Great Speeches of the War/Lloyd George (2)

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[Speech delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer before a great meeting of the Welsh National Conference held at Cardiff on September 29, 1914.]

My Lords and Gentlemen:— I have the privilege of moving the first resolution on the agenda:—

That Wales, including Monmouthshire, be constituted a military administrative area for the purpose of recruiting and raising the necessary men to form a Welsh Army Corps.

You, my lord, in your opening speech, struck the right note for this meeting when you said it was a business meeting. We are not here to discuss the war, its nature, or its causes. Our business is to consider the best methods of organizing our part of the country so that it shall contribute its fair share to the triumphant issue to which we are looking forward. [Cheers.] Wales has a special interest in the causes of this war. No part of the country has a deeper or more intimate interest. We have declared as an Empire war on the barbarous, brutal doctrine, cynically avowed by Germany, that nations have no rights unless they are powerful enough to enforce them, and that the strong can only be expected to concede justice when it is to their interest to do so. Every sentiment, whether of sympathy, of fellow feeling, every sense of chivalry and fair play, bids Wales to take her part in a warfare which has been so initiated.

You in your speech, my lord, have stated what part Wales has already taken up to the present. It is an honourable one. [Hear, hear.] But we have to do more. In proportion to our population it is incumbent upon us to raise at least 40,000 or 50,000 men in the Principality of Wales as a contribution to the new army, which it is essential should be raised if victory—a victory which is worth having—is to be secured. [Applause.] How are we to go about it ? If every able-bodied man in this country were liable to military service, as they are in Germany, in Russia, and in France, the number of men who would at the present moment be under arms from the Principality of Wales would be at least a quarter of a million. We have escaped conscription. We are not liable to the military tyranny which dominates the Continent. We have the protection of the seas. They roll round us, and here we are in a castle with a magnificent moat splendidly guarded. [Loud applause.] All the more honour to us, therefore, if we voluntarily render service to our country—[hear, hear]—and if 250,000 would have been under arms now in any conscripted country it is not too much to ask for a volunteer army of 50,000—[hear, hear]—and a volunteer army of 50,000 is just as good as a forced army of 250,000. [Loud applause.]

Well, how are we to go about it? We propose in these resolutions—the first of the series of which I am moving—to set up a committee for the purpose of organizing the whole of Wales. The first thing that we have to do is to explain clearly the causes of the war and the overwhelming motives which have impelled this country to enter upon so serious a course. It is not that there is a single man, woman, or child of intelligent years who does not understand, but you have to saturate the minds of the people with the real reasons that moved Britain to embark upon this gigantic operation. There is one special reason for that. There is no time to devote to the training of men—at least there is not sufficient time according to the ordinary rules of training—to convert them into expert soldiers. It takes—I forget how many—a year or two years—in every Continental army I think two years as a minimum. You cannot have that, and, therefore, you have got to make up in zeal, in ardour, in enthusiasm, in the qualities that constitute morale for the defect of training; and that is a very important matter when you go to action. It is only the mere martinet who ignores the immense value of these attributes from a military point of view. Every great soldier has attributed the greatest importance to that.

There have been three, I think, notable instances in fairly recent history when nations have raised in a hurry great armies in order to meet better trained troops than themselves. There is the case of the revolutionary army of France raised in order to drive back the highly-trained troops of Prussia and Austria. There is the case of the civil war in America, and there is the case of 1870, when Gambetta raised huge levies in order to confront the German invaders. In two out of these three cases the raw levies impelled by zeal and enthusiasm defeated the highly-trained troops. In the third case, I do not believe there is any soldier who will not say that had Gambetta been able to give six months' training to his levies—if he had in addition to that the support of 150,000 trained, seasoned troops—the history of Europe would have been different to what it is to-day. [Applause.] In this case we have got those conditions. The men who will be raised and who will enlist to-day will be able to receive five or six months' training at least before they are sent to the front. In addition to that, they will have the support of the best-trained and most highly disciplined and most effective army on the Continent of Europe to-day, namely, the British Army. [Cheers.] For this purpose you want to secure the best young men of the nation, the cream of the nation, the steady, sober-minded, intelligent young men. It takes less time to convert an intelligent youth into a soldier than a man of less acute intellect. As General Hunter said in his evidence before a Royal Commission about ten years ago: "The intelligent man will pick up in a single day what you can hardly drill into the mind of the other fellow in a year." [Laughter.]

So, therefore, it is important that we should secure the cream of the youth of this country for the purposes of this army. A few men of that type in any battalion improve its quality. [Hear, hear.] They raise the average, they lead their battalion without any additional stripes—[laughter]—they permeate the whole army, and, therefore, in a few months' time, if we can only get the right type of young men to join, you will have one of the most magnificent little armies ever turned out of this country. That is what we are aiming at [Cheers.] In order to do that you must convince the young manhood of this country of the righteousness of the war. [Cheers.] And this committee must take every step for the purpose of attaining that essential object—by meetings, by speeches, by lectures, by literature, by leaflets, by circulating every information, and by putting and presenting in its proper light the real causes that prompted this country to declare war. [Cheers.]

