HL Deb 05 May 1881 vol 260 cc1803-14

My Lords, most of your Lordships will remember that the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Cranbrook), when Secretary of State for India, moved a Vote of Thanks in August, 1879, at the close of one phase of the late Afghan War. The noble Viscount carefully avoided on that occasion any allusion to topics which might lead to any political discussion, while, at the same time, doing honour to the troops. I shall certainly carefully endeavour to follow that example while I am asking your Lordships to perform that which I believe to be the most pleasing Parliamentary duty—namely, to recognize the services of those gallant men who, as in this case, have been so successfully employed in sustaining the honour of the British Army. At the close of the campaign, the occasion of the thanks to which I have just referred, the troops employed on the Khyber and Kuram lines had been withdrawn within the Frontier laid down in the Treaty of Gandamak, a considerable proportion of the troops in Southern Afghanistan were returning to India, and the transport was for the most part dismissed. One month after the Vote of Thanks had been given the sad news of the Cabul massacre became known. A large force was rapidly collected and moved forward. Candahar was retained, and its communication with India made safe. After the battles of Char-Asiab and of Asmai, the British Standard was erected on the Bala Hissar at Cabul. Under the pressure, however, of some 60,000 soldiers of the Tribes, our troops had to concentrate themselves at Sherpur, and when they were attacked the defence of the citadel was successfully carried out, and the vast Afghan Army was entirely broken up. During this time the communications with Cabal were maintained by the Khyber division, occupying 13 posts along 132 miles, and keeping the hostile Tribes in check. In March, a force of between 4,000 and 5,000 men left Candahar to march on Ghazni and Cabul. Within 25 miles of Ghazni a brilliant victory was gained over a force greatly superior in numbers, aided by many thousand fanatical swordsmen—a victory which completely opened the road to Cabul. But on the receipt of news of a victory gained by Ayoob Khan over General Primrose near Candahar, a corps of 10,000 men were sent from Cabul to relieve Candahar, and they performed that famous march about which your Lordships have heard so much, traversing a distance of 316 miles, or 29 marches in 23 days. They spent one day in reconnoitring, and on the next they stormed Ayoob's position, took 34 (all) his guns, scattered his forces, sent him flying to Herat, and substantially brought the second phase of the campaign to a successful issue. Absolutely without that knowledge of military details which would enable me to give your Lordships a full account of operations which, though not without a check, have been so brilliantly and successfully carried out, I have purposely confined myself to reminding your Lordships of the principal features of a campaign which your Lordships, in common with the whole country, studied with a never-failing interest at the time—interest in the fortunes of our brave soldiers. I will, with equal brevity, allude to the share which those distinguished officers whom I ask you to thank had in obtaining the great results. Sir Frederick Haines, who had formerly served in the Sikh Wars, in the Crimea, and done good work at home, was Commander-in-Chief in India during the whole period of the late war. During that war in no instance has failure been attributed to arrangements made by him. A tribute was paid at the close of the war to the state of the Army, to which I will later allude, which reflects the highest credit on Sir Frederick Haines. It was his strong wish to take the per- sonal command of the troops in the field, which was only refused on political and administrative grounds. The next officer I shall mention is Sir Donald Stewart. It is no new honour for him to receive the thanks of Parliament. It was he who, at Candahar, consolidated and arranged with so much judgment the disposition of the forces, and established the safety of our communications with India. I believe it is also universally acknowledged that Sir Donald Stewart displayed singular political ability in dealing with the Chiefs with whom he had to communicate. It was Sir Donald Stewart who commanded the force to which I just now alluded in the march from Candahar to Cabul, achieving the brilliant victory of Ghazni on the way. I would also mention, to the credit of that distinguished General, the self-denying, soldier-like spirit with which he abandoned to another capable man the command of a force with which great military glory was to be obtained; while he himself undertook, certainly not a less difficult task, but one not apparently of the same glorious character, in withdrawing a small force in a difficult country in the face of adverse circumstances—and this he did with a success hardly before known in that description of warfare. There is an error in the Notice which has been given of these Resolutions. The rank which Sir Frederick Roberts held at that time gave him the command over other officers in India; and you will, therefore, allow me to amend the precedence of the officers mentioned in the Resolution. Sir Frederick Roberts, like Sir Donald