MOST interesting disclosures are being made by Major-General Sir C. E. Callwell, K.C.B., in the course of a series of articles in Blackwood’s Magazine. He tells, for instance, how inefficient the old War Cabinet system was, both under the Asquith Liberal Administration and later under the Coalition. The statement has often been made that the General Staff was hampered by the interference of the politicians and this point is established by Major-General Callwell most conclusively. He writes, in part:
The question whether the Dardanelles ventui'e was, or was not, to be proceeded with, was perpetually under discussion in Government circles and at the War Office during the autumn of 1915; and from the moment when it became apparent that the large reinforcements demanded by Sir I. Hamilton could not be spared, the view of soldiers in Whitehall that evacuation was the only possible course hardened from day to day. Our rulers, however, halted between two opinions* On his taking over the command late in October, General Monro, after reviewing the situation on the spot, pronounced himself uncompromisingly in favor of withdrawal; Lord Kitchener thereupon left for the Ægean, and nothing happened for about three weeks. But on the 23rd of November my chief, Sir A. Murray, summoned me, after a meeting of the War Council, to say that that body wished me to repair straightway to Paris and to make General Gallieni, the War Minister, acquainted with a decision which they had just arrived at—viz., that the Gallipoli Peninsula was to be abandoned without further ado. The full Cabinet would meet on the morrow (the 24th) to endorse the decision. That afternoon Mr. Asquith, who was acting as Secretary of State for War in the absence of Lord Kitchener, sent for me and repeated these instructions.
I left by the morning boat-train next day, having wired to our military attaché to arrange, if possible, an interview with General Gallieni that evening; and he met me at the Gare du Nord, bearer of an invitation to dinner from the War Minister, and of a telegram from General Murray, intimating that the Cabinet, having met as arranged, had been unable to come to a decision, but were going to have another try on the morrow. Here was a contingency that was not covered by instructions, and for which one was not prepared, but I decided to tell General Gallieni exactly how matters stood.
A fresh wire came to hand from the War Office on the following afternoon, announcing that the Cabinet had again been unable to clinch the business, but contemplated a further séance two days later the 27th. On the afternoon of the 27th, however, a message arrived from General Murray, to say that our rulers had yet again failed to make up their minds, and that the best thing I could do under the circumstances was to return to the War Office. General Gallieni, when the position of affairs was explained to him, was most sympathetic, quoted somebody’s dictum that “la politique n’a pas d’entrailles,” and hinted that he did not always find it quite plain sailing with his own gang. Still, there it was. The Twenty-Three had thrown the War Council over (it was then composed of Messrs. Asquith, Bonar Law, Lloyd George, and Balfour, and Lord Grey, assisted by the First Sea Lord and the C.I.G.S.), and they were leaving our army marooned on the Gallipoli Peninsula, with the winter approaching apace in a position growing more and more precarious owing to Serbia’s collapse and Bulgaria’s accession to the enemy ranks, having freed the great artery of communications connecting Germany with the Golden Horn.
Enough to make Peel or Gladstone or the late Lord Salisbury turn in their graves, the War Cabinet plan, with its Minutes of Proceedings and its discussions in
the presence of goodness knows who, does seem preferable to the time-honored procedure at junctures when the situation of the States requires the Powers that Be to get a move on. Politicians, when they came to be received up into the supreme council, used to take themselves and their deliberations very seriously indeed before Mr. Lloyd George’s iconoclastic innovations. There was an atmosphere of mystery about Cabinet meetings at the Prime Minister’s house which was exceedingly impressive, and which made it all the
more extraordinary in the early days of the war, that whenever the gathering by any accident made up its mind about anything that was in the least interesting, everybody outside knew all about it within twentyfour hours. Officers of high standing and in the confidence of the General Staff would come to the War Office to inquire about prospective operations in which they were to be concerned, and one wondered why they did not go to the Carlton or the Ritz, where they would have heard all about it under much more attractive conditions. I was summoned to stand by at 10 Downing Sti-eet one day, when the Cabinet was sitting soon after the Coalition Government was formed, and when Lord Kitchener happened to be away in France, on the chance of being wanted. After an interminable hour— during the luncheon hour, too—Mr. Henderson, w’ho was a very recent acquisition, emerged stealthily from the council-chamber after the manner of the conspirator in an Adelphi drama (although he did not quite look the part), and intimated that my services were not required. In obedience to an unwritten law, the last-joined member was always expected to do odd jobs of this sort, just as at some schools the bottom boy of the form is called upon by the form-master to perform certain menial offices pro bono republico.
Most officers who served at the War Office during the prolonged hostilities enjoyed occasional breaks in their monotonous existence in the form of visits to Paris or the Western Front on some duty or other, or to Italy or the United States,' or even to Egypt and far-off Mesopotamia, and it was my good fortune to be sent on a couple of missions to Russia in 1916. What especially struck one out there at that time were the almost illimitable possibilities of that empire in view of the prospective campaign of 1917, and the danger of everything being wrecked by an internal upheaval. The British Government have been derided for their handling of the Balkan problem in 1915; but any blunders of which they may have been guilty in dealing with what was an extraordinarily complex situation in that cockpit of clashing nationalities, pale into insignificance when compared to their lamentable bungling of Russian affairs during the months before the cataclvsm of March 1917. They were admirably served' on the Neva, at the “Stavka,” and in the field— an ambassador trusted on all hands in the country, the head of our military mission a persoim gratissima with the Emperor, our military attachés and our officers who were accredited to armies, masters, all of them, of the language, and with their fingers ever on the pulse of military sentiment on the fighting fronts. The revolution may have been inevitable, but it might have been delayed until the war came to an end, and would perhaps never have taken so hideous a form as it has had our Government turned its opportunities to account.
Russians of pre-revolutionary days were masters of the art of entertaining guests of their country; but an experience that left a more vivid impression on one s mind than did their princely hospitality, was that of a gathering of fur-clad figures on a hill-top not far from Erzerum. There, on the very site of his triumph a Colonel explained to us in detail how with a mere handful of troops he had, in the midwinter of 1914-15, routed three Ottoman army corps, and had thereby transformed a situation which was full of menace to Transcaucasia into one which became rich in promise. News of this dramatic feat of arms reached the War Office at the time, but without particulars. That the victor of this field, a field won by a masterpiece of soldiership, should remain a simple colonel, suggested a singular indifference on the part of authorities at the heart of the empire to what wardens of the marches accomplished in peace and war. That pow-wow in an icy blast amid the snow recalled the Grand Duke Nicholas's appeal to Lord Kitchener, that we should make some effort to take pressure off his inadequate and hard-pressed forces in Armenia, an appeal which landed us in the Dardanelles Campaign; and it further recalled the fact that the Colonel s feat near Sarikamish had put an end to all need for British intervention almost before the Grand Duke made his appeal. The Russian victory, the details of which were explained to us that day by its creator, was gained on a date preceding by some weeks the Allies’ naval attempt to conquer the Dardanelles single-handed.
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