MP Harmsworth letter: 'Hanging on tough'

MP Cecil Harmsworth's Parliamentary Letter: The Luton News, September 3rd, 1914.

Since I wrote last week the curtain has been lifted from more than one corner of the vast area of war. We now know for certain that the Expeditionary Force has been engaged in one of the toughest fights in the history of warfare, and that it has discharged an arduous and perilous duty with superb courage.Map of Battle of Mons

The best troops of Germany have hurled themselves "wave after wave" on our relatively small forces, without penetrating the vital line that stands stubbornly between them and Paris. The line has been withdrawn closer and closer to Paris, but it is still intact and, what is more, it has been refreshed by a period of rest and has been strengthened by reinforcements. The traditional bulldog tenacity of British troops has stood Europe in good stead and may yet result in the ruin of all Germany's hopes.

Suppose for a moment that the early anticipations of Germany had been fulfilled. Suppose, I mean, that we had stood out of the war and that Belgium, instead of offering a heroic resistance, had tamely opened her frontiers to the uninterrupted passage of the Kaiser's armies. Where, I say, should we all be now? Is it doubted that France, despite the courage and devotion of her troops, would at this moment have been beaten to her knees? The advance of Russia on the eastern borders of Germany and Austria is impressive, but it is necessarily slow and, but for the intervention of ourselves and Belgium, might have proved too tardy materially to affect the issue.

It has been suggested that a campaign of speech-making should be inaugurated in order to persuade our people of the righteousness of our cause. Is there now a man or woman in the country who stands in need of any such persuasion? I think not. Let the ruined cities and the murdered peasants of Belgium speak for us. If there are any men or women in our midst who think it is not our sacred duty to assist in pushing back the tide of savagery that has swept over Belgium and now threatens France, we may leave them to their own unenvied convictions.

But there is another kind of persuasion that is badly needed. Our young men are not yet alive to the deadly seriousness of the European situation. While the peaceable citizens of Belgium are sacrificing their lives and their fortunes on behalf of their own national independence, and every man in France capable of bearing arms is in the field, we have scarcely tapped the reserves of own manhood. Do our young men realise that the fate of the United Kingdom is bound up in the fate of France and Belgium? Do they know that the Uhlans have already gazed on the white cliffs of old England from the shores of northern France?

A movement is on foot to hold non-party meetings in behalf of recruiting in every popular centre of the Kingdom. I need not say that I am prepared to to take part in such meetings to which I may be summoned. When I do so I shall address my appeal not merely to men of the working classes, but to men of the so-called leisured classes also. Indeed, men of the working class have so far proved themselves more keenly alive to the sense of national duty than men of other classes, and this is in spite of the fact that it generally far more difficult and hazardous for a working man to throw up his job and join the colours. I venture to say that in the three kingdoms there are enough young men of the type that resort as undergraduates to our universities to furnish Lord Kitchener with considerable levies of exactly the kind and quality he asks for.

And there is no time to be lost. As the better-trained men are moved up to the front, there must be ready at hand ample reinforcements to take their places on all the lines of communication, for garrison duty, and for all the purposes of defence. A raw recruit will guard a railway bridge just as well as the highly efficient soldier whose services may be imperatively needed elsewhere. I suggest only one of the many purposes for which men are urgently required at the moment. If the war drags on we shall be obliged to put into the field such a force as this country has never raised before.

To young men of spirit who are not hampered by domestic ties and responsibilities, this is the golden hour. I can think of no higher privilege than to be summoned to the defence of one's native land at the moment when the peril is greatest.

The brilliant little achievement of our fleet off Heligoland came just in the nick of time. It has proved to the country that our great silent Navy possesses just the qualities that has made it irresistible at other periods of our history. They saved German sailors at the risk of their own lives. If you are looking for comparisons, contrast the actions of our men in the Bight of Heligoland (or, indeed, that of the German sailors on the Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse) with the conduct of the Kaiser's army at Louvain. That is a blot on the good fame of the German Army that will never be effaced.

Meanwhile the general situation as regards the war is more cheerful than it was when I wrote last week. It is not, I think, presumptious to say that we shall undoubtedly win through if we stick doggedly to our task. It is an uphill fight, but our national qualities are just those that make for ultimate success under such conditions. "Hanging on tough" is a traditional virtue of the British peoples. We shall not discredit our forefathers.


House of Commons,

September 1st, 1914