WHAT I HAVE SEEN OVER THERE AND OVER HERE
AN ADDRESS BY
A. BEVERLEY BAXTER, M.P.
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Sanderson. A joint meeting of The Canadian Club and The Empire Club of Canada.
Monday, October 6, 1941
MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Gentlemen: I think everyone knows of Mr. Baxter's unavoidable delay last Thursday. It was a matter of infinite anxiety to the Executives of both Clubs, and, doubtless, of infinite anxiety to Mr. Baxter himself. So long as there was a chance of Mr. Baxter's being with us it was felt that we might take the risk of going on with the meeting. But when it became known he could not possibly be here, then our judgment--and today's large audience shows that it was a wise judgment--was that the meeting should be postponed. Although we tried to reach you by broadcast, by the ticker tape, by telephone, by people being asked to pass along the news, we were conscious that, in spite of all our efforts, some of you came down for a meeting that was not held. For that we apologize. But we felt, although you might be disturbed by coming down to a meeting not to be held, you would have been more disturbed had you come down to a meeting to find that the executive officials had known in advance that Mr. Baxter could not be present with us.
Mr. Baxter has made great sacrifices to be with us today. He has rearranged his own personal schedule. I am saying very little if I say on behalf of us all that we are extremely grateful for that. (Applause.)
To introduce Mr. Baxter is a difficult job, because no introduction is necessary. As a matter of fact, every time I say "Mr. Baxter" I am conscious of being a trifle discourteous. When a man has reached his fame he has ceased to be entitled to the prefix "Mr.", and he is known on both sides of the Atlantic, not as "Mr. Baxter", not as "Mr. Beverley Baxter", but just as "Beverley Baxter". He is known on both sides by his contributions to The Sunday Times and as the leading political commentator for The Sunday Times group, by his contributions to MacLean's Magazine', by his broadcasts, by his books. All these have brought him into everybody's life on both sides of the Atlantic, and, as a man of public affairs from the United States said to me only last week, "Beverley Baxter is far more read and people take far more notice of him in the United States than you fellows in Canada think".
Therefore, it is a very great occasion for us that Beverley Baxter should at this time have found it possible to make us a personal visit. He has been outspoken. His comments have brought criticism. I know he does not mind that. He looks upon it as part of his job and actually, at this moment, in this crisis, it is important, signally important, that every idea and every project should not merely be looked at but should be put under the closest x-ray examination. Gentlemen, it is my privilege and my pleasure to present to this great audience Beverley Baxter. (Applause.)
MR. BEVERLEY BAXTER: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: May I just in a word add my apologies to those of the Chairman for the upset of last week. The Canadian West, in its obvious desire to entertain our party and show every variety of life and weather it had, gave us in turn, flood, snow, and rain-although the inhabitants of Vancouver implied it was the first rain they had seen for very many months. Regina, unable to compete with sister cities, did the best it could and produced, I think, the only fog they have ever had on the prairies. So, Gentlemen, I could not be here, but I am very, very, honoured indeed that you have come out today in such numbers, and I am very happy to see again so many old friends.
If you will allow me just one personal reference--and then I want to get on with the subject we have in hand--there is today at this table my very oldest friend, a man of whom I conceived the very highest opinion upon our very first acquaintance. It was Dr. Clouse who brought me into the world--I am sorry to say-fifty years ago. (Applause.) He tells me he is eighty-six years of age, which I think shows inflation is in progress. I don't accept that figure at all.
Gentlemen, it has been a great experience to come from the Island of infinite shadows, Britain in the North Sea, with the hot breath of war a few miles across the Channel, to leave that Island with its nightly blackouts, its constant threat of death, its infinite courage and faith, and to come across the seas, and in a few days to cover these great stretches of Canada, where there are no frontiers, where the only walls are the four horizons, where there are the mountains and the two seas between the West and the rest of the world. It is good to breathe deeply, it is good to feel deeply again, because in this part of the world, in a country like Canada, there are hope and promise for the future, solace and sanctuary and opportunity for the troubled countries of the Old World. It is good, and it will be very hard in a few days to say "Goodbye" again, and go back. And yet, Gentlemen, if a man can choose where he can be at a time like this, I would not have been out of England in the last two years for anything which could have been offered elsewhere. (Applause.) To see a country which, like all democracies since the last war, has suffered in turn from indecisive leadership, from confusion of purpose, and bewilderment of counsel, to see that country meet the impact of fates, and shed all that is unworthy, to achieve, not by violence, but by mutual consent, real and absolute unity from top to bottom, and to see that country suffer and prevail, to see it endure its sacrifice and still keep its laughter,--this has been my privilege. Laughter!--when the British cease to laugh that will be a bad clay for the British race. British laughter is not the kind of laughter that the enemy likes, because it is the same laughter as that of old Elizabethan buccaneers. Churchill himself laughs, for he is both Elizabethan and a buccaneer. (Applause.)
