HC Deb 06 August 1919 vol 119 cc401-15
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I beg to move,

"That the thanks of this House be accorded to the officers, warrant officers, petty officers, and men of the Navy and of the Royal Marines for their sleepless watch over the seas and for the courage, resource, and devotion with which,-during four years of constant peril, they have maintained the blockade of the enemy's coast, convoyed Armies drawn from the most distant lands, and defended the commerce of the civilised world against the craft and subtlety of a lawless foe:

That the thanks of this House be accorded to the officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Armies in the field for the matchless valour and endurance with which, amid circumstances of unexampled hardship, they have sustained the shock of war in many climes, for the good humour, clemency, and patience of their bearing, and for the undaunted spirit which has carried them through four years of strenuous toil to a complete and splendid victory:

That the thanks of this House be accorded to the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Air Force for their brilliant, daring and conspicuous services over sea and land:

That the thanks of this House be accorded to the gallant troops from the Dominions overseas, from India, and from the Colonies and Protectorates, for the promptitude with which they responded to the call of justice and freedom, and for the noble part that they have played in conjunction with their comrades of the British Isles, in securing the triumph of right over wrong:

That the thanks of this House be accorded to those subjects of His Majesty who, inspired by the greatness of the issue, voyaged from foreign lands to offer their lives in the service of their country:

That the thanks of this House be accorded to the members of the Royal Army Medical Corps and of the Indian Medical Service for the skilful discharge of their humane office, and for the unprecedented success which attended their unremitting labours to preserve the armed Forces of the Crown from the ravages of disease:

That the thanks of this House be accorded to the women of the medical and other auxiliary services for their devotion in tending the sick and wounded as for other duties faithfully and bravely discharged:

That the thanks of this House be accorded to the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine for the fine and fearless seamanship by which our people have been preserved from want and our cause from disaster:

That this House doth acknowledge with deep submission and reverence the heroism of those who have fallen in the service of the country and tenders its sympathy to their relatives in the hour of their sorrow and their pride:

That Mr. Speaker do signify the said Resolutions to the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral, and to the Army Council, and to His Majesty's Secretaries of State for India and for the Colonial Department, and to the President of the Board of Trade to communicate the same to the officers and men referred to therein."

While I assume that the two Resolutions standing in my name will be put separately from the Chair, I hope the House will permit me to make observations which will cover both. About a year or two ago it was my privilege to stand at this box to move a Vote of Thanks to the fighting Forces of the Crown for their services in the Great War. I then had to cover a good deal of ground, distinguishing not merely the various Services, but the various branches of the Services. I, therefore, hope that it will be unnecessary for me to travel the same ground to-day. With regard to the Resolution of Thanks which it is proposed to give to the great soldier who commanded the Allied Forces on the Western Front, I am sure the House will be glad to have an opportunity of expressing its gratitude for the first time to that great leader. In a War where many have won high renown in the field, his genius, by general recognition of friend and foe, is the most shining, and his fame the most towering. The War would have been won by the valour, the endurance, and the resources of the Allies without Marshal Foch's leadership, but I am profoundly convinced that it would not have been won in 1918 without it. What that means to the world it is difficult to calculate. It is difficult enough to rebuild the structure after four years of shattering war. What would have happened had there been another year or another two years of casualties, of loss, of destruction, of anxiety, and of unrest no one can depict. From all those dark possibilities we were saved by the genius of Marshal Foch, and the gratitude of this people, as well as of all the civilised nations of the world, ought to go out to him. I, therefore, count it a great privilege to move that the thanks of the House be given to Field-Marshal Foch for his services to the Allied cause.

