HL Deb 09 November 1921 vol 47 cc217-9

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a question of which I have given him private notice—namely, whether his attention has been called to a letter in The Times of this morning from Admiral Sir Percy Scott with regard to the recent imprisonment of Colonel Rawlinson by Mustapha Kemal in Asia Minor, and whether there is any foundation for the charges which Sir Percy Scott brings against His Majesty's Government of having allowed this gallant officer to be treated in such a cruel and barbarous manner.


My Lords, in reply to my noble friend, I have read the letter of Admiral Sir Percy Scott to which he refers with the most profound astonishment and regret. It contains charges against His Majesty's Government for which there is not the least foundation, and it is written in evident ignorance of the facts. I will give these as briefly as possible to the House.

The distinguished officer referred to, Colonel Rawlinson, who was on a Mission from the War Office to Erzerum, is believed to have been first placed under restraint— we had no knowledge of confinement—by Mustapha Kemal in the early part of 1920, but neither the War Office nor the Foreign Office had any certain information on the subject. As soon as the Turkish Delegation came to London in March, 1921, one of the first subjects that came under discussion with the delegates from Angora was the release of the British prisoners who were in Turkish hands. Of these there were believed to be twenty-two, including Colonel Rawlinson. So anxious were we to secure their speedy release that the Foreign Office concluded a special Agreement with Bekir Sami Bey, the principal Angora delegate, by which we engaged, in return for these twenty-two, to surrender all the Turkish prisoners in our hands at Malta, numbering sixty-four, excepting only certain Turks who were held for trial there for grave offences against the laws of war, or for participation in massacres.

As soon as the Turks had left England they began, in violation of the Agreement, to raise difficulties about the surrender of the Turkish remainder—about 60 in number—and to refuse the fulfilment of the bargain unless these, too, were returned. In our anxiety, however, to complete the transaction we commenced by the release of forty out of the sixty-four, who were handed over to the Turks at an Italian port, in the expectation that when Bekir Sami Bey returned to Angora the release of the British prisoners would begin and that the Agreement would be carried out in its entirety. No British prisoners were, however, released, and the Agreement concluded in London by Bekir Sami Bey was repudiated by the Angora Assembly.

In the month of June the Angora Government showed signs of relenting and released ten British prisoners, not, however, including Colonel Rawlinson, against the forty Turkish prisoners whom they had already recovered from us, and offered to exchange the remainder against the whole of the Turks remaining at Malta, including those held for trial. In our unabated desire to effect the release of our remaining prisoners, even on these extravagant terms, before the winter came on, we resumed negotiations at Constantinople, and decided to yield to the Turkish demand and to release the entire number of Turks for the sake of our men. The total exchange forced upon us by the mala fides of the Turks eventually turned out to be 118 Turkish prisoners returned in exchange for about thirty British prisoners. I wished the transaction could have been completed earlier, but the utmost energy on our part was for a time powerless against the bad faith of the Turks.

As regards the treatment of Colonel Rawlinson in the interval since March last —for we knew nothing at an earlier date— we have had little information. The British prisoners who were released in June brought a message from him stating that he was not being well treated and that letters were not reaching him. From other sources we heard indirectly that he was well and was being treated with the consideration due to his rank. Colonel Rawlinson will himself give us more exact information on the subject when he returns.

I hope I have said enough, however, to show that the charges of negligence and inhumanity brought against the War Office and the Foreign Office by Sir Percy Scott are wholly without justification. I may add that knowing Colonel Rawlinson myself, I have interested myself greatly in extricating him from his cruel position and have been in constant communication with his brother, the Commander-in-Chief in India, who was aware of my solicitude in the matter. That is all, I think, that need be said at the present moment, but I hope it will be enough to convince your Lordships that the letter in The Times should never have been written.