Winston Churchill 1904 [Wikimedia]
Tuesday 11th December 1917: Bedford Corn Exchange was packed to capacity last night to hear a speech from the Right Honorable Winston Churchill, M.P., the Minister of Munitions. It had proved impossible to meet demand, with every ticket issued more than a week ago.
Mr Churchill told his audience that they were gathered in a grave hour. When he spoke two months ago in London he said the war was entering its sternest phase, but admitted that the situation was now more serious than expected. The country was in greater danger than it had been since the Battle of the Marne saved Paris and the Battle of Ypres saved the Channel Ports. The cause of the Allies was now in danger and the future of the British Empire and of democratic civilisation hung in anxious and solemn suspense. Anyone could see that Russia had been thoroughly beaten by the Germans, her heart broken by German might and intrigue. Much of the German army which had been at the Russian front would be used to attack the French and British forces in the West, and the Austrians would be able to switch troops to fight the Italians and maybe to join the Germans on the Western Front. It was necessary to look these things in the eye “because Britons are stirred on by the signs of danger and emergency to exertions of which our foes had never dreamed … because, if we had the will, we have also the means to conquer”. The facts should be stated plainly, but he would also show some of the means by which we would be able to overcome these dangerous circumstances.
The country’s war aims were still as they had been in August 1914, that those who had committed crimes like the trampling down of Belgium, like the sinking of the Lusitania, and many other atrocities, should not profit by them. The Germans should not emerge from the struggle stronger than when they began it, and should not be able, when the war is over, to retire and plan “another hideous catastrophe to let loose on her unsuspecting neighbours”. Prussian militarism should be crushed and the German people realise they had been led into misfortune and disaster by the rulers in whom they had trusted. That was what Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George and President Wilson meant when they said our aims were reparation, restoration, and security. For the moment Prussian militarism was more menacing than it had been at any time since the first rush of the invaders was stopped, and until it was beaten there would never be peace nor safety in the world. No peace based on weakness or war weariness on the part of the Allies could be honourable or lasting. To make peace now would simply hand on to our children the temporary consequences of the Russian collapse. Although the military situation was an anxious one, he was confident that there were no means by which this country could be overcome if everyone did his or her part. The greatest danger was that the people might be tempted by specious peace terms.
Our aims were plain, and admitted of no compromise. When great danger had threatened this country before the British nation had simply held on with a bull-dog grip, and it had always come out all right. If they held on there was a clean line marked out to victory. The heart of the people was as sound as a bell, with the output of munitions increasing every hour. He had abundant confidence in the people of this island. The country still had great reserves of men; the Navy was grappling with the submarines; and there was a steady flow of new ships. England was war-hardened but not war-weary. The loss of Russia was a great disaster, but the entry of the United States of America into the war was a greater consolation. The “great democracy of the West” had come to the aid of humanity. Practically the resources of the whole world were united against the Germanic powers and would secure the victory.
England must bear the burden until the spring of next year until American aid could arrive. This was the climax to which all English history had led up – “this old Motherland holding up with bleeding but undaunted arm the threatened freedom of mankind while her mighty daughter, from whom she had been so long divided, hastened across the vast wastes of ocean to bring overwhelming deliverance and aid.” Talk of peace now would be equivalent to rejecting the offer of the United States, would repudiate all that our brave men have done, and would desert the cause of the down-trodden and oppressed nations we had pledged ourselves to defend. The country must act resolutely. Army must be raised to its greatest possible strength … “Let them have tons upon tons of ammunition, hundreds upon hundreds of guns, and thousands upon thousands of aeroplanes. They can be got ready – they must be got ready”.
[Churchill’s speech was greeted with cheers and loud applause]
Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 14th December 1917