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Background and Commentary of Winston Churchill's 1920 British House of Commons Amritsar Massacre Speech

"It was compassion its absence, he said, which marked the difference between Englishmen and Bolsheviks."

Following extract taken from
"The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill Visions of Glory 1874-1932"
by William Manchester, Copyright William Manchester 1983,
Sphere Books Ltd, 1984. pp 568-570.


No one, not even the gifted Lloyd George, could hold the House as Winston did. indeed, on one memorable occasion he accomplished a rare feat. Eloquence, wit, and charge have not been uncommon in that body, but seldom in its six centuries has a speech actually changed the opinion of the majority, transforming imminent defeat into triumph. Churchill did it on July 8, 1920, thereby vindicating England's honour.

The origins of that day's controversy lay in a shocking episode. A few months after the war an Englishwoman, a missionary, had reported that she had been molested on a street in the Punjab city of Amritsar. The Raj's local commander, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, had issued an order requiring all Indians using that street to crawl its length on their hands and knees. He had also authorized the indiscriminate, public whipping of natives who came within lathi length of British policemen. On April 13, 1919, a multitude of Punjabis had gathered in Amritsar's Jallianwallah Bagh to protest these extraordinary measures. The throng, penned in a narrow space smaller than Traflagar Square, had been peacefully listening to the testimony of victims when Dyer appeared at the head of a contingent of British troops. Without warning, he ordered his machine gunners to open fire. The Indians, in Chruchill's words, were 'packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies'; the people 'ran madly this way and the other. When fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, and the fire was then directed on the ground. This was continued for eight or ten minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion.' Dyer then marched away, leaving 379 dead and over 1,500 wounded. Back in his headquarters, he reported to his superiors that he had been 'confronted by a revolutionary army,' and had been obliged 'to teach a moral lesson to the Punjab.' In the storm of outrage which followed, the brigadier was promoted to major general, retired, and placed on the inactive list. This incrediably, made him a martyr to millions of Englishmen. Senior British officers applauded his suppression of 'another Indian Mutiny.' The Guardians of the Golden Temple enrolled him in the Brotherhood of Sikhs. The House of Lords passed a measure commending him. Readers of the Tory Morning Post, Churchill's old scourge, subscribed L2,500 [pounds] for a testimonial. Leading Conservative MPs took up his cause, and Lloyd George reluctantly agreed to a full-dress debate. Venetia Montagu's husband, Edwin, now the secretary of state for India, would open for the government, with Churchill scheduled at the end.

Montagu's speech was a calamity. He was a Jew and there were anti-Semites in the House. He had been warned to be quiet and judicial. Instead, he was sarcastic; he called Dyer a terrorist; he worried about foreign opinion; he 'thoroughly roused most of the latent passions of the stogy Tories,' as one MP noted, and 'got excited...and became more racial and more Yiddish in screaming tone and gesture.' with the consequence that 'a strong anti-Jewish sentiment was shown by shouts...Altogether it was a very astonishing exhibition of anti-Jewish feeling.' The Ulster MPs had decided to vote against Dyer. After Montagu's speech they conferred and reversed themselves. Sir Edward Carson rose to praise the general - who was watching from the Stranger's Gallery - as 'a gallant officer of thirty-four years service . . . without a blemish on his record' who had 'no right to be broken on the ipse dixit of any Commission or Committee, however great, unless he has been fairly tried - and he has not been tried.' Carsen ended: 'I say, to break a man under the circumstances of this case in un-English.' 'Un-English,' in the context of the time, was anti-Semitic - roughly the equivalent of 'kike.' MPs roared their approval. The government was in trouble. Lloyd George being absent, Bonar Law, the leader of the House, asked Churchill to speak immediately.

Churchill's approach was entirely unlike Montagu's. He called for 'a calm spirit, avoiding passion and avoiding attempts to excite prejudice.' Dyer, he said, had not been dismissed in disgrace; 'he had simply been informed that there was no further employment for him under the Government of India.' But the incident in Jallianwallah Bagh was 'an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation.' He quietly observed that the number of Indians killed was almost identical with the number of MPs now sitting wihin range of his voice. An officer in such a situation as Dyer's, he said, should ask himself whether the crowd is either armed or about to mount an attack. 'Men who take up arms against the State must expect at any moment to be fired upon...At Amritsar the crowd was neither armed nor attacking.' Thus the general had not, as he claimed, faced a 'revolutinary army.' Another useful military guide, Churchill continued, was the maxim that 'no more force should be used than is necessary to secure compliance with the law.' In the Great War, he and many other members of the House had been British soldiers 'exerting themselves to show pity and to help, even at their own peril, the wounded.' Dyer had failed to follow their example; after the massacre, his troops had simply sung around and marched away. Churchill knew, and many members of Parliament knew, of many instances in which officers, in 'infinitely more trying' situation than the one in Bagh, had, unlike the general, displayed an ability to arrive 'at the right decision.' Then, as if with a stiletto, Churchill knifed Dyer; 'Frightfullness is not a remedy known to the British pharmacopoeia.'

