Tag Archives: Debating Society
The House met on Thursday, November 25, to discuss the motion ‘That in the opinion of this House America’s behaviour during the War has been unjustifiable.’
The Proposer (The VICE-PRESIDENT) said that he proposed the motion on two grounds that her acts all through had been double dealing, and that she had not fulfilled her role as a party to the Hague Convention. The Red Cross had been violated by Germany, open towns bombarded, neutral shipping destroyed, and non-combatant civilians had been murdered, but America’s only reply had always been a useless Note.
The Opposer (Mr. GREIG) said that America had done her best in sending Notes to the Germans when they violated the Hague Convention. Her army was very small and her navy, though of a good size, was not well manned. America, he said, was half German, and it would be very difficult for her to come in on either side.
The Seconder (Mr. HOLLINS) said that there had been no complaints about Germany’s barbarism in Belgium. The Americans had been very slack with regard to the various German officials in America who had been plotting to blow up their munition works. America ought not to interfere with European affairs.
Mr. KIRKMAN pointed out that we had all invited the American Ambassadors to look after our affairs in enemy countries, and this was asking America to interfere with European affairs. Her best way of looking after our affairs was to send Notes, for her army and navy were both weak.
Mr. SHARPE called our attention to the resignation of Mr. Bryan.
Mr. MEYER said that America’s whole principle was wrong. They should take proper action, and not be a mere Note-sender.
Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS said that America was not a first-class power, and should not try to be one.
Mr. HERBERT said that she would ruin herself with internal strife if she went into the war.
The PRESIDENT said that no one had dealt with the amazing statements of the Opposer and fourth speaker. America had failed in her dutyto the world. Self-interest was not the only thing. Her only hope lay in a big upheaval.
After various quarrels of a more or less personal nature, the motion was put to the vote, and carried by 10 votes to 6.
The House met on Thursday, November 18, to continue last week’s debate.
Mr. HARROD quoted the President as demanding that England should have been told, so that her armaments might have been increased ; but he held that that policy would have been fatal, for they would have inoculated us with the desire of war, and an outburst would have been the inevitable result. And what good could such information be to the average Englishman, when it was no good to the Government ? We could never have caught up Germany’s military supremacy, and an exhausting struggle in armaments would have been the only result, whereas the Government saw our proper sphere was in the struggle for industrial supremacy. Mr. Harrod then attacked Mr. Brandon-Thomas’s speech, especially his exercises in invective against Ministers. Mr. Brandon-Thomas demanded something theatrical, but he was content with the solid virtue and far-sightedness of the Government. Mr. Harrod is rather apt to repeat himself.
The VICE-PRESIDENT then rose and attacked most of Mr. Harrod’s statements. He pointed out that efficient mobilisation was due to a General Officer, and declared that nothing could have been worse than Lord Haldane’s administration of the War Office. He also quoted our lack of munitions as pointing to negligence on the part of the Government.
Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS then defended himself against Mr. Harrod’s attacks, chiefly by the use of an all-embracing ridicule.
Mr. OLIVER scoffed at the idea that the eight battalions removed by Lord Haldane were of any use. He thought it would be tyrannous if the nation has to support a large army and a large navy.
The PRESIDENT deprecated the attacks on Lord Haldane, who simply did not realise that Germany had changed since the time of Hegel. As for the impossibility of catching Germany up, Germany had got the start ; because she had got the start she was at the end of her resources, whereas Britain had not began to draw on them. Lord Roberts was a brave man, speaking the truth ; the Government insulted him. The democracy was told by its leaders that there was no danger when there was danger. For the want of a little courage and few more men, Belgium had been ravaged and made desolate. Could a Christian believe all this necessary and right?
Mr. GERRISH got up and started the old question by declaring that Britain had a Navy which was quite sufficient for her needs.
The PRESIDENT declared that it was not sufficient for the needs of Europe.
Mr. HARROD brought the debate to a conclusion by pointing out the inconsistencies in the speeches of the Vice-President and Mr. Brandon-Thomas, and accused the latter of getting hold of a piece of a phrase and making great fun of it, while completely avoiding the point.
The motion was then put to the vote, and lost by 7 votes to II.
The House met on Thursday, November 11, to discuss the motion’That in the opinion of this House Britain’s unreadiness for the War was entirely due to the negligence of the Government.’
