In September, 1893, the question of the then recent appointment of the Duke of Connaught to the command at Aldershot was raised in the House of Commons by Mr. Dalziel. It was defended by Campbell-Bannerman on the ground that the Duke possessed sufficient qualifications for the post. If that had been the sole question, said Dilke, he should have supported the Government.
"But there was another point. Aldershot was a training-school not only for the men and regimental officers there employed, but also for the Generals commanding. It might be said to be the only school in the United Kingdom where a general officer could obtain experience in commanding men in battle, and therefore only officers who were likely to command armies in case of serious war ought to be put in command of such a place. Was it likely that the Duke of Connaught, under the circumstances, would be called upon to take the chief command against a European enemy in case of war?"
In the division Dilke voted against the appointment.
On December 19th Lord George Hamilton moved a resolution "that a considerable addition should at once be made to the navy." Mr. Gladstone regarded this proposal as a vote of censure on the Government, and delivered an indignant reply. Dilke deprecated making the navy a subject of party controversy, and made an appeal to his Liberal friends:
"All naval experts who have been consulted on the question have always laid it down that, for safety, you must have a supremacy of five to three in battleships, that you require that supremacy for the policy of blockade.... If ever we engage in war ... it is a necessity of the position of this country that our frontiers should be at the enemy's ports.... I know this is not a popular policy, but the existence of the Empire depends upon it.... Liberals should give up thinking of this question of national defence as a hateful one, and as one against which they ought to close their eyes and ears. I know that, in these days of great armaments on the Continent, the old tradition of the Liberal party, that they should look to the possibility of using the forces of this country on behalf of Continental freedom, has become a dream of the past. They must remember that our liberties at home depend upon the efficiency of our fleet, and that, beyond this, the very existence of our Empire is concerned in the question which the House is at this moment debating."
The sequel to this debate was Mr. Gladstone's retirement in February, 1894.
Early in the autumn of 1893 Dilke had talked over with Spenser Wilkinson the line to be taken in Parliament by the service members. Wilkinson had urged as a preliminary some effort to obtain agreement among the "experts," suggesting that Chesney as the ablest of them all should first be approached. On November 8th Chesney and Wilkinson dined at Sloane Street, and, Chesney having expressed his general concurrence in the views as to administration explained in Imperial Defence, Dilke proposed that Wilkinson should draft a letter to the Prime Minister, embodying the main points, to be signed by all three and by Arnold- Forster, if he should be in accord with them, and to be sent not only to Mr. Gladstone, but to the leaders of the Opposition. The result was the following letter, which was eventually signed and sent on February 12th, 1894, to Mr. Gladstone (then Prime Minister), to Lord Salisbury, the Duke of Devonshire, Mr. Balfour, and Mr. Chamberlain:
The late debate in the House of Commons on the subject of the navy was one of many symptoms of a widespread uneasiness with regard to the defences of the Empire. There is a doubt of the sufficiency of the naval establishments and of the efficiency in some respects of the systems under which the navy and the army are administered. This failure of confidence has been of gradual growth. Those who think it justified do not attribute the responsibility for it to any one administration or to either party in the State. Yet it seems difficult to discuss these doubts in Parliament without, at least, the appearance of censure upon the Government of the day, a result which is unfortunate, for the subject should unite rather than divide parties, and upon its paramount importance there is no difference of opinion.
For this reason a service may perhaps be rendered by the communication to the Prime Minister and to the leaders of the Opposition of suggestions which commend themselves to men of different parties who have from different points of view for many years given attention to questions relating to national defence.
No arrangements which aimed at or resulted in a subversion of the principles which experience has shown to be essential to the working of constitutional government could be seriously considered. But no system of defence, however constitutional, can avail unless it be shaped with a view to war. It is to the conciliation of these two necessities, that of compatibility with the constitution and that of adaptation to the purpose of war, that our attention has been directed.
If the preservation of peace depended upon the goodwill of the British Government, there would perhaps be little need for a navy or an army. The existence of these services implies that this is not the case, and that safety in time of war depends upon forethought and preparation in advance. Such preparation involves a view of the nature of a possible war and an estimate of the intensity of the effort it would impose, this view and this estimate furnishing the standard for the quantity and quality of the means to be kept available.
The design, without which even a defensive war cannot be carried on, and in the absence of which preparations made during peace must fail to serve their purpose, is properly the secret of the Government. Yet, where the Government is responsible to a Parliament, it is indispensable either that so much of the design should be communicated to Parliament as will enable it to judge of the necessity and of the sufficiency of the preparations for which supplies must be voted, or that Parliament should know who are the professional advisers upon whose judgment the Government relies. Neither of these conditions seems to us at present to be fulfilled, and as a consequence of the omission there has arisen in the public mind that distrust to which we have alluded.
The leading decision in the administration of the national defence, governing the whole course and character of any future war, is that which settles the total amount of expenditure upon preparation and apportions it between the naval and military services. For this decision the Cabinet is, and must ever be, responsible. Yet in the distribution of the business of the Cabinet into departments there appears to be no office specially entrusted with the consideration of war as a whole, embracing the functions both of the navy and of the army. Of the sums usually devoted each year to warlike preparations, the larger part is spent upon the army, and only a lesser part upon the navy, upon which the maintenance of the Empire and the security of Great Britain must ever chiefly depend. It is difficult to believe that this apportionment is the result of deliberate examination of the requirements of war. It would seem more probable that the separate existence of a department of the navy and a department of the army leads in practice to the management of each for its own sake rather than as an instrument serving a more general purpose.
In order to secure the special consideration by the Cabinet of national defence as distinct from and superior to the administration either of the navy or of the army, we would suggest the appointment of one and the same Minister to the two offices of Secretary of State for War and First Lord of the Admiralty, or the amalgamation, with the consent of Parliament, of these two offices.
We would further suggest that the Cabinet should select for each service an officer whose professional judgment commands its confidence, to be at once the responsible adviser of the Cabinet upon all questions regarding the conduct of war so far as his own service is concerned, and the principal executive officer of that service.
We understand by a responsible adviser one who stands or falls by the advice which he gives. He would, of course, have at his disposal, in the formation of his views, the best assistance which the professional staff of the navy or of the army could supply. But the opinion which, after mature consideration, he would submit to the Cabinet, and formally record, would be his own and would be given in his own name. It follows that a difference of opinion between the Cabinet and its naval or its military adviser upon any important matter of naval or military policy would lead to the resignation of the latter. In our view, the essence of responsibility for advice is that the officer giving it is identified with it, and remains in the post only so long as his judgment upon the professional matters with reference to which he is consulted is acceptable to the Cabinet which he serves. In order to facilitate his independence in this respect, provision should be made, in case of his resignation, for his employment in another post or for his honourable retirement.
If these suggestions were adopted, the passage in case of need from peace to war would take place without personal or administrative change. The adaptation of the whole service, whether naval or military, to the necessities of war, as understood by a competent officer studying them with full responsibility, would be assured. The House of Commons and the public would have in the person of the naval and of the military adviser a guarantee of the sufficiency and of the efficiency of the navy and of the army. The authority of the Cabinet and the control of the House of Commons would be unimpaired.
We are, sir,
Your obedient servants,
Charles W. Dilke.
H. O. Arnold-Foster.
In December, 1893, Dilke had communicated to Mr. Balfour the draft of this letter and his plan for sending it to the leaders of both parties. Mr. Balfour thought the best plan for co-ordinating the two services would be by a Defence Committee of the Cabinet, of which Dilke put his finger on the weak point, that it gave no guarantee of meeting the requirements of war. [Footnote: The letters printed in Appendix I., p. 451, embody the substance of previous conversations between Dilke and Mr. Balfour. In Appendix II., p. 456, are given the replies of Mr. Gladstone and the other leaders to the joint letter, which was afterwards published in the newspapers.—Ed.] It was after these communications that Mr. Balfour made his speech at Manchester on January 22nd, 1894, in which he said:
"It is responsibility which is chiefly lacking in our present system. If anything goes wrong with the navy, you attack the First Lord of the Admiralty. If anything goes wrong in the army, you attack the Secretary for War. If anything goes wrong in the Home Department, you attack the Secretary to the Home Department. But if the general scheme of national and imperial defence is not properly managed, there is nobody to attack but the whole Cabinet; and the Cabinet as a whole is not, in my opinion, a very good body to carry on the detailed work of that, any more than of any other, department of the State."
These private discussions between Dilke and Mr. Balfour foreshadowed the actual course which reform was to take. It began in 1895 with the adoption of Mr. Balfour's plan of a Committee of the Cabinet; it ended in 1904 by Mr. Balfour as Prime Minister adopting Dilke's plan, and undertaking himself, as chairman of that Committee, the co-ordination of the two services. Then and not till then the fundamental principle of the primacy of the navy in the defence of the Empire was formally recognized.