Now, I have only one or two more words to say upon that particular topic. When you are raising a great national democratic army—I mean an army that summons into its ranks every class, every creed, and every rank of life—the whole of the people rallying to the colours—you must make it clear to every individual soldier that when he goes into action he is drawing his sword for the right. [Cheers.]

The days have gone by when the rulers of the people could issue a proclamation and say, "We have declared war upon such and such a country; it is your duty to fight, to subscribe." Those days are gone. ["Hear, hear," and applause.] The people want to know the reason why, if they are to make sacrifices, and, fortunately, the more thorough their acquaintance with the causes of this war the greater will be the sacrifices they will be prepared to make. [Applause.] After all, conviction is essential to confidence. Confidence is nine parts of courage, and if we want valiant troops we must have men rallying to the flag imbued with the idea that they are going forth in a holy war to do battle for justice and right. [Applause.] They have to face wounds, dismay, death. More, they have got something which wears down the nerves and endurance of troops even more—the wet, cold nights in the trenches night after night, day after day; and their courage must be sustained by a sense that they are fighting for a righteous cause. [Applause.] You must not have them asking at any stage: "What on earth am I enduring all this for?" The next thing they would say would be: "Why on earth should I stand it any longer?"

So, when we enlist our men we must enlist them as the result of a campaign that puts conviction first of all into the heart of every soldier. [Applause.]

You gain three objects in doing so. First of all, you get more recruits; in the second place you get better recruits; and in the third place you would thus make up in morale for the army what it lacks in training. [Hear, hear.] Now, therefore, I hope that one of the very first things the committee will take in hand will be the dissemination of facts with regard to the origin of the war, and also with regard to the barbarous way in which it has been waged by the German Empire. [Applause.] I have seen a good many thousands of the new recruits, and I am very struck by the class of men who continue to come in. I think we are getting the best of the young manhood of the nation. [Applause.] We have got a class of men that is not ordinarily drawn upon for recruiting. I am not saying a word about the British Army as it is. Who can—[cheers]—after the magnificent way in which they have maintained the honour and glory of their native land—[loud applause]—on the battlefield in France ? But you are now getting a class of men who, for economic reasons, were not within the category of those to whom the ordinary appeals would be effective in time of peace. You are getting a class of men together who very often can afford to be better educated. In a case of that kind, the more you can get of them the better it will be for the Army—the more effective will they be as soldiers, and so, first of all, we have got to arouse in our own young men a sense of wrath against the injustice inflicted by our foe in this war. [Applause.] Afterwards we have to convert anger into action in every young man's breast. [Hear, hear.]

Well, now, the next thing I should like to say is this—and I am only putting purely business considerations before you—the recruiting must be continued in every area under the auspices of men who, in the aggregate, command the confidence of every class of the community. [Applause.] If this war is to be successfully waged by us, it must be a national war. [Hear, hear.] You cannot make war with a third or a fourth, and not even with half or two-thirds of a nation, you must have the whole nation to draw upon. In order to secure that you must have the recruiting of men for the new army under the direction and under the guidance of men who in their particular localities command the confidence of every section, every class, every creed, every faith, and every party. That is vital. I think it is very much better we should clear these things out of the way at the start. ["Hear, hear," and applause.] Now, you must remember this: the ordinary machinery of recruiting is totally inapplicable to the present conditions. [Hear, hear.] You have never had in the whole history of this country anything comparable to it, and I should like to say this to the recruits; some of them are complaining that since they have enlisted they have not had everything spick and span to hand. You must not expect that at first. Nobody could have anticipated—could possibly have anticipated—two months ago that you would have had a rush, not of thousands, not of scores of thousands, but of hundreds of thousands of men, anxious to enlist in the Regular Army of this country to fight. But who would have expected it? Has it ever happened in the history of this country before? I am not sure that it has happened in the history of any other country. To the best of my recollection President Lincoln had to resort to conscription in the end—that is, to the best of my recollection. I don't think that even in the French Revolution they had anything like the numbers we are getting by voluntary offers of service.

In the Boer War, during the first three months I think the increase in the number of recruits was 10,000 or 15,000, and during the whole of the war, from the beginning to the end, the increase in the number of recruits amounted to 20,000 or 30,000 a year to the Regular Army. You have never had anything like this, and, therefore, the ordinary machinery for the moment must be a little choked and paralysed. The recruiting sergeant is in the habit of getting his men with difficulty. He takes one man here and one man at a great distance away, and gradually he gets his 30,000 or 40,000 a year, I think. Mr. Llewelyn Williams, M.P.: "Thirty-five thousand."] I was very near it. [Laughter.] He gets his 35,000 a year. It is just like a man who quenches his thirst at a tap which trickles gently. But suddenly there is a great pressure—[laughter] — and the water fills his nostrils, his eyes, his ears, all over him. He is blinded, he is bewildered, he is smothered, and really the recruiting agency, accustomed to deal with a nice, gentle little trickle, finds itself suddenly overwhelmed with a deluge. I hope the recruits and committees will remember that. That is really why we are calling upon civil action to help and assist the committee and the War Department. [Cheers.]

