Speeches of the Great War

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Speeches by political and military figures of the war, listed in date order. Click on a speaker's name for further details, a preview and each speech in full. This is work-in-progress. More speeches will be added here as they are transcribed.

Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Name Edward Grey
Full name Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Position Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Place House of Commons
Date 4 August, 1914
Subject Announcing the position and intentions of the Government with reference to the War.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Grey
Word count 6,618
Preview of Speech
Mr. Speaker:—

Last week I stated that we were working for peace not only for this country, but to preserve the peace of Europe. To-day—but events move so rapidly that it is exceedingly difficult to state with technical accuracy the actual state of affairs—it is clear that the peace of Europe cannot be preserved. Russia and Germany, at any rate, have declared war upon each other.

Before I proceed to state the position of his Majesty's Government and what our attitude is with regard to the present crisis, I would like to clear the ground that the House may know exactly under what obligations the Government is or the House can be said to be in coming to a decision upon the matter. First of all let me say very shortly that we have consistently worked with a single mind and with all the earnestness in our power to preserve the peace. [Cheers.] The House might be satisfied on that point. We have always done it, and in these last years, as far as his Majesty's Government are concerned we should have no difficulty in proving that we have done it. Through the Balkan crisis by general admission we worked for peace, and the co-operation of the Great Powers was successful in working for peace in that crisis. It is true that some Powers had great difficulty in adjusting their points of view and it took much time and labour and discussion before they could settle their differences, but peace was secured because peace was their main object and they were willing to give time and trouble to the consideration of difficulties and not to accentuate the differences that arose. (continue reading)

John Edward Redmond
Name John Redmond
Full name John Edward Redmond
Position Irish Nationalist Leader
Place House of Commons
Date 4 August, 1914
Subject Fervent speech re-united the discordant factions by which the country seemed likely to be torn and divided.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Redmond
Word count 607
Preview of Speech
Mr. Speaker:—

I hope the House will not consider it improper on my part in the grave circumstances in which we are assembled if I intervene for a very few moments. I was moved a great deal by that sentence in the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in which he said that the one bright spot in the situation was the changed feeling in Ireland. In past times, when this Empire has been engaged in these terrible enterprises it is true—it would be the utmost affectation and folly on my part to deny it—the sympathy of the Nationalists of Ireland, for reasons to be found deep down in centuries of history, has been estranged from this country. But allow me to say that what has occurred in recent years has altered the situation completely. I must not touch, and I may be trusted not to touch, on any controversial topics, but this I may be allowed to say—that a wider knowledge of the real facts of Irish history have, I think, altered the view of the democracy of this country towards the Irish question, and to-day I honestly believe that the democracy of Ireland will turn with the utmost anxiety and sympathy to this country in every trial and every danger that may overtake it. (continue reading)

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith
Name Herbert Henry Asquith
Full name Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith
Position Prime Minister
Place Guildhall, London
Date 4 September, 1914
Subject Patriotic meeting of the Citizens of London. The Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Balfour, and Mr. Bonar Law were the principal speakers.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Asquith
Word count 3,148
Preview of Speech
My Lord Mayor and Citizens of London:—

It is three years and a half since I last had the honour of addressing in this hall a gathering of the citizens. We were then met under the presidency, my Lord Mayor, of one of your predecessors—men of all creeds and parties—to celebrate and approve the joint declaration of the two great English-speaking States that for the future any differences between them should be settled, if not by agreement, at least by judicial inquiry and arbitration, and never in any circumstances by war. [Cheers.]

