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General accuses Prime Minister of misleading parliament
Major-General Frederick Maurice, the Director of Military Operations for the Imperial General Staff, being greeted by a French officer after his arrival at the Allied Conference in Paris, 25 July 1917. Photo: Imperial War Museum

General accuses Prime Minister of misleading parliament

Westminster, 11 May 1918 - The government has comfortably defended itself against claims that it deliberately misled parliament and the British public about the current state of the war effort.

The crisis was sparked by a letter to the Daily Chronicle by Major-General Frederick Barton Maurice, former Director of Military Operations, who accused ministers of making false statements to the House of Commons. His criticisms were directed at both the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Bonar Law, and the Prime Minister, Lloyd George.

Major General Maurice’s letter referred specifically to statement made by Bonar Law on 23 April, in which he [Law] said that the extension of the British front in France was not dealt with by the Versailles Supreme War Council. Gen. Maurice attended those meetings and claimed that this was ‘untrue’.

'Backfire': a cartoon from satirical magazine Punch  (Images: Punch, 15 May 1918. Via the Internet Archive)

Maurice also made reference to a comment by Lloyd George on 9 April to the effect that Britain’s army in France was ‘considerably stronger at the beginning of 1918 than it was at the commencement of 1917’. This, according to Gen. Maurice was also ‘not correct’.

General Maurice stated that his letter was not the result of a military conspiracy, but his duties as a citizen overrode his duties as a soldier;

‘My reason for taking the grave step of writing this letter is that the statements quoted are known to a large number of soldiers to be incorrect, and this knowledge is breeding such disgust with the government as can only end in impairing the splendid morale of the troops.’

Amidst public outcry in the wake of the publication, former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith tabled a motion to have the general’s charges investigated by a Select Committee. After a lengthy debate, however, this motion was comprehensively defeated.

Lloyd George took the opportunity to call for unity in the face of the ongoing German offensive on the western front: ‘I really beg and implore, for our common country, the fate of which is in the balance now and in the next few weeks, that there should be an end of this sniping.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.