HL Deb 23 January 1855 vol 136 cc899-910

My Lords, in pursuance of a notice which I gave to my noble Friend the Minister for the War Department, and which I gave privately, because the House was not sitting, and I could not place it on the Votes, I rise to move for a copy of the order which has been issued from the War Office, granting a medal to the army in the Crimea. I call your Lordships' attention to the subject, because, while I am quite sure that the soldiers in the Crimea will feel grateful to Her Majesty for having given a Crimean medal with clasps for Alma and Inkerman, I also think that when Her Majesty's Government gave clasps for those two splendid victories they did not go far enough, when they omitted to recognise in the same manner the victory at Balaklava. If your Lordships will refer to Lord Raglan's despatch—and he must be a competent judge of the conduct of the troops there engaged—you will see that he states that the conduct of the 93rd Highlanders, in repulsing, in single line, an attack of a large body of Russian cavalry, was most meritorious; and, if we consider the conduct of the heavy brigade of cavalry, overmatched by numbers as they were, it is impossible to praise it too highly. And, my Lords, we ought never to forget the splendid conduct of that heroic and devoted band, the light cavalry, under the command of my noble Friend (the Earl of Cardigan), whom I am glad to see again in his place. When we see what the conduct of those heroic cavalry soldiers was, when they were sent to do what they knew it was utterly impossible for them satisfactorily to carry out—when we consider that those men, surrounded by a large body of Russian cavalry—hemmed in by infantry—swept from the field by continuous discharges of grape from the enemy's batteries—still retired, as we have learned from Lord Raglan's despatch, in good order, and cut their way back to their comrades, surely, my Lords, no man can say that Balaklava was not a victory. Did not the Russians attempt to turn our flank—did they not attempt to raise the siege of Sebastopol? and if it had not been for the gallant bearing and heroic conduct of the soldiers there engaged the siege of Sebastopol would have been raised. Will not the people of this country, who speak so much of the gratitude which they feel to their soldiers, say that the army there engaged, both infantry and cavalry, have the strongest claim to a clasp with Balaklava inscribed upon it? I know very well that up to a very late period medals were not given for actions such as those I have described; but in recent times we can refer to few actions such as this. My Lords, formerly, in the late war, Parliament and the country were satisfied if they gave ribands and stars to the commanding officers of regiments, and to commanding officers of the army; but, 1 am happy to say, that that system is entirely exploded now. I wish to ask my noble Friend (the Duke of Newcastle) on what ground it is that he has not given a clasp for Balaklava? and I will ask him, also, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to give the Crimean medal to the sailors who have landed with the troops, and who have lightened and shared in the dangers, and participated in the victories, in the Crimea? I cannot understand why a private gunner in the Royal Artillery, working in a battery, should get a medal for his conduct at one gun, and that the man at the next gun, subject to the same privations and dangers, should not get the medal for equally good conduct, because he wears the blue jacket of a sailor. When men are doing equal duty, and rearing their laurels from the same stem, why should there be one rule for the one, and a different rule for the other? It is not necessary for me to detain your Lordships by describing the great value which the soldiers and sailors of England attach to medals given for actions in which they have distinguished themselves. I believe it is admitted now by all that they do value these testimonials of their country's and of Parliament's gratitude. What is the use to a private soldier of a Vote of Thanks of Parliament? It must be very gratifying to him, when he reads the paper signed by my noble and learned Friend on the woolsack, conveying the thanks of Parliament. It may do very well so long as that man remains in that ship or in that regiment; but if a man is wounded and comes home, or when he goes back to his native village and to his cottage, he speaks of the dangers he has undergone and the triumphs he has achieved, he has nothing—if he be without a medal—to show that he was present in those actions. The object of the medal is to remedy that want, so that on his return to his domestic hearth he may be able to show with pride upon his breast the mark that he had done some good service for his country. I object also that Her Majesty's Government do not give the medal to the representatives of those who have fallen in action. I think there can be no reason against it. Formerly there was this reason—you delayed so long the giving of it to the Peninsular and old war officers and sailors, that there was great difficulty in finding out who were the persons entitled to receive it as representatives. But now will there, I ask, be more difficulty in finding out the representatives who are entitled to receive the war medals than there is in finding out the persons who are entitled to receive a portion of that Patriotic Fund which has been so properly started by Her Majesty—a fund which does credit to the people of England from the way in which they have subscribed to it. I think, however, that it should be a tax on the country at large; for I do not see why you should ask the good, generous, and liberal people of England to subscribe; for you know well that the peacemongers, be they few or many, have made their dislike to war an excuse for not subscribing to this fund. If you can find the representatives of those who have fallen, or who shall fall, in the Crimea, and when you are giving to those representatives relief in money, there is no reason why you should not find them out for the purpose of conferring on them the honour of the medal. I must apologise to your Lordships for bringing the subject before the House; but I feel most deeply the justice of the case of those people that I have now ventured to allude to. I will venture to say this—that in no part of our history has there been an occasion on which the gratitude of the country ought to be more called into action than the present one, when our brave men have acted so nobly, amidst great dangers and under great privations—the necessity for which I stop nut to inquire into, though every man most admit that the privations have been of no ordinary character, If any man should come into the House at the present moment, he would think that I was asking for a large grant of public money to reward those brave and heroic men; and I am only asking you to give them a clasp in order that when they shall come home to the domestic hearth, they may show a clasp in attestation of their services to their country, I move, therefore— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Return of a General Order of the Horse Guards of the 15th December last, granting a Medal for the Campaign in the Crimea, with Clasps for the Battles of Alma and Inkerman.