All these things are having a profound effect upon Britain, not only in the war but also, undoubtedly, in the times ahead. Many, many changes are happening and I think they are significant. One is the new status which women are achieving. In Britain we feel now, or rather the Government feels, that wherever a woman can do a man's job, she must do it-not only in the factories but also in the army itself. We have now a growing and vast Women's Territorial Army in khaki, and they are in the same camps as the men. Whatever a woman can do to release a man for the fighting end of the army, she must do, and the women, of course, as women always do, are rising splendidly to this. You are seeing there many partnerships being formed, and one of them is this partnership between men and women. After the war is over, with women having proved that there are so many more things they can do than was thought possible before, the industrial development and the economic life will feel the effect. Women are going to be partners, just, as I solemnly believe, as the result of this war, labour and management and government will be partners.
Things are happening and one of the most significant is the raised status of British labour, the dignity of British labour, and the out and out patriotism of British labour. (Applause.) I saw something of this. As many of you know, when Winston Churchill assumed office in that dreadful and heartbreaking moment of crisis,-and surely no politician ever assumed office under such conditions, Belgium gone, Holland gone, France reeling back to the ropes, Italy coming into the war, Russia an enigma, and Japan possibly next week,-he said, in his own words, the very thing that Shakespeare had said before, "Come the three corners of the world in arms and we shall shock them".
It was a great moment. But you cannot do it entirely by speeches, you have to have action. Churchill turned for some man who was tough, some man who would drive things with a great frenzy, and he selected our old friend, Max Beaverbrook, who has done a grand job in this war. (Applause.) And, as you know, Beaverbrook looking about him for congenial souls, that is souls who would understand his temperament-and that is a lifetime study, Gentlemen; I spent fifteen years at it and I don't understand it yet-turned to his old friend, R. B. Bennett, who was over there. (Applause.)
Now, Gentlemen, I have got to be awfully careful, and, therefore, it will be quite improper of me to say that it was a bad day for Canada when Bennett left here. (Applause.) Gentlemen, you took me up quite wrongly, if I may say so. (Laughter.) If I may repeat those words--that is one thing I must not say. However, I think it is quite in order for me to say that it was a jolly good day for England when he arrived there. (Applause.) And so Beaverbrook put Bennett to work, and then he put that grand chap, Jack Bickle, to work, and then he put me to work.
It was a great thing to go around those factories. My job was created by Beaverbrook. With his extraordinary knowledge of psychology, he said, "By some luck, by some twist of the fates, Hitler did not arrive at the same time as the troops from Dunkirk. That was the time for him to invade and he didn't do it". Incidentally, Gentlemen, had he come, the one division properly equipped to meet him and able to put up a fine defence, was the first Canadian Division. (Applause.) But Beaverbrook said, "Quite obviously, Hitler is going to try to smash the Air Force. The Luftwaffe is going to try to break the R.A.F. and we have got to have machines. We have got to have them quick. The factories have got to work twenty-four hours a day. Then men and women and boys must work twelve hours a day at top pace and seven days a week".
He said, "You cannot longer treat labour as though they can't think things out for themselves. Tell them the story. Tell them why it is. Carry their judgment with you, and, if you carry their judgment, you will carry their souls".
It was a great experience, a great and unforgettable experience, to go into those great factories, to see sometimes the weakness of the management and sometimes the trouble by labour agitators,--fortunately, but little of this. Now, although I am a loyal Conservative Member of the British Parliament, in whatever lies ahead, I will be quite content that the future Britain should be built on the loyalty and decency of the British working men. (Applause.)
