Colonel Lowther’s Bexhill Speech December 1914

At the Bexhill Skating Rink on Thursday 10th December 1914 Colonel Lowther gave a rousing recruitment speech. This is the speech he gave. 

Let me first of all, thank you, Mr. Mayor, and also take this opportunity of thanking the people of Bexhill for their long-continued civilities and kindness to the Southdown Battalions.

You told us, sir that Bexhill had been able to place at the disposal of our 2nd Battalion some excellent houses, the Down Schools; and I can assure you we were deeply grateful because they were put at our disposal at a moment when we could not have other houses—that is to say, before our huts were built—and it made the whole difference to the men to be under proper shelter.

Therefore, sir, I am quite certain I am expressing the opinion of everybody, and the wish of everybody, when I thank you on behalf of the Southdowns, and ask you to repeat this to the Corporation, that you have our very deep gratitude. (Applause)

This is a recruiting meeting. I was asked some time ago if I would address another meeting at Bexhill, but I refused. I am told that it would have possibly some effect if I appeared on the platform here, and I consented to do so; more especially as my friend, the Mayor, has consented to take the chair.

I do say this:-

If there is any Englishman unrestricted by physical disabilities or the age limit, who has not joined Lord Kitchener’s Army to-day he must ignore the titanic issues at stake and the sheer impossibility for our heroic little Army to continue to check the massed millions of Germany, while the might of Britain remains at home. (Applause) One thing this war has clearly proved – and God forbid that I should speak in any braggart spirit – taking man for man, it has conclusively proved the superiority of the British soldier over the German. (Loud applause)

He shoots better – he fights more intelligently, and instead of being driven into action in front of maxim guns, he will follow his officers anywhere (Cheers).

But in spite of the incontestable advantages of individual superiority, our little Army must finally succumb to sheer force of numbers. Their iron-hearted resistance; their unflinching courage, will be in vain unless the sons of England awaken. Don’t let us send men in driblets; don’t let us send drafts to fill depleted ranks. Let us rise as one man. Let us show the world that Lord Kitchener will not only have the two million men he has asked for – but two million besides; and if that is not enough, a whole nation – aye, a whole Empire in arms. (Cheers)

OUR MESSAGE OF DEFIANCE TO THE ENEMY

There are to-day no political parties – (hear, hear) – no caucus; no schisms. We are divided by no creeds or denominations. Class hatred, yes, and classes too, have disappeared – the peer and the ploughman; the duke and the dustman; the prince and the pauper, have merged their identity. Shoulder to shoulder they stand. They are just men, ready to fight for their country, who send this message across the sea. (Applause) Yes, this is the message they send to the German people:-

You have taunted and tried us long enough: you have built ships in order to rob us of the trade for which you long have lusted; you have trodden down treaties; you have devastated a weak country, which by every sacred bond between nation and nation we were pledged to protect. You have abused all the laws of chivalry – written and unwritten. The atrocities of Louvain, Malines, and other cities are monuments to your vandalism. You have fired upon the wounded; upon the Red Cross. Rapine pillage, bestial cruelty and murder, follow in the wake of your ephemeral victories. You have doubted first, then mocked our manhood; you have flung your pean of hate across our seas.

Well, hear our answer: Your bullying hosts shall bend the knee. Your ships sink – every one of them – (applause) – just as the crowns and sceptres of your tyrants shall crumble in the dust.

We swear it by the God of Battle, by the God of Might, by the God of Right, whose name at all times you blasphemously invoke.

You have heard the answer that the sons of Britain fleeing in the face of the German War Lord. Well, it is equally the answer of the 1st and 2nd Southdown Battalions and it will still be the answer of the 3rd and the 4th Battalions when they are formed.

A BIT SHORT-HANDED!

It has often occurred to me in my journey through life that the dominant failing of the age is a want of sense of proportion. It is quite usual thing to see people rating about the pins head through a megaphone or endeavouring to crush a butterfly with the blunderbuss. But in inverse ratio, could anything exceed the appalling apathy and inhuman callousness which is displayed today by certain members of the community? I do not refer to you people who have done your duty, I do not only refer to the proverbial “Knut” who, when asked whether he is going to the Front, says the seafront is far enough for him. (Laughter) but I refer also to many employers of Labour who not only are making no sacrifice themselves, but are preventing others from doing their duty. Constantly, when I have asked employers for permission to roll their work went in my regiment, they have refused on the plead that they would be a bit Short-handed.

A BIT SHORT-HANDED! And Europe turned into one vast battlefield.

