The Life of the Rt. Hon. Sir Charles W. Dilke, Vol. 2
by Stephen Gwynn
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South Africa was a graver centre of disquietude, for there commercial enterprise was on a greater scale. He wrote in December, 1900, after Great Britain had occupied the Transvaal: "My point is that the Rand Jews have already got slavery, and our Government must repeal the laws they have. Reading together the Pass Law and the coloured labour clause, which you will find was the end of the latest Gold Law, we have slavery by law."

The remedy lay, for him, in the guarantee of citizenship, at least in some degree, to this class of labour; and with that object he put himself at the centre of a concerted movement as soon as opportunity offered. When, after the Boer War, the mine owners returned to the Rand, and, pleading shortage of Kaffir labour, demanded the introduction of indentured Chinese coolies, Sir Charles vigorously protested. The question played a considerable part in the elections which returned the Liberals to power with an enormous majority. It was not, however, as the party man that Sir Charles made his protest, but as the upholder of human rights. He feared lest "South Africa is to become the home of a great proletariat, forbidden by law to rise above the present situation."

When the Union of South Africa was proposed, it became manifest that division existed as to the status of non-European citizens. In 1906, when the Liberals came into power, immediate action was taken by a small group of members, who addressed a letter to the Prime Minister begging that, in view of the contemplated federation, steps should be taken to safeguard such political rights as natives actually enjoyed in the various colonies, and also the tribal institutions of separate native communities. The letter advocated also an extension of Native Reserves, and it was promptly followed (on February 28th) by a motion, brought forward by Mr. Byles, which declared that "in any settlement of South African affairs this House desires a recognition of Imperial responsibility for the protection of all races excluded from equal political rights, the safeguarding of all immigrants against servile conditions of labour, and the guarantee to the native populations of at least their existing status, with the unbroken possession of their liberties in Basutoland, Bechuanaland, and other tribal countries and reservations."

Sir Charles himself took no part in the debate; but he notes: 'I am proud to have planned this letter and drawn the motion for Byles so that it was carried unanimously by the House.' A resolution much stronger in terms could easily have been carried in that Parliament; but it would not have been unanimous, and it could hardly have been enforced later on. Here a principle was so firmly laid down that the House could not recede from it; and the importance of the step soon became apparent. When the Bill for the South African Union came before Parliament in 1909, Colonel Seely, who had been one of the signatories to the letter of 1906, represented the Colonial Office in the Commons; and Sir Charles, warned by friends of the natives in South Africa, questioned him as to whether the Bill as drafted empowered the self-governing colonies to alter the existing boundaries of the Protectorates. He received a private promise that the matter should be put beyond doubt; and this was done in the Committee stage by a solemn declaration that the Imperial Government absolutely reserved its right of veto upon the alienation of native lands. As soon as the text of the proposed Constitution became known, he raised his protest against what he considered a permanent disfranchisement of labour; for labour in South Africa, he held, must for all time be coloured labour. Six weeks later, when the Bill was brought to Westminster, Mr. W. P. Schreiner, who came specially to plead the rights of the civilized men of colour, was in constant intercourse with Sir Charles, and scores of letters on detailed proposals for amendment attest the thoroughness of that co-operation. Dilke, with the support of some Labour men and Radicals, fought strenuously against the clauses which recognized a colour-bar, and in the opinion of some at least in South Africa, the essence of the position was secured.

[Footnote: Mr. Drew, editor of the Transvaal Leader, wrote:

"I am truly glad that (if my view of the somewhat vague cablegram is correct) you have alienation of native lands reserved everywhere in South Africa. This provision, together with the entrenchment of the Cape Franchise, will form a solution of the question not unfavourable to the natives. It gives the natives and their friends something to bargain with. If the Cape Franchise should ever go, its place will be taken by something which will benefit all the natives and be acceptable to all."

From a different quarter came even stronger expression of gratitude. M. Jacottet, of the Swiss Mission, wrote:

"I beg on behalf of all my fellow-missionaries in Basutoland, as well as of all the friends of justice and liberty in this territory, to thank you most sincerely for your courageous and strong advocacy of the rights and interests of Basutoland and the other territories. All thoughtful and civilized Basutos know how much they are indebted to you, and your name is held in reverence by them."]

Sir Charles, always a strong advocate of colonial autonomy, nevertheless did not go to extreme lengths in this doctrine. An Imperialist first, he was fully prepared to say to the colonies, So long as you claim Imperial protection, you must recognize the full rights of citizenship within the Empire. He feared gravely the tendencies which might develop under the British flag, if uncontrolled liberty of action were given to the Colonial Parliaments in dealing with such questions as forced labour. "The Australian rule in New Guinea is going to be terrible," is a stray note on one of his communications with the Aborigines' Protection Society.

This labour question was to him essentially the problem of the future, and he watched its developments with ceaseless anxiety. At the annual meeting of the society in April, 1910, he spoke of the energy which the Colonial Office displayed in promoting the growing of cotton as laudable but dangerous. "The chiefs had sometimes exercised compulsion to make their tribes cultivate the unfamiliar product." More generally he felt that wherever the white man introduced taxation there would be a tendency to requisition labour, and that all such projects would inevitably generate an interested commercial support. The Portuguese system of recruiting for the cocoa plantations might be barbarous; but if it were pleaded in defence that without it the supply of cocoa must fail, Sir Charles foresaw the gravest difficulties with the House of Commons. "How are we to make that 'would-be' practical Assembly tell the Government to induce Portugal to put an end to so enormous a cultivation?" The only method of avoiding these evils was to prevent their growth; and the soundest plan was to insure that the natives retained their own familiar means of livelihood, and so could not be brought down to the choice between starvation and selling their labour in a restricted market. For that reason he fiercely opposed the whole policy of concessions, and by public and private representations he pressed the Colonial Office to reject every such alienation of native rights in the land.

He had promised to read a paper on Indentured and Forced Labour at the Native Races Conference held in July, 1911. It reviewed all the facts of the situation as they existed—the growing demand for indentured service, the respective record of the European Powers, and the varying results produced by varying methods which the same Power has adopted in different regions. It was, he thought, not easy to decide whether the anti-slavery cause had lost or gained ground in his lifetime; new insidious and widespread forms of the evil had taken a hold. Great Britain's escutcheon was marred by the inclusion of a colour-bar in the most recent Constitution of her oversea dominions; and the Government of India had recently failed to obtain from some British States that measure of rights for emigrating British Indian subjects which it had formerly been able to secure. Forced labour was being employed under British auspices in Egypt; while the French, who had "more nearly than any other nation" done away with this evil in colonies, were open to grave reproach in the matter of concessions—especially in that region where French administration was affected by the neighbouring example of the Congo Free State. The danger both of forced labour and of concessions was that they alike tended to destroy native law and tribal custom, and so to create 'one universal black proletariat'—a vast reservoir of cheap defenceless labour.

What he wrote was duly read at the Conference, and is included in the volume of their proceedings called Inter-Racial Problems. But before the Conference took place, silence had been imposed for ever on this advocate of equal justice. Among his papers is the manuscript of this composition corrected for the press by him within a week of his death— work done against the entreaty of those who cared for him, but work that he would not leave undone.

In defending the interest of the native races, Dilke always felt himself to be defending the dignity and the safety of labour at home—even though the representatives of European labour did not recognize the common concern. He was defending labour where it was weakest; and it is in his championship of the weak that one of the younger men who worked with him and learnt from him sees the characteristic note of his life. General Seely writes:

"To many of the younger men who found themselves in the Parliament of 1900 Dilke was an enigma. We could all appreciate his immense store of knowledge, his untiring industry, his courtesy to younger men, and his striking personality. But what the real purpose was to which he was devoting these talents, what was the end in view—put shortly, 'what he was at'—was to us a puzzle.

"Clearly, it was no bitter hostility either to a Government with which as a Radical he profoundly disagreed, or to an Opposition amongst whom he sat, but whose chiefs had not restored him to their inner councils. Not the former, for in matters of foreign policy and in Imperial Defence, where his unrivalled knowledge gave him powerful weapons of attack, he never pursued an advantage he had gained beyond very moderate limits. Not the second, for no man was more steadfast in his attendance and in his support, given by speech and in the lobby, to those of his own political faith.

