MP Harmsworth: Our heroic soldiers and sailors

I find that my last Parliamentary Letter is dated September 22nd. Since that time the House of Commons had had a holiday which may have been well earned but was certainly not enjoyed. There has been much work to do for all of us.

How to help our brave soldiers at the front - this has been the uppermost thought in the minds of the community. We can look for rest and relaxation when the Allies have crushed Prussian militarism, and when a treaty has been signed that will safeguard the peace of Europe for as long as human eyes can look into the future.

The war proceeds slowly on the western front. The line of battle has swayed this way and that from day to day. Here and there a few hundred yards of ground have been gained or lost, but always there has been the supremely satisfactory result that the enemy has failed in the main object which he set out to accomplish. We have had our disappointments and out hearts are sore with the loss of many thousands of our bravest and best, but at least we have had the comforting assurance that if we stick to our task it is impossible, humanly speaking, that we should fail.

For our enemies the outlook is bleak indeed. What must be the reflections of the German Emperor when he surveys the ruinous situation for which he must ever be held largely responsible? German philosophers, professors and military writers have done their best to ferment the passion for "world power" that for many years has obsessed the German people, but it was the Kaiser himself who founded the German navy and openly threatened us with dangerous competition on the seas. It was a bad day for him and for Germany when he wantonly challenged our naval supremacy in our home waters. He may reckon confidently on our unwearied and unfaltering opposition until his presumptuous claim to sea power is defeated once and for all.

In these anxious months of war it has been brought home to us more clearly that at any other time in this generation how utterly our national safety depend on our command of the sea. To the Kaiser his great navy has been a source of pride and boastfulness. To us an overwhelming Navy is a matter of life and death.

We have seen that it is possible for one small enemy cruiser (the Emden) to imperil our communications with the East and to take heavy toll of the merchantmen bringing us food for our people and raw materials for our industries. Half-a-dozen other enemy cruisers in other parts of the world have been able to dislocate trade on some of our most important routes. Suppose the Kaiser had been able in effect to "wrest the trident" from our hands! My readers can pursue the train of reflection for themselves. It is enough to say that in that event we should have been little safer from German invasion than poor mutilated Belgium herself.

On The Eastern front our Russian Allies have achieved a notable series of successes. The Russians have exhibited a liveliness in warfare and, above all, a skill in generalship that were hitherto unexpected. It may well be that the end of the war will be brought about largely by the tremendous pressure of the Russian legions on Germany's eastern flank, and by the strangulation by our Navy of German commerce.

Meanwhile our thoughts must always be with our sailors who keep anxious watch and ward for us on the sea, and with our heroic soldiers who are lining the trenches in Belgium. The Press censorship keeps us much in the dark, and to a wholly unnecessary extent as I think, as to what is going on at the front, but from time to time the veil is lifted and we see our men battling every inch of ground with an enemy whose colossal numbers are inspired by the fury of despair. Never before in the history of our race have British soldiers endured greater fatigues or fought with more devoted valour. An answer final and complete has been given to the croakers whose favourite text used to be the decadence of the race.

For us at home there are three main duties to perform. First we must hasten to make good the losses, heavy and grievous, in our thin khaki line at the front; secondly to make every financial sacrifice that the prosecution of the war to a triumphant issue may entail; and, thirdly, to make full and generous provision for our soldiers and sailors and for their families. The national bill for these expenses will assume stupendous proportions, and today (Tuesday) Mr Lloyd George is to tell us how much money he wants and how he proposes to raise it. We shall pull long faces over his statement no doubt, but we shall vote the money. We need have no doubt that the Chancellor will do his best to adjust the burden so that it falls most heavily on the shoulders of those best able to bear it.

By the death of Lord Roberts we lose our greatest soldier since the Duke of Wellington. He was as much loved for his noble simplicity of character as he was honoured for illustrious services to his country. We may be sure he would not have wished for himself a happier fate than to die literally "on duty".


House of Commons,

Tuesday, November 17th, 1914

In The Budget statement referred to by Mr Harmsworth, it was announced that a War Loan of £350 million was to be raised, income tax and supertax were to be doubled but only on one-third of income for that year, beer to cost 1d a pint more and tea duty to be raised by 3d a pound. War expenditure up to March 31st, 1915, was estimated at £328 million.

[Field Marshall Lord Roberts (1832-1914) was made the last Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, a position he held for three years until 1904. Appointed to the Order of Merit, he died of pneumonia at the HQ of the British Army at St Omer, France on November 14th, 1914, during a visit to Indian troops on the front line. After lying in state in Westminster Hall, he was given a state funeral.]