My Lords, the noble and gallant Duke has apologised to your Lordships for bringing this subject under your notice; but, I am sure your Lordships will feel that no apology was necessary on the part of my noble Friend for bringing forward this subject. On the contrary, I am sure that every one of your Lordships, as well as every one out of doors, feels the greatest interest in a subject that involves rewards and honours to those gallant men who are fighting our battles in the Crimea. I am sure there is no person more aware, than my noble Friend of the difficulty, of exercising an accurate and nice definition in the distribution of such honours as those to which he refers—namely, the giving of clasps for actions. He would not, I am sure, think it would be right, throughout a long war or a protracted campaign, that clasps should be given for every engagement, however gallant, that might occur. I believe, that although no general rule has been absolutely laid down, yet the general practice has been that clasps should be given for general actions when those general actions have led to a victory. There can be no doubt that Alma and Inkerman come within that category; but I feel there is some doubt with regard to the action at Balaklava, though there can be no doubt that every man engaged in that battle is as fully entitled to reward and honour as any man who took part in the other battles to which I have referred. There might be a doubt with reference to Balaklava, on the ground I have mentioned; but Her Majesty feels that if there be a doubt, that doubt should be resolved in favour of men who have so greatly distinguished themselves, and She has directed that a clasp shall be given for the action at Balaklava. I trust it may not be considered that the Government or the military authorities are about to depart from the rule to which I have referred by granting this clasp; but certainly I do feel, after the comments that have been made on that action, and the few words that fell from my noble Friend himself in calling attention to the subject, that it would be ungracious and undesirable on every account that this reward should be withheld from these gallant men. I say with the greatest confidence, that in all the records of our battles—whether fought by large numbers or small—there is no battle in which British troops have been engaged in which greater gallantry and self-devotion have been exhibited, than were displayed by officers and men, cavalry and infantry, who were engaged at Balaklava. Having disposed of the first part of the observations of my noble Friend, I shall now come to the second part, in which he called attention to some supposed defect in reference to the mode of granting the Crimean medal. I do not know whether the misapprehension in the mind of my noble Friend has arisen from the despatch which I wrote to Lord Raglan, but undoubtedly it was never intended that the Crimean medal should be confined exclusively to the soldiers engaged in those battles, nor was it even intended that it should be confined to the sailors who were engaged in manning the guns. Her Majesty feels, in giving the Crimean medal, that the Navy is as justly entitled to that reward as the army. No doubt the navy has not participated in all the hard-fought actions that took place, but they have participated in great dangers, and have rendered the most valuable assistance on every occasion to the troops that were engaged. Under these circumstances, it has been always intended—and if there has been any misapprehension on the subject I thank my noble Friend for affording me this opportunity of correcting it—that the medal for the Crimea should be given not only to all the officers and soldiers, but to all the officers and sailors who have been engaged in that part of the world. As to the third point to which my noble Friend has referred, here again I am able to meet his observations in the spirit in which he offered them. My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble Friend, that if the families of those who have fallen in these engagements can derive consolation—and no doubt they will derive consolation—from the circumstance of possessing a medal which would have belonged, if they had lived, to their gallant relatives, it is right indeed that the country should afford it to them. My noble Friend has rightly said this evening that, as the system heretofore has been, medals have been granted so long after the service for which they have been conferred that it has been impossible to give those medals to the representatives of those who have fallen, because it would be impossible in very many instances to ascertain them. The same difficulty does not exist now, and a new precedent may be made, which I believe to be a sound and good one, In giving this medal Her Majesty's Government think that this wholesale innovation may be introduced, and we propose that the medals shall be given to the representatives of the officers and soldiers, and officers and sailors, who have fallen, or who may fall, in the various actions. My noble Friend will see that to render this boon of value and of practical effect it is absolutely necessary that the name should be engraved upon the rim of the medal. When first the medal for the Crimea was ordered, I had hoped that by dispensing with this usual form we should have gained the great advantage of sending out these medals to the brave troops who are fighting for their country at a much earlier period than we could send them out if the name were engraved on the rim of the medal. I hope this explanation may suffice; and if, for the purpose of carrying out the object more effectively, some two, three, or four months may elapse before the medals, which are very numerous, can be completed, I hope those to whom they are granted will feel that we have not been neglectful in the matter. I hope they will feel that it is the impossibility of completing them that has caused the delay, and I hope, also, that I have satisfied my noble Friend. When the country recollects the services that have been rendered, I am confident it will approve of the determination of the Government which I have now the pleasure to announce to your Lordships.


