HC Deb 13 July 1915 vol 73 cc754-9
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

I beg to move, "That this House desires to place on record its grateful appreciation of the distinguished skill and ability with which General the Right Honourable Louis Botha planned and conducted the recent military operations in South-West Africa, and of the eminent services rendered by him and by General Smuts, and by the officers and the forces of the Union of South Africa under their command."

In making this Motion, I would point out that the attention of our people here has naturally been so concentrated upon the development day by day of the operations on the Western and Eastern theatres of war in Europe, they have probably not been able to follow with that close interest which it would otherwise have commanded the details of the remarkable campaign which has just been brought to such a triumphant conclusion in South-West Africa. I would indicate in a few sentences its leading features. Let me say, first, that His Majesty's Government early and very urgently requested the Government of the Union of South Africa to undertake this expedition, as in our opinion it was and is the most effective contribution for the time being that the Union could have made to the War.

The first objective of the Union troops was the capture of the German wireless stations on the coast at Luderitzbuch and at Swa-kopmund, which was to be followed by an advance on the capital Windhoek. Luderitzbuch was occupied as long ago as the 21st September. The force established there has ever since displayed vigorous and useful activity. Owing to the defection of Maritz, and the necessity of dealing with the rebellion that broke out within the Union, the expedition to Swakopmund had to be for the time abandoned, but by the second week in December the Union Government were, again in a position to take the offensive.

The Army was divided into four forces— Northern, Central, Southern, and Eastern. General Botha himself took command of the northern force, and the other three were eventually put under General Smuts. On the 14th of January of this year the northern force occupied Swakopmund and there followed during the succeeding months a series of sweeping and converging movements on the part of the various columns, which were admirably conceived and most skilfully carried out. May I note in passing, the heavy defeat inflicted on the enemy on the 1st of May at Gibeon, after a remarkable forced march by the central force under General Brits. On the 12th of May General Botha entered Windhoek with the northern force. The enemy fled to the north, and the whole German Colony south of Windhoek was placed under the Union administration. The pursuit which followed was rapid and most effective, and in it General Brits' column was reported to have marched forty-five miles in sixteen hours, and General Lukin's forty-eight miles in twenty hours.

By the end of June, the situation of the enemy had become desperate, and on the 8th of July General Botha brought the campaign to a glorious end. Three thousand five hundred prisoners were taken in the final surrender, with thirty-seven field guns and twenty-two machine guns, and the German Dominion of South-West Africa had ceased to exist. I may say on behalf of the Imperial Government that we have co-operated in every possible way by the convoy of troops, and by the provision of rifles and guns and ammunition. It must be remembered that the theatre of these operations was at once vast in extent, and singularly unsuited to military movements. Deserts of shifting sand, waterholes rare and often poisoned by the enemy, mines thickly strewn, no pasture for the baggage train, railways torn up and destroyed—those are a few of the obstacles that had to be encountered and overcome.

The striking success of our Army at a comparatively small cost, I am happy to say, in casualties, is due to two main causes—in the first place, the admirable strategy of General Botha, which secured the concert and cooperation at enormous distances of the various columns; and next, and perhaps most of all, the combined mobility and endurance and valour of the Union troops, which made effective resistance at any point impossible. I ask the House, at this the earliest opportunity, to testify the admiration and gratitude of the whole Empire, first to the illustrious General, who is also Prime Minister of the Union, and who has rendered such inestimable services to the Empire which he entered by adoption, and of which he has become one of the most honoured and cherished sons; and to his dauntless and much enduring troops who, whether of burgher or of British blood, fought like brethren side by side in a cause which is equally dear to all of us—the broadening of the bounds of human liberty.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)

Although I am now a member of the Government, I hope the House will not think it inappropriate that, as still representing one of the parties in this House, I should have the privilege of seconding the Resolution which has been moved by the Prime Minister. The part taken by the Overseas Dominions in this War has come, not to us, but to our enemies, as the greatest of all surprises. They said, and I think they believed, that the outbreak of war would be the signal, for the beginning, at least, of the dissolution of the British Empire. They have been mistaken, and their mistake goes to the very root of what I believe to be the main issue of this War. We had no power—and if we had had any slight power we would never have dreamt of exercising it—of compelling any one of the self-governing Dominions to give us the smallest help. Yet from every part of the Empire—from India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada — have come Armies, which, in any other war, would have been regarded as great Armies. They have come entirely of their own free will, not merely to help us in our quarrel, but to take part in what they regard as their quarrel, and to defend the Empire which was assailed, which was theirs as much as ours.

