HL Deb 05 June 1902 vol 108 cc1511-22

My Lords, I have now to move, in accordance with the notice I have given, the following Motion. [The PRIME MINISTER here read the Motion, the terms of which are set out at the end of the noble Marquess's speech.] It is my duty to submit these Resolutions to you. The meed of approbation which they express is one which, as a matter of custom, is offered on these occasions, happily, not infrequent, where distinguished service has been rendered by His Majesty's forces to the Empire. It is a reward which it has been a matter of custom to accord to the great efforts and merits of His Majesty's forces, in achievements, which, not now only, but throughout a long history, they have displayed whenever the exigencies of the Empire called for their devoted services. It is a reward which the Houses of Parliament have always been accustomed to pay them, and which, I am sure that on this occasion, with even greater willingness, you will accord as a remembrance of the service that has been done and of the energy which we desire to stamp with approbation on our records. It has been a matter of frequent practice for the two Houses of Parliament to record the expression of their thanks for these great achievements, and there is no reward, probably, which it is in the power of the Government of England to give, which is so much valued as this expression of admiration and applause by the two Houses of Parliament. But this is an occasion on which it can be offered with special confidence, and with an earnest feeling that it has been well deserved, for seldom in our annals have exertions so great been made or have met, after much vicissitude, with such brilliant results.

It is unnecessary for me to dwell on the circumstances of the enormous effort which this country has made to maintain the credit of its flag and the unbroken force of its military prestige. On this occasion, I believe, a force vary-from 200,000 to 260,000 men has been kept in a distant land 6,000 miles away, in order to repel an attack which was in no way provoked and to show that such attacks cannot be made with impunity. It is a well-established thing that the effort to resist an enemy must depend for its value largely upon the circumstances; and no one will, I think, dispute that on this occasion the troops, upon which the Crown of England is accustomed to rely for the defence of its rights and the maintenance of its honour, have shown more than usual resource and energy in answering the appeal made to them. The distance from home of 6,000 miles, the number of men employed, 250,000 or more, and the necessity for meeting an attack to some extent unforeseen and supported by unusual circumstances and unusual power, attach special importance to this occasion. Difficulties have been thrown in the way of our troops of an unusual character, and it is only by the splendid qualities which they have displayed they have been able to overcome all the obstacles they had to encounter.

There is a difficulty undoubtedly in pleading this case before your Lordships; for we have to deal at the same time with considerations which cannot be fully entered into, and the merits of our troops are largely enhanced by the fact that they have been contending against difficulties of no ordinary kind, and upon the vigour with which those difficulties were beaten down their merit and claim to your approbation depend. It is not possible on this occasion, which is not a controversial occasion to enter on the question of the causes of the extreme obstacles with which our troops had to contend. We cannot ask, here or now, whether there was full preparation for the enemy we had to oppose, whether we were fully prepared to resist the tremendous force of our enemy, and whether any of our unpreparedness, if we can so call it, is due as a matter of blame to any special person, circumstances, or events. These are things which will, perhaps, be proper subjects for discussion at another time, but would now, I think be highly improper. But, on the other hand, we must not conceal from ourselves the fact that the enemy were enabled to accumulate such vast preparations, that they were able to fully avail themselves of the advantage the peculiar character of their country gave them, and the fact that all these things were the results of many causes upon which I shall expect to hear my noble friend descant on the proper occasion, but in respect to which we must say that their existence enormously increased the obstacles with which our gallant troops had to contend, and enormously enhanced the distinguished merit they have shown in overcoming all the difficulties thrown in their way. It was not only that they were at an enormous distance from their base; it was not only that they were an enormous force (a force wholly unprecedented in our annals of war) to be maintained and sustained; it was not only these circumstances, but it was the nature of the enemy they had to deal with and of the work they had to do. These were unprecedented and excessive; and by the brilliant effort and courage and the gallantry and resource which our troops showed in meeting those difficulties, we were enabled ultimately to come out victorious, and at the same time to add fresh honours to the records, full of lustre, which already adorn the history of the British arms.

My Lords, it is not easy for us to enter into details as to matters which stir up the cinders that are still burning, and on which, if we expressed ourselves with freedom, we might justly be accused of not doing all we could for the purpose of cementing a lately compacted peace. We feel that these subjects are to a great extent debarred, and we cannot enlarge upon them. What we have to deal with, and what we can dwell upon, is the extraordinary qualities displayed by the British generals and the British troops in a kind of warfare of which we have had no experience, and through which we have contended against many vicissitudes and difficulties. It is said, I will not say by whom, that we labour under a particular disadvantage in this country, because the troops by which the honour and interests of the country are defended are not assembled by the action of the law, by executive force, under the standards of their country, but have brought their energy, their loyalty and their courage as to an undertaking to which they are attracted, not by coercion, but by the emoluments and the honours of a great and splendid vocation. Some people in some parts of the world have thought that this is a disadvantage to us, that it would be better for us to attract the defenders of the country by the action of a coercive law to the standards under which they serve. We have not thought so; we have never thought so up to this time; we have always been content to attract them by the motives which honour and patriotism could offer; and we have never yet had cause to repent of our choice. I hope that that feeling will still continue, and that we shall be able—hereafter, as now, to exult in the splendid results of trusting not in coercion, not in law and in force, but in such attractions as we can offer, and in the persistent support of the feelings of loyalty and honour, to procure us those forces which are essential to the maintenance of our Empire, and which now, in our extremest need, have certainly in no way failed us.