"Still less was it personal ambition or self-seeking; for if he spoke often, it was only to put forward some definite point of view, and not for the purpose of taking part in a debate just because the House was crowded and the occasion important.

"Least of all was his constant attendance in the House of Commons the refuge of a man with no other object in life, for no man was more many-sided or had so many and such varied interests.

"His Parliamentary action was often baffling to the observer, especially in its restraint. It was only after many years that the present writer found the master-key to Dilke's actions, and it was revealed in a flash at the time of the passing of the South Africa Union Act. The question was the representation of the native population in the Union, and the cognate questions of their treatment and status. Dilke came to see me. He pleaded the native cause with earnestness, with eloquence, with passion. The man was transfigured as the emotions of pity and love of justice swept over him. No record could be kept of what he said; there could have been no thought of using his eloquence to enlist popular support or improve a Parliamentary position, for we were alone. And so I came to see that the mainspring of all his actions was the intense desire to help those who could not help themselves—to defend the under-dog.

"Looking through the long list of the speeches he made, and of the questions he asked, from the beginning of the Parliament of 1900 until the time of his death, one sees plainly that this was his guiding motive. No detail was so small as to escape his attention if the people he was endeavouring to protect were poor and helpless.

"On the wider questions of the general treatment of natives he displayed the same meticulous care in finding out the true facts of the case. In the controversy that raged round the administration of the Congo, he would not move until he had ascertained the facts, not only from official documents, but from inquiries he himself had set on foot. Indians, Africans, Chinese, as well as his own countrymen and countrywomen, all would find in him a champion and defender, provided only that they were poor, unrepresented, or oppressed."


In some cases the defence of the "under-dog" was a duty imposed by our acknowledged sovereignty or by international obligations.

What might follow from the growing rush for tropical products, capital pursuing large returns "into every jungle in the world," was shown to Europe, in the last months of Sir Charles's life, by the revelations from the Amazon Valley, a scandal to which he was among the first to call attention. This was a region where Great Britain had no special duty. But a series of facts not less horrible, on a scale infinitely vaster, and affecting a population which, originally, could not have numbered less than thirty millions, had, long before the Putumayo revelations, been proved to exist throughout the basin of a great African river. No labour of Sir Charles's later years was more continuous and persistent than his effort to fix on the Imperial Parliament the responsibility for what was done in the Congo Free State, and the duty of putting an end to it.

"He perceived with increasing clearness of vision, as the years went on," says Mr. Morel, "that the future relationship between the white and coloured races in the tropical regions of the globe was bound up with the problem of the Congo, and that the effects of the success or the failure of the movement for Congo reform would govern in great measure the attitude of Europe towards these questions for very many years."

A State that had been brought into being by England's express sanction, for solemnly defined purposes of civilization in Africa, was proved by its own agent to be employing cannibal troops. That was the circumstance which most impressed a startled House of Commons when, on April 2nd, 1897, Sir Charles raised the first of many discussions upon the question of the Congo.

In 1896 a violent action had brought home to England what had been the fulfilment of the promised free trade for all nations, and of King Leopold's protestations in 1884. Mr. Stokes, a British trader, was arrested and shot by the order of a Belgian officer, Major Lothaire. His offence was trading in ivory. Sir Charles, when he raised the debate in April, 1897, combined then as always the diplomatic with the humanitarian aspect of the case; and brought before the House the existence of the secret decree of September, 1891, declaring a State monopoly of all rubber and ivory, for violation of which Mr. Stokes had been executed. [Footnote: Stokes was also accused of bartering guns to the Arabs for that ivory. This, true or not, does not affect the initial outrage, that, though he was entitled to a proper trial, he was trapped and summarily executed without trial of any kind.] But it was the publication of Captain Hinde's book, [Footnote: The Fall of the Congo Arabs.] with its revelation of the fact that European officers had commanded an army fed for long periods by organized cannibalism, which gave authority to Sir Charles's demand for a new conference of the Powers. "We should take action," he said, "to remove from ourselves the disgrace which had fallen upon our declarations."

Mr. Curzon, who as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs then spoke for Lord Salisbury's Government, treated the matter coolly enough, though admitting that the agents of the Congo State had sometimes adopted methods repugnant to Christian feeling; and so for the moment the controversy ended, but Sir Charles with persistent application returned to the question again and again, although his efforts were hampered by lack of information. So well was the secret of those dark places kept that even he, with his widespread net of acquaintance in many capitals, found facts hard to gather; and he was naturally attracted by the appearance in 1900 of a series of anonymous articles in the Speaker, which dealt with the system set up in the Congo, and its inevitable results. These articles displayed an unusual knowledge of the whole complicated subject, and revealed aspects of it which had previously baffled inquiry. The writer proved to be Mr. E. D. Morel. So began a co-operation whose influence upon the administration of African races was destined to be far-reaching.

The campaign was steadily pressed. Within the House of Commons, Sir Charles spoke session after session, using language of a vehemence that startled in one so moderate. He organized representations to the Senate and Chamber in Belgium, summarizing what was being done in the Congo and urging Belgium's moral responsibility. Out of doors, the Press campaign was vigorous—so vigorous that no Government could disregard it; and at the beginning of 1903, in reply to a question from Sir Charles, Mr. Balfour promised a formal debate "on the position of the signatories to the Berlin General Act of 1885, in regard to the abuses which had grown up under the Congo Free State's rule in violation of that Act." The debate, on May 20th, 1903, was opened by Mr. Herbert Samuel. Sir Charles, following him, was in turn supported by Sir John Gorst, an old ally in such causes. Mr. Balfour, in face of a unanimous House, accepted, not without reluctance, the motion which asked him to consult the co-signatories of the Berlin Act, and thus committed Great Britain to a diplomatic re-opening of the case. Inquiry necessarily followed, and with the publication of our Consul's report in December, 1903, the affair reached a new phase.

When the Foreign Office vote came to be discussed in the Session of 1904, Sir Charles, basing himself on that report, delivered what Sir John Gorst called a "terrible speech." Replying for the Government, Lord Percy used these words: "There never has been a policy of which it might be said as truly as of this one that it was the policy not so much of His Majesty's Government as of the House of Commons." Not less is it true that Sir Charles had guided the House to the adoption of that policy.

By this time the cause commanded popular interest. The questioning of Ministers was frequent, and it was done by men from all camps. Sir Charles could afford henceforward to select his portion of the work. He limited himself as far as possible to the diplomatic aspect of the case, more technical and less popular in its appeal, but giving the surest right of intervention.

The Foreign Office does not naturally look with favour upon policies forced upon it by the House of Commons, and perhaps for this reason the permanent officials proved opponents very difficult for the House of Commons to control. But Sir Charles's knowledge gave him the necessary advantage. For instance, on November 22nd, 1906, he asked if the United States had not expressed a desire to co-operate with Great Britain in this matter. An official denial was given. On December 16th the question was put again, and the admission made that "the United States have recently expressed" such a desire.

After various obscure negotiations on the part of King Leopold to secure German support for his personal rule, there came at length with the beginning of 1907 the announcement that Belgium would annex the Free State.

[Footnote: The delay which took place in the transference of the Congo Free State from the personal rule of King Leopold to the rule of the Belgian Government is dealt with in the following letter from Lord Fitzmaurice from the Foreign Office to Sir Charles:

"February 16th, 1906.—The King of the Belgians puts about these stories for the same sort of reason which made the German Emperor put about the story that there was a change of policy in regard to France. At the same time there must be a little 'law' given to the King while his second Commission is reporting on the methods of carrying out the reforms indicated in the first Commission's report. As you know, I am not a believer in the King 'at all, at all,' but one has to observe the forms of diplomacy. It is, perhaps, not unfortunate that this pause coincides with a moment when it is not our interest to be having a row with Belgium also, if perchance we were having a row with Germany." This letter was written while the Algeciras Conference was sitting.]

