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Thanks Of The House

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 18 May 1943

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I beg to move,

"That this House, at the triumphant conclusion of the operations by land, sea and air which have secured the unconditional surrender of all the enemy remaining on the Continent of Africa, hereby places on record, with pride and thankfulness, its high appreciation of the services of all ranks of His Majesty's Forces and of the Forces of the Allies operating in that theatre of war, by whose sacrifice, persistence and devotion to duty, sustained by the labours of those at home, this brilliant victory has been achieved."
I am certain that Parliament will desire, on the ending of one phase of the war with the complete destruction of the Axis forces in the Continent of Africa, to record by a formal Motion its thanks to all those who have contributed to this great achievement. Just two years ago the Prime Minister moved a similar Motion after the conquest of Abyssinia and the victories of General Wavell in North Africa. The Libyan Campaign was then part of the offensive—defensive which the British Commonwealth and Empire was conducting single-handed against Germany and Italy. To-day I am inviting the House to express its thanks to those who, moving from defence to attack, have delivered a great and resounding blow against our enemies.

Last week, in announcing the surrender of the armies of the Axis, I gave the House some figures of our casualties during the Battle of Tunis. To-day I bring to the notice of the House the total casualties incurred by the Forces of the British Commonwealth and Empire in Africa and in the Middle Eastern theatre of war since Italy entered the war. They amount to about 220.000 in killed wounded, missing and prisoners. The price of victory has had to be paid. In our rejoicing, let us remember and extend our sympathy to all those who mourn. On the other side, excluding over 200,000 casualties among the native troops in the service of Italy in the Abyssinian and Somaliland Campaign, the figures of total casualties are: Germans, 227,000, Italians 400,000.

Our thoughts naturally turn with gratitude first of all to the land, sea and air Forces that co-operated in the victory in Tunis, to the supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, to General Alexander, Admiral Cunningham and to Air-Marshal Tedder. I would like to have mentioned the names of many other officers who have well earned commendation, but it is hard to make a selection. Let it suffice to say that victories require not only good weapons and good fighting qualities in the officers and men, and good staff work, but, above all, good leadership. We may count ourselves fortunate in having found leaders who have that essential gift of radiating confidence throughout their commands, from headquarters down to the individual fighting man. The American troops have, for the first time in their history, fought in Africa, and the name of Bizerta will ever be remembered in their military annals. French troops, after two years of gloom, have had the satisfaction of receiving the surrender of tens of thousands of Germans.

To turn to our own Forces, we have now in North Africa not one, but two, British Armies, which have won great glory, under generals who have proved their high qualities in the field. General Anderson's First Army, composed of divisions from Great Britain, is now a weapon brought to a fine temper in the fires of war, and we do well to be proud of its brilliant achievements. It shares the glory of the capture of Tunis with General Montgomery's Eighth Army, that Army in which United Kingdom, New Zealand and Indian troops have gained imperishable renown. After that long pursuit through the desert, after many months of fighting, it has had the satisfaction of seeing the remnants of the army that once was Rommel's brought to bay and to destruction in the mountains of Tunis.

In the course of these operations there has been built up a splendid comradeship and understanding between the men of the air and the men of the land and of the sea, while throughout the African campaign sea power, applied with supreme courage and resolution, often in face of great odds, has been a vital factor in deciding the issue in our favour. In our thanks, we should recall the earlier phases of the campaign, the ebb and flow of the fight in Libya, the victory at El Alamein and the long pursuit. We pay our tribute to all those who fought, suffered and laid the foundation of the future victory. In that bitter fighting in the desert, Australians and South Africans rendered yeoman service. Nor can we be unmindful of the work of the Fleet in the Eastern as well as in the Western end of the Mediterranean. We give our thanks, too, to Malta, its people and its garrison, so long beleaguered and so heavily attacked. Malta's constancy and endurance for months as an isolated point of defence, brought their reward in the later stages, when it became an advanced post from which devastating attacks were delivered against the enemy's ports and lines of communication.

