleman says that we are condemning Lord Roberts. I say that I do not condemn Lord Roberts, because I have not knowledge enough to pronounce an opinion on the subject. That is precisely one of those subjects with which this inquiry, so strongly promised and so eagerly expected, must occupy itself. Apart from the allegations of the hon. Member for Westminster, which no one disputes—I mean 182 the allegations of fact—there is a case here of some neglect of ordinary care in some quarter. But we are not in a position to apportion the blame which, I think, is due to someone. I decline altogether to attempt to do so with the knowledge that we have. We have two hon. Members hero who have been to South Africa, and they take opposite views of the question. But the facts remain—the facts witnessed by the hon. Member for Westminster remain. The tremendous proportion of deaths remain, and they are surely sufficient to justify this discussion and to point the necessity for this inquiry. But I am indeed surprised to find that the right hon. Gentleman said nothing definite and positive about this committee of inquiry. Perhaps he was so much engaged in endeavouring to beat the wind and to raise party feeling that he forgot it. But it is obvious that no time should be lost, if it is not to be a sort of South African Committee to inquire after it is too late. It is to be a Committee to proceed to the spot and inquire; and I hope that that inquiry will be thorough and immediate. But there is another point. Several hon. Members have said that we may draw great lessons from all that has happened as to the future reorganisation of the Army Medical Department, and so forth. That is as to the future; and the state of things disclosed by the hon. Member for Westminster is of the past. But what of the present? There are 5,000 or 6,000 men in the hospitals at this moment—[Cries of "More!"]—some of them at Cape Town, in those hospitals which are independent of defective transport, and any faults of which cannot be distorted by the most ingenious mind into an attack on Lord Roberts. Have the Government and the War Office taken to heart any lessons from what has been disclosed and even from what is acknowledged by Lord Roberts and themselves to be a state of things which existed a few weeks ago? Are they guarding against a repetition of such horrors? Are we entitled to feel secure, as I hope that we are, that our countrymen will not be again exposed to that which they have already gone through with so much courage and endurance?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I have two questions I wish to ask the 183 First Lord of the Treasury. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition has just now urged that a Commission should be appointed immediately.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Lord Roberts only urges that men of common sense should be put on the Commission, whom, I gathered from his telegram, he did not anticipate would be found in this House. What I want to ask is, who is going to appoint this Commission? The right hon. Gentleman and his Government are persons concerned; their conduct is to be inquired into. If they are to appoint the Commission we know very well what it will be. It will be another whitewashing Commission. I do not know whether a Royal Commission or a Committee, or what, is to be appointed; but whatever it is, I think before the gentlemen are appointed we ought to have an understanding that their names should be submitted to the House of Commons, and that an opportunity should be given for some sort of discussion upon them. Otherwise, under the circumstances of the case, it is perfectly obvious that this Commission will give no satisfaction either to gentlemen on this side of the House or to the public generally. I do not know what are the views of the hon. Member for Westminster with regard to this Commission, which is proposed in consequence of the charges he has made, but I cannot suppose that he himself would not wish that the names should be submitted to the House and some opportunity given to Members of the House to suggest that this or that gentleman is not, perhaps, quite independent, or that some other gentleman should be put on the Committee. It is the only possible way in which an independent Commission can be obtained in this matter which will satisfy the exigencies of public opinion. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us he treats all this with philosophical calm. The right hon. Gentleman is a philosopher, and I have before now said that I sit at his feet as regards his philosophy; I believe in his philosophy much more than in his politics. But this is not a mere question for philosophers; it is a question for practical men, and we 184 want practical action in the matter. I am bound to say that unless we have this Committee or Commission practically appointed by both sides of the House the country will not regard it with that philosophical calm upon which my philosophical leader prides himself. There must be a full inquiry into the whole of this miserable state of things at Bloemfontein which has been revealed to the House now, but which has been carefully kept secret up till now. You may talk as much as you like about the correspondents, and say that they are independent. How is it, if the correspondents are independent, if they were not afraid of offending the powers that be out there, that while they were telegraphing and sending letters home, giving all sorts of news, some true, some false, they did not allude to what was going on at Bloemfontein? If it had not been for the fact that, fortunately for the country, the hon. Member for Westminster went there and had the courage to reveal in the press what he saw, we should know nothing whatever about this even now. There is another question I wish to ask. The Leader of the Opposition read a telegram that has been published and put into our hands today, saying that the War Office were receiving telegrams respecting the breakdown of hospitals. During the debate the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War said the War Office had been in correspondence with the Commander at Cape Town, and with the medical heads there. The Government promised, in giving us the Paper issued to us to-day, to lay every fact at their disposal before us. They have not done so. Here are two things we do not know, and I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman will agree to lay before the House this correspondence with the authorities at Cape Town.
§ Resolution agreed to; to be reported upon Monday next. Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn"—(Mr. Balfour)—put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned at five minutes before Twelve of the clock, till Monday next.