Yet the matter was not allowed to sleep in either House of Parliament; it was raised by Sir Charles on the Whitsuntide adjournment, and again in August. In 1908 the subject was mentioned in the King's Speech. But by this time a "Colonial Law" had been proposed in Belgium, which went far to re-establish King Leopold's power under the new system and created new difficulties. Sir Charles's allies now were not in England only. He had made friends with M. Vandervelde, leader of the Socialist party in Belgium, and the one Socialist who had ventured to vote for annexation. They met during Sir Charles's Christmas stay in Paris in 1907, and had "two days' thorough discussion of Congo." The result was written to Lord Fitzmaurice (then Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs) on January 6th, 1908: "I tell you confidentially that, after seeing Vandervelde, I cease to advise moderation, and shall say so to the private Congo Reform meeting called for the 21st." This tone made itself felt in the debate on the Address, and in two subsequent discussions. The points pressed for were, first, that Belgium in taking over the Congo should take over fully and honor the Free State's treaty obligations, and, secondly, that full guarantees should be given for native rights. [Footnote: On Sir Charles Dilke's action in regard to the Congo, see also Red Rubber (T. Fisher Unwin), pp. 4, 11, 177, 195; and Great Britain and the Congo (Smith, Elder and Co.), pp. 122, 124, 138, 142, 193, by Mr. E. D. Morel. The official organs of the Congo Reform Association from 1904 until Sir Charles's death contain a complete record of his speeches, both in the House and outside, during this period.]

But discussion in the Belgian Parliament showed reluctance to accept this view, and on November 4th, 1908, a strong memorandum was despatched by Great Britain. When Parliament reassembled in 1909, a question put by Sir Charles elicited the fact that no answer had been returned to this despatch, and an amendment to the Address was put down by a Unionist, Sir Gilbert Parker. Sir Charles, in supporting it, laid special stress on backing from America, being well aware that relations were strained in Europe.

His speech indicated some fear that the question might be submitted to the Hague Conference.

"That," he said, "is not our intention. That is not what Parliament meant. That is not the policy which successive Governments have given their adhesion to. In a state of Europe far more disturbed, even Lord Castlereagh several times took in similar matters far stronger action than is now necessary."

But the Parliament elected in 1906 did not see the end of this affair; and when they next met in February, 1910, King Leopold had died, and there was a new King of the Belgians. On March 10th, Sir George White moved upon the matter, pointing out that there was no improvement in the treatment of the natives and no extension of freedom for trade; and the Foreign Secretary replied in a somewhat ambiguous speech. Annexation, he said, had not yet received the sanction of Great Britain, and could not until improvement in the administration had taken place. But beyond this negative attitude of disapproval, Sir Edward Grey seemed to think that Great Britain could not wisely act alone, and that under the Berlin Act isolated action was in some measure barred. This, in the temper of the moment, was construed as a hint that insistence on reform might drive Belgium into the arms of Germany. Sir Charles said in this debate:

"There is one case, and one only, where I think we see very distinct signs of weakening in our policy, a weakening caused by terror, and undue terror, of the risks which may follow. The papers issued by the Belgian Government with regard to the Congo show a distinct weakening of attitude on our part.... In the Belgian despatch they treat us with contempt, with a sort of lofty scorn which is almost inconceivable. I have never known such a thing before; it is an entirely new departure.

"I believe the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has been here to-day, knowing that many members in all quarters of the House have incurred a certain disappointment, which is reflected in the letter in to-day's papers from the Archbishop of Canterbury, with regard to the speech with which he wound up the other night the short debate upon the Congo question.... He says that we have not weakened our position, that we have given nothing away, that we have not 'recognized.' But it is not a mere paper recognition or a paper non-recognition to which we attach high importance and which we formerly thought we understood from his speeches.... We have before us a Bill for the largest naval expenditure that our country has ever incurred in time of peace. We add for the first time to that expenditure colonial expenditure which swells out beyond that of our own Estimates. The House has supported those Estimates, and the Empire is spending on land forces even a larger amount than it is spending on the fleet. None of us believe that war is probable, but we do think, and many of us in this House believe, that the armaments of this country, if they are to have weight in time of peace, ought to have weight behind our diplomacy; and if they are to be justified by many of the arguments put before this House, there is no reason why at this moment we should be afraid of our own shadow. We have been afraid of our own shadow on the Congo question. I think there can be no doubt that we have received from M. Renkin, the Colonial Minister, such treatment as we have never had to put up with from any Power, at all events in recent years." Dilke warned members not to be silenced by unnecessary fears on these matters. "Not even a single question was asked in the far more dangerous case of the ultimatum which we now know was sent to the Turkish Government when they came into office in the beginning of 1906, in regard to the occupation of the village of Tabah. That ultimatum might have raised serious questions in that part of Europe. I think a little more courage would be desirable in a case like that of the Congo. It is not a question of ten pounds or one hundred pounds of somebody's property. We are shocked in the case of the Congo because that which would never happen is put as a conceivable danger at the end of a long train of hypothetical events. It is said that there might be an act of violence.... There would not be an act of violence, and I beg the House not to be led away by the fear of trifling complications following upon our insisting, not upon anything new, but upon that which we have been insisting upon for years past in a matter in which our moral obligation is very weighty."

Yet it was not Sir Charles's fortune to see the fulfilment of the long labour in which he had played so great a part. Not till three years later—in June, 19l3—did the Congo Reform Association feel that its work was completed, and that it could disband its forces.

Sir Charles's part had been to apply in Parliament the force that was generated outside. From a private position to have guided without seeming to dictate; to have inspired common action among colleagues holding all shades of political thought; to have avoided miscarriage by infinite tact and patience; to have possessed so wide a knowledge of all the complicated issues involved that official reluctance could never avoid action by mysterious pretexts; to have been always so moderate in expression that strong condemnation from him, when it came, was indeed weighty; to have watched time and opportunity, the dispositions of men, the temper of the assembly—all this was necessary to carry through such a Parliamentary task without the power of office, and all this Sir Charles performed. No finer example has been given of what in the Imperial Parliament a member of Parliament can do; and Sir Charles Dilke could well afford to be judged by it, and it alone, as typical of his life-work.



[Footnote: This and the two following chapters are by Mr. Spenser Wilkinson.]

In October, 1885, in the course of a speech delivered to his constituents, Dilke expressed his opinion on the subject of the reform of the army, then generally regarded as desirable, but also as so extremely difficult that the old Parliamentary hands shrank from grappling with it. "Everybody was agreed," he said, "upon this point, that we ought to have a strong navy, but there was more difference of opinion as to the army." Speaking personally, and without any authority from others, he felt desirous of throwing out a suggestion whether it would not be possible to have a separate army for India and the colonies, the army being treated as any other trade, and the men being permitted to withdraw when they pleased, with safeguards against the country being involved in loss when men came home prematurely. It would be necessary, of course, to have special training for cavalry, engineers, and artillery, as well as officers and non-commissioned officers; but he believed that for the great mass of the infantry, apart from the Indian and colonial army, we might safely rely upon the volunteers, and encourage volunteering by special advantages.

The suggestion thus modestly thrown out in 1885 proved to be the prelude of the effort of Dilke's later life—to prepare the country and the Empire for the times of storm and stress that were to come. His travels as a young man had given him an unrivalled acquaintance with the chief countries of the world, and especially with those which constitute the British Empire. In the spring of 1887, in his articles on "The Present Position of European Politics," as already seen, he passed in review the aims of the several Powers of Europe, and the military means which were available for their furtherance. His conclusion, expressed in the first sentence of the first article, was that "the present position of the European world is one in which sheer force holds a larger place than it has held in modern times since the fall of Napoleon." In this condition of Europe, the phenomenon that most impressed him was that "England is of all Powers the most unprepared for war." That being the case, it seemed to him to be the first duty of a British Government to set in order the nation's defences. The next five years he devoted chiefly to an effort to master the subject, to which he gave the name of Imperial Defence.

The spirit and method of Dilke's work on the subject of preparation for war mark him off from all his Parliamentary contemporaries into a class by himself. He took the subject of war seriously. He would not speak of it without knowledge, and, as he had not had the professional education of a naval or military officer, he associated himself as closely as possible in this part of his work with those who appeared to him the most completely to command the subject. His own words were: "Writing on the British Army as a civilian, I am only accepting an invitation which soldiers have often given to their fellow-countrymen. At the same time I have not the presumption to write without military help." [Footnote: The British Army, p. 1.]

