Great Speeches of the War/Churchill (3)


[Speech at a great meeting organized by the Constitutional Club and the National Liberal Club, and held in the London Opera House, September 11, 1914.]

My Lords and Gentlemen:— The resolution which I have been asked to move is written on the papers in your hands, but I think it worth while to read it to you.

That this meeting of the citizens of London, profoundly believing that we are fighting in a just cause, for the vindication of the rights of small States and the public law of Europe, pledges itself unswervingly to support the Prime Minister's appeal to the nation, and all measures necessary for the prosecution of the war to a victorious conclusion, whereby alone the lasting peace of Europe can be assured.

These are serious times, and though we meet here in an abode which is one of diversion and of pleasure in times of peace, and although we wish and mean to arouse and encourage each other in every way, yet we are not here for the purpose of merriment or jollification, and I am quite sure I associate my two friends who are here to-night, and who will speak after me, and my noble friend your chairman, with me when I say that we regard the cheers with which you have received us as being offered to us only because they are meant for our soldiers in the field and our sailors on the sea. It is in that sense that we accept them, and thank you for them. We meet here together in serious times, but I come to you to-night in good heart and with good confidence for the future and for the task upon which we are engaged. [Cheers.] It is too soon to speculate upon the results of the great battle which is waging in France. Everything that we have heard during four long days of anxiety seems to point to a marked and substantial turning of the tide. [Cheers.]

We have seen the forces of the French and British Armies strong enough not only to contain and check the devastating avalanche which had swept across the French frontier, but now at last, not for an hour or for a day, but for four long days in succession, it has been rolled steadily back. [Loud cheers.] With battles taking place over a front of a hundred or a hundred and fifty miles one must be very careful not to build high hopes of results which are achieved, even in a great area of the field of war. We are not children looking for light and vain encouragement, but men engaged upon a task which has got to be put through. Still, when every allowance has been made for the uncertainty in which these great operations are always enshrouded, I think it is only fair and right to say that the situation to-night is better, far better, than a cold calculation of the forces available on both sides before the war should have led us to expect at this early stage. [Cheers.]

It is quite clear that what is happening is not what the Germans planned—and they have yet to show that they can adapt themselves to the force of circumstances created by the military power of their enemies with the same efficiency that they have undoubtedly shown with regard to plans long prepared, methodically worked out, and executed with precision and deliberation. The battle, I say, gives us every reason to meet together to-night in good heart, but let me tell you frankly that if this battle had been as disastrous as, thank God, it appears to be triumphant, I should come before you here to-night with unabated confidence—[cheers]—and with the certainty that we have only to continue in our efforts to bring this war to the conclusion which we wish and intend. [Cheers.]

We entered upon this war with no desire to extend our territories or to advance and increase our position in the world, or in no romantic desire to shed our blood and spend our money in Continental quarrels. We entered this war reluctantly, after we had made every effort compatible with honour to avoid being drawn in, and we entered it with a full realization of the suffering, of the loss, of the disappointment, of the vexation, of the anxiety, and of the prolonged and sustained exertion which would be entailed upon us by our action. The war will be long and sombre; it will have many reverses of fortune and many hopes falsified by subsequent events, and we must derive from our cause, and from the strength that is in us, and from the traditions and history of our race, and from the spirit and aid of our Empire all over the world—[cheers]—the means to take our British plough over obstacles of all kinds, and continue to the end of the furrow, whatever the toil and suffering may be.

But though we entered on this war with no illusions as to the incidents which will mark its progress, as to the ebb and flow of fighting in this or that part of the gigantic field over which it is waged, we entered it, and entered it rightly, with a sure and sober hope and expectation of bringing it to a victorious conclusion. [Cheers.] I am quite certain that if you choose, if we, the peoples of the British Empire, choose, whatever may happen in the interval, we can in the end make this war finish in accordance with our interests and the interests of civilization. [Cheers.] Let us build on a sure foundation. Let us not be the sport of fortune, looking for victories and happy chances there. Let us take measures which are well within our power, which are practical measures, measures which we can begin upon at once and carry through from day to day with surety and effect. Let us enter on measures which in the long run, whatever the accidents and incidents of the intervening period may be, will secure us that victory on which our life and existence as a nation, not less than the fortunes of our Allies and of Europe, absolutely depend. [Cheers.] I think we are building on a sure foundation. [Cheers.]