The Proposer (The PRESIDENT) said that it might seem presumptuous for schoolboys to discuss such a motion, but he considered that the members of the House formed part of a most valuable class in Society. Before he dealt with the question he asked the House not totreat it as one of party politics, for it only happened that a Liberal Government was in power. He conceived that he had three things to prove : That there was danger; that we were unready; that the Government saw the danger, The ‘first needed little proof in the light of what we know now, though some may have known of the literature of Anglophobia, semi-official in character, published in Germany. As to the second, the President said that the mere fact that only two thirds of our expeditionary force was sent across at first would prove it, but even our full Expeditionary Force was absurdly inadequate, as every eminent soldier knew. But most of all we were morally unprepared. Now the Government had had six distinct warnings. The Morocco incident, where Germany tried to break the Entente ; the acceleration of the ‘German Naval programme in 1908 ; the third warning in 191o, of which little was known ; the famous Agadir incident ; the extraordinary mission of Lord Haldane, which fully enlightened the Government, according to Mr. Asquith ; and, lastly, the German Army Bill and Loan of 1913. This last showed that Germany’s best hour to strike would be somewhere in the year 1914, when we were being told that we were on the best terms with Germany, and when Lord Roberts was being insulted in Parliament for telling the truth.
The Opposer (Mr. ABRAHAMS), in a short speech, said that he fully admitted the President’s three points, but contended that nothing else could have been done. The Government received from their predecessors the ideals of Peace, Retrenchment and Reform. The Imperial Defence Committee had advised that no form of National Service was necessary, and no one of either party listened to Lord Roberts. The majority had always been against a large aimy, and while the Government were trying to get such an increase, as the President suggested, sanctioned by the people, Europe would see what was up, and Germany would attack us. The fault lay not with the Government, but with English history.
The Seconder (Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS), in a fluent but rather irrelevant speech, began by comparing the Opposer to Parliament, which always does what their forefathers did, and then blames them. We ought to have learnt our lesson from the Boer War, but we didn’t, and all our armchair critics laughed at Lord Roberts. The Government was always leaving things to be done afterwards, so they never got done at all. In peace they refuse to listen to the demands of the War Office and the Admiralty ; and when war finds the country unprepared, they are offered up as a scape-goat. The Government was always afraid of something—of the people, or of Germany, or of itself. Mr. Brandon-Thomas drew a, glowing picture of the elder Pitt’s measures, and proceededto deliver a venomous attack on Lord Haldane. He finished by saying that the Government had always crushed patriotism, and were horrified at any lack of it when disaster came.
The debate was then adjourned till the next meeting.
THE House met on Thursday, November 4, to discuss the motion’That in the opinion of this House the Press has done more harm than good during the War.’
The Proposer (The SECRETARY) said that the Press had criticised and attacked many of theleading statesmen of Britain, and had given a great deal of information to our enemies, and neutral countries believed a great deal of what the Press said, as the British Press was quite different from that of other nations; and it created a very bad impression in neutral countries when our Press criticised our politicians. The French newspapers had been reduced to one page of official news. Could we not do this in England ?
The Opposer (The VICE-PRESIDENT) said that the Secretary’s main point was the effect upon neutrals. He denied that the Press had any effect upon them. They got their news from reliable sources. All newspapers were censored. It was no fault of the Press what news was published. The Secretary had scoffed at the articles by the various Naval and Military correspondents, but these, after all, were only the views of one person, who knew a good lot, who did not pretend to be a prophet, but was merely expressing his opinions. The papers, he said, had done a lot of good as regards conscription.
The Seconder (Mr. MEYER) harped mostly upon the newspaper placards. These, he said, were made in order to make the paper sell, and, to the passer-by, usually gave an entirely wrong impression.
Mr. KIRKMAN, who spoke instead of the Treasurer, who was ill, said that, judging by the number of rumours and extracts of articles from the Figaro, Matin, and other French papers which are printed in our daily papers, it was absurd to suppose that the French papers had been cut down to one page of purely official news, as the Secretary had said.
The PRESIDENT said that the Press was there primarily to be accurate, and the Vice-President himself had said that it was not accurate.
Mr. HARROD asked what we should do without a Press ? The numbers of rumours that would get about would he enormous.
The SECRETARY said that Mr. Harrod was off the point.
From here the meeting resolved into violent arguments on the subject of Lord Northcliffe.
The motion was then put to the vote, and lost by 7 votes to 13.
The House met on Thursday, October 21, to discuss the motion that ‘ In the opinion of this House the War should not prevent the performance of the Play.’
The Proposer (Mr. MEYER) said that the Play being one of the School’s most treasured institutions should certainly not be stopped. He saw no reason why we should not have some diversion, andit is good for us to be cheered up every now and then. Terence’s plays certainly were not frivolous. The working and acting of the Play would be very much more difficult when none of those taking part in it had ever seen a play.
The Opposer (the SECRETARY) said that the Play was stopped in the first year of the Crimea, which was far less important than this war. If the Play was not frivolous, the epilogue most certainly was. We could not possibly have a play without the epilogue. Other public schools had given up many of their most treasured institutions. If other schools give up theirs, why shouldn’t we give up ours ? If theatres were stopped owing to the war, numbers of people would be thrown out of work, whereas the Westminster Play, as Mr. Meyer had said, was entirely run by the School, and consequently no one would be thrown out of work if we did not have it.
