HL Deb 27 June 1854 vol 134 cc741-4

inquired of the noble Duke the Minister of War, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to confer medals upon the officers, non-commissioned officers, and private soldiers who served in the late campaigns in South Africa? At the outset he wished it to be distinctly understood that in this matter he was not influenced in the slightest degree by party or political motives; he was actuated solely by the same feeling which influenced the masses of the people of England, who desired that some mark of grateful acknowledgment should be given to those who had performed distinguished service to the country in the Army and Navy, and who, unless they received a medal or some mark of honour, had little else to show. It had been the practice, for some years at least, to grant to officers commanding our fleets or armies, the captains of ships, and the commanding officers of regiments, the distinction of a medal, or the honour of the Order of the Bath, or by promotion, and of late years honorary distinctions had been conferred upon officers of lower rank than formerly with great benefit to the services; and his object was to extend that system to soldiers and sailors, and he believed that respectable persons would thereby be induced to enter more freely into the service of the country. Much had been done of late years to improve the condition of those brave men, but much still remained to be done. He was the last man who would wish to diminish the credit due to the admirals, the commanders of our forces, or to the commanding officers of regiments; but he submitted that, though it was most creditable to them when their regiments distinguished themselves, yet their Lordships ought not to forget and pass by those men who, by their conduct under every danger and every privation, enabled this country to conquer, and enabled those officers to wear the decorations which, until late years, had been denied to them. Medals had been rightly given to our soldiers engaged in India and China. Medals had also been most properly given, after long consideration, to the brave men who fought in the Peninsular War. But he would ask their Lordships to remember the difference between an officer commanding a regiment and a private soldier. The former were the recipients of medals; but the latter, unless in exceptional instances, received no medal at all. A man went to the Cape of Good Hope, for instance, and underwent all sorts of hardships and privations; marching and countermarching over a country which was nearly impassable; suffering every species of privation with the greatest patience, without food or other means of sustenance, and every moment exposed to be shot from some ambush by the Kafirs; knowing that if for one instant he should be separated from his party, he would receive no quarter from his enemy; aware that if wounded in a retreat, or in an endeavour to flank the enemy, he would be seized and tortured by them. None but those who had undergone these dangers and these privations—which he begged to be permitted to say he, in his humble position and in days gone by, had experienced —could be aware of the horrors, the privations, and the dangers which both soldiers and sailors must undergo in active warfare. A man came back to his country with his constitution destroyed; but, not having served sufficiently long, he was not entitled to a pension—he probably received one year's pay. When that man returned to his native home, he would be comparatively happy, if upon his breast he could show the marks of approbation from his Sovereign and his country—marks of approbation highly valued by the friends of his boyhood and by his old schoolfellows. There could be no ground why they should not confer on the private soldier that honour which they were now in the habit of conferring on the officers. He felt that, in asking his noble Friend to assent to confer on the Army who had been engaged in the Kafir War a well-deserved distinction, he was asking that boon from a Member of the Government who had never shown himself hostile to the claims of the Army. He remembered that, after having brought the subject often and often before the House, medals were at length granted and gratefully accepted by the veterans of the Peninsular War when Lord John Russell was leader of the House of Commons, and when Sir George Grey was Secretary for the Home Department. But while he thus urged the claims of these men to the honorary distinctions which their services merited, let him not be misunderstood. He by no means intended to say that, if the Government should determine that no medals should henceforth be given to the Army or the Navy, it would prevent the British soldier or sailor from doing his duty. He knew both the soldier and the sailor too well. They were enlisted from a free and independent population, and he knew that they would ever do their duty, and would ever be found to devote their lives to their country's cause. But that was no reason why the country should be ungrateful. He apologised for having taken up so much of their Lordships' time, but he felt that he could not properly have put the question to the noble Duke without prefacing it shortly by a statement of the grounds which had induced him to ask it, and to which he hoped he should receive a favourable answer.


said, he heartily concurred in what had fallen from his noble Friend with reference to the value attached to these marks of favour on the part of the Sovereign and of the country, earned by the bravery of our soldiers and of our sailors engaged in war, whether by land or by sea. And he was equally prepared to say that, if ever there was a war which more than another required the incentive of such rewards and distinctions, it was the war in the Cape of Good Hope, where the soldiers were not stimulated by the anticipation of meeting an enemy over whom a conquest would redound to their glory and their fame. The Kafir war was one in which all the horrors of warfare had to be encountered without any glory being achieved as the result. With respect to the question of the noble Duke, there was one point which naturally suggested itself to the mind for consideration—namely, to what extent ought the principle of granting medals and other honorary distinctions to the Army to be carried? He apprehended that there were cases in which it would not be proper to grant medals to the private soldier, even though engaged in a successful war. He more particularly alluded to a war which partook of a civil character. He apprehended that his noble Friend would agree with him that to award medals to men engaged in a domestic quarrel, however great the sufferings of the soldier might be, would not be expedient or wise. In answer to the question which had been put to him (the Duke of Newcastle) by his noble Friend, he had great pleasure in informing him that it was the intention of Her Majesty that medals should be conferred on the soldiers engaged in the Kafir war. He thought it right to say why the medal had been delayed, and why for a short time longer there would be a delay. In taking Her Majesty's pleasure on the subject, he thought it was desirable that he should have an opportunity of speaking to the commander of that brave army to whose success his own generalship and skill had so greatly conduced—he meant Sir George Cathcart, who was now on his way to England. It was desirable to wait until he (the Duke of Newcastle) had had an opportunity of speaking to that gallant officer on the subject, before Her Majesty's gracious order should be carried into effect. That was the only reason why any delay had taken place.


would have been happy to support the opinions of the noble Duke, agreeing as he did in the views which he had expressed on this subject. He rejoiced exceedingly in what had been done, and considered it to be a very well-omened commencement of the administration of the noble Duke.

House adjourned to Thursday next.