WWI in the Herald: December 15, 1914

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A question of much interest and of very great importance to Australia is now being raised in regard to contracts with the enemy.

This arises out of the fact that the Germans have contracted with Broken Hill mining companies to purchase their base metals for a term of years which extends considerably beyond the present period.

It is held that the effect of the war is merely to suspend these contracts, to introduce therefore a moratorium period, to terminate at the conclusion of hostilities, and that thereafter the contract should continue for its full period, adding to it the term of suspension.

The Federal Government has urged that the Imperial Government should take some action to guard against the continuation of these contracts.

This is advocated from two points of view. In the first place, the suspension of the contracts and the inability to deal with the metals is creating a financial and labour loss to Australia, while British shareholders in the companies are also being deprived of dividends.

The second ground is that it is undesirable that a foreign country should ever be allowed again to control the output of the baser metals of Australia or of any other British country.

From a commercial and political point of view this is highly unsatisfactory, while from its strategical aspect it is still more so. A

n English financial paper, without entering into the details of the laws relating to private international contracts, urges that “the Imperial Government should declare all contracts with Germans closed.

Then, if the English courts were against them, then the House of Lords should take the bold action of abrogating contracts.

The Imperial Government should also give a guarantee against any loss until the installation of the smelting company was completed.”

This is an advocacy of that force majeure, which could only be maintained so long as the balance of power in Europe was not against Britain. But before adopting so drastic a measure it is certain that the British authorities and the most able jurists will consider the whole question critically in all its aspects. In the first place the honour of Britain has to be maintained. Much is said about German dishonesty at the present day, but that would not justify Britain in resorting to similar practices.

Speaking broadly, it may be said that international law, so far at all events as it affects private contracts, rests not upon the right of the State which concedes it, but on that of the State to which it is conceded.

Prior to this dictum being laid down it was contended that such contracts or agreements were founded merely upon the reciprocal good will of the nations.

They could, even in that view, be voided, but the State exercising this right must justify herself to the world. This brings one really to the issue as to how contracts can be voided without mere repudiation or annulment by virtue of a Parliamentary declaration.

In the standard work “Chitty on Contracts,” it is held that private contracts of any kind, whether international or otherwise, can be voided by impossibility of execution, that is, a change in the law of the country which supervenes upon and contradicts a private agreement.

A law might be passed for instance declaring that no Australian base metals should be exported to other than British dominions, and that only under guarantees that they would not be passed on in a crude state to foreign countries.

It would be within the power of the Federal Parliament to enforce such a condition of affairs by imposing export duties on base metals exported to other countries so heavy as to stop this trade, while there would be no duty on the metals exported to England or to British Dominions. Such an impost would necessarily require that the fullest arrangements should have been made for the establishment of works on a sufficient scale in Britain.

But after all this would merely be an expedient to break a contract which, however unsatisfactory from its natural aspect, was entered into willingly and carried out honourably on both sides until the outbreak of war.

The real issue is as to whether it would not be more to the credit and honour of Great Britain to allow the contracts to be completed after the war, and in the meantime to start works for dealing with the metals which can at first be on a small scale and subsequently can expand when the whole output falls into British hands.

There is no reason why such works should not be established in Australia as well as in Britain if the necessary capital is forthcoming.

A large company might find it to its advantage to work in both countries.

Whether the Imperial or Federal Governments should give assistance to such a project is a matter which might very well be taken into consideration.

Paris, Monday.

The following official communique has been received:-

We repelled three violent attacks which were made by the enemy’s infantry south-east of Ypres.

Attacks north-west of Senones have also been foiled.

Substantial progress has been made in the vicinity of La Pretre wood.

A previous communique states:- A German attack north-east of Ypres and another against the railway station at Aspach were repulsed.

London, Monday.

The correspondent of the London “Daily Telegraph” at Calais states that the Allies are vigorously and successfully pushing the offensive in Flanders.

The superiority of their artillery is incontestable, giving them marked advantages. The daring strategy of the French is one initial cause of success.