I have to move the Vote of Thanks to the gallant men and the devoted women who have served the Allied cause for the last four or five years. Five years ago to this week this country was called upon to make the greatest decision in its history. A harsh and cruel challenge rang out suddenly, almost without warning—a challenge to the nobility of our race. It was one of those challenges that no nation could disregard without forfeiting its honour, and without loss of its self-respect. If we had not responded to that challenge in the true spirit we might have waxed gross on the sacrifices of other and nobler races than we would have proved. We would, indeed, have become a prosperous people, but a despised people. The answer was worthy of this great country and of this great Empire. Let me say here, in passing, that we owe thanks to those who at that time were the national leaders in reaching that decision for saving this land from that shame—I mean Mr. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey. What happened on that date? On the 1st August, 1914, we were, by common assumption, the most unwarlike people in Europe. There was some ground for that assumption. On the Continent of Europe every male, from the moment he arrived at years of intelligence, contemplated the horrors of war as part of the destiny through which he might have to pass in life. His fathers had gone through it for generations almost without a break. When they arrived at a certain year they had served an apprenticeship in war. For two years they practised war—how to handle rifles and machine-guns and cannon, and how to face rifles and machine-guns and cannon.

4.0 P.M.

Their minds for two or three years were concentrated on that problem. For years after that they were brought up, year after year, for something like mimic warfare, which reminded them of what might be in store for them any day. The slightest diplomatic cloud on the horizon was regarded by them as something that might develop into a storm which would break upon their heads and upon their homes. That was the Continent of Europe.

But here war was as remote a contingency from the men of the 1st August, 1914, as anything could be, for a country which for hundreds of years had not seen war on its shores. What war meant for men of British birth was that, at the worst that could happen, those who had chosen war as a profession might be engaged. Then came a great change. On the 4th August the challenge was made to the chivalry of our people, and what followed is one of the most remarkable incidents in history. Millions of men of the type I have described. who never thought of war, suddenly rallied to the Flag. They rallied in such numbers that even a great manufacturing country like ours could not manufacture the necessary weapons of war for them to handle or to train themselves with. It was one of the most thrilling and inspiring episodes in the history of the world, and that episode will always be honourably associated with the great name of Lord Kitchener. Men so brought up, men with such a peaceful outlook on life, men with such a training, when the hour of battle came, whether on field or on flood, behaved with a gallantry, a valour, and a dauntlessness that ranks them with the iron Infantry of Marlborough and Wellington, and on sea with the daring seamen of Drake.

I doubt whether in the history of war such multitudes of men have ever displayed such sustained courage. Has there ever been such a strain upon courage as in this War? In the old wars there were great (battles fought—one, two, three—not many, in the course of a campaign. There were great intervals either of rest or of marching, at any rate of relaxation, from the great strain upon human nerve. There was hardly any here. The peril was in the battle and the peril was in the billets. There were long-range guns, and bombing even in rest camps. The strain was ever present upon the nerves of these gallant men. War has never witnessed such a trial of manhood, and British soldiers and British seamen stood it to the last. What is true of the battlefield is equally true of the sea. It is difficult for us to estimate the constant strain upon the courage of our seamen. There is a letter from Collingwood, written when the was outside Toulon blockading that port. He was talking of the weather, and of the vigilance that was required. He said: Every one of the blasts we are enduring lessens the security of the country. The last cruise disabled five large ships, and two more lately. Several of them must be docked. I have hardly known what a night of rest is these two months. This incessant cruising seems to me beyond the powers of human nature. Calder is worn to a shadow and quite broken down, and I am told that Graves is not much better. That was for two months! The incessant cruising of this War was not for two months, not for two years, but even longer. In those days the enemy was visible; here the enemy was hidden. There the enemy could be seen approaching; here the enemy was underneath, and out of sight. The mined areas covered huge tracts of sea. There were ships that knew, when they sailed or steamed through areas which were not supposed to be mined, that, perhaps a quarter of an hour before they arrived there, mines had been laid along that track, with disastrous effects upon their craft. This is the strain which our sailors of the Navy bore.

