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The Note Of War

From: The World Peril Of 1910

The Official Gazette, published November the 25th, 1909, contained the
following announcement:--

"Naval Promotions. Lieutenant-Commander Francis Erskine, of H.M.
Fishery Cruiser Cormorant, to be Captain of H.M. Cruiser
Ithuriel. Lieutenant Denis Castellan, also of the Cormorant, to
be First Lieutenant of the Ithuriel."

On the evening of the same day, Mr Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, rose
amidst the tense silence of a crowded House to make another
announcement, which was not altogether unconnected with the notice in
the Gazette.

"Sir," he said in a low, but vibrant and penetrating voice, which many
years before had helped to make his fame as an orator, "it is my painful
duty to inform this honourable House that a state of war exists between
His Majesty and a Confederation of European countries, including
Germany, Russia, France, Spain, Holland and Belgium."

He paused for a moment, and looked round at the hundreds of faces, most
of them pale and fixed, that were turned toward the front Treasury
Bench. Since Mr Balfour, now Lord Whittinghame, and Leader of the
Conservative Party in the House of Lords, had made his memorable speech
on the 12th of October 1899, informing the House of Commons and the
world that the Ultimatum of the South African Republic had been
rejected, and that the struggle for the mastery of South Africa was
inevitable, no such momentous announcement had been made in the House of

Mr Chamberlain referred to that bygone crisis in the following terms:

"It will be within the memory of many Members of this House that, almost
exactly ten years ago to-day, the British Empire was challenged to fight
for the supremacy of South Africa. That challenge was accepted not
because there was any desire on the part of the Government or the people
of this country to destroy the self-government of what were then the
South African Republic and the Orange Free State, but because the
Government of her late Majesty, Queen Victoria, knew that the fate of an
empire, however great, depends upon its supremacy throughout its

"To lose one of these, however small and apparently insignificant, is to
take a stone out of an arch with the result of inevitable collapse of
the whole structure. It is not necessary for me, sir, to make any
further allusion to that struggle, save than to say that the policy of
Her Majesty's Ministers has been completely justified by the
consequences which have followed from it.

"The Transvaal and Orange River Colonies have taken their place among
the other self-governing Colonies of the Empire. They are prosperous,
contented and loyal, and they will not be the last, I think, to come to
the help of the Mother Country in such a crisis as this. But, sir, I do
not think that I should be fulfilling the duties of the responsible
position which I have the honour to occupy if I did not remind this
House, and through this House the citizens of the British Empire, that
the present crisis is infinitely more serious than that with which we
were faced in 1899. Then we were waging a war in another hemisphere, six
thousand miles away. Our unconquered, and, as I hope it will prove,
unconquerable Navy, kept the peace of the world, and policed the ocean
highways along which it was necessary for our ships to travel. It is
true that there were menaces and threats heard in many quarters, but
they never passed beyond the region of insult and calumny.

"Our possible enemies then, our actual enemies now, were in those days
willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike. To-day, they have lost their
fear in the confidence of combination. To-day the war cloud is not six
thousand miles away in the southern hemisphere; it is here, in Europe,
and a strip of water, twenty-one miles broad, separates us from the
enemy, which, even as I am speaking, may already be knocking at our
gates. Even now, the thunder of the guns may be echoing along the shores
of the English Channel.

"This, sir, is a war in which I might venture to say the most ardent
member of the Peace Society would not hesitate to engage. For it
involves the most sacred duty of humanity, the defence of our country,
and our homes.

"We remember, sir, the words which Francis Drake wrote, and which have
remained true from his day until now: 'The frontiers of an island
country are the coasts of its possible enemies.' We remember also that
when the great Napoleon had massed nearly half a million men on the
heights above Boulogne, and more than a thousand pontoons were waiting
to carry that force to the Kentish shore, there was only one old English
frigate cruising up and down the Straits of Dover.

"Sir, there is on the heights of Boulogne a monument, built to
commemorate the assembly of the Grand Army, and collectors of coins
still cherish those productions of the Paris Mint, which bear the
legend, 'Napoleon, Emperor, London, 1804.' But, sir, the statue of
Napoleon which stands on the summit of that monument faces not westward
but eastward. The Grand Army could have crossed that narrow strip of
water. It could, no doubt, have made a landing on British soil, but
Napoleon, possibly the greatest military genius the world has ever seen,
anticipated Field-Marshal von Moltke, who said that he had found eight
ways of getting into England, but he had not found one of getting out
again, unless it were possible to pump the North Sea dry, and march the
men over. In other words, sir, the British Navy was then, as now,
paramount on seas; the oceans were our territories, and the coasts of
Europe our frontiers.

"Again, sir, we must not forget that those were the days of sails, and
that these are the days of steam. What was then a matter of days is now
only a matter of hours. It is two hundred and forty-two years since the
sound of hostile guns was heard in the city of London. To-morrow morning
their thunder may awaken us.

"It has been said, sir, that Great Britain plays the game of Diplomacy
with her cards face upwards on the table. That, in a sense, is true, and
His Majesty's Government propose to play the same game now. The demands
which have been presented by the Federation of European Powers, at the
head of which stands the German Emperor--demands which, it is hardly
necessary for me to say, were instantly rejected--are these: That
Gibraltar shall be given back to Spain; that Malta shall be dismantled,
and cease to be a British naval base; that the British occupation of
Egypt and the Soudan shall cease, and that the Suez Canal and the
Trans-Continental Railway from Cairo to the Cape shall be handed over to
the control of an International Board, upon which the British Empire
will be graciously allowed one representative.