Let us look first of all at the Navy. [Loud cheers.] The war has now been in progress between five and six weeks. In that time we have swept German commerce from the sea. We have either blocked in neutral harbours or blockaded in their own harbours, or hunted down on blue water the commerce destroyers of which we used to hear so much and from which we anticipated such serious loss and damage. All our ships with inconsiderable exceptions, a few out of thousands, are arriving safely and punctually at their destinations—[cheers]—carrying on the commerce on which the wealth, the industries, and the power of making war of this country depend. [Cheers.] We are transporting easily, not without an element of danger, but still hitherto safely and successfully, great numbers of men, great numbers of soldiers across the seas from all quarters of the world, to be directed on the decisive theatre of the land struggle. We have searched the so-called German Ocean—[laughter]—without discovering the German flag. [Laughter and cheers.] Our enemies, in their carefully worked-out calculations, which they have been toiling over during a great many years when the people of this country as a whole credited them with quite different motives, our enemies in their careful calculations have always built on a process of attrition, have always counted on a process of attrition—the waste of ships by mine and torpedo and other methods of the warfare of the weaker Power, by which the numbers and strength of our Fleet would be reduced to such a point that they would be able to steel their hearts and come out and fight. [Laughter.] Well, we have been at war for five or six weeks, and so far, though I would certainly not underrate the risks and hazards attendant on warlike operations and the vanity of all over-confidence, so far the attrition has been on their side and not on ours, and the losses which they have suffered have greatly exceeded any which we have at present sustained.

I have made careful inquiries as to the condition of our sailors afloat under the strain put on them by this continued watching and constant attention to their duty under warlike conditions, and I am glad to say that it is reported to me that the health of the Fleet has been much better since the declaration of war than it was in times of peace, that the percentage of sickness and the character of the sickness have been more favourable, that there is no reason why we should not keep up the same process of naval freedom and of the same exercise of sea power as that on which we have lived and are living for what is almost an indefinite period. [Cheers.] By one of those dispensations of Providence which appeal so strongly to the German Emperor, the nose of the bulldog has been slanted backwards, so that he can breathe with comfort without letting go. If we have been successful in maintaining naval control thus far in the struggle, there are also sound reasons for believing as it progresses the chances in our favour will not diminish but increase. In the next twelve months the number of great ships which will be completed for this country is more than double the number that will be completed for Germany and the number of cruisers three or four times as great. [Cheers.] Therefore I think I am on solid ground when I come here to-night and say that you may count upon the naval supremacy of this country being effectively maintained as against the German power or as long as you wish. [Cheers.]

And now we must look at the Army. [Cheers.] The Navy has been, under every Government and throughout all periods of modern history, the darling of the British nation. On it have been lavished whatever public funds were necessary, and to its efficiency has been devoted the unceasing care and thought of successive Administrations, The result is that when the need came the Navy was absolutely ready—[cheers]—and, as far as we can see from what has happened, thoroughly adequate to the tasks which were required from it. But we have not been in times of peace a military nation. The Army has not had the facility of obtaining the lavish supplies of men and money for its needs which have, in times of peace, and in the past, to our good fortune at the moment, been so freely given to the Navy. And what you have to do now is to make a great Army—[cheers]—and to make an Army under the cover and shield of the Navy strong enough to enable our country to play its full part in the decision of this terrible struggle. The sure way, the only sure way, to bring this war to an end is for the British Empire to put on the Continent and keep on the Continent an Army of at least one million men. [Cheers.] I take that figure because it is one well within the compass of the arrangements which are now on foot, and because it is one which is well within the scope of the measures which Lord Kitchener—[cheers]—has already planned.