said, that nothing could be more satisfactory than the speech just delivered by his noble Friend (the Duke of Newcastle), nor could anything be more liberal; indeed, in his view, it was almost of too liberal a character. He was about to make what he hoped would not be considered an unpopular speech, because, with reference to his own profession, he desired to be as popular as possible; but, in his opinion, in order to make a decoration of honour satisfactory to the wearer, it must be earned in some way or other, so that he might be able to give a creditable answer to any one who questioned him about it. He did not know anything which would so degrade him in his own opinion as to be the wearer of a decoration when he felt conscious that he had not earned it; and if the medals in question were to be given, as he understood they were, to the officers and seamen who had merely served in the Black Sea, he was perfectly certain, from his knowledge of the high character of the officers of that profession of which he was a member, that such medals would not prove altogether acceptable. They felt desirous on all occasions, with reference to any honours which they might receive, that those honours should be fairly won: and in his (the Earl of Hardwicke's) belief an extreme liberality in their distribution was very likely to have a depreciating effect and to operate in a manner totally different to that which was intended. If they meant to make their honours valuable they must take care to give them to none but those who really deserved them; but if, on the contrary, they were to be distributed indiscriminately, they would in a great measure destroy the object they had in view in granting them. This was a matter of much importance. In this country, at all events, if not throughout the rest of Europe, honours and decorations received from the Sovereign had been held in the highest esteem; and why had they been so esteemed? Because they had been given to those alone who deserved them; he did not mean that those who had received them were deserving in a moral sense, but in the sense which was implied in the grant of a medal or decoration—namely, that they had enacted great deeds for which their country was desirous of bestowing honours upon them. He believed that up to this time the honours which had been bestowed upon the military portion of the service had been invariably bestowed upon those only who had been under fire, except in those cases in general actions in which there had been a reserve. In such instances he believed medals or honours had been distributed; and very properly so; for, in his opinion, when a reserve, by a strict obedience to the orders it had received, and the faithful performance of its allotted duties, had been instrumental in the attainment of a great victory, it was as deserving of honours and decorations as any other part of the army. He begged, however, to impress upon his noble Friend, although he might be justly anxious to render honour where it was due, to adopt that course of judicious discrimination which could alone render the honour valuable.


My Lords, the point to which my noble Friend has called the attention of the noble Duke is one of great importance. At a time. when it is intended to extend the grant of Medals, it is well we should truly understand on what principle we are proceeding. It so happened that I had to distribute nearly 60,000 medals for good services performed in India, and I acted upon one strict principle, which I would earnestly recommend for the adoption of the Government—I held it to be wrong to give any medal unless for distinguished service actually performed under the fire of the enemy. My Lords, that principle has not always been acted upon. I know that men have received medals because they happened to belong to corps which had contributed to the general success by the position which they occupied; but I think that is a very false, a most erroneous, and a deceptive system. When we see a man wearing a medal, the meaning conveyed to our mind is, that that man has done good service under fire. For my part, I never see a man wearing a medal without coming to that conclusion, and feeling disposed to give him my respect;—but how can that feeling be entertained if men receive medals who were never under fire at all? Every pecuniary advantage—every other advantage—that can be bestowed on men who have a just claim, from having contributed to success by the position they occupied, or by having done all they could to engage the enemy—should be given by the Government, but never that medal which should be always the mark for good service actually performed under fire; and I must earnestly recommend the adoption of that principle to her Majesty's Government. I rejoice that the clasps are at length conceded for the action at Balaklava. I rejoice to hear also that they are to be granted to the seamen;—but think the noble Duke who made the Motion adverted only to the General Order proceeding from the Horse Guards, which of course could not include seamen. I have seen no corresponding Order from the Board of Admiralty, and I do not think that the claims of the seamen in the batteries—the strongest of all—have yet been noticed by the Board of Admiralty. I entertain the strongest doubt about giving the Crimean medal to all the men engaged in the ships in the Black Sea. I look so strictly to this matter that I would hesitate very much how I gave medals indiscriminately even to all the seamen who were engaged in the attack of the 17th of October. I should get strict information as to the conduct of the men before I would do so, because I would wish to give the medal most strictly according to the rule I have laid down. I am glad the medals are now to be given. I cannot say how much I regret there was ever any hesitation on the subject. What soldiers and sailors love, is promptitude in rewarding their services. They are of all men the most sensitive. Honour