§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS rose to call attention to the Mesopotamia Expedition, particularly to the advance on Ctesiphon; and to move to resolve—
§ That in the opinion of this House a full Inquiry ought to be held into the whole conduct of the campaign, especially in relation to the transport arrangements and the provision for the wounded.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving the Resolution which stands in my name I feel that I labour under a double disadvantage, because I have not only to crave that indulgence which is, I believe, never refused to those who address your Lordships for the first time, but I am also aware that the subject I am venturing to introduce is not only one of first-rate importance but also one which requires great delicacy of handling, and which, therefore, might more fitly have been undertaken by some one with a wider experience of your Lordships' House than I can claim. In introducing this subject, I propose to limit the scope of my remarks to the period which closes with the fall of Kut. To discuss events that have happened later, and that may still be happening, would be to incur a risk of touching on subjects which for military reasons it would be better to avoid. Further, I should like to say that I do not consider it part of my duty, as it certainly is not my wish, to try and fit the blame for anything that may have occurred on to individuals. My task is to point out the conditions which I think demand an Inquiry, and to leave to the members of that Inquiry the more invidious task of apportioning the credit or the blame. Subject to these two reservations, I do not think that any member of the Government can resent, or even regret, this subject being brought forward at the present time.
§ Ever since the Mesopotamia campaign started it has been a subject of debate, and since the curtain fell on the tragedy of Kut so many rumours, allegations, and accusations have, like swarms of poisonous flies, gathered round this question, that anything that can clear the air of some of them must be to the public advantage. It would be very easy to make capital out of the conduct of the Government about the Papers. The remarks of the noble Marquess last Tuesday would not make it 836 any more difficult, but I do not think that this is a subject to treat in that way, particularly as, for my part, I entirely believe in the good faith of the Government in this matter; and I am prepared also to believe that the military authorities were right in stopping the publication of the Papers, and that probably the only mistake that was made was in promising to publish them at all.
§ The subject of Mesopotamia is, I think, one of the most depressing you can possibly speak about. Before we plunge into the gloom of it, can we find any bright side, are there any assets that we can place on the credit side of the undertaking? We have the gallant, the skilful defence of Kut by General Townshend, and we have the gallantly of the troops of all ranks engaged in it. Just as the evacuation of Gallipoli will probably be the model in military text-books for operations of a similar kind, so the great defence of Kut will rank amongst the classic sieges of military history. But I do not suppose that evacuations, however successfully conducted, or unsuccessful defences, however prolonged, are the aim of our ambition or the ultimate goal of our military strategy. And as regards the gallantry of our troops, to dwell on that is to gild refined gold. But surely the greater the gallantry the greater the pity that lives so heroic, so urgently needed elsewhere, should have been spent in useless endeavours in an Expedition the policy of which was so doubtful, the prospects of which were so precarious, and the conditions of equipment of which are alleged to have been so unsatisfactory.
Why did we go to Mesopotamia at all? Our Armies were in the making. We were lighting the German Empire. We did not inherit the Mesopotamian Expedition; it was not forced upon us; we sought it out. Strategists, from Napoleon downwards, have laid it down as a military axiom that you should concentrate on your main effort, that you should not weaken it by what in modern days we call "side shows." But there are exceptions to every rule. Besides, in the vortex that the catastrophe of this war has created, many things have been swept away, and it may be that Napoleon's axioms have been submerged with them. Anyway, I am prepared to believe that for the original Expedition, not the later more ambitious and very mysterious development to Baghdad, a very good case
may be made. The Prime Minister, in his speech on November 2, used these words—
The object was to secure the neutrality of the Arabs, to protect the oil-wells, to safeguard our interests in the Persian Gulf, and generally to maintain the authority of our Flag in the East.
I am prepared to endorse every word of that. I am prepared to go even further and to say that I believe that not only could this original Expedition have achieved those results, but that, entrenched either at Basra, at Fauna, or at some other place with greater strategic advantages, improving its position, organising its transport, gathering together all it needed and all it lacked, it might have been a potential force of enormous value, the moment for using which might by this time have already come. It is not Baghdad as an objective that we criticise; it is the Expedition that attacked Baghdad. I think the original Expedition was to be justified. How did it come that it was subsequently extended? It is all wrapt in mystery.
Before we try and fix the responsibility on anybody, I think I ought to deal briefly with the White Paper. After all, it is the only Paper we have, so we ought to make the most of it. But I do not think it necessary to take up your Lordships' time very much with it. It deals with the question whether General Townshend protested against the extension of this Expedition to Baghdad. The question seems to depend on a rather mysterious document which is called "An Appreciation." It is quite obvious that Lord Hardinge never saw this Appreciation, which is supposed to be an argument by General Townshend against the advance to Baghdad. Nobody accuses anybody of suppressing this document, but it is a curious thing that it should have been mislaid; and it is a remarkable fact that, although it has not reached the authorities in India, it has been fairly widely read in this country, and those who have read this Appreciation know that what is reported in this Paper does not fully, or even accurately, represent what General Townshend said. I think there is not the smallest doubt—it is not a case of rumour, but one of common knowledge—that General Townshend did object to the advance. He says here, after having explained what he had done—
I consider that this pointed out the risk sufficiently, and was all, in my opinion, that a subordinate commander could do. It would be contrary to discipline to protest in the full sense and meaning of the word.
It is quite clear that General Townskend objected to the advance. It is equally clear that, having lodged the protest which he thought right, he did his duty as a British soldier, and I believe nobody could have carried out his impossible task better than he did.
§ Who, then, is responsible? It is a most unfortunate coincidence that the advance on Baghdad should have synchronised with the obvious failure of the Dardanelles Expedition. There are a great many people who do not believe that this was a coincidence. They think that the advance was a gambling venture on the part of the Government, that having lost at Gallipoli, they tried to get home by plunging at Baghdad. That is the common opinion. For myself, I do not hold that opinion. I believe that if it were true, there is no judgment which history or their contemporaries could pass on them that would sufficiently condemn the Government. I believe, on the contrary, that the mistake was that they did not connect the Dardanelles Expedition with the advance on Baghdad; that as long as there was the chance of the Dardanelles Expedition succeeding, there would have been a chance of the advance to Baghdad coming off; but that the moment that failed, the Expedition ought to have been abandoned.
In the same speech that I have quoted of the Prime Minister's he used these words in defending the Dardanelles Expedition—
If the Dardanelles Expedition had not taken place, the Mesopotamian Expedition might have been swept out of existence.
Surely, my Lords, if there was a risk of the Mesopotamian Expedition being swept out of existence if the Dardanelles Expedition had not taken place, there was an infinitely greater risk of its being swept out of existence when the Dardanelles Expedition had taken place and had failed. As long as that Expedition had not materialised, as long as it was merely a threat, the Turks had to keep their whole forces to guard against it; but the moment the Expedition had failed, they were able to throw their whole forces into the field. Therefore it seems to mo that the time to give up this Expedition was when the Dardanelles Expedition had failed.
§ It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that nobody, either in the Cabinet or on the General Staff, seems to have realised, even if the Expedition got to 839 Baghdad, what must have happened to it afterwards. I believe the great Moltke said that he could land an Army Corps in England; his difficulty would be how to get it away. Surely the same thing applied to the Baghdad Expedition. General Townshend had at his disposal, I believe, a force of 11,000 men and some artillery. At the battle of Ctesiphon he was confronted, besides the force he expected to find, with an unexpected force of four divisions of well-equipped Turkish troops. Surely, my Lords, a more mad undertaking than for an Expeditionary Force of 11,000 or 12,000 men to advance 500 miles up the river against the full forces of the Turkish Army, equipped in the completest and fullest way, could not possibly be imagined.
§ I am prepared to make this concession. Supposing we are told by the Government that they were assured by their military advisers in this country as well as in India that this Expedition was feasible, then, of course, one must accept it although one may be astonished to hear it. Anyway, for the sake of argument, let us admit that the Expedition was feasible. I do not suppose that anybody ever had to argue a case in which he could afford to be more generous in making concessions than I am able to be this afternoon. But supposing this Expedition was feasible, supposing that somehow or other they had been able to get into Baghdad and had been able to remain there, surely the only way in which this could have been really brought about would be by the Expedition being the most perfectly-equipped of its kind that it is possible to conceive. If you have these side shows, at all events see that they are as perfect as they can be made in every way. I say, and I say without fear of contradiction, that those who were responsible for this Expedition neglected nothing that lack of foresight and lack of organisation could effect to eliminate any possible chance of success that there might have been.
