HL Deb 13 July 1857 vol 146 cc1335-45

presented a Petition from the Officers of the late British Swiss Legion, complaining that the agreement under which they were enrolled by the British Government has been violated in respect of their Pay, and praying for Redress; and said: My Lords, I gave notice some time since of my in- tention to bring under the notice of your Lordships a case which, primâ facie, seems to me one of hardship as regards the petitioners in the matter, who were officers in the Swiss Legion. I wish particularly that your Lordships may be persuaded, and Her Majesty's Government convinced, that I have no intention whatever of making any attack on her Majesty's Ministers, or bringing any accusation against them. The case is simply one of no less than forty-seven officers of the Swiss Legion, who complain that certain articles under which they were enlisted have not been faithfully fulfilled by her Majesty's Government; and that they have not received the amount of pay which they expected, and to which, as they allege, they were entitled under those articles. The whole case depends on the accuracy of the statement made by the petitioners; and this being so, my Lords, I think I cannot do better than read their petition to the House. It is as follows:— THE HUMBLE PETITION OF THE OFFICERS OF THE LATE BRITISH SWISS LEGION, COMPRISING THE 1ST AND 2nd EATTALIONS OF THE 1ST REGIMENT, Humbly showeth,—That in the months of May, June, and July, 1855, your petitioners were enrolled (pursuant to the Foreign Enlistment Act) in the above-named legion, under certain articles of enlistment then printed and published, at Bern, in Switzerland, dated Schelestadt, 1855, and bearing the signatures of HANS SULZBERGER, Colonel. CHARLES EDWARD FUNK, Lieut. Colonel. JOHN BAUMGARTNER, Captain (Staff). These gentlemen, formed under the presidency of Colonel Dixon, the commission appointed by the English Government to enlist and organize the Legion; the articles alluded to were promulgated by Sir G. Gordon, the British minister at Berne, Colonel Dickson, the said president of the Swiss Committee, and by the members of that body, and your petitioners were sworn in under those articles and under the precise terms and stipulations therein contained. That such articles contained amongst other things the following stipulations:— Art. 2.—'That the officers and men should be enlisted for the duration of the war, and for twelve months after the ratification of peace.' Art. 25.—'That upon disbandment the officers should receive fifteen months' full pay, and the non-commissioned officers and men the full pay of two years, according to a certain tariff therein set forth, and subject to certain reductions if retained in service after the ratification of peace.' That in July following the British Government caused certain other articles, without date, to be printed and published, bearing the signature of Colonel Charles Sheffield Dickson, wherein it is stipulated by Art. 1.—'That the officers and men should be enlisted for the duration of the war, and for one year after the ratification of peace.' Art. 10.—'That on disbandment the officers should be allowed three months' pay to carry them home.' These terms do not appear to differ from those of the original articles, as thereby also your petitioners would be entitled to fifteen months' pay after the ratification of peace. That upon disbandment your petitioners of course claimed the fulfilment of the terms under which they enlisted, but the War Office refused to recognise the original articles, terming them unauthorized and spurious. They offered the three months' pay, which your petitioners accepted, under protest, and an arrangement was then made that, should your honourable House sanction the fulfilment of the articles of enlistment, the War Office would make no further objection to carrying out such stipulations. That a further offer of three months' pay has since been made to some of your petitioners, which in most instances has been rejected. That your petitioners were led to believe the accredited articles issued by the military agents of the British Government in Switzerland, and promulgated by the British minister at Berne, and never doubted the honourable fulfilment of the articles of stipulation. That your petitioners, numbering forty-seven officers of the British Swiss Legion, and forming the 1st and 2nd battalions thereof, were legally enlisted and sworn in under the said original printed articles, issued at the English Ambassador's office, at Berne, no other articles being at that time in existence, and that it was not until three months after their enlistment that the second articles were published. Now, my Lords, whether the articles relied on by the petitioners be spurious or not, assuming to be true what is stated by Colonel Baumgartner, and his evidence on the matter is attested by various local authorities, there must have been some articles printed and promulgated early in May, 1855, under the supervision of Sir G. Gordon, Colonel Dickson, and the other members of the Swiss Committee; and this must be true, that those officers having enlisted in the month of June or the beginning of July, before the second articles were issued by the noble Lord at the head of the War Department, must have been enlisted under that first code. The question, then, naturally arises, whether the Government should not carry out this first convention, the non-fulfilment of which did not arise from any fault of those officers, and which they alleged they believed to be bonâ fide, and not a spurious one. To show that this convention was not a spurious one, but had all the authority of the Swiss Committee, Colonel Baumgartner made a declaration, of which the following is a copy;— I, John Baumgartner, late a major of the British Swiss Legion, and one of the Swiss committee appointed by the British Government to organize the legion, do hereby declare that the military convention under which the officers were to be enrolled was drawn by me and submitted to the other members of the committee, and as several articles therein remained undecided upon, as Colonel Dickson was waiting, as he pretended, further instructions from his Government, it was agreed to publish extracts of such articles as had been agreed to by Colonel Dickson, and such extracts were accordingly prepared by me (as was afterwards also the full convention), but altered and corrected by the other members of the committee, as the first and second drafts thereof now in my hands, with alterations and corrections in the handwriting of Colonel Dickson, will prove, and such extracts fixed the allowance of pay for retraite. It was found necessary to do this, as we could not begin the levy until some conditions were published. The whole commission gave their sanction for the printing and publishing of such extract after it was corrected and approved by Colonel Dickson. The secretary to the commission superintended the printing, and the first printed copies were handed to Sir G. Gordon, the British Minister at Berne, others were taken to the recruiting office, by which, as also by the members of the commission, Colonels Sulzberger and Funk, the same were promulgated; all costs and expenses of the printing were made on account of the British government, after the bill was approved of by the commission; the extract was printed in May, 1855, and between that time and August following, when Colonel Dickson's convention was published, more than 30 officers were enrolled. The extract of the first convention was never revoked or disavowed. Given under my hand and seal, at my residence, at Schelestadt, department Lower Rhine, January 4th, 1857. (L.S.) "JOHN BAUMGARTNER. In addition to that, my Lords, we have the affidavit of Captain Grussy, which is as follows:— AFFIDAVIT OP CAPTAIN GRUSSY. Appeared personally, Charles Louis Grussy, an officer of the British Swiss Legion, and made 'oath, that in the month of May, 1855, deponent was acting as lieutenant in the British Swiss Legion, and in that capacity was detached for Berne, when the British Swiss Legion was about to be established, and as the recruiting was against the Swiss law, deponent would have been liable to arrest, but the British Consul, Sir G. Gordon, procured for him the authority of an attaché of the British embassy, with the customary privileges and exemptions. That deponent in the performance of his duties was witness when the articles of enlistment were printed, at the office of M. Jenny, Son, at Berne, on the 26th of May, 1855, and was also witness to the promulgation of those articles amongst the Swiss officers by the officials of the British consulate, and deponent was ordered by the English consul, Sir G. Gordon, to promulgate those articles so printed at Berne, and dated 'Schelestadt, 1855.'

