HC Deb 03 June 1919 vol 116 cc1838-40
Brigadier-General CROFT

I desire to ask the indulgence of the House whilst I make a short personal statement. During the Debate last week on the question of secret party funds, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Lane-Mitchell) made certain statements which reflected upon my honour as a soldier and as a Member of this House. If these words had been uttered in the heat of debate, without consideration, obviously I would not have thought it worth while referring to them, but I have had my attention called to the fact that the hon. Gentleman made a very similar personal attack upon me in his constituency. I can only, therefore, assume that his attack in this House was a deliberate one. The words that I complain of are as follows: And this gentleman of military age came back from the front in the middle of the War. That was a curious thing. An able-bodied man, physically fit, throws up his job at the front and comes back. A little later the hon. Member said: I am attacking him because he deserves to be attacked."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th May, 1919, col. 1350.] In his constituency he used similar words and referred to me as "Mr.," giving the reason that he would never address me by my military rank, although I was unknown to the Gentleman. Until I saw him the other evening I do not think I had ever seen him before. I understand this was a habit of the hon. Member, for he also described his political opponent in the election without giving his rank, and this opponent is a very gallant young officer, Captain Bellamy, who was wounded in the retreat from Mons, and who served right through the War. Military rank is conferred upon soldiers, as I think most hon. Members of the House are aware, by His Majesty on the advice of the Army Council or the Commander-in-Chief. My honorary rank was bestowed upon me after seven months as a general officer commanding a brigade on active service.

I am concerned with this imputation regarding my action during the War. As to my service in France, I would like to say very little, only this, that I was mobilised on the day the War commenced, and that my active service included 1914 in France and Belgium, 1915, and up to 20th August, 1916. During that time, in addition to continuous trench warfare, I took part in eight offensive operations, in all of which I was congratulated by a senior commander. At the end of the first Somme operations I decided to ask leave to return to the House of Commons, for two reasons: First, I had the great good fortune during the War to have continued as a regimental and brigade commander actually in the trenches for a longer period than any other hon. Member, and I was approached by certain senior officers, who suggested tome that if I could return to the House of Commons I might be able to take a useful part in our Debates with first-hand knowledge. That was the first reason. I was vain enough also to hope that I might be able to assist the Army by taking part in the Debates here, especially on the question of man-power. I was disappointed in that. I failed to make clear what, in my opinion, appeared to be imperative, a recognition of the man-power situation if our Armies were not to be imperilled in the spring of 1918. The second reason why I took this course was that at the end of the first Somme operations I did not agree with the policy of one of my senior officers. Obviously, I am not going to enter into any details of that, or state what that policy was, or my disagreement; but I carried out that policy according to orders, and then, with the additional reason that I have already mentioned, I applied for leave to resign my command and return to Parliament. I was permitted to resign my command, and returned again, with the thanks of the Army Council and the Commander-in-Chief, and I received my honorary rank.

When the Government was reconstructed very shortly afterwards, I believed that the War would be prosecuted with greater energy. Accordingly, I again offered my services to the War Office. I was offered a home command. Rightly or wrongly, I decided I should be more useful to my country in this House than in a home command which did not appeal to me. Very shortly after that I again volunteered for active service, and on three subsequent occasions applied for a fighting command. I was not content with the failure of the War Office to grant me that active service command immediately, as is known to one or two right hon. Gentlemen in this House whose aid I sought to try to secure my desire. I regret exceedingly having to raise this a question of personal character, but friends of mine told me that as there could be no misconception about what the hon. Member said, if I was not to make this statement my reticence might be misunderstood. I would not ask the hon. Member in what manner his service during the War was more fruitful than my own. May I not presume that everyone who is a patriotic citizen has given all of his personal service, all of his energy, and even of his financial resources, in order to bring about the triumph of our arms With some confidence I leave it to my colleagues to decide as individuals whether the imputation that I, a man of military age, was reluctant to come to grips with the enemy was a just or unjust one.

Colonel C. LOWTHER

May I, Mr. Speaker, ask your ruling——


Is it on a point of Order?


Yes. May I ask you if a Member of this House makes a cowardly and mendacious——


That is a question which ought to have been raised at the moment.