Those of us who hailed that eirenicon between the United States and ourselves as a landmark on the road of progress were not sanguine enough to think or even to hope that the era of war was drawing to a close—still less were we prepared to anticipate the terrible spectacle which now confronts us—a contest which for the number and importance of the Powers engaged, the scale of their armaments and arms, the width of the theatre of conflict, the outpouring of blood and the loss of life, the incalculable toll of suffering levied upon non-combatants, the material and moral loss accumulating day by day to the higher interests of civilized mankind—a contest which in every one of these aspects is without precedent in the annals of the world. (continue reading)

Andrew Bonar Law
Name Bonar Law
Full name Andrew Bonar Law
Position Leader of the Opposition
Place Guildhall London
Date 4 September, 1914
Subject Patriotic meeting of the Citizens of London. The Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Balfour, and Mr. Bonar Law were the principal speakers.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Law
Word count 1,322
Preview of Speech
My Lord Mayor:—

It would indeed be impossible for me to add anything to the force of the appeal which has just been addressed by the Prime Minister to our people, but I am glad to be here as representing one of our great political parties in order to show clearly that in this supreme struggle, in everything connected with it until it is brought to a triumphant close, the head of our Government must speak, not as the leader of a party, but as the mouthpiece of the nation. We are a peace-loving people, but never, I believe, in our history has the whole nation been so convinced as it is to-day that the cause for which we are fighting is righteous and just. We strove for peace by all means to the last moment, but when, in spite of our efforts, war came we could not stand aside. The honour and the interest of Great Britain—and, believe me, they go together—alike forbade it. It was inevitable that we must be drawn into this world-struggle, and the only question was whether we should enter it honourably or be dragged into it with dishonour.

This war is a great crime, one of the greatest in history, but it is a crime in which, as a nation, we have no share. Now, as always for nearly a generation, the key of peace or war was in Berlin. The head of the German Government had but to whisper the word "peace" and there would have been no war. He did not speak that word; he has drawn the sword, and may the accursed system for which he stands perish by the sword. [Loud cheers.] War has come. We are fighting as truly as Belgium or France, where the tide of battle with all its horrors is rolling on, for our life. As Cromwell said to his Ironsides, we can say to-day with equal truth, "We know what we are fighting for, and we love what we know." [Cheers.] We are fighting for our national existence, for everything which nations have always held most dear. (continue reading)

David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor
Name David Lloyd George
Full name David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor
Position Chancellor of the Exchequer
Place Queen's Hall, London
Date 19 September, 1914
Subject One of the most memorable speeches of his career in support of the recruiting campaign.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Lloyd George
Word count 4,946
Preview of Speech
I have come here this afternoon to talk to my fellow-countrymen about the great war and the part we ought to take in it. I feel my task is easier after we have been listening to the greatest battlesong in the world. There is no man in this room who has always regarded the prospects of engaging in a great war with greater reluctance, with greater repugnance, than I have done throughout the whole of my political life. There is no man either inside or outside of this room more convinced that we could not have avoided it without national dishonour. I am fully alive to the fact that whenever a nation was engaged in any war she has always invoked the sacred name of honour. Many a crime has been committed in its name; there are some crimes being committed now. But nevertheless, national honour is a great reality, and any nation that disregards it is doomed.

Why is our honour as a country involved in this war? Because in the first place we are bound in an honourable obligation to defend the independence, the liberty, the integrity of a small neighbour, that has lived peaceably. She could not have compelled us, because she was weak; but the man who declines to discharge his debt because his creditor is too poor to enforce it is a blackguard. (continue reading)

Earl Curzon of Kedleston
Name Earl Curzon of Kedleston
Full name George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston
Place Harrow School
Date 12 October, 1914
Subject Speech delivered under the auspices of the Victoria League.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Curzon
Word count 4,898
Preview of Speech
I regard it as a great privilege to be permitted to come here and address the boys of this ancient and famous school. It is true that I happen myself to have been educated at another, but I hope not greatly inferior, institution. Of one thing, however, I am certain, that in the present crisis Eton will not be one whit behind Harrow, nor Harrow behind Eton, in the fight that we are waging for the honour of our country and the liberties of mankind.