The next step of the signatories to the joint letter was action in Parliament. Dilke gave notice that, on the introduction of the Army Estimates, he would move the following resolution:
"That this House, before voting supplies for the maintenance of military establishments in the United Kingdom, seeks an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that the estimates for that purpose submitted to it are framed upon consideration of possible war by sea and land, and upon a consideration of advice tendered in that behalf by such officer of either service as is fitted to command in war Her Majesty's forces of that service."
The debate took place on March 16th, 1894. In the course of his speech Dilke said:
"What I want to know, and what the Cabinet in framing the estimates ought to know, is this: Are the proposals before the House those which alone are capable of securing the safety of the country and of the Empire?... I wish to know whether the Government present these estimates as representing the least, but still what is sufficient, for the needs of the country for the next twelve months, not only for the protection of the whole country and the Empire, but for the protection of our trade in all parts of the world....
"The Cabinet must obtain the best advice possible. I, for my part, should prefer that the advice should be concentrated for each service, because I think it is far more responsible advice if it comes mainly on the responsibility of a single man as regards the army and navy respectively than if you dispersed it among a great number of people.... As far as I am concerned, form in this matter is immaterial. I have stated what I want to secure, and I will put two or three different ways of securing it which would very often come to the same thing. What I ventured to suggest at first was that the Prime Minister should be brought to take more personal concern in the defence of the country than is the case at the present time; that he should consider himself mainly responsible for the joint consideration of the whole defence proposals; that he should hear the Secretary for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and their advisers, if he is doubtful, and that they together, more seriously than has been the case in the past, should go into the difficulties of the problem, and he should then advise with them as to the estimates.... There was another suggestion made—that a Defence Minister, a Minister who should represent the army and navy, should be the person charged specially with the responsibility to this House.... But I am not wedded to any particular form. Whether the Prime Minister specially undertakes the duty, whether it is undertaken by a Defence Minister, or whether the suggestion is adopted—which, I believe, is that of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Balfour)—that a Defence Committee of the Cabinet, which I have heard was instituted by the late Government, should be provided with a more avowed and distinct position, armed with permanent responsible advisers, and equipped with records so as to hand over its work to those by whom they might be succeeded in office—all these plans would come at the present moment to very much the same thing."
The resolution was seconded by Arnold-Forster, and supported in a clear and relevant speech by Sir George Chesney. In the debate which followed, Mr. Balfour expressed his adherence to the third of the plans described by Sir Charles Dilke. "I rather contemplate," he said, "that the Prime Minister, with or without his colleagues, or a Committee of the Cabinet, with or without the Prime Minister, should constitute themselves a body with permanent records and confidential advisers." Campbell-Bannerman expressed general agreement with the object Dilke had in view, and added: "I entertain almost identically the opinion which has been expressed by the Leader of the Opposition." Having thus obtained the concurrence of both parties to one of the plans which, it was thought, might fulfil the purpose in view, Dilke withdrew the motion.
In 1895 (March 11th) a resolution couched in the precise words of that of 1894 was moved by Mr. Arnold-Forster on the introduction of the Navy Estimates. In supporting it Dilke said:
"The sole purpose of all this very large expenditure was to enable us to achieve victory at sea, which was essential to our very existence as a nation; and what the resolution asked was an assurance that the Government had had under its consideration the nature of the efforts that would be called for to secure victory and the distribution of these efforts between the land and sea forces."
On March 15th, in the discussion of the Army Estimates, Dilke raised a doubt "whether there was in our system of military administration any security that those we put into positions of high command, where they were able to get military experience, were only those men who were fitted for such posts and would hold command in time of war."
On June 21st, 1895, Campbell-Bannerman announced the retirement of the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Cambridge, and his own intention to adopt the main lines of the scheme of the Hartington Committee. He would appoint a Commander-in-Chief with reduced powers who would be the principal military adviser of the Secretary of State, and he, with the other heads of departments, who would each be directly responsible to the Minister, would constitute a deliberative Council, so that the Secretary of State, when he gave his decisions, would be guided and supported by the express opinions of all the experienced officers by whom he was surrounded.
Thereupon Mr. Brodrick, now Lord Midleton, moved to reduce the salary of the Secretary of State by way of a vote of censure on the insufficiency of the supply of cordite ammunition. A brief debate followed in which Campbell-Bannerman failed to convince the House that the supply was adequate, and in the division this vote of censure was carried by 132 against 125. This division overthrew the Liberal Ministry. Dilke took no part in the debate, but voted in the majority. For this vote Campbell-Bannerman never forgave him.
In the new Ministry formed by Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister, Mr. Balfour became First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Lansdowne Secretary of State for War, Mr. Brodrick Under-Secretary of State for War, and Mr. Goschen First Lord of the Admiralty. The first act of the new Government was to remodel the general arrangements for national and imperial defence. The scheme was described in general terms by Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords on August 26th, and more specifically by Mr. Brodrick in the House of Commons on August 31st. There was to be a Defence Committee of the Cabinet under the presidency of the Duke of Devonshire. Mr. Brodrick's words implied that the creation of this body was due to the action of Sir Charles Dilke, who, in the debate on the Address, had again urged his views on this subject.
Of the army Lord Wolseley was to be the new Commander-in-Chief. But, instead of being at the head of the military departments of the War Office, he was to have charge only of the intelligence and mobilization departments, and to be the President of an Army Board of which the other members were to be the Adjutant-General, the Quartermaster-General, the Director of Artillery, and the Inspector-General of Fortifications, each of whom was to be directly responsible for his own department to the Secretary of State. "The main principle of the change," said Mr. Brodrick, "is the separate responsibility of the military heads of departments to the Secretary of State for their departments, and the focussing of military opinion by means of the Army Board presided over by the Commander-in-Chief." When Mr. Brodrick had finished his statement, Dilke immediately rose and said that
"he had listened to the statement with something like dismay, for some of the changes made had been in his view entirely in the wrong direction.... There certainly had not been, during the many years he had been in the House, any debate in which the issues presented to the House had been so momentous.... To that portion of the Government's scheme which involved the position of the Duke of Devonshire in relation to Imperial defence he was fully favourable. He believed he was the original suggester of the proposal in 1888. What had been said by the Undersecretary went to suggest the creation of a Committee of the Cabinet only, which had been formed, they were told, by the late Government. If so, the matter was minimized, and there was less security given to the country than they had hoped. The first thing to be secured was that there should be the individual responsibility of one great member of the Cabinet rather than the collective responsibility of a considerable number.
"In regard to the reorganization of the War Office itself, he viewed with dismay the further explanations given to-day by the Under-Secretary. What had been the main objection to the past management of the army in this country? It had been that responsibility had been frittered away among a great number of different Boards.... He hoped that the new man chosen to be the head of the army would be in practice the real head of the army and the real adviser of the Secretary of State. What he feared they were doing was to create a copy of the Admiralty in those particular points in which the Admiralty itself had been the subject of criticism.... The Government, he contended, ought to recommend the one man, the Commander-in-Chief, and in the first instance take his opinion and regard him as ultimately responsible. Having picked out the most competent man, he hoped the Government would put the arrangement under that man and not under the civilian Secretary of State.... It was a mistake to give the Commander-in-Chief a department; he ought to be above the departments, and the departments ought to report to him. He had ventured for many years to ask in the first place that the Cabinet should consider the whole problem of Imperial defence, and in the second place that they should pick out the best man and trust him."
In reply to Dilke, Mr. Balfour said:
"If you put the Secretary of State for War in direct communication with the Commander-in-Chief alone, I do not see how the Secretary of State for War can be anything else than the administrative puppet of the great soldier who is at the head of the army. He may come down to the House and express the views of that great officer; but if he is to take official advice from the Commander-in-Chief alone, it is absolutely impossible that the Secretary of State should be really responsible, and in this House the Secretary of State will be no more than the mouthpiece of the Commander-in-Chief. It seems to me that the differences in this branch of the subject between the right hon. gentleman (Sir Charles Dilke) and the Government are of a more fundamental character than I anticipated."
The difference was indeed fundamental, for Dilke was thinking about war, and Mr. Balfour was thinking only of Ministerial responsibility. In case of a war in which the welfare, possibly the independence, of the nation would be at stake, what civilian Secretary of State would wish to be personally responsible for victory or defeat, or to be more than the mouthpiece of a great soldier at the head of the army?
The Commander-in-Chief had been a military officer whose function was to co-ordinate the work of the heads of the several military departments. The change made in 1895 transferred to the Secretary of State this duty previously performed by the Commander-in-Chief. Sir James Stephen's Commission had reported in 1887 that it was morally and physically impossible that any one man should satisfactorily discharge the functions which at that time belonged to the Secretary of State. To them in 1895 the Government added those of the Commander-in-Chief. The result was that in 1899 the Secretary of State failed to fulfil the most important of all his functions, that of maintaining accord between the policy of the Cabinet and the military preparations. The Committee of Defence, which was appointed in 1895, might perhaps have performed this essential function if it had ever taken a serious view of its work. But it in doubtful whether it ever did any work at all.
In the new Parliament, Dilke moved on March 5th, 1896, for a return of the number of British seamen available for service in the navy in time of war.