He diligently studied the military literature of the day, English and foreign, treating of the questions he was considering, and collected a great number of official reports and other documents which he digested. At the same time he entered into correspondence with the best soldiers, in order to learn and appreciate their views. Prominent among these was Sir Frederick Roberts, then Commander-in-Chief in India, with whom during the whole period he was in constant communication. He also sought the collaboration of some congenial student of the problems of war, organization, and national defence, in order to insure the thorough discussion of all points, and to guard himself against the temptation to attach too much importance to his own impressions. He wished to acquaint himself with, and to reproduce in his writings, the best that was known and thought in the military world. In 1887, while writing his articles on European Politics, he frequently consulted in this way Colonel Charles Brackenbury, R.A., one of the most accomplished officers of the progressive school, a master of his profession and a clear exponent of its principles.

In this spirit and in these conditions was written the sixth article of the series on European Politics, published in June, 1887, and entitled "The United Kingdom." It was an account of the country's military weakness and a plea for a much-needed improvement of the army. "We spend more upon war services than does any other empire in the world.... It is believed abroad, and I fear with reason, that even within the last two years our stock of rifles was so small that there were only enough guns in store to arm the first-class army reserve, so that, in fact, there was from the military point of view no reserve of rifles, and that our ammunition stood at about a similar point of exhaustion.... The most capable men of the army tell us very frankly that they are almost in despair at its condition."

Assuming for the moment that all idea were given up of fulfilling the nation's treaty obligations for the defence of Turkey and of Belgium, and that no more were aimed at than the defence of India, of England, and of the colonies, "even upon this reduced estimate of our responsibilities, in the opinion of all competent men, we fall short of power to accomplish our task." In view of this state of things Dilke suggested methods of increasing the strength of the nation, and of obtaining value for the money spent. In the first place, "it is necessary for the statesmen, or if the statesmen will not, then for the public, to lay down for the soldiers a basis of military policy."

"It certainly seems clear, even to those who are not great scientific soldiers, that there is sufficient risk of invasion to make it essential to our position that we should have plenty of cavalry and artillery, plenty of officers, plenty of guns, ammunition, and other stores, always in readiness to supplement the large force of infantry which is provided for us by the militia and volunteers.... The things we need to keep in hand are the things which cannot be suddenly improvised—cavalry, artillery, transport, officers, and stores. We can, whatever some soldiers may say, make effective infantry of our volunteers in a short space of time."

"What we have to look to are, mainly, the defence of India, the defence of England, and the supply of a possible expeditionary force. For the defence of India we need, according to an opinion which I expressed at the date of the first introduction of short service, a long-service army." Dilke quoted Major Buxton's words: "For home service and European warfare we need a reserve, and therefore a short-service army. What difficulties do not hamper us in striving to reconcile short service with foreign service! Divide the two services and all becomes simple. The foreign service army ... requires yearly fewer recruits, becomes acclimatized, and has fewer green young men in its ranks; it is never relieved home, though it moves about abroad. The question of home and foreign reliefs is closed for ever. Recruits go out, and time-expired men come home; that is all." "On the other hand, for the home army," Dilke wrote, "I would rely very largely upon the militia or volunteers, and for the infantry privates of the expeditionary army, upon special volunteers from the militia or volunteers.... I am convinced that the time required, provided that your officers and non-commissioned officers are well trained, to make an infantry private is not very great."

"Instead of trying to imitate at one time the Prussians, and at another the French, we ought, in my belief, to strike out a thoroughly national system for ourselves"—the direction to be taken being that of "giving high efficiency to the elements which cannot be rapidly created in the home army, and the loyal adoption for the infantry of the principle of localization and of union with the militia and volunteers."

In the autumn and winter, with Brackenbury's collaboration, which was not disclosed, as Brackenbury was an officer on the active list, Dilke wrote for the Fortnightly Review a second series of articles, entitled, like the volume in which they were afterwards collected, The British Army. The first article appeared in November. After its publication, Lord Wolseley wrote: "I have at this moment finished what I may be allowed to call your very interesting military article in the Fortnightly Review. I trust it may be read by every voter, and may turn public opinion to the shortcomings of our army and of our military establishments." Dilke thereupon wrote to ask Wolseley for some account, of which public use might be made, of his views upon the condition of the army and of the necessary reforms. Wolseley replied at some length, and said: "I should not like any quotation made from this very hurriedly written letter, but if you care to do so you may say in any of your articles that I entertain these views and opinions." Wolseley's views were given, accordingly, in the third article, in a paraphrase of his letter.

A more complete exposition of England's unreadiness for war has never been written than was contained in The British Army. It revealed the neglect of successive Governments to ascertain and determine the purposes for which in war the army would be employed, and the standards, quantitative and qualitative, of the military forces which ought to be kept ready. It showed the evils of excessive centralization. For an expenditure as great as that of a Continental military Power the War Office maintained a regular army, as to which it was doubtful whether it could mobilize, in a condition to take the field, a single army corps. The militia was imperfectly officered. The volunteer force was of unequal quality, and the mass of its officers inadequately trained for war. It was without field artillery, and the guns with which in case of war it ought to be accompanied did not exist. The regular army at home was sacrificed to the necessity of furnishing reliefs to the army in India, which, however, was not in a condition to defend that country against serious attack.

The system on which Continental armies were raised, organized, and trained, was explained, and proposals were made for reform of the British system. The suggestion was repeated that the British army in India should be rendered independent of the military administration at home, and the home army be relieved of the burden of supplying reliefs to India. This would render possible the introduction of true short service at home, and the enlistment for the Indian army of men willing to serve for comparatively long periods as professional soldiers. It was maintained that for national defence it would be found necessary to rely mainly upon the volunteers, and that therefore they should be given a place in the system corresponding to the call which would have to be made upon them in case of war. In the regular army those elements should be specially maintained which least admit of rapid training—cavalry, field and horse artillery—and a General Staff of an English type ought to be developed.

The cogency of Sir Charles Dilke's appeal to his countrymen to attend to the subject of defence, the weight of authority behind his exposition of the failure of the military administration, and the appropriateness of the reforms which he suggested, will be better conveyed by the quotation of a few passages than by a summary:

"The reign of force of which I have often spoken is so marked at present that no Power can consider itself safe unless it is ready at any time to defend its interests." "Humanly speaking, we can trust for our protection in the last resort only to our strong right arm." "Time is slipping by, and the unreadiness of England is a danger to the peace of the world." "It is time that party politics should be put aside on questions relating to the national defence." He pointed out how dangerous was the influence of those "who may almost be said to oppose all military expenditure, and yet whose ability and honesty gave them a deserved influence with the electors." "It was impossible to adopt a policy of disarmament without grave danger for the future;" but if it was to be prevented, "the people have to be shown that large expenditure, not only upon naval but also upon military purposes, is a necessity of the time." He deprecated "the unwisdom of those who, thinking our present position unsatisfactory, and more or less agreeing about the main lines of the remedies to be applied, fight among themselves.... The points which have a real importance are not those on which we differ, but those upon which we are agreed."

The first question that he wished to have cleared up was what the country would fight for. He pointed out that England was bound by treaty to support the defence of Turkey against Russia, though he doubted whether English opinion would support that policy, and to defend the neutrality of Belgium, as to which he thought the attitude of Governments had been ambiguous. He would himself approve of fulfilling our treaty obligations as regards that country, but he said: "If indeed we are to defend the neutrality of Belgium, we may at any time find ourselves involved in a Continental war against Germany, with France and Belgium for our Allies." He was prepared to accept as a minimum basis for preparation the assumption "that we ought to defend the coaling-stations, to be in a position to defend ourselves in India and at home, and to send, if need were, two army corps abroad as an expeditionary force."

