“England has not done her share!”
How many thousands of British dead—men from every county in England and Scotland, from loyal Ireland, from every British dominion and colony—lie within the circuit of these blood-stained hills of Ypres? How many more in the Somme graveyards?—round Lens and Arras and Vimy?—about Bourlon Wood and Cambrai?—or in the final track of our victorious Armies breaking through the Hindenburg line on their way to Mons? Gloriously indeed have the Dominions played their part in this war; but of all the casualties suffered by the Armies of the Empire, 80 per cent of them fell on the population of these islands. America was in the great struggle for a year and a half, and in the real fightingline for about six months. She has lost some 54,000 of her gallant sons; and we sorrow for them with her.
But through four long years scarcely a family in Great Britain and the Dominions that possessed men on the fighting fronts—and none were finally exempt except on medical or industrial grounds—but was either in mourning for, or in constant fear of death for one or more of its male members, whether by bullet, shell-fire or bomb, or must witness the return to them of husbands, brothers, and sons, more or less injured for life. The total American casualties are 264,000. The total British casualties—among them from 700,000 to 800,000 dead—are 2,228,000 out of a total white population for the Empire of not much more than two-thirds of the population of the United States. There is small room for “belittling” here. A silent clasp of the hands between our two nations would seem to be the natural gesture in face of such facts as these.
Such thoughts, however, belong to the emotional or tragic elements in the British war-consciousness. Let me turn to others of a different kind—the intellectual and reflective elements—and the changing estimates which they bring about.
Take for instance what we have been accustomed to call the “March retreat” of last year. The dispatch of Sir Douglas Haig describing the actions of March and April last year was so headed in the Times, though nothing of the kind appears in the official publication. And we can all remember in England the gnawing anxiety of every day and every hour from March 21st up to the end of April, when the German offensive had beaten itself out, on the British front at least, and the rushing over of the British reinforcements, together with the rapid incoming of the Americans, had given the British Army the breathing space of which three months later it made the use we know.