The Writings of Luton MP Cecil Harmsworth

Cecil Bisshopp Harmsworth, 1st Baron Harmsworth (23 September 1869 – 13 August 1948), was a British businessman and Liberal politician. He served as Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1915 and as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs between 1919 and 1922.Cecil Harmsworth MP


Harmsworth was born at Alexandra Terrace, St John's Wood, London, the third son of Alfred Harmsworth and Geraldine Mary, daughter of William Maffett. He was the younger brother of newspaper proprietors Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, and Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere, and the elder brother of Sir Leicester Harmsworth, 1st Baronet, and Sir Hildebrand Harmsworth, 1st Baronet. He also had four other younger brothers and four sisters.

Political career

Cecil served in the House of Commons as the representative for Luton, after winning in the 1911 by-election, and continued to sit for the constituency until 1922. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Walter Runciman between 1911 and 1915 and then briefly held office under H. H. Asquith as Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department between February and May 1915. However, he did not serve in the coalition government formed by Asquith in May 1916.

After David Lloyd George became Prime Minister in December 1916, Harmsworth was a member of the Prime Minister's Secretariat between 1917 and 1919 and Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs between 1919 and 1922 in Lloyd George's coalition government. He also served briefly as Acting Minister of Blockade in 1919. In 1939 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Harmsworth, of Egham in the County of Surrey. He became a regular contributor in the House of Lords, making his last speech in June 1945.


Lord Harmsworth married his cousin Emilie Alberta, daughter of William Hamilton Maffett, in 1897. His wife was born in 1873 and died in 1942. Lord Harmsworth survived her by six years and died in August 1948, aged 78. He was succeeded in the barony by his second but eldest surviving son, Cecil

MP Harmsworth: German miscalculations

Luton MP Cecil Harmsworth's Parliamentary Letter, printed in The Luton News on September 17th, 1914.

"France," said General von Bernhardi in the famous book to which I referred in a recent Parliamentary Letter, "must be so completely crushed that she can never again come across our path."

And France very nearly was "completely crushed". No one who has followed the developments of the present tremendous campaign in Belgium and France can doubt that, had it not been for Belgium and our Expeditionary Force, France as a first-class power would have ceased to exist and the first and most important of the prophesies of von Bernhardi and generally of the "men about the Kaiser" would have come true.

Now things are very different. We are not to shout before we out of the wood, but it is at least an enormous gain that the orderly retreat of the Allies has been replaced by a disorderly retreat of the enemy and that the Kaiser is for all practical purposes further from Paris than he was at the outbreak of hostilities. Meanwhile, the enormous armies of the Csar have broken the military strength of Austria and are now in a position to threaten the industrial province of Silesia even if they are still a great number of leagues from Berlin.

I do not dwell on the horrors of this frightful conflict as they are revealed to us day by day in the newspapers. Whatever the losses and however great our own sufferings we shall not desist, if good fortune is vouchsafed us, until the power responsible for the greatest tragedy in history is rendered impotent and the peace of Europe is secured for generations to come.

Among the many cardinal mistakes made by the Kaiser was his reliance on widespread disaffection in the British Empire. Our hands were to be tied by difficulties in Ireland, in India, in Egypt, and perhaps in South Africa. The Kaiser has been badly informed. All along he and his advisers have forgotten human nature. They have forgotten that our good-natured, tolerant methods of government have made warm friends for us in the most unexpected places.. So it is that we find the Government of South Africa rallying in splendid loyalty to the British cause and General Botha making energetic preparations for dislodging the German force that has had the temerity to cross from German S. W. Africa into Cape Colony.

Again we have had from India demonstrations of loyalty that go far to prove that the spirit of truth, justice and fair play that animates our dealings with the subject races of our greatest possession has won their trust and even their affection. Of all the wonderful events of these fateful weeks there has been nothing more inspiring than the recital in the House of Commons of the offer of services and men and money by the native rulers of India. It was on Monday last that Mr Charles Roberts, the Under Secretary for India, read to the House of Commons the now famous telegram of the Viceroy to the Secretary of State. The narrative was bald enough in some respects and no attempt has been made to give it a literary finish, but it fell on our ears more gratefully that the sublimest passage of poetry. On the loyalty and active co-operation of our fellow subjects in the self-governing dominions we have always been able to rely, but the most sanguine of us dared scarcely expect that the princes and nobles of India would place themselves, their troops and their riches at the disposal of the King Emperor.

I say that the Germans have left the vital element of human nature out of their calculations. The efficiency of their war machine has excited universal admiration. It is no secret now that it very nearly accomplished all that its inventors expected it to accomplish during the first stage of the war. In any case, however, human nature would have beaten it in the end.

Let me qualify my statement that France was on the verge of being "completely crushed", Taking a big view it is humanly speaking impossible to crush such a people as that of France. I would say that it is almost equally difficult to crush a little people like the Belgians. For ourselves we can claim that no tyrant ever has or ever will annihilate us. The power of human races to endure and to persist is one of the outstanding lessons of history. When Kaiser Wilhelm is given a moment for cool reflection he will see that his arrogant denial of so obvious and universal a truth is the main cause of all his colossal misfortunes.

We have not embarked on this war with any hope or intention of "crushing" the German people. We are, I trust, sensible enough not to entertain any foolish allusions on that. What we shall aim at effecting is the smashing of the German military and naval machines and the ridding of Europe of Prussian terrorism. Incidentally, we shall insist, if ultimate success is given us, on full compensation for Belgium and France so far as any sort of reparation can be made by Germany for the sufferings she has inflicted on our Allies. Lord Kitchener is right to ask for a million men. He shall have two million, or three, if he wants them. An unmilitary people we may be, slow to war and profoundly uninfluenced by the attractions of military glory, but once engaged in war it is our habit to hang on immovably until our object is attained.

In the House of Commons we are passing still more "emergency Bills" with the minimum of talk on either side. We meet in more cheerful mood after our short recess. We have a perfect confidence in our Government, and he patriotic helpfulness of the Opposition is a national asset that we Liberals warmly recognise. If the responsibility is with the Government, it goes without saying that the Opposition and, indeed, man of all parties in the State, have by their generous co-operation enormously strengthened the Government's hands.


House of Commons,

September 15th, 1914.


MP Harmsworth: Year or more of war?

They were true prophets who told us that the battle between the Allies and the Germans on the Western front of the war would prove to be not only the greatest of history, but the slowest to result in a decisive victory for either side. It is now more than a month since hostilities began and still the fate of Europe - the fate of France, of Belgium and of our own Empire - is undecided.

Put briefly and crudely, the Western line of the Allies has been forced back from Brussels to Paris. Brussels is for the moment a German capital, and in the whole of Belgium the only strong place still unoccupied by the enemy is Antwerp. A days or two ago it looked as if Paris were about to be closely invested, but for some reason not yet disclosed the enemy has desisted from his enveloping movement round the capital of France and has bent his main line of attack in an easterly and southerly direction, leaving Paris comparatively unmolested on his right hand.

The outstanding feature of the situation is that the army of the Allies, after the most skilful and successfully executed retreat in the annals of war, continues to present an unbroken front to the German legions. Not only this, but the Allies have at last compelled the enemy to meet them on ground not of his but their choosing.

On the eastern frontiers of Germany and Austria our Russian allies have met with great victories and one serious reverse. Austria has proved a broken reed to the Germans. Brave it out as the Germans may, it is not a small thing in any war to lose support on which much reliance has been placed. If, within the next week or so, Russia can succeed in putting out of action such Austrian armies as still remain in the field, then the advance to Berlin through Eastern Prussia will begin in real and formidable earnest.

It would be interesting to know what are the feelings of the German War Party as they contemplate the results of the policy which they have so long and so frankly advocated. Let us look at some of the items in the terrible account. Item one: Belgium in ruins. Item two: tens of thousands of the best and bravest of several European nations killed or wounded. Item three: the good name of Germany lost beyond reparation. Item four: the cause of civilisation set back perhaps for generations.

These are a few of the results of Germany's almost insane greed for "world power". What material advantages, what gains in the direction of world power, could compensate Germany for such losses as these? The astonishing thing is that the "men about the Kaiser" seem genuinely to believe that German "culture" is a thing greatly to be desired in itself and a thing to be forced on Europe by fire and, if necessary, sword. We must go back to the Spanish Inquisition before we can find a parallel in fanatic zeal equal to this.

