HC Deb 21 July 1902 vol 111 cc788-90

I wish, Sir, to ask for the indulgence of the House for one moment in order to make a personal explanation on a point of difference on a matter of fact which occurred between the right hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick and myself on Thursday last. In speaking in the debate with regard to Sir Redvers Buller, I had occasion to read a telegram, which I lay today on the Table of the House, in which there occurred an expression of opinion from Sir George White with regard to the time for which he could hold out in Ladysmith. With regard to that telegram the right hon. Baronet rose immediately after I sat down and said he wanted to refer to two things which I had said— To one," he said, "I wish to give a categorical denial on Sir Redvers Buller's behalf, and the other I wish to correct. The thing I wish to deny is that Sir Redvers Buller had knowledge as to the length of time the supplies in Ladysmith would last at the time when he wrote the dispatches after Colenso. Now, Sir, I think it right to read both the original telegram, which I now lay, and Sir Redvers Buller's acknowledgment of it— Telegram from Sir George White, No. 20 P, 30th November, 1800. Flashing signals clouds seen last night for first time. Following portion only read begin—' I do not yet know which Way I will come. How much longer could yon hold out? From Maritzburg, from Buller. Ends.' Commencement of message and date not read. Situation here unchanged, but enemy still mounting additional guns against some of our essential positions. I have provisions for seventy days and believe I can defend Lady-smith while they last. Hay or grazing in a. difficulty, I have thirty-live days supply of this at reduced ration. Small arms ammunition 5,500,00 rounds. Fifteen pounder guns, '250 rounds per gun, 4 7 naval guns, 170 rounds per gun, twelve pounder naval guns. 270 rounds per gun. 6 3 howitzers, 430 rounds per gun. Enemy learns every plan of operations I form, and cannot discover source. I have locked up or banished every supect, but still have undoubted evidence of betriyal. Native deserters from enemy and our native scouts report enemy much disheartened by news of advance on Free Suite, victory on Moon river, and consequent retirement north of Tugela river. With regard to road of advance towards Ladysmith I could give most help to a force coining via Underbrook Hotel or Springfield, hut enemy is making his positions on that side stronger daily. If force south of Tugela can effect junction with me, I believe effect will be immediate and decisive. At present cannot go large as I am completely invested and must reserve myself for one or two big efforts to co operate with relief force-It will be greate-t help to Lady-smith if relief force maintains closest possible touch with enemy. Hospital return—wounded 225, dysentery 71, enteric 15, other fevers 12, other diseases 109. Additional portion of message deciphered begins—' If you hear me attacking join in if you can. Ends.' Please repeat entire message. I will keep a good look-out and do all I can. In reply to that message— From General Buller, Maritzburg, to General White, Ladysmith. No. 58, December 4th, 1899. Your number 20 p, of 30th November received. I shall have concentrated four brigades of infantry, five batteries artillery, one regiment of cavalry, 1,000 mounted Volunteers, by the 6th December and shall attack. I cannot yet say which route hut, will (? communicate) with you in several cipher messages before I advance. I shall also send by searchlight messages in clear, but they will be false ones sent in order to deceive enemy. As I had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman made his statement in all good faith, I communicated this information to him, and informed him that I should toll the House of Commons that there was no question that the message had been received.

SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, BerWick)

Perhaps the House will be good enough to give me indulgence while I also speak in explanation. I trust they will allow me to do so in my own behalf as well as on Sir Redvers Buller's behalf. The right hon. Gentleman, to whom I am much obliged for having told me that Sir Redvers Buller had received and acknowledged this despatch, was also good enough to say that I might like to be the first to correct the mistake. Sir Redvers Buller has also given me a written explanation, and I thought it desirable to give his explanation, leaving the right hon. Gentleman to make his statement first. The right hon. Gentleman did not quote quite fully my words of the other day. I went on to add— He denies that in these words—' I did not know what supplies there were. I thought at that time I had officially in writing that the garrison could not be fed beyond the end of the year.' The right hon. Gentleman has quoted the despatch, which he said was in Sir Redvers Buller's possession. I think it is a faer surmise that it could not have been the only information in his possession, or information on which he thought he could rely. That is the full text, of the words I used the other day. Sir Redvers Buller informs me that his words "I did not know what supplies there were "were not intended to mean that he had never received this message from Sir George White. I need hardly say I did not know of this message, nor would Sir Redvers Buller, I think, have been entitled to give it to me in advance; but, of course, I am sorry I should have used his words to imply that he might not have received this message, though I ask the House to notice that I put that only as a surmise. He informs me that he did receive the message, but that it differed in essential particulars from the messages he had previously received, and that he considered that he had special reasons at the time for not relying on this particular information. I hope the House will accept this statement as being made in good faith. I think that the good faith is proved by that despatch of December 16 to Sir George White, asking him if he could hold out for as long as a month. General Buller has always admitted that he was mistaken about the supplies. I only put that to the House as evidence of the good faith which he bus observed.

Forward to