This great campaign, fought so far away from the home countries of the combatants, needed for its support the constant, arduous and unwearied services of the men at the bases and on the lines of communication, westward from Egypt and Eastward from Algiers by land, round the Cape and Southward and Eastward across the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean by sea. The Merchant Navy brought and the Royal Navy guarded the weapons, supplies and food fur the fighting men, which were brought up to the front across long and difficult trails. We can never be sufficiently grateful to those who performed these less spectacular services. We can recall with pride that in the course of this North African adventure, the greatest seaborne expedition of recorded time was safely brought from the homelands of Britain and America to the North African shore. I must mention here, too, the work of the medical service—of the doctors, the nurses, and all the non-combatant services. Finally, the men and women in the workshops on both sides of the Atlantic and those who are operating the transport services, had their share in this triumph. They made the weapons—the tanks, the aeroplanes, the guns, the shells, and the mines—and every kind of requisite for war. They had them ready at the right time. They brought them to the places where they could be despatched to reach the hands of the fighting men. To these and to all those who have contributed to this great triumph, we pay our tribute.

I ask the House to pass this Motion, in a spirit not of boastfulness, but of thankfulness and pride; thankfulness for dangers passed and victory achieved, pride in the achievements of the men of our race. Let us pass it, not in a spirit of complacency, but in a spirit of firm determination, resolving that the work of destroying the evil powers that oppress the world, so well accomplished in Africa, shall be carried forward, in concert with our Allies, in Europe, in Asia and in the islands of the Pacific, until, in God's good time, complete victory shall have been achieved, wars shall cease and peace resume her reign.

I wish, in a very few words, to associate those for whom I speak with the expression of the nation's thanks to His Majesty's Forces and to those of the United Nations who have so magnificently demonstrated that spirit of unity of aim and action which has given to our common cause a resounding victory, which has struck with cold fear the hearts of our enemies and made more certain than ever our ultimate success. Especially do we thank our own kith and kin and our brothers of the British Commonwealth, with special sorrow and gratitude to those who are missing from our ranks, and all those members of our Forces who have filled our hearts with pride in their great achievement, have uplifted and fortified our spirits and won for all time an honoured place on the imperishable scroll of human history, as men who fought the good fight for the salvation and security of the freedom of mankind.

May I be allowed just to add a few words to the eloquent tribute paid by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister? He could not have expressed better the feelings not only of the House but of the whole country on this really great occasion, that the British Commonwealth and United Nations have secured a great, historic victory, which will take its place among the great victories of history. Our thanks are due to the men who have borne the brunt of this fighting. Drawn as they have been from civilian occupations, from banks, offices, workshops and factories they had, only three or four years ago, no military ambitions. They were ordinary men who did not belong to a military nation but who were inspired by a sense of duty to stand up to the greatest military Power in the world. That Power, less than two years ago, expected to be in possession of Egypt. On this occasion we ought not to forget the men who then, in the most difficult circumstances, ill-equipped, ill-provided with materials and munitions, by their courage and tenacity saved Egypt. Those pioneers made possible the great victory we are celebrating today. What is to us a special satisfaction is the unity, first, of the three arms, the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, and, secondly, between the British Commonwealth the United States of America and our French Allies. May it he a harbinger of victory and give us inspiration to carry on through the ups and downs of war, until we are assured of ultimate success.

I hope the House will allow me the opportunity of expressing the fullest support of this Motion. This victory has been achieved by men of the Allied nations. We pay our sincerest tribute to the endurance and bravery of our Allies, but here, to-day, it is not unreasonable that we should think predominantly of the men of the British nations, of the men from this country, from the Dominions, from India and from the Colonies, who have fought in the Navy, in the Army, in the Air Force, and in the Merchant Service—all those who have made this result possible. It has been, I suggest, by the closest co-operation of all the Services that we have succeeded and that we are in a position to pay this tribute to-day. It has also been by the unceasing work of the people of this country in the factories throughout the land.

This victory has done much for us as a nation. No one in this House, and I believe no one in the country, had any doubt regarding the valour of our men. None the less, considering what we knew and had read of the hordes of the German army, of their dog-like obedience and complete equipment, and of the immense preparation which Germany had made before the war, some of us were perhaps inclined to wonder how long it would be before that final victory, which everyone in this country believed would be the end of our struggle, would really be achieved. This blow struck in North Africa, therefore, means a great deal to this nation. It is not only a victory for the bravery of our men, it is a victory in which our enemies have been out-manoeuvred and out-generalled. It has shown not only that we have valour, but that we have genius in leadership.