Well, they began to turn out the machines. The industry had been well planned, but it had been slow in getting up speed, and Beaverbrook, by every unconventional method in the world,--sometimes superb and sometimes almost comic opera--drove that industry at such a pace that the machines began to come out as if by a miracle.
But the bombing came and that was a problem, because, under the rule of the Home Department, when the sirens went, all factory workers had to go to their shelters. You can see how that meant the loss, the enormous loss, of production. Again, the Government put it to the workers, "Will you accept the roof spotters, who will not warn you until the planes are practically over, and then go back as soon as the planes have passed?" The workers agreed, and many hundreds of them gave their lives because of that--many hundreds. But, by the time the battle came, we had put into the hands of our pilots enough machines, just enough and no more than enough machines, and the best machines that ever went into the air.
It was a great moment in England's history, and when we give praise to the pilots-and no praise is too high--for winning the Battle of Britain, they must share it with their brothers in overalls, because the factories made it possible.
One of the best things about the war in Britain is that this time there is no cleavage between the man in overalls and the man in uniform. It is a habit of the pilots when off duty to visit the factories, and, as far as possible, we get the factory workers to visit the aerodromes. No pilot underestimates the factory part. I have seen them come back from some of their flights, I have seen them get out of a Hurricane, which has been hit and hit and hit again--but somehow the strands have kept together and the engine has kept turning--and I have seen them pat those Hurricanes with their hands like a jockey will do to a horse when it has won a race. They know what part workmanship plays in that.
The Battle of Britain, Gentlemen, was one of the strangest and most dramatic episodes in history. During those terrible days, you could see planes mounting up from behind the trees, climbing into the sky, rallying like horses at the start of the Grand National, and then turning and speeding toward the Channel. All day long they went up, and all day long they came back in formations in which there were not so many as had gone up. Those pilots fought; they went up, not once or twice or three times but sometimes five times a day. Surely, in the whole history of battles, men have never fought like those men. And who were they? Some of them were Canadians, and I still think the Canadian is the best pilot in the world. (Applause.) Some of them were Australians, some of them New Zealanders, some of them Americans. And among them was Billy Fisk, that brave young American who gave his life, and today, in St. Paul's, the inscription reads, "He Gave His Life For England".
But who were the British pilots who supplied the great majority of the strength of the R.A.F.? Not the sons of the aristocracy, because they still, by tradition, go into the army; not the sons of the working men because, perhaps the standard of education was higher than those boys could fulfil. They came from the little houses, just outside the towns, from the middle classes, the unknown people, the ex-officers of the last war. They were the sons. And in many cases, because of the harsh economic conditions of the last twenty years, they were the only sons. Every day in The Times there is that list of memoir's: In memory of our son, Pilot Officer this, Flying Officer that, killed over the Channel on such and such a date, only son of So-and-So. Over and over again.
Those unknown boys fought on as if the tradition dated back for centuries, and one of the bravest pilots in that fight, Gentlemen, was Wing Commander MacNab, who commanded the First Canadian Squadron. In Saskatoon the other day, MacNab, who was 35--I suppose there are a number of us here who wouldn't mind being 35 again, but for a Hurricane pilot that is a pretty old man, but he was 35-described to me the climax of the battle. He said that the fight had been so severe and the strain so great that none of his pilots could even take the risk of a single glass of beer,--so swift was the battle, so necessary the nerve control and the quickness of the mind, that they did not dare even that. And he said, when this Sunday, September 15th, broke, with its sunshine and the menace of clear skies, he wondered how much longer he could go on. The strain had become so great, both to the Luftwaffe and the R.A.F., things were at such tension, that the question was, which would snap, which would break, because human nature could not endure much longer. On that Sunday the Germans came over, he said, like the Germans came in the infantry in 1914, almost shoulder to shoulder. They came in great massed waves and MacNab took his Canadians up. They saw one wave coming, and behind, higher, another wave, and still another wave, until the skies seemed absolutely black with Germans. The problem was really how to manoeuvre in the sky, because it was so full of fighting machines. The battle went on all day long, and then the Germans threw a great mass of over 500 bombers against London. Against London in the daytime-and towards the late afternoon. But some luck or strategy, or, perhaps, because the British Secret Service had at last heard something--I don't know--the great formation of British fighters were working and shooting the Germans down like cattle. MacNab thinks that on that one day, 'taking the probable crashings and everything else, the Germans must have lost 500 machines.