§ The question of this Mesopotamian Expedition resolves itself in the main into one of transport. One would have imagined, knowing about the activity of Germany in regard to the Baghdad Railway, that even before the war began some scheme of a Mesopotamian Expedition would have been pigeon-holed somewhere in India, or at all events that when the campaign began active steps would have been taken. There were outside Basra all the materials, 840 sleepers and rails, even, I believe, fifteen locomotives, left by the Germans; and the India authorities did nothing to make any use of this railway. Baghdad is, I think, 574 miles from the sea by river; it is half as far by land. Well, if they neglected the railway—which is now, I understand, being built—one would have thought that at all events they would have taken measures to make the river transport effective and complete, that they would have known what boats would have been required, that they would have known where to have got them, and that they would have taken steps to collect them. They have dockyards at Bombay and Calcutta, and they have a dockyard at Basra. At all events, for the first fifteen months they did nothing at all at any of these places. The boats they got were commandeered from England, and many of them sank on the way. The river above Kurna is at most times of the year very difficult to navigate, and boats which draw more than 3¼ feet of water are unable to navigate the channels; yet nothing appears to have been done. No boats that were of any good were obtained, and the few that were have been so overworked that the boilers of some of them have not been cleaned for eighteen months, and it is only natural that the transport arrangements altogether broke down. You had an enormous glut of stores and things collected at Basra; you had a dearth of everything else everywhere else.
But I think it would be wrong to put the whole thing down to lack of transport. General Townshend's force was armed, I am told, with artillery so obsolete and antiquated that if it had not been for the loss of prestige he might just as well have handed them over to the Turks. At the beginning of the war all the aeroplanes at Sitapur were commandeered and sent to France; they were replaced by some which were unfit for France, and which I believe were sent from Egypt. At the battle of Sheikh Saad there was no telephonic communication of any sort or kind. The Divisional General could not communicate with his brigadiers, and the brigadiers could not communicate with the commanding officers. In the battles which took place in January, particularly in the battle on January 21, when it was all important that the troops should get across the river, the sappers had no materials of any sort or kind with which to make a bridge; they had not even the cable necessary to make a flying bridge to cross the river. Balloons were refused.
It is needless to say that when the necessaries of warfare were so lacking, all the comforts which are so generously and rightly given in France were absent from our troops in Mesopotamia. Tobacco could not be obtained; it could not even be bought. And this is the Expedition of which the Prime Minister spoke in these words—
I do not think that in the whole course of the war there has been a series of operations more carefully contrived, more brilliantly conducted, and with a better prospect of success.
I think these latter words are remarkable, because this excursion into the realms of prophecy is, as far as I know, the solitary departure of he Prime Minister from that attitude of static expectation which he has impressed on the British public with such monotonous insistence.
§ I have spoken about the lack of transport. I now come to what, in my humble judgment, is far the worst part of this business. When we see that all the material part of the warfare was hung up because stores could not come forward, because reinforcements could not come forward, what was likely to happen to those who were wounded or who fell sick on the way? There was no provision for them of any sort or kind. I think if there is one thing that redeems the horrors of the awful war in which we are engaged it is the wonderful way in which the wounded in the main theatre of warfare have been cared for, the promptitude, the skill, the tenderness with which all cases are treated. I think it reflects the greatest credit on everybody, from the members of the Government to the youngest stretcher bearer. When we hear of the great attack made on July 1, and when we see on the following evening ambulances rolling into London bringing men who were wounded the day before, we feel what a, wonderful organisation it must be that brings this about. We think of this, and when we hear of what goes on in Mesopotamia we rub our eyes and ask, "Is it the same Government carrying on the same war? Or are we back in the days of the Crimea before the advent of Florence Nightingale?" Think of those wounded men left out sometimes for twenty-four hours in the bed of the river, exposed to the pitiless rain, carried down in barges, if they were lucky, exposed to all the elements, without proper attendance, without proper anything.
I have here a mass of letters dealing with this question. It is very difficult to
make a selection. I think I shall probably not be doing amiss if I read an extract from one letter which seems to me to epitomise the savings in hundreds of others, and also give you an account of what happened at one typical battle. This is what this gentleman, for whose credit I can absolutely vouch, writes—
I saw men by hundreds coming down the River Tigris on open boats, with one blanket in biting cold and rain, with not oven a field-dressing sometimes, with limbs shattered and rifles as splints, puggarees for bandages and sometimes puttees, and with no sanitary accommodation of any sort or kind.
Then I will take the battle of Ctesiphon. It ake that for several reasons, in the first place because the battle of Ctesiphon was reported by some one high in authority as being a case in which the arrangements for the wounded were satisfactory. It is, as regards the lack of medical appliances, about an average case; indeed, it is rather better than the average. At the battle of Ctesiphon there was medical accommodation for 500. Arrangements for 2,100 were improvised, but they were quite inadequate. The total number of wounded was 4,500. One wounded officer said that after the battle of Ctesiphon there was not sufficient chloroform. An officer commanding a brigade at Ctesiphon was wounded on November 21; he had no food from six p.m. on the 21st until twelve noon on the 24th, except two cups of tea not supplied by the medical authorities. His wounds were dressed on the 22nd, and not again until the 26th. He was for many hours with both legs out of action and in a transport cart not intended for wounded at all and jolting all the way. He is ready on reaching England to make a statement on the subject. There was a letter from a subaltern in which he said that he lay without help for thirty-six hours, and after his wounds were dressed they were not touched again until he got to Bombay. He adds—
The Turks are full well equipped, and the doctors provided with the last word in medical outfits from Paris. At the battle of Ctesiphon two bargeloads of wounded were abandoned and were tended and sent down by the Turks.
I cannot help thinking, my Lords, that amongst the many surprises of this war the Turks have presented one of the most remarkable. I do not allude only to their martial revival, though that in itself is sufficiently remarkable. But we have been accustomed to look down on the Turks, we have shuddered at the Turks, we have
prayed for the Turks. The Turks are supposed to have been Germanised, to have adopted German methods, but in both the Dardanelles and in Mesopotamia they have in warfare revived that chivalry which the Germans have made impossible. Alike in their humanity to the prisoners and in their treatment of the wounded our enemies who fight under the Crescent have shown an example to those who fight under the Cross. And, my Lords, it came to this—I am ashamed to say it—that in Mesopotamia the best hope for an English wounded soldier, and what his friend could most wish for him, was that he should fall into the hands of the Turks. And yet, apart from our moral superiority, one would have expected that the Turks, being defenders, would have been less provided with medical materials and nursing than we, who ought to have properly organised and equipped the aggressive Expedition we were conducting.
The noble Marquess, two days ago, told us that he heard that things were satisfactory now in Mesopotamia as regards medical comforts. I hope this may be so. But I know that on May 6 the following report was sent from Mesopotamia from a hospital there—
The sick and wounded wore lying on the ground in tents, with no mosquito nets. In the cases of men who were helpless, their faces and arms were so literally black with flies that you could not see any skin at all. There was no milk, not even tinned.
That was written on May 6. And when one remembers that the condition of the wounded at Ctesiphon was described as satisfactory, and when one heard from India that the arrangements for the wounded were satisfactory at a time when men were arriving at Bombay with their wounds untouched since the battle, dysentery cases lying side by side on the ship with bullet wounds, and when at one time over 400 men arrived at one hospital covered with vermin, one hopes, but one cannot feel confident, that the noble Marquess may not at some future date have to modify his statement.
§ I think I have said enough to show that the treatment of the wounded in Mesopotamia amounted to a scandal. I should be sorry, quite apart from any Inquiry, if I had any direct or indirect responsibility for anything that had happened there. I think the worst part of this thing is that these horrors seem to rob sorrow even of 844 its consolation. Grief for those who have fallen in battle is softened by pride in the glory of their deaths, but there can be little lining to the clouds that darken those homes where pride is blurred and grief embittered by the knowledge that those who are mourned might still be alive if parsimony or criminal carelessness had not refused them the roughest elements of that medical science and care which has saved so many thousands of lives in France.
§ My Lords, I am going to make an appeal to the Government. I do not know what they are going to do about giving an Inquiry. My noble friend's remarks the other night seemed to be couched in that spirit of polite evasion of which practice has made him a past master. If they are not going to give an Inquiry, I am going to make this appeal to them. I hope that in answering my case to-night they will not do anything to extenuate or to gloss over the scandals which everybody knows have taken place. I do not think the Government realise the rage and the exasperation with which our soldiers in Mesopotamia read the debates in Parliament here. They get the newspapers—it is about all they do get—and when men, at the end of their tether almost, maddened by the monotony of their existence, withered by the heat, tortured by torments which we cannot conceive, their memories haunted by recollections of what they have gone through and to which their friends have succumbed—when these men read that in the House of Commons the Prime Minister has said that he was afraid that in some respects the medical organisation "had not been fully successful," or when they read of the noble Marquess getting up in your Lordships' House and saying that he believes that there has been "a slight hitch" in the transport, is it wonderful that they break down, that they feel that that Government of the country for which they are fighting cares more for its Parliamentary position than it does for the lives of men?
