Great Speeches of the War/Rosebery

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EARL OF ROSEBERY

[Speech at a great Recruiting Meeting in St. Andrews Hall, Glasgow, on December 9, 1914, supported by the Lord Provost and magistrates.]

My Lord Provost and Gentlemen—for I understand if any of the other sex are present they are only here as interlopers—[laughter]:— I confess that though you, my Lord Provost, say that I accepted your invitation with alacrity, that was not my sensation in writing. [Laughter.] I felt some alarm, not having spoken for a long time to a large audience in a large hall, at the idea of going to Glasgow; but the sight of this meeting has removed all my fears, because this meeting does not want a speech. The meeting is a speech itself. [Cheers.] I have many fond recollections of this hall—of many splendid meetings, especially when Mr. Gladstone was here on his first visit—[cheers]—but I never remember a meeting greater, or perhaps even to equal this. Well, that is a great consideration, and I trust you will bear with me for a very short time that I may deliver the message which has brought me to Glasgow. I have been invited by men of respectability and even of eminence to dilate upon football, and upon temperance, but I shall not follow these lengthy and devious paths, which might take hours for discussion without leading to any very harmonious result. I avoid thorny paths. But before coming to the main purport of what I may call my message I will make three practical remarks with regard to this question of recruiting. The first is to echo very earnestly the words you my Lord Provost have said about the necessity of filling up the gaps in the existing Territorial battalions before proceeding to start any new ones. In Edinburgh recently Sir George McCrae has achieved a great success—[cheers]—on which we all heartily congratulate him, in having formed a new battalion of the Royal Scots. But the Reserve battalions of the Royal Scots are, with one exception, not nearly up to strength. One may say indeed of the raising of the new battalions: These things ought ye to have done; others ought ye not to have left undone. I hope in Edinburgh and Glasgow, before any new battalions are now started, that care will be taken to fill up the existing ones to their full strength. [Cheers.] And may I say I think this is only their due? The existing Territorial regiments have worked in time of peace and given their strength and their leisure to the service of their country, [Cheers.] They have really a higher claim upon us than those who have only enlisted since the war. [Hear, hear.]

Well, the second point, on which you did not touch, my Lord Provost, is the extreme expediency of raising one or more bantam battalions. [Cheers.] I am very strongly of opinion—I may be prejudiced—that a short man for every purpose of life is as good, and better than, a tall one. [Laughter and cheers.] The only purpose in which he is at a disadvantage is seeing in a crowd, and after all, that is only an accidental circumstance, and I venture to say that, for every practical purpose, a man of five feet in good health will make just as good a soldier as a man of six. In the third point I am venturing on more dangerous ground. I have come to the melancholy conviction, Lowlander as I am, that the best recruiting dress is the kilt. [Cheers.] I am not at all sure that much as I admire the kilt, if in the trenches I should not prefer the trews—[laughter]—but I am afraid that we cannot but acknowledge, and I do not know why we should desire to deny it, that there is nothing so magnificent in our Army as the swing of a kilted regiment, and I myself feel a violent wish to enlist and have the youth to enlist whenever I see one pass. [Cheers.] Now, can we accept that doctrine that our Scottish regiments should be kilted regiments? [Cries of "Yes" and "No."] I think I hear Bailie Nicol Jarvie—[laughter]—to whom, no doubt, it would be a grave trial to think it would be possible in the streets of Glasgow to meet a kilted regiment not there either for blackmail or for plunder, but we must submit to the exigencies of the time. Our kilt is a noble dress, and I am quite certain that, Lowlander and Highlander, there is none so near to the hearts of the Scottish people. [Cheers.]

Now I come to the more immediate purpose I am here for. I think on the nation to-day there is a twofold responsibility. There is the awful responsibility resting on every able, healthy, and competent man of due age to give his best services to his country. [Hear, hear.] That no one can blind himself to,
Earl of Rosebery