When it was over, MacNab and his Canadians came down to the ground-not all of them, but those that had survived. Suddenly MacNab said, "Let's have a bottle of beer". The second in Command looked at him and said, "Mac, do you think the same as I do?" MacNab said, "Yes, this is the end. This cannot go on. They will not come tomorrow". And tomorrow dawned, the sun shone again, the skies were clear, and not one German machine crossed the Channel. (Applause.)
It was a brave and wonderful fight in which the whole of the people of Britain can take some pride. Because of that battle Britain still lives, and because Britain still lives, humanity can still hope, because that it what Britain means. Then the Germans, of course, terrified of daylight battle which they have never renewed on any scale, tried the bombing of London. What a blackguardly and foolish thing! As if, if London were destroyed to the last brick, it would not rise on the banks of the Thames again. It is absurd! The battle went on and on and on, as you know. One Friday, at the Home of Commons, a number of Canadian officers from Iceland and some Indian pilots came down. We had adjourned at three o'clock in the afternoon, and they wanted to see the House of Commons. I took them around. We went into the Debating Chamber, and they were terribly interested to be shown, and I took them were Churchill sat and told them how we did our business. As we went out we all stopped and looked back. The great old dusty scene, with all the untidy papers on the floor, with all its faults, the British House of Commons
The next day was Saturday. Dr. Malcolm Sargent was conducting in the afternoon (because all our concerts are held in the afternoon, as you can imagine) Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius", and he asked me if I would come to hear it. The concert went on to the end, with the orchestra and the London Philharmonic Chorus, until it came to that great sustained "Amen", held by the chorus, as the surging chords of the orchestra gave meaning and triumph to it. Darkness came in time that night. The warnings went as usual. The guns opened fire and the bombing started. It was a most concentrated effort the Germans had made, and they destroyed the House of Commons, until, when I saw it the next day, not one stone, not one piece of wood, could remind one that once that was the Debating Chamber of the British Parliament. The destitution was complete. And they got the Queen's Hall, where the "Amen" had been sung, and they got part of Westminster Abbey. The fools! The vandals! As if by destroying the House of Commons they could destroy the Briton's love of democratic government! As if by destroying Queen's Hall they could destroy the new love of good music which is sweeping Britain now! As if by destroying the Abbey, you could destroy the worship of God! Blackguards and fools they were, because that is not the way to defeat the British race. (Applause.)
In all this, Gentlemen, tradition has played a mighty part. I have told you about the Air Force which is making its own traditions. But in Britain, the British Isles, the tradition of other times still counts an awful lot and especially in that magnificent thing, the British Navy. I went down to Portsmouth a few weeks ago to visit a Canadian Captain of the Gunnery School there, a friend of mine, and he asked me if I had ever been on the Victory, and I said, "Oddly enough, I have never been on it". He said, "Well, let's go and see her".
So we went to Nelson's old ship. It is in drydock now, so that it won't rot. I can tell you that, a few months ago, a bomb hit the Victory, hit the drydock, and some of the girders that held the Victory were flung half a mile over Portsmouth. The old ship quivered, shook, but was still there when the explosion had gone. Gentlemen, it is made of British oak, four hundred years old. We went up to the quarter-deck where there is a plaque, "Here Nelson Fell", just as, down in the cockpit, there is a second plaque, "Here Nelson Died".
I said to my friend, the Captain of the Gunnery School, "I suppose this means quite a lot to you". Well, that was getting near an emotional scene for an Englishman, so he rather drew back and said, "Oh, yes, I suppose so-Oh, yes, I shouldn't wonder". Then he said, "As a matter of fact, this greatly impressed the Japanese. When I was in China waters not long ago, I went to visit the Japanese Fleet, and on the quarter-deck of Admiral Togo's battleship, which led in the attack of the last battle between Russia and Japan, they have a plaque, " 'Here Togo Nearly Fell'". "And", he said, "with that thoroughness which is Japanese, they had a glass case in which they had the uniform that Togo wore, including his underwear.