One great difficulty of proving a case against the sufficiency and efficiency of the army lay in the fact "that, while soldiers are very willing to communicate information in their possession as to our present weakness, to those who, they think may help in any degree to set things straight, they not unnaturally shrink from the publication of their names." Yet Dilke was able to express the views of Sir Frederick Roberts, communicated to him very fully, and more briefly those of Lord Wolseley. He was also able to quote Wolseley's statement to a Royal Commission, that "if a hostile force of, say, 100,000 men were to land upon our shores, there is no reason whatever, if that 100,000 were properly led, why they should not take possession of London.... We are not in the position we ought to be in, nor do I believe we are in the position we should be in if the English people were told the whole truth."

"The inefficiency of our present organization, and its wastefulness, are admitted by persons who differ as greatly the one from the other as, on the one hand, the chief of the 'Economists,' Lord Randolph Churchill, and, on the other, the soldiers who are the object of his scorn—Lord Wolseley, Sir Frederick Roberts, and General Brackenbury. [Footnote: General Sir Henry Brackenbury, brother of Colonel Charles Brackenbury.] Our present position is, therefore, condemned all round, and the day has come when it behoves every Englishman to have an opinion as to the direction in which the remedy is to be sought."

"To form armies which will be of any value against the power of 'armed nations,' it is necessary to provide modern weapons, and here again we are weak just where we should be strong.... It is one of the most astonishing features of our 'system' that, with all our enormous expenditure, we manage to drop behind other nations both in the quality of our weapons and the proportional number of them to the hands that would have to use them. The reason probably is that the country has gradually arrived at the absurd belief that Great Britain alone of all nations in the world can by prudence escape the common lot, and never have war again except with savages. From this unfounded and unwise opinion springs grave carelessness as to the condition of the military forces, and Governments desirous of presenting a comparatively small Budget fail to keep up the necessary quantity of arms and stores, because deficiency in these is a weakness easy to conceal.... Thus we, who should always be in a state of readiness to supply arms to improvised forces, and to colonial levies, have never enough for the purposes of the home army. We are always compromising between the popularity of a Government and the safety of the Empire."

It will be shown later on how Dilke, when the time came, upheld this opinion by his vote in Parliament, even against his own party and to the sacrifice of his own political interests.

"For an expenditure of nineteen millions the Germans can put into the field nineteen army corps of 37,000 men each, besides an enormous force of garrison troops and a territorial army, of which they could rapidly make a field army of thirty-five army corps in all. For an expenditure of twice nineteen millions we can put into the field in India two army corps, of which one is composed of native troops, but in the United Kingdom, in General Brackenbury's words, owing to our defective organization, we should scarcely be able to put one; but if the army were properly organized we should be able to put two into the field."

Yet it could not be said that the British army fell short in numbers:

"The army proper, the militia, the army reserve and militia reserve, the volunteers, the native troops in India, the 36,000 Canadian militia of the first line, about 16,000 men in Australia and New Zealand, the South African local forces of between six and seven thousand well-trained men, the Irish constabulary, the armed and drilled portion of the Indian constabulary, the Hyderabad contingent, and the marines, easily make up a total of a million of men fit for some kind of land service, of whom very nearly the whole are supposed to serve even in time of peace."

"We are more saving of peace taxes than of war debt.... If the arrangement for strict saving in time of peace and for wild waste in time of war was ever a wise one, which in my opinion it was not, even in the days of old-fashioned armies, it is certainly foolish in these times of rapid mobilization.... We are in these times exposed to war at a day's notice, and to invasion at very short notice, if our fleet can be divided or drawn away and beaten in detail."

"We are not without men who could reduce our non-system to system. Sir F. Roberts, who has partly done this in India so far as the white army goes, and has attempted, in spite of resistance at home, to reform the native force—Sir F. Roberts could do it. Lord Wolseley, whose organization of each of his expeditions has been careful, energetic, and in every way remarkable, and who in his Soldier's Pocket-Book has produced the best of all handbooks to the elements of the art of war—Lord Wolseley could do it. But the existing system does not do it."

In examining the Continental system, Dilke enumerated what he thought the principal points. They were, first of all, personal service by all men, which produced an enormous trained reserve; then complete localization both of troops and stores; fully worked out plans of mobilization and arrangements for obtaining horses instantly on the outbreak of war; and last, but not least, "the organization of a General Staff which shall act as the brain and nervous system of the army, and shall draw to it and pass through its training as large a number of officers as possible, so that experienced staff officers shall be numerous in the event of war."

In spite of his appreciation of the Continental system, Dilke did not advocate universal compulsory service:

"Many of my correspondents cannot understand why I do not advocate for the British army that same general service which now prevails almost universally on the Continent, and brings with it so many good fruits both for the nation and the army. I have, as I have shown, no personal objection to it, but I have pointed out the existence of a fatal obstacle in certain forms of English and Scotch religious and certain forms of English commercial thought. It would be unpractical to consider at length a measure which stands no present chance of adoption. The time may come when we shall be drawn into a struggle for life or death, and it seems to me that it will very probably come within the next ten years, and maybe bring with it the necessity for that general service which would now be impossible of attainment. For our present ideas of the imperial position general service is not necessary, and, moreover, until some capacity is shown for organizing the troops which we already possess, I do not see the slightest use in obtaining a large number of fresh men. But, in view of the reign of force which now exists in Europe, and of slowly but surely advancing danger in the East, it is impossible to contemplate an ideal defence of the Empire without supposing that the inhabitants of Great Britain and all her colonies may arrive at a condition in which every strong man shall recognize that he owes to the State some kind of defensive military service. I have tried to make it plain that such service need not be in the regular army; still less need any man with us be taken against his will to fight outside the limits of his own country. But there can be no ideal defence in which the bulk of the population is not trained, however slightly, in the handling of military weapons, and the individual man trained in spirit to believe that the hearths and homes where his sisters or his wife live free from danger owe their immunity from attack, not merely to a half-despised 'mercenary army,' but to the strength and the skill of his own right arm."

"My first condition for an ideal British organization would be freedom of the fleet from the calls of local defence. The maritime fortresses and coaling-stations should all be capable of defending themselves." This meant, of course, guns and garrisons. "My second ideal principle would be to look to local help for all garrisons where that system is possible, we retaining always a large staff of specially well-trained officers for the purpose of organizing and commanding local levies in war."

Dilke thought it needful for England to train as many officers as possible, especially as she had an ample supply of men capable, if trained, of being good officers.

"Is it possible to conceive a more absurd situation than that of the wealthiest country in the world, with a vast reserve of high-blooded youth lying idle, and enormous masses of warlike people, Sikhs, Goorkhas, Mahrattas, Zulus, Arabs, Malays, and what not, under our hands 'spoiling for a fight,' while this nation is unprepared to defend its own possessions and its very existence in circumstances which all know to be more than likely to occur? This nation, our nation, might absolutely keep the peace of the world, yet shivers at every breeze of Continental politics."

Dilke's scheme was for a professional army for India and for a citizen army at home, in which the bulk of the infantry would be volunteers, while the special arms and the infantry of two army corps, destined to be an expeditionary force, would be short-service soldiers. It was in its broad outlines a forecast of the actual development that has taken place. In particular he proposed, what was carried out by Lord Haldane's Act, that "the militia should become liable to general service in war, and should be organized and equipped accordingly. The volunteers should be liable to be called out for home defence whenever the two army corps were sent out of the kingdom."

"My first object," he said in conclusion, "has been to point out how seriously our national military strength falls behind our requirements, and how unready we always are, in spite of our huge expenditure. My second object was to show that what we want most is, not a great and expensive increase of the regular army, but an endeavour to make the best possible use of what we have already, by proper organization and by utilizing to the utmost the voluntary principle, which best suits our national temper and that of the colonies.... We stand in presence of new forces the power of which is almost incalculable, and, while I admit that there are in the army a great number of able men, perhaps more than there ever were, capable both of creating new systems and of leading us to victory, I am inclined to think that their characters have been formed in spite of an obsolete and decaying system, and that they are restrained by the incapacity of others and the carelessness of the country from exercising the influence which their talents and energy ought to command. If the question were one of commerce, liberty, or progress in civil affairs, the nation would be interested, and would bring the resources of its accumulated knowledge to bear on the subject. But being, as it is, a question without the right settlement of which neither commerce nor liberty is safe, the public is so little in earnest about it that politicians are allowed to play with it, and the serious needs of self-defence are sacrificed to the poor aim of keeping constituencies in good-humour. Nothing can or will be done by Governments of any party till the nation can be roused to some expression of public opinion; and that opinion has to be formed before it can be expressed. In the reign of force which now prevails throughout Europe, carelessness as to our power of defence is culpable beyond possibility of exaggeration, for we may have to defend not only our individual interests as a nation, but all that enormous influence for the good of mankind which is at present exercised in the remotest parts of the earth by an enormous Empire bent on preventing war and on spreading the blessings of peace."

