HL Deb 18 July 1916 vol 22 cc765-70

THE DUKE OF RUTLAND rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is their intention immediately to move a Resolution conveying the thanks of Parliament to Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and the officers and men of the Grand Fleet for the victory obtained by them at the Battle of Jutland Bank.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, I am aware that this is rather a delicate Question for the Government to answer. At the same time I am supported by precedent, because during the great Napoleonic wars the thanks of Parliament were on several occasions conveyed to the gallant Admirals and seamen of our Fleet for victorious actions at that time. I do not know how far the parallel applies in the present case, but it does seem to me that in the somewhat exceptional circumstances Sir John Jellicoe and the officers and men of the, Grand Fleet deserve special recognition at the hands of the representatives of the country. It may be said that this is not the moment for the thanks of Parliament to be given to the Fleet, or to any section of His Majesty's Forces, for the gallant work they have done, but that this should be postponed to a later moment. That is a point on which I am anxious to get the opinion of His Majesty's Government. Certainly in the days that I have been quoting Parliament did not wait until the end of the, war, I do not know how long your Lordships imagine this war is going to last. But as far as my own private opinion is concerned I think the extremely momentous action which was fought the other day by Sir John Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet is distinctly deserving of the highest recognition that the country can give.

It must also be remembered that on this occasion—not that it matters to the officers and men of the Fleet, because they know what they have done and what they are going to do—a considerable amount of undeserved feeling against them was created by the strangely unfortunately-worded announcement of the action which was made by the Admiralty. So far did feeling go that, instead of achieving a great victory, it was thought that the Fleet had merely scraped through the action with considerable loss and no appreciable gain, as regards victory at all events. I believe I am right in saying that when many of the wounded men from the Fleet were landed at Queensferry and other naval ports to be taken to hospital they were, in many cases actually hooted—groaned at—by onlookers. I know from my own personal knowledge that officers when they landed at Queensferry and other places after the action were actually condoled with by the, cabmen who drove them on having taken part in an unsuccessful action. That was largely owing to the, as I say—and I am putting it very mildly—most unfortunately-worded message which was first conveyed to the country by the Admiralty. At any rate, it ought to be made clear to the country that they were not defeated.

The Highest in the land has congratulated the Fleet on what they did, and Parliament would not be straining any privilege or going beyond any action that it should take if, as soon as possible, it were to show its marked appreciation of the extreme gallantry, determination, and skill shown by the Grand Fleet on the occasion of the battle of Jutland Bank. Although we all know that the Navy is a silent Service which talks very little but thinks a great deal, that is no reason why Parliament should not show its appreciation of what it has done during the past two years. I am fully aware that recognition is, of course, also due to the vast fleet of mine-sweepers, patrol boats, and armed trawlers, and all that immense section of the naval forces which has sprung up during this war and which has done its part so magnificently. Any appreciation on the part of the country of the services which have been rendered by the Navy cannot but be highly gratifying to the Fleet, a considerable branch of which, of necessity, gets but scant appreciation at the hands of its fellow-countrymen, because they do not know what those men have been doing. Those of your Lordships who know what has been done during the past two years, not only by the Fleets recognised as Fleets and by the ships of His Majesty's Navy recognised and in the Navy List, but by all those men on board the mine-sweepers, patrol boats, trawlers, and so on, recognise that all these men deserve the deepest thanks of the country. I will not detain your Lordships longer. I should very much like to know the opinion of His Majesty's Government with regard to this question. I am certain that, whatever they decide to do, there is not a man in this House who does not appreciate to the full the immense services which have been rendered by Sir John Jellicoe and the officers and men of the Grand Fleet.


My Lords, I feel certain that the suggestion of the noble Duke will enlist the sympathy of all your Lordships, as in principle it does the sympathy of His Majesty's Government. We should all be glad to hasten the expression of any form of thanks which can assure the Fleet how heartily we recognise, not only the consummate strategy and the daring tactics of the Commander-in-Chief and of his subordinate commanders, but the devotion and coolness of all ranks during the actual progress of the engagement, the special deeds of valour enumerated in Sir John Jellicoe's Despatch, the dash and gallantry shown by the lighter craft, the light cruisers and the destroyer flotillas, and last, but not least, the splendid skill and endurance of the engine room department.

