HC Deb 04 March 1918 vol 103 cc1747-53
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I beg to move, That a sum, not exceeding £25,000, be granted to His Majesty, to be issued to Lady Maude in recognition of the eminent services rendered by the late Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., while commanding His Majesty's Forces during the campaign in Mesopotamia. I never submitted a proposal to the House with a greater conviction of its merits and of its claims to acceptance. The services which Sir Stanley Maude rendered to the Empire, notably in Mesopotamia, were distinguished, far-reaching, and permanent in their effect. He found British prestige at a very low ebb in a quarter of the globe where prestige counts for much. The British Army in the East had suffered a series of severe reverses. One great enterprise, on which a good deal of the strength of the Empire had been concentrated, had to be abandoned. One British Army had surrendered to the Turkish forces, after another British Army had been defeated in a series of attempts to relieve it. In Egypt we had a large force sheltering behind the desert and the canal from an inferior Turkish Army.

This tale of discomfiture and humiliation spread throughout every bazaar in the East, and, like a tree, grew as it spread. Before it ran into irreparable mischief for the Empire, the genius of Sir Stanley Maude had changed and restored the position. I know well how much of this success was due to the reorganisation of the transport service by Sir John Cowans and his able staff, the reorganisation of the medical Service by Sir Alfred Keogh and his assistants, and the reinforcements brought in by Sir William Robertson and Sir Charles Munro. But the enemy also had time to reinforce, and to strengthen his forces. The ground lent itself to entrenchmeents. Those entrenchments were constructed under the advice and direction of German engineers. The Turk was fighting at his best in a climate which suited him, and did not suit us. But against all these obstacles the leadership of Sir Stanley Maude and the valour of his Army triumphed.

The highest proof of generalship is not so much in the winning of a victory as in its exploitation. No general ever made better or wiser use of his victory than did Sir Stanley Maude. The relentless pursuit of the defeated army, which ultimately destroyed it, and ended in the dramatic capture of Baghdad, sounded throughout the East. These were amongst the finest feats in military history, and they had a magical effect on the fame and position of Britain throughout the whole of the East. The Germans realised it. Sir Stanley Maude's achievements had destroyed their cherished dream. They sent one of their ablest generals there to effect a reconquest, and I do not think it is too much to say that their abandonment of that enterprise was due very largely to their appreciation of the fact, when they came there, that they were confronted by a leader of exceptional resource and power.

But Sir Stanley Maude s real greatness was displayed in the use which he made of the victory after it had been obtained. He showed as much wisdom as an administrator as he displayed skill as a general. Every great general has a strain of statesmanship, and Sir Stanley Maude exhibited great gifts of statesmanship in his administration of that difficult country. Whilst ruling with a firm hand, he won the esteem and affection of that gifted but suspicious race, not merely by the equity of his rule, but by the intelligent sympathy which he displayed. He possessed that rare tact which is a blend of gentleness and understanding, and the article that appeared in an Arab paper after his death, and which was, I think, reproduced in the British Press last week, is the highest tribute that could have been paid to his great qualities as a governor and a man. He died a victim of the inbred courtesy of his fine character. I heard a story from a member of his staff the other day. Sir Stanley Maude visited a plague-stricken area at the invitation of its inhabitants. They were anxious to extend to him a welcome for the many kindnesses which he had displayed. They gave him a great one, and they offered him a small act of hospitality. Though he so well knew the peril that he had actually forbidden any soldier in his escort to eat or drink while on that visit, he himself ran the risk rather than hurt the susceptibilities of a people anxious to give him a welcome. There was cholera in the cup, and he died within a few days.

4.0 p.m.

Sir Stanley Maude will always be remembered as one of the great figures of this War, not merely for what he achieved, but for what he was. I know not what destiny may have in store for the famed land which he conquered, but of two things I am certain. The first is, that the whole course of its history will be changed for the better, as a result of the victory and the rule of Sir Stanley Maude; and the second is, that his name will always be cherished by the inhabitants of that land as that of the gentlest conqueror who ever entered the gates of Bagdad. A few days ago a record of his will appeared in the papers. It was a pathetic document. Had he devoted his great qualities of energy, insight, organisation and industry to his own affairs, he would have amassed a great fortune. He consecrated them all to the service of his country, and he died a poor man. The least the country he served so well— the country for whose services he gave his life—can do is to see that those whom be loved and who depended upon him shall not, at any rate, be left in penury.


I beg to second the Motion, which has been moved in such feeling terms by the Prime Minister. The task would have been undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had he not been, to his great regret, unavoidably prevented from attending the House this afternoon. There is no need for me to stand between the House and the Vote, which I hope will be unanimous in favour of this Motion. Sir Stanley Maude's great services are so recent that they live fresh in the memory of each of us. He found a situation full of anxiety and even of peril, and he converted it into a triumph of organisation and of military achievement. He died in the full tide of victory and glory. In this House we can still do one thing, in the name of the nation, to express our grateful acknowledgment of his most distinguished service, and our deep-felt sympathy with his widow and family. We can pay him this last tribute by our Vote to-day, and with the hope that it will be a unanimous Vote, I beg leave to second the Motion.