The question may be asked why I or any one should be invited to come and address the boys of even the greatest of schools, who by virtue of their age and occupations are prevented, for the present at any rate, from taking an active part in the war. I cannot imagine any more fallacious reasoning than would be implied by such a remark. There is no place in England where it is more right and becoming that a healthy interest should be taken in the war than in places of education, and most of all in the great public schools, where the boys are being trained to be the men of the future. I look upon Harrow and Eton as being vitally interested in this war. The Head Master has told me that over 1,000 Harrovians are serving their country in a military capacity either inside or outside our shores. Already a dozen have given their lives. I hope that their names are inscribed on some roll of honour, either on the door of your chapel or on the gates of this great building. That they will be perpetuated in some lasting form I do not doubt. And there is not a boy here present who does not know that that dozen will be greatly increased before we come to the end of this war. Each one of them, in giving up his own life, has given something to the life of his country. (continue reading)

Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener
Name Herbert Kitchener
Full name Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener
Position Minister for War
Place Lord Mayor's Guildhall Banquet
Date 9 November, 1914
Subject Responding to the toast "The Imperial Forces of the Crown." Lord Kitchener spoke with quiet confidence in the Army in the field, and of the greater Army in the making.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Kitchener
Word count 989
Preview of Speech
My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen:—

The generous terms in which this toast has been proposed and the manner in which it has been received will, I am sure, be highly appreciated by our soldiers in the field who have shown such undaunted courage and endurance in carrying out their duty to their King and country. It is pleasant for me to be able to tell you that every officer returning from the front has the same account to bring me:—"The men are doing splendidly." [Cheers.] Our Regular forces in France have now beside them both Territorial and Indian troops, and I am sure it must have been a pleasure to the Lord Mayor and the citizens of London to read Sir John French's eulogy of the London Scottish. The Indian troops have gone into the field with the utmost enthusiasm, and are showing by their courage and devotion the martial spirit with which they are imbued. [Cheers.]

I should like on this occasion to voice the tribute of praise, of high appreciation, and of warmest gratitude that we owe to our gallant Allies. We have now been fighting side by side with our French comrades for nearly three months, and every day increases the admiration which our forces feel for the glorious French Army. Under the direction of General Joffre, who is not only a great military leader but a great man, we may confidently rely on the ultimate success of the Allied Forces in the western theatre of the war. [Cheers.] In the East the Russian Armies, under the brilliant leadership of the Grand Duke Nicholas, have achieved victories of the utmost value and of vast strategical importance in the general campaign. (continue reading)

John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon
Name John Simon
Full name John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon
Position Attorney-General
Place Victoria Hall, Bolton
Date 8 December, 1914
Subject A Great recruiting meeting.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Simon
Word count 2,130
Preview of Speech
My Lord and Gentlemen:—

A meeting like this great gathering would not be possible if we did not all realize that we were meeting in a good and necessary cause. This war is none of our choosing; it has been forced upon us as certainly as any war has ever been forced on a peaceful people, because there was no choice except taking part in it or exposing ourselves to undying shame. [Cheers.] This war, I say with certain confidence, has been forced upon us, and it is in that spirit we are determined to see it through. [Cheers.] There is one cause—I am not so sure I am not such a friend of peace that I do not think it is the only cause—in which the people of this country ought to take an active part in a European war, and it is when they are compelled to keep their pledged word to a small community which has been most wantonly attacked, in breach of the most solemn promise, by a powerful and a remorseless neighbour. [Cheers.]

It is that cause which has produced a consequence which twelve months ago none of us who stand on this platform to-night would have conceived possible—namely, that we should all be here endeavouring to assert the same thing. Our conviction is that if Britain had stood aside when that appeal was made to us by the people of Belgium we should have been as false to our word as Germany has been false to her word, and we should have been in the future as clearly condemned by the civilized world as Germany is by the whole civilized world to-day. (continue reading)

Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour
Name Arthur James Balfour
Full name Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour
Place Colston Hall, Bristol
Date 12 December, 1914
Subject Mass meeting in support of the War Office appeal for 3,000 more men.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Balfour
Word count 2,411
Preview of Speech
My Lord Mayor:—

This is not the first time that I have addressed a Bristol audience. Nor is it the first time I have spoken in this hall. But when I appeared last before you it was as speaking for a party—a party in which I believe, and of which I am still as ardent a member as ever. [Cheers.] But now my friend, Mr. Brace, and I, feeling that all smaller questions must be brushed into oblivion, have come here to make an appeal to you upon the greatest of all national causes. If, say, fifteen or twenty years ago any man had prophesied that within the lifetime of those whom he was addressing a war would spring up, in which one great community in America, the whole of Australasia, by far the greater part of Africa, by far the greater part of Asia, and by far the greater part of Europe should simultaneously be engaged, I think that prophecy would have been looked on as the nightmare of a mad-man. [Hear, hear.]