We are not to be blamed, and the people of France, Belgium and Russia are not to be blamed, if we make it plain that we will put under arms every single able-bodied man we possess rather than submit to German "culture". In these islands we will multiply Kitchener's Armies up to the very limits of our male population before we yield to an aggressor compared with whom Napoleon was an apostle of civilisation. And we shall do this not merely for sentimental reasons or because our hearts go out in warm sympathy to the gallant and sorely-stricken people of Belgium. But for the "silver streak" and for the British Navy our fate would now be that of our heroic Belgian allies. Let no man make any mistake about that. As it is, the Kaiser would rather beat us to the ground than win any number of victories over France and Russia and Belgium.

How long will the war last? No one can say. A decisive triumph of the Allies at this juncture might bring the war to a comparatively sudden end. The probable chances are that it will last for a year at least. We must remember that Germany also is fighting for her life. She will neglect no means, fair or foul, to overwhelm the Allies. She is enormously efficient and her resources in men and material are next to inexhaustible.

Powerful as she is, however, and has proved herself to be in the opening stages of this war, she cannot indefinitely withstand the pressure that we and our Allies are exerting on her - provided always we pursue a policy of cool and steady resistance, and provided our young men rally in ever-increasing numbers to the defence of their country and Europe.


House of Commons,

Tuesday September 8th, 1914.


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

MP Harmworth letter: Belgium's cruel choice

Event Start and End Date: 

25th August 1914

MP Cecil Harmsworth's Parliamentary letter: The Luton News, August 27th, 1914.

During the last week the fortunes of war have swayed pretty impartially this way and that. From our point of view, the best news had come from the east and from the south-east. There can be no doubt whatever that Russia has begun to exercise great pressure on Germany's eastern frontier. Indeed, Russia now occupies a considerable area of eastern Prussia. This fact explains, I think, the fury of the German onslaught on ourselves and our allies in the neighbourhood of Namur and Mons.

Germany is fighting against time, and the superb endurance of the forts at Liege has robbed our enemy of many priceless days. If the German forces are unable very swiftly to crumple up the Allies on her western frontier they must retrace their steps in order to push back the Russian advance. A second entry into Paris would be a dearly-bought triumph if it coincided with a Russian entry into Berlin.

In the south-eastern area, Servia [Serbia] has won a notable victory over Austria. Indeed it is said that Austria has abandoned the campaign against Servia. Whether this be true or not, it is unquestionable that internal political difficulties tend largely to weaken the support that so great an empire as Austria would otherwise be able to give to Germany.

Coming near to our own sphere of action, it is impossible to regard without emotion the hideous ruin that Germany had wrought in Belgium. Here was one of the most industrious and flourishing of the smaller States of Europe. Belgium owed her independence to a solemn compact to which the German Empire was one of the signatories. In the midst of overwhelmingly powerful neighbours, Belgium was not entitled or expected to trust to her own unaided resources to protect her liberties or her trade.

It was of the first importance to the peace and to the stability of Europe that her independence should be jealously maintained by all the Powers. Unfortunately for Belgium, however, the short and easy cut from Berlin to Paris lies through Belgian territory. The German Government offered Belgium terms for the uninterrupted passage of German troops that would have brought Belgium into immediate collision with France. It was, for Belgium, a case of out of the frying pan into the fire with a vengeance.

If the Belgians had meekly submitted to the German demands they might have bought peace for the moment, but, assuredly, at the price of the enduring hostility of France. It was a cruel choice to offer to a small State, and all the greater is the debt that Europe owes to Belgium for her heroic repudiation of a wicked alternative.

Well, the German Emperor's forces have ravaged Belgium. They are now hurling themselves on France with indescribable fury. If dramatic justice is duly apportioned, the further they advance the more complete will be their undoing.What proportion of the German people sympathises with the frankly brutal policy of their government we do not know. For the moment, no doubt, patriotism in Germany overrides all other passions. Later, we may hope, the reckoning will come and this appalling strife will not be in vain if it ends in the liberation of Germany herself from the domination of a military caste that has long menaced the peace of mankind.

I do not wish to dwell on the grave list of casualties to our own troops that marks the opening of this terrible campaign. We mourn the gallant men who have so nobly perished in a great cause. Such losses as these, however, will not shake the national resolve. We see now that nothing less than the freedom of Europe is at stake and we shall not waver any more than our ancestors wavered in Napoleonic days, so long as the issue is in doubt. With a population not more than a third of our present number and resources not one tenth part as great, our ancestors hung on to the greatest soldier of modern centuries and pulled him down in the end.

Our Navy meanwhile pursues its allotted task with silent but splendid efficiency. It will not relax its pressure, I trust, until every German ship of war has been accounted for. The Kaiser's High Sea Fleet may continue to sulk in the shelter of the guns of Heligoland. It chooses, perhaps the lesser of two evils. What it is not effecting is the protection of German commerce. Already, it is virtually impossible for any German merchantmen to put to sea in any part of the world. This means the steady strangulation of German trade. We feel the pinch ourselves, but our food supply is assured, and our commerce in many branches shows signs of an ever increasing activity.

To those of my readers who have felt any doubts as to the objects of German policy I warmly recommend the perusal of "Germany and the Next War" ["Deutschland und der Nächste Krieg," 1911] written by eminent German General F. von Bernhardi. In this book will be found a clear exposition of the policy that has guided German Governments in recent years. I don't suppose that in the whole range of literature there is to be found an equally cynical revelation of the worship of brute force in the management of human affairs. War is elevated to a religion, and the intention of Germany to trample on the liberties of Europe is set forth with a frankness that admits to no misunderstanding.


House of Commons,

August 25th, 1914.

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Source Date: 

Thursday, August 27, 1914

MP Cecil Harmsworth writes...

A regular feature in The Luton News was a weekly letter written by MP Cecil Harmsworth and sent from the House of Commons. Mr Harmsworth was elected MP for South Beds, including Luton, as a Liberal in a by-election in 1911 and continued to serve until 1922. From the outset of war he gave a quite frank assessment of events at home and abroad. This was his letter published on August 20th, 1914.

The outstanding item of news this week is the brilliantly successful landing in France of the British Expeditionary Force. The secret was wonderfully well kept. Indeed I suppose that the departure of our troops from these shores and their disembarkation at Boulogne and other French ports is the best kept secret of history.

A good many people knew what was going on and the newspaper offices have been for some time past in possession of pretty full information. It is much to the credit of the Press and to all who knew the facts that virtually no public hint was given of so important an item of news.

Clearly, this war is not going to be another case of "muddling through". Whether you regard our military preparations or the machinery that has been brought rapidly into existence to cope with the immense problems of food supply, finance, maritime insurance and the rest, you see everywhere proofs of astonishing national efficiency. The most obvious proof is that the business of the nation and the provisioning of a vast population shows no signs of serious dislocation.

I am taking a wide survey of the situation. Here and there great industries are closing down and the situation cannot be free from some anxiety as long as unemployment is on the increase. At the moment, however, employment in the staple industries is far better than it has often been in times of peace, and there is an excellent prospect of improvement now that commerce and industry are adjusting themselves to the new conditions. Many people say that trade will be booming in a few weeks! Perhaps this is too sanguine a view, but it is not unreasonable to suppose that during the war a good deal of business will come our way that used to go to the Continent.

Most gratifying of all is the abundance of our food supply. Prices of a good many of our necessaries are lower than they were at the outbreak of hostilities. And let this be remembered. There is no need for more than a marginal rise in the price of any of the prime necessaries with the exception of sugar.

To what must we attribute the fact that in the midst of a world war we are able to go about our affairs peacefully and without alarm? To the twenty-five miles and more of salt water that separate us from the Continent, and to the great fleets that keep the seas open for us. I referred last week to the great victories that our fleets have already won for us. A half-dozen successful battles on land could not have secured so much for us.

Contrast the German naval position with our own. What have they accomplished on the seas? All they have achieved is the holding up of our main fleets in the North Sea. We must keep watch and ward day and night, and perhaps from week to week, until our enemy chooses to come out to fight us. That is something no doubt, but it is not much, and there is no element of victory about it.

