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HAT THE BRITISH
MPIRE IS DOING
N THE WAR



iY BRIGGS DAVENPORT

Vith an Introduction by

JOSEPH REINACH



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WHAT THE BRITISH EMPIRE IS DOING
IN THE WAR



WHAT THE BRITISH

EMPIRE IS DOING IN

THE WAR



BY

BRIGGS DAVENPORT

AUTHOR OF " THE GENESIS OF THE GREAT WAR "



WITH AN INTRODUCTION
BY

JOSEPH REINACH

AUTHOR OF " LES COMMENTAIRES DE POLYBE " AND
" LA GUERRE SUR LE FRONT OCCIDENTAL"



T. FISHER UNWIN, Ltd.
ADELPHI TERRACE, LONDON



9



First published in igi6



[All rights reserved}



PREFACE

The author of this pamphlet cherishes the desire
to be accounted a just historian. Of this he has
tried to give evidence in his more important
work on the Great War : '* The Genesis." But
he holds that no really sincere historian has ever
been able, if indeed he ever sought, to conceal his
intimate conviction as to the moral and political
responsibilities for the events with which he deals.
In reference to the present conflict, this truth is
singularly obvious. The author has paid this tribute
to the British nation and all its associate peoples
with entire sincerity and with the simple object of
helping to make clear to the nations of the world,
belligerent or neutral, the real magnitude and
unexampled significance of the noble and magnificent
British effort.



8406'72



INTRODUCTION

The creative military work and the work of military
organisation accomplished by the British nation
since the commencement of the war, and which
have only now begun to find their recompense in
actual events, can be compared to none other ever
attempted.

When Dubois-Crance and Caraot formed the armies
of the Revolution, and Gambetta those of the
National Defence, they had at their disposal not
only a part of the body of officers who had sur-
vived the dissolution of the Ancien Regime y or the
collapse of the Second Empire, but also and above
all the primary material — than which none better
existed in the world — a tried race of soldiers, native
to a country that had been ever military and often
enough bellicose.

On the contrary, as Britain, even much earlier
than Shakespeare's time, gloried in being a fortress
reared by Nature and herself '' against the infec-
tion and the hand of war," so, from generation to
generation, the military spirit became more and



viii INTRODUCTION

more foreign to her, until she at length had held
the profession of arms in so little esteem that it was
reserved only for mercenaries, euphemistically styled
" volunteers.'*

She had, indeed, at all times fine chiefs and fine
soldiers, in the full and noble sense of the word —
but how many ?

An island, and mistress of the seas, she had no
national army because she did not need one.

In countries which have been longest military
in character, is it not the border provinces that have
been most military ? Not by reason of difference
of race, but because, of all portions of the domain
these, most open to invasion, oftenest menaced
by the enemy, and destined to receive the first
shock of his assault, are obliged to hold themselves
in constant readiness for armed resistance.

Morally considered, the military spirit of Lorraine
and Flanders is quite analogous to the natural
means of defence of certain organic species which,
had they not instinctively provided themselves
with those means, would in a little while have
perished.

That war could be a national industry was an
idea most astonishing to the British, an astonish-
ment not devoid of contempt, begotten perhaps
of a conscious superiority in civilisation.



INTRODUCTION ix

They had the sea. Of what use an army ?



Suddenly Britain had need of one. And for the
noblest of reasons, which makes of this the finest
page of her history amongst others, glorious without
doubt, but not wholly exempt from that mixture
of potent qualities and not less potent faults
which together have been designated as '' British
selfishness/'

Britain did not throw herself, body and soul,
into the war for the sake of Belgium alone : it
was because, had she resigned herself to the viola-
tion of the neutrality of that small country, it
would have been the end of the independence of all
the little nations and the abasement of the whole
world, before the revived brutality of the primitive
ages.

I passed some time, on the very eve of the war
(June, 1914), in England. I even visited the pleasant
camp of Aldershot. How remote England then
was from any sort of war, even from the lightest
military effort ! That state of mind, from which
I retain a retrospective impression of anxiety, was
even one of the causes of the catastrophe, because
of the certitude the German Emperor derived from
it that all things were permitted him.