to them is life. Life without honour is to them not worth having. The only thing they desire is personal distinction. It is for this they rush into action, as did the men who fought at Balaklava, and enacted deeds of arms for which I can scarcely find a parallel in history. I can find a parallel for the deeds at Alma, great as they were; I can find a parallel for the deeds enacted at Inkerman, still more remarkable as those deeds were; but I do not see where I can find a parallel for the deeds performed at Balaklava. Cavalry have charged guns before; cavalry have charged infantry before; cavalry have charged cavalry before; but I know not the instance, though there may be such, in which cavalry have charged cavalry, infantry, and artillery, at one and the same time, belonging to a powerful army in position. I never heard of such a thing, and I do not believe that there exists such a thing in history. Why did it not occur to the noble Duke that to reward the army as it should be rewarded, the medal for Balaklava should be instantaneous? When Curtius threw himself armed into the gulf in order by the sacrifice of himself to promote the future glory of his country, he did not enact or do a deed of more desperate fidelity. He did not do an act of more absolute self devotion than was performed by the light cavalry at Balaklava when they obeyed the order to charge. And let me not forget that noble regiment, the 93rd, who were under that gallant officer Sir Colin Campbell on that occasion. They justly felt confidence in that officer—one of the very first officers we have—an officer who had the entire confidence of the late Sir Charles Napier for more than ten years, who I believe had designated him on his deathbed for that command in the army which I trust he will hold. I say that they justly felt confidence in that officer, and he justly felt confidence in them; and it was that mutual confidence, and that mutual confidence alone, which enabled them to receive the charge of that mass of cavalry in that one single red line—which has so often secured the victory. My Lords, I will say no more; but I cannot, I assure your Lordships, express the pain with which I have witnessed the delay that has occurred in granting this honour. It does not look well that there should be a doubt upon the subject. It does not look well that the communication of the concession should be deferred until the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) moved for the General Order in this House and drew public attention to it. It is not well, also, that the medal for the great services at the Cape of Good Hope should have been deferred until the noble Duke again and again put a question upon the subject in this House. Still more strange is it that an occurrence which took place months ago should not have been made known until after the death of Sir George Cathcart. I will say no more at present, except to express my hope that hereafter Ministers will look thoroughly into every circumstance connected with every particular action, and that they will form their opinions on just and deliberate grounds, and at once grant the honours they judge fit to be awarded.


My Lords, I have duly seen the general order from the Horse Guards, and I have not seen any order from the Board of Admiralty. Although there may have been one from the Board, I have not seen it, and therefore I thought it right to bring the subject under the notice of your Lordships; for I believe that the Royal Marines and the seamen who landed in the Crimea have well deserved the honours that are to be conferred on them. With respect to what has fallen from my noble Friend behind me (the Earl of Hardwicke), I must say that I do not wish that any medal should be given to any man unless he has been engaged in active warfare with the enemy. I was never an advocate for the bestowal of medals on the principle upon which they were given on the occasion of the battle of Waterloo; and I am of opinion that the indiscriminate way in which they were then bestowed was one reason why public opinion has not gone with me since with respect to the distribution of medals. There were some 15,000 men on the road, who were not actually engaged, who did not know that the battle of Waterloo was fought until the next morning, and yet these men got the Waterloo medal. The men who received medals should have been in position, or should have been exposed to fire, or should have been in a general action. There was one regiment at Waterloo, commanded by a general officer lately deceased, of which a certain number of the men belonging to one of the battalions were sent to the rear with the wounded, and who did not come back again that evening. They were brave men, hut their commanding officer knew that after they had taken the wounded men to time rear where the baggage was, they amused themselves by looking into it. The officer ordered an inquiry, and it is on record, and I do not wish to mention the regiment; but in that battalion there were sixteen or seventeen men whom the court of inquiry awarded had not given sufficient reasons for their absence from duty, and therefore those men did not get the medal. When one calls into consideration what has been done by the army in the Crimea, it is self-evident that every man there has nobly done his duty. When it is remembered that there were six to one against them, every person feels satisfied that they have all deserved well of their country. My Lords, I will either Move for these returns, or I will Withdraw my Motion, after my noble Friend's speech; or I will now move for the order issued by the Horse Guards, and on a future occasion move for any order of a similar nature which may have been issued by the Board of Admiralty.


Under the circumstances, perhaps, the better course for my noble Friend to propose would be, to postpone the latter Motion to a future day.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned to Thursday next.