As to our sailors of the Mercantile Marine, they faced horrors often worse than those of the battlefield. A ship torpedoed, perhaps scores of miles from any shore, in rough weather, with frail boats and no time to stock the boats—the cruel waves, like beasts of prey, playing with their victims before devouring them; and often they were spared for a worse fate—the incredible torture of hunger and thirst. No wonder that 15,000 of them fell victims to the cruellest and most dastardly piracy ever perpetrated on the high seas. But, as His Majesty the King said the other day, it is noteworthy that the survivors, after they escaped, "never failed to return to the same perilous duties." They knew that the fate of the Allied cause depended on their faithfulness, even unto death. We owe them thanks, and it ought to be the pride of the House that represents the people of this land to accord it them. Everywhere on land, on sea, in the air, the strain on the heart, the nerve, the will, the courage of men has been beyond anything ever described in the story of this world. It is a matter of just boast to us as a people that in such a trial Britain fought better in the last year of the War than she ever fought before—put forth greater strength, displayed greater daring and endurance; her blows were more vigorous, more mighty, more shattering, more terrible in their effect, than ever before.

I, therefore, move that Vote of Thanks to these gallant men to whom we owe so much. And we should not forget the women—those who in great peril nursed the wounded, and saved thousands of lives by their tender care, and the women of the other Auxiliary Services whose aid was invaluable in enabling the soldiers to carry through their terrible duty.

I am not going to particularise branches of the Service, nor to attempt to summarise their achievements. They are too well known. They are written deep on the hearts of the people of this country. I will only just refer to two or three matters to which, I think, I should fail in my duty if I did not call attention before I sit down. The first is the debt we owe to the Dominions and the Dependencies of the Empire for the timely, effective, and powerful aid they rendered. As to the Dominions, you have only to peruse the list of the victories won by the gallant troops who came from overseas—a truly dazzling list—in order to realise the greatness of the share which they have in the happy issue of the War. I am sure we rejoice as much here as they do that the Dominions, through the valour of their sons, have won a permanent place in the fraternity of nations. As to India, by her remarkable contribution to our triumph, notably in the East, she has won a new claim to our consideration, a claim so irresistible that it ought to overpower, and must overpower, all prejudice and timidity which may stand in the way of her progress.

This is the Motion of Thanks to the fighting Services. But I must mention two other classes. First of all, there are the workers to whose skill and industry we owe the celerity, the efficiency, and the completeness with which our Armies were equipped. Never has the skill of our experts—of the leaders and organisers of industry and of our mechanics—been shown to as great advantage. There is one word I should like to say about them, and it is well now to recall it. These skilled mechanics volunteered in such numbers that it was the first duty of those who were to undertake the organisation and equipment for the Army to bring back as many as they possibly could. That was true in the ship building trade, and in the engineering trade; it was true especially in the mines, and this I am not ashamed to say, if anything could add to the reluctance with which we should enter into any conflict with men in any of these trades, the memory of that fact will make us even more reluctant.

Then, may I say one word about the multitude of silent people—the men and women, too often bereaved, who quietly bore the racking strain of anxiety in their homes. These have been years where in millions of homes in this land every knock at the street door sent a shudder of fear to anxious hearts. It was too often a messenger of desolation. It can only be known in the Great Day what agony this War has brought to millions of homes. It will only then be known what measure of silent heroism has been displayed in enduring that grief. And here and now and to-day it is well to remind the land that all classes have suffered alike. There is no class which can point the finger of reproach to another. All have borne their share. The glory of a common achievement shines on all ranks in this land. The shadow of a common grief alone dims the lustre of that glory, and a nation whose men and women have for years shown such qualities in the hour of their country's need will show it yet again, if the need come with subtler, and, therefore, more formidable perils, to save the Motherland from danger.


I am quite sure the House would have been well content to leave this Resolution with the speech of the Prime Minister and the noble words which you, Sir, have read with such taste and feeling from the Chair. None of us in this House would attempt to rival the Prime Minister in the powers of speech by which he has so finely shown to-day the feeling of all of us with regard to the services to which he has alluded. But there is, at any rate, one thing which every one of us can claim—that in the feelings of the heart we are all his equal. In vain would we interrogate the past for the record of such a War as this, and I, on behalf of these who associate themselves with me in this House, wish to tender to the Prime Minister our thanks for the generous reference to Mr. Asquith and to Sir Edward Grey who, with him, bore the burden of the early days of this titanic conflict.