He twisted the blade. Dyer's most vocal champions agreed with Churchill's stand in Russia. It was compassion and its absence, he said, which marked the difference between Englishmen and Bolsheviks. His own hatred of Lenin's regime was 'not founded on their silly system of economics, or their absurd doctrine of an impossible equality.' It arose from 'the bloody and devastating terrorism which they practice...and by which alone their criminal regime can be maintained.' It was intolerable in Russia; it was intolerable in Amritsar. 'I do not think,' he said, 'that it is in the interests of the British Empire or of the British Army for us to take a load of that sort for all time upon our backs. We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or another, that this is not the British way of doing business.' He quoted Macaulay: 'The most frightful of all spectables [is] the strength of civilisation without its mercy.' England's 'reign in India, or anywhere else,' Churchill continued, 'has never stood on the basis of physical force alone, and it would be fatal to the British Empire if we were to try to base ourselves only upon it. The British way of doing things...has always meant and implied close and effectual cooperation with the people. In every part of the British Empire that has been our aim.' As for Dyer, Churchill himself would have preferred to see the general disciplined. Instead, he had been allowed to resign with no plan for further punishment, 'and to those moderate and considered conclusions we confidently invite the assent of the House.'

He sat and they rose crying, 'Hear, hear.' After five more hours of debate they voted for the government, 247 to 37. Carson's motion for mild approval of Dyer was defeated 230 to 129. The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote Curzon that Churchill's speech had been 'unanswerable.' the Times called it 'amazingly skilful' and declared that it had 'turned the House (or so it seemed) completely round...It was not only a brilliant speech, but one that persauded and made the result certain.' Winston, the editorial concluded, had 'never been heard to greater advantage.'



Following extracts taken from
Hansard House of Commons (U.K.) Proceedings
July 8th, 1920, Supply-Committee, Punjab Disturbances, pp 1719 - 1734

This includes the end of Sir E. Carson's speech, Churchill's complete speech and the start of Asquith's speech.

  Pg 1719 Supply-Committee  HOUSE OF COMMONS  Punjab Disturbances

 [Sir E. Carson]
And then it goes on;

 "uncertainty, as concerns India, is in the
air.  its influence on the situation is un-
mistakable.  Arms are lacking, it is true,
but India has the will and determination to
expel England."

If that is a true statement of face - I am
not now arguing the causes of it or the
policy of my right hon. Friend in trying 
to alleviate the situation there by the
Act that was passed last year through this
House - all these matters are outside the
domain of the soldier.  But for Heaven's 
sake, when you put a soldier into this
difficult position, do not visit punishment
upon him for attempting to the best of
his ability to deal with a situtation for
which he is not in the slightest degree
responsible.  Although he may make an
error of judgement, if you have the full
idea that he is bona fide - and you can
see it was impossible for him under the
circumstances calmly to make up his mind
in the way you would like, but do not punish him,
do not break him.  I should like to ask
my right hon. Friend if men are to be
pubished for errors of judgement such as
occurred in this case how many right hon.
Gentlemen sitting on that Bench would 
escape?  So far as I am concerned, I am 
not going further in this matter; I hope
we may not get off on a false issue.  I am
speaking of a man who in his long service has
increased the confidence he had gained
of those under whom he was serving, who had
won the approval of the Lieut.
Governor of the Province - who was
aquainted with the whole fact - and who
had got the approval of his Divisional
Commander and of the Commander-in-
Chief.  I say to break a man under the 
circumstances of this case is un-English.

(Mr Churchill): I think it may make for
the convenience of the Debate if I speak
              at this early period in the 
  5.00 P.M.   afternoon, in order to put the 
              Committee in possession of
the views taken by the War Office, and
to offer a full explanation of the course
they have adopted.  I shall certainly en-
deavour to follow very carefully the 
advice which my right hon. Friend who
has just spoken has given, that we should
approach this subject in a calm spirit,

  Pg 1720 Supply-Committee  HOUSE OF COMMONS  Punjab Disturbances

avoiding passion and avoiding attempts to 
excite prejudice - that we should address
ourselves to the subject with a desire to
do to-day what is most in accordance
with the long view of the general in-
terests of the British Empire.  There has
not been, I suppose, for many years a 
case of this kind, which has raised so
many grave and wide issues, or in regard
to which a right and wise decision is so 
necessary in the general interest.  There
is the intensity of racial feeling which
has been aroused on both sides of India.
Every word we speak ought to have re-
gard to that.  There are the difficulties
of military officers who, in these turbu-
lent times, have been or are likely to be
called upon to handle their troops in the
suppression of civil disturbance.  There
are the requirements of justice, and fair 
play towards an individual.  There are 
the moral and humanitarian conceptions
which are involved.  All these, combined,
make the task of the Government and
of the Committee one of exceptional
seriousness, delicacy, and responsibility.

