Great Speeches of the War/Lansdowne

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[Speech at a great recruiting meeting held in the Albert Hall, Nottingham, on September 21, 1914.]

Mr. Mayor, my Lord Duke, and Gentlemen:—When it was intimated to me that I was expected to come here to-night and say a few words to you, I own that for a moment I rather doubted whether it would be possible for me to say anything to you which would really add to your knowledge, or increase your determination to stand by the Government of the country at this great crisis. All the sources of information which are open to me have been open to you, and I feel no doubt that there is not a man in this room who is not convinced that our cause is just—[Hear, hear]—and that it is our duty to put forth every effort in support of it. [Cheers.]

But, after all, these meetings, perhaps, do some good. In the first place, they establish the fact that at this moment we know no distinction of party. [Cheers.] Mr. Goldstone and I, so far as I am aware, have not met on a platform before—[laughter]—but it is surely a good thing that we should make it plain to every one in this country and out of this country that we desire at this solemn moment to present a united front to the world. These meetings, too, enable us to focus our attention upon the points which are really of most importance at this juncture. With your permission, I will say a word about one or two of them. Now, there is a question which I dare say is on the lips of many people.

A question of this kind. Here are we, the most peace-loving people in the world, with no aggressive designs, involved in this colossal struggle, sure to cost us a tremendous price in treasure, in that which we value more than treasure—the lives of our fellow citizens—and in the dislocation of our commerce. How came we to have been entangled in this dispute, which, as we all know, arose out of a quarrel in a remote South-East European State, with which we have little concern, and in which we take an interest of very secondary order? How came that about?

Would it not have been easier for us to stand aside, to let those great antagonists fight it out amongst themselves, and then at the end to come forward, smug and smiling, without loss, without injury to our country or its possessions, and perhaps to claim our share of any good things which might happen to be lying about? Now, I want to impress upon you, if I can, that if we had been foolish enough to use that language, we should absolutely have forfeited the position which we desire to see this country occupy, and the great prospects to which we desire it to look forward in the future. [Cheers.] I think every one is aware that what brought us into the dispute at the last was the violation of the neutrality of Belgium. Was it possible for us to be indifferent to that violation? [Cries of "No."] At any rate, Belgium set us a splendid example. [Cheers.]

Belgium might have saved her churches, cathedrals, and libraries; she might have saved her smiling fields; she might have saved her people from the nameless sufferings which they have undergone; but she, at any rate, felt that to do that at the price of her own disgrace was a sacrifice which she was utterly unable to make. [Hear, hear.] Belgium never hesitated. Are we going to hesitate? [No.]

Now remember that just as Belgium was offered clumsy bribes by Germany, so we were offered inducements which Germany thought would be sufficient. We were offered them on condition that we would allow a certain "scrap of paper" to be torn up. There was more than one scrap of paper. There was in the first place the treaty of 1839, entered into between the Sovereigns of this country and Belgium, solemnly guaranteeing the integrity and independence of Belgium. Then came the treaty of 1870, entered into between the King of the Belgians and Queen Victoria, in which again the neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed, and in which there was inserted a solemn enactment that if that neutrality should ever be endangered the two Governments, the Governments of Great Britian and of Belgium, were to concert together the measures necessary in order to secure the independence of Belgium.

I dwell on these words because I shall have to remind you of them in a moment. And the third scrap of paper was that which was signed in the year 1907 at the time of The Hague Convention, when the signatories, of whom, of course, Germany was one, bound themselves that they would treat neutral territory as inviolable, and not permit it to be used for the passage of troops or munitions of war. Now all these scraps of paper we had been asked to put into the waste-paper basket, and what do you think the plea was upon which this appeal was made to us? The plea was that if we did not break our treaty obligations with regard to Belgium, France was ready to do so.

That plea was a monstrous plea, and it was an utterly untrue statement. It was a monstrous plea because when, in public or private life, you are asked to consent to a disgraceful action, it is no justification to say that somebody else is going to do a disgraceful action also. [Hear, hear.] But the plea was utterly untrue. And I should like to tell you very shortly what the facts were. On a certain date your Government asked the Government of France and the Government of Germany whether they intended to respect the neutrality of Belgium.

What was the answer of the French Government? They replied at once, straightforwardly and unequivocally, that they had no intention of trespassing on the neutrality of Belgium, that they had announced this more than once, and that they had announced it of their own accord. That was the straightforward answer of the French Government. [Cheers.]

