The fact that a tiny British force of 8,000 men, which was never able to use its guns, took part in the last stages of the defence of Antwerp, has been made the occasion for a bitter and foolish attack upon Mr. Churchill in the columns of the Morning Post. Without a scrap of evidence, and in the teeth of every rational presumption, our contemporary suggests that the sending of a British contingent to Antwerp was due to the personal initiative of Mr. Churchill. “On whose authority was this adventure arranged and conducted? Was it military or was it naval? If it was military, were the plans approved by General French and Lord Kitchener? If it was naval, was it a scheme arranged and approved by the whole Board of Admiralty? Is it not true that the energies of Mr. Winston Churchill have been directed upon this eccentric expedition, and that he has been using the resources of the Admiralty as if he were personally responsible for the naval operations? It is not right or proper that Mr. Churchill should use his position of civil authority to press his tactical and strategic fancies upon unwilling experts, who are sufficiently harassed by the natural difficulties of the situation.” The question thus stated is almost too silly for answer. So serious a step could not have been decided on without the sanction of the whole Cabinet—and the Cabinet still numbers among its members both the Prime Minister and the Secretary for War. The ultimate responsibility for what was done rests with Mr. Asquith. Our contemporary is of the opinion that if an expedition was to be sent, it ought to have been of far greater strength. The suggestion that the main line of battle should have been weakened by the detachment of a great force for the defence of Antwerp can be described only as fatuous. It may be taken for granted that those who sanctioned the sending of a small force knew quite as well as the writer in the Morning Post that from a military point of view they were taking great risks, and perhaps making a great blunder. But sometimes purely military considerations have to be subordinated to wider interests. England went to war for the protection of Belgium—and how had she protected her? The British Army was away in France, while Belgium was being devastated by the invader. No doubt Belgium in the long run was being more effectually served by battles fought across the frontier, but that knowledge could not adequately satisfy the yearning of a suffering people for some visible assurance that England was not failing them in the hour of their sorest need. The sight of British soldiers in their midst was what all Belgium was looking for. It was felt that the presence of even a handful of British soldiers would put new heart into the tired and harassed garrison of Antwerp. And so for political rather than for military reasons the handful was sent. Let the Times correspondent on the spot tell of the result. Speaking of the extraordinary difference which the arrival of the British troops made on the situation, he says:— “We all knew that the Belgians had been hoping daily for help from England. We knew that the arrival of soldiers from England would put new heart into every man in the Belgian armies. But none of us, I think, was prepared for the wonderful demonstrations which took place. From the moment when the first khaki-clad companies marched through the streets of Antwerp the whole population mounted suddenly from—let us confess it—something like extreme depression to enthusiasm and exultation. For the first time since I have been here I heard the Belgian soldiers singing triumphantly as they marched; not a few, or a single regiment, but every troop that passed through the streets swung along joyously singing. And for the first time since I have been here everywhere the crowds rushed in to cheer them, I sincerely believe that it is no exaggeration to say that every Belgian soldier in the trenches to-day is worth three of what he was yesterday. They fought before; oh, yes, they fought with a dogged, careless gallantry which compelled me to admire. But to-day they are new men, full of fire and laughter and confidence.” The British troops came too late, and were too few to affect the fate of the city, but who shall say that what they suffered was in vain, or that their going was a mistake? The sight of men in the British uniform marching into the city, and passing straight into the trenches, was an assurance to the Belgian people that they were not forgotten, and that all the resources of a great Empire were being staked for their defence. If the remnant of the hard-tried Belgian Army now fights on with renewed courage, the British adventure in Antwerp will be well rewarded.
We have no wish to minimize the loss to the Allies which is involved in the surrender of Antwerp, and still less to fail in recognition of the extraordinary efficiency of the German military equipment. Her great guns mean a revolution in the whole art of the defence of strong places. But in this war, there is no likelihood of sudden catastrophes and that any single victory can end the struggle. It is a fight to the finish until the last resources of the groups of nations are exhausted. If at the outset of the war we had been told that at the close of its tenth week a great city would fall—very many would have thought uneasily of Paris. A great city has fallen—and it is not Paris, but Antwerp. That thought helps us to see the struggle in the right perspective. At the end of the fifth week of the war the Germans were at the gates of Paris, and to-day they are glad to capture Ghent. So far the line of steel which now stretches from Switzerland almost to the North Sea has held the German advance, and the news that an Anglo-French force has taken Ypres suggests that a break has been made in the line of the invaders’ march to the coast. And whenever the crisis comes in the West Russia may be trusted to play her part loyally and well in the East. In the first weeks of the war her soldiers took immense risks, by advancing into the heart of East Prussia in order to relieve the pressure caused by the unpreparedness of France and Great Britain. In the same spirit of loyalty the Russians attacked the Austrians in Galicia to save the Serbians. Now the main Russian Army awaits the German attack along the line of the Vistula, from Warsaw to Sandomir. The Russians are fighting in their own country, while the Germans are fighting a hundred miles from their frontier and a hundred miles from their nearest base. We may await the issue with reasonable confidence.