We, on the other hand, have been able to clear most of the ocean routes of the enemy's cruisers. Food supplies are coming to us almost without interruption. That in itself is a vitally important matter. Again, we have been able to land an army on the Continent under the very noses, as it were, of our adversaries. So all-pervading is the influence of sea power that there is no foreign possession of Germany that we cannot take at our leisure if we have a mind to do so. It comes about that without putting forth our strength, we gain advantages that Germany has been wholly unable to win after ten days of sanguinary fighting on land.

Our only danger, perhaps, is over-confidence, and the reaction that might ensue if we met with reverses. It is almost inconceivable that the perfectly organised German armies and fleets will not succeed somewhere or other in the vast theatre of war. We confront a people of immense resources, and of a courage and skill equal to our own. Their supreme disadvantage is that they are engaged in a war of proud aggression. We and our allies are fighting for national existence. But the German armies and fleets are capable of dealing tremendous blows.

I believe, nevertheless, that so high is the spirit of our people, and so unshakeable their determination, that they are ready to bear with fortitude all the shocks of war. There can be no doubt that we shall win in the end if we act to the end with moderation but with the quiet courage that has marked our conduct so far.


August 18th, 1914.

MP Harmsworth on progress of war


The Parliamentary event of last week was the introduction by Mr Lloyd George of the Defence of the Realm (No. 2) Bill. The original Defence of the Realm Bill, it will be remembered, authorised the Government to take over, if it thought fit, any factory or workshop actually engaged in the production of war material.

The new Bill goes much further. It empowers the Government to take over and manage any factory or workshop that is not at present engaged in the manufacture of the munitions of war, but which is well adapted to that purpose. I will not deny that the House gasped for a moment at this far-reaching proposal, but it soon resigned itself, as it has done on many other occasions, to a willing acceptance of a measure that in the interests of the State is demanded by both civil and the military authorities.

MP Cecil HarmsworthIt is very generally recognised by now that if we are to break through the deadlock that prevails on the western side of the war we must have a superiority over the enemy in munitions and equipment as well as in men. Equally, we recognise as a people that war on the present scale may necessitate the abandonment for the time being of our old-established methods of private and individualistic manufacture. It is a question of more uniforms, more guns, more ammunition, and the sooner we provide these essential commodities in sufficient volume the sooner the war will be over.

I do not touch on the minor questions that have occupied the attention of the House of Commons during the week. There has been a good deal of talk about Donington Hall. Here, it was suggested, the Government had provided needlessly comfortable quarters for a large number of German officer prisoners. A closer examination of the facts and the visit of a Parliamentary committee showed that at Donington Hall the Government had made no arrangements involving unnecessary expense. They had made decent, but by no means luxurious, provision for the captured officers of the enemy's forces, and this had been done not merely from motives of humanity but because our standing in the civilised world requires us to be faithful to the highest observances of war.

It is for the same reason that our sailors do their best to save the lives of the enemy when enemy ships are sunk by the ships of our Navy. We have wish to regulate our conduct in such circumstances by German standards. I trust very earnestly myself that we shall never be coerced into the employment of methods that are unworthy of our great traditions.

From time to time is is useful to estimate our chances of concluding the war on terms commensurate with the terrible sacrifices we have already made. When will the war end? This is a question that is asked me every day and one to which I doubt if General Joffre or General French could give an answer. So far so good, we are happily able to say.

It is clearer now than it was when last I adverted to this question that, humanly speaking, Germany has no prospect whatever of achieving any of her first objects in the war. The enemy has made no advance to Paris since the time when General von Kluck was turned back from his initial stupendous onrush. Again, no serious progress has been made in the attack on Warsaw. Calais, again is withheld from the envious foe by a barrier that is mainly composed of unconquerable British hearts. To put the matter plainly, every one of Germany's great ambitions has been completely frustrated.

But Germany has suffered not only in disappointed ambitions. Every day it becomes more evident that she alone among nations had made full and careful preparation for this decisive conflict. She declared war at the moment that precisely suited her, A nation of tireless energy and of ever-increasing wealth, she had devoted her best endeavours for more than a generation to one national purpose alone - the humiliation of France and, after that, the destruction of the British Empire. I say that unless a miracle happens she will utterly fail in both objects. Meanwhile, she has staked everything on one throw - her commerce, her wealth, the flower of her male population, and her honour.

WE have now some sort of idea what the war is costing us. What is it costing Germany? How many millions of marks a day? We do not know or care. It is a matter of concern to us, however, to realise that Germany has forfeited her status as a civilised nation. By her conduct in Belgium, in France, and now on the high seas that are the common property of all nations, she has sacrificed her position among decent people.

What terms shall we expect from Germany if we win? This also is a question that is constantly asked. I do not seek to anticipate the verdict of those who will have to decide this momentous question, but I do say that the war will have been fought largely in vain if the punishment meted out to Germany is not faithfully proportioned to her many execrable crimes. Vengeance is not ours, but it is not less our duty to punish crime is we have the power, and, what is more to the purpose, to prevent so far as we may the perpetration of crime in the future. The world simply cannot go on on German lines.

I confess that for my part I shall regard the sacrifice of our manhood and of our treasure as a mere spendthrift outlay if it does not result in the defeat of the Prussian aggression and the disappointment of all Prussian hopes. We are not fighting now for a temporary peace. We too are staking our all on the one supreme issue.

Lucky for us that we have behind us a population that has not suffered an overwhelming defeat for nearly a thousand years, and resources that are only limited by the extent of our widespread Empire. I say what I have said since the beginning of this war, that we shall triumph if we make up our minds to.

Little by little during the last few weeks the veil has been lifted from some of our operations in Flanders. We know something now of the tremendous tests to which the courage and endurance of our men and of our Allies have been subjected since first the contending armies settled down to siege conditions along the line from Nieuport to Switzerland.

Our recent brilliant advance at Neuve Chappelle is a happy augury for the success of the allied forces when the great attempt is made to dislodge the Germans from French and Belgian soil, while the sinking of the Dresden reduces the enemy's commerce destroyers almost to vanishing point.


House of Commons

March 16th, 1915.


MP Harmsworth: Civilisation v barbarianism


During the last few days the Germans have developed another attack on the lines of the Allies north of Ypres. The fortunes of the great battle have swayed this way and that. Villages have been taken and retaken and occasions have been given for the display of of many splendid acts of heroism on the part of our troops.

The Bedfordshires have been in the thick of it as usual, and have added glorious lustre to a record that goes back now well over two centuries. Our Canadian brothers, too, have magnificently distinguished themselves. With what astonishment must the devotion of our Colonial forces be regarded by enemy critics of the Von Bernhardi type, who fondly expected that our self-governing dominions would fall away from the Mother Country in the hour of her peril.

MP Cecil HarmsworthThe Germans on their side have not failed to impress the world by their readiness to throw aside all the safeguards of civilisation in their frantic efforts to break through the circle of steel that walls them in. The asphyxiating bomb is their most recent contribution to the science of war. For some hundreds of years decent peoples have been striving by means of International agreements, by Hague Conventions, and what not, to mitigate in some degree the horrors of war.

Piracy, we thought, had been banished from the high seas, and mainly, we were proud to think, through the instrumentality of the British Navy. It was left for the Germans to revive a method of warfare on the sea which corresponds to cold-blooded murder on land. Now we have the poisonous bomb. What next?

This second (or is it the third?) attempt to force a way through to Calais has a special interest for us. Our enemy is at no pains to conceal his hatred for us as a nation. The reason is not far to seek. We have, in plain English, upset his apple-cart. We have frustrated the plans and ruined the careful calculations of forty years. Hence the despicable and irreligious cry of "Gott straafe England". God punish England indeed!

How sweet it would have been to lay waste the fair provinces of France, re-enter Paris, to exact enormous indemnities, to reduce a great free people to a condition of vassalage! We stopped all that and now our enemy seeks to establish himself not in Paris but in Calais and Boulogne - over against and in full view of the white cliffs of Old England.

Pretty neighbours for us, these apostles of culture! The aspiring sea power that recks nothing of murderous attacks on defenceless merchantmen and fishermen, whether hostile or neutral, and leaves harmless civilians to drown like rats or to suffer exposure in cockleshell boats on wintry seas, would be, I say, a pleasant neighbour for a people that depends on its command of the sea for its daily bread.