On the way off the Victory, as we were just going down, an officer came on board and they exchanged greetings. I asked my friend who the other fellow was. "Oh", he said, "he is in charge of the destroyers that take the convoys around the Channel. It is pretty tough, they come under gunfire every time".
I said, "What is he doing here?" "Well", he said, "he has got two or three hours off, I suppose, and I fancy he has come to talk to Nelson".
And that is the British Navy today. Whether it is the ship ordered by the German Navy not to use its wireless and to take to the boats, and its answer is to wire its position and open fire and go down with every man on board; or whether it is the Jervis Bay, guarding a convoy far too big for so small a ship, and charging into the raider, firing every gun as she went in flames fr6m bow to stern, with most of the convoy getting away; or whether it is the three cruisers outgunned, which drove the mighty Graf Spee into Montevideo Harbour and left it there in the bottom of the river. They don't bury their dead in England; they keep them working for them. Nelson, Wellington, Sir Richard Grenville, Drake--they have been called back, just as I sometimes think Churchill has been called back from the 16th century to bring a new era of greatness of language and heroism of action to the country of Great Britain and the British race all over the seas. (Applause.)
Churchill's leadership not only inspires us, but I know that it inspires you. It does more than that. He is the one great hope, the one man upon whom they can fasten in the occupied territories of Europe. When France fell, her bitterness against Britain was complete. I have heard many stories from Frenchmen about it. The first change came when Churchill gave the order, one of the most bitter orders that can ever have fallen to a Prime Minister, to fire on the French Fleet at Oran. Our Allies of the last war, our Allies of this war-partners in the Entente. With tens of thousands of our men buried in France from the last war, a British Minister had to say "Open Fire" on the French Fleet and kill Frenchmen. The Editor of the Paris Le Soir told me that the French got such a shock that they were in a blind fury for a moment; that then they said, "Britain intends to fight, Britain intends to fight"; and that from that moment opinion began to change.
And sometime--I think not yet for a while, but sometime in the future--the British Army, with its Canadian Divisions will cross the Channel and take Calais, preparatory to a great sweep against Germany when we hope the Americans will be coming in from the other side. When that day comes, I prophesy that the French people will rise up with us and give us every help they can. That will come, because the nation that gave to the world those three immortal words, Liberte, Fraternal, Egalite, is not going down in one disaster or at the behest of the hucksters of Vichy. France will rise again; Europe will rise again. Those martyrs of Czecho-Slovakia proclaim it. And when that day of resurrection comes, they will owe, the world will owe, much to the man who leads Britain at this hour.
Now, Gentlemen, as my time is up I want just to make a statement, and I think it is safer if I consult my notes in the process. A short time ago, in this room, I spoke to a mixed Canadian and American audience. In that speech I referred to Conscription in Britain and made one or two observations relating to the advisability or otherwise of adopting Conscription in Canada. Certain things have resulted from that incident, and I must ask your patience in allowing me to make a personal statement here in Toronto, not only in Toronto but in the room that might be described as the scene of the crime.
Contrary to one or two reports, I did not come here on a Government mission. Instead, it was to carry out a speaking tour which had been arranged in 1939 by MacLean's and which was interrupted by the war. Mr. Malcolm-MacDonald thought it might be a good thing to do it now, and the Minister of Information in London agreed to it, giving me my exits, and so on. I had absolutely no conversation in London at all, as to what I should say out here, none whatever, although I imagine that the Minister of Information thought I would be, on the whole, pro-British. (Applause.)
It seemed to me, on arrival, that what Canadians desired was a human interpretation of what is going on in the Old Country, a picture of the changing scene with respect to the war and to the future. To leave Conscription out of that picture, with its profound effect on British life, would have been to give an incomplete and censored review of Britain at war, and, quite frankly, Gentlemen, I absolutely refuse to speak to my own countrymen through a muzzle.