  I will deal first with the action of
the Army Council, for which I accept full 
responsibility.  The conduct of a military
officer may be dealt with in three per-
fectly distinct spheres.  First of all, he
may be removed from his employment or
his appointment, relegated to half pay,
and told that he has no prospects of being
employed again.  This may be done to
him by a simple administrative act.  It
is sufficent for the competent superior
authority to decide that the interests of
the public service would be better served
if someone else were appointed in his
stead, to justify and complete the taking
of such a step.  The officer in question has
no redress.  He has no claim to a court
or inquiry or a court martial.  He has
no protection of any kind against being
deprived of his appointment, and being 
informed that he has no further prospects
of getting another.  This procedure may
seem somewhat harsh, but a little reflec-
tion will show that it is inevitable.
There is no excuse for superior autho-
rity not choosing the most suitable
agents for particular duties, and not
removing unsuitable agenst from par-
ticular duties.  During the War, as
every Member of the Committee knows,
hundreds, and probably thousands, of 
officers have been so dealt with by their
superiors; and since the War, the tre-
mendous contraction of the Army has 

  Pg 1721 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

imposed similar hardships on hundres,
and possibly thousands, of officers against
whom not one word of reproach could 
be uttered, and whose careers in many
cases have been careers of real distinc-
tion and of invariable good service.
This applies to all appointments in the
Army, and, I have no doubt, in the
Navy, too, and it applies with increasing
severtiy in proportion as the appoint-
ments are high ones.  From the humble
lance-corporal, who reverts to private 
by a stroke of the pen, from the regi-
mental adjutant, if the colonel things he
would prefer some other subaltern, up
to the highest General or Field-Marshal,
all officers are amenable to this procedure
in regard to the appointments which they
  The procedure is well understood.  It
is hardly ever challenged.  It is not
challenged by General Dyer in his state-
ment.  It is accepted with soldierly forti-
tude, because it is believed, on the 
whole, that the administration of these
great responsibilities is carried out in a
fair and honest spirit.  Indeed, when one
thinks of the hundreds of officers of high
rank who, in the last year, have had their
professional careers brought sburptly and
finally to a close, and the patience, good
temper and dignity with wihch this great 
personal misfortune has been borne, one
cannot help feeling a great admiration 
for the profession of arms to which those
officers belong.  That is the first methods 
by which military officers may be dealt
with.  Under it, the officer reverts auto-
matically to half pay, and, in a very large 
proportion of cases, having reverted to
half pay, he applies to be placed on
retired pay, because, especially in the
case of senior officers, retired pay is often
appreciably higher than half pay.

  I now come to the second method.  The
second method is of a more serious
character, and it affects, not the employ-
ment of an officer, but his status and his 
rank.  Here is it not a question of choos-
ing the right man for a particular job, 
but of retiring an officer compulsorily
from the Service, or imposing on him some
reduction or forfeiture in his pension or
retired pay.  In this case the officer is
protected, under Article 527 of the Royal 
Warrant, by the fact that it is necessary 
for three members of the Army Council
to approve the proceeding, and by cer-
tain rights of laying his case before them.
All the same, the Secretary of State for

  Pg 1722 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

the time being, by virture of his office, has
the power to make a submission direct to
the Crown, and advise that an officer be
retired compulsorily, or simply that his
name be removed from the list, His
Majesty having no further use for his

  Mr. BOTTOMLEY: What has all this
to do with General Dyer - I mean with
the specific case we are dealing with?

  Mr. CHURCHILL: I have great
respect for the Committee, and I do not
believe it will refuse to allow a Minister
or a Government to unfold a reasoned
and solid argument to its attention
and I am surprised that my hon. Friend, 
who himself takes a not undistinguished
part in Debates, should not appreciate
the fact, and should not be willing to
facilitate my doing so.

  I was saying that that is the second
method, in which the personal reputation
of an officer is undoubtedly affected.
The third method is of a definitely penal
character.  Honour, liberty, life, are
affected.  Cashiering, imprisonment, or
the death penalty may be involved, and
for this third category, of course, the
whole resources and protection which
judicial procedure, lawful tribunals, and
British justice accord to an accused per-
son are brought into play.  Those are
the three different levels of procedure in
regard to the treatment of the conduct of
officers.  Although my hon. Friend has
not seen the relevance of it, I think it
right, at the outset, to unfold these dis-
tinctions very carefully to the Committee,
and to ask the Committee to bear them 
attentively in mind.