Coming when it did, The British Army made an impression on the educated public. It followed soon after the report of Sir James Stephen's Commission, which had exposed the chaotic condition of the administration of the army. Dilke revealed a grasp of every branch of the subject. His criticisms reflected the judgment of officers familiar with the branch of service discussed. His proposals were modest and intelligible, and in every case represented some body of competent military opinion. He told the public much that none of his readers fully appreciated at the time. The German army had been largely increased in the spring of 1887, and in the beginning of 1888 a Bill passed the Reichstag which increased by a further 700,000 men the numbers available in case of war. Dilke explained in one of his chapters that, "according to the calculations of the French Staff, the total number of armed men upon which Germany would be able to draw for all purposes would exceed 7,000,000." [Footnote: The British Army, p. 161.] This and other forecasts may startle those readers whose curiosity tempts them to read the volume again in 1917. But the work produced no practical result except to put Dilke into the front rank of army reformers. The Government took no action to remedy the military weakness which everyone recognized. The report of the Stephen Commission remained a dead letter. In June, 1888, a new Royal Commission was issued, in which the Marquis of Hartington, associated with a number of colleagues of Cabinet rank and with a General and an Admiral, was instructed to inquire into the administration of the naval and military departments. The attempt at reform was postponed until these Commissioners should have made their report.




Sir Charles Dilke's visit to India in 1888-1889 convinced him that he had been right in believing the Indian army to be better prepared for war than the portion of the army which was kept at home. A great difficulty he now saw was that there were two rival plans of campaign, the one cherished in India, the other by officers at home. "The greater number of Indian officers expect to march with a large force into Afghanistan to meet the Russians, and believe that reinforcements will be sent from England to swell their armies and to make up for losses in the field. On the other hand, the dominant school in England expect to send an expedition from England, in combination with Turkey or some other allied Power, to attack Russia in other quarters." Dilke was led accordingly to the general conclusion that the one thing needful was "that we should try to remove the consideration of these subjects from the home or the Indian or the Canadian point of view, and should take a general view of the possibilities of Imperial defence."

The attempt to take this imperial view was made in Problems of Greater Britain, which Dilke wrote during the remainder of the year 1889. In this work he discussed the defence of the North-West Frontier of India as a prelude to the examination of the defence of the British Empire. His reason for this separate treatment was that "only on this one of all the frontiers of the Empire the British dominion is virtually conterminous with the continental possessions of a great military Power." He showed that the serious import of this condition was understood by all who knew India well and by both the political parties in England. He dissented from the view that security could be obtained by an agreement with Russia, because it was not easy to see "how Russia could put it out of her own power at any moment to threaten us on the North-West Frontier." The suggestion that Russia should be allowed to occupy the northern portion of Afghanistan he rejected, first because it would have been a flagrant breach of faith with the Amir, and secondly because it would give to Russia territory which she could quickly transform into a base of operations against India.

He thought that Russia could not invade India with a good chance of success if she started from her present frontier, but that if she were allowed to occupy the northern portion of Afghanistan the Indian Government would be put to ruinous expense for the defensive preparations which would then be required. [Footnote: 'Lord Dufferin wrote to me from the Embassy at Rome to express his satisfaction with the Indian portion of my book, and especially those passages in which I demonstrated the exceeding folly of which we should be guilty if ever we consented to a partition of Afghanistan with Russia.'] He noted that the policy of advance upon our left, which he had recommended in 1868, had been adopted with success, chiefly by the efficacy of the Sandeman system of recognizing and supporting the tribal chiefs and requiring them to maintain order, and also by the occupation and fortification of the position of Quetta and by the opening of roads from Quetta through the Gomul and other passes to the Indus at Dera Ismail Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan. This would enable an Indian army to attack the right flank of any Russian force attempting to advance along the Khyber line, which would be resisted in the Khyber hills and at Attock, and be stopped at the fortress of Rawal Pindi. Generally speaking, he held that Indian "defence must be by the offensive with the field army, and the less we have to do with fortifications, the better." He urged the extension northwards of the Sandeman system to all the independent tribes between the Indian and the Afghan borders. If the separate armies for the Presidencies were to be united under a single Commander-in-Chief, as the Indian Government had long desired, and if the principle of enlisting in the native army only men of fighting races were fully adopted, and the native Princes induced to place effective contingents at the disposal of the Government, he thought that India with reinforcements from home would be well able to resist a Russian attack starting from the frontier that Russia then possessed.

But if Russia should once be established at Herat, with railway communications to that point, there would be hardly any limit to the force with which it would become necessary to resist her. He therefore urged that the Russian Government should be given to understand that any advance of her forces into Afghanistan would be regarded by England as a hostile act. At the same time he admitted that it was difficult to see how Russia was in that event to be fought. He still thought that she would be vulnerable at Vladivostock—at any rate until her railway to the Pacific should be completed [Footnote: He considered that, with a view to any future struggle with Russia, the abandonment of Port Hamilton in 1886 by Lord Salisbury had been unfortunate. See, as to Port Hamilton, Life of Granville, ii. 440; Europe and the Far East, by Sir Robert Douglas, pp. 190, 248]—but he was aware that this view was shared neither by the Indian nor the British officers likely to be heard.

In his chapter on Indian Defence Dilke had exhausted the subject from the Indian point of view. He was fully acquainted with the ideas of all those who had been seriously concerned with the problem, of which he had discussed every aspect with them, and his exposition was complete. When in his last chapter he came to "examine the conditions of the defence of the Empire as a whole, and to try to find some general principle for our guidance," he was to a great extent breaking new ground. The subject had been treated in 1888 by Colonel Maurice, afterwards General Sir Frederick Maurice, in his essay on the Balance of Military Power in Europe, but Maurice based his scheme on the assumption of a Continental alliance which Dilke thought impracticable. It had also been treated with great insight as early as 1880 by Sir John Colomb in his Defence of Great and Greater Britain. His brother Admiral Philip Colomb had more recently expounded the view that the right plan was to make the enemy's coasts our frontier, and to blockade the whole of his ports, so that it would be impossible for his fleets to issue forth. This seemed to Dilke to imply a superiority of naval force which England did not possess, and was not then intending to create. But Sir John Colomb in 1880 had admitted the absolute necessity of being prepared to render invasion impossible by purely military forces. "It was necessary," he had said, "that invasion be efficiently guarded against, so that, should our home fleet be temporarily disabled, we may, under cover of our army, prepare and strengthen it to regain lost ground and renew the struggle for that which is essential to our life as a nation and our existence as an Empire."

Sir Charles Dilke thought this sound sense, and that it was rash, in view of the inadequate strength of the actual navy and of the uncertainty as to the effect of new inventions on naval warfare, to count upon beginning a future war with a repetition of Trafalgar. He admitted that the navy, if concentrated in home waters, would be fully able to defend the United Kingdom, but that the fleets if so concentrated must abandon the remainder of the Empire, and that this would involve the destruction of our commerce and would be as severe a blow to the Empire as the invasion of England. He inferred that the navy must be the chief agent in defence, but backed by fortification and by land forces. There ought to be squadrons in distant seas strong enough to hold their own, without reinforcements, against probable enemies on the same stations. The coaling ports must be suitably fortified and have all the troops necessary for their garrisons on the spot in time of peace. [Footnote: Autumn of 1889: 'Among those with whom I corresponded about my book was Lord Charles Beresford, who gave me a great deal of information about coaling-stations for my chapter on Imperial Defence, in which I also had Charles Brackenbury's help to a considerable extent.'] He carefully considered the question of food-supply at home and the possibility of a commercial blockade of the United Kingdom. He did not think that such a blockade could be established or maintained. "Our manufactures would be seriously assailed, our food-supply would become precarious, but we should not be brought to the point of surrender by absolute starvation, and the possibility of invasion is not excluded, as some of the naval school pretend, by the fact that it would be unnecessary."