Now let me give you the answer of the German Government. There were two interviews between our Ambassador and the German Minister. At the first of these the German Minister said that he would like to have time to reflect. [Laughter.] He said his mind was so full of grave matters that he could not be quite certain of remembering all the points. [More laughter.] That was on July 30. On the following day there was another interview. On that occasion the German Minister said that he must consult the Emperor and the Chancellor before he could give an answer and that he doubted very much whether they would give one. [Laughter.] What do you think of that as an answer to the simple and practical question as to whether you are going to fulfil your obligations or not?

Well, in these circumstances I venture to suggest to you that in this matter our honour as guarantors of the independence and integrity of Belgium was not less deeply engaged than the honour of Belgium itself. [Cheers.] And I suggest to you that if we had repudiated that obligation we should have committed what has been well called an outrage on the law of nations and a menace to all the smaller nationalities of Europe. [Cheers.]

But it is impossible to consider this question of the violation of Belgian neutrality without giving some consideration to the events which immediately preceded it. We have now before us the evidence of our two Ambassadors, Sir Edward Goschen, of Berlin, and Sir Maurice de Bunsen, of Vienna, both of them men of the highest honour and integrity, and the facts are before us. Now after a careful study of these papers I am here to tell you that they leave upon one's mind the irresistible conclusion that this dispute between Austria and Servia, followed by the dispute between Austria and Russia, might have been amicably adjusted but for the sinister influence of German diplomacy. Germany knew all about the demands which Austria was making upon Servia. She concealed these documents, so far as she was able to do so, from the representatives of the other Powers. [Hear, hear.] Germany gave no encouragement to Austria to consider that reply, and then came the moment when our Foreign Minister—[cheers]—to whose conduct in these negotiations I desire to pay my humble tribute—[cheers]—proposed that there should be a conference of the great Powers to endeavour to arrive at an adjustment of the dispute.

Now, how was that proposal received? France accepted it—[Hear, hear]; Russia was ready to discuss it; Italy favoured it; Austria, we know now, was ready to agree to mediation on the two outstanding points. But Germany cavilled at the proposal, and obstructed it at every turn.

At that moment if, as one of the diplomatists so well said, Germany had chosen to touch the button the whole aspect of the controversy would have been changed. [Hear, hear.] And what was it we asked for? Sir Edward Goschen, at the moment when mediation was in sight, asked for a little respite in time. Sir Maurice de Bunsen observed that a few days might, in all probability, have saved Europe from one of the greatest calamities in history. But the little respite of time was not allowed, and that was the moment which Germany chose—first, to endeavour to buy us off, and, secondly, to launch a double-barrelled ultimatum, two within three days, with so short a period of grace that from that moment war became inevitable. It was well said by one of the Ministers that throughout all this business Germany knew very well what she was about!

But we have, I venture to think, to consider, not only our obligations to Belgium, but our obligations to another country. What of our obligations to France? [Hear, hear.] We were not bound to France by any written engagement, but there are engagements between honourable men and honourable nations which are just as binding, though they are unwritten, as if they were formally engrossed upon any number of sheets of paper. And it was by such engagements that we were bound to France.

I need not remind you that, ten years ago, the Government of this country made an arrangement with the French Republic for the settlement of a number of outstanding differences between us—an arrangement which, during the years that have since passed, has ripened and become more intimate, and which has, I venture to think, on more than one occasion stood this country, and not only this country, but the whole of Europe, in very good stead. And I say that, with the knowledge that we were bound to France by honourable engagements of this kind, it would have been impossible for us to sit still while France was crushed, robbed, and humiliated. [Cheers.]

Well, there are our obligations to Belgium, and our obligations to France, but, if you want really to understand this problem, I think it is necessary to probe a little more deeply. I venture to tell you that if there had been no Belgian difficulty, if there had been no Entente Cordiale with France, this crisis, which has been forced upon us by Germany, would have had to be faced, sooner or later. [Cheers.]

Her conduct, her diplomacy, the speeches of her public men, the teaching of her schools and Universities, leave no doubt of the aspirations with which she was inspired. We know what her aim was—to establish a great military despotism, extending from the North Sea to the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. The means which she was ready to use were to be found in an aggressive and unscrupulous diplomacy based upon a complete disregard of treaty obligations whenever those treaty obligations happened to be inconvenient to herself. That policy was, as we know, to be supported by military and naval preparations upon a vast scale directed with scarcely any concealment against this country.