These resolutions perhaps need no further and special remark except that one which offers the thanks of this House to the officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of His Majesty's Colonial and Indian forces for their co-operation with his Majesty's Imperial forces I am not certain, but I think that is a new feature in ceremonies of this kind. I do not know that we have ever before formally thanked—certainly we have never before had such abundant cause to thank—our colonial fellow-subjects for the support they have given us at a time when support was really needed. There was a time not long ago, when, as your Lordships know, this country was cast out with reproach in almost every literature in Europe. Your Lordships can remember that none believed in our success; all thought that the time of our downfall had arrived; and it was at that time, when our destinies seemed to he darkest and there was the strongest ground for fearing that, at all events, we were on the brink of a bitter and long-contested struggle, that the attachment and loyalty of our fellow-subjects beyond the sea showed itself in its brightest and most valuable colours. If their affection had not been so sincere, if they had not had the same ground of valuing beyond everything the polity to which we all belong, it would have been an easy opportunity for them to have dropped us off and to have said little, or done little, in defence of the common heritage for which we were contending. But there was nothing of the kind. The more our difficulties increased, the mort their loyalty grew warm and sure, and it is as much to the moral as to the material support which their constant adhesion gave to us, that we owe it that we were able to defy all the hostility and bitterness of all our opponents, that we were able to carry on to the end, without flinching, a conflict of which there are few examples in our history. We were able to impress upon our opponents that, be their animosity what it may, there is strength enough in the steadfastness of Englishmen and above all in the steadfast affection of Englishmen beyond the sea to cause all their efforts to fail and be of no effect.

My Lords, there is no doubt that this will be a remarkable incident in history. It will be held remarkable that, when it was thought that 50,000 or 60,000 men were the utmost we could produce, we have been able to raise and to bring into line between 200,000 and 300,000. It will be remarkable because we have been able to frustrate and defy the evil auguries of our opponents. It will be remarkable, above all, because we have been able to do so by the force of a sympathy and support which is new in our history, and of which some thirty or forty years ago nobody would have dreamed. My Lords, these are subjects for exultation. We have, no doubt, lost many precious lives, and spent much treasure; but, at all events, the result of it is that we are, in the eyes of all the world, much stronger than we ever were, and that we have been able to show that when we were exposed—when the country was absolutely denuded of troops—yet our naval supremacy and the position we occupy in the world have been sufficient to protect us, and that England, has never been safer than during this period of apparently her greatest danger. These are grounds on which I think your Lordships will recognise that there is reason for the tribute which you are asked to pay to the gallant troops by whose agency all I have spoken of has been done. I trust that what has happened may be regarded as an undertaking for continued peace, and that there is no danger of fears of this kind invading our political horizon again. At all events, there is ground for the fullest confidence that in the steadfastness of our own people, in the tenacity of our resolutions, in the affection of our kinsmen beyond the sea, we have a security for our safety and continued Empire which we may cherish with redoubled fondness, and which we may be certain will never in the future lead us astray. We have these great results after great trials and great vicissitudes and they are, at all events, results which are due to the courage, resource, and sacrifices of our soldiers, and I ask you to record your gratitude in a vote of thanks to them for all that they have done.

Moved to resolve—

"That the thanks of this House be given to the officers and warrant officers of the Navy, the Army, the Royal Marines, the Militia, the Imperial Yeomanry, and the Volunteers, for the energy and gallantry with which they executed the services which they were called upon to perform during the prolonged campaign in South Africa.

"That this House doth acknowledge and highly approve the gallantry, discipline, and good conduct displayed by the petty officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Navy, the Army, the Royal Marines, the Militia, the Imperial Yeomanry, and the Volunteers, throughout the war.

"That the thanks of the House be given to the officers, warrant officers, noncommissioned officers, and men of His Majesty's Colonial and Indian forces for their co-operation with His Majesty's Imperial forces, and for the energy and gallantry with which they executed the services which they were called upon to perform during the prolonged campaign in South Africa.

"That this House doth acknowledge and highly approve the gallantry, discipline, and good conduct displayed by His Majesty's Colonial and Indian forces, and doth also acknowledge the cordial good feeling which animated all His Majesty's forces.