The Seconder (The PRESIDENT) said that the Secretary was quite wrong, and that there was a play at the time of the Crimean war. The Play had not been stopped at all in the last century, not even in the Napoleonic wars, except out of compliment to the Royal Family when a prominent member of it had died. He quite agreed that it was not right for us to criticise at this time, and that consequently we could not have an epilogue, but could we not have some sort of commemorative address? There were certain details with regard to the Play that people could not have drummed into them.
Mr. ABRAHAMS said that the sentimental. side of the question could not possibly be neglected. One did not want uproarious laughter nowadays. He gave us a quotation from the Famulus, and said that that was not the sort of thing we wanted at this time. This terrible war, into which all Europe was now plunged, was a far greater calamity than the death of a king. If we stopped the Play for that, surely it was our duty to stop it now. If the actors found that there was only a small audience, it would have a very bad effect upon them.
Mr. HERBERT told us that the newspapers last year, discussing the fact that ‘Westminster was not having its Play, said that it was exceedingly good taste.
The SECRETARY pointed out that it would be no more of a blow to us not to have the Play than it was to Eton and Harrow not to have their usual match at Lord’s.
Mr. OLIVER said that the only reason why the Eton and Harrow match did not take place at Lord’s was that Lord’s was not open.
Mr. SIMPSON suggested that now that we were more settled and in less of a panic we might have the Play again.
The SECRETARY disputed that we were settled and knew where we were.
The PRESIDENT said that we must certainly find out whether various influential Old Westminsters approved or not.
The motion was then put to the vote and carried by 14 votes to 7.
The House met on Thursday, October 14, to discuss the motion that ‘ This House would welcome the revival of Sumptuary Laws.’
The Proposer (Mr. TURBERVILLE) began by defining sumptuary laws ; he said that they limited expenditure in food, furniture, apparel, &c., and had first appeared in Rome during the third century before Christ, but had obtained since in some form or other in all civilised countries. He pointed out that people were failing to economise now, not because they were unwilling, but because they did not realise the pressing need for it ; legislation would help them to realise this need. At the present moment we were doing nothing to prepare ourselves to bear the burden of the great debt which would ensue from the war ; we should merely shift it on to the shoulders of generations to come. Ordinary taxes press hardest on the lower classes, while it is those higher up in the social scale who indulge in reckless expenditure, subversive to the interests of the country and, at the present time, of the world. We had had enough of appealing pamphlets, and it was time that legislation should be introduced. Mr. Turberville has a hesitating delivery and tendency to repeat himself, but he brought out the main points of his case.
The Opposer (Mr. HARROD) said that there were two ways in which sumptuary laws might be introduced. A mild Government might limitexpenditure in certain articles, the number of which would be gradually increased ; this would only turn the attention of the population to articles to which no limit of expenditure was laid down, and the evil would increase ; there were sumptuary laws at Rome, but Rome fell because of her indulgence in luxury. Secondly, a determined Government might prohibit all luxuries at one fell swoop. No Englishman would stand this, we are too jealous of our private life. Some other remedy must be found to limit extravagance. It was absurd to let people possess excessive wealth, and then make laws to prevent them using it. Such steps as the nationalisation of railways and the revision of our laws of inheritance must be taken to ensure an even distribution of wealth. Mr. Harrod made a brief recapitulation of the chief points of his speech, and then sat down ; he speaks well, though his method of delivery is apt to grate on the nerves.
The Seconder (Mr. ELLIS) spoke so fast and so indistinctly that it was almost impossible to gather the drift of his argument. He suggested that such legislation might help to alleviate poverty. As for the impracticability of such measures, he thought the dropping of Mr. Lloyd George’s Bill dealing with drink a disgrace to the nation. Personally he thought sumptuary laws would be welcome.
Mr. GREIG added his theory of the history of sumptuary laws, with special reference to any such legislation obtaining at any time in England. There were sumptuary laws at present in force in the shape of taxes on foodstuffs. After a quotation from Horace he brought his speech to an end.
The PRESIDENT then disputed several of Mr. Harrod’s statements, after which he sat down.
Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS said that nothing would stop a man having drink. If you tried to abolish luxury you would throw thousands of dressmakers and clothworkers out of work. You couldn’t abolish luxury without hurting others.
Mr. HERBERT pointed out that the expense of assessing everybody’s level of luxury would be tremendous.
After a final definition by the VICE-PRESIDENT the motion was put to the vote and lost by 6 votes to 11
THE House met on Thursday, September 30, to discuss the motion ‘ That in the opinion of this House the present situation renders Conscription imperative.’