Germany is a great continental Power. We never grudged her the possession of a great army. We are an insular and a maritime Power. Why should Germany have grudged us the possession of a fleet adequate to secure our own shores and to protect our own commerce? But we know that she has grudged us that fleet, and that her naval preparations have been made with the deliberate intention of finding an opportunity for destroying that naval pre-eminence which every Englishman regards as indispensable for this country. [Cheers.] We know another thing, that when Germany declares war, she means to wage it ruthlessly and pitilessly. The saying is attributed to Prince Bismarck that when one country conquers another the conquered country should be left nothing except eyes with which to weep, [Shame.] That is a horrible sentiment, but it seems to be not very much out of accord with the events which we are now witnessing in Belgium and France.

It is a policy deliberately based upon brutal reprisals, upon the wanton destruction of edifices consecrated by many centuries, which have escaped scatheless during the many wars which have desolated that part of Europe. Then what do you say to the practice of dropping high explosives from the sky on to peaceful and unguarded cities? [Shame.] What do you say to the practice of strewing ocean highways with mines, dangerous not merely to the enemies themselves, but to the peaceful commerce of the whole world? [Shame.] Let me recall to you a rather interesting incident connected with this question of mines. The question of laying mines in the ocean highways came up for discussion at The Hague Conference, and I will read to you a short extract from the speech made there by the German representative.

The object, of course, at The Hague Conference was to mitigate, as far as possible, the horrors and sufferings which war involves to peaceful populations. Here is what was said by Baron Marschall von Bieberstein: "The belligerent who lays mines assumes a very heavy responsibility towards neutrals and peaceful navigation, but military acts are not ruled exclusively by the stipulations of international law. There are other factors, conscience, good sense, and the sentiment of duties imposed by the principles of humanity, and these will be the surest guide." And then he adds: "The officers of the German navy, I say it with a high voice, will always fulfil in the strictest manner the duties which flow from the unwritten law of humanity and civilization." [Cries of "Oh, oh."]

Gentlemen, I leave that to you. You know how the unwritten law of humanity and civilization has been complied with during the last few weeks.

Now, I have delayed you for so long over these details—[cries of "Go on"]—I have left myself hardly a moment in which to say something about the war, and the preparations which we desire to make in order to prosecute it successfully. But I am not uneasy on that point, because Mr. Goldstone, who will follow me, has been taking a very active part in this recruiting campaign—[cheers]—and will talk to you with more authority than I can upon that subject. But let me, in half a dozen sentences, endeavour to take stock of the situation.

In the first place, I suggest to you that in all that has happened lately, there is nothing whatever which obliges us in any way to depart from the feeling of quiet confidence with which we have embarked upon this struggle. [Cheers.]

As for our own Army—[cheers]—the mobilization of the Expeditionary Force was a splendid achievement. [Hear, hear.] So was its transport across the Channel to the seat of war. And we know that from the time of its arrival it has never ceased to command, and to deserve, the respect of the Allies who fought by its side, and, I think I may add, of the foe to whom it has been opposed. [Cheers.]

Our Fleet—[cheers]—our Fleet remains intact. [Cheers.] Some people are, I think, a little disappointed because it has not made its appearance in the open, and sunk the German ironclads yet. It will do that in the fulness of time. [Cheers.] But in the meantime it is doing this country the greatest service that it could possibly render by keeping the German fleet at home—[laughter and cheers]—and thereby securing to our commerce the free use of the seas, and to our people and their Allies that constant influx of supplies which are so indispensable to us. [Cheers.]

Of the splendid fighting qualities shown by our French Allies—[cheers]—it is scarcely necessary to speak. The Entente has been cemented by the blood of brave men who have fallen side by side in France and in Belgium. [Cheers.] Nor must we forget a word of admiration for the huge Russian army—[cheers]—advancing in irresistible strength across the Continent of Europe. [Cheers.] And although Paris has not fallen—[laughter]—there is another capital which perhaps some day may.

One word, if I may, upon our gallant Allies in the Far East—Japan. [Cheers.] I had the honour in the year 1905 to sign on behalf of his Majesty's Government a treaty with the Government of Japan. That scrap of paper has not been put in the waste-paper basket. Japan is going to pay off some old scores. And I think you may trust her to pay, not twenty shillings in the pound, but more. Yes, but is there nothing else? Beyond all these comes our Glorious Empire. [Prolonged cheers.] We are beginning to realize what the empire means—[Hear, hear]—not merely wide areas coloured red upon the map, but a great group of young nations fired with the energy and ideals of youth, and straining at the leash in order that they may join the Mother-country in this colossal struggle. [Cheers.] Canada—[cheers]—is giving us all that her great and boundless granaries can afford, her horses, her men. [Hear, hear.] Australia and New Zealand—[cheers]—are ready with contingents provided—I am going to give you Lord Kitchener's words—[cheers]—provided under the system of general national training introduced a few years ago. [Cheers.]