I was reading in the newspapers the other day that the German Emperor made a speech to some of his regiments in which he urged them to concentrate their attention upon what he was pleased to call "French's contemptible little Army." Well, they are concentrating their attention upon it. That Army which has been fighting with such extraordinary prowess, and which has revived in a fortnight of adverse actions the ancient fame and glory of our Armies upon the Continent—[cheers]—and which to-night, after a long, protracted, harassed, but unbroken and undaunted rearguard action—the hardest trial to which troops can be exposed—is advancing in spite of the loss of one-fifth of its number, and driving its enemies before it—[loud cheers]—that Army must be reinforced and backed and supported, and increased and enlarged in numbers and in power by every means and every method that everyone of us can take. [Cheers.]

I am not here to make a speech of words, but to point out to you necessary and obvious things you can do. There is no doubt that, if you set yourselves to it, that Army which is now fighting so valiantly on our behalf, and on that of our Allies, can be raised successively from its present figure to a quarter of a million of the finest professional soldiers in the world, and from that in the New Year to something like half a million of men, and from that again, when the early summer begins in 1915 to the full figure of 25 Army Corps, fighting in the line together. The vast population of these islands and the Empire is pressing forward to serve. The wealth of the whole of Britain and her Colonies is available. The Navy opens the sea routes to you, and every commodity needed for the preparation of war material or for the equipment of fighting men can be drawn from the uttermost ends of the earth. Why should we hesitate? Here is a sure and certain power of ending this war in the way we mean it to end. [Cheers.] There is little doubt that an army so formed will, in quality and in character, in native energy, and in the comprehension which each individual in it has of the cause for which he is fighting, exceed in merit any army in the world. And it has only to have a chance with even numbers, or anything approaching even numbers—[cheers]—to demonstrate the superiority of free-thinking, active citizens over the docile sheep who serve the ferocious ambitions of despotic Kings. [Cheers.] Our enemies are, at the point which we have now reached, fully extended. On every front of the enormous field of conflict the pressure upon them is such that all their resources are deployed. With every addition to the growing weight of the Russian attack—[cheers]—with every addition to the forces at the disposal of Sir John French, the balance must set down increasingly against them. You have only to create steadily, week after week, and month after month, the great military instruments of which I have been speaking, to throw into the scales a weight which must be decisive.

There will be no corresponding reserve of manhood upon which Germany can draw; there will be no corresponding force of soldiers and of equipment and of war material which can be brought into line to face the forces which we in this island and in this Empire can undoubtedly create and which will turn the scale and eventually decide the issue. Of course, if victory comes sooner, so much the better. [Cheers.] But let us not count on fortune and good luck. Let us assume at every point that things will go much less well than we hope and wish. Let us make arrangements which will override that. [Cheers.] We have it in our power to make such arrangements, and it is only common prudence, aye, and common humanity to take the steps which at any rate will fix some certain term to this devastating struggle throughout the whole of the European Continent. Let me also say this. Let us concentrate all our warlike feeling on fighting the enemy in the field, upon creating a great military weapon with which to carry out the purposes of the war.

There is a certain class of person who likes to work his warlike feelings off upon the unfortunate alien enemy within our gates, and, of course, all necessary measures should be taken for the security of the country and for the proper carrying out of military needs; but let us always have this feeling in our hearts that after the war is over people shall not only admire our victory, but shall say of us: "They have fought like gentlemen." [Cheers.] The Romans had a motto: Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos, "Spare the conquered and war down the proud." Let that be the spirit in which we conduct this war. Let all those who feel under the provocations of this horrible struggle their hearts suffused with anger and with ruth, let them turn it into a practical channel and go to the front, or, if circumstances prevent them, let them help others to go, keeping them maintained in the highest state of efficiency and looking after those they have left behind. [Cheers.]

I have not spoken too much about the justice of our cause, because it has been most eloquently set out by the Prime Minister and Sir Edward Grey, and by Mr. Bonar Law and the other leaders of the Opposition. And much more eloquently than by any speakers in this or any other country the justice of our cause has been set out by the brutal facts which have occurred and which have marched on us from day to day.