Earl of Rosebery

and no one can deny. It is a matter, indeed, between himself and his conscience. Greater responsibility was never placed upon man than is placed upon natives of Great Britain at this time. There is another responsibility, perhaps, which devolves on those who cannot enlist, on the maimed, the halt, and the aged. I purposely did not say the blind, because there is a proverb about the blind leading, which might give rise to some suspicion as to the validity of my mission. But there is this responsibility on those who cannot enlist when you have had, as we unfortunately have, the age and experience—I observe as usual, my Lord Provost, you have alluded to me as senior burgess of the city of Glasgow, and it has become so familiar to me, this remark, that I have come to feel like the grandmother of the city of Glasgow—[laughter]—there is a responsibility on us with age and experience to point out what people seem insensible to, largely insensible to, though you would not think so from this meeting, that is, the awful nature of the crisis in which our country finds itself to-day. Where I live, in a remote countryside, man goes forth to his labour till the evening, the ploughing goes on, all the operations of agriculture, and except for a searchlight at night occasionally, you could not dream that we were living in other than in times of profound peace. It is a sparse neighbourhood, and therefore it is easy to entertain that delusion. But I suppose if I had come to Glasgow to-day and been in Buchanan Street at noon I should have seen the customary crowd hustling and bustling about after their business, seeking what none of us is ever destined to find—that little more which will satisfy us. I suppose that, as that crowd passed along, they might cast a casual glance on the placard announcing the news in the morning or the evening papers, very much with the air with which you look at the theatrical placard announcing that Macbeth or King Lear, or some great tragedy of that kind is going to be enacted, at which you may take a seat if you like, as your whim pleases. Do we then realize? I ask every man here, does he realize that within twenty-five miles of the southern coast of this island a battle is raging, and has been raging for three months, and may, for all I know, rage for three years more, on which our safety, our future, the existence of our country, our Empire, are staked on the hazard? [Cheers.] It is not a battle, a campaign, a few battles to be lost or won, perhaps a province to be annexed, such as the battles you read of in history. It is a battle of life or death. [Hear, hear.] If you win you may not do more than continue to exist and develop, but if you lose you are shattered and damned. [Loud cheers.]

Now let me take you for one moment from that aspect of the case to the history of this war. I am not going into the old details you have heard so often about the Note to Servia and that business, but it does become necessary when I have addressed such an appeal to you, to ask how is it we are involved in this vital struggle for our existence? How is it we have staked everything on such a hazard as that? Well, all I can say, in the first place, is, we exhausted every effort for peace. [Cheers.] Sir Edward Grey, as representing the Government—[cheers]—exhausted every means, and I honestly do believe if he had had two or three days more, and honest Governments to work with, he would have achieved his object. Whatever efforts he made there was one Power which had the greatest influence in Europe, and which might have preserved peace—there was one Power which would never second his efforts, and that was Germany. Nay, more, at the very moment when Austria and Russia had been brought to exchange views, when Austria renounced solemnly all prospect of territorial acquisition, and when she was in conversation with Russia as to the terms on which guarantees might be given to Austria, when there was really a fair prospect of peace, what did peace-loving Prussia do? She sent an ultimatum to Russia across these negotiations, to make certain that war must take place. [Cheers.] The Chancellor of Germany made a speech the other day, which you may have read, in which he put an entirely new aspect on the case—a different aspect, in fact, from that which he put on in the beginning of the war. In the beginning of the war he said he had done wrong. He admitted he had committed a gross breach of public law and the rules that govern neutrality in Europe. He said he hoped to be able to atone for it. He has atoned for it. He has ravaged the country he promised to guarantee. He has destroyed every historic building; he has driven out the whole populations; and that is atoning for the breach of neutrality which he confessed at first. In this second speech all that disappears. He was a guilty penitent then; now he is the one person who promoted peace, and the devil, the demon, the wicked, and venomous Power that all the time interfered with his benevolent efforts, and schemed the war, was the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. [Laughter.] I care very little, gentlemen, about that sort of construction. As the Irishman said, "You cannot turn your back upon yourself"—[laughter]—and even the Chancellor of the German Empire cannot perform that remarkable acrobatic feat. [Laughter.]