Little wonder that our gallant sons are rallying in their hundreds of thousands to the colours, and that our workshops ring with preparations for war. We who were slow to think evil of German intentions, who trusted over much to lavish protestations of friendship, who hospitably entertained from time to time the chief of a State that was all the time plotting our ruin, we have roused ourselves at last to complete wakefulness, and there is no sacrifice we will not cheerfully make to redeem a too confiding past.

We must still expect such frantic onslaughts as that of the enemy on our lines in Flanders. We must make up our minds to the further loss of precious lives. It is not too much to say that we and our allies are trustees for the cause of civilisation against the most determined effort that has been made in recent centuries to bring back the age of barbarism. Fortunate for us it is that Armageddon does not find us battling alone against the barbarians.

Our discussions in the House of Commons during the past week have been harmonious and uneventful. The Prime Minister's speech in Newcastle and the no less momentous pronouncement of Mr Lloyd George in the House of Commons have gone far to remove the uneasy impressions created by a fretful and peevish section of the Press. It is true that our warlike preparations were not originally on the Continental scale. As well might it be complained that none of our allies made naval preparations on our scale.

As things go, however, we bid fair to create an army that will rank for numbers and will excel in equipment some great European armies. And we shall do it without coercing any man to the performance of his patriotic duty.


House of Commons,

27th April, 1915.

[The Luton News, April 29th, 1915]


MP Harmsworth: German piracy is failing


Parliament is rising for another longish recess. We shall go on like this, I suppose, sitting for a few weeks and adjourning until the end of the war.

It cannot be said that the sitting now about to conclude has produced any sensational results, but a great many questions of interest have been well aired and some grievances have been remedied. The House of Commons contains so many men of business ability and of wide public experience that its deliberations cannot fail to react usefully on the national situation, even at a time when the best energies of every one of us are directed to one supreme object, namely the successful prosecution of the war.

MP Cecil HarmsworthThroughout our discussions in the House of Commons the party truce had been most loyally observed, Sharp things have been said about this or that item of policy, but they have not been merely party criticisms. More than once, on the other hand, I have enjoyed the novel experience of hearing a too much heckled Minister encouragingly cheered from both sides of the House. The fact is that there is no illusion whatever in the House of Commons as to the deadly seriousness of the work in which the nation as a whole, and irrespective of party, is now engaged.

In the smoking room we sometimes debate whether party politics will ever be the same again. Not quite the same, I think. It would be a good thing for all parties is we could rid ourselves of the petty spitefulness and unseemly personalities that have disfigured our politics during the last few years. This happy result might well be achieved without an disadvantage to the political ideals that animate the great parties. Men will continue to differ about policy as long as the world lasts, but it will be all to the good if they learn to quarrel in a decent and sportsmanlike fashion.

As far as the war is concerned, the special feature of the last week or so has been the comparative failure of the German piratical campaign against our commerce. Germany has made a desperately bad start as an ambitious naval power. She has achieved very little with her formidable fleets, and she has made herself responsible for a revival of illegal methods of naval warfare that has gone far to alienate from her any lingering sympathies of neutral Powers. It is not not only our interest and the interest of our Allies, but the direct concern of all other nations in the world that he position as a military and naval power should be utterly destroyed.

The refusal of our own Government to regard the officers and crew of the German submarine U8 as honourable prisoners of war might have been expected to open German eyes to the wickedness of their new naval policy is it were not abundantly clear that they definitely resolved to stick at nothing, however base and however contrary to the usage of civilised peoples, in their unavailing efforts to break through the blockade that we have imposed on them. These proceedings,we may be sure, are being watched with anxiety by every other power in the world.

To the smaller nations especially it must be a matter of grave concern that the second naval power should resort to methods that, if ultimately successful, would put all seaborne commerce at the mercy of cut-throats and buccaneers. We at least are in a position to say that although for a hundred years and more we have possessed a giant's strength on the seas we have never used it tyrannously.

It is a pleasure to turn from this aspect of the war to the operations that we and our Allies are conducting in the Dardanelles. Nothing in my times has fired the popular imagination so much as the spectacle of the great combined fleet steadily pounding its was to Constantinople through the most difficult and strategic channel in the world. How immense is out naval superiority over our enemies is demonstrated by the fact that we have been able to detach for these operations the Queen Elizabeth, the most powerful ship of war in existence. We are engaged in an enterprise that may well be described as romantic. It is calculated, if successful, to exercise a profound influence on the war.

The Parliamentary recess will be very little of a holiday for most of us. Over 200 Members of Parliament are wearing the King's uniform, and there are very few others who are devoting their services in one way or another to important matters arising out of the war.


House of Commons,

Wednesday, March 10th, 1915


[The Luton News, Thursday, March 11th, 1915]


MP Harmsworth: Murder on the high seas


Since I wrote my last Parliamentary Letter, now nearly three months ago, the war has proceeded with varying fortunes from day to day, but always with some improvement in the prospects of the Allies.

We have had out bitter losses, our long daily casualty lists, our misadventures by land and sea. As long as history endures we will remember the heroes who have sacrificed themselves for us and who, whether they have been serving in the Navy or the Army, have been safeguarding our hearths and homes as certainly as if they had fought within the borders of our own country.

For the moment, the frontiers of Britain are not the grey seas that surround us on every side, but the fluctuating lines of battle in Flanders, in France and, if the matter is rightly apprehended, in Russia too. It is not a dramatic spectacle that we are watching, but a life and death struggle in which our own future is as closely involved as that of any of our Allies.

As I say, however, our fortunes have improved and are improving. The lines of battle do not alter very perceptively from one day to another, but always our strength waxes as our adversary wanes. We are only now beginning to put forth our fullest efforts. Truth to tell, we were not prepared for a conflict on this scale. I doubt if any of the combatants, with the exception of Germany, had any clear conception as to the size and nature of the struggle in which we are now engaged.

We at least can argue with perfect honesty that the best proof of our having had no thought of aggression in our minds is that fact that it is only now, seven months after the outbreak of the war, that we are adequately prepared for war.

Let there be no mistake. We have done wonders in the way of preparation in these seven months. In accordance with Lord Haldane's splendid plan, out Territorial Army is now fit, as the Prime Minister said today, to confront the best troops in Europe. The new battalions of the so-called "Kitchener's Army" have improved beyond recognition. Our number are beyond any calculations that War Ministers of either party have ever asked for, and still the stream of recruits pours in unceasingly.

It is strange, when you think of it, that the simple "Tommy" has often a sounder opinion as to the deadly importance of this conflict than people who are older and think themselves wiser than he. He is prepared to make the supreme sacrifice - to risk his worldly prospects, his health, his life itself, for the great cause. We stay-at-homes may well reconcile ourselves to any inconvenience that the war imposes on us, for however much discomfort we suffer, our troubles are trifles light as air in comparison with his.

I have said that the strength of the enemy is declining. This is evidences in many ways, and in no way more obviously than by the desperate shifts to which he has latterly felt himself obliged to resort. During the last few weeks we have had the German "blockade" of our country. This is in effect not a blockade but a return to the methods of Captain Kidd and the notorious pirates of old. To sink neutral or hostile merchantmen, without examination of papers and, more important, without putting a prize crew on board or making other arrangements for the safety of the ship's company, is piracy. A still plainer English name is "murder".

This is the latest policy of the second Naval Power. In strict justice, every German naval officer or man who has engaged in these practices would merit and would receive the hangman's noose. The bombardment of open seaside towns is murder. The sinking of harmless merchantmen and resigning their crews to their fate is murder. This is what Germany has come to.

Fortunately, the first Naval Power is in a position to face this situation with equanimity. We shall not ask the officers and men of our glorious fleets to stain their hands with the blood of innocent men. We shall merely tighten still further the inexorable squeeze of sea power. As the Prime Minister has announced today, nothing in the way of supplies shall go into Germany and nothing in the way of exports shall come out.

An inadequate reply to German atrocities, you may say. I don't think so. After all, we have great traditions behind us and splendid ideals in front of us. It would be a calamity of worldwide significance if the first Naval Power condescended to German methods. Besides, we shall succeed by honest policy where German blood-guiltiness will miserably fail. These latest examples of German policy must needs have one important result, and that is to convince all neutrals that it is essential to their interests that the German power should be broken and defeated. Imagination staggers at the thought of a world in which German ideas of warfare and domination should ultimately prevail. I have no doubt myself that the police exercised by the enemy in its attempts to "blockade" out coasts is being watched with painful solicitude by every small and bis neutral country in the world.