“A BIT SHORT-HANDED!” And the enemies guns trained on us are very sure; a bit Short-handed, while mothers are giving their sons; wives, their husbands; children, their fathers! These gallant businessmen, who wild horses could not drag to the war themselves, are grudging their work when the honour of fighting for their country because their absence would render them shorthanded!!

It is, of course, impossible to imbue such people with the spirit of Patrick Chisholm; with ideals and all the finer feelings that serve to make a man or country great. They are devoid of the ideals that go to make them men have self-respect. It is only possible to make an appeal to their sordid or material instincts. But if only the vital issues at stake could be brought home to them; if they could be shown what defeat would mean to their country, and through their country to them, I feel sure they would pack off to the Front every work men who could shoulder a musket, and even make from their Country the terrific sacrifice of remaining in an armchair at home-and “short-handed”!

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF WE WERE INVADED

After all, there is only the preponderance of our Fleet between us and a German invasion. Well, we can form some idea of the treatment we should receive from the barbaric treatment meted out to the Belgians (and always remember they had no grudge against the Belgians), whereas they never lose an opportunity of expressing their hatred for us, and openly vowel that the day of reckoning will begin when there Army first lands on our shores.

Consider for a moment what defeat would mean to us. It would mean not only national bankruptcy – but individual ruin. We would become a vassal state of Germany. Our people would lose their liberty, and be ground down under the iron heel of German militarism. Our Colonies would be wrested from us and at one blow our immense foreign and Colonial trade would be shattered.

The enemy would devastate our land – they would wreck our homes – they were spare neither women nor children. Have they spared the women and children in Belgium? But, goaded to fury by the part our Army has already played in this war, they would place such a toll upon any town which escaped their vengeance, that they would squeeze from the inhabitants their last penny piece.

ON THE OTHER HAND

On the other hand, if we crush the enemy – and we cannot do so unless we assert our whole might – there will be no measuring our potential riches. Not only will we save many millions a year by the decrease in our Navy – which until now had to keep pace with Germany’s gigantic Fleet – but we will acquire the greater part of her vast sea-borne trade, which is reckoned at over £700,000,000 a year. Trade will prosper; commerce expanded, and there will dawn upon England an era of unparalleled prosperity.

One thing is certain: we have entered into a war with the most powerful of all nations. Don’t let us in our folly underrate the enemy; they are courageous, determined, United, and in deadly earnest. The two greatest powers known to history are struggling for supremacy. One of them must fall – and fall to rise no more. The end of this war cannot result in the temporary discomfiture of England or Germany, but it will mean the total eclipse of an empire. (A Voice: “War to the death.”)

It is war, Sir, to the death. I feel this – feel it very strongly. If only the men of England will rise in all their might, if they rise as one man, without bragging or boasting, we have no doubt of the result.

WHAT SUSSEX HAS DONE: AND THE GOOD TREATMENT IN CAMP.

Nothing could be more inspiring than the manner in which the men of Sussex have responded to the Call to Arms.

Although I was told that the Country had been swept dry of recruits, I raised the first Battalion in under a week; the second Battalion in five days; and I shall be bitterly disappointed if the third is not complete by Saturday. (Cheers.) And you are going to help me to complete it.

It is gratifying to think that the best recruiters have been the men themselves of the Southdown Battalions – (cheers) – who, after three months’ experience, are able to tell their fellows whether they have been treated with justice and consideration; whether they have been properly cared for; whether their food has not only been sufficient in quantity, but of good quality; and whether the huts which have been built to protect them from the winter weather, are warm, well ventilated, and as comfortable as circumstances permit. I know what your answer has been by the manner in which you raised the 2nd. Battalion; and in which you are going to help me to raise the 3rd, (Applause.)

It would, perhaps, not be out of place to announce from this platform that the huts now being built will be a considerable improvement upon those already in existence.

The sleeping accommodation will be at the two sides, and the space in the centre will be used solely as a recreation room, where the men will be able to sit down and read or write their letters, hold ‘sing-songs’, and have an opportunity of hearing to better advantage the seraphic and exquisite voice of Sergeant-Major May. (Laughter and applause.)

WORK FOR THOSE WHO SERVE

It will, also, I am sure, interest you to hear what the Mayor announced tonight, that your officers are helping me to form a powerful and influential County organisation, to provide work for any men who have served in the Southdown Battalions, and you may find their places filled on the termination of the war. I am determined to make it impossible for any man in my Regiment to go into the workhouse, or die in destitution – (applause) – but this (I say it to my country’s shame) has been the fate of many old soldiers who have fought in their Country’s battles.

If the British soldier is a gallant fellow, now that we have made of him, don’t let the Country forget that he is still gallant and equally deserving when the war is over. (Applause.)