§ There is one other point. The men in Mesopotamia may not be exposed to the dangers to which the men in France are, but they have no respite, no rest from the monotony of their existence. I wonder—although it has nothing to do with this question—whether some arrangement could not be made by which they might be relieved at times and given a chance of 845 leave, like that which our soldiers in France enjoy.
§ Two things are required in Mesopotamia. One is that everything possible should be taken out of the hands of the India Government, in which no confidence is felt at all, and put into the hands of Sir William Robertson, in whom every confidence is felt. The other is that an Inquiry should be held at once. These men want an Inquiry because they believe that the very fact of an Inquiry being instituted will do a great deal to remove all of which I have complained.
§ I have nothing more to add. I do not know whether I shall be considered to have touched on subjects which it were better to avoid, or whether it will be said that I have washed our dirty linen in public. In my opinion it is better to wash your dirty linen in public than to wear it indefinitely in public. The time for clearing up this subject is long overdue. I move for this Inquiry, not with a desire to find a scapegoat, but rather in the faint hope that some of the things which are, alleged may be found to have been exaggerated, and that at all events a good excuse may be found for a great many of them. Above all, I move for it in the confident belief that the ventilation of the subject will render for all time impossible the recurrence of scandals which, whatever be the result of this war, will be a blot on our otherwise magnificent share in the conduct of it.
§ Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House a full Inquiry ought to be held into the whole conduct of the campaign in Mesopotamia, particularly the advance on Ctesiphon, the transport arrangements, and the provision for the wounded.—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, in ordinary circumstances, after the powerful indictment of the noble Earl opposite, I should not have intervened until some other speakers had had an opportunity of developing the propositions advanced. But, as I shall explain in a moment, there are reasons which make me desire to take part in the debate at the first possible opportunity. But before I say anything else I hope I may be allowed, not so much to congratulate my noble friend opposite on his eloquent speech, as 846 to congratulate the House upon the marked reinforcement in our strength which his advent here has given us, and to express the hope that his intervention in our debates will be frequent.
It is desirable, particularly in view of the fact that the Prime Minister has made a similar announcement by this time in another place, to state that we are prepared to accede to the suggestion of my noble friend opposite in the following terms. We propose to institute an Inquiry into the conduct of the operations in Mesopotamia, including the transport, supply, and medical services. That, I think, covers all the ground on which the noble Earl has touched. The Inquiry will be conducted by a small body, and the names of those who are to compose it will be announced in Parliament before a final decision is reached. It will be necessary for this body to sit in secret, for precisely the same reason that has made the publication of Papers impossible—a purely military reason. I ought to add that a similar body will inquire, with precisely the same scope, into the operations at the Dardanelles.
It is right that I should state to the House how it is that we have not asked the country to engage in this Inquiry before, because we have known that by many such an Inquiry was sought. It must be borne in mind that to carry on an investigation of this kind during the progress of the war throws a very heavy extra burden of work upon a number of officials already worked almost to breaking point. It must also be remembered that when the conduct of two great operations comes under discussion it may be necessary to obtain the evidence of many naval and military officers who are actively employed or engaged in different parts of the world. Those objections will, I am sure, forcibly strike all members of the House, but in the circumstances we feel that they ought to be overridden and that the Inquiry ought to be held. That being so, it seems almost necessary to defer the detailed discussion on a great number of points raised by my noble friend in his speech, because those matters will form the actual subject-matter of the Inquiry which is to be held forthwith, and to attempt to pre judge them in debate would be the reverse of assistance to those who are to be responsible for the Inquiry, and could in our opinion have no useful result.
847 There are, therefore, only one or two points in my noble friend's speech on which I desire to say a word. I am compelled to pass by all those incidents connected with the transport and medical services to which he alluded in more than one moving passage. All that I can do is to touch on subjects which do not fall within the ambit of the proposed Inquiry. The first of those is the question of policy, with which the noble Earl opened his observations—as to how we ever came to go to Mesopotamia at all and engage in what he colloquially described as a "side show." There is no need, I think, to labour this point greatly, because among the concessions which my noble friend was so generous to make was included that of not attaching blame to the inception of the Expedition to Basra. He was quite aware of the circumstances which, in our opinion, made it imperative to reassert in the critical moments of August, 1914, our paramount position in the Persian Gulf. Our position there has long been recognised. As long ago as 1870 the Duke of Argyll, then Secretary of State for India, spoke of the years of peace that had followed the establishment of our supremacy in the Persian Gulf. Then in 1903 my noble friend Lord Lansdowne made the memorable statement in this House that an attempt by any other Power to establish a naval base or a fortified port anywhere in the Persian Gulf would be regarded as a grave menace to British interests, and one which we should resist with all the means at our disposal. And later, in 1907, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs spoke in a somewhat similar sense.
It must be remembered, my Lords, that in August, 1914, although we were not at war with Turkey, and did not become so for many months, the Turks in Asia had shown no little sign of restlessness. At Baghdad and the neighbourhood many threats had been uttered against this country, and the property of British subjects had been forcibly seized. It was also known that a strong movement was on foot, no doubt under German inspiration, to induce the proclamation of a Jehad, a Holy War, against us. It was absolutely necessary for us also to support the interests of our tried and faithful friends, the Arab chiefs on the Gulf, such as the Sheikhs of Mohammerah and of Koweit, not to mention some others on the Arabian Peninsula itself. We were also bound to protect as far as possible, those valuable oilfields in which 848 not long ago we had acquired an interest of much importance to our naval oil supplies. We thought it our duty, therefore, to take the power of striking a blow in this region, without exhibiting hostility to Turkey, with whom we were still at peace.
But events developed, and at the beginning of November we found ourselves at war with Turkey. Our preparations had been carefully made, although without perpetrating any act which could be said to have had a shadow of hostility against Turkey, and on the following day—November 6—we landed at Fao in the face of some resistance. Two brigades was the force available, and with those two brigades, after some sharp fighting, Basra was occupied on November 22, 1914. We all know, because it is a common observation of the Arabs themselves, that they decline to be affected by anything they do not actually see, and our presence there in that force may have saved, and as we believe did save, the Empire from the near approach of a great disaster. It was always possible that if we had not then shown our strength Islam, as a whole, might have been deflected against us. It was impossible to foresee what the effect on Persia and on the Arabian Peninsula would have been if Islam so far East had declared itself as hostile to the Allies. It seemed highly possible that Afghanistan—and, in passing, I desire to pay a tribute to the rational and honourable conduct of the Amir of Afghanistan all through this war—in fact, it could hardly have been avoided—that Afghanistan should also have gone against us. Further than that, we had also to consider the position and prospects of the great Moslem population of Africa, which, in turn, might easily have been roused against us and our Allies. From those dangerous possibilities, in our judgment, we were altogether saved by the prompt move to the head of the Persian Gulf.
That brings us practically to the end of the year 1914. There was a single Division at that time in Mesopotamia. The quantity of river transport at the disposal of the force was small, and for the time being there could be no question, with a moderate force with no easy means of locomotion at its disposal, of anything like a further advance. I have no desire to follow further the progress that was made through the times when a second Division came partly from Egypt and partly from India, and up 849 to the time when, in the summer of last year, the occupation of Amara was authorised, or the various steps by which the advance was made, first to Kurna, then to Amara, which was occupied in June of last year, and then the further advance, first on the Euphrates and afterwards up the Tigris, since all those are bound to become part of the subjects of the forthcoming Inquiry. It is by no means easy to sever the different considerations, political and military, and in turn keep those distinct from such questions as the management of transport and supply. Jut it may, I think, be assumed that the inquirers, in considering the conduct of the operations, will have to bear in mind the various cognate considerations.