House of Commons,

March 1st, 1915


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.]

MP Harmsworth: Peace only on our terms

The Session of 1914 is at and end. Parliament has been prorogned after what has been generally described as the most memorable sitting of half a century. I much regret that I missed the final scene, when [Labour MP] "Will"Crooks called upon the House to sing "God Save the King". I was in bed at the time with a bad cold, and I was not lucky enough to witness the historic reconciliation of the British and Irish races. The war had brought one good result anyway. From henceforth it will not be possible for our German and other critics to point to our failure in Ireland as a proof that we are unfit to control a great empire.

As I write, the titanic struggle on the lines of the River Aisne is still in progress. It has been going on for ten day, and latterly under the worst possible weather conditions. It is at such times especially that out hearts go out in sympathy and gratitude to our noble fellows at the front. There is the feeling, too, of futility and exasperation among those of us who are still able-bodied that we can do so little to help them.

Why aren't we out there taking our share of the knocks? I believe that Lord Kitchener could have hundreds of thousands of men of my own age [45 years old] and thereabouts if we could only persuade him that we should be as useful in the field as younger men. Very likely the future of France, of Belgium, of Germany, and even of England, is being settled in the trenches of the Aisne.

The Germans, we are told, are astonished at the fighting qualities of "these English". The Kaiser ought to have known. He has been a frequent visitor amongst us, and has no doubt dipped into British history. I begin to think that a good deal of the spite he is now venting on us comes from a realisation on his part that he has fatally under-estimated both our strength and our endurance. He is not the first world conqueror who has had to submit in the long run to the patient, unshakeable tenacity of British troops.

There are other patent signs that the Germans are losing their nerve. The sacking of Louvain, Malines, Termonde, Senlis, the wanton ruin of the cathedral at Rheims, and the scattering of contact mines in the high seas - these are not the actions of brave men who know their cause to be just. The English language has good, strong old-fashioned words in which to describe the men who do these things. Huns, vandals, assassins, pirates - the modern Attila has only himself and his policy to thank if less cultured people described him and his agents in such words as these.

However, we have sterner business before us just now even than the bringing of the Kaiser to the bar of civilised opinion. That can come later. Our immediate purpose is to drive him and his savage armies out of France and Belgium. It will take a long time a-doing, I dare say, but we shall succeed if only we are true to ourselves. And we must sign no peace that does not mean the smashing of German Imperialism once and for all.

There was talk of peace, you will have observed, in America the other day. German emissaries were put up to assure the American people that nothing but British jealousy of Germany etc stood in the way of immediate peace. Our jealousy of Germany! Why? We have in the past frankly admired and even envied Germany's greater efficiency in many things - in education, for instance,. We have been willing to learn many things of Germany. Does anybody envy German now?

Almost as revolting as the barbarianism of Germany's methods in war is the Press campaign by which she seeks to poison opinion against the Allies in the neutral countries. The employment of gangs of salaried ruffians to tell lies in America and elsewhere about us and our Allies is surely incompatible even with German "culture". It is a foolish expedient at best.

The causes of the present war are well known in all countries - except, perhaps, among the deluded German people - and the aims of German ambition have long since been given quite frankly to the world by Germans themselves. German philosophers, professors and generals have been preaching for years the destruction first of France and then of the British Empire. I don't say they quite expected things to happen as they are now happening. German chances would have been more rosy if (1) their Navy has been built up to their full programme, and if (2) we had been engaged in a small was in India or elsewhere in our Empire. But so overweening is German vanity and so greedy the German lust for "world power" that the present opportunity was seized with enthusiasm.

Germany can have peace at any time she likes - on our terms. Let her evacuate France and Belgium, hand over every one of her ships of war, give back Alsace and Lorraine to France, make territorial concessions to Russia on her eastern border, and pay full indemnities to ourselves and out Allies, and we shall be prepared to discuss terms of peace. We do not aim at the downfall of the German people. Our only desire is that Prussian militarism shall be utterly destroyed, and we shall not cry a halt until this object is achieved.


House of Commons

September 22nd, 1914.

[The Harmsworth Parliamentary Letters in The Luton News were submitted only while the House of Commons was in session. The House was not due to sit again during 1914].

MP Harmsworth: Reckless German policy


The Government proposals for dealing with the drink problem have been keenly criticised from opposite points of view. By some they are said to go beyond the needs of the case, and by others not to go far enough. It may be found on mature consideration that they contrive in a general way to strike the happy mean.

On one point at least there is likely to be agreement - that since the situation is a serious one we should flinch from whatever steps are considered necessary. We cannot ignore the examples set us by Russia and France. Both great countries have adopted remedies that are in their different ways as drastic as any measures that our own Government proposes, and it would ill beseem us to wrangle over details, however important, with such examples before us.

MP Cecil HarmsworthIt is odd that this always controversial topic should have given occasion for the only division in the House of Commons since the outbreak of war. I confess quite frankly that I was so little apprehensive of such an event that I was busy at the Home Office at the time, and so missed taking part in a division that will come to be regarded, perhaps, as one of the most curious incidents of an historic session. Needless to say, the Government ran in no danger from the opposition of the five Independent Nationalist members who indulged in this rather ill-timed jest.

As I write, there are stronger rumours than ever that two great Powers not yet involved in the war are taking the most serious view of the German menace. The sinking of an American oil-tank steamer by a German submarine off the Scilly Isles has given cause for the gravest offence in the United States.

It would almost seem as if our insensate enemy positively invited the declared hostility of neutral powers. On what other assumption can the German policy of hitting blindly all round be accounted for? Dutch ships, Norwegian ships, American ships - it matters nothing to the infuriated German Government who may become the victims of their diabolical submarine policy.

If, again, it is true that German emissaries have stirred up a native revolt in the Italian province of Tripoli we have yet another example of German recklessness and a sufficient explanation of the crisis that now confronts the Italian Government. It is suggested in some quarters that the German intention is deliberately to provoke the antagonism of powerful neutrals so that when the time comes to acknowledge themselves beaten they may be able to assert that they have yielded at last to overwhelming odds. Meanwhile, however, there are no clear signs that the Germans are crushed. Our casualty lists unhappily prove that there is plenty of fight in them yet.

Our own Government has no intention of relaxing its efforts, whatever German intentions may be. The work of mobilising all the resources of the country goes on apace. Munitions and men are being provided in ever-increasing volume, and every day the resolution of our people stiffens as the nature of the struggled in which we are engaged is more vividly realised.

This afternoon, for instance, I have had the honour of presiding at a great recruiting meeting which was addressed by the Prime Minister [Herbert Asquith]. The committee of which I am chairman has formulated a scheme for securing a larger number of willing recruits from the distributing trades. As the Prime Minister showed, these trades have done extremely well in the matter of recruiting.

The question is whether in view of the national emergency and in response to Lord Kitchener's appeals, the distributing trades can go one better, It is very difficult for long-established industries to re-arrange their conditions of employment. In any circumstances, such re-adjustments cannot be made without much inconvenience to traders themselves and to their customers. The traders assembled at the Westminster Palace Hotel today, constituting as they did the most influential gathering of the kind that had ever met in London, were fully alive to these difficulties but not less determined to submit to any inconvenience in view of the national crisis.

A similar meeting on a smaller scale will be held in Luton at an early date. I have no doubt that the distributing trades of Luton, which have already released so many men for service with the colours, will respond to this fresh appeal with the same public spirit.

I have no space to deal, even in the barest outlines, with the Chancellor's financial statement. The Budget itself will come later on in the year. A cheerful passage in Mr Lloyd George's speech was that in which referred to the alacrity with which the super-tax payers are responding to the demands of the Income Tax Commissioners. "Some of the remittances," said Mr Lloyd George, "were accompanied by letters stating with what readiness they paid the taxes." The rich are proving in this respect as in others that they are shouldering ungrudgingly their part of the national burden.