I look to the landlords of Sussex; to all employers of Labour – not those of whom I have spoken; they will do nothing. They are too short-handed (laughter) – and indeed to every man of means to help me make this organisation such a success that it will be emulated throughout the length and breadth of the land. That this can be done is certain; and judging from the response I have already received to my appeal, that it will be done is a foregone conclusion and I want every county in England to emulate Sussex.

A PRIVATE HOSPITAL FOR THE SOUTHDOWNS

We are also endeavouring to establish either in Boulogne or Paris a Base Hospital for any man in the Southdowns – I hope then a brigade – who maybe wounded during the war. I should like to arrange for a Private staff as surgeons, nurses, and doctors to attend exclusively to my men. Simultaneously with this Hospital, it is our intention to arrange with people in the county to receive in their houses any convalescents who may be well enough to be moved, but require good nursing and good food in order to restore them to normal health again. I shall have to obtain the sanction of the War Office to do this. It is only fair to say that this idea is at present only in embryo, but I hope in a few weeks time to tell you it has crystallised, and taken shape.

When I ask you to join the Southdowns, I ask you to join a very gallant regiment – (applause) – one of which every man can be justly proud. You will know by the roll of honour how they have distinguished themselves. And if they do not return, their names will live for ever to the glory of the county – the county where I have made my home; the county I love very much.

I have taken a little bungalow by the side of the sea at Cooden. It stands on the border of the sea, so that I am accessible both to the murmurs of the elements, and the murmurs of the men. (Laughter)

NO MURMURS

Well, I must honestly say the murmur of the men has not reached me yet. (Applause) They are a brave, manly lot, are my Southdowns; and although I have made it my duty to study their feelings; to ascertain their grievances in order that they may be righted, if possible; I can honestly tell you from this platform and not a single murmur, not a single complaint, either direct or indirect, has reached me since I first came into the camp three months ago. I dare say they have had their grievances, their little hardships and annoyance, but they have sunk them deep in that ocean of sympathy and sorrow which they feel for those who, at the sacrifice of their lives, have added a chapter to a history book transcending, yes and eclipsing, in glory any that has gone before.

THE COLONELS NIGHT JOURNEY

But if the murmur of the men has not penetrated the walls of my little storm-swept house, the murmur of the elements certainly has. (Laughter) one night last week I could not sleep for the roaring of the wind in the seething of the waves. It was a moment when the hurricane was at its zenith, and I feared that the new wooden houses which we have built for the troops would not stand the strain. I hurriedly put on some clothes and fought the wind and the hail and sleet on my way towards the camp, to find, I am pleased to say the houses standing firm and fast as a rock. (Laughter and cheers)

I came back wet to the skin, cold, disconsolate, and grumbling like mad, because there could be such a night and that I should have to saunter out into it.

Then suddenly, as if the veil had been lifted from my eyes, I saw things in there right perspective; that sense of proportion which I have just spoken of as being so singularly lacking in many of us, was returned to me.

For if ever the masks of comedy and tragedy were near akin, it was upon that night. There was I grumbling at half-an-hours exposure to the wind and hail, whilst on the other side of the Channel our gallant army was nobly and doggedly and silently manning the trenches, which for whole days and nights –  and in some cases for weeks – they have not been able to leave. The stubborn resistance of our little army has been the admiration of the world.

WHAT OUR ARMY HAS DONE AND WHAT WE MUST DO

Just as a mother fights for her young, so our little army has fought for its country. With God-given strength our men have hurled the enemy back.

The power that drives them is not hate, it is love – love for their country – and the unconquerable belief that those at home will step into the gap and never let slip the victory, paid for, it may be, with their lives; that where one falls, ten, nay, a hundred, are ready enough to step into the gap.

Yet in spite of their faith, in spite of their patriotism, there is, yes, there must be, a limit to all human endurance.

Onslaught after onslaught has this gallant little army repelled. Attack after attack have they repelled; battle after battle have they won; but remember this: from every attack, from every onslaught, from every battle they have emerged victorious, it is true, but weaker, thinner, less powerful,

Yes! That thin all-conquering line of khaki is thinner still to-day; thinned by their victories. And yet they fight on with dogged courage, with patient silence.

They are weary, but they do not murmur. They are hard pressed, but they don’t complain. They will fight on gamely to the end.

I call to the men of Sussex, and say to them; your place is by their side, where men are fighting against insuperable odds. It is four to one against them, and I ask every one of you to join the Southdowns, for Sussex is to stand by her sons. (Loud and prolonged cheers)”.

 

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