In this country in the last three and a half years men and women have borne great sacrifices, and have worked long hours in difficult and uncongenial surroundings to make this rejoicing to-day possible. There have been criticisms in the past, not of our men in the field or in the workshops, but as to whether we have been using all our resources in the best way to end the war at the earliest possible moment. If those criticisms are held genuinely and with conviction, I have no doubt they may be heard again, and, if so, it is right that they should be made here, in this House of Commons, to a free assembly. But to-day we have none of those considerations in mind. We are able to celebrate a victory in which our own men have shown that, properly equipped, they are more than a match for any of their enemies. It is right also, I think, that the House should take this opportunity of congratulating the Government. The Government have had a very difficult time and it is right that they should be congratulated on this victory, particularly the War Cabinet who carried the greatest responsibility and more especially perhaps the Prime Minister who, in the last few days, probably for the first time, sees the beginning of his reward for the great burden he has borne during these three and a half years of war.

Our task is far from complete. In fact it may almost be said to have only well begun. But sooner or later the end is sure, and I suggest to the House that even now, through this mist of horror and bloodshed, we should endeavour to see something of the glory which we believe lies ahead. Retribution will fall, and rightly fall, upon the German people. There can be no shrinking from their being made to feel that they, who have three times in a short space of years, plunged the world into war, are to be punished, so that they will know, once and for all, that this method of putting forward their claims can never be justified and can never bring them the results they desire. They have made men, women and children suffer and die, not only in their own nation, but all over the world. Punishment must be drastic and definite. I suggest however that we are entitled to look past this stage through the haze ahead and try to see something of the light beyond. War passes, and in time the day dawns when Germany and all other nations can take their part in a sane and peaceful world. Is it too much, I ask the House, to hope that after 1,900 years of preaching peace the world at last will begin to see the folly of war and that we shall be able to set up some form of international justice and make it impossible for nations, in their own interests, to resort to the method of war to achieve their aims? In that hope I believe every Member of this House joins. I speak for myself, but I am certain that I express the views of every Conservative, every Liberal and every Labour Member in this House when I say that we believe complete victory will come. We shall strive and hold until that day comes, and when it does we shall look for a greater and freer life for Europe and the world. In that belief, and that our great success in North Africa leads to final victory for the Allied arms and to that brighter future, this tribute is fittingly moved in the House to-day.

On a point of Order. May we assume hum the speech of the hon. Gentleman that he is moving an Amendment to the Motion to include the name of the Minister of Defence in this Motion of congratulations?

In the most eloquent and sincere speech with which my right hon. Friend introduced this Motion he rightly widened its scope to include those who laid the foundations of this victory. The story did not begin in Tunisia. It began three years ago, and during that period a large proportion of our production has been devoted to the African theatre of war. Millions of tons, in the aggregate, of our shipping nave half encircled the world to provide the Army with its necessary supplies. It has been costly in life, although proportionately, as we have learned to-day, not so costly as it might have been. But the dead bear their share of this triumph as well as the living. Among them were two Members of this House, Colonel Kellett and Colonel Somerset Maxwell, whose name I may be pardoned for mentioning as he was a loyal and devoted Parliamentary Secretary to me. Members also have been bereaved, including the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Colonel Arthur Evans), who lost a son at Tebourba. It has indeed been costly both nationally and personally. But at the conclusion the British people are entitled to rejoice without qualification.

It was General Wavell who first set the pattern that warfare was subsequently to follow in the desert. The Italians had made the mistake of believing that fighting would be static and that their overwhelming infantry—numerically overwhelming—would be able to blanket us and wipe us out. They were mistaken. The contribution of General Wavell's offensive was that he created the conditions in which his superior armour could win the day. He had as overwhelming a superiority of armour as Marshal Graziani had of infantry, and that fact is not, perhaps, generally realised. General Auchinleck, languishing in his retirement, may console himself with the reflection that to him and to his decision to stand, not at Mersa Matruh but at El Alamein, was attributable the saving of the Eighth Army, the subsequent instrument of our victory. It was a great and courageous decision to make to stand at El Alamein. Had he tried to make it earlier, he might have been completely outflanked, and we should have been ousted, perhaps, from the whole of Africa and Asia. No general has had to face a more critical situation, and I think he is entitled to be remembered at this moment.

During these three years, in which our troops have borne every hardship—apart from long absence from home, they have suffered from the elements—they have conducted themselves with the utmost bravery. The best reward we can give them is not the passing of this vote of thanks, but to put into application the doctrine, while the time is ripe, of the rapid exploitation of victory. We must now profit from the consternation of our enemies, particularly the Italians, to follow up this brilliant triumph.

I do not want to intervene in this Debate except to ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether, for obvious reasons, he could say what proportion of the casualties are prisoners of war. I think that quite a large number of people in this country would be very pleased to know, if he can give the House and the country that proportion of the casualties.

On Friday, when I was at home, I met a mother whose lad was a comrade of my own lad. He was missing, and I think that in offering these congratulations it is desirous that this House should give a thought to the mothers of this country whose lads are in the Forces, and many of whom have already lost one, two, or three members of the family. There is another thing which I think should be emphasised, and that is the part that the Eighth Army played in this victory. There is not the slightest doubt about it that the ceaseless pursuit over the desert ate the heart out of the Nazi army and prepared the way for the demoralisation that was evident at the finish. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) reminded me of something. I will not discuss the Vote of Censure he put down in connection with the African campaign. That is in the past, but in view of the cynicism which is often expressed in regard to Parliament and politicians, and in view of the cheap remarks often passed about politicians in the House and in the factories who discuss the second front, I think that notice should be taken of the fact that a politician between whom and myself there is very little affinity—as a matter of fact, we are at opposite poles—but a politician who happens to be the Prime Minister at the present time, played a very big part at that meeting in Cairo where he took the responsibility of changing the Command, and must therefore get a certain amount, maybe a considerable amount, of the credit for the successful campaign. At any rate it demonstrates the fact that Parliament and politicians have a very important part to play in every phase of the campaigns that are going on.

I am glad that mention was made of the contribution of the men and women in the factories. In general, throughout the factories the men and women are very proud to have the opportunity of giving service to the lads in the Navy, the Air Force, the Army and the Merchant Service. I am certain that this victory will spur them on to greater efforts than ever they have made before, in the sure and certain hope that in the days that lie ahead the demoralisation that became a feature of the Nazi and Fascist armies in Africa will become a feature of the enemy forces throughout all the fighting areas, that the victory in Tunisia will be the stepping-stone to the complete victory over Fascism and Nazism, and that the days of peace will be restored to us once again. Therefore, I have pleasure in associating myself with this Motion.

When we pass this Motion, as we shall, with deep emotion and profound gratitude, with our thanks to the living and we toll for the dead, I think there should be more than the passing references which have been made to the part of one who is not in his seat to-day as the man who has filled so great a part in conceiving, co-ordinating and directing this great enterprise, the organiser of victory, the inspirer of the troops wherever they have fought, and the oriflamme of our unity, the Minister of Defence—the Prime Minister. May I say, with very deep respect, that I think this House fell a little short of its usual generosity when, last week, we spoke of the victory and did not speak of the organiser of the victory—an omission which His Majesty graciously and promptly repaired. As I look back over these three years, I think upon all the bitter disappointments which have fallen, and must fall, on the Prime Minister; I remember that never once in all those hard and anxious days did his courage falter, nor were his cheerfulness and confidence impaired. I cannot let this occasion pass without supplementing my profound gratitude to our Fighting Forces and my deep devotion to the armed legions who have come from every part of the Dominions, India and the Colonies, by this humble tribute to one who has been in the forefront, the inspirer of the spirit of victory, the embodiment of resolution ever since the day when the first shot was fired.

I wish to associate myself in every way with the Motion moved by the Deputy Prime Minister. I could not agree more with his dictum about the necessity of leadership and the greatness of the leadership which has been given to our Armed Forces. But I remember, and perhaps my hon. Friend will remember also, how in the course of battles in the last war we did not always know the names of our divisional generals; we certainly did not know the names of our corps generals and the names of those in charge of the artillery, and so on; but we did know our comrades in the ranks, those around and about us. While I agree that the Deputy Prime Minister could do no more than mention those outstanding names—and well they deserve any Motion of thanks that this House could pass—to pay real tribute to our Forces in Africa for their magnificent victory, one should read the whole of the names of the men who served there, officers and men, of every Service and every arm, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, with the roll of a thousand drums, because of their magnificent character.

It is quite true that you cannot win battles, in the air, on the land, or on the sea, unless you have the officers who can give the leadership that is required. How many of those officers now come from the ranks and give that leadership? But it is also true that you cannot win battles unless you have men of the quality required; and the magnificent quality of our men, on land, on the sea, and in the air, is something which only those who have served with them, as many Members of this House have done, know. Their endurance, their courage, their humour, their quickness, their initiative in a difficult situation, are remarkable. The only reason why the millions of the men in the ranks are not mentioned is because there are so many of them; but this House wholeheartedly appreciates the greatness of their effort and the splendid character of those men, facing every day death and danger. I hope that the whole House, irrespective of whatever views there may be about the war—and there are some differences—will decide that we must give our men during the war every help they require, and make it possible for them after the war to achieve the same greatness in peace-time conditions as they have achieved in war.

As an old air pioneer, may I say a few words? We are expressing our gratitude to the Royal Air Force for its wonderful work in all the theatres of war. We are grateful to the Service for carrying out its duties so efficiently and for making such sacrifices. This is a new arm, and it has surpassed all that we ever thought it would do. But who is responsible for creating the Royal Air Force? I submit that when we are expressing grateful thanks to the Royal Air Force, we should remember that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who created the Royal Air Force in 1918. We are grateful to him for his foresight and wisdom, and, as an old airman, I ask the House to pay tribute to him. We are also grateful to the Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary, and the Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command for organising the great air attack that resulted in our gallant pilots breaching the Ruhr dams, as we read in the Press to-day.

It is with great diffidence that I add my voice on this historic, proud, and happy occasion. I do so merely because I think I can claim to some extent to speak on behalf of the mothers, the wives, and the sweethearts, whose sacrifice has contributed so much to this victory in North Africa. It is on their behalf that I should like to say "Thank you" for what my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has said. I should like to add, on their behalf, that we shall be proud if this House gives a lead in building a world worthy of the sacrifice of our greatest and our best.

I will not detain the House long, but I want to remind hon. Members and the country, on this occasion of rejoicing, of a debt that we owe. To a large extent, this Motion deals with the living, with those who have survived the battle; but the Deputy Prime Minister has reminded us of the cost in human sacrifice of this victory. I have no doubt that in due course honours and rewards will be given to some of those eminent leaders who have achieved this victory for us; but I would remind my hon. Friends—I am sure they do not want reminding, but it is sometimes necessary to say these things in this House—that there are many to-day who mourn the sacrifice made by so many of our gallant comrades who have fallen in battle. Therefore, I would ask the Government to remember, when they are considering various aspects of these questions, affecting the relatives who are left behind, that this Motion is not complete unless the Government are generous in the payment that they make to those dependants who are now mourning the loss of husbands or sons.

"There's none of these so lonely and poor of old
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold."
So sang one who was a comrade of my right hon. Friend in Gallipoli. I hope that we shall not forget those who have given their sons, husbands, and fathers in this campaign.

May I have your guidance, Sir, on one point? A few minutes ago I raised a point of Order. I now want to ask whether it is possible to suggest to the Government that they include, in his absence, the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence in this Motion? He is the man who, by his courage, his leadership, and his resolution, has done more than anyone else to achieve this victory.

The hon. and gallant Member cannot ask for that to be incorporated in the Motion now. He might introduce an Amendment himself, but I might not accept it at this stage.

I rise as an old corporal of the victorious Salonica Army of the last war, which recognised the need for something more than votes of thanks when we came to the end of hostilities in that war. I believe that the late General Willans was engaged in organising entertainments and diversion for our boys in the African theatre of war, and I believe that there is active co-operation in the Welfare Department to provide for recognition in kind. These boys are now saying that they are not getting enough.

This is specifically a Vote of thanks to our Forces, and the Government obviously cannot extend the Vote of thanks to include one of our number. The other matters which have been raised would obviously be better raised in questions.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente.

"That this House, at the triumphant conclusion of the operations by land, sea and air which have secured the unconditional surrender of all the enemy remaining on the Continent of Africa, hereby places on record, with pride and thankfulness, its high appreciation of the services of all ranks of His Majesty's Forces and of the Forces of the Allies operating in that theatre of war, by whose sacrifice, and devotion to duty, sustained by the labours, of those at home, this brilliant victory has been achieved."

Will you please direct, Sir, that the Resolution be recorded in the Journals of the House as having been passed nemine contradicente?