House of Commons

May 4th, 1915


MP Harmsworth: The Lusitania crime


The sinking of the Lusitania is assuredly the most hideous crime that has been perpetrated since the infamous Duke of Alva ravaged the Low Countries with fire and sword and torture. We must go back three centuries, that is to say, to find a parallel to the dreadful deed by which the miscreants who direct German policy have crowned a long record of unutterable offences. They have staggered humanity in good sooth. It is not too much to say that this murder of more than one thousand inoffensive travellers had shaken the human world to its foundations.

With what object was this deed committed? Who can say! Some there are who think, as I said last week, that the immediate object of German policy is to provoke the whole world to hostility so that it may reasonable be pleaded when the German power is broken that it yielded only to overwhelming force. This explanation is as good as another. I confess myself wholly unable to explain a course of action that seems to rest on no sane or intelligible basis.

Go back for a moment to the fateful days at the end of last July. We see the Austrian Emperor presenting an ultimatum to the tiny Servian [Serbian] state that no self-respecting country could accept and survive. We see all the other Powers in Europe but one stirring every nerve, exhausting every diplomatic expedient, in an endeavour to limit the demands of Austria and confine the area of the dispute. Germany stood ostentatiously aside from the concerted action of the Powers, but she was not idle. She deliberately goaded her wretched Austrian dupe into war, and then, relying on her own preparations of 40 years, flung out her own ultimatums right and left. We were thought fit to be approached with shameful suggestions of neutrality because we were supposed to be incapable, by reason of our own internal embarrassments, of taking effect part in a world war.

The long months have passed, and all that time we have been locked in a life and death struggle for our own national existence and for the liberties of the world. Thousands of our brightest young lives have been sacrificed on sea and land. And the end is not yet in sight.

The Kaiser, we are told, has received hundreds of telegraphic congratulations on the sinking of the Lusitania. Berlin is delirious with joy, and there has been heavy convivial drinking in the German clubs in New York. Think of it! Did the world ever before witness the spectacle of a whole nation congratulating itself on the commission of a frightful crime? Has anything equally portentous ever happened in the history of civilisation?

It is well that at such an hour as this we can count on the heroic assistance of powerful friends. Not less is it fortunate that we can rely on the unshakable fortitude of our own people. The news of the loss of the Lusitania brought recruits to every office of enlistment in the kingdom. In London they jostled one another in their impatience to join the colours. So in the Middle Ages chivalrous spirits pressed eagerly forward to take part in holy crusades.

Our young men are wide awake now to the sacredness of the cause that they are called upon to defend. This is no war of kings and dynasts or of artful politicians. We are on the side of Christendom against devilry.

The historians of the future will be at pains to enquire how it came about that such a people as the Germans, after having attained a certain level of civilisation, fell in a few months into the depths of barbarism. Their decline and fall has been infinitely more rapid than that of any other people in history. False teaching, false philosophy, sudden prosperity, great success too easily attained - these, no doubt, are some of the causes that are making for the destruction of Germany. Add to them uncontrolled authority in the hands of a vainglorious despot, and we are as near the explanation of an amazing phenomenon as we are likely to get.

It is a vast responsibility that rests on us and our Allies. If we should fail in our duty the world will have lost the many incalculable advantages that civilisation has given us, and Europe will lie at the mercy of a people compared with whom the Saracens of old were children of light. We shall have to start building up the fabric of European society from its foundations.

The policy of the poisonous bomb, of shooting in cold blood the prisoners of war, the murder of simple peasants, the torpedoing without notice of fisherman and merchantmen, the sinking of great passenger vessels with their freights of women and little children - it is such a policy as this that the Germans seek to substitute for the conventions and international rules that have served for some centuries at least to mitigate the horrors of war.

Not the least of German offences is the habit of wholesale and unabashed lying that accompanies their warlike operations. The disgustingly mendacious story of the imaginary sea battle off the coast of Norway is a case in point. Part of our Navy is represented as having engaged another British squadron in a deadly conflict, and German "Main Headquarters" reports the names of individual British ships sunk or disabled in a fight that never took place! All this, no doubt, for the benefit of neutrals hesitating on which side to throw their weight.

Well, our sacred duty is to press steadily forward to the final victory that will not be denied us if we are true to ourselves. Debauched and degraded as they are, I do not believe that the Germans would lightly have sacrificed the respect of a horrified world if they had not been convinced by now that there game is up, and that they have nothing now to hope for from the good offices of impartial neutrals.


House of Commons,

May 12th, 1915.


MP: Dangers of a makeshift peace

During the whole of the past week the House of Commons has presented the gratifying spectacle of a happy and united family. Another of Mr Lloyd George's Budgets, a more formidable one than any other of the series, has come and well-nigh gone through without so much as an angry protest in any quarter.

Doubled income tax and super-tax, 3d a pound more on tea, a halfpenny on a glass of beer - these surely are proposals that in times of peace would have excited fierce opposition. Today they are accepted as non-controversial matters, and Mr Austen Chamberlain, who cordially and honestly detests our Liberal system of Free Trade finance, consents patriotically to assist the Chancellor in regard to the details of his scheme of war taxation. Mr Chamberlain is not thereby committed in any respect to the principle of our Budget. He merely lends his great financial knowledge to the Government of the day and, by doing so, contributes handsomely to the spectacle of happy uniformity to which I have referred.

There is a large class of people who belong to none of the great political parties and who cherish the hope that some day or other party differences will disappear, and that we shall be governed by Cabinets representing all shades of political opinion. Whether this dream will ever be realised I do not know, but it is certain that an even more astonishing result has been achieved for the time being. We have in power the most radical of Governments loyally backed by an opposition that is more Tory in some respects than any Tory Opposition of modern times!

To the ordinary Member of Parliament the present regime offers some advantages that are warmly appreciated. There are now whips on the doors, and the division bells must run in danger of falling into disorder through lack of use. Also, it is possible to get to bed at a respectable hour! Quite seriously, the House of Commons today offers to the country and to the world at large an example of friendly co-operation that symbolises the perfect unity of purpose with which the nation confront the most perilous situation that has arisen in our history since Napoleon threatened our shores with invasion.

I have often said that I am very sanguine as to the ultimate result to us of this stupendous conflict. My optimism has been based on the conviction that if we all work loyally together and "put our backs into it" we can make victory certain.

Are we doing all that the situation demands? Not quite, I think, as long as there are still in our midst thousands of young men who could join the colours and who have not yet done so. I should be the last to bring any sort of pressure to bear on young men who are hampered by family ties or who are engaged in work that is as essential to the welfare of the State as military service itself. The fact remains that among our allies, and in Germany and Austria, almost every man capable of bearing arms is doing so, whereas the manning of our armies and fleets still absorbs only a relatively small proportion of our adult male population.

Some young men are deterred from joining the colours, I think, by the belief that, even if they do so, they will be too late to render useful assistance. We or our enemies will be beaten, they seem to think, befo9re they would be fit to bear a hand in the war. This is beyond question a wholly mistaken view. We shall win, I believe, but we must do much more than that. We must be in such a military position at the end of the war that our enemies have no other choice than to sue for peace on our terms. Anything like a drawn game would be only less serious to us than defeat.

Our prime object is the crushing of the Prussian military spirit that has kept Europe on tenterhooks for 15 or 20 years. There can be no rest or peace for us, for France, for Belgium, or for the small neutral States of Europe, as long as the brutal policy of the "mailed fist" dominates the German and Austrian Empires. We dare not consent to a makeshift peace that merely postpones the decision for a short period. If we don't crush Prussianism now we shall have all our work to do over again in a few years' time.

I think it is quite likely that is Germany fails in her present desperate enterprises in Belgium and on her Eastern frontier she will begin to talk of peace. She may offer to withdraw from Belgium and France, and she may call on the world to forgive and to forget the past. We shall not seek revenge, but we shall be foolish indeed if we do not exact full reparation for the unspeakable wrongs Germany has committed and, above all, is we do not deprive her of the power to drench Europe with blood again.

A correspondent of mine in South Beds asked me recently what is the practice of the War Office in the matter of serving out rum to the troops. An abstainer himself, with two sons on active service, he was anxious to know whether rum was distributed indiscriminately to our men at the front. I have submitted this point to Mr Mr Harold Baker MP, Financial Secretary to the War Office, and he tells me that rum is only issued to the troops on the recommendation of the medical authorities. Each unit is asked to state the number of officers, non-commissioned officers and men who desire the rum ration, and the amount for that number is issued by the Supply branch.