  Coming to the case of General Dyer, it 
will be seen that he was removed from
his appointment by the Commander-in-
Cihef in India; that he was passed over
by the Selection Board in India for pro-
motion; that he was informed, as
hundreds of officers are being and have
been informed, that there was no pros-
pect of further employment for him under
the Government of India; and that, in
consequence, he reverted automatically 
to half-pay.  These proceedings were
brought formally to the notice of the
Army council by a letter from the India 
Office, which recommended, further, that
he should be retired from the Army, and
by a telegram from the Commander-in-
Chief in India, which similarly recom-

  Pg 1723 Supply-Committee  HOUSE OF COMMONS  Punjab Disturbances

  [Mr. Churchill.]
mended that he should be ordered to

  Mr. GWYNNE: What was the date?

  Mr. CHURCHILL: That was about a
month ago.  At a later page it was 
brought publically to the notice of the
Army Council by the published despatch
of the Secretary of State for India,
which stated that the circumstances of
the case had been referred to the Army
Council.  The first step taken by the
Army council was to direct General Dyer
- we had an application from him that
he desired to take this course - to submit
a statement of his case for their con-
sideration.  That statement is, I think, in
the possession of the Committee at the
present time.  We asked him to make that
statement, and we accepted his request
that he should be allowed to make it,
because we felt that, if any action
was to be taken against General Dyer, apart
from removing him from his appoint-
ments and employment in India - which
is a matter of selection - if any action
under the second of the three methods I
have described was to be taken against 
hime, it was essential that he should fur-
nish a statement in his own behalf, and
should be judged upon that, and not
upon evidence which he had given as a 
witness in an inquiry before which he
had been summoned without having any
reason to believe that he was cited as
an incriminating party.  The conclusions
of the Hunter Committee might furnish
the fullest justification for removing him 
from his appointment -

  Commander BELLAIRS: No, no!

  Mr. CHURCHILL: I am expressing my
opinion.  When my hon. and gallant
Friend is called, he will express his 
opinion.  That is the process which we 
call Debate.  But if any question of
retiring General Dyer from the Army
was to be examined under Article 527, a 
direct statement from him in his own
defence was indispensable.  I read
yesterday to the House the conclusion
which was reached by the Army Council.
It was a conclusion which was reached
unanimously, and it speaks for itself.  It
must be remembered, however, that the 
Army Council must deal with these
matters primarily, and, indeed, mainly,
from a military point of view.  They

  Pg 1723 Supply-Committee  HOUSE OF COMMONS  Punjab Disturbances

have to consider the rights and interests
of officers of the Army, and they have to
consider the effect of any decision which
they may come to upon the confidence
with which officers will do their duty in
the kind of extremely difficult and
tragical cicumstances in which General
Dyer and, I am sorry to say, a good
many other officers of the Army have
in recent times been placed.  The
Army Council have to express an
opinion of General Dyer's conduct from
what is primarily a service standpoint.
Their function is one of great responsi-
bility, but at the same time it is one
of a limited and special responsibility.

   Nothing could be more unjust than to
represent the Army Council as seeking
to raise a constitutional issue, or as set-
ting themselves up against the paramount
authority of the government of the 
country.  I very much regret to have
seen that that suggestion has been made.
It is quite unmerited and uncalled for.
Asked to express their opinion, they were
bound to give it sincerely and plainly
from their special standpoint.  Their
conclusion in no way affected the final
freedom of action of the Cabinet.  The
Cabinet has many interests to consider
far outside and beyond the scope and 
authority of a body like the Army
Council, which as an administrative
body, a subordinate body, and which is
not at the same time a judicial tribunal.
if the Cabinet, witht heir superior
authority and more general outlook, took
the view that further action was required
against General Dyer beyondthe loss of 
employment, beyond the censure pro-
nounced by the Hunter Commission, by the
government of India, and by the Secre-
tary of State's despatch, which was a 
Cabinet document bearing the considered
opinion of the Government - if it was
thought further action of a disciplinary
character was required, the Cabinet were
perfectly free to take it without any con-
flict of powers arising between the sub-
ordinate, administrative Army Council
and the Supreme Executive Council of
State.  I made it perfectly clear to my
colleagues on the Army council that, in
assenting to the conclusion to which we
came as an Army Council, I held myself
perfectly free if I thought right, and
if the Cabinet so decided, to make a 
further submission to the Crown for the 
retirement of General Dyer from the Army.

  Pg 1725 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

  Liet.-Colonel CROFT: And the con-
verse may be true, also.  The Cabinet 
may upset the whole decision also in the
other direction?