"One difficulty," he said, "that had to be faced was that in debates like the present they had no real opportunity of engaging in a collective review of the whole defensive expenditure of the country on the army and navy taken together.... They expected from the Government a policy which could be explained to the House—either a policy of alliances, to which he himself was rootedly opposed; or the policy, which was the only true policy for this country, of keeping up such a fleet as would make us safe against any probable combination. The point to which he wished to draw most urgent attention was that the real reserve of England was disappearing very fast. The British sailor was becoming more and more a rare article of luxury. He was used on the first-class liners, and not used elsewhere.... There was another point of importance. Among these foreigners there were many masters of ships, and they were taught the pilotage of our rivers. That was a very serious matter, and might become a great danger in time of war."
It soon became evident that the changes made in 1895 had not produced improvement either in the Government's arrangements for national defence or in the management of the army. In November, 1896, Lord Lansdowne, Secretary of State for War, and Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Chancellor of the Exchequer, made speeches the same evening at Bristol. The Secretary of State expressed the intention to make a slight increase in the number of battalions in the army, while the Chancellor declared that he would consent to no increase in the Army Estimates until he could feel more confidence in the manner in which the money was expended. This disagreement between members of the Cabinet led to inquiries, through which Dilke became aware that the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley, wished for a larger increase in the number of battalions than the Secretary of State was willing to propose. The opportunity seemed suitable for raising the question whether or not the military measures proposed by the Government were those suggested by their military adviser—a fundamental question. Lord Lansdowne having explained in the House of Lords in February, 1897, that his proposal was to add two battalions to the Guards and one to the Cameron Highlanders, and that he hoped in this way to restore the equilibrium between the number of battalions at home and the number abroad, Dilke in the House of Commons pointed out (February 8th) that the measure proposed would not establish the desired equilibrium, and that the proposal was anonymous. Who, he asked, were the military authorities on whose advice the Government relied? Mr. Brodrick, in reply, said that the proposals of the Government, taken as a whole, had been gratefully accepted by one and all of the military heads of the War Office, as, in the words of the Commander-in-Chief, "such a step forward as has not been made for many years." Thus it became clear that the military heads, including the Commander-in-Chief, were as ready to be overruled in regard to their views as to what was necessary for the army as the civilian Minister was to overrule them.
In the Christmas recess of 1897-98 Dilke prepared for the next Session by writing a pamphlet on Army Reform in which he reviewed the position. He and the other reformers had steadily asserted that the home army could not take the field until it had drawn heavily on the reserve; that it was terribly short of artillery; that the seven to eight years' enlistment was a hybrid, and that the sound course was to have a short-term service with the colours at home followed by a choice between a long term in the reserve and a long term in the Indian or Colonial army; and, lastly, that the administration was over-centralized at the War Office, to the detriment of the authority, the efficiency, and the character, of the generals. The critics had further urged that the linked-battalion system and the hybrid term, bad as they were, could not be worked at all without a large increase of the number of battalions at home. In 1897 the War Office had replied that an increase of three battalions would suffice.
The new estimates were introduced in the House of Commons on February 25th, 1898, by Mr. Brodrick, who admitted that, in order to put 50,000 infantry into the field, it would be necessary to call out 28,000 reservists. In order to have artillery enough for a fraction of the army he asked for fifteen more batteries. He had to admit that the three battalions added in 1897 were not enough, and to ask for six more. The speech was an admission of all the contentions of the critics, though it began by abusing them.
In the debate Dilke moved: "That no scheme for the reorganization of the army will be satisfactory which involves the sacrifice of one unit to secure the efficiency of any other." He referred to the admitted breakdown of the eight-years and linked-battalion system. Mr. Brodrick, quoting Lord Wolseley, had reassured the country by telling them that they could despatch two army corps abroad.
"Two army corps!" exclaimed Dilke, "when it is twenty army corps which this country pays for!... Out of the men at home, if cavalry and artillery were provided, twenty corps instead of two corps might be made.... In the last three years the cost of the army has been considerably increased, and there has been an increase in numbers voted. Yet there has been a decrease not only in the militia, but also in the regular army and in the army reserve as well during that period—an additional evidence of breakdown.... The territorial system here can never be anything more than a sham so long as we have to provide for India and garrison coaling-stations, and so long as the battalions are constantly moved about.... We have year by year made our statements with regard to artillery to the House. Nobody believed a word we said, and it was only last year, when three batteries were sent out to the Cape, and twenty batteries wrecked in men and horses to provide them, that the War Office at last admitted that we had all along been right.... On this occasion we see some results, in the speech of the right hon. gentleman to-night, of our action in the past."
The Navy Estimates were introduced in July. Lord Charles Beresford in his argument had pointed out that the cost of the navy bore a much smaller proportion to our mercantile marine than that of the navies of other countries. Dilke said:
"The position of the British Empire is such that, if by the mercantile policy of other countries our mercantile marine were wholly to disappear, or if it were to disappear as the result of a war in which our carrying trade passed, say, to the United States, it would be just as necessary as now for us to have a predominant fleet.... If the pressure of taxation on the poorer classes, if the unrest in this country on the subject, were so great that it was not possible to make the sacrifices which I for one think it necessary to make, I would sooner give up the whole expenditure on the army than give way upon this naval programme.... This matter of the fleet is vital to our position in the world. The army is an arguable question."
Dilke continued steadily to press for a strong navy. In 1899 he once more supported Mr. Goschen's proposals, and again urged that, if the cost of the army and navy should be too great, we must save on the army, but not on the navy. His chief criticism of the Admiralty was that "we have got into the vicious position of beginning our building programme each year at the extreme end of the financial year."
The keynote of his speech was: "This Empire is an Empire of the seas, and the navy is vital to our existence, but our army is not. Our Indian army is vital to our possession of India, but India pays the full cost of it, perhaps rather more."
During the winter of 1898-99 the opposition of purposes between the British Government and the Government of the South African Republic was causing grave apprehension to public men. The High Commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner, paid a visit to England, and on his return to the Cape was authorized in May, 1899, to meet President Kruger in a Conference at Bloemfontein. On June 7th the failure of the Conference was announced, and was thought by many to be the equivalent of a diplomatic rupture, the prelude to hostilities. No serious military preparations were made by the British Government, though various measures were suggested by the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley, and by Sir Redvers Buller. It was not until September 10th that 10,000 men were ordered from India to Natal, and not until October 7th that orders were issued for the calling out of the reserve and for the mobilization of an army corps and other troops for South Africa. The Boers began hostilities on October 11th, and the operations were unfavourable to the British until the middle of February, when Lord Roberts began the advance towards Kimberley.
At the end of January, 1900, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, said in the House of Lords: "I do not believe in the perfection of the British Constitution as an instrument of war ... it is evident that there is something in your machinery that is wrong."
In the debate on the Army Estimates on February 1st, Dilke, with his usual courage, raised the question of responsibility, in a speech to which little attention was paid at the time, but which will now, in the light of subsequent events, be better appreciated.
