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. IIMPERIAL PARLIAMENT. I

I HOUSE OF IORDS.—JULY 4.…

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ITHE WAR AND THE IWOUNDED.

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THE WAR AND THE WOUNDED. MR. BURDETT-COUTTS' ALLEGATIONS OF NEGLECT. DEBATE IN PARLIAMENT. The House of Commons on Friday night of last week, having gone into Committee of Supply, and a formal vote for the Army Medical Establishment having been put from the chair, Mr. Wyndham, the Under Secretary for War, rose to make his ex- pected statement in reply to the charges with regard to the treatment of the sick and wounded in South Africa, which appeared in Mr. Burdett-Coutts's in the columns of the Times. He referred at the outset to the absorbing and painful interest of the subject which the hon. member for West- minster had brought to the notice of the country, and then explained that the Committee would expect, from him an answer to the following questions: Were the hon. member's statements true if they were true, wholly or partially, could the evils to which he called attention have been avoided by the exercise of greater foresight, by a more lavish expenditure, or by greater zeal and intelligence on the part of the, Royal Army Medical Corps and, lastly, were the evils in question now remedied or being remedied ? Answering tht) first question, he admitted frankly that it was true to a lamentable extent that our wounded and sick at Bloemfontein had been exposed to terrible hardships, but in describing their sufferings the hon. member had omitted to mention facts and considerations which ought to be placed before the public in order to enable it to form a just judgment. The picture drawn by the hon. member was better suited to the domain of art than to that of politics. The Government did not take uptheposition thatno errors had been committed; what they did say was that every effort had been made to mitigate the inevitable hardships of the war. It was not true that the Government when the war began had not taken into account the possibility of an outbreak of enteric fever on a large scale. That possibility was foreseen and measures of pre- caution were taken. There had been nc stinting of any kind, the medical officers having been urged to ask for all that might be wanted. There was a wholly mistaken notion in some quarters that when the force in South Africa was largely increased after the reverses in December a corresponding in- crease was not made in the number of doctors and in hospital and medical appliances. To prove that there was no foundation for this rumour he supplied de- tailed figures showing that on June 15 the number of hospitals, of doctors, and of nurses in South Africa had been increased very largely as compared with the state of tilings on January 15. The scale upon which bed accommodation had been supplied was that which was fixed for campaigns in the most insalubrious countries, and the Transvaal was a healthy country. Having described briefly the organisa- tion of the medical service in the time of war, which he said he was prepared to defend, he stated that never before had such provision for hospital trains been made as had been made in this war, and with regard to the hospital waggons he in- formed the committee that they had been con- structed in accordance with the recommendations of experts who knew the circumstances of war- fare. He also showed that it was impracticable to take with the troops more than a cer- tain number of waggons when a rapid advance was made. He read telegrams from Lord Roberts and the General Commanding the Lines of Com- munication in support of his statement that nothing which the medical authorities desired to have had been withheld, and then communicated a message received from Lord Roberts in reply to a telegram sent by Lord Lansdowne on Wednesday, containing the purport of Mr. Burdett-Coutts's letter in the Times. The Secretary for War asked whether the state of t'lie field hospital at Bloemfontein, which was described as being terribly overcrowded, was typical of the other hospitals, and Lord Roberts replied that any deficiences in the arrangements were exceptional and temporary, and that the case referred to was not typical of the field hos- pitals collectively. The hospital accommodation at Bloemfontein was described fully by Mr. Wyndham, and he said that the principal medical officer had re- corded that on May 14 Lord Roberts expressed the opinion that the arrangements were satisfactory. Although it was true that the sick and wounded in Bloemfontein had to endure terrible hardship, it was not true that the late of mortality from enteric fever was abnormally high. The per- centage of deaths to admission:! into hospital had been 21, which compared very favourably with the percentage in other campaigns, and was two points lower than the percentage of mortality in hospitals at home. The percentage of deaths from wounds and disease in this war had been lower than in other campaigns. After describing in eloquent terms Lord Roberts's march from the Modder River to Bloemfontein, he called attention to the difficulties which faced the Commander-in-Chief when his huge flying column arrived at the latter place, and asked whether it would not have been an extraordinary thing if all the hospital arrangements had been perfected at once. He referred to the silence of