X INTRODUCTION

Britain, however, could not have continued to
hve in her own esteem, had she allowed her signature
at the bottom of the treaty to be protested.

All the German inventions, all the Imperial
calumnies, cannot alter the materiality of facts.

Would you say that Britain, at the moment of
declaring war on Germany, had no very approximate
idea of what that war would be ?

Who, then, foresaw what it would be ? And who
was more deceived than Germany herself ?

Even had she read the whole future as in an open
book, Britain would not have hesitated longer.

The future for her was the need of following
backward the current of her habitudes, her most
ancient traditions, prejudices which until then had
seemed to her as truths, almost, indeed, as the
bases of her Empire : the need to be different, so
that she might still be faithful, unto herself.

She hesitated ; how should she have determined
instantly upon a revolutionary departure ?

She was slow in putting herself in motion ; she
had never been swift in this respect. All the same
she came to a resolve.

One may decline to do things ; if one does them,
they must be well done.

To-day she has obligatory service, an army of
several millions of men ; more officers than she had



INTRODUCTION xi

of soldiers two years ago ; as many cannon as the
opposing lines, if not more, and an organisation of
war-industries that is unsurpassed.

If that is not the accomplishment of a very great
thing, then I will own that all my forty years of
historical observation have been vain.



But has Britain, even in the course of her meta-
morphosis, been just to herself ? We have been
more so. Two weighty testimonies ' have just come
to her ; the honourable jealousy of those Americans
who are inconsolable not to have done what she
has done ; and the surprise of the Germans.

At length the Germans, being, as in most things,
exactly informed, were convinced that there was a
British Army and that it would come out of its
trenches. But as spies cannot be expected to deal
in their reports with *' the soul of things,'' because the
comprehension of it always eludes them, so it hap-
pened that Colonel Moraht was of the opinion that
" the great strategic offensive of the British " would
'* be the end of their army on the Continent ! " ^

Indeed, the German Government comprehended

^ Notably this present pamphlet, for which my friend, Mr.
Briggs Davenport, has asked me to write an Introduction.
^ Berliner Tageblait.



xii INTRODUCTION

nothing of what at the present hour must seem most
terribly clear to it.

In the first place, in the early days of the German
onslaught against Verdun, the British high command
put itself quite openly at the disposition of our own.
Joffre, with his ordinary foresight, desired Sir
Douglas Haig for the time being to limit his active
aid to the extension of his front to the Somme ;
an operation easy enough on the map ; in the
execution, one of the most delicate. It was carried
out to perfection. The British progressively took
the place of our own divisions, so that the latter
could swell the forces in Lorraine that were
stemming the German advance.

The British would have preferred, no doubt, to
open fire at once. They were envious of the glory
of Verdun. What ! merely to stand guard in
trenches while the tremendous battle went on !

In the order of the virtues, I would readily put
patience before courage. Joffre saw the German
trap. A premature offensive, even if successful
at some points, would not have relieved Verdun.
Time must be allowed to the Germans before that
position to wear themselves out ; to the Russians
to make ready the diversion that should compel the
Germans to strengthen themselves in the East at
the expense of their lines in the West ; to ourselves,



INTRODUCTION xiii

whom the Germans beUeved to be exhausted, to
constitute the group of armies which was to support
the British offensive ; and, finally, to the British
not to be only half-prepared.

Joseph Reinach.
Paris, July 5th, 1916.



THE BRITISH EFFORT

I

HOW IT MUST BE JUDGED



I •

HOW IT MUST BE JUDGED

Popular vision of war is usually erroneous. The
mass of mankind will always be most impressed
by agencies that are noisiest or most conspicuous.
The British share in the present world-struggle has
been comparatively silent and comparatively in-
visible. But in that very silence and in that com-
parative invisibility, it has been all the more terrible,
as viewed by any who have really understood it.