"That the thanks of this House be given to the officers, warrant officers, noncommissioned officers, and men of the several corps of Militia which have been embodied in Great Britain and Ireland during the course of the war, for the zealous and meritorious services which they have rendered at home and abroad.

"That this House doth acknowledge, with admiration, the distinguished valour, devotion, and conduct of those officers and men who have perished during the campaign in South Africa in the service of the Empire, and desires to express deep sympathy with their relatives and friends."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


My Lords, I rise at once to support the Motion which has been made in such appropriate terms by the noble Marquess the head of His Majesty's Government. I congratulate the noble Marquess on the terms of the resolution which is before us, and on the references in his speech; for I am able, as it is right that we should be able on all occasions of this sort, unanimously to support, and most heartily to support, the Motion he has made. I am sure that every heart in this country thrilled with joy and was filled with thankfulness when the news arrived that peace had been made in South Africa. When we heard that, our first thoughts are turned to the gallant men who have been, at the cost of their lives, fighting for the cause of their King and country; for to them it is due that this happy event has come about. My Lords, in every war we have vicissitudes, in every war we have defeats, and this war has been no exception. There have been defeats, but I am happy to think that the war has ended in victory.

The noble Marquess has referred, in terms much more able than I can expect to use, to the war which has just concluded; but I must be allowed to say a few words with regard to it. The vicissitudes of war depend chiefly on the foe we have to meet and the country in which our operations take place. With regard to the foe, we are glad to notice from gallant and distinguished men an acknowledgment not only of the bravery but of the military capacity of the enemy we have had to meet in the field. And we are not surprised at that when we know from whom they are descended. They are descended from a nation with whom in old days we have been often at war, and we have always known of the valour and intrepidity and the military skill of the Dutch nation. In the present war they were not organised in a military capacity like the forces we know of in European wars. When we consider the battles and campaigns that have taken place within our memory, we know that the Boers were not organised as the forces were in those operations; but they were organised in a manner most efficient to carry out their ends and most suitable to the country where they were fighting. Not only were they armed with artillery of the greatest range and the greatest power, but they were armed also with small arms of the greatest possible precision. They had ample ammunition, and they were remarkable for their great skill as riflemen. In addition to this, they had an enormous number of most useful horses accustomed to the country; they were admirable horsemen, and their horses and horsemen greatly added to the difficulties with which our soldiers had to contend. I venture to say that, even with the greatest possible exertion, and even up to the last, that mobility which was so remarkable in the Boer forces was never emulated or attained by our own forces. Then, my Lords, they were in a country which they knew intimately—a country, I venture to say, with hardly any rival, except, perhaps, the West of India, in the way of the difficulties to be encountered by troops—a mountainous country, with rivers and other serious obstacles. With these difficulties our enemy was just as familiar as our soldiers were unfamiliar with them.

The noble Marquess has referred to the distance of the Cape from this country; and, although that may not be altogether germane to what has been done by our generals and soldiers and naval men in South Africa, I think on an occasion of this sort it is impossible to keep silence upon it. I believe that few greater achievements have ever been carried out by any nation than the transport of this enormous force to South Africa. The noble Marquess spoke of between 200,000 and 300,000 men; but I venture to say that he is underrating the number, and that, what with those who have come home, from beginning to end the number was probably nearer 400,000 armed men, who were transported with all their baggage, provisions, horses, and all the necessities of war, with scarcely au accident, 6,000 miles across the sea. We may well be proud of that; and, if I may turn to what is, perhaps, more germane to the Motion before us—namely, the position of our Army at the seat of war in South Africa—we find what enormous distances our troops had to traverse. They had to traverse over 1,000 miles from their base at Cape Town before they got to the capital of the Transvaal, and that by only a single line of railway. They had afterwards in the field immense distances to traverse, and troops had to be conveyed by means of cattle and mule transport. All these difficulties were almost without precedent, but they have been overcome by the skill of the generals and by the courage and spirit of our soldiers, and we have to thank them today for what they have done. The noble Marquess has referred in generous terms to the valour of our forces, and to the fact that we may still point to the valour and splendour of our Navy and Army. I believe that if in future any greater danger may fall upon us, our sailors and soldiers will be equal to the occasion and will be able to uphold the honour of our country, which is so dear to us and is so cherished by us all.