As regards the causes of the war, our hands are pure and clean, our conscience is clear—[cheers]—and we may safely leave to the verdict history shall pronounce upon our efforts on our intervention with regard to the beginning of this war. [Cheers.] Why did the Chancellor make this speech? He cannot have expected anybody to believe it, not even the audience which he addressed, though that has been abundantly fed on falsehood ever since the beginning of the war. I think he did it because he wanted a new stimulus to the hatred of this country which is now felt in Germany. It was for that he invented this new theory of the beginning of the war. The hatred certainly exists, and it is a factor in our future which we cannot afford to neglect. But the hatred has been one of long standing. For years at the Prussian messes the officers have drunk as their supreme toast, "The Day." What day? The day of the utter humiliation and defeat of Great Britain. [Cheers.] But there is an additional reason for that hatred now which makes it mount at compound interest. We have spoilt their game. [Cheers.] Their idea was to march into France and get rid of the hostility of France—a successful campaign of a week or ten days—then fall on Russia and annihilate Russia, as the armies of Germany are by far, I suppose, the best organized and best drilled in the world, and when those two great rivals had been annihilated the course would have been simple and easy to march on Great Britain, and make an end of that too presumptuous Empire which threatened to vie in commerce and prosperity with God-given Germany. [A voice—"Never."]

Well, with or without this hatred, whatever the cause of it may be, we have to face the fact that the two Empires—because it is intrinsically they who are facing each other—the two Empires are ranged in a death-struggle, a struggle of life or death, and nothing less; we have to realize that the two Empires are facing each other in a contest for supremacy and existence, the contest for the supremacy of two contending principles, one of liberty and the other of oppression, a contest for existence between two Empires that are not accustomed or willing to submit. Is not that a sufficiently formidable crisis for you, gentlemen? Is that not something that you may take back to your homes, and may consider as the vital purpose which at this moment is governing, and must govern, your lives. When we think of this contest we must think of the forces in support of each Empire. I suppose that, as regards the British Empire in the field, the odds are as twenty to one at least on behalf of the German Army. That is to say, putting your fleet for the moment out of the question, because a fleet cannot fight on dry land—that as regards your Army you are only about as one to twenty of the Germans, and that even with the assistance of your Allies of France and Belgium, you are only able practically to maintain yourselves on the western frontier—that is to say, a case of stalemate. Well, of course, that is not a very wonderful circumstance when you come to think of it, a million and a half of armed men in trenches trying to push out say another million and a half of armed men in trenches cannot lead to any very conspicuous result. It must simply mean a dull push and bombardment from one side to the other. But stalemate, though it is honourable and creditable to our Army, wonderfully so, considering its resources, is not enough. When you consider what you have at stake, one to twenty is not enough. What you have to do in order to achieve any permanent success and any prompt or satisfactory peace, is to send many hundreds of thousands more men into the field—[cheers]—so as to be able to invade German soil—[cheers]—and to inflict a crushing blow upon that invader.

Gentlemen, our stake in this war is not less than the stake of Germany, not less than the stake of Austria. But Germany and Austria have every valid man in the field; we, a percentage. [Hear, hear.] Our stakes are the same, but what we put down to support them is very different. [Hear, hear.] Can we, indeed, hope for a result such as we have a right to expect, and which I am confident will be attained when the conscience of the nation is aroused—[cheers]—can we expect to attain the result which we have a right to expect until we have many more men in the field than we yet have? We have no right to complain of recruiting in Scotland or in Glasgow. Both of them, as percentages of the population, figure very well. We must have more than that, if we are to win, and I do not suppose anybody in this assembly admits that "if." Well, I can hear men say, who are rightly attached to peace—because I think every sensible man must have a passion for peace when he sees the horrors of war—"But we ought to fight only in defence." But that is what we are doing. [Hear, hear, and cheers.] We are fighting in defence, and the only possible defence in this war is complete victory, complete conquest. [Loud cheers.] Now, of course, we must take into consideration all the chances of war. There is a chance, a reasonable chance, which has very often been presented to us of a raid—that is to say, that the Germans, who have any number of men at their disposal, and who have, besides, in strict seclusion a powerful fleet—[laughter]—might think it well to ask all these men, and I think the Germans, who are brave men, would willingly give their lives, in order by a raid to destroy and humiliate as much as they could of Great Britain. Well, you know what has happened in Belgium. Belgium has been devastated by the Power which guaranteed its existence, but what was done in Belgium would be a joke to what would be done in Scotland, if they got here. They were animated by no hatred of Belgium. They now speak as if they were exceedingly fond of Belgium, but they make no disguise of their hatred of us and be assured, gentlemen, in your reason, that whatever they did in Belgium would be multiplied one hundredfold, if they were so fortunate as to set foot in Scotland.

