LETTER : Britain's skill at selling arms

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The Independent Online
From Dr Stephen A. Royle

Sir: In the period immediately before the emergence to public gaze of the Scott report, I happened to be reading original documents relating to the imprisonment, on the British island of St Helena, of Boers captured in the South African War in 1900. The Boers were talking of their longed- for return to their homeland and the likelihood of their being able to continue the armed struggle against the British.

The lady talking to them, an Irish visitor to St Helena, Alice Stopford Green, asked how they would obtain the arms.

"No trouble .... Why, they [the British] will sell them to us, if they can make money by it," said one.

"Indeed they will," confirmed another. "I believe Chamberlain [Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the Colonies] himself would sell us cannon to make money. Not that he would do it to be seen," and he slipped his hand quietly and quickly along the ground in the act of secretly passing something, "but if he saw his way, Chamberlain would do it, I am certain." (National Library of Ireland, MS 421)

Plus ca change ...

Yours faithfully,

Stephen A. Royle


13 February