The line of battle forms a zig-zag from Ostend to Lys, along which the Allies are gradually advancing. They also hold a strong position north-east of Armentieres.

The inundations extend from several miles south of Nieuport to the south of Dixmude.

As the Germans are clearly incapable of taking a serious offensive, they renewed the bombardment, relatively unimportant, of localities like Ypres, Nieuport, and Pervyse. This is interpreted as a desire to mislead the Allies.

London, Monday.

The correspondent of the “Daily Chronicle” at Calais says that he passed three days between Ypres and La Bassee.

The Anglo-French troops bore the brunt of repeated German assaults, and getting in the trenches began simultaneously, from Menin to Warneton on the one wing, and from Armentieres to La Bassee on the other, leaving the supporting forces between Warneton and Armentieres to await the result.

Houthem, where thousands of Germans perished in November, marks the northern limit of the battle. The country towards Warneton is very open, gentle undulations facilitating artillery fire, to support advancing infantry, while the hills on the southern wing offer good cover to the defenders, owing to the numerous copses, thickets, and woods.

Here, where the natural obstacles wherewith we have been contending for the past two months, were infinitely more formidable than elsewhere, we achieved the greater success, as a prelude to the capture of La Bassee itself.

The Germans on the northern wing, suddenly abandoning defence tactics, made wild onslaughts with the bayonet on our positions. They suffered heavily, and had been within an ace of piercing the front lines.

They came in loose order at a steady but brisk walk, every man firing at random, and often advancing regardless of casualties.

They succeeded in driving back the first line of the Allies’ trenches.

These were eastward of Messines, which was also the scene of brilliant charges in the last stage of the battle of Ypres.

The triumph was short lived, inasmuch as the Allies’ troops, supporting the trenches, hurled them yards to the rear, and poured deadly volleys into their confused ranks.

They were eventually pursued by the bayonet to the won trenches.

A bloodier encounter followed northward in the forest, where the British position had been made almost impregnable by means of felled trees, stones, earth, and barbed-wire entanglements.

The Germans shelled the obstructions with smashing effect, our guns responding.

Waves upon waves of the enemy rushed upon the entanglements, courting speedy destruction, inasmuch as the Allies’ positions bristled with artillery.

The Germans by sheer weight of numbers removed the obstructions, although they mere mauled and mowed down in the act, several falling into our trenches without rifles, and without caps or uniform, and with torn bodies.

The attacks ended abruptly. They were flung back into sickening losses.

A regiment of Uhlans, charging a battalion of our men pursuing a broken infantry detachment, became entangled in the underwood, and their horses were shot.

Some of the Uhlans fought on foot, and others fled with the infantry.

Several battalions of British Territorials participated in the battle. The sixth battalion of the Welsh Territorials held their trench as unflinchingly as any line regiment.

The regulars do not conceal their admiration of the Territorials generally, and the Allies are delighted.

Many appropriated German entrenching tools, which are admirably adapted to slicing soft clay soils with the minimum of physical strain.

Sofia, Monday.

The Turks have informed the Libyans that the “holy war” is exclusively against Britain, France and Russia.

Petrograd, Sunday.

The manifesto issued by the Aga Khan, head of the Ismaili Mahommedans, is being circulated through Central Asia by the Mufti of Orenburg, the most eastern of the Russian governments in Europe. It urges all Russian Moslems to fight for Russia.

Cairo, Monday.

Refugees report that the Germans were testing a bridge at Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), which is intended for use in the Suez Canal.

The Arabs in Syria are displaying unwillingness to invade Egypt, and have been replaced by Turks.

(From Embarkation Rolls)

Private Thomas William Blayden, Scone, 4th Infantry Battalion, 3rd Reinforcements

Private John Everett Bore, Bellbird, 4th Infantry Battalion, 4th Reinforcements

Private John Chamberlain, Hamilton, 4th Infantry Battalion, 3rd Reinforcements

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