The Proposer (Mr. J. R. BRANDON-THOMAS) laid emphasis on the words ‘ the present situation.’ More men were wanted and were not forthcoming, nor were they likely to join after a year’s refusal, and this knowledge would have a prejudicial effect on our men at the Front. He did not think we had come out very well in the war so far ; we had had the usual quarrels with the Labour Party, for instance. That sort of thing didn’t happen in France or Germany. Why not ? Because the culprits were immediately called to the colours, for there is conscription in those countries. The chief difficulty, the Proposer considered, was how conscription was to be worked, and this was outweighed by its advantages. The chief of these was, perhaps, that the country had absolute knowledge of its own strength ; lack of organisation was the chief fault of the Voluntary System. He finished by commenting on the disgraceful methods of recruiting by advertisements and bribery now obtaining in this country, and poured scorn on the theory that a volunteer was worth three conscripts. Mr. Brandon-Thomas is a very fluent orator, but his speeches usually lack cohesion and arrangement.
The Opposer (The TREASURER) began by accusing Mr. Brandon-Thomas of being a militarist, and of showing the spirit against which we are fighting. Conscription, in plain words, was slavery. He then proceeded to draw some parallels from history : Germany was driven to conscription, because she was a country of small States which had to be held together by some tie. France virtually had conscription during the Napoleonic wars, and had not been able to get rid of it since, also she had Germany on her borders. Italy also had consisted of small States. Therefore all parallels from foreign countries failed in our case. Voluntary service was the only way to oppose German militarism, and the adoption of conscription after a year’s war would be an admission that the ideals of our country had been found wanting. He stated that no country could possibly put more than ten per cent. of its population in the field, and in our case this amounted to nearly four and a half millions. We had already over four millions training or in the field. England provided an immense amount of equipment for herself and her Allies, and therefore required a great industrial army. After pointing out the disruption which conscription would cause in the country, he denied the Opposer’s statement as toour lack of organisation. The Treasurer speaks with great conviction, but his delivery is halting and frequently inaudible.
The Seconder (Mr. A. ABRAHAMS) , with the help of a great many statistics, informed the House that there were at least one and a half million men who were able to join the Forces. Conscription, he considered, would be fairer and more economical all round. As to the ‘ volunteer worth three conscripts ‘ fallacy, Napoleon practically conquered the world with a conscript army. He said that the Opposer’s views were those of a sentimentalist, and, after informing the House that he knew twenty-seven slackers, sat down.
The VICE-PRESIDENT said that whatever Napoleon did with a conscript army, he was in the end beaten by Wellington with a voluntary army. He then rivalled Mr. Abrahams in the production of statistics, which entirely disagreed with any the Society had hitherto heard. He enlarged on the Opposer’s argument that we need a great industrial army. He finished by pointing out the impossibility of training so many men in such a short time.
Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS again rose and said that the ideal of voluntaryism was good, but it would not win the war. Games at School, if voluntary, were scantily attended ; some form of compulsion was necessary. He drew a somewhat confused parallel between Russian peasants and British labourers.
The debate was then adjourned till the next meeting.
Alfred Miles joined his elder brother Cyril up Grant’s in September 1908. He seemed set to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a gifted sportsman, winning the Junior Gymnastic Competition in his second term at the school, and reaching the semi-finals for the under-16 100 yards later in the year. He sat the Challenge in June, and was elected to a non-resident King’s Scholarship.
In March 1909, there was an outbreak of measles at the school, and Alfred was one of those who succumbed to the illness. In the boredom of convalescence, he turned to causing mischief. His head of house, Lawrence Tanner, wrote in his diary on Monday April 5th 1909: “ÔÇªsome Grantites had been throwing water on to Rigaudites playing in a yard tie, from one of the upper windows. It turned out to be the ‘measlers’ Radford and Miles.”
Throughout his time at the school, Alfred was an active member of the Debating Society and prone to “rhetorical outbursts”. The society’s debate on Civilisation on 8th of February 1912 was reported in The Elizabethan:
Mr. A.C.V. Miles, in the course of some Hobsonian and irrelevantremarks, informed the Societythat the had picked up Civilisation in the streets (according to our reporter), and that he had also found itgrowingon walls, rotten trees, dry sponges, and precipitous abysses.
Alfred took part in the OTC, and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in his final year of school. After year of being articled to his father, a solicitor of Hampstead, he enlisted in the 1st Battalion Artists’ Rifles in August 1914. By April 1915, Alfred was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion Welsh Regiment. He was sent out to the Western front in October 1914, where his brother Cyril joined him the following March.
It was near Vermelles, France, and while he was acting as a Brigade Wiring Officer, that Alfred was killed on 24th August 1915.