THE OLD COUNTRY CARRIES ON
AN ADDRESS BY
SIR EVELYN WRENCH, C.M.G.
Chairman: The President. The Honourable G. Howard Ferguson.
Thursday, September 19th, 1940
THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: Gentlemen: I have the peculiar pleasure today of inviting an old personal friend to talk to us-a real Irishman, a thorough-bred, born in the County of Fermanagh. If you can get any better than that, I ask you where. Sir Evelyn Wrench isn't entirely unknown in this country. His activities since his very young days have been varied and energetic and he has become an international figure in the world of British international interests.
Sir Evelyn is a graduate of Eton. After leaving Eton, with his artistic taste and genius, he began to print postcards for a living and he was one of the pioneers of the picture postcard business in Great Britain. He then went into journalism. His merit was recognized by the leading men of the press in Great Britain, and Lord Northcliffe took him on, or rather, he took on Lord Northcliffe and was with him for fourteen years doing very special work. After the death of Lord Northcliffe, he acted as private secretary to Lord Rothermere, the first Air Minister. One can understand the importance of a position of that kind when I tell you that there are three newspapers in London-The Mail, The Express and The Herald, all of which have a circulation from two million to two and a half million.
In 1922, Sir Evelyn had become connected with The Spectator and succeeded Mr. St. Loe Strachey as Chairman of the Board.
During all this busy life he has found opportunity for diversion in the organization of various groups and societies that could be made use of as a genesis to interest others in a similar class of work. He is responsible for the Overseas League, which has very large headquarters in the centre of London. As he travelled about, he found it might be wise if he were able to gather together, more closely, English-speaking people, not with a view to antagonizing or ostracizing people of any other nationality or speech, but believing that people who had a common bond of speech if brought together would be a tremendous influence. Thus he founded the English-speaking Union in 1918. It is in connection with his work in the Overseas League and the English-speaking Union that Sir Evelyn Wrench has come to Canada again, and I have no doubt he will be just as successful on this visit as he has been in former times. I thought it would be interesting if we had an opportunity of hearing just what he is doing. I might tell you very confidentially that he was narrow in his views until recent years. He got married over three years ago and he has broadened out considerably. I think we will have a very interesting talk from Sir Evelyn. I have very great pleasure indeed in presenting to you Sir Evelyn Wrench. (Applause.)
SIR EVELYN WRENCH, C.M.G.: Mr. Ferguson, Gentlemen: It is a very great pleasure to be back in Toronto. I almost feel that it is a second home town. I have known Toronto for thirty-four years and have loved it ever since my first visit in 1906. It is extraordinary to think of all the things that have happened since I was last here in November 1937. Mr. Ferguson was quite correct. I only married early in 1937 and I can't compete with my two neighbours. Mr. Ferguson, I think, married forty-four years ago, and Mr. McLaughlin, I think, only forty-one. I believe the theme on which I am to speak to you is "The Old Country Carries On." That is a very marvellous theme and I don't think anyone could be worthy of it. Just before dealing with that subject I should like to say one or two words about how tremendously I have been struck this time in Canada-I think it is my eighth or ninth visit-by the spirit of unity in the country. The last time, I went away with a rather heavy heart. I felt a great deal of sectionalism in various parts of the country. Sometimes I thought people were thinking more of sectional interests than the unity of Canada and the Commonwealth. That certainly isn't my feeling today. I am a tremendous believer on the future of Canada, but one of the things that impressed me most in 1937, I think, was that all the early enthusiasm I remembered on my previous trips across Canada to the coast seemed to have vanished three years ago.
Only this morning, I was thinking of the first time I met Sir Wilfrid Laurier and, talking of the future, he used that phrase you all remember so well, "The twentieth century belongs to Canada". I haven't heard that phrase so often in recent years. I do believe, however, that the twentieth century partially belongs to Canada because I think she has one of the greatest roles to perform in acting as a bridge, just as important in the realm of ideas as the wonderful bridges in San Francisco harbour, in uniting the old world and the new. It is a very wonderful task to carry out.
