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The struggle of Democracy and Reason against Autocracy and Brute Force, on land and in the air, upon the sea and under the sea, is reaching its climax. With each succeeding month the ignoble foe has smirched himself with new atrocities which yet in the end bring their own terrible retribution.
Three of the bloodiest years in the world’s history lie behind us; but these years of agony and self-sacrifice, of heroic achievements, of indomitable purpose and unswerving loyalty to an ideal, are surely three of the most tremendous in the annals of the British Empire.
I am to tell something of what Britain has accomplished during these awful three years, of the mighty changes she has wrought in this short time, of how, with her every thought and effort bent in the one direction, she has armed and equipped herself and many of her allies; of the armies she has raised, the vast sums she has expended and the munitions and armaments she has amassed.
To this end it is my privilege to lay before the reader certain facts and figures, so I propose to set them forth as clearly and briefly as may be, leaving them to speak for themselves.
For truly Britain has given and is giving much—her men and women, her money, her very self; the soul of Britain and her Empire is in this conflict, a soul that grows but the more steadfast and determined as the struggle waxes more deadly and grim. Faint hearts and fanatics there are, of course, who, regardless of the future, would fain make peace with the foe unbeaten, a foe lost to all shame and honourable dealing, but the heart of the Empire beats true to the old war-cry of “Freedom or Death.” In proof of which, if proof be needed, let us to our figures and facts.
Take first her fighting men: in three short years her little army has grown until to-day seven million of her sons are under arms, and of these (most glorious fact!) nearly five million were volunteers. Surely since first this world was cursed by war, never did such a host march forth voluntarily to face its blasting horrors. They are fighting on many battle-fronts, these citizen-soldiers, in France, Macedonia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Western Egypt and German East Africa, and behind them, here in the homeland, are the women, working as their men fight, with a grim and tireless determination. To-day the land hums with munition factories and huge works whose countless wheels whirr day and night, factories that have sprung up where the grass grew so lately. The terrible, yet glorious, days of Mons and the retreat, when her little army, out-gunned and out-manned, held up the rushing might of the German advance so long as life and ammunition lasted, that black time is past, for now in France and Flanders our countless guns crash in ceaseless concert, so that here in England one may hear their ominous muttering all day long and through the hush of night; and hearkening to that continuous stammering murmur one thanks God for the women of Britain.
Two years ago, in June, 1915, the Ministry of Munitions was formed under Mr. David Lloyd George; as to its achievements, here are figures which shall speak plainer than any words.
In the time of Mons the army was equipped and supplied by three Government factories and a very few auxiliary firms; to-day gigantic national factories, with miles of railroads to serve them, are in full swing, beside which, thousands of private factories are controlled by the Government. As a result the output of explosives in March, 1917, was over four times that of March, 1916, and twenty-eight times that of March, 1915, and so enormous has been the production of shells that in the first nine weeks of the summer offensive of 1917 the stock decreased by only seven per cent. despite the appalling quantity used.
The making of machine guns to-day as compared with 1915 has increased twenty-fold, while the supply of small-arm ammunition has become so abundant that the necessity for importation has ceased altogether. In one Government factory alone the making of rifles has increased ten-fold, and the employees at Woolwich Arsenal have increased from a little less than eleven thousand to nearly seventy-four thousand, of whom twenty-five thousand are women.
Production of steel, before the war, was roughly seven million tons; it is now ten million tons and still increasing, so much so that it is expected the pre-war output will be doubled by the end of 1918; while the cost of steel plates here is now less than half the cost in the U.S.A. Since May, 1917, the output of aeroplanes has been quadrupled and is rapidly increasing; an enormous programme of construction has been laid down and plans drawn up for its complete realisation.
With this vast increase in the production of munitions the cost of each article has been substantially reduced by systematic examination of actual cost, resulting in a saving of £43,000,000 over the previous year’s prices.
Figures are a dry subject in themselves, and yet such figures as these are, I venture to think, of interest, among other reasons for the difficulty the human brain has to appreciate their full meaning. Thus: the number of articles handled weekly by the Stores Departments is several hundreds of thousands above fifty million: or again, I read that the munition workers themselves have contributed £40,187,381 towards various war loans. It is all very easy to write, but who can form any just idea of such uncountable numbers?
