HL Deb 15 July 1915 vol 19 cc435-40

My Lords, I move to resolve: That this House desires to place on record its grateful appreciation of the distinguished skill and ability with which General the Right Honourable Louis Botha planned and conducted the recent military operations in South-West Africa, and of the eminent services rendered by him and by General Smuts, and by the officers and the forces of the Union of South Africa under their command.

In making this Motion, my Lords, I feel sure that the House will remember that the day before yesterday in the House of Commons a similar Motion was carried, moved and seconded by the Prime Minister and by the Secretary of State for the Colonies respectively, and I ought to explain that owing to an unfortunate blunder, for which we were not responsible, we were not placed in a position to make a simultaneous Motion in this House as we should have desired to do. It was, however, conveyed to my noble friend Lord Lansdowne and myself that it would be the desire of your Lordships that a Motion in the same terms should be made here which, though somewhat late, would not therefore be the less genuine. I therefore now rise to make it, and I may be perhaps permitted to state that it is a particular personal satisfaction for various reasons to myself to have the privilege of doing so, since in the year 1909, when I was Colonial Secretary, I had the pleasure and privilege of being responsible for the passage of the South Africa Act through this House and of conducting the business in connection with it so far as the Imperial Government took part in the conception and also in the carrying out of the terms of the measure. During that time it was my good fortune to be able to become on terms of personal friendship with General Botha, and during the progress of the various negotiations connected with that Act I enjoyed the opportunity of acquiring an ever-increasing appreciation of his great moral qualities and also of that saving common sense which distinguishes him just as we know it did our great statesman soldier of the nineteenth century.

During the last few months we have seen General Botha, Prime Minister of South Africa, once more taking up arms, although in a very different cause from that in which he so distinguished himself before. We have to bear in mind that on this occasion for General Botha and his Government and his Army the question was not solely one of meeting and beating the enemy in German South-West Africa. As we all know there was domestic trouble of no slight kind—a domestic problem which had to be faced by the South African Government. The question was not only one of a certain element of rebellion and of disloyalty, but there was also in South Africa a not inconsiderable party of those who were not actively disloyal, but who disliked the adventure of making an attack on German South-West Africa by the Union. As to that, it is only right to mention that at a very early stage Majesty's Government made it clear to General Botha and to his Government that no greater service could be rendered by the South African troops to the common cause of defeating Germany than that, which they were so proud to undertake, of disposing of the German forces in the South-West. On the other hand, the South African Government had not only, of course, the warm support of the British within the Union and of the great majority of the Dutch population, who have cordially accepted the Union Government under the Crown, but besides those there were, I believe, not a few of the Dutch who had been less enthusiastic about the Union Government who at the same time were impressed and appalled by the sinister history which had been well known to them—far better known than it is here—of the brutalities and barbarities committed by the Germans in their conquest of South-West Africa.

We all admire the display of high military qualities which General Botha has shown. We had our own experience of him as a most chivalrous and a most capable commander against our forces. Now that he is one of us we most fully appreciate the evidence that he has shown in this campaign of the qualities of a great commander, not merely in a wide grasp of the general situation, but in a close attention to the detail which, in a campaign of that character, is all-important if victory is to be achieved. We have observed with admiration how, with the skill of a great strategist, General Botha was able to bring to bear at particular points a superiority of force which brought about a lower scale of casualties than that to which we are sometimes unhappily accustomed in this war. We have to remember what enormous physical obstacles were encountered and surmounted in the invasion of German South-West Africa; and in this connection we certainly ought not to pass over the admirable work done by the Defence Department in South Africa, and in particular the supreme qualities of organisation displayed by General Smuts, who presides over that department.

