On the 9th November a scene of the wildest enthusiasm greeted his arrival at Southampton, where, among many others, Field-Marshal Lord Wolseley, the Commander-in-Chief, was waiting to receive him. The Freedom of the Borough was given to Sir Redvers on the following day, and very shortly afterwards he was received with the utmost cordiality by Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor.
After a short interval, Sir Redvers resumed his command at Aldershot, and continued the instruction which had been interrupted by the war. But difficulties were thrown in his way. Pin-pricks abounded. His orders were rescinded, and he was goaded into the incident which ultimately caused the termination of his command. Sir Redvers had been much annoyed by an attack made by a leading newspaper upon a most gallant and enterprising officer who, after many successes, had at last met with misadventure. He felt that the war was dragging on chiefly because officers were sadly lacking in enterprise, and that this lack of enterprise was due to the manner in which newspapers at home held up to public obloquy everyone, however able, who met with reverse. At a public luncheon he took the opportunity of saying a few words on behalf of this officer; but finding reporters unexpectedly present, and fearing it might be said that the real cause of his remarks was bitterness against accusations against himself that he dared not answer, he replied directly to his critics in terms which, in spite of the undeniable provocation that he had received, might better have been left unsaid. Buller afterwards regretted his unpremeditated speech. After all he is not the first man in the history of the world who has spoken unadvisedly with his lips, and the idea that it was an" offence against the King’s Regulations is incorrect.
Scandalous insinuations had been made against Sir Redvers in the Press. It might have been hoped that the Government would have made it a point of honour to refute them. The Ministers, however, not only associated themselves in these slanders by their silence, but—incredible as it may seem — never asked the General to explain any telegram, or give his own version of any incident. Yet abandoned as he was in Parliament by the men to whom he was entitled to look for protection, Buller’s reputation was gallantly upheld by those whose political views differed from his own. A very prominent member of the present Government remarked,’It is always a pleasure to deal with an inquiry about Sir Redvers Buller; for the deeper one digs, the more sure it is to be to his credit.’
In the House of Commons Sir Redvers was nobly defended by Sir Edward Grey. He exposed the conduct of Ministers towards the General; he tore away every shred of their self-righteousness, and continued:
‘Sir Redvers Buller’s first simple demand to publish the correct version of a telegram from him to an officer under his command . . . after a garbled version had already been made public, is refused ; secondly, when leave is granted to publish the telegram, other telegrams for which he has never asked are sent to him with strict instructions to publish them all together textually as they stand; and when he protests that that is not a fair selection, the reply of the War Office is that he can have nothing more, that he can take his choice whether he publishes them or not, and that the correspondence must be broken off [‘Hear, hear’]; thirdly, all through this matter there has been either a leakage or a publication of everything unfavourable to Sir Redvers Buller, while everything necessary to judge his conduct in a true light and in its proper perspective, and the situation in which he was placed, has been withheld. [Cheers.] . . . The War Office . . . have conducted this matter as if it were their desire and object to substantiate every charge made against him in public, and not to give him any facilities to answer. Nobody questions the Secretary of State’s right to remove a general from his command, but I cannot believe that Sir Redvers Buller was removed from that position, after that length of service, simply because the Secretary of State or the Commander-in-Chief did not approve the tone or temper of that speech. That cannot be the real reason, because the speech discussed no question of policy; it reflected neither upon the Government, nor upon any officer in the Army, nor upon any human being whatever; and, although Sir Redvers Buller in that speech defended himself, he withheld everything from the speech that could have in any way touched the conduct of any other man, and it was made in the face of violent provocation. I cannot believe that, after that length of service, a mere indiscretion—mere faults of tone and temper—or want of judgment were the real reasons for the dismissal. The dismissal was peremptory. If it was not for indiscretion, then it must have been for a serious breach of military regulations. What were the breaches of military regulations ? That is the point I wish to put to the Secretary of State. If there were breaches, why were they not made known ? Why was there no military tribunal to try questions of military law ? If it was a dismissal solely on the grounds of the speech—taking the speech by itself—it seems to me that to dismiss such a man from such an office for that speech was harsh conduct beyond parallel. Some of this injury . . . to Sir Redvers Buller’s reputation is beyond remedy. The harsh and peremptory dismissal is beyond remedy and beyond recall. But the worst injury is that which is done to a distinguished reputation. [Cheers.] I am fully aware of the difficulty of overtaking an injustice of this kind : when once set going it speeds swiftly everywhere, gathers force as it goes, lodges itself in every mind, and on every mind enforces the point of view which is prepared to repel any explanation or justification on the part of the man attacked, for fear that the injustice itself will be dislodged. Nothing is more tenacious of life than a prejudice of this kind against a man when once it has gained a start. But that is no reason why it should be submitted to, or why he and his friends should not do the utmost in their power to demand that the case shall not rest where it is. I have been told that it is contrary to the interests of discipline that a case of this kind should be brought before the House. I do not think it is. The abuse of discipline is its worst enemy; and there are times when abuses of that kind must be brought before the House of Commons, because it is the only tribunal before which they can come. Whether the Secretary of State will do what is still possible and set Sir Redvers free to state his case and the facts that support it, I cannot tell. But this I trust—and it is one justification for raising this debate—that the mere fact of this debate having taken place will render it less likely in the future that any man such as Sir Redvers Buller, or any public servant in his position, should be treated as he has been treated when he appeals for protection to the public department which he has served.’ [Cheers.]
No serious attempt was, or indeed could be made, to answer this powerful speech, but no attempt was made to undo the wrong which had been done. The episode is the reverse of creditable upon the Ministers concerned.