HC Deb 30 January 1918 vol 101 cc1705-12

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."


I will not detain the House longer than a few minutes. I will read a few notes I have prepared in order that there may be no mistake. I know when I made the speech that I did on the 17th of this month I should have some reply made to me. I expected to have a reply made to me from the War Office, but I did not expect that that reply would have come from the Aldwych Lunch Club. I do not know whether it was arranged or not—[An HON. MEMBER "It was!"]—but I did not expect that the reply would come from that place,. and I think that the speaker of that day did not realise the seriousness of the situation. He had no regard, at any rate, for my private feelings when he commenced his speech with a ribald jest. I call it nothing else. I desire, if I may, to refer very briefly to a short extract from the War Minister's speech, with which I very much disagree, where he mentions that Lieutenant Smallwood called on the War Office on December 11th, 1914, and brought with him a medical. certificate from Sir Thomas. Barlow recommending a few days' observation in hospital, "for a small complaint." I take very great exception to those words; the sting is there. Fortunately, I have Sir Thomas Barlow's letter is my possession, and I will quote from it. Referring to my son, he says: He bar always been liable to these attacks, during the last fifteen months especially. He is now recovering from the condition he has been in for the last two and a half months. The complaint is liable to get very much exaggerated through the cold weather. It was bitter cold weather when my son came home. May I deal with this "small complaint" just for one moment? I am speaking to fathers, as well as to Members of the House of Commons, and I say it was nothing but the daily and hourly care of a loving mother which brought him to the age of twenty-one. I have a letter, also, in my pocket from my own family doctor, referring to the, fact that the boy had suffered right from infancy from the complaint which had led me to take him to at least half a dozen first-class physicians in our City. When the War broke out he was under the late Dr. Haversham, who said he would have to be exceedingly careful if he was going to live through. That is the small complaint, from which he was suffering at the time he went to the office, and to which the War Minister referred so slightingly. I pass from that.

Further, I knew perfectly well that I could not keep my son at borne, and I did not want to keep him at home. Neither of my sons would be kept at home. They absolutely refused, and I did not lift a little finger to keep them. The War Minister frankly says, in respect to this boy, that he was one of the right sort. He absolutely refused to stay at home. I stand by the statement I made on the 17th of this month, that when that note was handed in from Sir Thomas Barlow it was treated with the scant courtesy I then described. It is shown in the remark which the War Minister made last night, in respect to the small complaint, that very scant attention, if any attention at all, was given to Sir Thomas Barlow's medical certificate. I take that and the boy's nature as I knew it. It was like the flick of the whip in the face of a thoroughbred, and it was quite sufficient to send him back earlier than he ought to have gone, and earlier than he would have gone had he been treated in a decent way at the War Office. That is the one thing I resent in respect to the matter. Every minute, every hour, every day that a boy comes back to get right and can remain at home, having done his fair share at the front, is valued by those who love him and have cared for him. I valued every chance of that boy staying at home a day or two longer, and he would probably have had considerably longer had the medical certificate been attended to that Sir Thomas Barlow put in, and that was treated with such scant attention.

With regard to my elder son, and my treatment at the military hospital, again the divergence between my statement and that of the War Minister is very considerable. I want gratefully to admit that in respect to my treatment and that of my wife when we arrived on the other side, no one could have been more kindly treated or more courteously treated than we were from the very time we were landed, by the. Y.M.C.A., who, I suppose, acted under orders—I do not know anything about that. They saw to everything, and took every responsibility off our shoulders, and I gratefully admit that. May 21st—the first date referred to by the War Minister, and here I want to be careful as to my notes—was the afternoon my boy asked me to stop the night. I did not ask that Mrs. Smallwood might stop. She was not asked to withdraw, for she had already left, at five minutes to five, in the motor for the hostel where -we stayed, seven miles away. Neither was I asked to withdraw that afternoon. Until nine o'clock, when the matron came round and insisted on my going—although I asked to see the colonel—the reason given for asking for my retirement was not in the interest of the patient, whose desire for me to stay I had already made known, but the reason given was that there were other patients in the ward to be considered besides my son. No other reason was given to inc. If absolute quietude was needed—and I know now that. it was— God knows my dear boy did not get it. The ward was a. canvas pavilion full of wounded men. My boy's bed was within a few yards of one of the main roads running right through the camp. Motor bicycles and other vehicles were constantly passing up and down. Close to the camp, and adjoining the hospital, there was a training ground for soldiers. Firing was going on constantly there all through the afternoon sports were in progress, and orders were being shouted. There was absolutely no quietude on that afternoon, and yet I learn from the War Minister's speech that the reason I was asked to go was in order that my son might have quietude.