I regret to have to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in his expectation that the Motion made by the Prime Minister would be unanimously approved by this House. It is a very disagreeable task to have to strike a discordant note upon an occasion like this, but I do so, not on personal grounds, but on broad grounds of public policy. I know little or nothing of the personal qualities or eminent gifts or military achievements of Sir Stanley Maude which have been so eloquently described by the Prime Minister, and I am quite prepared to accept everything that he has just said with regard to them. But that does not effect in the slightest degree the ground for my opposition to this proposal. Even if it were desirable that some provision should be made, I should disagree with the way in which the Government propose to make that provision. The method that they propose is an equivalent of the old pernicious and discredited system of perpetual pensions. It is proposed to give a lump sum of £25,000. That sum will no doubt be invested in the National War Loan, or some other security, and it will bring in perpetuity an income of £l,200 or £1,300 per year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Therefore, it is a provision made not only for the living dependants of Sir Stanley Maude, but for his descendants also. If it were absolutely necessary to make some provision for the living dependants it might be done by granting an annuity to them during their own lifetime or during the time they were unable to earn their own living or support themselves. But I object altogether to making any grant in a way like this which will be a permanent burden upon the resources of this country. I object, further, to the class distinction in such a proposal as this being introduced. We have, I understand, something over a million pensioners in this country to-day, most of whom are receiving very small allowances indeed. In addition to those who are in receipt of small Government allowances, it is within the knowledge, from their correspondence, of every Member of this House that there are now possibly tens of thousands of men who have suffered physically in this War and families who have been ruined financially, and who are receiving no financial recognition whatever from the Government. I do not think it is fair, and I am quite sure the country will not approve, that the Government should in one particular case grant such a comparatively huge sum as this while leaving so many people whose services may not have been so eminent but who at any rate have done all that they possibly could in the service of the country in the same War. For these two reasons I oppose this Motion, and I oppose it with the certain knowledge and assurance that it would be very much opposed in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no! "]


Will you say so on a public platform?


I am quite ready to say so on any public platform. I have already received a considerable number of letters from people living in different parts of the country expressing their strong disapprobation of this proposal. For these two reasons I certainly shall not support the Motion.


I very much regret, and I think the whole House will, that the hon. Member who has just spoken should have found it necessary to raise a dissentient voice on this occasion. I am glad to think he expressly said he did not desire in any observations he made to disassociate himself from the tribute paid to the late Sir Stanley Maude by the Prime Minister either as a soldier or as a man. As he has contrasted the treatment accorded to the dependants left by Sir Stanley Maude with that which the country is doing for others of those who have died for her in the field I think it may be permissible to say, and I say it with confidence, that if this House were a house of soldiers and of men who had themselves fought in any of our Armies, and above all, if they were men who had fought under him they would criticise this amount, not as being too large, but as being too small for the great debt of gratitude that we all owe to him. Perhaps I may be permitted to utter a couple of additional sentences in consideration of the office which I at one time held. I held office before Sir Stanley Maude reaped his great victories and made such brilliant use of them, but I was a member of the Government at the time that he was appointed and, naturally, deeply interested in the right selection being made. I think it is no improper revelation of confidence if I say that I permitted myself to urge upon Sir William Robertson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the great importance of the appointment and the need in all the circumstances for the appointment of a man of an already commanding reputation and whose mere name would inspire confidence in the Army which he was going to command. For it has to be remembered that after the brilliant success which crowned the earlier part of the Mesopotamia campaign our Armies there had suffered great reverses, the Command had been changed more than once in rapid succession, and those changes of command and those reverses could not but have had a disturbing effect upon the morale and confidence of our troops. It was at that troubled epoch that Sir Stanley Maude succeeded and in a comparatively short time, with comparatively small loss of life, won great triumphs for his army, for his country and for his own fame, which we are here recognising to-day. Surely those were achievements in all the circumstances of the case which might have enabled the hon. Gentleman opposite for once to silence his rather bitter and pedantic scruples and to join in the latest tribute of a generous and not ungrateful people.


I have not the slightest intention of raising any discordant voice in the proceedings this afternoon, but I think there is a way of reconciling the views of my right hon. Friend who has just spoken and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). Sir Stanley Maude was a great and illustrious general and he deserves well of this nation, and we are doing right this afternoon, but I feel confident and am perfectly certain that Sir Stanley Maude himself would wish to have associated with his name the memory of the tens of thousands of brave men who have also died for their country, and I think if he were here this afternoon, or if he could call to us across the void, that he would ask us in recognising his services not to forget the many men who had died and who very often suffered a great deal of privation and hardship. There is not a single Member of this House who has not had cases brought to his notice of hardship and privation on the part of widows and dependants of men who have died in the service of their country. I ask whether it is not right, while our sympathies are all devoted to the memory of those who have died for their country, to once again put to the House the question whether we cannot do more for the widow and the orphan than grant them the small pension, not equal to the separation allowance which had been received before the husband died. That is a question which it seems to me the House ought seriously to reconsider. In the words of Lincoln, "the noblest sepulchre a man can have is a home in the minds of men." Sir Stanley Maude will live on in the imperishable memory of the minds of the people of this country. I think at the same time we should also bear in mind those hundreds of thousands of Englishmen who have died for their country, and that we ought to do what we can for those who are left behind. In the words of Lincoln, in perhaps the greatest speech he ever made— Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan; and to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.