House of Commons,

Tuesday, November 24th, 1914


MP: Kaiser has set his heart on Calais

The House of Commons adjourned on Thursday after a short but remarkably interesting sitting. I have referred to the complete unanimity with which the latest and most burdensome Budget was accepted. Now and again points of criticism were raised, but there was no sign in the House, and there has been none in the country, of a disposition to quarrel with financial arrangements necessary to the successful prosecution of the war.

I believe that great numbers of people who are themselves debarred by age, sex or some other reason from taking an active part in the war take a positive pleasure in paying war taxes! In doing so they know that they are contributing materially to the success of the war, and they rejoice accordingly.

Meanwhile our soldiers are undergoing hardships unexampled in their severity, and are performing daily deeds of heroism as glorious as any recorded in the annals of our race. As I write there are rumours of yet another German onslaught on Ypres. The Kaiser has set his heart on Calais and, having signally failed in every other theatre of war, hopes it would seem to complete his conquest of Belgium and to annex also the seaports of France that lie immediately over against the white cliffs of "perfidious" England.

To those who are still disposed to indulge anxious views as to the outcome of the war, the steady whittling down of German ambitions ought to afford great consolation. The first objective was Paris, and many a German breast swelled with hopes of yet another triumphant procession through the Arc de Triomphe. More substantial gains were confidently looked for - a thumping indemnity and the pleasing spectacle of historic France reduced to the status of a second-rate Power that Germany now regards with an almost frenzied hatred!

Well, things haven't happened like that. In effect, if not in actual mileage, the Germans are as far away from Paris as they were four long months ago. Let there be no doubt about that. If it had not been for the sublime steadfastness of British and Belgian troops the highest German aspirations might by now have been fulfilled. As it is, the best Germany can hope for is to strengthen her hold of Belgium, to advance as far as she can along the northern seaboard of France and then, as I suspect, clamour for peace.

A few soft-hearted people are beginning to say that if the Kaiser offers to withdraw his broken forces from Belgium and France and to retire behind his own frontiers we ought to be prepared to discuss terms of peace with him. My own impression is that the desperate German efforts to gain Calais and the holding on to Belgium are deigned with a view to having "something in hand" when it comes to the point of suing for peace.

But we shall not be satisfied with an undertaking to retire from territory that was wantonly invaded and that has been ruthlessly despoiled. My own views as to what sort of peace we ought to conclude are clear enough. I have mentioned them before. The handing over of the German fleet, full cash indemnities to Belgium and France for material damage inflicted, and territorial concessions to France and Russia - there are a few among the articles of any treaty of peace that is worth our consideration.

Perhaps after all the German intention is to win Calais at any price and to stay there for good. I see no prospect of this ambition being realised. Let us suppose, however, that the Germans take Calais and hold Calais in force. We are told that the Germans regard Calais as their future Gibraltar. Frankly, Calais in German hands would constitute as alarming menace to England and to England's sea power. Look at the map of the English Channel and you will see what I mean.

I am of the number who have taken a serious but not an alarmist view of German intentions against this country. I freely confess that I had no notion of the depth and bitterness of German hostility to this country. My plain opinion now is that the Kaiser would risk his crown and his empire if by doing so he could inflict a mortal wound on England. I am a reluctant convert to this view, but I am wholly converted and, holding this view, I am unshakably convinced that our duty is to frustrate his aims by every means in our power. I am equally sure we shall baulk him if we make up our minds to it.

Meanwhile, our hearts must go out to our heroes in the trenches and to our sailors who day and night keep their watch on the seas. But for them we should be overrun as Belgium has been overrun. The Germans have been quite willing to drive into exile and poverty a small people famous in Europe for their industry and protected in their independence by the guarantees of greater Powers, among whom Germany was one. Do you suppose that the Kaiser would be more merciful to us if he had us in his grip?

There is still talk of the possibility of a German invasion of England. I am well aware of the difficulties that attach to such an enterprise, and I am not indifferent to the view that from the German standpoint it is almost as useful to talk about a raid as to attempt it. Looked at coolly, such an attempt would seem to be doomed to certain failure. But there is no knowing what the Germans may not attempt in their present state of embittered hostility to us. And, since all military operations are uncertain as to their results, an adventure of this kind might meet with a measure of success. WE are not to suppose that we are the only people in the world who are immune from invasion.

Obviously, we can afford to regards threats of invasion with contempt only if we are absolutely certain that we have done everything possible to protect ourselves against them. Have we yet done everything possible? Not, in my judgement, as long as we have in our midst thousands, nay hundreds of thousands, of young men who have never shouldered a rifle and who remain deaf to the appeals of Lord Kitchener.


House of Commons,

December 1st, 1914


MP Harmsworth: How it all started

When I closed my letter last week we were awaiting Germany's reply to our ultimatum. Much history has been written since then, and the whole British race in these islands and outside of them has ranged itself in opposition to the most powerful and unscrupulous military tyranny that has existed since Waterloo.

Until a short time ago those of us who have any sense of responsibility spoke of German aggression in terms chosen carefully and with a view to adding nothing to the difficulty of a situation growing month by month more difficult. To point to Germany as the disturber of the peace of the world seemed to us a dangerous thing, and even when the most peaceful of us voted for naval estimates of stupendous dimensions, we strove nevertheless to justify our action without indicating in a provocative way the power against which our naval preparations were made. It is now possible to speak more plainly. Everybody now sees that if we had failed to build up a naval force of unparalleled strength out position in Europe, our existence perhaps as an independent State, must have been forfeited.

Let us now see how this dreadful thing started. Austria goes to war with Servia [Serbia]. Germany, Austria's ally, goes to war with France without the slightest excuse. Russia, France's ally, goes to war with Germany. Germany thus finds arrayed against her and threatening her eastern and western frontiers two immensely powerful military States. More recently France has declared war against Austria.

Germany has been preparing for this event for a generation and more. She has matured her plan of campaign and every detail of it has been worked out with the characteristic thoroughness of the German race. A rapid uninterrupted march through Belgian territory, a few glorious victories over the despised soldiers of France, and then a second triumphant entry into Paris. After that the destruction of the British Empire. Such were Germany's expectations. The thing had been planned out down to the last button on the last German soldier's uniform.

What about England? What part did Germany expect us to play in this great drama? Germany knew that we had in power a peace-loving Liberal Government. Germany reckoned too, I think, on civil war in Ireland. Here came in the second fatal miscalculation. The first was that the Belgians would stand quietly by while the tyrant strode over the territory that he had sworn to treat as inviolable, and that we should barely connive at this outrage.

I cannot blame the Germans for not understanding Irish politics and the Irish people. Do we understand them ourselves? After many years' study one can only say with confidence that the Irish people may always be depended on to do the thing that is least expected of them. The instant that mortal danger threatened Great Britain, Irishmen of all creeds fell into line, shoulder to shoulder, and declared themselves willing to go anywhere and do anything, not merely for their respective provinces of Ireland but for the British Empire! Such an astonishing phenomenon has not been seen in the history of our race, and one cannot wonder, I say, that it took the Germans by surprise.

In the House of Commons astounding events have been happening every day. On one day we voted a credit of £100,000,000, an additional force of 500,000 men for the Army, and another force of 67,000 men for the Navy. And all in fewer minutes than I occupy in telling the story! Was any word of protest heard? Not a word. Liberals, Irishmen, Labour men, all met the demands of the Government without so much as a syllable of protest.It has been so with the Emergency Bills that the situation has required. First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Report - all stages taken in as many minutes.

One day a member rose in his place and asked that a clause of the Bill then under discussion should be read to the House. He was greeted with impatient snorts from all corners of the House. Yet no one except Ministers had ever seen the Bill before. It was a necessary Bill and it was swept on to the Statute Book without further ceremony.

I should like in this connection to pay ungrudging tribute to the splendidly patriotic conduct of the Opposition throughout this crisis. As if by magic all party differences have disappeared for the time being. On every Government emergency committee are members of the Opposition whose energies are devoted with ours to the one supreme national purpose. We have simply set aside all party differences and have been doing the work of the nation..