"On the other hand, a defeat or a temporary absence of the fleet might lead to bombardments, attacks upon arsenals, and even to invasion, if our mobile land forces, our fortifications and their garrisons, were not such as to render attacks of any kind too dangerous to be worth attempting. In the absence of the fleet a landing could not be prevented. But the troops landed ought to be attacked. For this purpose we do not need an immense number of ill-trained, badly-equipped, and unorganized troops, but an army completely ready to take the field and fight in the open, supplied with a well-trained field artillery."

But the mere protection of Great and Greater Britain was not enough. "It is idle to suppose that war could be brought to a termination unless we are prepared in some way to obtain advantages over the enemy such as to cause him to weary of the struggle. The riposte is as necessary in warfare as in fencing, and defence must include the possibility of counter-attack." "In view of almost any conceivable hostilities, we ought to be prepared to supply arms and officers to native levies which would support our Empire in various portions of the globe." But we had too few officers for our own troops at home, in India, and in the auxiliary forces. The stocks of arms ought to be larger than they were, and there ought to be centres of production for them in various parts of the Empire. "The moneys that the British Empire spends upon defence are immensely great, and what is wanted is that those moneys should be spent as is decided by the best advisers who can be obtained." "The main thing needed for a joint organization of the whole of the defensive forces of the Empire is the creation of a body of men whose duty it would be to consider the questions raised, and to work out the answers." For this purpose he thought the one thing needful was a General Staff, an institution of which he gave a brief account, based on Mr. Spenser Wilkinson's essay The Brain of an Army, of which the author had sent him the proofs. "A General Staff," Dilke wrote, "would neither inspect troops nor regulate the promotion of the army, but it would decide the principles which would arrange the distribution of the Imperial forces.... The very existence of a General Staff would constitute a form of Imperial military federation."


In December, 1890, Dilke read before the Statistical Society a paper on the Defence Expenditure of the Chief Military and Naval Powers. He had taken great pains to ascertain what each Power spent on its army and navy, and what return it obtained for its money. The net result was that, while France and Germany for an expenditure of about 28 millions sterling could each of them put into the field a mobile force of two million men, the British Empire, at a cost of 35-1/2 millions, had "a nominal force of 850,000 of various degrees of training wholly unorganized, and supplied only with the professional artillery needed for a force of about 150,000 men." The British navy was more formidable than the French, and "the German navy does not as yet exist. I say 'as yet,' for the Germans mean business with their navy, and have begun, in a businesslike manner, at the top, putting at the head of it their best administrators." The French were spending altogether on defence a total of 36 to 36-1/2 millions, the Germans 38, and the British Empire 57 millions. The moral was that, "whatever the peace expenditure, war cannot be commenced with a fair chance of winning by a nation which waits until war to make her organization perfect. Germany before 1870 prepared in time of peace her corps, her armies, and provided them all with officers for the various commands, who knew what their duties would be in war. All countries spending much on their armies now do the same, except the United Kingdom, which stands alone in having still practically little but a regimental system in existence. But although we are old-fashioned, to the point of being utterly unprepared (except in India) for the stress of war, we nevertheless spend sums so vast as to stagger and amaze even the French and German critics, who ought to be pretty well used, one would think, to large sums for military expenditure." [Footnote: Sir Charles notes in 1893: 'Sir William Harcourt on the British Army: "One knows a man who has ten thousand a year, sixteen horses, and ten carriages, and yet if one guest comes he has difficulty to find a dogcart to meet him, and if two come a fly has to be hired. The British nation also spends its money freely, and has equal difficulty in meeting the slightest emergency."']

Early in 1891 Dilke proposed to Spenser Wilkinson that they should join in writing a new popular book on Imperial Defence. During that year the two men kept up a constant correspondence, and Wilkinson was frequently Dilke's guest in London, at Dockett and Pyrford, and in the Forest of Dean. At Whitsuntide Dilke stayed at Aldershot (where Wilkinson was in camp with his old volunteer battalion, the 2nd Manchester), and went every day to see the regiment at work.

In September, on the eve of Dilke's starting for the French manoeuvres, Wilkinson sent him the draft of an introduction to the proposed book. It challenged the widely-held opinion that war is wicked in itself, and might by political arrangement be rendered unnecessary, and deprecated the abstention from inquiry into its methods which this opinion encouraged. It challenged the maxim 'No foreign policy,' which meant either having no relations with other countries, or, having such relations, conducting them without system. War should be conceived of as imposed upon States by an irreconcilable opposition of purposes, and was always a means to an end. Peace could not be secured by a policy which adopts it as a supreme end. The confusion between defence as a political attitude and defence as an operation of war had led to the neglect, by English public opinion, of all naval and military preparations that might be available for attack. But the essential elements of defensive strength, fleets and armies, were mobile and equally available for offensive operations, and no efficient preparation for defence was possible that would not also serve for attack. Without a clear and true conception of the character of war as a conflict of national purposes, proper conduct of military operations and of defensive preparations was impossible, and to its absence was due the unorganized condition of the defence of the Empire. Dilke, in acknowledging the manuscript, wrote: "I've read it all and like it, but shall shorten it a little," and in returning the manuscript, with his modifications, wrote: "The introduction is most excellent—stately and interesting: I can say this, as it is almost all yours." Wilkinson then sent a chapter entitled "The Primacy of the Navy."

"An attack on land conducted across the sea is a most hazardous speculation so long as there exists anywhere a hostile fleet that is able to fight. In order to make such an attack safe, it is indispensable that the attacker should secure himself from all interruption by destroying or driving from the sea any hostile fleet. The Power which should succeed in doing this would have 'the command of the sea' as against its particular enemy.... The territories of the Power having command of the sea are virtually safe against attack by sea.... The British navy, then, so long as it maintains the superiority at sea is a sufficient protection against invasion for every part of the Empire except India and Canada. If, however, the navy were to suffer decisive defeat, if it were driven to seek the shelter of its fortified harbours and kept there, or if it were destroyed—then, not only would every part of the Empire be open to invasion, but the communication between the several parts would be cut, and no mutual succour would be possible.

"The defeat of the British fleet or fleets would, of course, be effected by purely naval operations; but the acquiescence in its destruction could, perhaps, only be secured by a blow affecting the British power at its source, and therefore the establishment by an enemy of his naval superiority would almost certainly be followed by an invasion of Great Britain. So long, then, as the British navy can be maintained invincible, the Empire could be adequately defended against attack of any European Power other than Russia, and for such a defence, therefore, no more is needed than complete naval preparation, and such military preparation as is required for the full efficiency of the navy. Any additional military preparation is, as against attack of this nature, merely an insurance to cover the possibility of the failure of the navy. After such failure, it might save the British Islands, but it could not save the Empire."

Dilke wrote that this doctrine was the opposite of what he had previously held and preached, and expressed a doubt whether, that being the case, the book could go on as a joint work. Wilkinson replied that the first question was whether the doctrine of the chapter was sound, and that the question of the names on the title-page could wait till the work was done.

In Problems of Greater Britain Dilke had discussed the view of Sir John Colomb and of his brother, Admiral Colomb. The Admiral appeared to rely upon "blockade," which required a navy much stronger than Great Britain possessed, and might, with modern weapons and the torpedo, be impracticable of execution, while Sir John Colomb appeared to admit the necessity of purely military forces to prevent invasion. Dilke, looking at the extent of the Empire to be defended, had thought that the concentration of the navy in home waters must involve the abandonment of the rest of the Empire. This is the view usually held by those who are thinking of what they have to protect. Wilkinson thought first of the enemy's forces and how to destroy them. If they can be destroyed, the enemy is helpless and the territories of the victor are safe, because the enemy has no force with which to molest them. On the appearance of Problems, Dilke, as the extracts from his Diary at that time show, had begun to doubt whether this view was not the right one; Wilkinson's exposition and the discussion which accompanied it completed his conversion. This was the turning-point of his studies of Imperial Defence.