There is one other point, not mentioned by my noble friend but I think arising out of his indictment, on which I desire to say a word. It does not seem to have been sufficiently realised by all that the conduct of this Mesopotamian Expedition has formed a comparatively small part of the tax which has been made upon the resources of India. Some have spoken as though the Government of India, and the administrators, civil and military, of India, had nothing to do but to manage this Mesopotamian Expedition, just as at the beginning of this century Great Britain was solely occupied with the management of the South African War. This is far, indeed, from being the case. It must be remembered that at the very beginning of the war—in the month of August, 1914—India sent two Divisions of Infantry and one brigade of Cavalry to France. In September a Division was sent to Mombasa for the East African Expedition—and with regard to the East African Expedition perhaps I may say this, by way of parenthesis, that although the troops were supplied from India the whole conduct of, and the whole responsibility for, that campaign has from the first rested with the authorities here and the War Office, and that India has not undertaken any responsibility with regard to it—and in November another Division and another brigade of Cavalry were sent to Egypt. All these units, making a large force in all, were absolutely complete with all their transport, with ambulances, indeed with all that an Expeditionary Force can demand or require. In addition to that, the large force which is normally kept on the North-West Frontier of India had to be maintained at its full strength.
850 It is also fair to mention that, entirely apart from these demands upon India, a large number of Indian officers on leave and employed in one way or another here, to the number, if I remember rightly, of from 600 to 700, were taken and used, quite necessarily used, for such purposes as the formation of the New Armies. But what was necessary and what was gained by the Empire as a whole had the effect of denuding India of much of its strength. The same applies to the medical service. The medical service in India was largely stripped of its membership for service in the field and hospital service in Europe. These things I think it is reasonable to bear in mind, and I have no doubt that they will continue to be borne in mind. It is also true that practically all the British troops in India were withdrawn, being replaced by other British troops less experienced than those who came away and formed some of the Divisions which have fought with such great distinction in Europe. It should also be borne in mind that between December, 1914, and September of last year there have been no less than seven separate attacks, some of them very formidable, on the North-Western Frontier of India, and the arrangements for meeting those attacks have been carried out with the efficiency which we are accustomed to associate with the Frontier fighting of the Indian Army. I could mention one or two instances of almost extraordinary promptitude in meeting formidable attacks which were made. At Aden, which as everybody knows is under the Government of India, the situation also demanded not a little watchfulness and care. And in addition to that, the internal situation in India—one, as the House knows, from time to time of no little anxiety—has thrown a heavy strain on the military resources, particularly in details of organisation, of India. I may also mention, as an instance of the difficulties with which the India Government has had to cope, that within two years there have been four Directors-General of Medical Service. Two of these have been called on to do most important work in Europe, and the health of another broke down. In speaking of the failure of arrangements, these are considerations which ought not to be ignored in fairness to those into whose conduct it is desired to inquire.
I should like also to add that when considering the possible shortcomings of individuals it will be necessary for us at 851 any rate to consider the system under which these individuals work. It will be necessary, before passing a final judgment on presumed or proved shortcomings and deficiencies of civil and military officials in India, to consider in particular the whole system of military organisation there, and the particular difficulties under which they may have been found to labour during these crowded and critical months. Somebody will at some time have to inquire how far the concentration of work and responsibility upon one or two individuals may be held to be responsible for difficulties that have occurred. I will not attempt to develop that subject further now, but I throw it out as one which will also have to be borne in mind before a final verdict can be pronounced. I will say no more now, my Lords. His Majesty's Government entirely recognise the claim for fuller knowledge which has been so frequently put forward by my noble friend. That claim we are prepared to respect in spite of the objections—which I desire once more to mention, because they are formidable—to instituting such an Inquiry as this during the actual progress of a great war.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, the statement made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, that the Government accede to the suggestion for an Inquiry, has very materially altered the whole situation. Nevertheless there is one subject to which no allusion was made by the noble Earl, but which was, however, hinted at by the noble Marquess, and which is of great importance and has a distinct bearing upon this Mesopotamian fiasco. The other day, in dealing with Irish affairs, the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe) exhorted us not to indulge in recriminations with regard to the past, except in so far as they might afford some useful lesson for our guidance in the future. That is a sentiment in which I cordially concur, and I am about to draw attention to a very important matter as to which the recent past does, I believe, furnish us with a very useful lesson for our guidance in, I think I may say, the near future.
I am going to say a few words upon the reforms which were carried out a few years ago in the central military administration of the Government of India. It is a difficult and delicate subject to handle, because it is impossible to do so without in some degree questioning the judgment of a very 852 distinguished and eminent soldier who was a valued and great personal friend of mine, with whom I was associated in public and private life for many years, and whom the whole nation now mourns—I need hardly say that I allude to the late Lord Kitchener. Nevertheless, the subject is of such vital importance to national interests that I do not think any consideration for the living, and—a point which touches me more nearly—any respect for the memory of the dead, ought to tie our tongues to such an extent as to prevent our discussing it. I have no sort of wish to indulge in those recriminations to which the noble Marquess alluded the other evening. I have not been for more than half a century behind the scenes of Government without knowing how very easy it is to make serious mistakes in dealing with political and military affairs. Moreover, I have made too many mistakes myself not to be very chary in criticising those of others. I should like, therefore, to preface my remarks by saying that even if Lord Kitchener made an error in judgment in introducing certain reforms a few years ago, as I think he did, that fact does not in any way obliterate or to any extent obscure the very eminent and distinguished services he rendered to his country in other and different directions.
When Lord Kitchener was appointed Commander-in-Chief in India he stayed in my house at Cairo on his way to India, and I then had full opportunity of discussing with him the military administration of the Government of India. The impression I brought away with me from those discussions was that my late and very gallant friend was about to commit what is a very great error in an Anglo-Indian administrator—I mean the error of forming a very decided opinion upon the Indian question before he had got to India. That is a mistake which has been made, within my recollection, on two or three occasions, and whenever it has been made it has generally been followed by very disastrous consequences. Let me allude to an incident within my own personal experience which shows, not indeed what did happen, but what might have happened by following this procedure. I remember very well that in 1880, when I was appointed Financial Member of the Governor-General's Council, I had the good luck to be staying in the country for two or three days at a house where Mr. Gladstone was a guest. I was then a young man, and 853 Mr. Gladstone, I need hardly say, was considered one of the highest financial authorities in this or any other country. I therefore hung on his words and treasured all his observations. With regard to finance, Mr. Gladstone urged upon me strongly to take immediate steps to reduce the cash balances of the Government of India. When I got to India I inquired into the matter and found that Mr. Gladstone was entirely misinformed as to the facts, and that if the Government had followed out his plan the consequences might, and probably would, have been disastrous. I merely mention that to show what a great mistake it is to form a decided opinion on Indian subjects of that description until one has been in India and studied the facts thoroughly.
I need hardly remind your Lordships who are acquainted with India affairs that when Lord Kitchener took up the post of Commander-in-Chief there were two soldiers on the Governor-General's Council the Commander-in-Chief, who had executive command, and the Military Member of Council, who performed the functions generally discharged in this country by the Secretary of State for War. In my day, now a good many years ago, the system worked very well, and with no more friction than generally attends the working of Government departments. When I was told by Lord Kitchener that the system when he went out was working badly—whether that was the fault of the system or of the people working it, I cannot say—I accepted his high authority that this was so, and that some reform was required. I cannot admit, however, that the actual reforms carried out were judicious.
The main reform that was introduced was, as your Lordships are aware, the entire abolition of the Military Member of Council, and thus practically the whole administration of the Army in India, in all its various departments, was thrown upon the shoulders of the Commander-in-Chief. Even in normal times that arrangement was, I think, open to considerable objection. It had been for many years a sort of unwritten law in India that if the Commander-in-Chief was an officer of the English Army the Military Member of Council should be an officer of the Indian Army, and vice versa. The reason for this was that in order to deal with Indian military affairs experience both of Indian and English military affairs was necessary. For obvious reasons, 854 on which I need not dwell but which history teaches are sound enough, an Asiatic Army commanded by Christian and European officers is a delicate instrument with which to deal. It was also wisely thought necessary that the Viceroy should have constantly at his elbow an officer who had resided long in India, who spoke Hindustani, who had gone through the mill of military work in India and was fully acquainted with the customs, prejudices, and feelings of the native, soldier—points which I need hardly remind your Lordships are of vital importance. Under the new system which was introduced under Lord Kitchener's auspices this safeguard was not entirely abrogated, but was very much weakened. In the first place, there was no absolute guarantee that there would be an officer with Indian experience in the Governor-General's Council. The Viceroy, who necessarily himself would be unacquainted with Indian detail and probably also with military affairs, instead of having two advisers on whom to rely, could only rely on one; and I must say that the result of having had to rely on one adviser appears to have been extremely unfortunate.