The modesty of British representative writers,
characteristic as it is, and grounded in that noble
pride that is due to a national consciousness of true
worth, has delayed the adequate exposition of what
the effort of their people and Government in the
great war really has been. It has, indeed, been
better set forth by foreign than by British writers.
Britons have waited for recognition from others :
have been rather indifferent to recognition, in fact,
bending their thoughts rather upon the thing to be
accomplished, the laying of that monstrous menace
of the twentieth century, the menace of thraldom



i8 ^\^HAT THE BRITISH EMPIRE

to Teutonic militarism and Teutonic economic
domination.

Wlien the .-^uture authoritative historian writes
his final commentary upon the relative forces en-
gaged in stemming the German assault, he will
declare that the British participation in the defence
at least doubled the chance of its success.

Germany was surprised and enraged by Britain's
prompt entry into the struggle, because she rightly
measured its tremendous import. What it appeared
to foreshadow has never been belied by events.

An Example for all Time

It is not necessary to dwell at any great length
upon Britain's effort on land, remarkable and un-
precedented in kind as it has been. The magnitude
and the marvel of her preparation, tardy though
it was, must strike every living mind with an awe
transcendent of mere admiration. When, as an
American onlooker, I wrote of it some months ago in
*' The Genesis of the Great War," I was less deeply
impressed with it than I now am. The wonder of it
will grow and still grow in men's minds as the years
roll by. It will be for all time one of the most potent
examples set as an imperishable gem in the world's
memory. WTiat I then said seems to me now most
tamely prosaic :



IS DOING IN THE WAR 19

" Britain, denounced so often since Napoleon's time as a
* nation of shopkeepers,' became suddenly an incensed people,
breathing war and righteous retribution. Instead of a land
force of less than 150,000 men, which was all, aside from her
fleets, which she was at first expected to send to the aid of the
French and Belgians, she actually in the course of nine months
poured into the plains and marches and hill-ranges of Picardy,
the Artois, and Flanders more than a million volunteers and
regular soldiers, who proved themselves among the bravest
who had ever flung themselves into a great struggle beyond the
limits of the realm. Of this number a large proportion were
from the overseas colonies and dominions, notably from India,
Canada and Australasia. This manifestation of unity in patriotic
feeling with the Motherland was as splendid as it was spontaneous.
Men of all classes, from the highest to the humblest, gave superb
evidence that they regarded resistance to the madly aggressive
projects of Germany as not only a duty to themselves, in view
of the jeopardy in which the national future was placed, but as
a greater and more sacred duty to mankind. The Kaiser's
Government had counted on quite a different order of things. . . .
It had hoped for coldness towards the Motherland in the time
of need on the part of AustraUa and Canada ; for civil war
in Ireland, and for revolt in Egypt, India and South Africa. . . .
Where the British Empire had been supposed to be most vulner-
able was India ; but there the indigenous princes and peoples
surpassed everything that could have been looked for in fervent
loyalty and generous offers of troops, money and equipments.
No higher tribute was ever paid to the efficiency of Anglo-Saxon
rule and Anglo-Saxon civilising methods in remote lands. By
the other Imperial dominions also warships, large bodies of
soldiers, armed and equipped, and enormous quantities of war
provisions were immediately tendered."

The Miracle of an Army
It would have been the height of absurdity to
accuse the British nation at that stage of lukewarm-



20 WHAT THE BRITISH EMPIRE

ness towards the anti-Teutonic cause. Yet how
vastly greater has been the manifestation of its
purpose, its fortitude, and its power since then !
Unpreparedness for war had in truth been a scandal ;
but never in the annals of the world had so gigantic
a task as that of making up for this unpreparedness
been performed with so much alacrity, with such
magnificent individual and voluntary devotion.
Was ever any so-called miracle of all those that
men have spoken or written of more astounding than
the raising of an army of five millions of men by
sheer moral appeal, without real coercion of any
kind, to fight an enemy in an outlying land ? More
than six milhon men had offered themselves. And
the wonder of equipment and munitioning is like
unto it. Thousands of munition factories where
formerly perhaps there were some dozens ! And
Britain a country which in its very soul detests
militarism and is perpetually enamoured of the
arts of peace !