It has come about. And if the prophet who made this forecast had been asked, How can these things be in modern civilization, with the telegraph, the railway, all the modern contrivances for conquering nature multiplying day by day?—how would he have felt if he had been told it was by these very inventions, from this very progress in knowledge, science, and civilization, it had been possible to marshal together these hosts of a magnitude of which history gives us no parallel or record, and to bring them up against one another for mutual slaughter? (continue reading)

Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain
Name Austen Chamberlain
Full name Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain
Place Birmingham Town Hall
Date 15 December, 1914
Subject Speech at a great public meeting.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Chamberlain
Word count 2,578
Preview of Speech
My Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen:— I beg to propose the following resolution:—

That this meeting of the citizens of Birmingham, convinced that we are fighting in a just cause for the existence of the national honour and for the protection of the rights and liberties of Europe, pledges itself to support the Prime Minister's appeal to the nation, and assures the Government of hearty co-operation in all measures that they may consider necessary for bringing the war to a victorious conclusion, and for securing a lasting peace.

These are remarkable times, and this is a remarkable gathering. Nothing would have seemed more unlikely six months ago, when party passion ran as high, or higher, than I have ever known it to be in a somewhat long experience, than that within so short a time there should be gathered within one hall, as there are to-night, men of every class, of every creed, of every shade of political opinion, to urge one common policy on each other, and on the Government, and to pledge to that Government all the support that each one of us can bring. Yet this meeting is but one of hundreds and thousands that have been, or are being, held throughout the country, in like circumstances and similar conditions. What we could never have done for ourselves the Germans have done for us. They have made us a united people, and the Government speaks to-day with the authority and the strength of a National Government, supported by every section of the people. All criticism is silent, all party conflict is hushed, all other questions are set aside to bide their time. For the moment there is but one question: How best to bring this war to a victorious close and most securely to lay the foundation of an enduring peace. And it is well that it should be so. (continue reading)

Jean Raphaël Adrien René Viviani
Name René Viviani
Full name Jean Raphaël Adrien René Viviani
Position French Minister for Foreign Affairs
Place French Parliament, Paris
Date 22 December, 1914
Subject The threatened investment of Paris the Government removed to Bordeaux, where the business of the State was conducted for four months.
Link Great Speeches of the War/Viviani
Word count 648
Preview of Speech

There is at present but one policy—a policy of merciless war until Europe has secured final liberation guaranteed by a completely victorious peace. That is the unanimous cry of Parliament, of the country, and of the army. In the face of the unexpected uprising of national sentiment, so unexpected by her, Germany was disturbed in the intoxication of her dream of victory. The French national unity surprised Germany. She had first denied right and spurned history; now she tried to find excuses, but they were so many lies. All the documents published by other nations have proved them so, and likewise the sensational statement of one of the most illustrious representatives of the noble Italian nation, and since France and the Allies have now been compelled into war, they and we will wage it to the bitter end. [The whole House rises and applauds.] France, faithful to the Treaty of September 4, in which she pledged her honour, that is, her life, will lay down arms only when outraged right has been avenged; when for ever the provinces torn from her have been rejoined to her; when heroic Belgium has been restored to her full material and political independence, when Prussian militarism has been broken, and regenerate Europe rebuilt according to justice. [The whole House rises and applauds for several minutes.]

These projects for peace and war are not suggested to us, gentlemen, by mere presumptuous hopes. We have the certainty of success. [Enthusiastic cheers.] We have shown that, as the Commander-in-Chief, who is a great soldier and a noble citizen—[renewed cheers]—said, the Republic may feel proud of the army she has prepared. (continue reading)

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