There is another point, at which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House hinted, and that is that the new system threw upon one individual a great deal more than he could possibly do—it overwhelmed him with work. I have no wish to rake up again the embers of a rather heated controversy which took place on this subject some years ago. I do not think it is either necessary or in the least desirable to go into the question of who was right and who was wrong; but I claim that this change of system, this very important change which was introduced under Lord Kitchener's auspices should be judged by its results, and while it would certainly be a great exaggeration to say that the fiasco in Mesopotamia has been entirely due to that change, I cannot help thinking that the change has very largely contributed to it. Although, as I say, I do not want to rake up again old controversies, I do think that what has happened in Mesopotamia affords the most complete vindication of the attitude taken up by the noble Earl opposite (Lord Curzon), the then Viceroy, in opposition to this drastic reform. I do not for the moment suggest that there should be any immediate change. A change just now, while we are going through this national crisis, would be undesirable; but I am of opinion that the whole matter should be 855 very carefully considered at the first possible opportunity after the war. I do not say that we ought to go hack in detail to exactly the same system that previously existed, but I hold strongly that we ought to go back to the essential part of that system—that is to say, that the Viceroy in the future should have two military advisers at his disposal instead of one.
There is one other matter to which I wish to allude. The other day I was reading a very important article in The Times, apparently from the pen of a well informed writer. Among other things he said that the Council of the Viceroy had virtually ceased to exist, that instead of being summoned every week at least, as was formerly the case, they are now very rarely summoned, that in fact the members of Council had degenerated into mere heads of Departments. And he said this—The Council had no share in the decision to send Indian troops to Europe, and we should very much like to know whether it was ever invited to consider the proposal to advance to Baghdad.I do not deny or confirm that statement. Whether true or not, it is undoubtedly a very serious statement, for it must be remembered that India is not governed by the Viceroy but by the Viceroy in Council. To set aside the Council now, as is alleged in the article which I have quoted, would be, I will not say unconstitutional because the word does not apply to a country where there is no Constitution, but it would certainly be out of harmony with the spirit of the Government of India Act. This statement in The Times must be either correct or incorrect. If, as I trust is the case, it is incorrect, then it ought to be contradicted; if it is correct, it certainly discloses what I think I may call a serious state of things, and no time should be lost in putting the matter right. Both of the subjects to which I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention—namely, the question of the central military organisation of the Government of India and the position of the Viceroy's Council—are of such importance that I hope, in a future which I trust will not be very remote, they will receive the earnest attention of His Majesty's Government
THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
My Lords, the noble Earl who initiated this debate has in his eloquent speech touched on several matters that I had intended bringing forward, so that it is necessary for me 856 to say but very little. On Tuesday last the noble Marquess who leads the House made, I thought, a rather weak speech in excuse of the state of affairs in Mesopotamia. The reason stated by him for not producing Papers on the subject was that it had been found that for military reasons it would be wrong to produce them. The noble Marquess went on to say that Papers relating to the failure as to transport, supply, and medical service might also help the enemy; at any rate, that is what I understood from him. Now this is rather too much of a good thing. It is, I think, safe to assume that the Turks know all about our want of transport and the state in which our wounded were, because the Arabs would probably inform them of it. Then we were told that the Report of the Commission in India had not arrived. Could not that have been telegraphed? That would have been quite possible, I should think, especially when it is most important to us here to be informed on many points on which we are still ignorant. I also understand, from what the noble Marquess said a short time ago, that a great many people blame the system of Government in India. Men who have been assisting in the Government of India for years tell me that, though the system may not be perfect, the men who were administering it were not by any means perfect, and that this accounts for a great deal of the failure.
With your Lordships' permission I should like to read a letter which I have received from an officer who has served in Mesopotamia. I do not know the gentleman, but he wrote to me having seen by the newspapers that I had mentioned the subject in this House on Thursday last. This officer writes—My regiment arrived in Mesopotamia from France early in January, and was sent up the Tigris the same day, arriving at the Front just after the battle of Wadi Creek. We passed Sheikh Saad the previous day. There were numbers of wounded still unattended to and with apparently no one to attend to them lying out in the mud on the bare decks of boats, with pouring rain and bitter cold—as it was throughout January and most of February. They were sent down by boatloads without the slightest attempt at proper care, and no one, or next to it, to attend them in the boat. There was an inexplicable and unpardonable and cruel lack of doctors, medical stores, and bandages. A great friend of mine in the I.M.S. was through all the Mesopotamian campaign up to and including the battle of Sheikh Saad (in the first week in January). After, 857 and greatly owing to the strain of this, his health gave way, and he was invalided home with me to England on the same ship. He told me that, when the Relief Force marched out of Amara, the officer commanding the Force, whose name you doubtless know, told him and the officers of his ambulance that he did not consider that the Turks would put up a show between there and Kut, which he expected to reach quite easily, but that he was allowing for 800 casualties. At Sheikh Saad there were, I believe, between 4,000 and 5,000. My friend told me that it was utterly impossible for him and the few other doctors to cope with this. They were short of everything—of doctors and material—and felt like throwing themselves into the Tigris at the appallingness of their impossible task….The attack at Hannah on January 19, in which I took part, was equally terrible. Some thousands of wounded lay all night in the soaking rain, bitter cold, and deep mud, between our line and the Turks, the result of a murderous frontal attack. An armistice was fortunately granted us the next day by the Turks to collect these men—and there was the same tale of few doctors and deficiency in stores. In one boat a padre went down in charge of the wounded. I myself was severely wounded at the attack at Es Sinn on March 8. This time the arrangements were better; more doctors had been sent from the base, but yet too few, and there seemed a sufficiency of dressings. What was short was stretchers. We had to be taken in twenty miles across the desert, covered by a rearguard retreating before an attacking enemy—a rearguard famished for water after they had performed an unsuccessful attack with heavy loss the day before. I will not ask why we did not succeed, why we sat three hours before a position lightly held until the enemy had brought up his reinforcements and shattered us when at length but too late, we were ordered to attack. The journey hack for the wounded was performed in ordinary mule transport carts, no other form of ambulance being available. A few of the worst cases were taken on stretchers. But all the other ' worse cases '—stomach wounds—had to go in the carts (fourteen hours of it), with the result that a large percentage died on the way in. There must have been hundreds of cases of ' died of wounds ' which would have been saved, particularly in January, if there had been at all adequate medical arrangements.I have read this letter to your Lordships as it shows the awful state of affairs as far as medical matters were concerned.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, there is one point to which I should like to allude which has not yet been spoken of, but which has a very important bearing on the subject we have been discussing. It is not generally known that when war broke out in 1914 the medical transport and supply services of the Army in India were notoriously deficient—deficient, that is to say, to make proper provision for the number of Divisions it was intended and expected to put in the field. In the Tirah Expedition of 1897 the transport proved quite insufficient, and in the small Expeditions of 1908, again, the medical arrangements 858 proved insufficient although the number of wounded was very small. It is, I believe, a fact that for the Mohmand Expedition trained bearers for seven doolies only were found to be available. But in 1911 the then Commander-in-Chief reported in full detail to the Government of India on the deficiency of the medical supply and transport services, calculated on the basis of seven Divisions in the field and two in reserve, which at that time was the accepted standard of strength. I think it best not to state the figures which the Commander-in-Chief gave on that occasion, but I may tell your Lordships that they were very large figures indeed. In 1912 the Nicholson Committee assembled at Simla to report on this and some other matters. I lone not seen the Report of that Committee. It was probably under consideration when the war broke out. In any case, nothing had been done to make good the deficiencies which were pointed out clearly in 1911; and when the greater part of the Army of India had gone to France and to these other places to which the noble Marquess referred the conditions were as unfavourable as possible for undertaking operations on a really large scale.
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, the granting of an Inquiry by my noble friend opposite has entirely altered the situation so far as this debate goes, and as the whole ground has been so admirably covered by the brilliant speech of my noble friend on my left (Lord Wemyss) it is unnecessary to enter further into the details of the terrible blunders and mistakes made in Mesopotamia. But there are one or two things which I think ought to be said, independent of the Inquiry. Nothing could be said too laudatory of General Townshend. I know him intimately. He began life in the Royal Marines, and we went across the desert together for the relief of Gordon. He is a man of extraordinary ability; he has the pluck of the race, and I do not think in history anything has been more pluckily carried out than the three engagements he entered into and his magnificent retreat for three days, being fired at all the time, and then remaining besieged for over five months. It was not the enemy that beat him; it was famine and bad management.
