HL Deb 17 September 1914 vol 17 cc735-40

Your Lordships will expect that some statement should be made by me on the general military situation before the session ends, and I will therefore endeavour as briefly as possible to supplement the remarks which I had the honour to address to your Lordships' House three weeks ago. I need not re-tell the story of the British Expeditionary Force in France which has been read and appreciated by us all in Sir John French's Despatch. The quiet restraint of his account of their achievements only brings into relief the qualities which enabled our troops successfully to carry out the most difficult of all military operations. There is, however, one aspect of this feat of arms upon which the Despatch is naturally silent. I refer to the consummate skill and calm courage of the Commander-in-Chief himself in the conduct of this strategic withdrawal in the face of vastly superior forces. His Majesty's Government appreciate to the full the value of the service which Sir John French has rendered to this country and to the cause of the Allies, and I may perhaps be permitted here and now, on their behalf, to pay a tribute to his leadership as well as to the marked ability of the Generals under his command and the bravery and endurance of the officers and men of the Expeditionary Force.

As your Lordships are aware the tide has now turned, and for some days past we have received the gratifying intelligence of the forced retirement of the German Armies. The latest news from Sir John French does not materially change the published statement describing the military situation. In his telegram Sir John reports that the troops are all in good heart and are ready to move forward when the moment arrives. The gallant French Armies with which we are so proud to be co-operating will receive every support from our troops in their desire effectually to clear their country of the invading foe, and the undaunted and vigilant activity of the Belgian Army in the North materially conduces to this end. I would also like to take this opportunity of offering our cordial congratulations to Russia upon the conspicuous successes which have added fresh lustre to her arms.

Although, therefore, we have good grounds for quiet confidence, it is only right that we should remind ourselves that the struggle is bound to be a long one and that it behoves us strenuously to prosecute our labours in developing our armed forces to carry on and bring to a successful issue the mighty conflict in which we are engaged. There are now in the field rather more than six Divisions of British troops and two Cavalry Divisions. These are being, and will be, maintained at full strength by a steady flow of reinforcements. To meet the wastage of war in this Field Force our Reserve units are available. To augment the Expeditionary Force further Regular Divisions and additional Cavalry are now being organised from units withdrawn from stations overseas, whose places where necessary will be taken by Territorial troops, who, with fine patriotism, have volunteered to exchange a Home for an Imperial Service obligation.

On their way from India are certain Divisions from the Indian Army, composed of highly trained and very efficient troops, and a body of Cavalry including regiments of historic fame. The Dominions beyond the seas are sending us freely of their best. Several Divisions will be available, formed of men who have been locally trained in the light of the experience of the South African War, and, in the case of Australia and New Zealand, under the system of general national training introduced a few years ago. In the response to the call for recruits for the new Armies which it is considered necessary to raise we have had a most remarkable demonstration of the energy and patriotism of the young men of this country. We propose to organise this splendid material into four new Armies, and although it takes time to train an Army the zeal and good will displayed will greatly simplify our task.

If some of those who have so readily come forward have suffered inconvenience they will not, I am sure, allow their ardour to be damped. They will reflect that the War Office has had in a day to deal with as many recruits as were usually forthcoming in twelve months. No effort is being spared to meet the influx of soldiers, and the War Office will do its utmost to look after them and give them the efficient training necessary to enable them to join their comrades in the field. The Divisions of the first two Armies are now collected at our Training Centres; the Third Army is being formed on new camping grounds; the Fourth Army is being created by adding to the establishment of the Reserve battalions, from which the units will be detached and organised similarly to the other three Armies. The whole of the Special Reserve and Extra Special Reserve units will be maintained at their full establishments as feeders to the Expeditionary Force.

In addition to the four new Armies, a considerable number of what may be designated local battalions have been specially raised by the public-spirited initiative of cities, towns or individuals. Several more are in course of formation, and I have received many offers of this character. The Territorial Force is making great strides in efficiency, and will before many months be ready to take a share in the campaign. This Force is proving its military value to the Empire by the willing subordination of personal feelings to the public good in the acceptance of whatever duty may be assigned to it in any portion of the Empire. A Division has already left for Egypt, a Brigade for Malta, and a Garrison for Gibraltar. The soldierlike qualities evinced by the Force are an assurance to the Government that they may count to the full upon its readiness to play its part wherever the exigencies of the military situation may demand. Nor must I omit to refer to the assistance which we shall receive from the Division of the gallant Royal Marines and Bluejackets now being organised by my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. Their presence in the field will be very welcome, for their fighting qualities are well known.