I think after the war there will be a great immigration to this country. Sometimes in England we forget there is such a place as Canada. We are remembering and thanking God on our knees that there is a Canada today. We are remembering that the great air effort on which you are concentrating and which I hope to describe to English listeners across the Atlantic over the British Broadcasting Corporation from New York on Monday.
Now, Mr. Ferguson asked me what theme I would speak on when he wrote, and I wish to say how honoured I am that he should be taking the Chair to-clay. No Canadian was more beloved in all parts of the Old Country than Mr. Ferguson. (Applause.) He referred to my Irish origin. Well, I find I was born quite close to the home of Mr. McLaughlin's ancestors in County Fermanagh, where the people are fifty per cent one thing and fifty per cent the other. I assure you, as far as Ulster is concerned, we are a hundred per cent with the British Commonwealth, and it may interest you to know that the two leading Generals in the British Army at the present time--Sir John Dill and Alan Brooke--are both Ulster men. So Ulster is rather proud of itself at this moment. As an Irishman who does believe in the unity of Ireland, I cannot help being rather saddened by the attitude of some of the people living in Southern Ireland, a country I know intimately. I feel at the moment they are hypnotized, in that unfortunate little country, by what happened in France. But there is no such thing as neutrality in Europe at the present time-only slavery and subservience to the doctrines of anti-Christ, if the British Commonwealth doesn't win. Thank God, it is going to win. (Applause.) Now, when I sent suggestions of themes for to-clay's address to Mr. Ferguson, one of them was "The Old Country Carries On". Somehow I felt he would choose that theme.
I left London with my wife just a month ago. In one sense, of course, it was with relief that we first saw the cliffs of the new world as we passed through the Straits of Belle Isle after a rather unpleasant journey. We had a thousand children on board and we had come through submarine-infested waters. Naturally, one was very delighted to see the new world, and the first time I saw lights at night was from the deck of the "Duchess of Atholl", as we passed Three Rivers on our way up to Montreal. It is a wonderful sensation to be able to have your window open at night and leave the lights on. It would be affectation to say that one was not relieved to be here in North America. Nevertheless it is a very painful thing to be away from that wonderful little island at this time. We all feel it is the place we ought to be and we hope to go back about March when I finish my American lecture tour.
You, Sir, (Mr. McLaughlin) were talking about Kipling today. No one but a Kipling could speak adequately about what is happening in that little island. Per haps, because I was born in Ireland, I may be allowed to look at England partially from the outside. Having been born in Ireland I think I can see England from the outside. That little country, I know and most of you know, is going through deep, deep places, deep experiences. We are going through a long tunnel and can only see the light on the far horizon. But there is something in that little country and, when the history of this extraordinary age in which humanity has struck its tents and is on the march and no one knows where the march is going to end up, when the story or epic of the little island is written, it will indeed require the words of a Kipling, of a Chaucer or of a Shakespeare.
There is unity in the little island such as it never had before. This is not a war carried on by the intellectuals or by the upper class, "the haves" as opposed to the "have nots." This war is being carried on by the British people, the ordinary folk of England. Talk to the bus drivers, to the men working in the machine factories, to those running railway trains, to those in every walk of life, and you will find that they are all a hundred per cent behind this cause. They feel that a great crisis, the great crisis in the world's history has arrived, when the decision must be for all the things we hold dear as opposed to the alternative of a world ruled by selfishness and all things evil. That crisis is upon us, and I do think I am not exaggerating the spirit of the Old Country when I tell you they are really, really not thinking in terms of personal advantage or personal fate. From the King and Queen down to the humblest individual, all are pulling their weight, trying to help in every way they possibly can.
Now, just for an instant I want to talk about this question of waiting. I have lived in London for a year since the war started so I do understand what it means. During that year all the defence programmes, the Air Raid Precaution Services were built up, and week after week and month after month, we had to have all fire stations equipped, all Red Cross stations equipped by male and female personnel. It was most boring. Hundreds and thousands of hospital beds had to be kept in readiness, without a soul in them. The nurses and staffs had to be there. There is nothing more boring in life than waiting with a fear that something dreadful is going to happen and having nothing to do. When you are worried, what you want to do is work hard. All these people in the various civilian services and anti-fire and all the rest of it were doing nothing for days and months.