Stewart, has already received the thanks of Parliament for previous services. It was he who at Simla received the command of the troops who were to march back to Cabal, and who so brilliantly won the battles of Char-Asiab, Asmai, and Sherpur, to which I have already alluded. It was he who finally at Sherpur established the position of the British Army; and it was he who later, entrusted by Sir Donald Stewart, made that march which has become famous in the history of this war. The next officer to whom I shall allude is General Bright, who commanded the Khyber Pass, and to whom was entrusted the difficult duty of maintaining those communications. That he did most thoroughly. He had to arrange for the organization, protection, and movement of daily con- voys for the whole force in Northern Afghanistan, in a country of extraordinary difficulties, among warlike and predatory tribes. He had constantly to be prepared for defence and for attack, and to deal with political emergencies of great difficulty. The success of the main operations depended mainly on the manner in which these duties were performed. My Lords, the next name is that of Major General Ross, who is now in command of the Poonah Division. He was appointed to the command of the Peshawur reserve brigade, and subsequently to that of the second division of the North Afghanistan force. He was in command of the Infantry division on the march to and at the battle of Candahar, his services at which were duly recognized in the despatches and general orders of the day. Major General Hills was Adjutant General with Sir Donald Stewart at Candahar. He subsequently joined Sir Frederick Roberts in Kuram as a volunteer, and was appointed to the difficult position of Military Governor of Cabul. Sir Frederick Roberts reported that during the investment of Sherpur, General Hill's presence at this post relieved him of considerable anxiety. Major General Sir Robert Phayre did excellent service in laying out the lines of communication on the Bolan line. He is an officer of high reputation and great force of character. Of his attempt to relieve Candahar, Sir Frederick Haines reported that— It is entirely due to the ability and energy of the commander and the spirit and discipline of the troops that they were so far forward on the 1st of September. Colonel Watson received the thanks of the Government for his services in the earlier phase of the war, at the head of the Native oontingent; and he had subsequently commanded the 10,000 men of the Kuram district. There was little of importance going on in the Valley; but an expedition into the Zaimukht country was successful, and at a very small loss of life. I have confined myself to the names of those distinguished officers who it is proposed should be thanked by your Lordships. It is impossible to read, as the great majority of your Lordships have done, the despatches published in The Gazette without observing the number of gallant men, Europeans and Natives, who, although not having had the same important commands as those mentioned in the Resolutions, have not only distinguished themselves, but so greatly contributed to the complete success of the military operations. It was a temptation to me to pick out some of these names in order to mention them to your Lordships; but it would have been impossible to enumerate them all, and therefore I felt I would be taking too great a responsibility upon myself to select names in that manner. I can only say that their deeds have not been forgotten in the despatches to which I have alluded, and that they are entitled to the strongest feeling of gratitude from the country for the services they performed. With regard to the third Resolution, by which it is proposed that this House shall state that it highly approves and acknowledges the valour and perseverance displayed by the non-commissioned officers and private soldiers, both European and Native, employed in Afghanistan during the late campaign, I am glad to quote words of more authority than any I could use. In announcing the close of the war, the Government of India publicly offered their Hearty testimony to the unfailing discipline, the high spirit, and the cheerful endurance which had been so conspicuously evinced by the whole force under all the vicissitudes of prolonged, distant, and trying services. They added— To these most honourable and soldierly qualities it is due that rarely, if ever, has war been carried on in an enemy's country with so strict a regard to the laws of humanity and honour, and such a total absence of excess of any kind, as throughout the late operations in Afghanistan. My Lords, I believe this statement to be absolutely true. I can conceive of no words of praise more dear to the gallant men who deserved them, or more likely to enhance the sympathy felt by this country with the gallant deeds of their fellow-countrymen in foreign countries engaged in war. Moved to resolve, 1. That the Thanks of this House be given to General Sir Frederick Paul Haines, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., C.I.E., Commander-in-Chief in India, for the ability and judgment with which he directed the recent operations from September 1879 to September 1880 in Afghanistan: 2. That the Thanks of this House be given to

  • Lieutenant-General Sir Donald Martin Stewart, G.C.B.:
  • 1808