"Sworn at Dovor, in the county of Kent, this 8th day of October, 1856. GRUSSY, Captain.

"Before me,

"W. H. PAYN,

"A Commissiener to administer oaths in Chancery in England, ex-Mayor of Dovor."

Now, my Lords, having read these documents, I can only say, that the case is on the word of one man against that of another. We are told by Colonel Baumgartner that the articles, the fulfilment of which these forty-seven officers demand, had not only his approval, but that of the whole Commission, who gave their sanction to the printing and publishing of the extracts now relied on by those officers. No other rules were printed before the month of July, so that those men who entered the Legion and took the oath in the month of June, must have had shown to them this code, which is now declared to be spurious by my noble Friend, the Secretary of War, and the English Government. As regards the authenticity of the extracts in question, that question is, as I said before, one which rests upon the word of one man, as against that of another. But, my Lords, the main question involved in this difference between Her Majesty's Government and those forty-seven officers is, indeed, a very serious one, both as affects the honour of this country and her future policy. On an occasion like the present, when the extent of our military resources must naturally engage the attention of Her Majesty's Government and every member of your Lordships' House, the consideration of a question like that the subject of this petition is one not altogether foreign to the business which has just been before us. Some day or other it may be thought desirable to again enlist foreigners. When the question of foreign enlistment was first mooted in this House, I was one of those who expressed regret that such a measure should be resorted to; but the late war showed me the very great difficulty which we should have to encounter in carrying on hostilities on an extensive scale, and raising armies equal to those put in the field by great military Powers, if we were compelled to confine ourselves to the voluntary system of enlistment. Therefore, my Lords, I think it most important that this country should continue to uphold its good name with foreigners, and Lam of opinion, that the Swiss are the best foreigners that we could, in times of emergency, enlist into our service; because there is not in Switzerland that opprobrium to enlistment in foreign armies that exists as a feeling in other countries. The Swiss have for centuries served in foreign armies, and such service is in that country esteemed an honour. I would then, my Lords, say that, not only as a point of honour, but also as one of policy it is incumbent on our Government to keep faith with foreigners enlisted in Her Majesty's service. I would go further, my Lords, and, say, that if, under the difficulties of war, and acting as it were under a fear of doing that which was illegal, any of our agents smuggled a code of this kind into the pockets of Swiss officers, still we ought to be most scrupulously careful in fulfilling all engagements which foreigners believed we made with them when inducing them to enter out service. These forty-seven officers believed that they were enlisted under a particular code. Whether that code be spurious or not is another question. The entire claim of the petitioners only amounts to £2,700; and I cannot believe that such a sum is of moment as compared with the importance of leaving Switzerland and all other foreign nations under the impression that this country is anxious to do her duty towards those who responded to her call in the hour of need. Having said thus much, my Lords, I shall make no further observations on this petition till I shall have heard my noble Friend, the Secretary for War, reply to what is, in my opinion, at least a primâ facie case.