The thanks of Parliament, as my noble friend has pointed out, by frequent precedents would seem to be the most fitting expression of the nation's pride and gratitude after what my noble friend accurately describes in his Question as a naval victory. It was saddened, as previous victories have been, by grievous and irreparable losses of gallant seamen; but the enemy's material loss was intrinsically greater than ours, and was markedly greater in proportion to his naval strength. The reduced and battered German Fleet had to make the best of its way back to its bases, saved only by the approach of darkness from destruction; and the unchallenged command of the North Sea, and of all seas, rests with us. In spite of what my noble friend stated, nobody now believes that this engagement was other than a success for us. At the time there was doubtless some misapprehension. For a short period that misapprehension may have been widely spread, though I trust it did not often take so extreme a form as that narrated by my noble friend. Now that misconception has completely disappeared, for everybody has read Sir John Jellicoe's Despatch, and the facts are known.

But, my Lords, in this war it has so far not been our practice to offer normal thanks to those British commanders who have earned them either by sea or by land. Cases, however, will rise to the recollection of the House in which precedent would have fully justified that course. As a mere illustration I may mention the brilliant expedition of Admiral Sturdee to the Falkland Islands, which can compare with not a few of the naval exploits for which in the past the thanks of Parliament have been accorded. Several of the advances made on land since the autumn of 1914 might also be mentioned. It must, however, be remembered that in bygone days a Parliamentary Motion constituted almost the only form of public thanks that was possible, for newspapers were few and dear, and the debates in Parliament were not reported. Now the sailors and soldiers can read in the nation's eyes the nation's gratitude. For these reasons His Majesty's Government think it wise to postpone for a time—and only for a time—those formal tributes of honour to the commanders and to those who serve under them. That the postponement may not be very long is the heartfelt wish, not merely of His Majesty's Government, but also of the whole House and of the whole country.


My Lords, may I remind your Lordships that, in addition to the claims to gratitude of the Fleet to which allusion has been made by the noble Duke, there is another. But for the vigilance of the Admiralty and the promptitude with which the Admiral at Queenstown acted, we should have had the whole of Ireland in a blaze. The authorities managed to obtain information about the ship full of arms and also of Casement's movements and had him arrested. Had it not been for that prompt action we should have been under the necessity of reconquering Ireland. I think it is hardly possible to state the debt we owe the Fleet on that account.


My Lords, I quite appreciate the view which my noble friend opposite (Lord Crewe) has taken with regard to this question. It would probably be better if the thanks of Parliament were given to Sir John Jellicoe and his officers and men after the war. But this is a very peculiar case. There was issued a deplorable communiqué which the officers and men of the Fleet felt most keenly. The population thought that they had been beaten, and in several places they were hissed—this I can vouch for—although they had fought perhaps the finest action ever fought in the history of the world. The action of Sir David Beatty in holding the German Fleet for four hours has never been equalled. Trafalgar had a great deal to do with the alteration of the map of the world; it was a brilliant action, but only 492 men were killed in the whole Fleet. Sir David Beatty lost 5,100. Do you not suppose that the officers and men who came back to this country, with regret and admiration and affection for those they had lost, felt it very acutely and very deeply when they were hooted and hissed as if there had been a reverse. Therefore I support the view of my noble friend (The Duke of Rutland) that enough has not been made of the action by the constituted authority here. I do not believe that the German Fleet will come out again; they will be very foolish if they do. And if they do not come out again it will mean that the mastery of the seas remains with us absolutely. In this action we commanded the sea, but we could not command the weather. Nothing to any seaman could be better than the manoeuvring and the tactical and strategical skill displayed by our Admirals in this action. As far as our opinion, as seamen, goes, there was not a single mistake made—nothing except the accident of the weather. I think it would be a graceful act on the part of the Government if something were said to remove the feeling of distress and disappointment felt by both officers and men in our splendid Fleet on account of their reception at home immediately after the action, when they knew well what a victory they had won.

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