  • Lieutenant-General (local) Sir Frederick
  • Sleigh Roberts, G.C.B., C.I.E., V.C.;
  • Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Onesiphorus Bright, K.C.B.;
  • Major-General Sir John Ross, K.C.B.;
  • Major-General Sir James Hills, K.C.B., V.C.:
  • Major-General Sir Robert Phayre, K.C.B.:
  • Major-General (local) John Watson, C.B., V. C.;
and the ether Officers of the Army, both European and Native, for the intrepidity, skill, and perseverance displayed by them in the Military operations in Afghanistan, and for their indefatigable zeal and exertions during the late campaign: 3. That this House cloth highly approve and acknowledge the valour and perseverance displayed by the Non-commissioned Officers and Private Soldiers, both European and Native, employed in Afghanistan during the late Campaign, and that the same be signified to them by the Commanders of the several Corps who are desired to thank them for their gallant behaviour: 4. That the said resolutions be transmitted by the Lord Chancellor to the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, and that His Lordship be requested to communicate the same to the several Officers referred to therein."—(The Earl Granville.)


My Lords, in consequence of my having held the Seals of the India Office at the time when part of these transactions took place, and from another cause for which I deeply grieve and to which the noble Earl opposite has so gracefully alluded in the earlier part of this evening, the duty devolves upon me to express, on the part of those with whom I act, our entire and cordial concurrence in the Vote of this House which has been moved by the noble Earl. The noble Earl has very justly praised the British and Native troops who were engaged in those arduous campaigns in Afghanistan; for the war has not been without its vicissitudes, nor without its dangers. It has been supposed that small forces may carve their way through a country of that description without much apprehension; but it has been proved in the course of this campaign, and also in the Tribal war to which the noble Earl has referred, how necessary it is that there should be not only bravery, but great prudence, on the part of those Generals who have the conduct of affairs in that country, and that their force should be of adequate numbers and of tried valour. I concur entirely in all that has been said with regard to the non-commissioned officers and private soldiers; and, like the noble Earl, I feel the same difficulty in singling out instances of officers not mentioned in the Vote of Thanks whose feats of arms were of a character that equal any like deeds which have been performed in any part of the world. But, as the noble Earl has said, it would be almost invidious to select, and I have the less difficulty in abstaining from doing so, because the Generals who have been in command in these great affairs have, with that generosity which is always found in men of their character, in despatches and speeches told their countrymen of the noble actions of those who had served under them, and have given them a very large portion of the credit which they themselves have gained—eager, indeed, to acknowledge how much they owed to these men. With regard to the Commander-in-Chief, he has held that position during the whole of this campaign in a manner that is highly creditable to his unselfish generosity. It is true that he has remained at head-quarters; but he is not a man who has not acted to the full extent as Commander-in-Chief in seeing that the troops were well supplied, that the troops themselves were in sufficient numbers for the Generals who were in the field, and that nothing should be wanting in the details of the campaign which might prevent those Generals from achieving the successes which they obtained. With regard to Sir Donald Stewart, no one can have watched his career, at Candahar and Cabul, both as an administrator and as a General, without being convinced that, in the high position he now occupies as Commander in-Chief of the Indian Army, he will render services as great as any of those which have been rendered by his predecessors. As to General Roberts, I had the opportunity of speaking before with reference to his services in the first Afghan Campaign. The country has pronounced its opinion, in very emphatic terms, upon what General Roberts has done, and your Lordships, I feel sure, will not be slow to acknowledge that he deserves the credit which he has gained. When he had to retire from Cabul into the Sherpur cantonments, of vast extent, with a comparatively small body of men, by his admirable arrangements he soon made his power again felt and broke up altogether the Tribal army which threw itself in such vast numbers upon his fortress. It is impossible to pass by that which was done in concert by Sir Donald Stewart and General Roberts on the occasion which occurred after the defeat of Maiwand; and here it is most important to notice the dates, in order to show that you have in the field Commanders who are not only equal to fighting, but also equal to a sudden emergency, which requires the collection of forces, arranging for efficient transport, and for the supplies of all other materials necessary for a force in the field. On the 27th of July the defeat of Maiwand took place; and almost within a month—namely, in September—the