My Lords, I cannot but refer, but without going into detail, to the numerous actions that have taken place. I shall not go into them one by one; but I. will venture to say that the names of Paardeberg, Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley will be enrolled among the splendid actions which belong to our Army, and which have won our name and reputation in the past in every quarter of the globe. My Lords, what were our forces, and how did they behave? First of all, I come to that splendid force of which we are so proud, the Royal Artillery. I believe the Royal Artillery have hardly had a single criticism made against them during the war. Their conduct has been irreproachable and splendid. Then take His Majesty's Guards and the other foot regiments of His Majesty. They have all shown a brilliant amount of courage and discipline. Take our cavalry. I at once say about them that they were too few in number, and one of the difficulties to which the noble Marquess referred was the deficiency of cavalry when the war first began. As to the performances of the cavalry, I doubt whether in history there was ever a finer exploit than the march of General French to Kimberley and back again to join the forces of Lord Roberts which surrounded Cronje at Paardeberg. Then we come to the forces other than the regular Military forces of His Majesty. We come to a larger auxiliary force acting with the Army than, I believe, has ever fought before in the annals of English history. We had a large force of Militia, Volunteers, and Yeomanry, and I venture to think they have shown what intelligent men, filled with a spirit of loyalty and patriotism, can do to make themselves efficient in the field. We are deeply grateful to them. And last but not least among these forces we have to thank are those colonial forces to whom the noble Marquess referred in such admirable terms. I am not sure, but I rather think the noble Marquess overlooked the fact that this is not the first time they have joined us in war. If I am not mistaken, the noble Marquess himself in 1885 moved a vote of thanks to many colonial, Indian, and Canadian troops who assisted in the Soudan war. But whether that was so or not, we are deeply grateful to them for coming forward in the hour of our need in so patriotic and loyal a way. No doubt, as the noble Marquess says, it marks an epoch in our history when we can show that when we are fighting our colonists are ready to come forward and lay down their lives for their King and country as willingly as are Englishmen, Scotchmen, or Irishmen. Our thanks are duo to all these forces.

But I come to another force to whom I may perhaps be allowed to refer in somewhat partial terms—I moan the Royal Navy and the Marines. I say I may refer to them in partial terms, because I had the high honour not many years ago of presiding at the Board of Admiralty. Our thanks are specially due on this occasion to them, and I will recall some of the circumstances connected with the advent of the Navy to South Africa. When Her Majesty's ship "Powerful" was returning home, nothing was known of what was going on in South Africa, but when the gallant captain who commanded her heard that war was declared he, without a moment's hesitation, put into port and placed himself at the disposal of the General commanding. He at once, although he had no orders from home, took action which was, no doubt, highly appreciated at home. He proceeded to the Cape and placed his forces at the disposal of the General commanding. His colleague, a very gallant officer, Captain Scott, of the "Terrible," was also there, and he did very signal service by enabling the heavy guns of the Navy—heavier, I believe, than any of those sent out with the Army from England—to be put into the field, and the efforts of these two gallant officers enabled a most efficient force to be added to the Army, and in all the earlier battles that took place you will find prominent in action the sailors and marines. With regard to Ladysmith, I would venture to say that the propitious and fortunate arrival there of Captain Lambton and the ship guns had an enormous and predominant effect on the possibility of resisting the great attack of the Boers on that place. The Navy on that occasion proved, as they always have done, their valour, their desire to come to the front in war or whenever their services are required, and their power of adapting themselves to circumstances.

The noble Marquess referred with joy and thankfulness to those who, we hope, will soon return to this country from South Africa, and I am sure every subject of His Majesty will welcome them with enthusiasm. But we cannot forget those who, gallantly fighting, fell and rest in South Africa. We shall never forget them. Their memory and their brave actions will remain recorded in our minds, and they will be thought of in the same way as we think of those who, being more fortunate, have survived in battle, Our deepest sympathy is given to their families who now must lament their fate that they cannot, like others, welcome their dear relatives back from the war. When we are recording our thanks to the officers and men of the Navy and the Army contingent, who played so brave a part in the campaign, we must remember, although we have already voted our I thanks to him, that gallant General who, at great inconvenience to himself and almost at a moment's notice, went out to South Africa. I mean Lord Roberts. We recall his services, which were great at the commencement of the war. Then I must mention that very eminent General who is specially mentioned in our vote of thanks. Lord Kitchener went out with Lord Roberts and took part in the early operations when our forces occupied Pretoria, He performed admirable services then in connection with Lord Roberts; but since then he has been in chief command, even for a longer period, under the most difficult circumstances possible. The enemy did not meet him in large force in the field, but met him in a country well known to themselves, in a mountainous country, and they inflicted at times heavy losses on our troops. But Lord Kitchener overcame these forces by his great powers of organisation, and I am sure the country entertain the greatest gratitude to him for what he has done in bringing about peace. We humbly thank the King for having bestowed honours on Lord Kitchener, and we shall join heartily in the Motion the noble Marquess has made, and which includes the Vote for a grant to Lord Kitchener, a Vote which, if not already carried, will, we are confident, be carried in the Committee.

On Question, the said resolutions severally agreed to (nemine dissentiente).

Ordered, that the Lord Chancellor do communicate the said resolutions to the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral, and to the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief His Majesty's Forces, and to His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonial Department, with a request that they will communicate the same to the officers and men referred to therein.

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