said, he did not find any fault with his noble Friend for introducing this case to their Lordships, but he thought the fact that this petition was signed by only forty-seven out of the large number of officers belonging to the Swiss Legion would show that its complaint was by no means a general one. He assured their Lordships that, in settling the claims of both officers and men of these foreign Corps, there had been, on his part, every disposition not only to act up to the terms of the engagements which we had made with them, but even to extend the generosity of this country beyond that limit, in order to show that we appreciated the service which they had rendered to us. Of course in the settlement of these claims, many disputes occurred both with officers and men but; if his noble Friend had been at all aware of the infinite care which had been taken to adjust these matters; and of the almost unanimity with which they bad been adjusted, and the corps disbanded with the entire satisfaction both of officers and men, he would not in any way have questioned the disposition of the Government to deal fairly with ail these persons. But there was a peculiarity about these forty-seven officers which he must explain. He assured the House that he had considered the case with reference to the position of both parties, without regard to the trumpery sum which they claimed, with a view of settling their claims according to what was right, but so as not to awaken claims in others for which there was no ground. It was asserted by these officers that they were enlisted—that was not a proper term—that they accepted service under Her Majesty upon certain conditions. Colonel Dickson was the officer charged with carrying out the Foreign Enlistment Act, so far as concerned the raising of a Swiss Legion. Early in May, he (Lord Panmure) sent that officer to Switzerland, giving him in this country a letter of service, in which were recorded the terms upon which he thought it right that that regiment should be raised with regard to both officers and men. As this enlistment for the British army was not recognized by the law of Switzerland, Colonel Dickson established, at a place on the frontier, a committee of three officers, consisting of Colonel Sulzberger, Lieutenant Colonel Funk, and Major Baumgartner, of which he was himself the president; and at this place the formation of the Legion was carried on. Afterwards Colonel Dickson went to Berne, and there, in conjunction with the committee, he drew up articles of service, and directed that they should be printed as they had been drawn up. This direction was not carried out. One member of the committee, Major Baumgartner, took upon himself to have printed what he called an extract from these articles, and to this he forged the signatures of the other two members of the committee, both of whom now denied that they gave him any authority to append their names to this spurious extract. In the course of time Colonel Dickson saw this "extract" in print, and he immediately took steps to deny its authenticity, and to explain to every officer who had been engaged under it that these were not the terms upon which service under her Majesty was to be taken; and up to the disbandment of the legion no officer complained that he was not satisfied upon this matter. That, however, was not all. The spurious extract appeared to have been issued at the end of May or beginning of June. Colonel Dickson immediately took means, by writing to the Swiss newspapers, and by sending them copies of the Foreign Enlistment Act, and of the genuine articles, to establish its falsity: and, so far as appeared from documentary evidence, it was impossible that any officer could have been deceived by it after the beginning of July, some time after which date it was that the large majority of those who had signed this petition took service. It appeared to him that this was a case which had been got up by English lawyers. At the disbandment of the legion, some officers who thought they had claims under these articles communicated with Colonel Hackett, who conducted the disbandment abroad; but, by conversing with them, he satisfied them that they had no such claims. These officers, however, appeared to have fallen into the hands of English lawyers, who had given them bad advice; because, upon being disbanded, all the officers, these petitioners included, had signed a receipt stating that they had received their gratuity, and had no further claims upon the British Government. In their petition, these forty-seven officers stated that they signed this receipt under protest, but he could find no trace of the existence of such a protest, and he believed that the whole matter had been got up since. He was confirmed in this view by the fact that, after the claim had been raised, he received a letter from a solicitor and ex-mayor of Dovor, intimating that the matter would be brought before Parliament, but that he was open to a compromise, if he (Lord Panmure) would accept it. He refused to accept that offer, and in doing so he thought he had acted well, both with regard to the honour and credit of this country, and with regard to that responsibility with which he was bound to look to the expenditure of the public money which Parliament so liberally placed at the disposal of the Government for carrying on the war. He entirely agreed with his noble Friend (the Earl of Malmesbury) that it was absolutely necessary that no idea should exist in the minds of these foreign officers that faith had not been kept with them, and that they should have no feeling which could deter them from serving the Government on a future occasion. He had much gratification in informing his noble Friend and the House that one officer whose name was attached to this petition, Major Hafelin, had only that morning Written to the Foreign Office to say that, having heard of the state of affairs in India, he and a great many others were most willing to re-enter the service of the British Government, and that no doubt, if England required them, she could call from the mountains of Switzerland all those who had formerly so zealously enrolled themselves under her standard. He (Lord Panmure) had received similar offers of service from many other officers, and he was quite convinced that in disbanding the Swiss Legion at the close of the late war we left upon their minds the impression that England had dealt fairly with them, as they had dealt fairly with England. He could not forbear from stating the following facts. The formation of the Legions commenced in the month of May, 1855. In the month of August, 1855, 4,000 of these soldiers, thoroughly equipped, thoroughly armed, and thoroughly drilled, were reviewed by Her Majesty at Shorncliffe, and in less than six weeks afterwards 6,000 of the Legion were transported to the neighbourhood of the seat of war ready for action. He had received the highest testimonials of their conduct, both in this country and at Smyrna. With reference to the general question of foreign enlistment, he agreed with his noble Friend that so long as we had no conscription in this country we must not give up the power of enlisting foreign troops in our service. As the noble Earl had observed, we were bound to deal with them fairly and honestly; but at the same time, as Minister of War, he was bound to see that we did not deal with them on any but terms of fair justice, and to protect the taxpayers of the country from paying more than was right even for the best article.