"It is further demanded that Singapore, the Gate of the East, shall be
placed under the control of the same International Board, and that the
fortifications of Hong Kong shall be demolished. That, sir, would amount
to the surrender of the British Empire, an empire which can only exist
as long as the ocean paths between its various portions are kept

"Those proposals, sir, in plain English are threats, and His Majesty's
Government has returned the only possible answer to them, and that
answer is war--war, let us remember, which may within a few weeks, or
even days, be brought to our own doors. Whatever our enemies may have
said of us it is still true that Britain stands for peace, security, and
prosperity. We have used the force of arms to conquer the forces of
barbarism and semi-civilisation, but the most hostile of our critics may
be safely challenged to point to any country or province upon which we
have imposed the Pax Britannica, which is not now the better for it. It
is no idle boast, sir, to say that all the world over, the rule of His
Majesty means the rule of peace and prosperity. There are only two
causes in which a nation or an empire may justly go to war. One, is to
make peace where strife was before, and the other is to defend that
which has been won, and made secure by patient toil and endeavour, no
less than by blood and suffering. It is that which the challenge of
Europe calls upon us now to defend. Our answer to the leagued nations is
this: What we have fought for and worked for and won is ours. Take it
from us if you can.

"And, sir, I believe that I can say with perfect confidence, that what
His Majesty's Government has done His Majesty's subjects will enforce to
a man, and, if necessary, countersign the declaration of war in their
own blood.

"Let us remember, too, those weighty words of warning which the Laureate
of the Empire wrote nearly twenty years ago, of this Imperial
inheritance of ours:

"'It is not made with the mountains, it is not one with the deep,
Men, not gods, devised it, men, not gods, must keep.
Men not children, servants, or kinsfolk called from afar,
But each man born in the island broke to the matter of war.

'So ye shall bide, sure-guarded, when the restless lightnings wake,
In the boom of the blotting war-cloud, and the pallid nations quake.
So, at the haggard trumpets, instant your soul shall leap,
Forthright, accoutred, accepting--alert from the walls of sleep.
So at the threat ye shall summon--so at the need ye shall send,
Men, not children, or servants, tempered and taught to the end.'

"Sir, it has been said that poets are prophets. The hour of the
fulfilment of that prophecy has now come, and I shall be much mistaken
in my estimate of the temper of my countrymen and fellow-subjects of His
Majesty here in Britain, and in the greater Britains over sea, if,
granted the possibility of an armed invasion of the Motherland, every
man, soldier or civilian, who is able to use a rifle, will not, if
necessary, use it in the defence of his country and his home."

The Prime Minister sat down amid absolute silence. The tremendous
possibilities which he had summed up in his brief speech seemed to have
stunned his hearers for the time being. Some members said afterwards
that they could hear their own watches ticking. Then Mr John Redmond,
the Leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, rose and said, in a slow, and
deliberate voice, which contrasted strikingly with his usual style of

"Sir, this is not a time for what has been with a certain amount of
double-meaning described as Parliamentary speeches. Still less is it a
time for party or for racial differences. The silence in which this
House has received the speech of the Prime Minister is the most eloquent
tribute that could be paid to the solemnity of his utterances. But, sir,
I have a reason for calling attention to one omission in that speech, an
omission which may have been made purposely. The last time that a
foeman's foot trod British soil was not eight hundred years ago. It was
in December 1796 that French soldiers and sailors landed on the shores
of Bantry Bay. Sir, the Ireland of those days was discontented, and, if
you please to call it so, disloyal. There are those who say she is so
now, but, sir, whatever our domestic difficulties and quarrels may be,
and however much I and the party which I have the honour to lead may
differ from the home policy of the Right Honourable gentleman who has
made this momentous pronouncement, it shall not be said that any of
those difficulties or differences will be taken advantage of by any man
who is worth the name of Irishman.

"As the Prime Minister has told us, the thunder of the enemy's guns may
even now be echoing along our southern coasts. We have, I hope, learnt a
little wisdom on both sides of the Irish Sea during the last twenty
years, and this time, sir, I think I can promise that, while the guns
are talking, there shall be no sound of dispute on party matters in
this House as far as we are concerned. From this moment, the Irish
Nationalist Party, as such, ceases to exist, at any rate until the war's

"In 1796, the French fleet carrying the invading force was scattered
over the seas by one of the worst storms that ever was known on the west
coast of Ireland. As Queen Elizabeth's medal said of the Spanish Armada,
'God blew, and they were scattered.' With God's help, sir, we will
scatter these new enemies who threaten us with invasion and conquest.
Henceforth, there must be no more Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotchmen, or
Welshmen. We are just subjects of the King, and inhabitants of the
British Islands; and the man who does not believe that, and act upon his
belief, should get out of these islands as soon as he can, for he isn't
fit to live in them.

"I remember, sir, a car-driver in Galway, who was taking an English
tourist--and he was a politician as well--around the country about that
half-ruined city. The English tourist was inquiring into the troubles of
Ireland, and he asked him what was the greatest affliction that Ireland
suffered from, and when he answered him he described just the sort of
Irishman who won't be wanted in Ireland now. He said, 'It's the absentee
landlords, your honour. This unfortunate country is absolutely swarming
with them.'"

It was an anti-climax such as only an Irishman could have achieved. The
tension which had held every nerve of every member on the stretch while
the Prime Minister was speaking was broken. The Irish members, almost to
a man, jumped to their feet, as Mr Redmond picked up his hat, waved it
round his head, and said, in a tone which rang clear and true through
the crowded Chamber:

"God save the King!"

And then for the first time in its history, the House of Commons rose
and sang the National Anthem.

There was no division that night. The Prime Minister formally put the
motion for the voting of such credit as might be necessary to meet the
expenses of the war, and when the Speaker put the question, Ay or Nay,
every member stood up bareheaded, and a deep-voiced, thunderous "Ay"
told the leagued nations of Europe that Britain had accepted their

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