I want to call attention to the fact that all these officers, including General 859 Townshend, have been reduced to less than half-pay. Why is that? General Townshend received £200 a month when he was in command of this force. He maintained the credit of the British name before the whole of the Mahomedan world. Yet now, because he was unfortunate enough to have to surrender, be is reduced in pay from £200 a month to £83. I say this is a scandal. If it is the rule, it ought to be altered immediately. General Townshend has a little money. But how hard it is for all the other Indian officers who are reduced in the same proportion after the magnificent work they have done for the nation. Another point, Will my noble friend assure us that the divided control between the India Government and the Home Government no longer exists? We know what always happens with divided control. A great many of the mistakes, shall I call them?—they were not done intentionally, but they were very terrible for our men—were due to divided control between the Home Government and the India Government.
There is another matter which only has to be mentioned to have it altered. Will noble Lords believe that at this moment the whole of the troops in Mesopotamia are fed on 4½ d. a day each? Many of these troops went from France, where they had 10d. a day. The climate in Mesopotamia is particularly trying to the physique of the men, independent of the fighting and all they went through. In the old wars a very large percentage of the wounded died, but in this war a very large percentage recover. This is simply because they are well fed at the Front. If a man gets below what he ought to be in spirits and health and is wounded, he is much more likely to die than a man who is well fed. I hope that my noble friend will at once look into the question of the 4½ d. a day ration for these men. I understand that this is the result of divided control. The British Government wanted the men to get 10d., and the India Government, so I am informed, thought they ought to remain at 4½ d. because this was the scale in that country.
My noble friend on the left (Lord Wemyss) reminded me before I rose to speak that he did not pay any tribute to the wonderful work of the doctors with this army. There were cases in which there was but one doctor with 1,000 wounded. 860 I am not going to enter into that, because of the Inquiry; but do let us pay a meed of honour to these doctors and their assistants. Think of it—one barge with a steel deck and 1,000 men huddled together, no sanitary arrangements, no covering, one doctor and one orderly, and five days going down the river! I pay this tribute—my noble friend asked me to do so as he omitted it, but I should have done it anyway—to these doctors, and I am certain that noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite are as proud of these men as we are.
The noble Marquess, in the course of his speech, made a very grave admission. He said that at the beginning of the war India was bled white, that the doctors and guns and millions of rounds of ammunition were sent away. That being so, if the political necessity required an Expedition to Baghdad the Government certainly ought not to have embarked upon it until they had everything ready to make the movement a military success. We know that India sent us supplies at a moment when we were short of guns, ammunition, and medical stores. Therefore we must be quite fair in arguing this point. We must remember that India did help us in France and Egypt. But that does not absolve the Government, whether it was the Home Government or the India Government. Somebody must be held responsible for the loss of lives through want of preparation and organisation, and this Inquiry ought to bring somebody to book.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I do not rise to travel over the ground which has been already so admirably covered by my noble friend who introduced the Motion, still less to quarrel with the decision of the Government, though one cannot help wishing that, having made up their minds to give an Inquiry, they had been willing to do so not at the eleventh hour but many weeks ago. I rise to put two questions to my noble friend opposite, and in doing so perhaps I might say a word on what fell from Lord Cromer with regard to the responsibility for these mistakes. What we are really interested to know is, first and foremost, that what has been complained of in the past has now been set right as far as it can be.
My noble friend Lord Wemyss brought the whole of this story up to as late a date as May 6, and one of the worst cases which 861 he read to your Lordships was dated practically two months ago—and it takes almost that time for the post to bring the tatters. But really nothing fell from the noble Marquess as to the steps taken to repair those mistakes. It is alleged, and I believe cannot be gainsaid, that at that period there was still a lack of transport, a lack of barges, a considerable insufficiency of doctors, because three Divisions went out without hospitals at all, although two, I think, were caught up by their hospitals afterwards. Still there was a great deficiency. There was still at that time, I am told, a deficiency of quinine and of bandages. There were too few menials to look after the camps and keep them clean, and there was a total absence of the Comforts which it has been well said have been most generously provided in France during the campaign.
The noble Marquess ought to have been able to tell us one by one to what extent these deficiencies had now been made good, for in this matter the outside public have to be reassured. This Committee may find out many matters which involve individuals, or future differences of organisation. But nothing that this Committee can do will prevent these men suffering for the next three months, and what we desire before this debate terminates is that either the Under-Secretary or some one on the Government Bench should tell us—what I am convinced they can tell us—that so far as human power enables it to be done the necessary orders have been given to render the position of our troops in this part of the world satisfactory. That is the first point.
The second point is this. I am sure that the noble Marquess will realise that there is a complete chain of responsibility in this matter in India. I do not wish to associate myself for a moment with those who outside have treated the Indian participation in this campaign as if it had been on the whole a shameful episode in our military history. I believe that the demands made upon India have almost exceeded those made on the United Kingdom pro rata. The fact of having transferred nearly the whole of the British troops in the Indian Army to France, of having called upon India to carry on a, campaign in East Africa and to send troops to Aden, and then, on the top of that, to put this enormous Expedition in Mesopotamia, would undoubtedly place a strain on any military system, poised as India is, under which it might well have broken 862 down. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cromer to this extent, that it is possible that the organisation of the military system in India has not stood the strain of the change which was made some years ago. On the other hand, I think it is only fair—as I see my noble friend Lord Morley in his place—to say that Lord Cromer has not quite accurately stated that for which responsibility has to be taken in 1905, because our plan, right or wrong, was to leave two Members representing the military element in the Council. We felt that to put the whole mass of the work on the Commander-in-Chief would be a very unwise step. But two or three years later my noble friend (Lord Morley) thought differently. Instead of, as I think he might have done, strengthening the Supply Member and making him responsible for the whole of the supplies, leaving the Commander-in-Chief responsible for the whole of the personnel, he went to the opposite extreme and abolished the Supply Member, leaving the Commander-in-Chief in sole charge—not, I think, an arrangement that could stand the strain of a campaign.
On the other hand, there is one thing in which the whole House will agree, and that is that no organisation which was economical and adequate in time of peace could possibly, without a great deal of amplification, have been made equal to the enormous strain which has been put upon India in this campaign. When we look at the War Office here, which has been expanded to perhaps three times its size, we see how that stands. But we have not had a single word from the noble Marquess as regards this chain of responsibility. The Secretary of State, the Viceroy, the Commander-in-Chief, and those below them—so far as we gathered from the noble Marquess's speech not one of those authorities, not one link of that chain, is going to be held accountable by the Government for one of the greatest failures of which we have known in our military history. I think that is deplorable, because, whatever the Committee may decide, it is on the links of that chain that a great deal of the present work is going on. All the work which has to be done in Bombay will be done by the same men as before, and unless the Government institute immediate changes the necessity for which must have become apparent during these operations I do not see how we can expect that the campaign will be 863 carried on in the future as both Houses of Parliament would desire it should be. I hope that we shall have something from the Government on these two points. I did not understand from the noble Marquess whether there is any limit to the period during which the investigation will last. Is it the desire of the. Government to obtain a Report with the object of amending what is now amiss, or is it simply their desire, amending it themselves, to have a Report on the past for their guidance in the future? That is a point on which we are not informed.
I promised, when I rose to address your Lordships, that I would not trouble you with further incidents of these troubles which have been brought before us. I have in my possession I dare say a larger number of documents than any other member of the House showing the utter breakdown of all the preparations for the campaign. We have, in season and out of season, urged the Government in this matter. I have made this appeal to them before. Will they not give a little more credence to what reaches us on this side of the House from outside sources, rather than depend entirely on the optimistic official accounts that all is well, such as were served up to them last November before some of the worst of the tragedies mentioned by Lord Wemyss occurred. Only in February or March did they send out this Commission, which, as has been pointed out, has not been instructed to report by telegraph. We are all on the same side in this matter, and I would urge, even now at this late hour and up to the end of the war, that those of us who are equally interested with His Majesty's Government in seeing that these operations are carried on to the best advantage and with the least sacrifice of human life, should be listened to rather more freely than we have been, not only with regard to this Expedition but with regard to other portions of the Campaign which have been, I am sure not intentionally but to a large extent, hid from the public, and which are only dealt with now under great Parliamentary pressure.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (LORD ISLINGTON)
My Lords, I rise before the conclusion of this debate to endeavour to answer one or two of the points which have been raised. In the first place, I would like to say to the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Beresford) who put 864 certain questions about the pay of those of our troops who are now prisoners that I am not in a position at this moment to give him an answer, but I will make inquiries and inform him of the result. I understand that it is in accordance with ordinary practice. As regards the other point he raised, I gathered that he complained of the value of the ration—4½ d—which is being allowed to the troops in Mesopotamia as inadequate. There, again, I cannot give any useful answer. I can only say that a very recent telegram which I saw within the last forty-eight hours contains this satisfactory announcement, that all the troops in Mesopotamia are on full rations now, with the exception that there is a shortage at present of vegetables and of milk; the latter is being made up as rapidly as possible by the despatch of preserved and tinned milk.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
I am not in a position to answer that. I can only say that all the troops, so we are advised by an official telegram, are now on full rations with the exceptions to which I have alluded. There was a point raised in the eloquent speech of my noble friend Lord Wemyss about which I would like to say a word. I do not know that he indicated that it was his opinion, but the opinion is widely held outside that the advance from Kut-el-Amara to Baghdad was undertaken rather for political reasons.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
Then I beg the noble Earl's pardon. But you say it is a widespread opinion outside?