The creation of the new Armies referred to is fraught. with considerable difficulties, one of which is the provision of regimental officers. I hope the problem of supplying officers may be solved by the large numbers coming forward to fill vacancies and by promotions from the non-commissioned officer ranks of the Regular forces. In a country which prides itself on its skill in, and love of, outdoor sports, we ought to be able to find sufficient young men who will train and qualify as officers under the guidance of the nucleus of trained officers which we are able to provide from India and elsewhere. If any retired officer competent to train troops has not yet applied, or has not received an answer to a previous application, I hope that he will communicate with me at the War Office in writing.

But our chief difficulty is one of matériel rather than personnel. It would not be in the public interest that I should refer in greater detail to this question, beyond saying that strenuous endeavours are being made to cope with the unprecedented situation, and that thanks to the public spirit of all grades in the various industries affected, to whom we have appealed to co-operate with us and who are devoting all their energy to the task, our requirements will, I feel sure, be met with all possible speed. I am confident that by the spring we shall have ready to take the field Armies which will be well trained and will prove themselves formidable opponents to the enemy. The Government fully recognise the fine spirit which animates those who have come forward to fight for their country, and will spare no effort to secure that everything is done that can be done to enable them worthily to contribute to the ultimate success of our arms.

I have to announce to the House that the Government have decided to increase the separation allowances made to wives of soldiers, both Regular and Territorial. No change will be made in the amounts contributed by the soldier out of his pay, but the allowances made from Army Funds will be so increased as to bring the income of the family up to a higher standard. I will not trouble the House with the figures affecting the higher ranks but will give those for the rank and file. For a wife without child, the income rises from 11s. 1d. to 12s. 6d.; for a wife and one child, from 12s. 10d. to 15s.; a wife and two children, from 14s. 7d. to 17s. 6d.; a wife and three children, from 16s. 4d. to 20s.; a. wife and four children, from 17s. 6d. to 22s.; and so on, increasing by 2s. for each further child. For London families an addition of 3s. 6d. a week will continue to be made to these figures. Arrangements have also been made with the Post Office to pay these allowances weekly direct to the women in all cases, and both weekly payments and new rates will start on October 1, the September allowances having already been paid.


My Lords, I feel that it is almost an impertinence on my part to say a word after the absorbingly interesting statement to which we have just listened, but I should be sorry if complete silence on our part lent itself to the interpretation that we were indifferent to the great topics which the Secretary of State for War has just dealt with in his speech. May we be permitted to say that we regard with the profoundest admiration and gratitude what the noble and gallant Field-Marshal described as the great feat of arms which has been accomplished by the British Force since its arrival at the seat of war. And may we be permitted to add also that we share the feeling which the noble and gallant Earl has expressed with regard to the immense service rendered by Sir John French to this country, a service to which he, of course, could not himself bear witness in the Despatch which he sent home. There are only two other remarks which, with great deference, I would venture to make. One has reference to the noble and gallant Earl's statement with regard to the response which has been made to his appeal to the country for recruits. That response has been memorable and admirable, and I only wish to say this—that I think, considering the manner in which that appeal was responded to, the immense influx of recruits that came in in consequence of the appeal which was made to the country, we can scarcely be surprised that in the early days the strain should have been rather greater than either the War Office or the local authorities were able to cope with. But we have every reason to believe that that has been corrected, and I feel no doubt that all will now go smoothly and well. The only other observation which I will take leave to make is this, that we have all heard with the greatest satisfaction the announcement that the separation allowances to the wives of Regulars and Territorials are to be considerably increased. Considering what our soldiers are doing for us at the seat of war the least we can do is to provide liberally for the relatives whom they have for a time left behind in this country.


My Lords, may I, with reference to what the noble Marquess has just said, add a word on behalf of the widows of those who fall in the war. I had a letter in The Times the other day calling attention to the fact that whereas a wife whose husband lives gets from 14s. to 20s., a widow drops to about 5s., with perhaps 2s. more from the Patriotic Fund, so that at any rate for sometime after the death of her husband she is infinitely worse off than the wife of a soldier who is alive.


That particular point is under the consideration of the Government; but there are, of course, important considerations and differences in many cases.