Another point—I shall not detain you much longer—[cries of "Go on," and cheers]—but there is another point. What we want after all, besides security, is peace; the promptest and most satisfactory peace that we can obtain. In fact, I think that we are determined that we will not lay down our arms until we have attained peace. [Cheers.] The only way to obtain peace is to have an overwhelming force in the field. [Cheers.] Make no mistake about the Germans. We have seen all sorts of things in the papers about their surrendering easily, and so forth. Every man who has met them in war, and in this war, is loud in praise of their courage, passive courage perhaps, but determined and unflinching courage. But when you are going to meet millions of men like that, in order to obtain security and peace you must have millions to oppose them. You will not with a very inferior force defeat the Germans. All that you will have will be this, that your war will go on dragging and straggling until all the parties to it are dead of exhaustion, and then they are forced to come to some sort of conventional arrangement, which may enable them sometime to live again. Before that time comes I venture to say you will have poured out unavailingly, because too late, the men who are wanted now and who must be again, if you hope to secure a prompt and satisfactory peace. [Cheers.] I say that our supreme object being a quick and decisive peace, the only means that can bring it about are quick and decisive successes, and these can only be obtained by more men being sent to the front. [Cheers.]

Let me take another point. We must take all the chances of war. Suppose we get a defeat! I can perceive, and I am happy to perceive that dead silence greets that hypothesis, no one here will believe it possible; but if people don't believe it to be possible, they must take care to make it impossible. You cannot with a small Army fight those millions of brave and skillful men and avert the danger of defeat. Suppose defeat were to happen? Has any man in this hall ever realized what it would mean to this country? I do not suppose we would be annexed to Prussia, but I am certain of this, a defeat would mean the annihilation of the British Empire, and it would mean the reduction of Great Britain to be a subservient State, with an Army limited by agreement, with a Navy limited by agreement, a country which had once been a great country living as a province on sufferance. I ask. Would anybody in this hall care to survive that moment? [Cries of "No."] Then, if you don't care to survive it, you must provide against it. [Cheers.] Scotsmen, if I read my countrymen's character aright, do not like to leave anything to chance in their business. They are supposed to be almost too cautious, because of that national characteristic; but they are not then surely going to leave the whole issue of the safety and future of this Empire to chance. Are they not when they leave this hall to-night going as far as they can to guarantee that our fates and fortunes shall not be left to chance? [Cheers.] Well, I hope it is so. I cannot believe that it will be otherwise. I am quite certain that the men of Glasgow, the men of Scotland, ay, and the men of England, too, have only got to realize what the position really is, and I can state from the bottom of my heart that I have not overstated it to-night. They have only got to realize what the position is, and there will be no difficulty about recruiting. I daresay that I have failed to bring it home to you, but had I the tongue of men or of angels I could say no more than I have to bring home to your hearts and consciences the nature of the crisis in which we are involved at this moment.

It is a war for existence being waged just as truly in Flanders as if you were fighting in Lanarkshire at home. [Hear, hear.] Every man must do his best, from the oldest to the youngest, to maintain our part in that contest. For his part he is answerable to God and to his country. [Cheers.] Sons of Glasgow, sons of Scotland, sons of the Empire, stand forth now, and do your duty to Glasgow, to Scotland, and to the Empire. [Cheers.] You have now the chance of your lives. In a few weeks, if you enrol yourselves soon, you may all be heroes, for every one of our soldiers in the trenches at this moment is a hero—[loud cheers]—and you will remain heroes for the rest of your lives. Whatever your span of existence may be, long or short, I say with confidence that you will never regret for a single instant having taken the part that I venture to urge upon you. If, on the other hand, you should decide to hold aloof in the time of your country's anguish and distress, if you permit others to do that fighting for you, which you are unwilling to do for yourselves, if you are ready to leave the wearisome, irksome, and perilous work of the trenches to persons more public-spirited, I will say more heroic, than yourselves, I will predict with at least equal confidence that you will be laying up for yourselves for the rest of your existence a life-long, unending, and bitter remorse. [Cheers.] I should have no fear for the issue—I have no fear for the issue now except that lethargy may retard it—I have no fear for the issue if we only stand true to ourselves and face the truth and realize the vital importance of the crisis in which we are destined to live.

Come the four corners of the world in arms
And we shall shock them; naught shall make us rue
If Britain to herself do rest but true.

[Loud cheers.]