  Mr. CHURCHILL: Certainly.  The
Cabinet can certainly alter the employ-
ment of any officer.  I now come to ex-
plain and to justify the decision of the
Cabinet.  This is the question I have
been asking myself, and which I think the
House should consider.  Were we right in
accepting, as we have done, the con-
clusion of the Army Council as 
terminating the matter so far as General
Dyer was concerned, or ought we to have 
taken further action of a disciplinary 
or quasi-disciplinary character against
him?  Here, for the first time, I shall
permit myself to enter, to some extent, 
upon certain aspects of the merits of the

  However we may dwell upon the diffi-
culties of General Dyer during the 
Amritsar riots, upon the anxious and
critical situation in the Punjab, upon 
the danger to Europeans throughout that
province, upon the long delays which have 
taken place in reaching a decision about
this officer, upon the procedure that was
at this point or at that point adopted,
however we may dwell upon all this, one
termendous fact stands out - I mean the 
slaughter of nearly 400 persons and the 
wounding of probably three to four times
as many, at the Jallian Wallah Bagh on
13th April.  That is an episode which
appears to me to be without precedent 
or parallel in the modern history
of the British Empire.  It is an 
event of an entirely different order
from any of those tragical occurrences
which take place when troops are
brought into collision with the civil
population.  It is an extraordinary event,
a monstrous event, an event which stands
in singular and sinister isolation.

  Collisions between troops and native
populations have been painfully frequent
in the melancholy aftermath of the Great
War.  My right hon. Friend has reminded
the House that in this particular series 
of disturbances there were 36 or 37 cases
of firing upon the crowd in India at this
particular time, and there have been 
numerous cases in Egypt.  In all these
cases the officer in command is placed in
a most painful and difficult position.  I
agree absolutely with what my right hon.

  Pg 1726 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

Friend has said, and the opinion he has
quoted of the Adjutant-General in India, 
of the distasteful, painful, embarrassing,
torturing situation, mental and moral,
in which the British officer in command of
troops is placed when he is called upon 
to decide whether or not he opens fire,
not upon the enemies of his countrymen, or
who are citizens of our common Empire.  No
words can be employed which would 
exaggerate those difficulties.  But there
are certain broad lines by which, I think,
an officer in such cases should be guided.
First of all, I think he may ask himself,
Is the crowd attacking anything or any-
body?  Surely that is the first question.
Are they trying to force their way for-
ward to the attack of some building, or
some cordon of troops or police, or are
they attempting to attack some band of 
persons or some individual who has
excited their hostility?  Is the crowd
attacking?  That is the first question
which would naturally arise.  The second
question is this:  Is the crowd armed?
That is surely another great simple funda-
mental question.  By armed I mean 
armed with lethal weapons.

  Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS: How could
they be in India?

  Mr. CHURCHILL: Men who take up
arms against the State must expect at
any moment to be fired upon.  Men who 
take up arms unlawfully cannot expect
that the troops will wait until they are
quite ready to begin the conflict.

  Mr DONALD: What about Ireland?

  Mr. CHURCHILL: I agree, and it is
in regard to Ireland that I am specially
making this remark - or until they
have actually begun fighting.  Armed men
are in a category absolutely different from
unarmed men.  An unarmed crowd
stands in a totally different position from
an armed crowd.  At Amritsar the crowd
was neither armed nor attacking. [In-
terruption.]  I carefully said that when I
used the word "armed" I meant armed
with lethal weapons, or with firearms.
This is no dispute between un on that
point.  "I was confronted," says General
Dyer, "by a revolutionary army."  What
is the chief characteristic of an army?
Surely it is that it is armed.  This crowd
was unarmed.  These are simple tests
which it is not too much to expect officers
in these difficult situations to apply.

  Pg 1727 Supply-Committee  HOUSE OF COMMONS  Punjab Disturbances

  Sir W. DAVIDSON: How many men had 
General Dyer with him?

  Mr. CHURCHILL: My hon. Friend is
as closely acquainted with the case as I
am.   I have read all the papers on the 
subject.  When he rises to continue the
Debate he can perfectly well bring that
forward.  But there is another test which
is not quite so simple, but which never-
theless has often served as a good guide.
I mean the doctrine that no more force
should be used than is necessary to secure
compliance with the law.  There is also
a forth consideration by which an officer
should be guided.  He should confine 
himself to a limited and definite objective,
that is to say to preventing a crowd doing
something which they ought not to do,
or to compelling them to do something
which they ought to do.  All these are
good guides for officers placed in the 
difficult and painful situation in which
General Dyer stood.

  My right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson)
will say it is easy enough to talk
like this, and to lay down these principles
here is safe and comfortable England,
in the calm atmosphere of the House of
Commons or in your armchairs in Down-
ing Street or Whitehall, but it is quite
a different business on the spot, in a great
evergency, confronted with a howling
mob, with a great city or a whole pro-
vince quivering all around with excite-
ment.  I quite agree.  Still these are
good guides and sound, simple tests, and
I believe it is not too much to ask of our
officers to observe and consider them.
After all, they are accustomed to accom-
plish more difficult tasks than that.  Over
and over again we have seen British
officers and soldiers storm entrenchments
under the heaviest fire, with half their 
number shot down before the entered
the position of the enemy, the certainty
of a long, bloddy day before them, a 
tremendous bombardment crashing all
around - we have seen them in these
circumstances taking out their maps and
watches, and adjusting their calculations
with the most minute detail, and we have 
seen them show, not merely mercy, but
kindness, to prisoners, observing restraint
in the treatment of them, punishing those
who deserved to be punished by the hard
laws of war, and sparing those who might 
claim to be admitted to the cmemency of
the conqueror.  We have seen them
exerting themselves to show pity and to
help, even at their own peril the
wounded.  They have done it thousands of 
times, and in requiring them, in moments
of crisis, dealing with civil riots, when the
danger is incomparably less, to consider
these broad, simple guides, really I do not
thing we are taxing them beyond their
proved strength.