We have noted with pride and admiration the marvellous cheerfulness of the troops, which has to be added to the great qualities of courage which they displayed and the endurance they showed in undertaking long and arduous marches in a most difficult country. We certainly also remember with pride the invariable assistance and counsel which the soldiers in the field received from Lord Buxton; and altogether we are able to state that the South African Government and the Generals and the officers and rank and file of the Army have all contributed to add a glorious and an absolutely stainless chapter to the record of this world-wide war.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, with that graceful consideration so natural to him, suggested that I should take his place as the seconder of this Motion because of my personal connection with General Botha. When his late Majesty King Edward VII conferred responsible government upon the Transvaal I had the honour of being Governor, and I entrusted to General Botha the task of forming the first Ministry under the new system; and from that day to this General Botha has been consecutively Prime Minister of the Transvaal and Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa. The relation which began in this official manner between General Botha and myself ripened into great personal friendship, and therefore on private as on public ground I am glad, indeed, to be allowed the honour of seconding this Motion.

It is unnecessary for me to enumerate to your Lordships the deeds of General Botha. They are written large in the history of South Africa. If you were to ask me where in my judgment his success originates, I would say in his character and in his political insight. When peace between His Majesty and the Boers was made at Vereeniging General Botha accepted the new condition without reservation. But, as I think, he came as time went on to this opinion, that there was greater scope for the absolutely free development of South Africa, and of any part of South Africa, such as the Transvaal or the Orange Free State, in working out its own salvation within the British Empire than there would be for it if it were technically an independent Republic. I believe that to be an absolutely true statement of the case.

But in my judgment that became the opinion, not only of General Botha, but of many other Boers who were in a position to study the field of world politics. I only say that, my Lords, as my judgment, because never could feel quite sure of what General Botha would think. I often differed from him very greatly, and if I ever had the pleasure of working with him again I have no doubt I should often find myself again differing from him, and, indeed, I feel confident that a very large number of the British South Africans who trust him and honour and respect him, and give him their constant political support, yet constantly disagree with him. This is not wonderful, my Lords, because they, like myself, naturally approach every question from the British point of view but General Botha approaches every question, equally naturally, from the Boer point of view. General Botha is a Boer of the Boers. So far as I know there is no British blood in his veins at all. I know of no Boer more proud of his birth and origin or more devoted to his people. He has achieved a wonderful success in putting down with the least possible loss of life an extraordinary and inexplicable rebellion. He has overcome a powerful and highly-organised enemy and conquered German South-West Africa in a campaign subjected to the most extraordinary physical difficulties. But he has still a great and grave task before him. He has always been, as your Lordships know, the steadfast opponent of racialism in any form, whether shown by the extreme exponents of the Boer or the extreme exponents of the British point of view. He has never done his countrymen a greater service than in pointing out again and again, as Sir Thomas Smartt and Mr. Merriman have pointed out to our fellow-countrymen, that the only road of peace and prosperity in South Africa lies in what is known as the one-stream policy, and that the two-stream policy is the sure road to eternal strife and misery. General Botha has been wonderfully seconded by that very remarkable Boer, General Smuts, who has made both politically and militarily an almost perfect Chief of the Staff.

I should wish you also, my Lords, to give your tribute of praise to the officers and men of both races who have served under General Botha. I do not suppose that a little Army has ever done more in a shorter time with more complete success under more strenuous conditions of campaigning. The interior of the country just conquered, so far as I know from information given me, does not differ materially from the rest of the Middle and High Veldt in South Africa. But there are parts which are the most uncompromising desert which exists, I should think, in the world. For instance, from the coast inland a belt of at least 100 miles in width had to be traversed, in which rain never falls, in which, in the most literal sense of the word, there is not one blade of grass or any other herb and no living creature; where the sand is always shifting because the wind is always blowing, and over that miserable desert the columns had to toil to make a railway which had to be cleared all day long from the sand that had drifted over it, to distil their water at the coast, and to bring all the water for men and for animals by the railway as they made it to the railhead. I think, my Lords, you will agree that this vote which you are asked to pass is no extravagant testimony to services so great.

Moved to resolve, That this House desires to place on record its grateful appreciation of the distinguished skill and ability with which General the Right Honourable Louis Botha planned and conducted the recent military operations in South-West Africa, and of the eminent services rendered by him and by General Smuts, and by the Officers and the Forces of the Union of South Africa under their command.—(The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine contradicente.