It did not seem to me a fortnight ago, nor does it now, that my remarks in any way impinged the sovereignty of the Dominion of Canada or the right of the Government to dictate its own affairs. We are at war, not only the Old Country, but the whole Empire. We are in a full-out partnership to the death or the victory, one or the other, but it is a full-out partnership. Canada is just as anxious, I know and you know, to make her full contribution, as Australia, or New Zealand, or Great Britain. And let me say this, Gentlemen, because I have now covered a great deal of the country, the Canadian war effort is greater and more comprehensive than popular opinion here or in the United States believes. It is very big. There is nothing anywhere finer than the Empire Training Scheme. It may prove the vital factor in the winning of this war. Because the greatest naval power is fighting the greatest land power, the issue will be settled in the air, and the Empire Training Scheme will play a great part in that.
But it seems to me there is no real issue involved in the choice between voluntary recruiting and conscription. It is merely a discussion as to which is the best method to carry out the avowed determination of the country, which is to fight with full place. That I gather. It is only a discussion as to the method. It has seemed to me that it might be useful that someone from Britain, someone who is known to you as one of your own people, might describe how conscription has worked in Britain, and, to tell the truth, it has been an enrmous success over there, (Applause.) It is not that it gives us the soldiers that we need. It does that, but it regularizes the position of every man in the factories and in the fields as well as in the Services. It ends the misuse of manpower.
In short, Gentlemen, it is efficient, and, in fighting a super-organized state like Germany, we can only do so with a maximum of efficiency. It was in these terms that I spoke here a fortnight ago. The great Imperialist organ, The Toronto Star, not surprisingly, leapt to the attack and accused me of interfering with matters which were not my business. With this encouragement the rest of that newspaper pack which bays with The Toronto Star, gave tongue. The Winnipeg Free Press, the Vancouver Sun, the Kingston Whig Standard, Le Canadienne, and others, said it was intolerant, and they were even joined by the Toronto Saturday Night, an austere publication, in saying the same thing.
In fairness and in gratitude, let me say that such responsible newspapers as The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Telegram, the Winnipeg Tribune, and many others, took an opposite point of view, and, I think, a more reasonable point of view. They were glad, and said so, that the Conscription issue had been raised in a manner in keeping with democracy, that is, in the open forum of public discussion, and that the right of the people to debate their own affairs is not yet extinct in Canada.
Mr. Chairman, I apologize to you for taking time to make this statement, but it seemed to me that the issue involved is a larger one than the mere question of whether a certain individual has happened to run foul of a certain group of newspapers, or whether he has outraged the hospitality of his hosts. And I want to submit that it brings to the front this issue, as to whether or not there shall be continued freedom of speech; and, believe me, Gentlemen, if freedom of speech goes, freedom of the press will not hang on much longer afterward.
Finally, I just want to say this one thing. Because Canadians leave Canada sometimes and go to other countries to make their way, must they be spiritually disfranchised? I don't think that is the highest wisdom or the highest statesmanship. In England they didn't object to electing me to Parliament because I was a Canadian; they are glad to have the Canadian point of view and the Canadian temperament in their discussions. It is very hard to throw off the motherhood of Canada. No matter where one goes, no matter where one makes his way, it is the Motherland. Our roots are here. We consider the interests of Canada, we gladly do so, and I still think, when we come back and you do us the honour of turning out like you have today to listen to us, you would rather have us talk, not under orders or not with reservations, but as brothers and friends who are enjoying a frank and generous reunion.
Thank you. (Applause-prolonged.)
MR. W. FRANK PRENDERGAST, President of the Canadian Club: Gentlemen, my experience is that it usually requires a newspaper man to get into a real fracas with the press, so our speaker today has, perhaps, particular qualifications. While we might disagree on some subjects, we will certainly all agree on this, that it was a fortunate day for Canada when Beverley Baxter left Canada to take our point of view to Britain, and to bring home to us, on those very fortunate days when he comes back to us, the story of what is going on over there.
It is quite apparent, Mr. Baxter, that the Ministry of Public Information was right in its estimates of your sentiments in this war, when they expected you to prove yourself pro-British. Their judgment, at least on that occasion, was certainly fitting and proper.
I think there is little reason to say anything more today in the way of thanks to Mr. Baxter. His reputation, I think, has produced a meeting of almost unprecedented size, and his rare gifts as an observer and student will send us all away delighted that we came. On behalf of this audience, I thank you, Mr. Baxter, for coming here. (Applause.)