The scope of the Resolution which you, Sir, have read shows that this was, in truth, a nation in arms, united in a common purpose, not only for the defence of this country and the Empire, but for humanity and freedom the world over. There was one point which the Prime Minister lightly touched upon, and of which we are all exceedingly proud, and that was the rally to the Colours of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force by the men of this land. It must for ever be an outstanding record in the proud annals of this country that no fewer than 4,500,000 to 5,000,000 men volunteered their services. But that is not the whole of the record of the volunteers for our Forces. There were, in spirit, volunteers by the terns of thousands among the men who came within the scope of the Military Service Acts. I can speak with, perhaps, a certain amount of authority in regard to that, and I do not hesitate to say that the great majority of the men who came within the scope of the Military Service Acts were men who were little, if at all, distinguished in spirit from those who volunteered their services before March, 1916.

Perhaps the House will pardon me one slight personal experience which is indicative of thousands of others. One morning a working man came to my tribunal. He was engaged in a necessary trade, and was the father of six children, all under twelve. This is what he said: "After last night's air raid I wish to withdraw my appeal. I must join up." He was only an illustration of the spirit which swept through this land before and after 1916. All classes of society, rich and poor, working men and employers—their deeds gentled all conditions in their service for this country, and we proudly claim this for all our men on land, in the air, and at sea, that by their deeds and, in the words of the Resolution, "their good humour, their clemency and the patience of their bearing, they were, in truth, gentlemen-at-arms. Never was it so true. The leaders of the men in command of all ranks gladly acknowledge that whatever criticism may come to be passed on tactics and strategy, things done or things left undone, there is one verdict already given which will only gather strength as the years roll on—"the men were magnificent."

I should like to say one or two words in reference to our debt to the Navy and the Mercantile Marine. How delightful it is to notice that every officer of high rank in the Navy never makes a speech with reference to the doings of the War, without reckoning as comrades the men of the Mercantile Marine. The duty of the Navy, linked with the Mercantile Marine, was one of terrible responsibility. There might have been, and there were, great reverses on land, but our commanders at sea knew that a great reverse at sea would not only cripple our sure defence, but also carry with it disaster to the Allied cause. The Navy was the keystone of the Allied arch, and the feed pipe of every army in every land. The Navy and the Mercantile Marine have been, in every sense, fully worthy of the finest traditions of British seamen. Criticisms may come and go, but the result tells, and it is this—the open sea and Scapa Flow. As to the Army and the Air Forces, we know that the great commanders shared with the men those splendid qualities of patience, of equal mind in adversity, with a back-to-the-wall tenacity, and a cool courage which at last gave them the opportunity and the power for the irresistible rally. I desire to pay tribute to Marshal Foch. This is a family gathering, but there is no more welcome guest than the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies. His modesty, his courage, and his genius shone out from the first days of the War, and we, the Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament here assembled, acclaim him, Marshal of France, one of the true captains of her soul. He was the French spirit incarnate, and never was it more shining than in those days of the disasters on the Marne, when he sent that message back to Paris," My centre gives, my right recoils, situation excellent, I am attacking."

I pass on to say one or two words in addition to the splendid tribute which the Prime Minister paid to the dead and to the sorrowing living—to those who went forth to return no more, save to the shattered homesteads of the hearts of those who loved them. They gave their lives; they did not lose them. They gave them as a precious gift, a priceless heritage to this country of ours and to the world's freedom. If a man die, shall he live again? Truly these men and these women live to-day. Sowing there has been, what shall the harvest be? That is for us. They have fulfilled the last duty which came to them. We start into the autumn, and soon this winter shadows will be falling around us. We go into social gloom, but I have not the slightest doubt that if the spirit which animated these men who gave their lives and the men Jiving to-day who fought for us, is still with us, we shall in the troublous days of peace be worthy of a nation which was born in adversity, nurtured in sacrifice and reared on great ideals.