§ LORD ISLINGTON
I think it is important that a few words should be said upon that particular charge which is brought against His Majesty's Government. I will allude to it as briefly as possible, but it is necessary to go somewhat into detail to make the position clear. Between September 29 and the date of the occupation of Kut, in the middle of October, there took place a continuous stream of correspondence between the Government of 865 India, His Majesty's Government, and the General Officer Commanding in Mesopotamia, Sir John Nixon, and it was upon the original suggestion of the General Officer Commanding in Mesopotamia, who considered himself in a position to open the road to Baghdad, that this consultation between the authorities took place. The General Office Commanding in Mesopotamia expressed his confidence at that time that he could beat the Turks, that he could occupy the town of Baghdad without any addition to his present force, reinforcements only being required to maintain the position when won. In view of General Nixon's opinion, His Majesty's Government at that time constituted a special Inter-Departmental Committee, and upon that Committee, as the House may remember—
§ LORD ISLINGTON
The date would be subsequent to October 3, in the early days of October. This Inter-Departmental Committee, consisting of representatives of the India Office, the Foreign Office, the War Office, and the Admiralty, was constituted with a view of advising the Government as to whether the conditions, after looking at all sides of the question, would allow of the advance. Telegraphing a few days after the report of this Committee, the Government of India expressed the opinion that the occupation of Baghdad presented no difficulty, provided a guarantee could be given that a complete Division should arrive in Mesopotamia as reinforcements within two months. It was on these conditions that the Government of India recommended the advance to Baghdad. On the strength of the advice of the General Officer Commanding, of the Government of India, and of the Committee to which I have alluded, His Majesty's Government decided to reinforce General Nixon with two Divisions, which was more than General Nixon had asked for in order, as he thought at that time, successfully to open the road to Baghdad; and on October 23 a telegram was despatched by His Majesty's Government sanctioning the advance if General Nixon was satisfied that the available forces were sufficient for the needs of the operation. I have given a brief story of the facts, and out of it I desire to make three points. I do so on account of the allusion that the noble Earl made in his speech to opinions that are widely held outside as to the reasons 866 which influenced the Government in making this advance. I think the three points that come out clearly from these facts are, first, that the advance was not pressed from home on either the Government of India or on the General Officer Commanding, General Nixon. In other words, the initiative of the advance from Kut-el-Amara to Baghdad came from the military authorities on the spot. Secondly, I venture to say that this point comes out, that the charge that political considerations were allowed to overrule the advice of the competent military authorities is therefore unfounded. The third point is that the decision was not taken in a hurry. It was taken only after the very fullest consultation by all the authorities who were competent to give an opinion in this country, in India, and on the spot; and it was not taken until all those authorities were unanimous in their opinion that the advance might be made.
I will not at, this juncture go into the reasons—I do not think there would be any profit in it—which influenced those several authorities in making this further advance to Baghdad. There were, as must be obvious to your Lordships, very important militaryreasons and very important political reasons; but that the decision was unwise and unfortunate subsequent events have shown. The charge that may be brought against the Government is not one of insistence upon the military authorities, but rather one of acquiescence in their decisions. It is, of course, a most difficult and invidious task—more so for any one on this Bench—to allot the responsibility or blame for the advance to Baghdad. General Nixon undoubtedly believed that he could carry out the operation successfully, and advised that he could do so with the reinforcements I have mentioned. General Townshend, who was in command of the actual force which undertook the operation, never questioned, in any official correspondence to which either the Government of India or His Majesty's Government had access at the time, his capacity to do so.
That General Nixon underrated the difficulties is now apparent; but it may be said in his defence that his previous successive and successful occupation of important towns in the lower reaches of the Tigris and of the Euphrates may have influenced his mind to the extent that he would be able to continue those successes further north. Undoubtedly at that time the intelligence at his disposal was sadly 867 inaccurate, and though other information received through other channels was opposed to his information, and in due course was, of course, passed round, so strongly was he in the belief that the information available to him was correct, that he did not take full account of the information coming from other sources. I frankly admit that the offensive power on the part of General Townshend on the one side was miscalculated, and also that the defensive power of the enemy on the other was miscalculated. But it is not for me—it would be ill taste, I think, for anybody on this Bench, certainly at this juncture—to apportion the blame between General Nixon, the Government of India, or His Majesty's Government. That will have to be determined by the dispassionate tribunal of public opinion when all the facts, which now must be necessarily incomplete, are known.
Reference has been made to the terrible deficiencies that undoubtedly existed in many departments throughout Mesopotamia. But now that there is to be an Inquiry instituted to look into all the past, it will be unnecessary for me to deal with that. I would like, however, to say, in reply to remarks which Lord Midleton made in connection with information and advice which have come from the Benches opposite and which have not, in his judgment, been sufficiently taken account of here, that in accepting the noble Earl's proposal for the institution of an Inquiry His Majesty's Government have undertaken, at this juncture when everybody is engaged at the very highest pressure and when all the Departments and all public men of experience are working from morning to night, no light matter. It will be difficult, I have no doubt, to find those who will well carry out the investigation, and I think this is a point that I might urge in reply to the noble Viscount when he makes these complaints.
The noble Viscount very properly put a question as to what is being done to remedy the deficiencies. That is, of course, a matter of the deepest interest to everybody in the country. I am sure that there is nobody on this side who does not feel in complete accord with the noble Earl in his eloquent and moving sentiments concerning the terrible suffering that has taken place throughout the past eighteen months in Mesopotamia. Much of that suffering was undoubtedly due to inherent difficulties, 868 physical and climatic, but it might have been mitigated had there been greater precaution and greater care exercised. But what is of urgency now is that these deficiencies should be removed at the earliest possible moment, and I hope that what I am now going to state to the House will to a certain extent have the effect of allaying the very natural apprehensions in the minds of noble Lords. Since March there has been sent out to Force D in Mesopotamia a complete General Hospital (No. 33), with 36 officers and 201 of other ranks. In addition there have been sent out 210 medical officers with 625 of other ranks. There have been sent out 609,000 yards of mosquito curtain—
§ LORD ISLINGTON
The whole 609,000 yards have been shipped; some has arrived, and some is on its way. This mosquito curtain was requisitioned. The demand was made on December 4, 1915; the order was given on January 1; and the contract date for delivery was from January to April. I give those details merely to show that the interval between the demand and the order being transacted in the India Office was fairly precise. There have also been sent out 97,500 goggles, 23 sets of electric fans for hospital, 2,244 ceiling fans, and 10 ice machines. Eight hospital ships are under construction and 16 are under order. Then to India, to help the outflow from Mesopotamia and in addition to what I have already enumerated, there is one General Hospital and one Station Hospital, with 78 officers and 314 of other ranksmotor ambulance with four officers, and 180 of other ranks; 129 Royal Army Medical Corps officers and 222 of other ranks, and 198 lady nurses. Those are the figures of staff and of articles that have been sent to Force D since March.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
With regard to the stores, can the noble Lord tell us what proportion have gone up the river. I have heard of immense consignments of supplies which have been sent to Basra, dating back to February, not any of which has yet reached the troops
§ LORD ISLINGTON
I am not in position to answer the noble Viscount with regard to the distribution from Basra. Of course, the most important difficulty in the whole of this campaign is the 869 transport difficulty. But that is not the only one. One of the great difficulties is the necessity of requisitioning for these articles months and months before they are wanted. Further precautions are being taken with a view to removing the difficulties as far as possible of transport.