And now, writing of the sums of money Britain has already expended, I for one am immediately lost, out of my depth and plunged ten thousand fathoms deep, for now I come upon the following:
“The total national expenditure for the three years to August 4th, 1917, is approximately £5,150,000,000, of which £1,250,000,000 is already provided for by taxation and £1,171,000,000 has been lent to our colonies and allies, which may be regarded as an investment.” Having written which I lay down my pen to think, and, giving it up, hasten to record the next fact.
“The normal pre-war taxation amounted to approximately £200,000,000, but for the current financial year (1917-1918) a revenue of £638,000,000 has been budgeted for, but this is expected to produce between £650,000,000 and £700,000,000.” Now, remembering that the cost of necessaries has risen to an unprecedented extent, these figures of the extra taxation and the amounts raised by the various war loans speak louder and more eloquently than any words how manfully Britain has shouldered her burden and of her determination to see this great struggle through to the only possible conclusion—the end, for all time, of autocratic government.
I have before me so many documents and so much data bearing on this vast subject that I might set down very much more; I might descant on marvels of enterprise and organisation and of almost insuperable difficulties overcome. But, lest I weary the reader, and since I would have these lines read, I will hasten on to the last of my facts and figures.
As regards ships, Britain has already placed six hundred vessels at the disposal of France and four hundred have been lent to Italy, the combined tonnage of these thousand ships being estimated at two million.
Then, despite her drafts to Army and Navy she has still a million men employed in her coal mines and is supplying coal to Italy, France and Russia. Moreover, she is sending to France one quarter of her total production of steel, munitions of all kinds to Russia and guns and gunners to Italy.
As for her Navy—the German battle squadrons lie inactive, while in one single month the vessels of the British Navy steamed over one million miles; German trading ships have been swept from the seas and the U-boat menace is but a menace still. Meantime, British shipyards are busy night and day; a million tons of craft for the Navy alone were launched during the first year of the war, and the programme of new naval construction for 1917 runs into hundreds of thousands of tons. In peace time the building of new merchant ships was just under 2,000,000 tons yearly, and despite the shortage of labour and difficulty of obtaining materials, 1,100,000 tons will be built by the end of 1917, and 4,000,000 tons in 1918.
The British Mercantile Marine (to whom be all honour!) has transported during the war, the following:—
|25,000,000||tons of war material,|
|1,000,000||sick and wounded,|
|51,000,000||tons of coal and oil fuel,|
|2,000,000||horses and mules,|
|100,000,000||hundredweights of wheat,|
|7,000,000||tons of iron ore,|
and, beyond this, has exported goods to the value of £500,000,000.
Here ends my list of figures and here this chapter should end also; but, before I close, I would give, very briefly and in plain language, three examples of the spirit animating this Empire that to-day is greater and more worthy by reason of these last three blood-smirched years.
There came from Australia at his own expense, one Thomas Harper, an old man of seventy-four, to help in a British munition factory. He laboured hard, doing the work of two men, and more than once fainted with fatigue, but refused to go home because he “couldn’t rest while he thought his country needed shells.”
There is a certain small fishing village whose men were nearly all employed in fishing for mines. But there dawned a black day when news came that forty of their number had perished together and in the same hour. Now surely one would think that this little village, plunged in grief for the loss of its young manhood, had done its duty to the uttermost for Britain and their fellows! But these heroic fisher-folk thought otherwise, for immediately fifty of the remaining seventy-five men (all over military age) volunteered and sailed away to fill the places of their dead sons and brothers.
Glancing idly through a local magazine some days since, my eye was arrested by this:
“In proud and loving memory of our loved and loving son ... who fell in France ... with his only brother, ‘On Higher Service.’ There is no death.”
Thus then I conclude my list of facts and figures, a record of achievement such as this world has never known before, a record to be proud of, because it is the outward and visible sign of a people strong, virile, abounding in energy, but above all, a people clean of soul to whom Right and Justice are worth fighting for, suffering for, labouring for. It is the sign of a people which is willing to endure much for its ideals that the world may be a better world, wherein those who shall come hereafter may reap, in peace and contentment, the harvest this generation has sowed in sorrow, anguish and great travail.
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