Then when the test came it showed how much we owed to the way in which that system was organized. Any of you who have been in London wouldn't recognize London lately. We are a city of sand-bags and forts and barbed wire. If you want to go from Buckingham Hall to the Admiralty you will see a fort of machine-guns. If you wall: to the Admiralty across the Horse Guards Parade to the Foreign Office, you will pass two lines of barbed wire entanglements and show your identification card.
All through the winter there was the depression of the blackouts. It is a very depressing thing to live continually in blackness. You wouldn't believe it, but the first time I walked out on a winter evening in Piccadilly I literally did not know where I was, although I know that part of London very intimately. It is an extraordinary sensation. At night if you want fresh air you open your windows and turn out the light, but if you suddenly want to see what time it is or to read, you must remember not to switch on the light. You live with the bath full of water in case of an emergency in which the water supply breaks down. On the landing there are buckets of sand and water, and a stirrup pump is on every floor. We all have instructions as to how to detect different types of bombs.
It has very often been said that the Old Country cannot organize, but I want to emphasize that certainly the way in which the civilian population were taught methods of protection and anti-fire drill has been most marvellous. As far as food is concerned we have had little to suffer. Our greatest hardship was to have only one lump of sugar for our coffee and a small pat of butter. There are meatless clays and all that, but nothing really serious. Paper rationing has been a privation, though I am not sure, now when I come to the new world again, that I don't rather envy London and England its six-page newspapers.
I am telling these things to show the state of readiness we lived in. Each night we put out our clothes and all the things we want before going to bed, ready to dress in a few minutes and go off to the air-raid shelter. I dressed in three minutes once. And what a motley crew were there. There were some Canadian nurses, Australian soldiers, business men in pyjamas, but the camaraderie of the air shelter is really rather wonderful. You talk to everyone, and there is a feeling that all are in this together.
I can't tell you exactly what has happened in England during the last two or three weeks. Things have been so terrible. The lack of sleep is really the chief danger that London is suffering from at the moment. The morale is splendid but lack of sleep is a terrible thing to face as they are facing it today. At any rate, it is all part of the war of nerves.
The past year, for most of us, is more or less divided into two parts--pre-Narvik and post-Narvik. Pre-Narvik was the "phoney" war, as it was called by the American press. All that time we were always waiting for something to happen. Well informed correspondents in the various European capitals kept continuously warning us of the dire happenings in store for us on certain dates. I think the spirit in London a month ago was that there would be no blitzkrieg--anyhow, no mass bombing. "Wolf, Wolf" had been cried so often that they hardly believed it would come. Of course it has come. I don't know the inner secrets of government. Of one thing I am quite sure: whatever happens, even if London has to be evacuated to a certain extent (it has been as regards children and certain industries), even if London has to be evacuated and governmental institutions dispersed over the country, the Old Country will still carry on. (Applause.)
As you know, Mr. Chamberlain, in the first six or seven months of the war, was Prime Minister. I want to say a word on his behalf. I find, very often, that people now criticize him very severely and more or less hold him responsible for everything that has happened. Mr. Chamberlain is a very conscientious man and did his utmost for peace. Once he felt that war was inevitable he did throw his whole weight into a campaign of preparedness and if the British Navy was in a state of readiness last September, a year ago, I do want to just say this Mr. Chamberlain was also one of those responsible for those decisions and he gave of his utmost. He was a man of sixty-nine years of age and he never rested and never thought of himself. I don't believe that Mr. Churchill has a more loyal follower today than Neville Chamberlain.
Now, about Mr. Churchill. In our country, in our island story, I think Providence must take an interest. I, personally, believe he does and the time produces the man. Undoubtedly, in Winston Churchill we have one of the greatest leaders of the English-speaking world in the past century. He has twofold advantages. He has served the Crown in almost every position of importance. As you know, he was First Lord of the Admiralty when the last war broke out. He has been Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Home Affairs. He has a tremendous sense of the dramatic. I think probably he is one of the few Englishmen who really can meet Hitler with all the initiative and daring and determination that that requires, and who is able to stand up to Hitler's threats, knowing that he is serving the greatest cause that man was ever asked to serve. (Applause.)