And South Africa. [Cheers.] We have our old opponents ready to join with their brother colonists to take their place by our side in the battlefield. [Cheers.] And lastly, what about India? [Cheers.] We talk about the people of India, but we forget that the word India embraces a number of different peoples, peoples of different races, of different religions, of different types and habits. But they are all ready to come forward. [Cheers.] They are ready to give us men and money, their jewels, anything that they have, and I am able to say that the first contingent of these splendid fighting men whom India can produce is already beginning to arrive. [Cheers.] Has there ever been anything like it in the history of the world?

And now, before I sit down, let us ask ourselves what are we doing at home? There are some very obvious things that occur to one. We shall not lose our heads; we didn't lose them after the fighting at Mons and Charleroi. We shall not lose them whatever happens; we shall bear bravely any inconveniences, any losses, any trials that this war may bring to us, and God knows the trials may be indeed hard for some of us to bear. Well, we shall also do, I know, what we can to make things easy for those who depend upon the men who are fighting for us. [Cheers.] And last, but not least, we shall do all that we can to help the cause of recruiting. [Hear, hear.]

I am glad to know that I have the honour of addressing a considerable number of young men who have joined the Nottingham City Battalion. [Cheers.] But unless I am misinformed you would like to have a few more to join you. [Hear, hear, and cheers.] I hope one of the results of this evening's meeting may be to double the present force. [Hear, hear, and cheers.] The response that has been made to Lord Kitchener's appeal has been a splendid response. [Hear, hear.] It is a wonderful thing that in little more than a month half a million of men have come forward to serve their country. [Cheers.]

In one day we took 35,000 men, which represents about the state of recruiting for the whole of a normal year. That is a wonderful performance! That sudden outburst of recruiting came just at a moment when things were not going well for us, and when, therefore, the young men of this country felt it was their duty to come forward and stand by us.

But don't let us suppose that this recruiting problem is by any means over. We have got not only to put these armies into the field, but to keep them there, and we know what a terrible thing the wastage of an army is from wounds and other causes during a long campaign. I am told that for every man you wish to keep in the field you ought to be recruiting and training two men in order to keep the army full if you expect these operations to last for a long time.

There is another point to which I would call your attention. I feel sure that in this great enterprise the War Office, which has undergone a tremendous strain during the last few weeks, will be glad to rely upon the assistance of local bodies. Local authorities obviously must know a good deal more about local details than people at headquarters, and I am convinced that the assistance which can be given to the War Office at such a juncture as this—for example, by territorial associations, which now cover the whole country, and by such bodies as local councils of all kinds—that assistance is simply invaluable. I am sure that that assistance will be forthcoming, and forth- coming ungrudgingly.

This struggle is going to be a protracted one. How long, I do not suppose any one knows. We all desire it to be short, but if we wish it to be short we must push it as hard as we can all the time. [Cheers.]

I think our staying powers are better than the staying powers of our opponents. [Cheers.] You have, I dare say, noticed within the last few days a suggestion—I think of German origin—[laughter]—that the time has come when this war might be treated as a drawn game. [Renewed laughter.] Not quite, I think! [Cheers.] If you look at the matter as a sort of debtor and creditor account I don't think the conclusion that one would come to is that at this moment it looks like a drawn game. Belgium has been devastated, churches and cathedrals have been destroyed, but the smashing blow at the Allies has not yet been delivered, and we are holding our own well. [Cheers.] In the eastern theatre of war the advantage seems to be entirely on the side of the Allies.

I therefore venture to suggest to you that there is no question, so far as we are concerned, of declaring the innings closed just yet. [Cheers.] The game is a game worth winning, and under Providence we mean to win it. [Cheers.] I read the other day a pathetic account of what happened to an English officer who was badly wounded on the Belgian battle-field early in those hostilities. As he looked around him and saw the ravaged fields, the smoking rafters, the misery of the women and children, there rose to his lips the cry, "If these things were to happen in England!" We don't mean them to happen in England—[cheers]—and, therefore, we mean to win this game, conscious that our cause is a just cause, and that it is the cause not only of England, but the cause of civilization and of humanity. [Loud cheers.] I have the honour to move the first resolution:—

That this meeting of citizens of Nottingham, profoundly believing that we are fighting for a just cause, for the vindication of the rights of small States and the public law of Europe, pledges itself unswervingly to support the Government in all measures necessary for the prosecution of the war to a victorious conclusion, whereby alone the lasting peace of Europe will be achieved.