the Press correspondents on the various allegations made by Mr. Burdett-Coutts and drew the inference that, in their opinion, what had occurred was inevitable. They bad kept silence because they did not feel justified in harrowing the feelings of the public. He concluded by asking the Committee to bear in mind that money, intelligence and devotion might mitigate the horrors of war, but could not abolish them. He was loudly cheered on resuming his seat. Mr. Burdett-Coutis, in a speech of considerable length, reiterated and amplified the statements con- tained in his letter published in the Times, which occasioned the debate. Alluding to Lord Roberts's generous readiness to take upon himself the responsi- bility for the deficiencies in the hospital arrange- ments, he expressed the opinion, amid cheers, that nobody would consent to his doing so. He explained that the field hospital at Bloem- fontein which he had described was un- doubtedly the worst hospital there, but in the other hospitals the equipment was also grossly inadequate and the staffs insufficient. He contended that it would have been possible a few days after the arrival of the troops at Bloemfontein to send up more doctors, orderlies, and nurses. A great deal of the misery endured was due to the want of a proper nursing staff. The greatest pressure of sickness at Bloemfontein was in the second week in May, and for six weeks previously the railway had been running freely, so further provision for the sick could have been made. He complained that in some of the hospitals there was no classification of patients, and that the orderlies who were told off to look after them were untrained. He also criticisoi the hospital arrangements at Kroonstad, and ex- pressed regret that stationary hospitals had not been established on the lines of communication. He gave instances of the great suffering which the sick had to endure. The responsibility for the state of things to which he had called attention did not attach, he believed, to any one in this country. There had been a want of organisation and of provision, but the per- sonnel of the Royal Army Medical Corps were not, he thought, to be blamed for this. He was inclined to ascribe the failures that had taken place to the inelasticity of the present system. Sir W. Foster regretted that a small sanitary com- mission had not been appointed to intervene between the military commanders and the medical officers, believing that if there had been such a system many lives would have been saved. Sir H. Vincent testified from personal observation to the great efforts which had been made to mitigate the horrors of war in the campaign. Sir C. Dilke averred that there had been scandalous occurrences in the Intombi camp at Ladysmith, and after speeches by Colonel Kenyon Sianey, Dr. Farquharson, Mr. Bartley, Sir C. Cameron, General Russell, Mr. C. H. Wilson, Mr. Gibson Bowles, and Mr. Lloyd-George, who declared amid considerable uproar that lives had been sacrificed in the war for political exigencies, Mr. Balfour replied on the whole debate. He repudiated with indignation Mr. Lloyd- George's suggestion, saying that in that House he had never heard anything so discreditable as the hon. member's statements. He charged the Opposition with a desire to make party capital out of the state- ments of the hon. member for Westminster, but he pointed out that they could not strike at the Govern- ment without striking at Lord Roberts. That there was a sufficiency of medical material in Africa was admitted. The only question then was whether Lord Roberts was justified in using as he did the limited means of transport at his disposal. Adverting t3 Sir W. Foster's proposed roving medical commission, he said that any scheme of that kind must render an army im- potent by dislocating all military and medical arrangements. The outbreak of typhoid at Bloem- fontein was foreseen, but owing to the circum- stances of the case could not be provided against beforehand, for Lord Roberts in his historical and phenomenal march could only carry with him a very limited amount of supplies. With regard to particular cases of suffering to which Mr. Burdett-Coutts had drawn attention, he insisted that the country before condemning the doctors ought to hear what they had to say. Reverting to the broader question, he asserted that to delay a General's advance because he could not carry with him a sufficiency of medical supplies would not accord either with war or humanity, for the way to bring a war to a speedy conclusion was to strike swiftly and hard. Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, after protesting against the imputation that the only motive of the Opposition was the squalid one of attacking the Government, observed that the allegations made by the hon. member for Westminster had not been dis- puted. The hon. member deserved the thanks of the community for disclosing the true state of things. He recognised that the debate must be incomplete and unsatiafactorv, as the Committee were not in possession of all the facts. Some important facts were, however, known, one of them being that for every man who had died of wounds two had died of enteric fever. Blame was due somewhere, but at present it could not be as- signed. He trusted that the Government were guarding against any further breakdown in the hospital arrangements.

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