HL Deb 04 May 1916 vol 21 cc902-4

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble and gallant friend the Secretary of State for War whether he can inform the House how many British prisoners were taken at the surrender of Kut, and whether it is the fact that the Turkish Commander-in-Chief was so impressed by the heroic defence made by General Townshend that he granted him the honours of war in so far as allowing him to retain his sword.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble and gallant Lord has afforded me this opportunity of paying a tribute to General Townshend and his troops, whose dogged determination and splendid courage have earned for them so honourable a record. It is well known how, after a series of brilliantly-fought engagements, General Townshend decided to hold the strategically important position at Kutel-Amara, and it will not be forgotten that his dispositions for the defences of that place were so excellent and so complete that the enemy, notwithstanding large numerical superiority, was wholly unable to penetrate his lines. Noble Lords will not fail to realise how tense was the strain borne by those troops who, for more than twenty weeks, held to their posts under conditions of abnormal climatic difficulty, and on rations calculated for protraction to the furthest possible period until, as it proved, imminent starvation itself compelled the capitulation of this gallant garrison, which consisted of 2,970 British and some 6,000 Indian troops, including followers.

General Townshend and his troops, in their honourable captivity, will have the satisfaction of knowing that, in the opinion of their comrades, which I think I may say this House and the country fully share, they did all that was humanly possible to resist to the last, and that their surrender reflects no discredit on themselves or on the record of the British and Indian Armies.

Every effort was, of course, made to relieve the beleaguered force, and I am not travelling beyond the actual facts in saying that to the adverse elements alone was due the denial of success; the constant rain and consequent floods not only impeding the advance, but compelling—in lieu of turning movements—direct attacks on an almost impossibly narrow front. No praise would seem extravagant for the troops under Sir Percy Lake and Sir George Gorringe, and that they did not reap the fruit of their courage and devotion is solely due to the circumstances which fought against them.

The last message sent by General Towns-bend from Kut was addressed in these terms— We are pleased to know that we have done our duty, and recognise that our situation is one of the fortunes of war. We thank you and General Gorringe and all ranks of the Tigris force for the great efforts you have made to save us. I think the House, no less than the country at large, will endorse these words, and I am sure that those who held and those who strained every nerve to relieve Kut have alike earned our admiration and our gratitude. I am glad to endorse what the noble and gallant Lord said in regard to the conduct of the Turkish Commander in allowing General Townshend to retain his sword.


My Lords, I venture to think that the eulogy which has been pronounced on General Townshend will be very satisfactory to this House, and also to the Army here and to the Army still in Mesopotamia. In spite of difficulties of various kinds, casualties by wounds, sickness, want of food and lack of medical comforts, General Townshend and the Anglo-Indian Force held Kut in a most admirable manner until, the food supplies being exhausted, to save the lives of his men General Townshend consented to capitulate. I feel sure that the defence of Kut by General Townshend and the determination of his troops will long be remembered with great admiration by the Army and the country.