  Commander BELLAIRS: What about 
the women and children?

  Lieut.-Colonel CROFT: There are no 
women and children in the trenches.

  Mr. CHURCHILL: I am bound to say
I do not see to what part of my argument
that remark applies.  I say I do not think
it is too much to ask a British officer in
this painful, agonising position, to pause
and consider these broad, simple guides
- I do not even call them rules - before he
decides upon his course of conduct.  Under
circumstances, in my opinion, infinitely
more trying, they have shown them-
selves capable of arriving at right
decisions.  If we offer these broad
guides to our officers in these anxious
and dangerous times, if there are guides
of a positive character, there is
surely one guide which we can
offer them of a negative character.
There is surely one general prohibition
which we can make.  I mean a prohibition
against what is called "frightfulness."
What I mean by frightfulness is the in-
flicting of great slaughter or massacre
upon a particular crowd of people, with
the intention of terrorising not merely
the rest of the crowd, but the whole dis-
trict or the whole country.

  Lieut.-Colonel CROFT: Was not the
frightfulness started three days before?
Was not the frightfulness on the other

Cornwall): Hon. Members will have an
opportunity of catching my eye, and I
would ask them to wait, and not try to 
deliver their speeches in fragments.

  Mr. CHURCHILL: We cannot admit
this doctrine in any from.  Frightfulness 
is not a remedy known to the British
pharmacopaeia.  I yield to no one in my
detestation of Bolshevism, and of the 
revolutionary violence which precedes it.
I share with my right hon. and learned
Friend (Sir E. Carson) many of his sentiments
as to the world-wide character of 
the seditions and revolutionary movement
with which we are confronted.  But my
hatred of Bolshevism and Bolsheviks is

  Pg 1729 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

not founded on their silly system of
economics, or their absurd doctrine of an
impossible equality.  It arises from the 
bloody and devastating terrorism which
they practise in every land into which they
have broken, and by which alone their 
criminal regime can be maintained.  I
have heard the hon. Member for Hull
(Liuet.-Commander Kenworthy) speak on
this subject.  His doctrine and his policy
is to support and palliate every form of 
terrorism as long as it is the terrorism of 
revolutionaries against the forces of law,
loyalty and order.  Governments who have 
seized upon power by violence and by
ursupation have often resorted to
keep what they have stolen, but the
august and venerable structure of the
British Empire, where lawful authority
descends from hand to hand and genera-
tion after generation, does not need such
aid.  Such ideas are absolutely foreign
to the British way of doing things.

  These obvervations are mainly of a
general character, but their relevance
to the case under discussion can 
be well understood, and they lead
me to the specific circumstances of
the fusillade at the Jallianwllah Bagh.
Let me marshall the facts.  The crowd
was unarmaed, except with bludgeons.  It
was not attacking anybody or anything.
It was holding a seditious meeting.  When
fire had been opened upon it to disperse
it, it tried to run away.  Pinned up in a
narrow place considerably smaller than
Traflagar Square, with hardly any exits,
and packed together so that one bullet
would drive through three or four bodies,
the people ran madly this way and the
other.  When the fire was directed upon 
the centre, they ran to the sides.  The fire
was then directed to the sides.  Many
threw themselves down on the ground,
the the fire was then directed down on the 
ground.  This was continued for 8 to 10 
minutes, and it stopped only when the 
ammunition had reached the point of

  Commander BELLAIRS: That is 
absolutely denied by General Dyer.

  Mr. CHURCHILL: It stopped only
when it was on the point of exhaustion,
enough ammunition being retained to
provide for the safety of the force on it
return journey.  If more troops had been
available, says this officer, the casualties
would have been greater in proportion.

  Pg 1730 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

If the road had not been so narrow, the 
machine guns and the armoured cars 
would have joined in.  Finally, when the
ammunition had reached the point that
only enough remained to allow for the 
safe return of the troops, and after 379
persons, which is about the number
gathered together in this Chamber to-day,
had been killed, and when most certainly
1,200 or more had been wounded, the 
troops, at whom not even a stone had
been thrown, swung round and marched 
away.  I deeply regret to find myself in
a difference of opinion from many of 
those with whom, on the general drift of
the world's affairs at the present time, I
feel myself in the strongest sympathy; but
I do not think it is in the interests of
the British Empire or of the British Army
for us to take a load of that sort for
all time on our backs.  We have to 
make it absolutely clear, some way or
another, that this is not the British way 
of doing business.