In the last war Churchill was largely responsible for the development of tanks. He has got a flair, an initiative, and with that he has got very fine executive ability and, of course, since he has been at the head of affairs in the Old Country there has been a different spirit, from the highest to the lowest. Another of Mr. Churchill's great advantages is that he commands the allegiance of Labour. Every member of the Labour Party believes in him tremendously, and at this tune you can imagine what that means. He has also a great knowledge of war, and I think the combination of his imaginative statesmanship, plus the technical knowledge of leading military and air experts is a very strong one.
Then, there are Churchill's speeches. I am sure you hear him. I want to say how tremendously moving it is to be in Canada at this time and hear how the Old Country's calls are also Canada's calls, and nothing happens to the Old Country but you feel it as much as we do. I know you have shared in the great experience of the critical moment when the old world seemed to be toppling over us, and Churchill, with a realization of the -deep places we have got to go through, never minimized the danger, the blood and tears and sweat, at the same time inspiring the nation with his dogged determination that we are not going to give in, despite whatever tactics or whatever steps the Nazis care to take. That is the spirit you have in England today. As a result, in the new Britain there is unity from the duke to the dustman. They are all in it together and they are not thinking of personal advantage.
Now, for a moment, I should like to ask you to remember what this little island has meant to the world. When the history of the first one thousand years before Christ and the two thousand years after Christ comes to be written, I don't suppose there will be a more soul-stirring epic than the story of that little island which you could drop in your Great Lakes without noticing its absence. What that little island has stood for in the world! Heaven knows it has made lots of mistakes. I am not here to excuse them. We have not dealt adequately with the unemployment problem in the past. Please God we shall in the future. There has been too much class distinction and many other bad things. But for a moment I am here to ask you to look at the other side of the picture-at the time of Magna Charta, seven hundred years ago, at the first stirrings of human liberty, perhaps since the Greek age, when rights were granted. And gradually you have the upward story of the Mother of Parliaments by which freedom became absolutely inherent in English-speaking civilization. Then the little island established the great Commonwealth on this continent. Although I am partially Irish and partially Scottish, today I want to emphasize the fact that the original establishment of the United States was very largely an English achievement. From the counties of England they came. Look at the early names and study the history of the men who went out on the "Mayflower" and who went to Virginia. Read the original Virginia Charter.
I was in Jamestown three years ago and I visited a place that was a moving sight-the place where the first free Parliament met on this continent. It was largely an English achievement and at the time of the American Revolution, as you know, a very large percentage of the population, over 80 per cent, were from the British Isles. What were the men who created the United States? They were not some new breed of men--they were transplanted Englishmen on this continent. Benjamin Franklin's father was a shoemaker from Northampton. Lincoln's forebears came from the Old Land, as did Washington's, and so on. If I had the time to go through the record you would see that most of the founders of the American Republic were of English origin, with English blood stirring in their veins. English blood has got to be free. You couldn't control from Downing Street, four thousand miles away, those who had imbibed that milk of liberty from the days of childhood.
So the great British Commonwealth has been built up. It isn't only an English-speaking Commonwealth. It is a Commonwealth of those of English, French and Dutch speech. It is the greatest political institution devised by man. It enables great countries such as Britain, Canada and Australia to have complete local independence and also to co-operate for the common good. It doesn't say to the man who doesn't speak our English language, "You shan't be free", but it says, "Come in and be free with us." As a result, today in South Africa, as you know, one of the great statesmen of the world has been leading the South African people in the present war-General Smuts, a Dutchman who was fighting against us forty years ago. That is the kind of freedom the British Commonwealth stands for.
What would happen if Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin or Japan controlled the world? I think that in an interview I gave to the press the other day I said if George III had been a Hitler what happened on this continent would not have happened. Why have the countries of this continent grown to greatness with their own free institutions since 1805? I am glad to say it is realized now that it is because the British Navy kept Europe from putting her nose into the affairs of this continent. The then infant United States, small in numbers, was able to develop its great natural resources free from outside interference because the British Fleet would permit no intruder to cross the ocean.
