HC Deb 05 May 1936 vol 311 cc1537-41
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

I beg to move, That this House will, To-morrow, resolve itself into a Committee to consider an humble Address to His Majesty, praying that His Majesty will give directions that a monument be erected at the public charge to the memory of the late Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty, as an expression of the admiration of this House for his illustrious naval career and its gratitude for his devoted services to the State. For the second time within a few months the House is being asked by me to pass a Motion of this description. I know it will gratefully pass this Motion for a permanent memorial to the late Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty, as an expression of its sense of gratitude to the second of the two great sailors who bore on their shoulders the immense responsibility of command in the Great War. For nearly half the Great War Lord Beatty served under Lord Jellicoe. From November, 1916, until the end of the War he bore upon his shoulders that almost intolerable responsibility, the chief responsibility for the safety of our country. They were both great sailors, different of course, but those differences may well be explored by the historians. For me and for the House to-day, we seek not to compare the measure, but merely to express our thankfulness that at the time of our country's need two such men as Jellicoe and Beatty were there to respond to the call.

As a sailor he was undoubtedly a figure which appealed to the imagination of the British people. There is no doubt that to our people, whether they live on the sea-coast, in the great towns, or inland, the Royal Navy is in some subtle way the repository of the spirit and the tradition of our nation; and there is no doubt that instinctively our people seemed to recognise in Lord Beatty the sure successor to those men whose names were so familiar to them and whose sayings have almost passed into the conversation of our land. We think of Duncan, off the Texel, who, when he had taken soundings said: "I have taken the depth of the water and when the 'Venerable' goes down, my flag will still fly." We think of Grenville who, dying, gave orders to scuttle his ship with all on board her lest she should fall into the hands of the Spaniards. We think of Raleigh driving his little ships into Cadiz harbour and answering the guns of the Spanish forts with an insolent flourish of trumpets. We think of Nelson at the Nile, when he saw the ship of his great friend Troubridge run aground and he commiserated him, "while his more fortunate companions were in the full tide of happiness"; and at Copenhagen when he said, as the battle began, "It is warm work and this may be the last of any of us at any moment, but, mark you, I would not be elsewhere for thousands."

When one thinks of these things one feels instinctively how Beatty might have taken his stand by any one of these Admirals, and how, had he been in their place, what they said would have sprung naturally to his lips. In Beatty, fighting his battles as he did from an exposed position which he selected for himself on the compass platform high above the bridge, calm, unruffled and alert, our people rightly saw the embodiment of that persisting spirit of the Royal Navy that has lasted through the centuries and has been the glory of the Navy and the pride of our country, an inspiration not only to the men who served with him but to the people of this country through the darkest days.

When I think of Beatty as the people thought of him, I like to think of another aspect of him familiar to me but much less familiar to his countrymen. Although a public figure, although gifted with all those qualities that attract the admiration of mankind, spectacular qualities we might call them in some ways, yet the man himself was fundamentally a shy man, a man who disliked publicity, who never courted it, and who, I rejoice to think, took no part in any of the controversies that have raged since the War. He kept himself aloof from all those things. Men who worked with him have often told me of the deep impression made on them by his foresight, by his method and by the gift of sheer hard work that he brought to his profession, all of which things were precedent to the prompt decision and the vigorous action for which the world knew him so well.

Those qualities and a mind attuned to statesmanship were given in full after the War, when he spent more than seven years at the Admiralty at a time of intense difficulty for any First Sea Lord, at a time when in the hands of any lesser man it might have been impossible to have accomplished what was done in the way it was done; for this great sailor, who had been in command of the greatest naval force the world has ever seen, had in those years immediately succeeding the War to turn the whole of his influence, the whole of his knowledge and the whole of his skill, to reducing that force to the very skeleton of what it had been, to see that after those reductions what was left was as efficient as it could he, on that comparatively slender scale, to see that all the changes of personnel that had to be made, the dismissals, were done—hardship there must have been in many cases—with as little hardship as was possible. These things he did and he served four or five separate Governments, all with the same devotion to duty and with the same loyalty. Those last years of his service to his country showed a man no less great in any way than he had been at the height of his power with the Grand Fleet.

When that work was done, for a short time he enjoyed such rest as was more than due to him, but in those last months, in failing health, there were two calls of personal duty to which he with his nature would not fail to respond. He followed his brother admiral, Lord Jellicoe, to his grave, and later, on the occasion when most of us saw him for the last time and were struck only too sadly by his appearance, he followed his beloved King on the last march through London. His gallant spirit is now at rest and it only remains for this House, as they will, to pay him with no dissentient voice that tribute that they reserve for men who have rendered superlative service to their country. There can be no greater honour to any man than that this House, as I have said on one previous occasion, should stand aside for a few brief moments from its constant strife and unite to pay its tribute to those who have deserved well of the State. This, I am convinced to-day, we shall all do as one man in this House.


I rise on behalf of the Opposition to support the Motion which has been so eloquently moved by the Prime Minister. My mind, like his, has gone back to that occasion only a few months ago when we were paying our tribute to Lord Jellicoe. Now we are considering the erection of a memorial to another great naval commander, Lord Beatty. One by one the great fighting leaders of the nation daring the Great War are passing away To many people the name of Beatty suggests a brilliant, impetuous leader, rushing into battle regardless of consequences. But he was far more than an impetuous and gallant leader. He was indeed brilliant, fearless and vigorous, but his valour was controlled by a. cool brain. In the heart of an action he could think swiftly and calmly. He would take risks, but only if the objects to be gained were commensurate. He was a born leader of men and had that gift of inspiring those who served under him with his own dauntless spirit. He was ever mindful of the welfare of those he commanded, both when at sea in the War and afterwards in time of peace. It was during his tenure as First Sea Lord that the Welfare Committees were set up for the men in the Navy. His name will be linked for ever with the achievements of the British Fleet in the Great War. He has taken his place with the great sea captains of the nation. For all those years after the War he served as Firs-, Sea Lord in most trying times, when inevitable Fleet reductions meant the infliction of hardship on his comrades in the Service. His monument, like that of Len d Jellicoe, will be a tribute not only to him but to the valour and devotion of all the men who served our country at sea during the Great War.


I rise to support on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends the Motion before the House, and to echo the sentiments which have been so eloquently expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of admiration of the character and gratitude for the services of the great sailor to whose illustrious memory it is rightly proposed to erect a monument. None I think can doubt that history will assign to Lord Beatty a place in the company of Blake and Nelson and of the greatest of our naval commanders some of whose names the Prime Minister was recalling to us this afternoon. Exactly what that place will be I agree with the Prime Minister it is not for us to attempt to estimate; but this I know, that I have never yet met an officer or naval rating who served under Lord Beatty who did not say so with a ring of pride in his voice. Of course we must erect a memorial of stone so that he who walks the streets of the capital of the Empire shall be reminded of its debt to a great man and a great leader of men. But his true memorial will be less tangible; it will be part of the traditions of the Service to which he devoted his life in peace and war. His strength, valour and ardour, controlled by a keen, cool and disciplined mind, were among the gifts which he brought to the Navy which it will not relinquish at his death, for so long as the British Navy sails the seas and so long as its fame endures the man we called Lord Beatty, the deeds he did and the inspiration he gave will be freshly remembered; and so long will he hold a place of honour in the hearts of the British people.

Resolved, That this House will, To-morrow, resolve itself into a Committee to consider an humble Address to His Majesty, praying that His Majesty will give directions that a monument be erected at the public charge to the memory of the late Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty, as an expression of the admiration of this House for his illustrious naval career and its gratitude for his devoted services to the State.