  I shale be told that it "saved India."
I do not believe it for a moment.
The British power in India does not
stand on such foundations.  It stands
on much stronger foundations.  I am
going to refer to the material foun-
dations of our power very bluntly.  Take
the Mutiny as the datum line.  In those
days, there were normally 40,000 British
troops in the country, and the ratio of
British troops to native troops was one
to five.  The native Indian Army had a 
powerful artillery, of which they made
tremendous use.  There were no railways,
no modern appliances, and yet the Mutiny
wwas effectively suppressed by the use of
a miltary power far inferior to what
which we now possess in India.  Since
then the British troops have been raised
to 70,000 and upwards, and the ratio of
British to native troops in one to two.
There is no native artillery of any kind.
The power and the importance of the 
artillery has increased in the meantime
10 and perhaps 20-fold.  Since then a 
whole series of wonderful and powerful
war inventions have come into beind, and
the whole apparatus of scientific war is
at the disposal of the British Gover-
ment in India - machine guns, the maga-
zine rifle, cordite ammunitiont, which can-
not be manufactured as gunpowder was
manufactured except by scientific power,
and which is all stored in the magazines
under the control of the white troops.
Then there have been the great develop-

  Pg 1731 Supply-Committee  HOUSE OF COMMONS  Punjab Disturbances

 [Mr. Churchill.]
ments which have followed the conquest of
the air and the evolution of the aeroplane.
Even if the railways and the telegraphs
were cut or rendered useless by a strike,
motor lorries and wireless telegraphy
would give increasingly the means of
concentrating troops, and taking them
about the country with an extraordinary
and almost undreamed-of facility.  When
one contemplates these solid, material
facts, there is no need for foolish panic, or
talk of its being necessary to produce a
situation like that at Jallianwallah 
Bagh in order to save India.  On the 
contrary, as we contemplate the great
physical forces and the power at the dis-
posal of the British Government in their
relations with the native population of
India, we ought to remember the words of
Macaulay -
 "and then was seen what we believed to
be the most frightful of all spectacles, the
strength of civilisation without its mercy"

Our reign in India or anywhere else has
never stood on the basis of physical force
alone, and it would be fatal to the British 
Emprie if we were to try to base our-
selves only upon it.  The British way of
doing things, as my right hon. Friend the
Secretary of State for India, who feels
intensely upon this subject, has pointed
out, has always meant and implied close 
and effectual co-operation with the people
of the country.  In every part of the 
British Empire that has been our aim,
and in no part have we arrived at such
success as in India, whose princes spent
their treasure in out cause, whose brave
soldiers fought side by side with our won
men, whose intelligent and gifted people 
are co-operating at the present moment
with us in every sphere of government
and of industry.  It is quite true that in
Egypt last year there was a com-
plete breakdown of the relations between
the British and the Egyptian people.
Every class and every profession seemed 
united against us.  What are we doing?
We are trying to rebuild that relation-
ship.  For months, Lord Milner has
been in Egypt, and now we are 
endevouring laboriously and patiently
to rebuild from the bottom that relation
between the British administration and
the people of Egypt which we have always
enjoyed in the past, and which it was so
painful for us to feel had been so sud-
denly ruptured.  It is not a question of 
force.  We had plenty of force, if force 
were all that was needed.

  Pg 1732 Supply-Committee  HOUSE OF COMMONS  Punjab Disturbances

  What we want is co-operation and good-
will, and I beseech hon. and right hon.
Gentlemen to look at the whole of this
vast qestion, and not merely at one part
of it.  If the disastrous breakdown which 
has occurred in a comparatively small
country like Egypt, if this absolute rup-
ture between the British administration
and the people of the country had taken
place throughout the mighty regions of
our Indian Empire, it would have con-
stituted one of the most melancholy
events in the hsitory of the world.  That
it has not taken place up to the present
is, I think, largely due tot he contruc-
give policy of His Majesty's Government,
to which my right hon. Friend the Secre-
tary of State for India has made so great 
a personal contribution.  I was astonished
by my right jon. Friend's sense of de-
tachment when, in the supreme crisis of
the War, he calmly journeyed to India,
and remained for many months absorbed
and buried in Indian affairs.  It was not
until I saw what happened in Egypt, and,
if you like, what is going on in Ireland
to-day, that I appreciated the enormous
utility of such service, from the point of 
view of the national interests of the
British Empire, in helping to keep alive
that spirit of comraship, that sense of
unity and of progress in co-operation,
which much ever ally and bind together
the British and Indian peoples.