Look about you. There is not a man or woman in the United Kingdom who is not hard at work in the national cause. If we are not a "nation in arms" we are none the less a nation resolved as one man and woman too, to labour for the safety and independence of our country and for the liberation of Europe.

What can we do to help? For the young men among us there is active service with the colours. Lord Kitchener asks for more men. Each county and each borough must provide its quota of men. For the rest of us there are duties not less important. Great wars are won as much by the high spirit of the people as by the arms of the soldiers in the field.

First, it is essential that we should go about our respective businesses as calmly as though we were still at peace. Employers must continue to provide all the employment that is reasonably possible. Again, there must be no selfish hoarding of gold or foodstuffs. It cannot be too clearly recognised that the hoarder of gold or of food is a more formidable enemy of the commonwealth than any Prussian dragoon.

We must be ready to help our poorer neighbours. A rise in the price of food is a serious matter for small wage-earners, a more serious matter still for those out of employment. Fortunately we have food enough and to spare for the months to come and every day vessels carrying food are coming to our ports. There is not the slightest occasion for nervousness. Food prices are actually lower now than they were a few days ago.

Women can render immense service by making underclothes for our soldiers and for the poor. For men there is work in a hundred different directions.Let me indicate one of them. In many parts of the country there will be a shortage of labour on the farms. Any man who can and will lend a hand in bringing in the harvest is rendering a national service.

At this moment there is a lull in serious hostilities. The heroic conduct of the Belgians at Liege has excited the admiration of the world. It has done more. It has checked the German advance. We must not attach too much importance, however, to minor incidents when we are considering warlike operations in which millions of men are engaged over a vast area.. There will be successes and reverses on both sides. We can scarcely hope that we shall avoid minor mishaps ourselves.

Whatever comes we must face it with perfect equanimity. Our Navy has already won for us a great victory in the war though but few shots appear to have been fired. It has exerted and is now exerting enormous pressure in all our home waters and is protecting commerce in every sea where the British merchantman flies his flag. This is a relatively bloodless victory, but it is as important as many victorious engagements on land.


House of Commons,

Tuesday, August 11th, 1914.

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United Kingdom

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Thursday, August 13, 1914


Source Date: 

Thursday, August 13, 1914

MP Harmsworth: Our responsibilities

Event Start and End Date: 

6th August 1914

Events have moved with appalling swiftness during the past week. Austria is at war with Servia [Serbia], Germany is at war with Russia and France, and we ourselves are on the very verge of war with Germany. We are confronted in Europe with a situation that has no parallel since the first Napoleon was at the height of his career of almost world-wide conquest.

The scene in the House yesterday was one of extraordinary significance. I have never before seen so many members at prayers, and for the first time in my experience, room had to be found for members by providing rows of chairs on the floor of the House. By general consent Questions were postponed. The House was too deeply interested in the forthcoming statement of Sir Edward Grey to concern itself with details. Breathlessly we awaited a statement that must of necessity mean much for our country and for every one of the electors we represent in Parliament.

How do we stand as a nation in the midst of the European conflagration? The Government has entered into certain obligations in our behalf. First, we have promised to protect the French northern and western coasts, and French shipping, against naval aggression. Secondly, we have undertaken to maintain the independence of Belgium. So far our obligations go and no further.

I am not minimising the responsibilities we have taken on ourselves. In the event - and nobody can tell at present how the situation will develop - we may yet be able to maintain a relatively independent attitude. On the other hand it is beyond question that we may be drawn into the heart of the conflict. The latter is indeed the more likely alternative.

At such a juncture as this it behoves each and every one of us to examine his own conscience, to survey the whole situation coolly and as fully as his knowledge of it permits, and to form his own judgment. We dare not allow statesmen or newspapers to decide for us. In this matter we cannot shift our responsibility to other shoulders.

The main question is whether or not we as a people should have stood entirely aloof from the conflict. Put in other words, the question is whether having regard to our obligations to other countries and to our own ultimate welfare we should have been right in adopting an attitude of rigid neutrality. How far do we stand committed by our Entente with France? How far had that informal arrangement compromised us? Again, what is our duty to Belgium and to the other small independent States of Northern Europe?

Let this be said perfectly frankly. There is probably not a single Member of Parliament of any party who goes into this business without serious misgivings. There are few amongst us, I believe, who desire the humiliation of Germany. There are still fewer who would welcome the domination of Russia in eastern Europe. After all, Germany stands for a civilisation that we understand and that is nearer to our own civilisation even than that of France. The world owes an infinite debt of gratitude to the science, the scholarship and the culture of Germany. I think I do not misinterpret the sentiments of the mass of our fellow countrymen when I say that, if it had been possible, we should have preferred a friendly working arrangement with Germany to one with any other European country.

It must be admitted, I think, that the Entente with France has compromised us more deeply than we knew. Relying on our friendship, the French Government removed its fleets to the Mediterranean and left its northern and western seaboards bare of defence. Incidentally, it must be remarked that the presence of a strong and friendly French fleet in the Mediterranean eased the position for us in those waters and enabled us with greater confidence to mass our naval forces in our home waters.

We learn, too, from Sir Edward Grey that there have been "conversations" between British and French naval and military experts as to the best means of carrying on concerted operations in the event of war. I am strongly of the opinion that the fact that such conversations were taking place ought long ago have been communicated to Parliament. Let that pass.

How is the plain man to distinguish between an Entente and a formal Alliance if an Entente leads to the most intimate relations between the Powers concerned and even to discussions as to the best means of conducting defensive and offensive operations in partnership?

Well, we have seen the Bank Rate go to 10 per cent, we have seen the Stock Exchange of the United Kingdom closed, we have seen the Houses of Parliament rush a Bill through in an afternoon's sitting in order to safeguard the whole structure of credit from ruin and collapse, we have seen prices of foodstuffs beginning to rise in every market, we have seen all the forces of the Kingdom in rapid course of mobilisation. We are not to be blamed if our faculties are a little numbed by this astonishing sequence of events.

Fortunately, there is useful work for all of us to do at this supreme crisis. We must keep cool, we must do what in us lies to calm the apprehensions of our neighbours, we must above all things strengthen the hands of the Statesmen who are straining every nerve to limit the area of the war and to reduce to the narrowest compass our own responsibilities in connection with it.

One practical step I hope to see taken by the Government at the earliest possible moment, and that is to prevent an artificial rise in the prices of the necessaries of life. I am not aware at the moment what powers the Government possesses in this regard. If an Act of Parliament is required, it should be put on to the Statute Book without any delay. It is certain that as the war proceeds considerable hardships would fall on the poorer members our community unless the measure I advocate is adopted. A 10 per cent rise in the prices of necessaries amounts to a loss of two shillings in the £ on wages, and so, proportionately, as prices rise. It is a comfort to know, as we learn from the Board of Agriculture, that our existing supplies of corn are sufficient for a four months' consumption.

Our great Navy should be equal to the task of keeping open the routes to the west, and to the east, whence the greater part of sea-borne supplies are drawn. It is not doubted that the supplies of food will be abundant. The question of prices is almost equally important. This vital question is engaging, and for some time had engaged, the earnest attention of the Government.

What is the prevailing feeling in the House? It is one, I say, of grave misgiving and anxiety. I found no trace of light-heartedness among members yesterday, no evidence whatever of the jingo spirit that marked the outbreak of hostilities in South Africa. In the streets outside crowds of excited youths cheered themselves hoarse and waved British and French flags.

We were in no mood for such untimely displays. We comported ourselves as serious men who have embarked on a most perilous enterprise. Out state of mind, nevertheless, was not one of unrelieved gloom. If Germany respects the integrity of Belgium and refrains from naval attacks on the coast towns of France and on French shipping, we may yet be able to hold our hands.

Let me say how great was the pleasure given to the House by the speech of Mr Redmond [John Edward, Irish Parliamentary leader]. It was an extremely difficult speech to make. Until now the sympathies of Nationalist Ireland have not been with us when we have been engaged in international difficulties. Mr Redmond has assured us of the intense loyalty of Nationalist Ireland at this juncture, and in doing this he has made a host of friends for himself and his cause in every camp.


House of Commons,

Tuesday, August 4th, 1914

 PS: As I close my letter there is still uncertainty as to what reply Germany will make to the British ultimatum that expires at 12 o'clock tonight.

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Thursday, August 6, 1914