The transport difficulty has given rise to the most formidable of all the difficulties, and the main reason is that only a certain class of ship is suitable for the work upon the river. It must be a ship of very shallow draught, and indeed the levels of the river alter so with the seasons that the same ship, I understand, cannot be serviceable and navigable all the year round. It has been found necessary to ship the craft in parts for erection on the spot, or else, in cases when they have been sent out under their own steam, to strengthen them specially for the voyage, and even when that course has been taken I am afraid there have been considerable hisses. Great efforts have been made in India and here to meet these demands. I will give particulars of the extent to which these demands have been met since August, 1915. Of paddle steamers 12 have been asked for from England, six at the time of the first demand and six early this year. Of the first six, two have arrived in Mesopotamia, two are now on their way, and two are still under construction and will probably be completed in the next month. The number of paddle steamers arranged for from India is, in all, 32; of these, 16 have reached Mesopotamia. Of stern wheelers, three were asked for from England. August 16 is the date of the original demand. Two of these have arrived in Mesopotamia, and the third will be converted and sent out early next month. Four have been supplied from India, and five more will be provided from there. Then as regards tugs. Of the eight tugs originally ordered from India, all have been sent out. Since then, at different dates in January and February, 37 more have been asked for; 17 of these should be ready next month, and the remainder will be ready in September, October, and November. Five tugs have since been sent from India, and four remain to be sent. Of barges, 38 have been sent out from England and 59 from India. A supply of about 86 will be built by the end of October. As regards launches, 56 of all kinds have been sent out from India and 52 remain to be supplied. Arrangements for the foregoing have been made largely in the Store Department of the India. Office.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
In addition to the foregoing, the Admiralty have sent six Thames paddlers out, and a considerable number of motor-boats, motor lighters, and barges. Seven paddlers were also sent from Egypt. There have been later demands for tugs, paddle steamers, and launches, and every effort is being made, to meet these demands at the earliest possible date.
The noble Viscount complains that when supplies get to Basra they fail to be distributed to their proper destinations, and that the troops are still suffering in their stations up the river. I may say that the Government have that matter very closely under their attention. They have appointed a supply officer of high rank to go out to India, with, I suppose, a competent staff, and it will be his duty to look after and control matters of supply in that country and Mesopotamia, and I hope that when he gets to work with his staff improvements will be made which will remove any further doubt that our troops are not being properly attended to and properly cared for I am sure it is a matter of the deepest concern to us all that every possible step should be taken at the earliest date to prevent all avoidable suffering to our troops who have fought so brilliantly.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am sure you will all agree that the noble Lord has spoken in very proper language of the sufferings of the troops and the necessity there is to see that those sufferings are not allowed to recur. I do not rise to make a speech, but merely to put one or two questions. It is a matter of immense astonishment to us all to find how utterly ill-prepared the Government of India have turned out to have been. I quite understand that they were to a large extent drawn upon to provide for the field of operations in Europe, but, even so, the account given by the noble Lord who has just sat down is astonishing. They do not even seem to be able to provide a competent supply officer to see that things are forwarded from Basra to the Front, and we 871 have had to send one out with a staff from England. It is astonishing to hear that everything else has had to go from England. Take the case of the mosquito nets. One would think that in the supplies of the Government of India there must have been thousands and thousands of yards of mosquito netting available for an Expedition of this kind; certainly it was not required in Europe, and I do not understand why it was not existing in India. What really interests us and what we want to know is, not what efforts have been made at the eleventh hour to put things right in Mesopotamia, but how far these efforts have been successful. The noble Lord who has just sat down has told us of the satisfactory number of supplies which are now being sent out. What we want to know is how much has arrived. The noble Lord said he did not know. Why does he not know? He has only to telegraph, and he could know in a moment.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
I think the noble Marquess is asking a very unreasonable question. They have been shipped from this country. As to the precise dales when the ships departed, I could not tell him across the floor of the House. But I can find out.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I did not expect the noble Lord to know that. But what we want to know is the condition of the troops at the Front. We want to know what deficiencies there are now in respect of these necessary supplies and comforts. That the noble Lord can find out. The War Office and the India Office must know. They are in telegraphic communication with the Front now. One would have thought that in anticipation of this debate the Government would have come down to the House fully charged with all the necessary information. One short telegram to ask what deficiencies there were in these essential matters at the Front and what the condition of things there was now, would have been sufficient.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
May I interrupt the noble Marquess to say that I think that course has been taken, and the information supplied. It has been mentioned, if not in this House, at any rate in the other, that a Commission consisting of Sir William Vincent, Colonel Bingley, and Mr. Ridsdale have been for some months in Mesopotamia examining into the position 872 of affairs there. Their report is now on its way to England. But before the report was delivered they went to Simla. The very question to which the noble Marquess desires an answer having been put to than, we have heard from Simla that they were satisfied as to the present position in Mesopotamia on the points to which the noble Marquess alludes.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am very glad to hear that the Government of India is satisfied. I do not want to say anything which is in any degree offensive, but still we have lost some confidence in the Government of India. The confidence which your Lordships' House and the country have is not the same with regard to the Government of India as it was a few months ago, because of the experience we have had. The noble Earl tells me that the Commission has stated that they are satisfied. But what we want are the facts. We should have liked to know the facts.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
It was not the Government of India who were satisfied. I was quoting the opinion of the independent Commission of Inquiry.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Am I to take it from the noble Earl that he is satisfied within reasonable limits that the necessary supplies for the troops are now with the troops at the Front? Is he satisfied of that? That is the question I want to put. I am quite sure the noble Earl has told me what is absolutely accurate, and that the Commission have reported that they are quite satisfied—
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I do not want to be misunderstood. This is the exact language that was used. The Viceroy has stated, in a letter recently received, that he inquired of Sir William Vincent and General Bingley whether there was anything in their Report which required prompt action, and he was informed by them that there was not, and that they believed everything possible was now being done.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That, I candidly admit, is a very comforting assurance, and I am glad that I was the means of getting it from the noble Earl. That is what we want to know—namely whether the troops are thoroughly equipped now, and whether in all respects the great 873 deficiencies, which the Under-Secretary has confessed, have been made good. As regards the apportionment of the blame, that must wait, of course, until this Committee or Commission has reported, but I hope that when that time comes the Government will not indulge in the kind of language which was used by the noble Lord just now. He was speaking then, not of the deficiencies in supplies but in respect of the policy of the Expedition to Baghdad which has been the matter of criticism in to-night's debate, and he said that he did not think it would be proper for him to assign any blame. It is the business of the Government to assign blame if their subordinates have erred It may be that the blame is in very high quarters. I do not know how that may be. When we have the Report of the Committee I hope that we shall then know who is to blame, and that there will be no reluctance on the part of His Majesty's Government to see that those who are responsible are visited with the condemnation they deserve.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, may I be allowed to raise a point which I forgot to put when I last spoke. It deals with a vital matter. The force in Mesopotamia was not given, and is not being given, adequate rations. I have it on the best authority that a correspondence has been going on for many weeks between the authorities at Simla and Force D in Mesopotamia regarding the rations for British troops. The General Officer Commanding Force D can grant nothing in the way of pay or appointments, nor arrange anything in the way of rations or, clothing, without the consent of the authorities at Simla. The ration for the British soldier in Mesopotamia now costs 4½d. a day. Every authority, including the Financial Member of the Government of India, agrees that it ought to be raised to something near the equivalent of the value of the ration which the soldier receives in France—namely, 10d. The result of this delay in coming to a decision is not only that the force must be less efficient than it should be, but the Government is open to the charge of inhumanity, and of feeding improperly the soldier when fighting in a desperately bad climate. This is a case which urgently calls for a telegram from the Secretary of State saying "Settle this matter, and forward the information by telegraph to Mesopotamia."
§ LORD ISLINGTON
I am not in a position to say more on this subject than I said just now. I believe I am right in saying—but I speak with reservation—that the ration in Mesopotamia is the same in quantity as the ration in France. The first demand was, I believe, to have a considerably higher one. But I will make inquiries, and if I find I am incorrect I will communicate with the noble Viscount or inform the House.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to put a Question down for Tuesday nest, as to what is the result of his investigation?
§ LORD BERESFORD
Did I understand my noble friend the Under-Secretary to say that General Townshend never pointed out any objections to the advance to Baghdad? I know he did. He pointed out that strategically, politically, and tactically it was a mistake. It may not have come to the Government here, but I think it only fair to the gallant General that I should inform the House that he did make a statement saving that he thought it would be unwise to go forward with the force he had at that moment, both with regard to men and with regard to supply, transport, and rations.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
What I said was that neither His Majesty's Government nor the Government of India had any information of a criticism on the part of General Townshend prior to the advance in regard to the inadequacy of his force. The fact was never in the possession of His Majesty's Government or of the Government of India.
§ LORD BERESFORD
But he might have sent a statement to his General, and the Government did not receive it.
§ On Question, Resolution agreed to.