I desire to associate my Friends and myself with the Vote of Thanks so eloquently moved by the Prime Minister. The services which have been rendered by our men to the country and to the whole civilised world are such as to make it very difficult for one to find suitable language in which to adequately express our appreciation and our thanks. I am certain that I shall find general assent when I say that I am convinced that if our men had not made such a magnificent stand in the course of these five years that this nation, as we have known it, could not have continued to exist. Not only was this nation engaged in a life and death struggle during that time, but it was also a life and death struggle for the freedom and integrity of all the other nations of the earth. Like the two previous speakers I have no intention of taking up much of the time of the House. Like my right hon. Friend 1 could have contented myself by leaving it to the Prime Minister, because he has very adequately expressed our thanks, but the position might have been misunderstood if we had not briefly expressed our appreciation of the services rendered by the various sections of His Majesty's forces. First in order comes the Vote of Thanks to the men of the Navy and of the Royal Marines. We as a nation can look back over our country's history for long centuries of noble achievement, dauntlessly performed, in all the circumstances of fell and difficulty, but there is no past period in the annals of our naval service where the service rendered by the men shone with brighter lustre than during the past five years.

I also desire to pay my tribute to the land forces, and when I say the land forces I include all who have been mentioned by the Prime Minister. The courage and the valour of our land forces during the trying period of the War have been beyond all praise. Here again we can only say that the traditions of the British Army have been maintained in full, and the records of high and lofty courage for which the soldiers of our land have always been famous, have been upheld during that time. Our debt of thanks would not be fully paid if we did not specially thank our kith and kin from the Dominions beyond the seas. From all corners of the earth our kith and kin came spontaneously and promptly to the call of the Motherland. The bond of blood and of race has stood the severest test, and has come successfully through, in the common struggle against tyranny and military aggression. No chapter of British history will ever be more splendid than that which records the part played by the men from our Overseas Dominions in the terrible world drama that we were forced into.

I should like also to join in expressing our reverence in regard to the men who have fallen in this great conflict; the men who died that this country might live. The price of victory has been a heavy one. There are few homes that have escaped paying part of the toll. Many of us, so far as this life is concerned, never again can hope to have "the time and the place and the loved one together." I should like also, in addition to expressing my reverence to the men who have made the supreme sacrifice, to join with the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend in conveying a message of sympathy and condolence to the homes to which these men belonged. I am going to make a suggestion for the serious consideration of His Majesty the King and of the Government so far as the relatives and dependants of the fallen men are concerned. I understand that under past Army conditions the dependants of the men who have fallen have not got the general medal that is handed out at the close of each campaign.


We will look into that.


I understand that that is the position, and I would suggest to the Prime Minister that whatever the precedent may be, this should be remedied at the earliest possible moment. I make a further suggestion, and it is this, that in addition to the general decoration for the campaign there ought to be a special decoration instituted and given to the dependants of our men who have fallen. We have many special decorations in connection with the naval and military forces, and the one I am now suggesting ought to receive the serious consideration of His Majesty the King and of the Government. I know there has been some talk about giving a plaque to each of the homes whence came the men who have fallen in the conflict. I do not think that that is a proposition that will meet with general acceptance. I think that the dependants, the wives, the mothers, and the fathers of the men who have fallen would rather have the decorations that are given out to the men who have more fortunately lived, and also that which I am suggesting to the consideration of the Prime Minister. There is another consideration. We on these benches gladly recognise and gladly pay tribute to all sections of the Services, from the Field-Marshal right down until we reach the ranks, and I believe that we shall have the general assent of the men of the higher command when we say that but for the valiant service of the rank and file, rendered in trying and uncomfortable conditions, our victory would not have been as complete as it is. My suggestion is this, that special pains should be taken by the Government to see that the men who have come back are provided for, amply and generously. At the present moment there are many hundreds of these men walking the streets who cannot find employment. It is true that they are getting the grant, but that is not, in our opinion, sufficient recompense, and my suggestion to the Prime Minister is that, if private enterprise cannot find sufficient openings to employ these men at remunerative work, a special effort should be made by the Government to give effect to this.