The facts which show forth against the relief
of this moral background are, it seems to me, suffi-
ciently eloquent by themselves. That nation, which
abominating war, goes to war so magnificently,
simply because the cause in its absolute justice is
all-compelling, is surely doubly heroic — heroic both
in the moral and in the physical sense. As a whole^



IS DOING IN THE WAR 21

to prove its force of will, it had no need of con-
scription, seeing that it had raised the mightiest
volunteer host ever known. Conscription after all
is universal in form only. In reality it is a measure
for the ill-willed, the cowardly and the laggards.
And what a small proportion they are of the virile
strength of Britain !

A Colossal Human Engine

What fighting the British troops have done in
Belgium and France is a part of that glorious record
of the war which nothing can dim. But the potential
value of the army of five millions is greater even than
the past deeds of those divisions of it which have
been in the direst hell of battle. They are ready,
watchful of opportunity, a colossal human engine,
compact of energy.

Foreign writers, as I have said, and particularly
French writers, have paid high tribute to Britain's
preparation after the first alarm of war. Andre
Chevrillon's book, " L'Angleterre et la Guerre '*
(Hachette), is by far the best study of the subject
that has appeared. He analyses minutely the state
of the English public mind in various stages of its
progressive warlike evolution, since the sovereign
rights of the Belgian nation were violated, and duly



22 WHAT THE BRITISH EMPIRE

weighs all the factors that made for or against the
calling out of all of Britain's manhood strength.

The contrast between the military situation in
England before the war and what it was a few
months later appears more incredible, if a seeming
paradox may be used, to those who have actually
witnessed it near at hand than to those who have
vaguely viewed it from a distance. This is because
the reality so exceeds all previous phenomena in
history, and also because at the beginning of August,
1914, it was so intrinsically improbable. '' The
tradition of immediate contact with the horrors
and the heroism of war/' as I have elsewhere written,
'' had largely been lost in the British Isles. Since
the attempt upon the throne by the ill-starred Duke
of Monmouth, which culminated so pitiably at
Sedgemoor in 1685, there had been no battle worthy
of the name on English soil."

Break with Sacred Traditions

Now it w^as that events summoned the British
nation most brusquely to break with certain tradi-
tions which might justly be regarded as sacred.
" As at all the critical moments of her past," writes
M. Chevrillon, " England learned the lesson of
things. ... In eight months, England, who before



IS DOING IN THE WAR 23

could not count her three hundred thousand soldiers,
had two millions on foot/'

He notes the process of adaptation which '' worked
veritable organic changes '' in the body politic. This
process received its first recognised impetus from
The Times, which gave, as he says, " the tocsin
stroke that was echoed by all the great journals/'
The series of agitations that followed culminated
in the conscience of the nation being fully awakened.
It is difficult to gauge with words the intense and
profound moral effort with which the British gave
birth to the superb material effort that has astounded
the world. What most practically concerns us is
the latter, although it is both together that have
affrighted Germany more than aught else in this
war. While she is nearing the very finish of her
powers, she sees the ready strength of the British
people continuously augmented, on sea as well as on
land. The very silence of this great phenomenon,
remarks M. Chevrillon, is what makes it most dis-
quieting to Germany. It is in ominous contrast
to all the tumultuous manifestations of the latter's
hate.



II

BEHIND THE LINES



II

BEHIND THE LINES

Mankind has lost the relative measure of war and
of warlike preparation. This is simply because the
conditions of war to-day are such as never before
existed in the history of the world. A new standard
is in course of creation, whereby this and future
wars are to be judged.

We are concerned here with the part that Britain
and her Colonies and Dominions are playing in this
creation. It is, in short, a question of relative
valuation, most difficult of all problems when the
determining factors are new and the co-ordination
of the details of the essential facts i§ as yet incom-
plete.