"The country," he said, "has gone through an awful winter, and under our constitutional system there are persons responsible, and we have to examine the nature of their responsibility. Some Government speakers, who during the recess have addressed the country, have drawn certain comparisons between the occurrences in this war and those of the Crimean War.... I confess that I believe the present war has been far more disgracefully conducted than the Crimean War had been, and that the mourning is far more applicable to this case. Now, with regard to the checks or reverses—that is the accepted phrase—we are really afraid in these days to talk about 'disasters.' The First Lord of the Treasury at Manchester distinctly stated there had been 'no disaster.' There has been no single great engagement in which we have met with an absolute disaster, but for the first time in our military history there has been a succession of checks or reverses—unredeemed as they have been by a single great military success in the whole course of the war—in many of which we have left prisoners in the enemy's hands. We began with the abandonment of the entrenched camp at Dundee, and of the great accumulation of stores that had been made there, of the wounded, and of the dying General, and we lost the headquarters of a regiment of cavalry that tried a cavalry pursuit. We lost the headquarters of two battalions at Nicholson's Nek; we lost the headquarters of one battalion and a very large portion of another battalion in the repulse at Stormberg; we lost the Colonel, most of the field officers, and the whole of one company of the Suffolks, on another occasion. These headquarters of cavalry, and the principal portion of the remaining men of five battalions of British infantry, are now prisoners at Pretoria—not to speak of what happened to the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein, or of the loss of the guns in the repulse at the Tugela, or of the fact that thirteen of our field guns, besides a mountain battery, are now in the enemy's hands. The loss of guns in proportion to our small strength of guns is equivalent to the loss of some 300 guns by the German army. None of these events constitutes what the First Lord of the Treasury calls a disaster. Probably he is right. But can any member of this House deny that the net result of these proceedings has been disastrous to the belief of the world in our ability to conduct a war? Therefore, if there has been, as the right hon. gentleman says, not one disaster, surely the result of the proceedings has been one disastrous to the credit of this country. There has been one immense redemption of that disaster, which is that all the Powers, however hostile, have very frankly acknowledged on these occasions the heroism of the officers and men. Our military reputation, which undoubtedly never stood lower in the eyes of the world than at the present moment, is redeemed in that respect, and the individual courage of officers and men never stood higher in the estimate of the world than it does now. It seems to me to be a patriotic duty of those who have in the past discussed in this House the question of Cabinet responsibility for military preparations to discuss the question now; to see who is responsible, whom—I will not say we will hang, but whom we are to hold blameworthy in the highest degree for what has occurred. I believe that the opinion is attributed to the Prime Minister that the British Constitution is not a fighting machine. I am told that he has thrown doubt upon the working of the British Constitution as a Constitution which will allow this country successfully to go to war. That is a very serious matter. The Constitution of this country has been maintained as a fighting machine by the members of this House who are now responsible for the Administration. No one has ever put the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility for the preparation for war higher than it has always been put by the present Leader of the House (Mr. Balfour), and anything more direct than the conflict on that point, as on many others, between his opinion and the opinion of the Prime Minister it is impossible to conceive.... On Thursday last the right hon. member who preceded me in this debate—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Brodrick)—delivered a speech and said that all that had been done in this war had been 'solely dictated by military advice,' and 'military advice alone determined all that had been done.' I should like the House to consider what that statement means. The right hon. gentleman was the member who, on three occasions, brought the question of the ammunition supplies of this country before the House: it was he who moved the amendment which turned out the Rosebery Administration on the cordite vote, and he led the discussion on two subsequent occasions on which we debated the same question. At the opening of the next Parliament the whole question of Ministerial responsibility for war preparation was thoroughly and exhaustively considered by this House. I confess that I did not expect to hear the right hon. gentleman—who on those three occasions so firmly pressed, to the very extinction of the Government itself, the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility—as it were sheltering the Cabinet behind military advice, advice which he rejected, as also did the Leader of the House, with scorn upon that occasion.... I feel it a duty to myself, and to all who hold the same opinion, to press home this doctrine of Cabinet responsibility on this occasion. In that debate the hon. member who seems likely to follow me in this debate—the present Under-Secretary for War (Mr. Wyndham)—took part. He was then a private member and warmly occupied his mind upon this question, and he used these words: 'If they were overwhelmed by disasters, the Minister for War would be held responsible.' Not only he, but the whole Cabinet are responsible, and the present Leader of the House, in following the hon. member in that debate, emphasized that fact, and pointed out the importance of complete Cabinet responsibility. That doctrine was emphatically maintained. There are practical reasons why this question should be pressed home on this occasion. This is obviously the time to press it home if ever it should be done, and it seems to me that such practical reasons are to be found in two considerations. We have been told that at the beginning of every war it is always fated that there should be muddling. We have been told it from both sides of the House, that we always begin by muddling our wars. If there is one fact more certain than another, it is that in future wars, not with Boer Republics, but with Great Powers, there will be no time for muddling at the beginning of war, and it is vital that this muddling should be guarded against. If we are to look forward as a matter of certainty that this country is always to muddle at the beginning of a war, then we may look forward with almost certainty to defeat."
Dilke then examined the excuses that had been made for the Government, to the effect that the war took them by surprise and that they had no knowledge of the Boer preparations. He showed that both these pleas were inconsistent with the facts. Mr. Balfour had said that the Government had thought it their duty, during the negotiations which preceded the war, to abstain from unnecessary menace. Dilke pointed out that they did not so abstain. Lord Salisbury had said on July 28th, 1899, "the Conventions are mortal ... they are liable to be destroyed." That could only be understood by the Boers as holding out the prospect of a war in which the independence of their country would be taken away. Were these words wise when used without the smallest preparation for war having been made? As regards knowledge of the Boer preparations, the Intelligence Department had admirably done its work. No Government was ever so well informed as to the resources of its opponents as the British Government in entering upon this war. Dilke went on to say:
"Both by those who would have anticipated war and by the Government it has been alleged that the existence of a Parliamentary Opposition was the reason why the military precautions of the Government were inefficacious. But the Government has been in power since July, 1895, and has been supported by overwhelming majorities, and it would have had the cheerful acquiescence of the House of Commons for every measure of military precaution and all the military expenditure which was asked. The Cabinet are responsible; but if there is to be any difficulty on account of the existence of a constitutional Opposition—even a weak one—I say that by that doctrine we are fated to be beaten on every occasion we go to war. The time for the reform of our military system will come when this war has ended. We cannot reform it in a time of war. We have often addressed the House upon this subject. We preached to deaf ears. We were not listened to before war. Shall we be listened to when war is over? While I admit that in a time of war you cannot reform your military system, what you can do is to press home to the Cabinet the responsibility.... For some years past there have been discussions as to Empire expansion which have divided some of us from others on military questions. There are some of us, who are strong supporters of the Government in preparing for war in the present situation of the world, who are not in favour of what is called the expansion of the Empire. We have resisted it because we believed the military requirements of the Empire were greater—as it was put by Lord Charles Beresford, whom we see here no longer—than we were prepared to meet. And the Government now come down to the House and quietly tell us that that is so. They have put it in the Queen's Speech. We have it stated that, although the money we have to spend in military preparations is more than that of any other Power in the world, we are going to be asked to spend more. I should hope that good may come out of evil, and that a result of this sad war may be the proper utilization of our resources in preparing, in times of peace, all the military forces of what people call Greater Britain.... I venture to say that the Government went into this war without the preparation they should have made. Their neglect of that precaution has brought about the reverses we have met with, and the natural consequence is the failure of our arms I have described. As regards the Crimean War, which in some respects has been compared with this, one is reminded of the present Commander-in-Chief, who has written these momentous words: The history of the Crimean War shows 'how an army may be destroyed by a Ministry through want of ordinary forethought.' I confess that I think there is only one point in which the two cases are exactly parallel—for there are many distinctions between them—and that is in the heroism of officers and men."
On July 27th, 1900, on the occasion of a supplementary estimate for the South African War, Dilke criticized the censorship of letters from the front, in consequence of which the truth about the military mistakes made remained unknown. He reviewed a series of blunders that had been made in the war, and quoted the opinion of an eminent foreign strategist to the effect that "the mistakes which had been made were mistakes on immutable and permanent principles." Thus, there was a doubt whether the army had been properly trained for war in the past and was being properly trained at that moment. He asked for a full inquiry into these matters.
That inquiry was never made. The Royal Commission appointed after the war to inquire into its conduct began by disclaiming authority to inquire into the policy out of which the war arose, and by asserting its own incompetence to discuss the military operations.
In a paper contributed to the New Liberal Review of February, 1901, Dilke reviewed the South African War, and summed up:
"The war, then, has revealed deficiency in the war training of the Staff in particular, and of the army generally. It has shown that the recommendations of the Commander-in-Chief to the Cabinet for the nomination of Generals to high commands were not based on real tests. It has called attention to the amateurishness of portions of our forces. It has proved that for years the reformers have been right, and the War Office wrong, as regards the number and proportion of guns needed by us and the rapidity of the mobilization of our artillery.
"Remedies which will certainly be attempted are—Better training of the Staff, especially in the thinking out and writing of orders; weeding out of incompetent amateurs from among our officers; better pay for the men; careful preparation in time of peace of a picked Imperial force of mounted infantry from all parts of the Empire. But greater changes, urgently as they are demanded by the national interest, will not be accomplished, as public excitement will die down, and triflers and obstructives will remain at the head of affairs, in place of the Carnot who is needed as organizer to back the best General that can be found for the Commander-in-Chief.
"The greatest of the lessons of the war was the revelation of the neglect, by statesmen, to prepare for wars which their policy must lead them to contemplate as possible.... The long duration of the war, with all its risks to our Imperial interests, is to be laid at the door of the politicians rather than of the Generals. This, the greatest lesson, has not been learnt."
After the General Election of December, 1900, there was a shifting of offices in the Cabinet, by which Mr. Brodrick succeeded Lord Lansdowne as Secretary of State for War, and Lord Selborne became First Lord of the Admiralty instead of Mr. Goschen. Lord Roberts was brought home from South Africa to become Commander-in-Chief, and the direction of the war was left in the hands of Lord Kitchener. The first important event in the new Parliament was a speech by Lord Wolseley in the House of Lords, in which he warned the nation against the dangerous consequences of the system introduced in 1895, which failed to give its proper place to the military judgment in regard to preparations for war. The warning was disregarded. Mr. Brodrick announced the determination of the Government to maintain the system set up in 1895, and to give to Lord Roberts as Commander-in-Chief the same position of maimed and crippled authority as had been given to Lord Wolseley six years before.
Mr. Brodrick, while carrying on the war in South Africa, attempted at the same time to reform the army. The results were the more unfortunate because on vital matters, both of organization at the War Office and of the reorganization of the army, Mr. Brodrick insisted on overriding the great soldier to whom, as Commander-in-Chief, was due whatever confidence the country gave to the military administration. Mr. Brodrick was much preoccupied with the defence of the United Kingdom against invasion. In the debate on the Army Estimates of 1901, Dilke said:
"I am one of those who hold that the command of the seas is the defence of this country. I believe that the British Army exists mainly for the reinforcement of the Indian garrison, and, if necessary, as the rudiment of that army which, in the event of a great war, would be necessary."