They are just overwhelmed with the material which is placed at their disposal. And, after all, the best recruiting in the world has been done by civilians. [Applause.] I hope no soldier here will be offended. The great recruiting for the French revolutionary armies was done by a lawyer. [Laughter.] And it was such a successful experiment—[laughter]—that President Lincoln set another lawyer to recruit for the Civil War in America. There is some use for lawyers, after all, in a national emergency. [Laughter.] We are, therefore, calling these agencies into account in order to assist. But those agencies must represent the nation as a whole. We are one and indivisible for the purposes of this war. [Loud applause.] What better proof could you have of it than this platform? [Applause.] I have addressed many meetings in this hall. I doubt very much whether at those meetings I have had the privilege of addressing some of those whom I have the honour to address at the present moment. ["Hear, hear," and laughter.] It is the best possible proof that we are prepared to sink all differences—[applause]—for the purpose of meeting the common foe of our common country. [Applause.]

The only other point I think I would like to say is this, that I think it is important that the recruits should not be misled as to the character of the enterprise that we are engaged in. Tell them what it means. They are not out for a pic-nic. They are out for a stern enterprise, which involves hardship, wounds, and dangers, and men who realize this are worth three of those who go without thinking and without consideration. [Applause.] At the same time there is no need to exaggerate it. [Hear, hear.] The vast majority return from the war to tell the tale, and they will have accumulated experiences which will illumine their lives for ever after. To most people life is dull, grey, and monotonous, and these men will come back with a fund of recollections to draw upon which will cheer and brighten their lives at the dreariest moment, and if you went to one of them afterwards and said, "What will you sell your memory for?" there would not be one who would barter it for all the gold in the Bank of England. [Applause.] I am glad we are moving as a small nationality—[applause]—and I am glad that the War Office have recognized the value of this national sentiment as a military asset. [Applause.] I do not care much for the Prussian junker, but in military matters the Prussian military junker is no fool, and he knows the importance of these territorial inducements when he is organizing his army. He has his various sections—his Bavarians, his Saxons, his Würtembergers, and his Hanoverians—they are all there fighting for their own little corner in the German Empire, and they will fight better for the glory of those particular little provinces, states, and nationalities than they will fight for the great, glorious entity of the German Empire itself. [Applause.]

There was a time when these hills and vales contained one of the most martial little races in Great Britain. [Hear, hear.] England drew largely upon the military material of Wales for its armies in some of the most illustrious episodes in English history. We have ceased in the ordinary sense of the term to be a very martial race. We have been none the worse for that when we have a good cause to fight. Cromwell's Ironsides—[applause]—were most of them farmers and artisans, who had never wielded a sword in their lives and never contemplated it; and yet, with probably less training than Lord Kitchener's new army will get, they were about the finest warriors in Europe of their day. [Applause.] We will be none the worse soldiers in Wales because the military spirit has not been fostered and encouraged and whetted from childhood upwards as it is in Germany, where they feed their children on gunpowder. [Laughter.] The nation whose spirit is roused by the call to its magnanimity and manly quality will go into action with all the greater heart because for centuries its soul has been cleansed from the mere lust of killing—[cheers]—and I wonder how much Welshmen realize what depends on their action in this hour? In the heat of this great struggle the stamp will be impressed on the Welsh character that will remain for generations and centuries, and the value of the coin which comes from the Welsh hills will be known on every counter by the stamp we put on it to-day. [Cheers.]

It is a colossal struggle. We are called upon to light, not merely for a noble cause, but in Wales we shall be fighting for the good name and the fair fame of our native hills. [Cheers.] If we fail at this juncture in the history of this great empire—this juncture in the history of human progress in Europe—if we fail through timidity, through ignorance, through indolence—it will take generations before Welshmen will be able to live down the evil repute of faint-heartedness at such an hour. It is an hour of immeasurable destiny. I can see symptoms that the old spirit is still alive in the Welsh hearts. [Cheers.] I have been looking at the list. Twenty thousand, I believe, from Glamorgan. [Lord Pontypridd: "Twenty-four thousand.]

Mr. Lloyd George: That is better by 4,000, and a great deal more. Is it 8,000 from Monmouthshire? [Sir Ivor Herbert: "Twelve thousand."]

Mr. Lloyd George : There you are—12,000 and 24,000! Who said Welshmen were faint-hearted? [Voices: "No!" and a cry, "Are we downhearted?"]

Mr. Lloyd George: Glamorgan and Monmouth, at any rate, are ready to answer. We have almost got one army corps! We might start another to-day. Thirty-six thousand men in two months rallied to the flag! [Applause.] It is a great story. I want to see Wales at the top of the list. [Loud applause.] Believe me, I would not be here to-day unless I knew what it means, not merely in the great causes which are involved, but what it means to Wales itself; for, if she comes out, stands manfully by the flag of freedom, fairplay, honest dealing, progress of Europe—if she stands manfully by, then the sons of Wales will have laid up for their native land treasures of honour and glory, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, where thieves do not break through and steal—[applause]—we shall have had the repute for valour, for chivalry, for courage, for an instinct as to the things which really matter, that will stand Welshmen for all ages as a rich inheritance. [Loud applause.]