The next chapter was headed "The Command of the Sea." Here the debated doctrine was applied.

"The purpose of Great Britain to render her territories secure would be perfectly accomplished by the destruction of the enemy's navy, as this would render any attempt at the transport of troops impracticable. The destruction of the enemy's navy would, of course, also be the best possible protection for England's sea-borne trade (though, no doubt, for this purpose additional measures would be required), and for her communications with every part of her Empire. Thus, in every possible war in which Great Britain could engage, the prime function of the British navy is to attack, and if possible to destroy, the organized naval forces of the enemy."

Suppose the enemy sought battle, the question would soon be decided, but if he wished to avoid it the difficulty would be to find him and to compel him to accept it. For this purpose the best plan was that adopted in 1803 by Lord St. Vincent, which consisted in placing at the outset, in front of every one of the enemy's military ports, a British squadron superior to that which the enemy had within it. This was incorrectly termed "blockade," as the object was not to prevent the issue of the French fleets from their ports, but to prevent their exit unwatched and to fight them when they should come out. This plan must be supplemented by a reserve fleet, and by numerous cruisers to hunt such of the enemy's cruisers as might be at large. The alternative plan of Lord Howe, of concentrating the fleet at one of the home ports, was also discussed, but considered less advantageous, as it left the enemy's fleet free to proceed to sea. But it was shown that the navy of 1891 was twenty battleships short of the number believed by naval officers to be required for the successful adoption of St. Vincent's plan against the French navy alone.

The defence of India was treated in two chapters entitled "The Peace of India" and "The North-West Frontier," which were in substance a restatement of the view expressed in Problems of Greater Britain.

The chapter on "The Armies" was a translation into specific shape, with full details and calculations, of Dilke's idea of a separation between the British and Indian systems. It was argued that the militia and volunteers should be organized into army corps with permanent fully paid commanders and the necessary auxiliary troops, and it was pointed out that the volunteer department of the War Office ought to be entrusted to volunteer officers. A chapter on "The Management of the Home Army" asserted that "Any system proposed for the better management of the army must satisfy three distinct conditions: It must be framed with a view to the preparation of the army for war; it must secure unimpaired the authority of the Cabinet; and it must provide for an efficient control over expenditure by the House of Commons." The first requirement of a sound system was a general who could be entrusted with the duty of advising the Cabinet upon the conduct of war and with the actual management of campaigns. He ought to have a proper general staff and the field troops at home should be organized into localized autonomous army corps. "The British army at home has no generals, and can have none until its battalions are settled and grouped into brigades, divisions, and army corps." There must be a second general charged with all branches of supply.

Any satisfactory Admiralty system, it was pointed out, would provide a competent naval adviser for the Cabinet. But it was doubted "whether it will be possible to secure unity of design in defence so long as the War Office and the Admiralty are separately represented in the Cabinet. The difficulty would be overcome if it became the practice for one Minister to hold both offices." Dilke had long had the common-sense idea that a single Minister ought to have general charge of all the preparations for war and its conduct by sea and land.

He had made excisions and additions in the chapters as they had reached him, and had closely scrutinized the expression throughout. The whole book was read through by the two men together, and each point discussed to complete agreement. Dilke then proposed that it should appear in Wilkinson's name, as it was substantially Wilkinson's work, and that he himself might write a preface. Wilkinison said that it was a joint work, that the idea of the book was Dilke's, that its substance was the outcome of the intimate exchange of views between them, and that it ought to bear both their names. In his diary Dilke wrote: "Wilkinson's part in it was far greater than mine, though we argued out the whole." When the book appeared, Admiral Colomb wrote to Dilke: "On reading the introduction and the first and second chapters, I am inclined to sing 'Nunc dimittis,' for, as far as I can understand the matter, you put forward all the views for which I have contended; and coming thus from your hands, I think they will henceforth be current views." Dilke sent the letter to Wilkinson, noting on it: "Colomb thinks he has converted me. I reply, he couldn't. You did—after he had failed." He regarded his collaboration with Wilkinson as an intellectual partnership in regard to defence, and hardly ever spoke or wrote on the subject without referring to it.

The development of Sir Charles Dilke's thoughts on defence has now been fully traced and his method of work revealed. His mind was unreservedly open to take in the thoughts of others, and he was incessantly trying to know the best that was thought and said concerning the subjects that interested him. He assimilated the substance of a vast correspondence, and on every topic the ideas which he received became a part of him. His intellectual life was thus an incessant dialectic with the best minds of his time. But he never accepted ideas from others without the most generous acknowledgment, and did not, as so many men do, proceed, after assimilating another man's thought, to imagine that it was his own invention. This intellectual candour, involving a rare modesty and absence of affectation, was one of his finest characteristics.




In 1892, when Sir Charles Dilke returned to the House of Commons as member for the Forest of Dean, his mind was made up in regard to the subject of national defence, and from that time on he worked in and out of Parliament to bring about an organization for war of the resources of the nation and of the Empire.

At that time the management of both services was hampered by the accumulated changes made by three generations of statesmen intent upon home affairs, under which were buried and hidden the traditions of an earlier period of wars. In 1857 the Duke of Cambridge had been appointed Commander-in-Chief in deference to the belief of the Prince Consort, inspired by Baron Stockmar, that in order to avert revolution the royal authority over the army must be exercised through a Prince, and not through the channel of a Minister responsible to Parliament. The Duke thought it his mission to resist changes, and his obstruction had been the bane of successive Ministers. Accordingly, the statesmen of Cabinet rank and experience were anxious at all cost to establish the supremacy of the Cabinet over the army, and for this purpose had welcomed the proposal of the Hartington Commission to abolish the office of Commander-in-Chief whenever the Duke of Cambridge should cease to hold that post. The Commission had not considered that a change of persons might solve the difficulty, and was led astray by the proposal to appoint "a Chief of the Staff," who was to be, not the strategical adviser of the head of the army, but rather its administrator in chief. In every modern army there is a Chief of the General Staff to assist the Commander-in-Chief, the principal executive officer, as well as an Administrator-General to manage the business of supply. The Hartington Commission proposed to give the name "Chief of the Staff" to an Administrator-General. It further proposed the creation of a Committee of the Cabinet to hold the balance between the requirements of the War Office and those of the Admiralty.

Dilke recognized as fully as the occupants of either front bench the necessity for the paramount authority of the Cabinet. He also felt the need for co-ordination between the War Office and the Admiralty, and considered that both these needs would best be met by a single Minister, the Prime Minister, supervising or taking charge of both offices. The essence of co-ordination would consist in framing the arrangements for both services with a single eye to victory in war.

Dilke's first step was to get into touch with those members of Parliament who were most keenly interested in the army and navy.

'On February 21st (1893) I had a meeting, which I had suggested, with Lord Wolmer, General Sir George Chesney, and H. O. Arnold-Forster, and agreed on joint action in all service matters, and to attend the meeting of the service members fixed for the next day, to which, although civilians, Arnold-Forster and I were asked. We wrote Wolmer's motion for him.'

At this time Campbell-Bannerman was Secretary of State for War. On March 9th the House was to go into Committee of Supply, and on the motion "that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair" Lord Wolmer moved "that in the opinion of this House the present system of military administration fails to secure either due economy in time of peace or efficiency for national defence." Lord Wolmer in his speech referred to the breakdown in the system of recruiting which had been disclosed in the report of Lord Wantage's Committee. He was supported by Sir George Chesney, who referred to the report of Sir James Stephen's Commission as "a scathing exposure of mismanagement," and to that of the Hartington Commission as "an unqualified and alarming denunciation of our military system." Arnold-Forster also supported the resolution, in favour of which Dilke made a short and incisive speech. Campbell-Bannerman declined to take the discussion seriously. "The first observation," he said, "that must occur to anyone reading the motion is, What in the world has the report of Lord Wantage's Committee to do with the present system of military administration? It is as if the noble lord were to call attention to the Tenterden Steeple, and to move that the Goodwin Sands are a danger to navigation." But the breakdown of recruiting was the crucial evidence of the weakness of the military administration.

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