Dilke continued to support the Admiralty in its endeavours to strengthen the navy. In the debate on the Navy Estimates of 1901 (March 22nd) he said:
"The Secretary of State for the Colonies a few years ago made a speech in favour of an alliance with a military Power. [Footnote: See infra, p. 491.] He said that the alternative was to build up so as to make ourselves safe against a combination of three Powers, and that that would entail an addition of fifty per cent. to the estimates. Since that time we have added more than fifty per cent. to our estimates. Of course the expenditure is very great; but is there a man in this House who believes that it is not necessary for us to maintain that practical standard which would lead even three Powers to hesitate before attacking? During the last year we have, happily, had friendship between ourselves and Germany; I believe that friendship may long continue, and I hope it will. But it is impossible to shut our eyes to the fact that there have been distinctly proposed to the German Houses, by Admiral Tirpitz, estimates which are based on the possibility of a war with England. Von der Goltz, who is the highest literary authority on this subject, has said the same thing. We have seen also that remarkable preparation of strategic cables on the part of Germany ... in order to be entirely independent of British cables in the event of a possible naval war. In face of facts of that kind, which can be infinitely multiplied, it seems to me it would be monstrous on our part to fail to maintain that standard, and that it is our bounden duty to make up for the delays which have occurred, and to vote programmes for the future which should be sufficient to keep up that standard."
When the Navy Estimates for 1902 were introduced into the House of Commons by Arnold-Forster as Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, Mr. Lough moved an amendment: "That the growing expenditure on the naval defences of the Empire imposes under the existing conditions an undue burden on the taxpayers of the United Kingdom." Dilke, in opposing the amendment, deprecated the introduction of party considerations into a discussion concerning the navy. The time taken to build ships ought to be borne in mind. The usual period had lately been four years; many of the ships of the 1897 programme had not yet been commissioned; therefore it was necessary to remember that the country would go into a naval war with ships according to the programme of four or five years before war was declared. Mr. Goschen was a careful First Lord of the Admiralty, yet Mr. Goschen in his programme year after year alluded to the necessity of maintaining a fleet which would cause not two but three Powers to pause before they attacked us. To his (Dilke's) mind, it was infinitely more important to the country that its expenditure should be shaped, not towards meeting a sudden attack by two Powers, which was not going to occur, but towards meeting—not immediately, but in time to come—the possibility of an eventual joining together of three Powers, one of which was very rapidly building a magnificent fleet. From that point of view the programme of the Government this year was a beggarly programme.
In introducing the Navy Estimates for 1903 Arnold-Forster said that they were of a magnitude unparalleled in peace or war. Dilke, in supporting them, said (March 17th):
"The standard which Lord Spencer gave to this House was not a fleet equivalent to three fleets—not a fleet, certainly, on all points equivalent to the fleets of France, Germany, and Russia—but a standard which gave us such a position in the world of fleets as would cause three Powers to pause before they entered into a coalition against us. That was a position he had always contended was necessary for the safety of this country.... The only weak point that one could discern as really dangerous in the future was the training of the officers for high command and the selection of officers, which would give this country, in the event of war, that real unity of operations which ought to be our advantage against any allied Powers."
On June 20th, 1902, Lord Charles Beresford had raised the question of the organization of the Admiralty, which he held to be defective for the purpose of preparation for war. "The administrative faculty," he said, "should be absolutely separate from the executive faculty, but at present they were mixed up." Campbell-Bannerman held that no change was necessary. Dilke supported Lord Charles Beresford, and after reviewing the cordite debates of 1895, to which both the previous speakers had referred, gave his reasons for holding that the duty of the Cabinet was to control both services in order to secure that each should take its proper share in defence. "If there was a very strong man, or even one who thought himself very strong, at the head of either department, the present system tended to break down, because, unless there was some joint authority in the Cabinet strong enough to control even a strong First Lord of the Admiralty, no joint consideration of the views of the two departments could be obtained. At the present moment the two services competed." Lord Charles Beresford and Dilke were supported by Sir John Colomb, and in his reply Arnold-Forster said: "I cannot but reaffirm the belief I held before I stood at this table, and since I have stood here, that there is a need for some reinforcement of the intellectual equipment which directs or ought to direct the enormous forces of our Empire." The question was raised again on August 6th by Major Seely, in a speech in which he commented on the lack of a body charged with the duty of studying strategical questions. Mr. Balfour thereupon said:
"We cannot leave this matter to one department or two departments acting separately. It is a joint matter; it must be a joint matter. I hope my honourable friend will take it from me that the Government are fully alive, and have, if I may say so, long been fully alive, to the difficulty of the problem which presents itself to his mind and which he has explained to the House; and that that problem is one always present to our minds. It is one which we certainly do not mean to neglect to meet and grapple with to the best of our ability."
In 1903, in an article contributed to the Northern Newspaper Syndicate, Dilke wrote:
"We are face to face with the fact that Mr. Brodrick's scheme is admitted from all sides, except by those actually responsible for it who are still holding office, to be a failure; that under this scheme the charge on the British Empire for defence in time of peace stands at eighty-six millions sterling, of which fifty-two millions at least are for land defence, nevertheless ill secured; that without a complete change of system these gigantic figures must rapidly increase; and that, while all agree that in our case the navy ought to be predominant, no one seems to be able to control the War Office, or to limit the expenditure upon land defence as contrasted with naval preparations. The service members of the House of Commons, who used to be charged with wasting their own and the nation's time upon military details, or upon proposals for increase of expenditure, have shown their patriotism and their intelligence by going to the root of this great question. They brought about the declaration of the Secretary of the Admiralty, Mr. Arnold-Forster, on June 20th, 1902, and the complete acceptance of that declaration by the Prime Minister on August 6th. They have now forced on Parliament and on the Prime Minister the necessity of taking real action upon his declaration that 'the problem of Imperial defence cannot be left to one department or two departments acting separately.' The utilization of the resources of the British Empire for war must be the business of the Prime Minister, who is above the War Office and the Admiralty, and who alone can lead the Cabinet to co-ordinate the efforts of the two services."
In October, 1903, Arnold-Forster was appointed to succeed Mr. Brodrick as Secretary of State for War. He had previously expressed, in conversation, his wish to see the whole subject of Imperial defence entrusted to a Committee of three men conversant with it, and had named Sir Charles Dilke and Sir John Colomb as two of the three whom he would choose if he had the power. In November a Committee of three was appointed by Mr. Balfour to report on the organization of the War Office. Its members were Lord Esher, Admiral Sir John (now Lord) Fisher, and Sir George Sydenham Clarke (now Lord Sydenham). The first instalment of this Committee's report, published on February 1st, 1904, proposed the reconstitution of the War Office on the model of the Board of Admiralty, and as a preliminary the dismissal of the Commander-in-Chief and the heads of the great departments at the War Office.
At the same time the Cabinet Committee of Defence was reconstituted under the presidency of the Prime Minister (Mr. Balfour). Thus at length, eleven years after Sir Charles Dilke's first conversations with Mr. Balfour on the subject, was adopted the suggestion he had urged for so many years, and so fully explained in his speech of March 16th, 1894, that a Prime Minister should undertake to consider the needs both of the army and navy, and the probable functions of both in war.
The result was very soon manifest in a complete change of policy, which was no doubt facilitated by the presence in the Cabinet, as Secretary of State for War, of Mr. Arnold-Forster, one of the signatories of the joint letter of 1894.
On March 28th, 1905, Arnold-Forster said:
"We have been adding million after million to our naval expenditure. Are all these millions wasted? If it be true, as we are told by representatives of the Admiralty, that the navy is in a position such as it has never occupied before—that it is now not only our first line of defence, but our guarantee for the possession of our own islands—is that to make no difference to a system which has grown up avowedly and confessedly on the basis of defending these islands by an armed land force against an invasion? Is that to make no difference? Is this view some invention of my own imagination? No, sir, that is the deliberate conclusion of the Government, advised by a body which has been called into, I believe, a useful existence during the last eighteen months, and which I regret was not called into existence much longer ago—the Committee of Defence.... I have seen it stated that, provided our navy is sufficient, the greatest anticipation we can form in the way of a landing of a hostile army would be a force of 5,000. I should be deceiving the House if I thought that represented the extreme naval view. The extreme naval view is that the crew of a dinghy could not land in this country in the face of the navy."
This speech showed the conversion of the Government, for which Sir Charles Dilke had laboured so long, to the doctrine of the primacy of the navy and of defence by the command of the sea.