disaster was retrieved, and all opposition was put down in Southern Afghanistan. One cannot but feel that the Generals who effected that great object are men upon whom the country may thoroughly rely in any emergency which may occur. I may say that the Government have shown their sense of General Roberts' ability by sending him to the Cape; and though he was not called upon to act there, it is, at least, a testimony of the highest kind which the Government could give that he should have been selected for a command which involved so great a responsibility. General Roberts will probably return to India; and much as I desire the peace of that Empire, and much as I hope that its prosperity may increase by the development of its resources, still in that vast country, and amongst those numerous races which in-habit it, it is impossible that there may not be occasions when the elements of mischief will in some places be kindled. It is then you require a resolute will and adequate instruments to repress such outbreaks; and with men like Stewart, and Roberts, and Phayre, and others whom I might name, you may rely that the peace of India will be maintained. I believe that peace would be secured, without bloodshed, by the terror which the names of these distinguished Generals would exercise, and that if war ensue it will be conducted with combined vigour and humanity. My Lords, I should be wrong if I were to pass by the name of General Phayre, for though he was not up to take part in the action at Candahar, still he is always ready for action, and a man who is known to possess the most daring and dashing courage. He was, however, equal to the occasion in this respect— that he provided the means of sending forward troops, if they should be required, and was in a state of preparation which would have enabled him to re-inforce General Roberts if the latter had not achieved the victory which he obtained with the force at his command. I need not say how much we are indebted to Colonel Watson; nor, indeed, need I go further in recommending to your Lordships' notice Resolutions so well deserved by the Commanders, the officers, and the troops, to whose services they refer.


My Lords, I wish to express my entire concurrence in the Resolutions proposed by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I will not go into the details of the services of the officers mentioned in them—they have been fully enlarged upon by my noble Friends. But I may be permitted to say this in regard to the Commander-in-Chief in India, that I am very glad to see his name mentioned in the list. No man was more anxious to take the command of the Army in the field than Sir Frederick Haines; but as it was essential that he should discharge certain duties required of him, he was called upon, at great personal sacrifice, to give up the idea of himself proceeding to the seat of action, and remained at the request of the Viceroy to support him in the various great events which were then taking place. I feel bound to that gallant and distinguished officer to make that statement. It is, no doubt, a very disagreeable thing for a man filling the high post he did not to be able to take part in the operations in the field; but he is bound to undertake other duties when it is in the interest of the country that he should do so. The duties which he was called upon to discharge he efficiently performed. And here, also, I must say I think I should name two other officers—the Adjutant and Quartermaster-General of the Army. Their duties were very onerous, trying, and unceasing, and they performed them in such a manner as to enable the Commander-in-Chief to carry on the operations with complete regularity and success. With regard to Sir Donald Stewart, who, I rejoice to think, is Commander-in-Chief in India, Sir Frederick Roberts, and others, all these Generals came up fully to the expectations formed of them. General Roberts accomplished a great march of 321 miles in 23 days, and at the end of that march, with only two days' rest, he fought a great action resulting in a brilliant victory, and in the re-occupation of the country. And, my Lords, one of the most agreeable features of the campaign was the manifestation of cordiality and good feeling among the officers, and the spirit of obedience exhibited by the troops. I believe we may always depend on the loyalty of such men. It has been said that a difficulty has been experienced in obtaining Native recruits for the Indian Army serving beyond the Frontier; but I may mention, on the authority of Sir Frederick Haines and Sir Frederick Roberts, that these difficulties have entirely passed away. The Native regiments were considerably reduced at the commencement of the war; but in a short time the great majority of them were recruited to the full. The greatest credit is due, my Lords, to all concerned in keeping up the communications of the Army during the recent campaign; and I am glad to hear the reference made by my noble Friends to the services rendered in this respect by Sir Donald Stewart, Generals Bright, Phayre, and Watson. My Lords, as I am sure that the interest manifested by Parliament in the deeds of the Army is much prized by the troops, both British and Native, I am happy that those Resolutions have been proposed and have met with such a hearty reception in your Lordships' House.