I have read speeches, in the last week, by American leaders, paying a tribute to the British Fleet and saying that the British Fleet is in the first battle line of civilization, as it is.
Well, time is drawing to an end. I do want to reiterate what a tremendous part you in Canada can play and are playing, and you will probably play an even greater part, because I think there may be dark days ahead. I know Germany and Italy very intimately. I was in those countries in 1939 and I know we are up against the horrifyingly efficient Nazi machine. Let us not underestimate it. I have never been an easy optimist. I have always believed that there would be war and that Germany would create such a mechanized force as has never been seen before. It is much better that we realize what we are up against. We didn't, perhaps, in the early weeks of the war. We won't try half measures any longer. There is no use expecting to blow up a tank with an ordinary rifle-you won't. Thank Heavens, there are great concerns on this continent like that represented by my neighbour on the right (General Motors), that are helping us to get the equipment that is necessary and to replace the equipment which was lost at Dunkerque. That was a tragic story. I talked to man after man who lost everything and came back with only the clothes he was wearing. What they minded most of all was the loss of the wonderful equipment left in the sand-dunes and towns of the Low Countries. That was a terrible blow.
People have talked about "missing the bus" in this war. I feel that Hitler missed the bus in the three weeks after Dunkerque. I believe even if the British Expeditionary Force had been captured then, that the war would have been carried on from this continent but we would have been put to it to withstand a Nazi invasion in those anxious days. I don't believe he was hoarding planes up for some future occasion. He wasn't. Hitler was trying to shoot every refugee on the roads that he could get. He was trying to kill every British soldier, undefended as they were against dive bombers. He was trying to terrorize whole populations. All that grim evacuation from the sands of Dunkerque was achieved in those dramatic days when little boats came stealing along, picking up soldiers and going to and fro to the Old Country. That was, I think, when Hitler missed the bus.
Then, that miracle of the knights of the Air! How can one talk adequately about them? Every morning, perhaps five times a day, they return to their aerodromes and fill up with petrol. They don't say that they have done enough for one day when they have been up three times already that day. They want to go on risking their lives, day and night, without end. Has there ever been such human bravery? Just think what their bravery means to the people in England. I only wish we had double the number of young men.
As Mr. Churchill said, never did so many people owe so much to so few. They believe tremendously in the machines they fly and also in their leadership and that is where Canada is going to play a tremendous part. You cannot imagine how heartening it is to us in the Old Country to know that the wheels of the great machine which you are preparing will soon be under way and by next spring will begin to rotate in an amazing way-the biggest institution ever created in Canada and one of the biggest that ever existed in the British Commonwealth.
Also, what a wonderful thing it is that our best young men come over here to be trained and to mingle with those from New Zealand, Australia and Newfoundland. They will get to know you Canadians in this vast country and forever afterward the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan will no longer be a plan but an actuality. All this will have a great effect in bringing all parts of the British Commonwealth together.
As I told you before, I have known Canada for thirty-four years. I think it was at Esquimalt, British Columbia, in 1966, that I made an inspection of the Canadian Fleet, at that time, as far as I know, consisting of a couple of vessels. I think when war broke out there were fifteen Canadian war vessels in existence. I think perhaps you don't realize sufficiently what has happened since that time. You now have one hundred and fifteen war vessels and a personnel of twelve thousand. And they are such splendid men, many of them born and bred on the prairies. They served their apprenticeship in the depots established across Canada and there they have been learning everything about the sea except seasickness! They will learn that later. They are splendid material, those young seamen, and I understand you will have another hundred vessels in the Canadian Navy in a year's time. I believe that in the future the Canadian Navy will be a force to reckon with, and Canada, with all her sea traditions of the Maritime Provinces, will once again play a great role on the high seas.
So what am I going to say in this last two minutes? I want to say what a privilege it is to talk to an audience like this. You have been very good in listening to me. What is the last thought I would like to leave with you? I think it is this. As you know, just over one hundred years ago, slavery was abolished in the British Empire. At that time, Wilberforce and those who worked with him refused to hearken to those who said that to abolish slavery would be against the natives' interests and couldn't be done. That small group of people under Wilberforce hammered on and finally got rid of the menace of slavery.