On May 11th, Mr. Balfour in the name of the Committee of Defence put forth the general view which that body had reached. In the first place, provided the navy was efficient, a successful invasion of the country upon a large scale need not be contemplated. Secondly, the Committee had gone on the broad line that our force should as far as possible be concentrated at the centre of the Empire. This had rendered unnecessary expenditure which had been undertaken under a different view of our needs, the most notable case being the works at St. Lucia, which had been made by Lord Carnarvon into a great naval base. Lastly, with regard to India, the Government adopted Lord Kitchener's view that in addition to drafts there should be available in the relatively early stages of the war eight divisions of infantry and other corresponding arms.
Dilke, who had described himself as a constant supporter of the blue-water view, agreed with the Government with regard to invasion, and welcomed Mr. Balfour's moderate view with regard to the needs of India. But he pointed out that vast sums of money had been spent in the fortification of places which were now discovered to be unnecessary.
"He asked the Committee to remember how far the responsibility of all this expenditure had been on the present occupants of office. He believed that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was created by Lord Rosebery at the end of his Administration in 1895. That was the first form of the Committee. Immediately the new Government came in it assumed its second form, and the Defence Committee of the Conservative Government, formed in 1895 under the presidency of the Duke of Devonshire, lasted for many years, and was composed of substantially the same gentlemen as were in power now. It was constantly vouched to the House as the great co-ordinating authority, and as the body responsible for expenditure on an enormous scale on principles diametrically opposed to those now held. The third form of the Committee was that which was adopted when the Prime Minister acceded to his present office. The right hon. gentleman came to this House and at once explained the new form of the Committee on March 5th, 1903.... The Committee had heard to-day the extent to which invasion at home was believed in by the Defence Committee.... It was firmly expected from the moment that the Government announced their naval view that the reduction would be under the military head. But instead of that the reduction had been on the Navy Estimates, and that had not been accompanied by a reduction on the army votes. That had been the amazing effect of the co-ordination. Had any member of the Committee calculated how much money had been wasted in the last nine and a half years by the non-adoption in 1895, when virtually the present Government came into office, of the policy which had been adopted now?"
The Government which had thus tardily followed Sir Charles Dilke's lead had lost the confidence of the country. The General Election of 1905 gave the Liberals a large majority. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the new Prime Minister, had not forgotten Dilke's vote in the cordite division of 1895, and did not share his view of the necessity to be ready for war, and to rely, not upon arbitration, but upon the organization of defensive preparations. Dilke was not included in the new Ministry, in which Mr. (now Lord) Haldane was appointed Secretary of State for War. Mr. Haldane undertook a fresh reorganization of the military forces of the country, taking the Committee of Defence and the Army Council as they were left by Mr. Balfour after the changes proposed by the Esher Committee. The Order in Council gave the Secretary of State the power to reserve for his own decision any matter whatever, and to impose that decision upon the Army Council, a power not contemplated by the Esher Committee's report. Mr. Haldane availed himself of this power and of the assistance of Colonel Ellison, who had been Secretary to the Esher Committee, but was not a member of the Army Council, to prepare his scheme. It consisted in the organization of an expeditionary force, which was to be composed of six divisions and a cavalry division, with a total field strength of 160,000 men, fully equipped for war, together with additional troops at home to make good the losses of a campaign. This force was to be made up of the regular army (of which the establishments were reduced by some 20,000 of all arms), of its reserve, and of the militia, renamed special reserve, also with a reduced establishment, and with a liability to serve abroad in case of war. The Volunteer force was to be renamed the Territorial force, and its officers and men to be brought under the Army Act, the men to be enlisted for a term of years and paid. It was to be organized, as the Norfolk Commission had suggested, into brigades and divisions. But the further suggestion of the same Commission, that a member of the Army Council familiar with the volunteer system should be charged with its supervision, was not adopted. Mr. Haldane's view was that the territorial troops could not in peace receive a training which would prepare them for war, but that, as England was not a Continental Power and was protected by her navy, there would be six months' time, after a war had begun, to give them a training for war. The force was to be administered by County Associations to be constituted for the purpose. The scheme was gradually elaborated, and in its later stage improved by the transformation of the University and some other volunteer and cadet corps into officers' training corps. The works which, at the suggestion of Sir John Ardagh, had been prepared for the defence of London were abandoned.
Mr. Haldane first expounded his plans in March, 1906, and in the debate of March 15th Dilke said:
"There was a little too much depreciation of the Volunteers; and although he had always been considered a strong supporter of the 'blue-water' view, yet he had always believed in accepting from the Volunteers all the service they could give, as he believed they would give an enormous potential supply of men."
Mr. Haldane explained (February 25th, 1907) that the expeditionary force would require only seventy-two batteries, while the army actually had a hundred and five; there was therefore a surplus of thirty-three batteries which he would use as training batteries in which to train men for divisional ammunition columns. Upon this Dilke's comment was that "if the officer difficulty could be solved, then the real military problem would be solved." We could raise men fast enough through the volunteer system, and turn them into good infantry, provided there was a sufficient supply of officers qualified to train them; but the infantry which could thus be produced in a few months would require to be supplemented by artillery and cavalry which could not be improvised. He would have faced the cost of keeping up these arms, and would not have saved by turning batteries into ammunition columns.
In the debate on Mr. Haldane's Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill (June 3rd), Dilke voted for an amendment of which the purpose was to establish a department at the War Office under an officer having special knowledge and experience with the militia, yeomanry, and volunteers, ranking as third member of the Army Council. This amendment, however, was not carried.
In an article in the Manchester Guardian of June 6th, 1907, Dilke explained his main objections to Mr. Haldane's scheme and to the Bill which was to lay its foundation.
"The cost," he wrote, "must undoubtedly be large, and it is difficult to see where the substantial saving on Army Estimates, twice promised by Mr. Ritchie when Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not yet secured, is to be obtained. As an advocate of a strong fleet, I have a special reason, equivalent to that of the most rigid economist, for insisting upon the reduction in our enormous military charge, inasmuch as the money unexpectedly needed for the army will come off the fleet."
Dilke thought that the defence of Great Britain depended upon the navy; that so long as the navy was equal to its task invasion was not to be feared. The function of the military forces would be to fight an enemy abroad. He, therefore, held it a mistake to increase expenditure on troops which it was not proposed to train to meet foreign regulars. The Territorial army would be the volunteers under a new name, but without an improved training. As the linked-battalion system and the long term of service were retained, the regular army would still be costly, and its reserves or power of quick expansion less than they might be. Mr. Haldane would be compelled to retain a high rate of War Office expenditure, and this would involve a reduction on the outlay for the navy, which was all-important. Mr. Haldane, however, had the support of a very large majority, and argument was of little avail. Sir Charles Dilke therefore threw his weight into the debates on the Navy estimates, in which he consistently supported the Admiralty in every increase.
Year after year he persevered in the effort to counteract the tendency to exaggerate the importance of military schemes and military expenditure, especially upon troops not fully trained and not kept ready for action abroad, and to point out that the effect of such schemes could not but be to reduce the amount of attention and of money devoted to the navy. In 1904 (March 1st) he had said:
"It was an extraordinary fact that, in all calculations on the subject of the expenditure of the army, the cost of the army outside the United Kingdom was never taken into account. We were spending vastly more upon the land services than we were upon our naval services, and so long as that was so he confessed that he should view with more than indulgence what was called the extravagant policy in regard to the navy."
In 1907 (March 5th) he expressed his disapproval of the sweeping change by which the defence of ports by submarine mines had been abolished. "Newcastle had been defended by means of an admirable system of submarine mines which had no equal in the world. So good was it that the volunteer submarine miners of the Tyne division were employed to do the laying of electric mines at Portsmouth and other naval ports. Newcastle was now without that defence." He explained that these mines, which had cost a million, had been sold. Had they fetched L50,000? He was not content with Mr. Haldane's account of the steps taken to prepare for defence against possible raid. On this subject, writing for the United Service Magazine of May, 1908, a paper entitled "Strong at all Points," which enforced his view of the supreme importance of the navy, he said:
"The provision for time of war, after complete mobilization of the Territorial army, may be perfect upon paper; but the real question is, how to obtain the manning of the quick-firing guns, say on the Tyne, in time of political complication, by trained men, who sleep by the guns and are able to use them when awakened suddenly in the dead of night."
In the discussion of the estimates of July 31st, 1907, he said that, "bearing in mind the enormous importance in naval matters of a steady policy, he should resist any reduction that might be moved." On the same occasion he pointed out that, "if there was any danger from Germany, it was not the danger of invasion or from the fleet, but it was her growing superiority in the scientific equipment of her people." Yet he declined to encourage panic, and in the debate of March 22nd, 1909, when the Opposition moved a vote of censure because of a supposed unforeseen start gained by Germany in shipbuilding, pointed out the reasons for not indulging in a scare.