Absolutely I hold to what I have just said, that there was no quietude to be obtained in that place, so close to the main road. The offer to find me a bed at a near hostel was made at nine o'clock, when the matron came round. I think the heart sometimes turns to stone, and I can say now what actually happened to my boy. He put his arm out at a certain time in the evening. I said, "What is the matter, old chap?" He said, "I want you to come closer." I went closer, and he got off to sleep. He kept asleep, and he was asleep when the matron came round. I was not going to disturb him. If I had stayed there all through the night he would not have known that I was there unless he had wakened, and he would have gone to sleep again, knowing that I was there. I was so angry at being told I must go that I refused to go to the hostel, at which she said she would find me a bed, and I started to walk to the hostel where we were staying, eight miles away. I had gone some little distance when the Y.M.C.A. again picked me up. I made a statement that the night of the 21st was the last night my boy lived. I stand absolutely by that statement. I might have expressed myself in some fuller way had I not been a new Member of the House, making my maiden speech on a most difficult matter. That was the last night my boy lived, and I never heard him speak again. It did not matter to me much whether I was seven miles away or five minutes away if I was not to be allowed to sit by his side. At two o'clock next afternoon, 22nd May, when I came into the ward I could see that the end was pretty near. He had sunk into a state knowing no one, and he did not speak again. At three o'clock the doctor said, "Your boy is better." I said, I am surprised to hear it." "Yes," said the doctor, "he is better" The nurse came round half an hour afterwards to attend to some of his needs, and the doctor saw him five minutes after that. He then said, "I regret to say your boy is not so well. You had better arrange to stay the night." I said, "Can nothing he clone?" lie replied, "I am afraid not, but I will see." I was not consulted as to what was going to be done, and the first intimation I had as to what was done on that afternoon was from the War Secretary's speech yesterday. My wife and I had the order that we might stop the night. I asked the same matron again. "Now I suppose we may stay by his bedside to-night?" "No," she said, "you cannot do that. I have arranged for a bed at a hostel close by, and if anything goes wrong we will send for you." But before the evening came, within half-an-hour of the operation being performed, our boy passed away.

Every father in this House knows perfectly well that when his boys have come home, the one thing that they have arranged for, if possible, is that the last night shall be spent together. That was the last night my boy had on earth, and he asked me to stay with him. I was not allowed to stay with him, and I was asked to leave the hospital. I stand by the statement. I shall have a further opportunity of dealing with the greater question that is involved in all that I have said. I would very much sooner have left out many personal matters, but they have been dragged into the front. It was to raise the larger question that I referred to the matter, and I boldly say that the War Minister has utterly failed to realise the strength of public opinion that there is in the country, to have taken the opportunity that he did. I do not cast the least reflection upon the War Minister's veracity for one moment. I say that the information supplied to him has been incorrect. But I do find fault with the War Minister for having chosen the place that he did, seeing that there is a responsible Ender-Secretary for War in the House in which I made the speech, and that therefore I should expect that through some means or the other a reply should be made to me. I have simply been inundated with letters. I am afraid of the spirit lying behind those letters, and I have put 150 of them in the hands of a man on. whose judgment I could depend. I said, "Give me your judgment upon these particular letters." He came to me and said, "I am very much afraid if you do much more in respect of this matter you are going to create a spirit, or not to create, but to bring to the front something that is smouldering in the national life to-day, and that may create a very serious difficulty. "Now I have finished I only ask that, as far as those letters are concerned, we should have a small Committee appointed to go into those letters, and that something further should be done than Las been done by the War Minister at the present time in the flippant speech which he made yesterday at the Aldwych Club.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)

I feel sure that the House will believe ale when I say that there is no one within the four walls of this House who has a greater sympathy for a father who has lost two gallant sons than I have, and if I find it to be my duty to come into conflict of the controversy with my hon. Friend who has just sat down, he would be the first to realise that the statement that he has made has induced me to do so. He made a very strong point of the fact that my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War chose the Aldwych Club to make the statement that he did make. [Cheers.] There are in some quarters hon. Members who cheer. [An HON. MEMBER: "The whole of them!"] My hon. Friend who has just spoken will be the first to admit this, that no sooner had I heard his speech than I invited him to come to the War Office to see myself, or to see Brigadier-General Childs in the Department. The answer which I got from my hon. Friend was that his public engagements were too numerous for him to come there and see either myself or General Childs. If he had come to the War Office, I would have done all I could, and I think that every Member of the House who comes to see me knows that I personally do my level best and everything in my power to meet what is required. I asked my hon. Friend to come to the War Office to receive any possible explanation of the case which he had stated. My hon. Friend refused that invitation. I, for one, could not possibly condemn my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for defending the War Office against an attack made by the hon. Member upon the most vulnerable grounds, and in his situation the. most vulnerable that any human being could conceive—a father standing up in the House of Commons to attack the War Office when he has lost two sons, and when the Secretary of State could not possibly be here. [An HON. MEMBER: "He ought to be here!"] I went to the Secretary of State for War, who thoroughly appreciated what I attempted to do. I went at once to the Department, and asked them whether they would see the hon. Member, and they said at once, "Let him come here, and whatever explanation can be given, whatever inquiry we can make, whatever we can do in order to alleviate or correct any injustice which may have been committed, will be done on the very first opportunity." If I mistake not, my gallant Friend General Childs wrote at very great length to the hon. Gentleman. Does the hon. Member deny that?


I had a very short note from my hon. Friend on the Saturday asking me to come to meet General Childs at the. War Office on the following Sunday. I replied to the effect that on the Sunday I was already full of engagements, and that they could not stand over. From that time I have heard nothing.


If my recollection be right, I asked him to come to the War Office at the earliest possible opportunity.




My recollection is—I may be wrong—that I said the soulless as my hon. Friend would ask in any case the War Office was not as soulless as my hon. Friend would ask the House to believe. My hon. Friend said that the Secretary of State for War began his attack upon him with a ribald joke. I was present at that meeting, and I can assure him that that ribald joke, if it was a joke, had no possible connection with his endeavour to meet, as I say he effectively did, the attack which the hon. Gentleman had made. Instead of my Noble Friend treating my hon. Friend's position in that spirit—I was present, and I see hon. Gentlemen here who were there, and can vouch for what I say—he treated his position with the greatest possible courtesy. The hon. Gentleman himself admits that one of the remarks which my Noble Friend made was that his second son, the younger one, was one of the right sort—

It being Half-past Eleven of the clock. Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question being put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock