§ THANKS OF THE HOUSE.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
I beg to move,That this House on the occasion of the recent victories by sea, land and air in North Africa, Greece and the Mediterranean, records with gratitude its high appreciation of the services of all ranks of His Majesty's Forces in these brilliant operations, and also of those who by their labours and fortitude at home have furnished the means which made these successes possible.We are now able and indeed required to take a more general view of the war than when this Resolution of thanks was first conceived. The loss of Benghazi and the withdrawal imposed upon us by the incursion into Cyrenaica are injurious chiefly on account of the valuable airfields around Benghazi which have now passed into the enemy's hands. Apart from this important aspect, we should have been content, in view of the danger which was growing in the Balkans, to have halted our original advance at Tobruk. The rout of the Italians, however, made it possible to gain a good deal of ground easily and cheaply, and it was thought worth while to do this, although, in consequence of other obligations already beginning to descend upon us, only comparatively light forces could be employed to hold what was won. The movement of the German air forces and armoured troops from Italy and Sicily into Tripoli had begun even before we took Benghazi, and our submarines and aircraft have taken a steady toll of the transport-carrying German troops and vehicles. But that has not prevented—and could not prevent—their building of a strong armoured force on the African shore. With this force they have made a rapid attack in greater strength than our commanders expected at so early a date, and we have fallen back upon stronger positions and more defensible country. I cannot attempt to forecast what the course of the fighting in Cyrenaica will be. It is clear, however, that military considerations alone must guide our generals and that these problems must in no way be complicated by what are called prestige values or by consideration of public opinion. Now that the Germans are using their armoured strength in Cyrenaica we must expect much hard and severe fighting, not only for the 1588 defence of Cyrenaica, but for the defence of Egypt.
It is fortunate, therefore, that the Italian collapse in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and in British and Italian Somaliland, is liberating progressively very substantial forces and masses of transport to reinforce the Army of the Nile. This sudden darkening of the scene in Cyrenaica in no way detracts from the merit of the brilliant campaigns which have destroyed the Italian Empire in North East Africa, nor does it in any way diminish our gratitude to the troops or our confidence in the commanders who have led them. On the contrary, we shall show that we are no fair-weather friends and that our hearts go out to our Armies even more warmly when they are in hard action than when they are sailing forward on the flowing tide of success. I took occasion a fortnight ago to warn the public that an unbroken continuance of success could not be hoped for, that reverses as well as victories must be expected, that we must be ready, as indeed we always are ready, to take the rough with the smooth. Since I used this language other notable episodes have been added to those that have gone before. Keren was stormed after hard fighting, which cost us about 4,000 casualties, and the main resistance of the Italian army in Eritrea was overcome. Foremost in all this fighting in Eritrea have been our Indian troops, who have, at all points and on all occasions sustained the martial reputation of the sons of Hindustan.
After the fall of Keren the Army advanced. Asmara has surrendered and the port of Massawa is in our hands. The Red Sea has been virtually cleared of enemy warships, which is a matter of considerable and even far-reaching convenience. Harar has fallen, and our troops have entered and taken charge of Addis Ababa itself. The Duke of Aosta's army has retreated into the mountains, where it is being attended upon by the patriot forces of Ethiopia. The complete destruction or capture of all Italian forces in Abyssinia, with a corresponding immediate relief to our operations elsewhere, may reasonably be expected. Besides these land operations, the Royal Navy under Admiral Cunningham, splendidly aided by the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, have gained the important sea battle of Matapan, decisively breaking the Italian naval power in the 1589 Mediterranean. When we look back upon the forlorn position in which we were left in the Middle East by the French collapse, when we remember that not only were our Forces in the Nile Valley outnumbered by four or five to one by the Italian armies, that we could not contemplate without anxiety the defence of Nairobi, Khartum, Cairo, Alexandria, Jerusalem and the Suez Canal, and that this situation has been marvellously transformed, that we have taken more Italian prisoners than we had troops in the country, that the British Empire has stood alone and conquered alone, except for the aid of the gallant Free French and Belgian Forces, who, although few in number, have borne their part—when all this recalls itself to our minds amid the unrelenting pressure of events, I feel confident that I can commend this Resolution to the House and that it will be most heartily and enthusiastically acclaimed.
I now turn from Cyrenaica and Abyssinia to the formidable struggle which has followed the German invasion of the Balkan Peninsula, with all its attendant savagery and science. For some months past we have witnessed and watched with growing concern the German absorption of Hungary, the occupation of Rumania and the seduction and occupation of Bulgaria. Step by step we have seen this movement of the German military power to the South and South-East of Europe. A remorseless accumulation of German armoured and motorised divisions, and of aircraft, has been in progress in all these three countries for months, and at length we find that the Greeks and the Southern Slavs, nations and States which never wished to take part in the war and neither of which was capable of doing the slightest injury to Germany, must now fight to the death for their freedom and for the lands of their fathers.
Until Greece was treacherously and suddenly invaded in November last at the behest of the base Italian dictator, she had observed a meticulous neutrality. It may be that the sentiments of her people, like those of all free and honourable men in every country, were on our side but nothing could have been more correct than the behaviour of her Government in diplomatic conduct and relations. We had no contacts or engagements of a military character with the Greek Government.
1590 Although there were islands like Crete, of the highest consequence to us and although we had given Greece our guarantee against aggression, we abstained from the slightest intrusion upon her. It was only when she appealed to us for aid against the Italian invader that we gave whatever support in the air and in the matter of supplies was possible.
All this time, the Germans continued to lavish friendly assurances upon Greece and to toy with the idea of a commercial treaty. German high officials, both in Athens and Berlin, expressed their disapproval of the Italian invasion and offered their sympathy to Greece. Meanwhile, since the beginning of December the movements of German forces through Hungary and Roumania towards Bulgaria became apparent to all. More than two months ago, by the traitorous connivance of the Bulgarian King and Government, the advance parties of the German Air Force, in plain clothes, were gradually admitted to Bulgaria and took possession of the Bulgarian airfields. Many thousands of German airmen, soldiers and political police had already percolated into Bulgaria and were ensconced in key positions before the actual announcement of the accession of Bulgaria to the Axis was made. German troops then began to pour openly into Bulgaria in very large numbers. One of the direct objectives of these forces was, plainly, Salonika, which I may mention, they have entered at 4 o'clock this morning.
It has never been our policy or our interest to see the war carried into the Balkan Peninsula. In the middle of February, we sent our Foreign Secretary and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to the Middle East, in order to see whether anything could be done to form a united defensive front in the Balkans They went to Athens. They went to Ankara. They would have gone to Belgrade, but they were refused permission by the government of Prince Paul. Of course, if these three threatened States had stood together they could have had at their disposal 60 or 70 divisions which, if a good combined plan had been made and if prompt united action had been taken in time, might have confronted the Germans with a project of resistance which might well have deterred them altogether and must, in any case, have long delayed them, having regard to the 1591 mountainous and broken character of the country to be defended and the limits of the communications available in the various countries through which the German armies had forced or intrigued their way.
Although we were most anxious to promote such a defensive front by which alone the peace of the Balkans could be maintained, we were determined not to urge the Greeks, already at grips with the Italians, upon any course contrary to their desires or judgment. The support which we can give to the peoples who are fighting, or are ready to fight, for freedom in the Balkans and in Turkey, is necessarily limited at the present time, and we did not wish to take the responsibility of pressing the Greeks to engage in a conflict with the new and terrible foe gathering upon their frontiers. However, on the first occasion when the Foreign Secretary and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff met the Greek King and Prime Minister, the Prime Minister declared spontaneously on behalf of the Government that Greece was resolved, at all costs, to defend her freedom and native soil against any aggressor, and that even if they were left wholly unsupported by Great Britain, or by their neighbours Turkey and Yugoslavia, they would, nevertheless, remain faithful to their alliance with Great Britain, which came into play at the opening of the Italian invasion, and that they would fight to the death against both Italy and Germany.
This being so, it seemed that our duty was clear. We were bound in honour to give them all the aid in our power. If they were resolved to face the might and fury of the Huns, we had no doubts but that we should share their ordeal and that the soldiers of the British Empire must stand in the line with them. We were advised by our generals on the spot, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Generals Wavell and Papagos, both victorious commanders-in-chief, that a sound military plan, giving good prospects of success, could be made. Of course, in all these matters there is hazard and in this case, as anyone can see, without particularizing unduly, there was for us a double hazard. It remains to be seen how well those opposing risks and duties have been judged, but of this I am sure, that there is no less likely way of winning 1592 a war than to adhere pedantically to the maxim of "Safety first." Therefore, in the first weeks of March we entered into a military agreement with the Greeks, and the considerable movement of British and Imperial troops and supplies which has since developed began to take place. The House would very rightly reprove me if I entered into any details, or if while this widespread battle is going on I attempted in any way to discuss either the situation or its prospects.
I therefore turn to the story of Yugoslavia. This valiant, steadfast people, whose history for centuries has been a struggle for life, and who owe their survival to their mountains and to their fighting qualities, made every endeavour to placate the Nazi monster. If they had made common cause with the Greeks when the Greeks, having been attacked by Italy, hurled back the invaders, the complete destruction of the Italian armies in Albania could certainly and swiftly have been achieved long before the German forces could have reached the theatre of war. And even in January and February of this year, this extraordinary military opportunity was still open. But the Government of Prince Paul, untaught by the fate of so many of the smaller countries of Europe, not only observed the strictest neutrality and refused even to enter into effective Staff conversations with Greece or with Turkey or with us, but hugged the delusion that they could preserve their independence by patching up some sort of pact or compromise with Hitler. Once again we saw the odious German poisoning technique employed. In this case, however, it was to the Government rather than to the nation that the doses and the inoculations were administered. The process was not hurried. Why should it have been? All the time the German armies and air force were massing in Bulgaria. From a few handfuls of tourists, admiring the beauties of the Bulgarian landscape in the wintry weather, the German forces grew to 7, 12, 20, and finally to 25 divisions. Presently, the weak and unfortunate Prince, and afterwards his Ministers, were summoned, like others before them, to Herr Hitler's footstool, and a pact was signed which would have given Germany complete control not only over the body but over the soul of the Slav nation. Then at last the people of Yugo- 1593 slavia saw their peril, and with a universal spasm of revolt and national resurgence very similar to that which in 1808 convulsed and glorified the people of Spain, they swept from power those who were leading them into a shameful tutelage, and resolved at the eleventh hour to guard their freedom and their honour with their lives. All this happened only a fortnight ago.
A boa constrictor who had already covered his prey with his foul saliva and then had it suddenly wrested from his coils, would be in an amiable mood compared with Hitler, Goering, Ribbentrop and the rest of the Nazi gang when they experienced this bitter disappointment. A frightful vengeance was vowed against the Southern Slavs. Rapid, perhaps hurried, redispositions were made of the German forces and German diplomacy. Hungary was offered large territorial gains to become the accomplice in the assault upon a friendly neighbour with whom she had just signed a solemn pact of friendship and non-aggression. Count Teleki preferred to take his own life rather than join in such a deed of shame. A heavy forward movement of the German armies already gathered in and dominating Austria was set in motion through Hungary to the Northern frontier of Yugoslavia. A ferocious howl of hatred from the supreme miscreant was the signal for the actual invasion. The open city of Belgrade was laid in ashes, and at the same time a tremendous drive by the German armoured forces which had been so improvidently allowed to gather in Bulgaria was launched Westward into Southern Serbia. And it no longer being worth while to keep up the farce of love for Greece, other powerful forces rolled forward into Greece, where they were at once unflinchingly encountered and have already sustained more than one bloody repulse at the hands of that heroic Army. The British and Imperial troops have not up to the present been engaged. Further than this I cannot, at the moment, go. Further than this I cannot attempt to carry the tale.
Therefore, I turn for a few moments to the larger aspects of the war. I must first speak of France and of the French people, to whom in their sorrows we are united not only by memories but by living ties. I welcome cordially the declaration of Marshal Petain that France could never 1594 act against her former Ally or go to war with her former Ally. Such a course so insensate, so unnatural and, on lower grounds, so improvident, might well— though, of course, it is not for me to speak for any Government but our own— alienate from France for long years the sympathies and support of the American democracy. I am sure that the French nation would, with whatever means of expression are left to them, repudiate such a shameful deed. We must, however, realise that the Government of Vichy is in a great many matters, though happily not in all, in the hands of Herr Hitler acting daily through the Armistice Commission at Wiesbaden. Two million Frenchmen are prisoners in German hands. A great part of the food supply of France has been seized by Germany. Both prisoners and food can be doled out month by month in return for hostile propaganda or unfriendly action against Great Britain. Or again, the cost of the German occupation of France, for which a cruel and exorbitant toll is exacted, may be raised still further as a punishment for any manifestations, of sympathy with us. Admiral Darlan tells us that the Germans have been generous in their treatment of France. All the information which we receive both from occupied and unoccupied France, makes me very doubtful whether the mass of the French people would endorse that strange and somewhat sinister tribute. However, the generosity of the German treatment of France is a matter for Frenchmen to judge.
But I wish to make it clear that we must maintain our blockade against Germany and those rights of contraband control at sea, which have never been disputed or denied to any. belligerent, and which a year ago France was exercising to the full with us. Some time ago we were ready to enter upon economic negotiations with the French. But any chance of fruitful negotiation was nipped in the bud by the generous Germans, and imperative orders were given from Wiesbaden to the Government of Vichy to break off all contact with us. Nevertheless, we have in practice allowed very considerable quantities of food to go into France out of our sincere desire to spare the French people every hardship in our power. When, however, it comes to thousands of tons of rubber and other vital war materials which pass, as we know, directly 1595 to the German armies, we are bound, even at the risk of collisions with French warships at sea, to enforce our rights as recognised by international law. There is one other form of action into which the Vichy Government might be led by the dictation of Germany, namely, the sending of powerful war vessels, which are unfinished or damaged, back from the French African ports to ports in Metropolitan France which are either under the control of the Germans, or may at very short notice fall under their control. Such movements of French war vessels from Africa to France would alter the balance of naval power, and would thus prejudice the interests of the United States as well as our own. Therefore, I trust that such incidents will be avoided, or, if they cannot be avoided, that the consequences which follow from them will be understood and fairly judged by the French nation, for whose cause we are contending no less than for our own.
I am glad to be able to report to the House a continued and marked improvement in the relative strength of the Royal Air Force as compared with that of Germany; also I draw attention to the remarkable increase in its actual strength and in its bomb-dropping capacity, and to the marked augmentation in the power and size of the bombs which we shall be using in even greater numbers. The sorties which we are now accustomed to make upon German harbours and cities are increasing in numbers of aircraft employed and in the weight of the discharge with every month that passes, and in some cases we have already in our raids exceeded in severity anything which any single town has in a single night experienced over here. At the same time, there is a sensible improvement in our means of dealing with German raids upon this Island, and a very great measure of security has been given to this country in day-time—and we are glad that the days are lengthening. But now the moonlight periods are also looked forward to by the Royal Air Force as an opportunity for inflicting severe deterrent losses upon the raiders, as well as for striking hard at the enemy in his own territory. The fact that our technical advisers welcome the light—daylight, moonlight, starlight— and that we do not rely for our protection on darkness, clouds and mists, as would 1596 have been the case some time ago, is pregnant with hope and meaning. But, of course, all these tendencies are only in their early stages, and I forbear to enlarge upon them.
But, after all, everything turns upon the Battle of the Atlantic, which is proceeding with growing intensity on both sides. Our losses in ships and tonnage are very heavy, and vast as.are the shipping resources which we control, these losses could not continue indefinitely without seriously affecting our war effort and our means of subsistence. It is no answer to say that we have inflicted upon the Germans and Italians a far higher proportion of loss compared with the size of their merchant fleets and the fleeting opportunities they offer us, than they have upon us, with our world-wide traffic continually maintained. We have, in fact, sunk, captured or seen scuttled over 2,300,000 tons of German and Italian shipping. But we have ourselves lost since the beginning of the war nearly 4,000,000 tons of British tonnage. As against that, we have gained under the British flag over 3,000,000 of foreign or newly-constructed tonnage, not counting the considerable foreign tonnage which has also come under our control. Therefore, at the moment our enormous fleets sail the seas without any serious or obvious diminution, as far as the number of ships is concerned.
But what is to happen in the future if these losses continue at the present rate? Where are we to find another three or four million tons to fill the gap which is being created and carry us on through 1942? We are building merchant ships upon a very considerable scale and to the utmost of our ability, having regard to other calls upon our labour. We are also making a most strenuous effort to make ready for sea the large number of vessels which have been damaged by the enemy and the still larger number which have been damaged by the winter gales. We are doing our utmost to accelerate the turn-round of our ships, remembering— this is a striking figure—that even 10 days' saving on turn-round on our immense fleets is equal to a reinforcement of 5,000,000 tons of imports in a single year. I can assure the House that all the energy and contrivance of which we are capable have been and will continue to be devoted to these purposes, and we are 1597 already conscious of substantial results. But, when all is said and done, the only way in which we can get through the year 1942 without a very sensible contraction of our war effort is by another gigantic building of merchant ships in the United States similar to that prodigy of output accomplished by the Americans in 1918. All this has been in train in the United States for many months past. There has now been a very large extension of the programmes, and we have the assurance that several millions of tons of American new-built shipping will be available for the common struggle during the course of the next year. Here, then, is the assurance upon which we may count for the staying power without which it will not be possible to save the world from the criminals who assail its future.
The Battle of the Atlantic must, however, be won, not only in the factories and shipyards, but upon the blue water. I am confident that we shall succeed in coping with the air attacks which are made upon the shipping in the Western and North-Western approaches. I hope that eventually the inhabitants of the sister Island may realise that it is as much in their interest as in ours that their ports and air fields should be available for the naval and air forces which must operate ever further into the Atlantic. But, while I am hopeful that we shall gain mastery over the air attack upon our shipping, the U-boats and the surface raiders, ranging ever farther to the Westward, ever nearer to the shores of the United States, constitute a menace which must be overcome if the life of Britain is not to be endangered and if the purposes to which the Government and people of the United States have devoted themselves are not to be frustrated. We shall, of course, make every effort in our power. The defeat of the U-boats and of the surface raiders has been proved to be entirely a question of adequate escorts for our convoys. It would be indeed disastrous if the great masses of weapons, munitions and instruments of war of all kinds, made with the toil and skill of American hands, at the cost of the United States, and loaned to us under the Aid to Britain Act, were to sink into the depths of the ocean and never reach the hard-pressed fighting line. That would be a result lamentable to us over here, and I cannot believe that it would be found 1598 acceptable to the proud and resolute people of the United States. Indeed, I am now authorised to state that 10 United States Revenue cutters, fast vessels of about 2,000 tons displacement, with a fine armament and a very wide range of endurance, have already been placed at our disposal by the United States Government and will soon be in action. These vessels, originally designed to enforce prohibition, will now serve an even higher purpose.
It is, of course, very hazardous to try to forecast in what direction or directions Hitler will employ his military machine in the present year. He may at any time attempt the invasion of this Island. That is an ordeal from which we shall not shrink. At the present moment he is driving South and South-East through the Balkans, and at any moment he may turn upon Turkey. But there are many signs which point to a Nazi attempt to secure the granary of the Ukraine and the oil fields of the Caucasus as a German means of gaining the resources wherewith to wear down the English-speaking world. All this is speculation. I will say only one thing more. Once we have gained the Battle of the Atlantic and are certain of the constant flow of American supplies which is being prepared for us, then, however far Hitler may go, or whatever new millions and scores of millions he may lap in misery, he may be sure that, armed with the sword of retributive justice, we shall be on his track.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
I have been asked by hon. Members sitting near me to say a few words expressing their complete agreement with this Motion. I shall confine myself to the Motion and shall not enter into the wider survey of the war which the Prime Minister has made. There are only two points in regard to the Motion which I would call to the attention of the House. The linking of this vote of thanks to our Navy, Army and Air Force with the campaign in Africa and in the Mediterranean appears to me to be based on what I would venture to describe as profound strategical insight, because I take it that it is now clear that the campaign in Africa, and particularly the campaign for the defence of Egypt, whatever may happen in the Balkans and elsewhere, is already bound to be one of the three or four decisive turning-points in the history of the war.
1599 We may have, as the Prime Minister said, our dark and bright moments, but it has always been fairly clear that Hitler's best chance of success in this war was the conquest of Egypt. Had he done that, we should have lost Alexandria, which is our only base for a fleet; we should have had to clear out of the Mediterranean; he would have had opened to him the oil of Irak and Iran and the raw materials of the near East; and he would have been able to get round the back of the British blockade. In these circumstances he may very well have so dug himself in that it is difficult to know when we could have pushed him out, and he would have had his best prospects of turning the war into a stalemate, which, with his control over Europe, would in fact have been a victory. That prospect was destroyed by our troops, who have shown in that process that the modern members of our nation have a sheer fighting power which has never been surpassed in the whole history of war.
There is only one other feature of the Motion which I would call to the attention of the House. I am pleased to notice that the thanks to the Armed Forces are linked up with thanks to the British people as a whole. The campaign in Africa and the Mediterranean has, in fact, been a test of the quality of the entire nation. It has been a great industrial operation. I recollect that in reading the accounts of the defence of Sidi Barrani it was pointed out that the troops relied not only on their own endurance, but to an equal extent on the complete reliability of the tanks, on which their lives depended, made by ordinary British workers. The tanks did not let them down, and the men who made them are among the victors of Africa. Putting it all together—the workers in the workshops, the soldiers in the field, the army commanders and the Higher Command—the experience of the last few months entitles us to say that the British people under our form of democratic government have reached a higher level of practical efficiency than we have ever before achieved.
I should like to mention something which has greatly impressed me. I think that our thanks are due to another great section. After the battle of Dunkirk we had here only four fully equipped divisions, while Hitler had over 200. Practically the whole world thought we 1600 were going the same way as France. In that hour of peril, however, our troops were deliberately sent to Egypt, and our Air Force and Fleet in the Mediterranean were reinforced. In my opinion that decision was one of the turning-points of the war. It showed that a number of men sitting quietly round a table in London may frequently have to come to a determination which, for courage in its own sphere, is as great as that needed on the battlefield itself. The thanks of the nation are due to the group of men who made that decision. These are some of the reasons why my hon. Friends wish to associate themselves completely with this Motion.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I, too, would like to be associated with this Motion. I will not attempt to say anything about the solemn but impressive statement made by the Prime Minister except to thank him for its fullness and for the completeness of his survey. I want to assure him that he has the complete confidence, not only of the House of Commons, but of the nation. We shall have many black moments before this great war is finished, but we believe that both in adversity and success we have in him a great leader whom the nation follows. In moving this Motion he paid an eloquent tribute to the three Fighting Services, but they will be the first to admit that a great part of their success has been due to his wise leadership and tenacious courage.
A characteristic of the war during the last few months has been the loyal cooperation of the three Fighting Services. I would like to refer to one significant feature of the Libyan or North African campaign; that is the presence of the Australian and New Zealand troops. In the last war they won immortal fame as the Anzacs. Many people, particularly our enemies, thought that after they had obtained their complete political independence we should not be able to look to them for the same co-operation. Facts have proved otherwise. They have immortalised themselves in the trackless desert as they did in the last war. Another feature to which I am glad the Prime Minister referred is the splendid courage shown by our Indian troops in East Africa, and also by our Colonial troops who came from almost every coastal country round 1601 Africa. Their deeds of courage show that they are imbued with the same spirit as our own British troops. One of the most remarkable feats of the last few weeks has been the march of the South Africans of 700 miles in one month. It was an almost unexampled feat in military history. We have to recognise that that was made possible by that great friend of the British Commonwealth, General Smuts.
However, in praising these troops, who have had much well-deserved praise, we must not forget our own soldiers from the Home Counties, from England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland, nor those splendid men from London, who on almost every battlefield are bearing their share with our Dominion troops. We all know that all this work would have been impossible, as the Prime Minister has so wisely said, had it not been for the work of the "silent service." We have had tremendous evidence of the influence of sea power. The Battle of Cape Matapan will, I venture to prophesy, prove to be one of the decisive sea battles of history. And while we are praising this more recent event, we must not forget some of the remarkable achievements of last summer. There was the battle of the River Plate, which gave the first proof that the naval power of Britain was living up to its prestige. Nor must we forget the heroic deeds which will be associated for all time with Dunkirk and made recent victory possible. The dictators have alleged that democracy is decadent. Well, we have proved that democracy, a free people, can stand up to these new forms of government with courage. As long as we have military leaders like Wavell, the two Cunninghams, Dill, Portal, Long more and many others who have won their spurs during the last 12 months the British tradition of courage and tenacity can be relied on.
I should like to say one word about the home front. I am glad the Prime Minister referred to it in his speech. In my view it is going to be the decisive factor in the war. Not only must we produce the planes, tanks and guns, but everything depends upon our own courage, the courage and determination of die civilian population. I have no use for pessimists, and I have no use, either, for optimists. The optimist waves the flag at the first victory, but as soon as a re- 1602 verse comes is depressed. In the same way the pessimist, when the tide turns, is full of depression. We must be calm in adversity as well as restrained in success. Our Fighting Services are all right, and I can assure the Prime Minister that he can rely upon Parliament and the nation to stand by him whatever the course of the war, whatever the events of the next few months.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
Our gratitude to the forces and the Mercantile Marine, which is expressed in this Motion, is not entirely dependent upon the vicissitudes of war. It is constant. There may be good news and there may be bad news, but in all circumstances we must prove worthy of the deeds which they have done, and which it is the intention of this Motion to record. When things are ill, above all we must preserve our morale, and never for one instant waver in our resolution. That is the best form in which we can express to the Services what we feel. Nor must it be forgotten that what' ever the outcome of the most recent developments may be, it is to the Greeks that an immortal debt is owed. They opened the path to the victories in Africa, and perhaps the highest tribute that has been paid to them is that which came from General Simovitch in Yugoslavia when he said that their courage had pointed the way to Yugoslav honour. The Greeks are doing to-day deeds as imperishable as those which won them renown 2,000 years ago against the Persian Empire, and more recently against another Empire which, it is to be hoped, will this time be on their side and on ours—I refer, of course, to Turkey. It certainly will be if the feelings of the Turkish people are taken into account.
One can understand the anxiety and the burden now being borne by the Prime Minister, and the whole House will be with him at this time. He sustained the nation in an even more difficult hour than this, and he need in no sense feel discouraged, for the cause that we uphold with the Greeks and the Yugoslavs is imperishable. He has uttered some grave words on wider subjects which it would not be relevant to this Motion to examine; and, indeed, it would take away from the effect of the intention of this Motion if they were to be discussed. I would, therefore, only like to say to the Prime Minister that during the Recess; he and the Govern- 1603 ment will carry all our good wishes and our most supreme confidence in ultimate victory.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I have just one word to say on the Prime Minister's statement, perhaps the gravest we have had since he took over events in May last. I refer to Eire. I want to take this opportunity—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The Prime Minister made a statement, but there is a Motion before the House, and I think it is my duty—and I think it will have the approval of the House—to ask hon. Member? to keep strictly to the Motion which is before the House.
§ Mr. Tinker
I am doing that, and I am trying to be helpful in this matter. The Prime Minister made a brief reference to Eire, and appealed to her to help us by giving us the use of her ports, and I think an opportunity like that ought not to be missed in the House of Commons. I have had a number of meetings on this matter in my constituency, and I want to convey to the Prime Minister the grave feelings of Irishmen in this country about Eire. I want to assist him in this appeal which he has made this morning. I want to ask Ireland, in this hour of the gravest crisis in this country, to come forward and help us to bring about victory. I make this appeal as an Irishman in the House of Commons appealing to brother Irishmen to help us in this way.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
In offering one word of support to the Prime Minister, I feel that it must be almost frightening for him to realise the complete faith which the people of this country have in him. That in itself must be a tremendous burden. I also want to say to him that I hope, no matter what may arise, he will never doubt that all sections of the community, even some who would not have been behind him except in war, are completely behind him now that the war is on. He has referred to the turn-round of our ships, and I do not want to get on to any controversial subject. When it comes to the Fighting Services it is all right, but I would ask him to remember that there is a terrific fight that has to go on here at home, particularly in towns that have been "Blitzed." I know the Prime Minister 1604 is looking after all the fighting services, but there is one thing which I think the Government have not really faced up to with that determination which they might have shown. I speak with great feeling, having come through one of the most terrible "Blitzes" —
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. lady is now getting away from the terms of the Motion which is before us.
§ Viscountess Astor
I am sorry, but this was really to do with the troops. While they are righting abroad the one thing that would help and console them would be the knowledge that everything was being done at home for those they had left behind. I hope that the Prime Minister will remember the people at home with the same diligence, as he remembers the Fighting Forces.
I was never prouder in my life than I have been lately of my American blood. The Prime Minister and I have something—not much, but something—in common. He is half American, and I am wholly American. I receive many letters from the country of my birth, and it makes me proud that we, who have Anglo-Saxon blood, know that nothing on earth and no foreign-born person can do anything that will affect us. I know that the Prime Minister's speech has not been very cheerful, but it has not been a speech which could alarm anybody, because we, who have that blood in our veins, know that we are fighting not merely a local or an international war, but are fighting a war for justice and mercy. When we fight that battle we have not only our people behind us but the right thinking people of all countries are with us. I am sorry for our reverses, but I am not in the least dismayed. I am sure that the whole nation is deeply grateful to the United States for standing by us at this time.
§ Captain Poole (Lichfield)
The Prime Minister referred to the Battle of the Atlantic. I feel that it is laid upon me on every conceivable occasion to say one thing which I have been saying for a long time in this country, and which has a bearing upon the Battle of the Atlantic. We pay our tribute to those who have borne perhaps the most dangerous share in the war, our merchant seamen, and if we mean anything by this Motion, we must see to it that we place no further hazards in the way of those men who daily cross the Atlantic to fight the battle.
1605 Because of these facts, I would ask the Prime Minister whether he will see to it that everything is done in connection with the shipping industry to ensure that no further hazards are placed in the way of our merchant seamen. I refer to only one aspect of the question, which is the totally unnecessary disclosure of shipping movements. I appeal to the Prime Minister, as I have appealed to heads of other Departments, to institute an inquiry and call for evidence from those who can supply it to show that there is at the present time a totally unnecessary disclosure of those movements.
§ The Prime Minister
I do not want us to stray from the Motion, but I would tell the hon. and gallant Member that some time ago a very careful and thorough investigation was begun touching the very question he has raised, and that it is being carried out at the present time.
§ Captain Poole rose —
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must ask the hon. and gallant Member not to stray any further from the strict terms of the Motion. I am sure he realises that to do so will spoil the effect of the Debate that we have already had.
§ Captain Poole
I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will not pursue the matter any further. I would be the last to want to detract from the terms of this Motion. I am sure that all of us would like the Prime Minister to go away from the House feeling that we have endorsed to the full all that he has said, that we go with him all the way he has gone, and that we shall continue to travel that road, whether it be rough or smooth, until victory is secured.
§ Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.
That this House on the occasion of the recent victories by sea, land and air in North Africa, Greece and the Mediterranean, records with gratitude its high appreciation of the services of all ranks of His Majesty's Forces in these brilliant operations, and also of those who by their labours and fortitude at home have furnished the means which made these successes possible.
§ The Prime Minister
I would ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether you will direct that this Resolution shall be recorded in the Journals of the House as having been passed nemine contradicenie.