Dilke closely watched the new developments in armament and construction, and from time to time pressed them upon the attention of the Government. As early as 1901, in an article reviewing the progress of war in the nineteenth century, he had said: "The greatest change in the battlefields of the future, as compared with those of a few years ago, will be found in the developments and increased strength of the artillery." In 1907, in the debate on the Navy estimates, he suggested that "the reserve of guns was a matter which needed the utmost diligence." Docks, he thought, were proportionately more important than battleships. In 1907 (April 25th) he said: "A base was needed east of Dover—Rosyth or Chatham: he need not suggest or criticize the spot that should be chosen. Whether the Hague Conference prohibited floating mines or not, they would be used; and that being so, they must contemplate either the extension of Chatham or the creation of an establishment at a different point of the east coast." To this subject he repeatedly returned. In 1908 (March 3rd): "The necessity for a large establishment in a safer place than the Channel had been raised for many years, and was fully recognized when Rosyth was brought before them. Both parties had shirked the expenditure which both declared necessary." On March 10th: "There were important works, docks and basins in which big ships could be accommodated, and these by universal admission should be made as rapidly as possible. Big ships were worse than useless if there was no dock or basin accommodation for them.... The limited instalment of one dock and one basin contemplated was only to be completed in eleven years. He believed that was bad economy.... The need for this expenditure had long been foreseen." Again, in 1909, on July 1st, he pointed out that the Governments of both parties had shirked the expenditure on Rosyth, of which the need had been known as early as 1902. The delay had been enormously grave. The report which contained the whole scheme had been presented to Parliament in January, 1902; the land had been bought in 1903, and the contract was made only in March, 1909.
Sir Charles's command of detail made his hearers apt to suppose that he was mainly concerned with technical matters. But no impression could be farther from the truth. Never for a moment did he lose sight of the large issues, and of the purpose to which all measures of naval and military preparation are directed. It was to the large issues that his last important Parliamentary speech on the subject of defence was directed.
"We talk a little," he said on March 7th, 1910, "about the possibility of invasion when we talk of our Territorial army, but we do not—the overwhelming majority of us—believe the country is open to invasion, or that the fleet has fallen off in its power of doing its duty as compared with days past.... No one of us who is prepared to pay his part, and to call upon others to pay their part, to keep the fleet up to the highest standard of efficiency and safety which we at present enjoy—no one of us ought to be prepared to run the Territorial army on this occasion as though it were the main and most costly portion of the estimates that are put before the House. The Territorial army is defensible as the Volunteers were defensible. It is an improvement on the volunteer system, and it might have been made without the statute on which it is based, but that it will add an enormous expenditure to our army is not the case. Our Territorial army, in fact, cannot be kept in view as the first object which we have to consider in the course of these debates.... It is supposed to be the one certain result of the last General Election that there is a large majority in favour of maintaining our naval position; but we cannot maintain that naval position without straining every nerve to do it, and we shall not be able to put all our energy into maintaining that position if we talk about invasion, and tell the people of this country that the fleet cannot do its duty.... If you put the doctrine of invasion so high, and if you tell them that in any degree their safety depends upon the Territorial army trained and serving here at home, then you run a great risk of compromising your naval defence and taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another, and of being weak at both points, and creating a Territorial army which could not face a great Continental force landed on our shores, and at the same time detracting from the power of your fleet.... The Territorial army, like the Volunteers, is really defended by most of us, in our hearts if not in our speech, as a reserve of the regular, expeditionary, offensive army for fighting across the seas.... My right hon. friend Mr. Haldane has always maintained the view that your army and army expenditure must depend upon policy. It is no good fighting him; he has both Houses of Parliament and both parties in his pocket. He is a man of legions political as well as military. The school represented by myself and the dominant school represented by him have differed, not upon the question of policy dictating your armaments, but upon the question of how your policy and your armaments together would work out."
Sir Charles Dilke's last utterance on defence was a review of Sir Cyprian Bridge's Sea-Power, and Other Studies, in July, 1910. It was a plea for reliance upon the navy to prevent invasion and upon a mobile military force for a counter-stroke. "I confess," Dilke ended, "that, as one interested in complete efficiency rather than especially in economy to the national purse, I join Sir Cyprian Bridge in asking to be shown, at least, the mobile, efficient, regular force ready for immediate service across the seas."
In the effort of a quarter of a century to have his country prepared for the struggle which was to come Dilke was associated with others, many of them conspicuous for knowledge and zeal; the services of Arnold-Forster, of John and Philip Colomb, and of Chesney, have been too little appreciated by their countrymen. Of their common endeavour Dilke was the chief exponent. At every stage of the movement his was its most characteristic and most comprehensive expression, marking the central line of thought. Some of the dominant ideas were his own. From him came the conception of defence as not merely national but imperial. He first pointed out the true function of the Prime Minister in relation to it. The actual development proceeded along the lines which he drew—a strong navy; a general staff at the War Office; a regular army of first-rate quality, that could be sent abroad at short notice, most likely for the defence of Belgium against attacks from Germany; expansion to be sought, in the first instance, from the numbers furnished by the volunteer system. There were points which he failed to carry—the provision of arms and ammunition for the multitude of soldiers who would be forthcoming from the Empire, as well as of that modern artillery which must play so great a part in a future campaign; the search for generals capable of command in war; the enforcement of the responsibility of Ministers for preparations neglected. What was accomplished and what was left undone give the measure of Sir Charles Dilke as the statesman of Imperial Defence.
'"December 21st, 1893.
'"Dear Mr. Balfour,
'"I have been thinking over the matter which you mentioned in the tea-room yesterday. I am absolutely convinced of your own detachment from party in connection with it, and I write as one not likely at any time to act generally in connection with your party, unless in the (I hope most improbable) event of doubtful or unfortunate war.
'"The suggestion that I am inclined to make is that a letter should be written, to be signed by Sir George Chesney as a Conservative, by myself as a Gladstonian Liberal, by Arnold-Forster as a Liberal Unionist, and Spenser Wilkinson as a civilian expert, to Mr. Gladstone as Prime Minister, you and Chamberlain as leaders of your parties in the House of Commons, and Lord Salisbury and the Duke of Devonshire as leaders of the same parties in the House of Lords; that a copy should be sent by me confidentially to the Prince of Wales, it not being right, of course, that we should in any way address the Queen; that this letter should not be made public either at the time or later; that this letter should press for the joint consideration of the naval and military problem, and should point to the creation of a Defence Ministry, of which the War Office and the Admiralty would be the branches, or to a more active control of the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty by the Prime Minister personally. We should be put in our places by Mr. Gladstone, but I fancy, probably, not by the other four.
'"I had sooner discuss this matter first with you, if you think there is anything in it, than with Chamberlain, because he is, oddly enough, a much stronger party man than you are, and would be less inclined (on account of national objects which to him are predominant) to keep party out of his mind in connection with it. I have not, therefore, as yet mentioned the matter to him. If you think ill of the whole suggestion, and are not even disposed to suggest modification of it, it can be stopped at the present point.
'"The addition of Spenser Wilkinson to a member of each party is because I owe to him the clearing of my own mind, and believe that he is probably the best man on such questions who ever lived, except Clausewitz. When I first wrote upon them in The Present Position of European Politics in 1886-87, and in The British Army in 1887-88, I was in a fog—seeing the existing evils, but not clearly seeing the way out. In the Defence chapter of Problems of Greater Britain I began to see my way. Admiral Colomb, and Thursfield of The Times, who are really expositors of the application to our naval position of the general principles of military strategy of Clausewitz, helped me by their writings to find a road. I then set to work with Spenser Wilkinson, whose leaders in the Manchester Guardian (which he has now quitted, except as an amateur) struck me as being perfect, to think out the whole question; and we succeeded, by means of a little book we wrote together—Imperial Defence, published in February, 1892—in afterwards procuring the agreement of Lord Roberts in views widely different in many points from those which Lord Roberts had previously held. We are now in the position of being able to declare that in naval particulars there is no difference of opinion among the experts, and that in military there is so little upon points of importance that the experts are virtually agreed. This is a great point, never reached before last year, and it is owing to Spenser Wilkinson, and in a less degree to Arnold-Forster, that it has been reached.
'"The question of the length at which the proposed letter should develop the existing dangers and the remedies is, of course, secondary.
'"The dangers are much greater than even the alarmist section of the public supposes. For example, the public have not in the least grasped the fact that we were on the brink of war with France at the moment of the Siam blockade, nor have they realized the great risk of the fall of the monarchy in Italy and of a complete change in Italian policy, leading more or less rapidly to an alliance with France and Russia. The adoption of Lefevre's policy by the Liberal party, which is possible at any time, and the announcement that we do not hope to hold the Mediterranean, might attach to the Franco- Russian combination even the present advisers of King Humbert.
'"With regard to Siam, neither the English nor the French Government dare publish the despatches which passed about the blockade, and they have not been able to come to an agreement as to what portion of the papers should be published, although both Governments have long since promised publication. The words used in the House of Commons by Sir Edward Grey were altered by the French Government into meaningless words, and the words actually used excluded by Governmental action from every newspaper in France."'