Today, we are really facing, in my view, something much more, or at least, as horrifying, as terrible, as human slavery. We are facing the slavery of the mind. You go to Germany and you will see extraordinary efficiency. I talked to Germans, high and low, last summer. It is an amazing drill and robot civilization, where the individual has no rights at all. He is merely part of a great machine. I wish I had time to talk on that theme. It is an interesting one. All I do want to say is that we are facing a tremendous problem. I have watched Germany closely these last forty years and gradually I have seen Germany stepping downward and downward, human liberty not counting at all there now. A false god has been put up on a pedestal, and young Germany, male and female, worship this false god, brushing aside all the tenets of Christianity. The only thing that counts in Germany today is brute force. Don't be under any illusion about it.
After the last war I advocated in print fairer treatment of Germany at Versailles. I also believed and hoped during the first three years of the Nazi regime that Hitler would prove a "good neighbour". I was disillusioned. I saw that a promise meant nothing to him. Nothing means anything to him except domination of the world by the German people, and if any people of this or any other continent think Hitler has any other aim or that you can buy the tiger off, they are mistaken. You can't. There is no compromise with the spirit of Naziism. It is ruthless, hideous and satanic.
I do say in conclusion, we do not know what other bitter pills we may have to swallow in Africa or elsewhere. We are up against great forces. But there is a growing spiritual force in the Old Country and in the British Commonwealth. We don't think about ourselves only that we may be used to the uttermost to overcome the monster and establish the dictatorship of Christ in this world. (Applause-prolonged.)
DR. H. J. CODY: At the request of the President of the Empire Club, I count it a great honour, in your name, to express from our hearts, our thanks to Sir Evelyn Wrench for the thrilling tale he has told us of the spirit of the old Motherland. It has been a wonderful story--the story of unity, the story of broad, human fellowship, the story of sacrifice, the story of willingness to give tears and blood and life itself for a cause greater than life itself.
Long ago, old Queen Elizabeth, in the threatening clays of the Armada, made an address to her troops, in which she said, "I cannot believe that it is the will of God, after all, that England should perish." That is still our profoundest faith, and why? Some of you have read one of the most brilliant of the modern histories of EnglandGeorge Macaulay Trevelyan's A History o f Englasad. In the preface to the last revised edition he has used these words. I haven't been able to verify the reference, but substantially these are the words: "In spite of all her mistakes, and all nations make mistakes, the world's best hopes still rest on her." (Applause.)
We are grateful to Sir Evelyn Wrench for coming to give us this splendid tale of endurance and determination. Let us assure him that the true heart of Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, beats with the heart of the Motherland and it is our will and determination that Canada should go to the utmost limit of her power and resources to stand by the side of the Motherland in this great crisis of human existence.
We are fighting-I am glad he emphasized that as I naturally expected and hoped he would-no ordinary war for balance of power or territory or wealth. It is a struggle for those spiritual values without which human life cannot worthily be lived. It is not merely for democracy as a form of government but for the spiritual values that make democracy worth while.
What is our Christian civilization made up of? The inheritance from Greece of liberty, the inheritance from Rome of law and the Christian inheritance which places infinite value on the individual human soul. Add those together, and you have in the rough and the broad, the civilization for which we are fighting. How could the case be better put than by Sir Evelyn Wrench when he said, "What would happen to the world if Hitler, if Mussolini, if Stalin, if the present regime in Japan dominated the world?" I never forget something that Sir John Willison once said, speaking, I think, at this very table in this very room: "People say what they will about old Britain and the British Empire, what other power in all the world could safely be trusted with the power that she has used and used in the main for freedom and justice and mercy?"
It once was my privilege to be in the British House of Commons when Mr. Phillip Snowden was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he was making a speech which he closed with words that are familiar now to most of us. They are from Swinburne's famous "Ode to England". They are great words
All our past acclaims our future: Shakespeare's voice and Nelson's hand,
Milton's faith and Wordsworth's trust in this our chosen and chainless land,
Bear us witness; come the world against her, England yet shall stand.