Nowhere was that mistake more marked than in South Africa The Germans remembered that only fifteen years ago we were engaged in a war in that country. They could not understand—General Botha has enabled them now to understand— that a brave foe who had pledged his word would keep that word. They now find that instead of South Africa falling away from the British Empire, the Forces of South Africa have won a notable victory in the cause of that Empire. I am incompetent to judge of the military qualities displayed in this campaign, but it seems to me— and everyone in the House, after listening to the account given of it by the Prime Minister, will I think agree with me—that they are very great. It has been a fight, and it has been a victory, not so much over men, though we know that the men were formidable, as over the forces of nature; and it has been a complete victory. I think the House may draw a good omen from the course of these operations. At first there were reverses; there was long delay with no success; but the end has come, and it has come completely. To-day the whole Empire, and not the House of Commons alone, regards General Botha as a man whom it delights to honour. I am sure of this, that no Resolution ever submitted to this House has secured a greater measure of support than that which will be given to this Resolution by every section of the House of Commons.


I am sure that on this occasion I shall be permitted, both on behalf of the right hon. Gentlemen sitting by me on this bench and on behalf of many Friends behind me, to say how heartily we endorse the tribute which has just been paid by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the great and heroic feat which has been accomplished in South-Western Africa by the great soldier and statesman, General Botha. That has been an event which cannot have failed, as a great and notable victory of British arms, already to give great encuoragement to all the Armies of Great Britain who are fighting at this moment, and some of them far apart from each other. That General Botha should have been able to effect this great triumph so early in the proceedings of the present War, in which we are engaged against one of the most powerful enemies in the world, will be no surprise to those who are aware of the great qualities which he possesses and which the Prime Minister has so well described. Everyone will remember how, when not very long ago a very serious occasion arose, full of danger to his own country, General Botha came forward at once as a great man in the hour of his country's need, and by his courage and decision, his resolute determination and his prompt action, averted what might easily have been a great disaster to his country. British people throughout the world—the children of the Empire, if I may so describe them, in all quarters of the globe—will bless and praise him—and he would wish for nothing better—for all that he has done on their behalf. We wish him joy with all our hearts, and—I am sure it is the case with me—when we think of what this great man has accomplished already our hearts are very full indeed. It will always be a pride and satisfaction to me that I have been permitted on this: occasion to support the Resolution which has been moved and seconded by the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite.


I hope the House will excuse me for intervening in this Debate. I cannot hope to add anything to the admirable speeches which have already been delivered, but my colleagues and my countrymen think that on this occasion the voice of Ireland should add itself to the chorus of admiration and respect of all parts of the Empire to-General Botha, the great soldier and statesman. I take part in this Debate as an Irishman, because Ireland, like South Africa, has passed in generous wisdom an oblivion over past misunderstandings and quarrels with this Empire, and has recognised that in this great struggle in which we are engaged the fundamental principle, as the Prime Minister has said, is the broadening of human liberty. In the action of General Botha and our fellow citizens in South Africa, I recognise the conviction that that broadening of human liberty is the real issue between us and our enemies; that he and they wisely saw in that great principle the vindication of the struggle, and the explanation of the passionate loyalty with which all the people of this Empire have rallied to the flag:

Resolved, nemine contradicente,

"That this House desires to place on record its grateful appreciation of the distinguished skill and ability with which General the Right Honourable Louis Botha planned and conducted the recent military operations in South-West Africa, and of the eminent services rendered by him and by General Smuts, and by the officers and the forces of the Union of South Africa under their command."