[Footnote: On December 25th, 1913, M. d'Estournelles de Constant wrote to the Frankfurter Zeitung an article warning Europe against the chance of war breaking out, not because it is desired, but "by chance, by mistake, by stupidity," and he cited an instance from his experiences in 1893:
"The stage was Siam, where British India and French Indo-China were seeking to push, one against the other, their rival spheres of influence. Lord Dufferin, British Ambassador in Paris and ex-Viceroy of India, was upholding the British claim, but it was in London that the negotiations were carried on. The irreparable conflict broke out on the day when the French Admiral, the bearer of an ultimatum, anchored his ships in the very river of Bangkok. I was negotiating, but during this time the British Government telegraphed to the Admiral commanding the Pacific station to proceed also to Bangkok with his whole fleet, which was far superior in numbers to ours.
"I knew nothing about it; no one knew anything about it. I was negotiating, and it was war almost to a certainty without anybody suspecting it. I only knew this later. Happily, wireless telegraphy did not then exist, and the orders of the Admiralty did not reach in time the British squadron, which was then sailing somewhere in the Pacific. Thanks to this chance delay, the negotiations had time to come to a successful conclusion, and the agreement was concluded."]
On the same day Dilke received the following reply:
"I shall be most pleased to have a further conversation with you on the all-important subject on which we had a brief talk yesterday, and which is dealt with in your letter of to-day.
"I should like, however, to discuss the matter first with Lord Salisbury (whom I shall see to-morrow), and, if you will allow me, to show him your letter.
"I may, however, say at once that I have always been in favour of a Defence Committee of Cabinet, with expert advisers and permanent records carrying on the work from Government to Government; and that, oddly enough, I pressed the idea on Asquith last week. I think he and Rosebery would be in favour of the plan; not so the older members of the Cabinet."
'On Friday, January 5th, 1894, I had a long interview with Balfour upon my letter, and wrote on it to Wilkinson as follows:
'"76, Sloane Street, S.W., '"January 5th, 1894.
'"I saw Balfour (in a full discussion) this afternoon. We provisionally agreed, with Lord Salisbury's consent, that Sir George Chesney, Arnold-Forster (if he agrees), you, and I, should sign a letter which we should address (with the view to publishing it with the replies) to Mr. Gladstone as Prime Minister and leader of my party, to Lord Salisbury and to Balfour as leaders of Sir George Chesney's party, and to the Duke of Devonshire and Chamberlain as leaders of Arnold-Forster's party, and of which I should privately send a copy to the Prince of Wales in the hope of its reaching the Queen. In this letter we should press for the joint consideration of the naval and military problem, and point either to the creation of a Defence Ministry, of which the War Office and Admiralty would be the branches—to which the objection is that Parliamentary consent would be necessary—or to a more active control over the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty, and their Estimates, by the Prime Minister personally, or to that which is Balfour's own scheme and which has the support, among our people, of Rosebery and Asquith: the creation of a Defence Committee of the Cabinet, ordinarily to consist of the Prime Minister, of the leader of the other House, of the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord, and (doubtless) the Chancellor of the Exchequer (?), with expert advisers and permanent records which would carry on their work from Government to Government. Mr. Gladstone would snub us. The other four would not, and our proposal (that is, our third proposal, which is Balfour's) would probably be adopted when the Conservatives came in, and continued by the Liberals.
'"Balfour would be very willing to express his favourable opinion of our view in debate in the House of Commons, should we raise one next Session, and Lord Salisbury is less inclined to make a strong and distinctly favourable reply to our letter than is Balfour.
'"Balfour would go more willingly, if possible, than he does into the schemes if he could see his way beforehand to the saving of money on the army for the purpose of devoting it to the navy. He says that he himself cannot put his finger on the waste which he knows must exist, that Buller has to some extent his confidence and tells him that there is none, although Balfour is not convinced by this. We discussed our Indian army scheme, to which he sees no objection, and (very fully) the Duke of Cambridge and the extent to which he will be supported by the Queen.
'"Balfour sees immense difficulty in the absence of a sufficiently commanding expert, and in the consequent jealousy between the Admiralty and War Office officials.
'"Will the letter which Sir George Chesney has do as a base, or would it be better to write a shorter and a fresh letter? If the latter, will you try your hand at it, if you approve? And after noting this will you return it to me, that I may send it to Sir George Chesney and then to Arnold-Forster?
'"Balfour had in reading us [Footnote: "Us" refers to the joint work on Imperial Defence. One of the recommendations was to substitute marines for soldiers in the small garrisons, such as Bermuda.] asked questions through George Hamilton, who agrees with us, on the point of further employment of marines, and has been told that they would be sadly costly.
'"Yours very truly, '"Charles W. Dilke."'
In reply to the joint letter, Chamberlain wrote to Dilke:
"I have received the interesting paper on the subject of National Defence which you have communicated to me on behalf of yourself and the other signatories. One of the greatest difficulties which any politician must feel in dealing with this question has been the apparent difference of opinion among those best qualified to speak authoritatively on the subject, and it is an important advance to find practical proposals agreed to by some of those who have given special study to the problems involved. Without venturing at the present state of the inquiry to commit myself to any specific proposal, I may say that I am favourably inclined to the main lines laid down in your paper—namely, the closer union between the two great departments of national defence, and the recognition of the responsibility of the professional advisers of the Cabinet on all questions of military and naval provision and administration."
Mr. Balfour wrote:
"I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of February 12th, dealing with certain very important points connected with the problem of National Defence. Though it would be inopportune for me to pass any detailed judgment upon the scheme which you have laid before me in outline, and though it is evident that difficulties of a serious kind must attend any effort to carry out so important a change in our traditional methods of dealing with the Admiralty and the War Office, I may yet be permitted to express my own conviction that the evils that you indicate are real evils, and that the imperfections in our existing system, on which you insist, might under certain not impossible contingencies seriously imperil our most important national interests.
"That four gentlemen of different training, belonging to different parties in the State, approaching this subject from different points of view, and having little, perhaps, in common except a very intimate knowledge of the questions connected with National Defence, should be in entire agreement as to the general lines along which future reformation should proceed, is a fact of which the public will doubtless take note, and which is not likely to be ignored by those responsible for the preservation of the Empire."
'Our letter was in all the papers about February 28th (1894), with replies from Balfour and Chamberlain. Mr. Gladstone's reply, written just before he resigned, was in his own hand, and more than usually legible. Though it was not marked "Private," I did not print it, as it seemed too personal and playful. It meant that he had resigned, but I did not know this till an hour after I had received it:
'"You will forgive my pleading eyesight, which demanded the help of others and thereby retarded operations, as an excuse for my having failed to acknowledge the paper on Naval Defence which you were so good as to send me. You will, I fear, find me a less interesting correspondent than some who have replied at length, for I fear I ought to confine myself to assuring you that I have taken care it should come to the notice of my colleagues."
'On March 9th I sat near to Asquith at a dinner, and he told me that his Defence Committee of the Cabinet, favoured by Balfour and Rosebery, would soon be "a fact." The decision was made known in a debate which I raised on the 16th.'
A note adds: 'When the Tories came in in June, 1895, they adopted the scheme of a Minister (the Duke of Devonshire) over both army and navy, which had been put forward in the Dilke—Chesney—Arnold-Forster— Wilkinson correspondence with Balfour and Chamberlain, and originally invented by me. On the night of the Government (Liberal) defeat Campbell-Bannerman had promised a Commander-in-Chief who should be the Chief Military Adviser, a double triumph for my view.'
DEATH OF LADY DILKE—PARLIAMENT OF 1905
In 1903, Chamberlain, by raising the question of Tariff Reform and putting himself at the head of a movement for revising the Free Trade policy which had been accepted by both the great political parties since 1846, practically broke up the Conservative Government. It survived, indeed, under the leadership of Mr. Balfour; but it was only a feeble shadow of the powerful Administration which Lord Salisbury had formed in 1895.
On the motion for adjournment before the Whitsuntide recess (May 28th, 1903), Sir Charles raised the whole question of commercial policy, directing himself chiefly to the speeches that had been made by Mr. Balfour and by Mr. Bonar Law. But it was Mr. Chamberlain's policy that was in question. Years later, after the whole subject has been incessantly discussed, it is difficult to realize the effect produced by the sudden and unexpected onset of that redoubtable champion. Free Trade had been so long taken for granted that the case for it had become unfamiliar; what remained was an academic conviction, and against that Chamberlain arrayed an extraordinary personal prestige backed by a boldness of assertion to which his position as a business man lent authority. To meet an onset so sudden and so ably conducted was no easy task, and for Dilke there was the unhappy personal element of a first angry confrontation with his old ally. Mr. Chamberlain described Sir Charles's motion as gratuitous and harassing, "an affair of spies," for a day had been fixed for the regular encounter. Yet what was needed then was to show on the Liberal side that confidence which anticipates the combat. The temper of the time is well indicated by a letter from an old friend, the Bishop of Hereford:
"I hope you will stick to the business, and protect ordinary people from the new sophistry both by speech and writing. So few people have any intellectual grip that everything may depend on the leadership of a few men like yourself, who can speak with knowledge and authority, and will take the trouble to put concrete facts before the public."