Great Speeches of the War/Harcourt

RT. HON. LEWIS HARCOURT


[Speech at a public meeting organized by the Victoria League, and held in King George's Hall, London, Central Y.M.C.A., on January 26, 1915.]


My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen:—It is a special privilege to me to be permitted to take the chair on this occasion, for it gives me an opportunity of paying my tribute of esteem and admiration to the splendid, assiduous, and unending work of the Victoria League. Long before I held my present post I was aware of the League's beneficent activities, but during the four years and more that I have been at the Colonial Office, I have come to realize the special value of its services and to feel an abiding gratitude for their results. [Cheers.]

Year by year an ever-increasing stream set to these shores of those whom one might call, with official correctitude, "visitors from the Dominions," but who, often with affectionate modesty, style themselves "home-coming Colonials." [Hear, hear.] Many of them were born in the Dominions and have never been in England in their lives, but nevertheless they all talk of their visit to a strange land as "coming home." [Cheers.] It is the open-handed and warm-hearted welcome of the workers of the Victoria League which, in many cases, more than anything else made England a veritable home to those Dominion brothers and sisters whom we are so proud to see. It is that touch of Nature which made the Empire kin. [Hear, hear.]

We are met on this occasion to acknowledge with deep gratitude the debt we owe to every corner—even the remotest—of that Empire for the unexampled response to the needs of the Motherland. [Cheers.] There is no sacrifice of men, of money, of material which seemed too great for those of our blood who are wide flung throughout the world. And not of our blood or colour only. [Cheers.] There have been ill-informed, blind, misguided fools who thought that when England was at war India would be in mutiny. They were wrong. [Cheers,] But they might have been right if we had mistrusted our Indian fellow-subjects, for I have been told there would have been a mutiny if we had not permitted our Indian troops to fight with us in the trenches. [Laughter and cheers.]

Nobody surely could have read without emotion that noble and touching despatch from the Viceroy, in which he described how the Rajahs and Rulers of the native States placed at our disposal their treasure and their trust. Men, horses, guns, motors, ambulances: all the paraphernalia of modern war had for months crossed the Indian Ocean in a steady stream, without mishap and in perfect security under the convoy of our Navy, and to-day our Indian troops are making for themselves an imperishable record on the battlefields of France and Flanders. [Cheers.]

Then look at the great efforts of our self-governing Dominions. Two days before war was declared Canada offered an expeditionary force, and two days after the declaration of war I accepted it on behalf of the Government and the nation. [Hear, hear.] It is with us to-day, manned, equipped, paid by the Dominion itself, and with reinforcements ready to follow, as and when they are required. It is an open secret that some of the Canadian troops are already at the front; it is no secret that the rest of them are straining at the leash to get there—and if I might venture a prophecy, their period of probation will not be much further prolonged. [Hear, hear.] They have not had a comfortable time—[hear, hear, and laughter]— the transition has not been pleasant from "Our Lady of the Snows" to "Our Mother of the Mud "—[laughter]—but coming events cast their quagmires before. Not even an English winter—almost the wettest on record—has broken their spirit, and no one who knows them can doubt that they will do credit to the name and the fame of the Maple Leaf. [Cheers.] They were accompanied by a military contingent from Newfoundland, which has supplied also a large number of Naval Reservists and volunteers drawn from their intrepid and enduring fishermen. [Hear, hear.]

From the Antipodes have come to our aid equally great forces. The day before the war I received a telegram putting the Australian Navy at our disposal and under our orders, and at the same time offering a contingent of 20,000 men for European service, with equipment and constant reinforcements, which I accepted three days later. The New Zealand battleship is already with our Fleet—[cheers]—and the rest of their fleet was under our control before war was declared. A New Zealand military force was at once offered, accepted, and mobilized—and even the Maoris insisted on sharing the white man's burden. [Hear, hear.] A Ceylon contingent is also in Egypt, and a Fiji force is now on its way home.[Hear, hear.]

There remains one other Dominion—South Africa. [Cheers.] I have seen some ill-conditioned and ignorant comments on the fact that South Africa has sent no troops to Europe. These things are the carpings of fools—[cheers]—who have not read and are not fit to write history. I should be the last to make comparisons of the value of Dominion services, but this I will say, that none have been or could be greater than that rendered by the Union of South Africa. [Loud cheers.] General Botha has undertaken, for reasons of Imperial importance, to attack, to capture, and to occupy German South-West Africa. [Hear, hear.] The Imperial Government knew then and know now that he can do so, but they know also that it will be no light task. The Africander is proud of the unstinted trust which has been reposed in him by the British people since their war; they know what freedom and self-government mean and from whom they have sprung. The minority of rebels are shaming their fellows and defaming their honour. They are being dealt with by their own leader and by men of their own race, and the sordid chapter of sorry treachery closed, I hope, with the capture or surrender of its deluded dupes. [Cheers.] The British people can trust the Government of the Union of South Africa to exercise in their own discretion such punishment or clemency as seems fit to them with their knowledge of the local situation, and we and they may turn now with hope and confidence to the larger undertaking of the reduction of the neighbouring German Colony. [Hear, hear.]

I need hardly remind you that India and the self-governing Dominions are only a part of the British Empire. There remain the whole of the Colonies and Protectorates in which I take a special interest, for they are more individually under the personal control of the Colonial Secretary. I have been "snowed under" by day and by night ever since August 4 with contributions almost embarrassing in their variety and amount, but always splendid in their spirit and intention. [Hear, hear.] From the remotest islands of the Caribbees or the Pacific my none too frequent rest has been broken with telegrams proffering—pressing on me—men, money, goods, produce, volunteers, even aeroplanes. The catalogue is so extensive that it is impossible to recapitulate. Nor must I omit the Falkland Islands, who have contributed a sum of money amounting to £2 per head of the entire population—[cheers]—at a moment when they were in imminent danger of capture by German cruisers.

With the capture of Togoland, where the Germans had the largest wireless telegraph station in the world, in direct communication with Berlin; the Cameroons expedition, which is still in progress, although more than half the business is already done; and the operations against German East Africa, which have proved—as it was always expected that it would—a tough proposition;—if you could see my daily and nightly sheaves of telegrams, the despatches, the letters from the tropical firing-line, you would live, as I have done for six months, in the thrills and the romance of thinly defended frontiers, of gallantly captured posts, of conquest and reverse, of strategy and organization. And from what, think you, does all this unity of purpose, of action, and of sentiment spring? From the genius of the British race for self-government and good government. [Hear, hear.] We have given freely, proudly, the most complete autonomy to our great White Dominions, and we have reaped a rich harvest. Canada in the past. South Africa in the present, are witnesses to the fact that confidence is its own reward. [Hear, hear.] But in those great tropical territories, where autonomy was not yet advisable or possible, we have endeavoured—and with success—to govern by and through and with the sentiments and customs of the inhabitants. [Hear, hear.] A wide tolerance, with no too emphatic insistence on "culture"—[laughter and cheers]—has created a cosmopolitan confidence which has proved in action a good substitute for the subservience of militarism. [Cheers.]