I should not presume to occupy the attention of your Lordships but for the recent and long relations I have held, personally and officially, with the distinguished officers mentioned in the Resolutions of the noble Earl. This will, I trust, be my sufficient justification for asking leave to bear my humble testimony to the ability of those distinguished men, and to their high sense of duty. I shall ask leave to express the lively satisfaction with which I have listened to the appreciative and gratifying recognition their services received from the observations of the illustrious Duke who has just spoken. With regard to my gallant friend and recent colleague, the late Commander-in-Chief in India, I am in a position to bear testimony to his constant vigilance for the wants and welfare of the Army in India, and to his serenity of mind under more than ordinarily try- ing circumstances. It was universally felt by the Government of India, that when the garrison of India was some-what weakened, and considerable stress put upon the extent of our operations in the field, we should suffer much inconvenience and be exposed to great embarrassment, if deprived of the personal presence of the Commander-in-Chief in India, by his assumption of a command out of India, on the exercise of which he might, at any moment, be cut off from communication with the Indian Government, and the co-operating forces in Southern Afghanistan. In yielding to these considerations, I have no doubt my gallant friend Sir Frederick Haines made a sacrifice to duty, and I am bound to say it was most cheerfully made. But if he was not present in the field personally, I think I can say that his mind was there, and associated with all those arrangements which, under his orders, were so successfully carried out. With regard to the case of General Sir Frederick Roberts, we shall probably all feel that nothing said in this House to-night can very materially add to the essentially national character of those spontaneous and enthusiastic demonstrations of opinion—ay, I will even say outbursts of opinion—which have proclaimed already the value attached by the people of this country to the latest of the many great services of that great soldier. But with regard to the case of General Sir Donald Stewart, I think that justice makes a special appeal to the accuracy of our recollection; and I was particularly pleased to find that it had not been made in vain to the recollection of the noble Earl who moved this Motion. The services of General Sir Donald Stewart in connection with the successful conclusion of the second Afghan campaign, although they were scarcely less important than those of my gallant friend Sir Frederick Roberts, were less conspicuous; they were less directly sensational, and, therefore, more liable to be underrated by those who have not closely followed the incidents of his command. But I am quite sure that my gallant friend Sir Frederick Roberts himself would be the first to acknowledge that his brilliant march from Cabul to Candahar was materially facilitated by the previous march of General Stewart from Candahar to Cabul, and by the important and timely victory won by General Stewart at Ghuzni—a victory which broke up all serious power of armed resistance on that line of march. And, moreover, if in the most critical period of the second Afghan campaign the military genius of Sir Frederick Roberts was effectually supported by the discipline, the steadiness, and the intelligence of his troops, let us not forget how largely that result was due to the generosity with which General Stewart had placed at his disposal the picked flower of the army under his command. That was not a common act of generosity. It was an act, which, I venture to say, involved a high exercise of judgment, as well as of courage; because, not long before the event which called for the march of General Roberts on Candahar, the most alarming and alarmist opinions had been expressed, and vehemently expressed, and urged by the political officer attached to General Stewart, as to the great danger and difficulty and the possible disaster, which, in his opinion, would be incurred by any attempt on the part of General Stewart to effect the early evacuation of Cabul even with the large force he then had under his command; and I think General Stewart showed great judgment and a wise appreciation of the circumstances, as well as considerable courage, in putting aside all these alarming representations, and without hesitation making over to General Roberts all the most efficient fighting men of his force. I think, also, we are greatly indebted to General Stewart for the masterly manner in which he brought back the remnant of his force without a single casualty or disaster. I feel sure, my Lords, that to those distinguished officers who are named in the Motion before us, we shall all with perfect unanimity wish that the thanks of this House may be unreservedly expressed

Resolutions agreed to, nemine dissentiente. Ordered, That the Lord Chancellor do communicate the said Resolutions to the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, and that his Excellency be requested to communicate the same to the several Officers referred to therein.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.