  I do not conceal from the House my
sincere personal opinion that General
Dyer's conduct deserved not only the
loss of employment  from which so many
officers are suffering at the present time,
not only from the measure of censure which
the Government have pronounced, but
also that it should have been marked by
a distinct disciplinary act, namely, his
being placed cumpulsorily upon the re-
tired list.  But we have only to turn to 
page 20 of the statement of General
Dyer, we have only to cast our mind back
to the most powerful passafe in the 
speech of my right hon. and learned 
Friend (Sir E. Carson) to see that such
a course was barred.

  It is quite true that General Dyer's
conduct has been approved by a suc-
cession of superiors above him who pro-
nounced his defence, and that at
different stages events have taken place
which, it may well be argued, amount to
virtual condonation so far as a penal
or disciplinary action is concerned.
General Dyer may have done wrong, but
at any rate he has his rights, and I do

  Pg 1733 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

not see how in face of such virtual con-
donation as is set out on page 20 of this
able document, it would have been pos-
sible, or could have been considered right,
to take disciplinary action against him.
For these reasons the Cabinet found 
themselves in agreement with the con-
clusions of the Army council, and to those
moderate and considered conclusions we 
confidently invite the assent of the House.

  Mr. ASQUITH: I have heard this after-
noon so much sound and excellent doc-
trine from the Treasury Bench, notwith-
standing an occassional deviation in one 
or two of his intercalary perorations
from my right hon. Friend (Mr. 
Churchill) who has just sat down, that I 
shall content myself with two or three
observations.  The issue, as far as the
Debate has done, is reduce to a very
narrow point.  I assume that we have
heard, as we always do here from such
a consumate advocate as my right hon.
and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson),
the full strength of the case that
can be made against the Govern-
ment decision.  To what does that 
case amount?  My right hon. and 
learned Friend has not attempted to
justify General Dyer's action on the 
merits.  He made no attempt of any sort
or kind to meet thepoints which have
been submitted to the Committee by the
Secretary of State for War.  he had two
suggestions, and two only, to support his
general allegation of hardship and
grievance.  the first was an extra-
ordinary one - that General Dyer had not
had a trial.  General Dyer's case has
been considered on his own evidence be-
fore the Hunter Committee. [HON. 
MEMBERS: "No!"]  By what I think was 
an unfortunate decision, many of the 
witnesses who were available were not
called and examined.

  His case was considered on his own
evidence before the Hunter Committee.
Both the majority and the minority agree
in their condemnation, and their judg-
ment is supported and endorsed by the
Government of India.  It is confirmed not 
only the Secretary of State, but by the
full Cabinet here.  Then he represents
his case, as he has done in the last few
weeks, in an ex parte statement of his
own, to the Army council.  The Army
Council reconsider the case, and come to
the same decision which had been arrived
at by the other authorities.  To say in
these circumstances that he has not had

  Pg 1734 Supply-Committee  8 July 1920  Punjab Disturbances

a fair hearing, and ought to have another
opportunity of saying whatever he can
say in defence of his conduct, seems to 
me to be an abuse of language.  The right
hon. and learned Gentlement said that 
General Dyer was commended at the 
time by his superior officer, the Divisional
General, and my the Lieutenant-Governor.
Undoubtedly, that is the case.  Whether
they were then in full possession of the
facts,  do not know.  Whether they were
impartial judges in the circumstances, I
do not know.  There was much excite-
ment, feverish hectic excitement, in the
atmosphere.  they had very little oppor-
tunity of making dispassionate inquiry.
They may very well, with the best
intentions and, as far as they could,
with the soundest judgement in the
world, have come to a conclusion which
subsequent reflection and further in-
vestigation could not have justified.  But
on the merits, what is to be said?  I was
anxious to hear, and I have not heard
from the right hon. and learned Member,
anything which could in any way impugn
the correctness and force of the decision
concurrently arrived at by so many

  The case is as simple a case as has
ever been presented to this House.  Un-
doubtedly on the 10th April - I do not go
into the larger question whether there was
or was not evidence of a conspiracy in the 
Punjab - very serious riot occurred which
involved both arson and murder.  That
was put down.  During the three days 
which elapsed from the 10th to the 13th
of April there had been no outbreak.  My
right hon. Friend spoke of those days as
very dark and rife with murder.  I do 
not know from what evidence he was 
speaking.  I know of no such evidence of 
any sort.  On the contrary, the riots were
put down on the 10th.  The 11th and 
12th passed in perfect tranquility, or, at
any rate, there was no further offensive.

  Here I must offer a word of criticism
on a point which has not so far been
referred to at all int he course of the dis-
cussion.  I feel that it is deeply to be
deplored and reprehended that the visil
authority abdicated their function, and
handed voer something very much in
the nature of a carte blanche to the
general in command.  I do not know 
who they were.  I have no knowledge of 
that.  But it is the worst example, and in
India particularly it is a very bad 
example.   When a situation of that kind