We may be said to have arrived at the chmax —

or very near it — of the modern evolution of war.

The perfecting of war machinery and of chemically

prepared war material has necessarily changed both

field tactics and the very methods of fighting ; and

it has multipHed the cost of it many times over.

In former ages nations were said to have been

27



28 WHAT THE BRITISH EMPIRE

exhausted by war ; but the destruction of lives and
of wealth which then meant exhaustion was as
nothing to what it is to-day. The greatest damage
that was then inflicted by belligerent nations upon
one another was chiefly confined to the immediate
effects of the operations of the armies in the field.
Even there (if we leave aside the fabulous exaggera-
tions of some of the old historians) the loss of life
and the devastation of property were proportionately
far less than at present.

Demands upon Resources

But a comparison of the effects of war upon the
non-combatants, upon the millions of people in
the belligerent countries who are far removed from
the sounds of battle, in that time and in this,
presents a still greater difference. Never before
were these nations in their mass subjected to such
stupendous demands upon their resources. Terrific,
under the new conditions of warfare, as is the
brunt of battle, the actual burden of the main-
tenance of war, measured in terms of equipment
and supplies, is even more stupendous.

The British Empire, being at the commence-
ment the least prepared in the military sense of all
the Powers which have engaged in the war, had for



IS DOING IN THE WAR 29

many months proportionately fewer men in actual
battle than her Allies ; though at the present her
field forces are second to none either in numbers or
in armament. The proportion of numbers to popu-
lation is greater even than that in any other country,
France alone excepted. Consider the vast energy
and expenditure that have been necessary for the
production of those forces in so short a time — five
million men where before less than a quarter of a
million were ready for service. Consider the lack
of training, the lack of officers, the lack of equip-
ment, the lack of guns !

And this is but a single phase of the material
effort behind the fighting lines. War changes for
the time the very economic functioning of society,
and in an immensely greater degree than formerly.
In Britain the readjustments of the organism were
less readily accomplished than on the Continent.
Britain was morally more remote from war than
any other nation in this hemisphere, the neutral
State of Switzerland possibly excepted. And
Britain's moral and physical impulses must ever
be in accord before she acts. Regarded at the true
angle of vision, her industrial transformation is one
of the wonders of all time. Yesterday an agglomera-
tion of peaceful, closely-knit manufacturing com-
munities ; to-day a vast arsenal, clanging with the



30 WHAT THE BRITISH EMPIRE

unceasing haste of war-production ! And in her
ports her shipbuilding redoubled !

The Financial Aspect

An even more striking aspect of the material
effort behind the lines is the financial one, because
it is so easily expressed to the understanding of the
ordinary man. The war is costing the United
Kingdom far more than it is any other Power.
Her expenditure of five million pounds a day is
something that is plain enough as set down in
figures, yet is beyond the power of the imagination
actually to grasp in its literal, intrinsic meaning.
And up to four months ago Britain had advanced
£368,000,000 to her Allies and her outlying Dominions
engaged in the war.

Unlike Germany and other of the belligerents,
she is not financing the war upon credit alone, but
is providing by increased taxation for the future
payment of her loans and for the payment of the
interest on them as it falls due. The revenue of her
Government for the fiscal year of 1916-17 will
exceed that of 1913-14 by ;f309,ooo,ooo. The ex-
traordinary taxation for war expenses amounts to
£170,000,000 per annum. Germany is nominally
effacing part of her loan obligations with fresh loans
and is paying the interest on both with further loans.



IS DOING IN THE WAR 31

In Britain, the banknote circulation is more than
covered by the gold reserve, while in Germany the
note circulation is inflated to nearly three times the
amount of the gold held by the Imperial Bank.
Measured by the discount rates, the British bank-
note commands seven times greater confidence
abroad than does the German.

Capacity for Endurance

In a war like the present one, the value of any
nation's effort is largely dependent upon the capacity
for endurance which it develops. With more speed
in preparation, Britain would very possibly have
developed less thoroughness, and therefore less
competency, for the ordeal before her. M.


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