admitted that in some respects the noble Lord had answered many of his remarks satisfactorily, but he had not explained how his own articles differed from those which were supposed to be spurious. The articles as stated in the petition could be construed in two ways. The officers of the Legion believed that they entered our service for one year after the ratification of peace; but the Minister of War thought that that was entirely a mistake, and that he had the power of discharging them before that time, and also of retaining them to the expiration of it if he thought fit. That was the point in dispute between the officers and the War Office. He believed that the articles might be construed both ways; but any way those officers who had entered our service under this idea, and who had been deceived by the officials of the Government, ought, he contended, to be indemnified, and to be paid the sums which they expected to receive. He was astonished to hear that Colonel Funk had repudiated his signature, for he held in his hand a letter from that gentleman's solicitor, in which he said not one word of repudiation of the signature, but that he had received within the last few weeks instructions from Colonel Funk to institute an action at law against Colonel Dickson for his repeated slanders against his character. With respect to the receipts in full of all claims given by the officers, all he had to say was, that when the Minister at War gave the officers a gratuity of three months' pay it was accompanied by a letter from the War Office, stating that it was given without prejudice to any future claims, and they gave a receipt, therefore, without prejudice to future claims. There was such discrepancy and such contradiction in the evidence that he was perfectly unable to say any more upon the subject, but must leave it to the sagacity of the noble Lord to go to the bottom of it.


said, he had received the following letter from Colonels Funk and Sulzberger in respect to their signatures to the article:— The undersigned have the honour to state that the so-called extract from the Convention, dated Schelestadt, 1855, was made without their co-operation; that it is said that the same has been arranged by Colonel Dickson and Major Baumgartner, and that during the absence of both (undersigned) their signature has been attached to it, and has been published. We have, &c., H. SULZBERGER, Colonel. K. FUNK, Lieutenant Colonel.


denied that it was at all necessary for this country to have recourse to the employment of foreign troops in time of war if proper measures were taken by our Government at the outset. On the contrary, we might always raise men enough among our own population both for defensive and for offensive purposes. It was the stinginess of the Government at the beginning, and their unwillingness to offer a sufficient sum of money to tempt our own people to enter into our military service, which rendered it necessary to turn to foreign countries for men. This description of force had never been found so satisfactory as our own troops, and by this means of increasing our armies we ran the risk of getting into collision with foreign Governments. The noble Earl concluded by moving for a Return, already presented to the House of Commons, showing the cost of rais- ing and maintaining the Foreign Legions (which was afterwards agreed to).


said, that it was a most impolitic thing to have recourse to foreign aid. It would be almost better to raise troops by conscription at home.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.