There is one other suggestion. I think that in this time of national rejoicing a general amnesty should be agreed to by the Government. Take the Army and Navy alone for the moment, and what is the condition? You have quite a large number of men who, during the course of these five years, have got various terms of imprisonment for breaches of Army or Navy discipline. What were the conditions in which these men came up against the Regulations of the Navy and of the Army? Not one in a thousand, perhaps would ever have been in either the Army or the Navy but for the call of the coun- try. They were for the first time brought into contact with Regulations of which they had no knowledge, and which frequently they had broken before they were aware that their action was a breach of these Regulations. Some of these men are still in prison. The prison doors ought to be opened, and these men should be allowed to go free in whatever part of the world they are. The general amnesty in this general time of rejoicing should appeal even to a wider range than the men connected with the Army or the Navy. Unless those who for political offences are still languishing in prison have been guilty of some very serious offence, I would humbly suggest to the Prime Minister that they ought to be included. It might even be made wider than that. In a time of national rejoicing I think that the nation could well afford to make the amnesty apply to all those who are in prison with the exception of those who are in prison for offences that could not in a reasonable way be included in such an amnesty. I hope that the suggestions which I have made will receive the serious consideration of the Government; and I conclude by associating myself in the fullest way with all that has been said by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend by way of thanking all who have contributed to bringing our country successfully through the most trying period that it has ever had to face.


I merely desire in two or three sentences to identify those with whom I am associated with the Resolution that has been submitted by the Prime Minister. I am quite sure that that Resolution and the speech which we have heard absolutely and entirely represent the heart and mind of this House. And I would remind the House that five years ago this week this House was called upon to endorse the very drastic action that the Cabinet had taken on that occasion. The House then, by the expression of opinion from all parties, was unanimous in endorsing the action which the Cabinet had taken. And it is a very remarkable fact that after the most dangerous and menacing times of our history, spread over a period of five years, the House of Commons is found to-day as unanimous as it was then in giving expression to these Resolutions that have been moved by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has called attention to three very great salient facts with regard to those who have fallen. He has talked of the alacrity with which, though we are a peace-loving nation, our lads jumped to the Colours. He has talked about their heroism. He has spoken of their good humour. Their heroism I am certain is one of the greatest revelations to the world. And I am certain that, whatever view we had taken of our great town population, there was not one of us who dreamt that our lads were capable of such magnificent heroism, not in isolated cases but in cases by the thousand and the hundreds of thousands. How great has been their heroism has been well attested by our conversations with those who have had the honour of winning the Victoria Cross. Talk to them as I have talked to some hundreds of them, and ask, "What have you had this for?" and they say, "I do not know why I have had it. I do not know why it was given to me. I only did my duty as did a hundred other boys, every one of whom deserved the Victoria Cross as much as I have deserved it. "That, I am perfectly certain, reveals the great heroism that has characterised the whole of the ranks, whether drawn from this country or from our Colonies. The Prime Minister has spoken about their good humour, which also has been a revelation to us. Our boys have faced death, ugly wounds and disease with a smile on their faces all the time. It is because we have a great reserve of that good humour which was found among those who have fallen that I for one have no fear for the future, but believe that we are going to reap the fruits of our great victory in a prosperous peace and in a better industrial system. I have great pleasure in identifying my Friends and myself in the most cordial way with the Resolution moved by the Prime Minister.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I rise to say a few words byway of reinforcing one part of the eloquent meed of praise paid by the Prime Minister to those who have so well deserved it for their conduct in the War. The Prime Minister has spoken with his unmatched eloquence of the great deeds performed by the Mercantile Marine. Among these I am sure he included the fishermen. But the fishermen themselves, by the nature of their calling, are apt to differentiate themselves from both the Navy and the Mercantile Marine, and I only rise to say a few sentences in their praise which, I am sure, the Prime Minister himself would re-echo—


Hear, hear!

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

—and to express the belief that with out those men victory at sea would have been impossible, and that we cannot exaggerate in any way the great debt which we owe to them for their matchless courage throughout the whole War, un trained and unprepared as they were.

Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.