Some thought there would be a German war and some did not, but no one supposed that a great military nation would exhibit all the vices of a military organization without those redeeming virtues which, God knows, are needed to relieve warlike operations from the taint of shame. But we have been confronted with an exhibition of ruthlessness and outrage enforced on the weak, enforced on defenceless women and children. ["Shame."] We have been confronted with repeated breaches of the laws of honourable warfare, with practices analogous to those which, in private life, are regarded as cheating, which deprive the persons or the country adopting them or condoning them of the credit and respect due to honourable soldiers. We have been confronted with all this. Let us not imitate it. [Cheers.] Let us not try to make small retaliations and reprisals here and there and think that because they have cast away the treasures not only of civilization, but of military honour, our responsibility for maintaining them has become less real or less effective. [Cheers.] Let us concentrate on the simple and obvious task of creating a military force so powerful that the war, in default of any other good fortune, can certainly be ended and brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

However the war began, now that it has started it is a war of self-preservation for us. [Cheers.] Our civilization, our way of doing things, our system of Parliamentary life, with its voting and its talking—[laughter]—our party system, our party warfares, the free and easy tolerances of English and of British life and existence, our method of doing things and of being ourselves, alive and self-respecting in the world—all these are brought up in violent contrast, in violent collision, with the organized force of bureaucratic Prussian militarism, [Cheers.]

That is the struggle which is open now, and which must go forward without pause or abatement until it is settled decisively and finally one way or the other. On that there can be no compromise or truce. It is our life or it is theirs. We are bound, having gone so far, to go forward without flinching until the very end. [Cheers.] This is the same war, the same great European War, that would have been fought in the year 1909 if Russia had not humbled herself and given way to German pressure. It is the same war that Sir E. Grey—[cheers]—stopped last year. And now it has come upon us. But if you look back across the long periods of European history to the original cause, you will, I am sure, find it in the cruel terms enforced upon France in 1870, and in the repeated attempts to terrorize France which have been the characteristic of German policy ever since.

The more you study this question the more you will see that the use the Germans made of their three aggressive and victorious wars, against Denmark, against Austria, and against France, has been such as to make them the terror and the bully of Europe, the enemy and the menace of every small State upon their borders, and a perpetual source of unrest and disquietude to their powerful neighbours. Now the war has come, and when it is over let us be careful not to make the same mistake or the same sort of mistake as Germany made when she had France prostrate at her feet in 1870. Let us, whatever we do, fight for and work towards great and sound principles for the European system. The first of those principles which we should keep before us is the principle of nationality— [cheers]—that is to say, not the conquest or subjugation of any great community, or of any strong race of men, but the setting free of those races which have been subjugated and conquered. [Cheers.] And if doubt arises about disputed areas of country, we should try to settle their ultimate destination in the reconstruction of Europe which must follow from this war with a fair regard to the wishes and feelings of the people who live in them. [Cheers.]

That is the aim which, if it is achieved, will justify the exertions of the war, and will make some amend to the world for the loss and agony of suffering which it has wrought and entailed, and which will give to those who come after us, not only the pride we hope they will feel in remembering the martial achievements of the present age of Britain, but which will give them also a better and a fairer world to live in and a Europe free from the causes of hatred and unrest which have poisoned the comity of nations and ruptured the peace of Christendom.

"We are all together." I use these words because this is a war in which we are all together—all parties, all classes, all races, all States, principalities, dominions, and powers throughout the British Empire, we are all together. [Prolonged cheers.] Many years ago the elder Pitt urged on his countrymen the compulsive invocation: "Be one people." Well, it has taken us up till now to obey his appeal. But now we are one people—[cheers]—and while we remain one people there are no forces in the world strong enough to beat us down or break us up. [Cheers.] I hope, even in this dark hour of the struggle, that the unities which have been established in our country under the pressure of war will not cease and pass away when the great military effort on which we are engaged, and the great moral cause which we pursue, have been achieved; but I shall hope, and I do not think my hope is a vain one, that the forces which have come together in our land and throughout our Empire may continue to work together not only in the military struggle, but in trying to make our country a more equal, more happy, and more prosperous land, where social justice and free institutions are more firmly established than they have been in the past. [Cheers.] If so, we shall not have fought in vain at home as well as abroad, and with these hopes and in these beliefs I will urge you to lay aside all hindrances, casting away all private aims, devoting yourselves unflinchingly and unswervingly to the rigorous and successful prosecution of the war. [Loud cheers.]