THE EMPIRE IN AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
AN ADDRESS BY MAJOR F. J. NEY, M.C.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday, March 21, 1946
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen, in introducing to you our guest of honour, I do not think that I can do better than make use of the title given him by the Press, that of "British-Canadian Liaison Officer Extraordinary".
Born and educated in England, he lived for a few years in the Mid-East and, whilst there, served as the Headmaster of schools in Cyprus and in Egypt. He came to Canada in 1909, taking the position of Chief Secretary, Department of Education for the Province of Manitoba.
In 1910 he founded the Overseas Education League, through whose auspices so many students and teachers have been enabled to visit other parts of the Empire.
In September, 1914, he joined the British Expeditionary Force, was mentioned in despatches three times and was awarded the Military Cross, the Belgian, also the French Croir de Guerre.
He returned to Canada in 1920, at which time it was mainly through his efforts that the National Council of Education came into existence and today he is the Executive Vice-President of that organization.
Credit goes to him for the formation of the National Lectureship Scheme, which brought to this country more than 200 distinguished men and women who through their addresses made a splendid contribution to the various fields of human endeavour.
He is the originator and founder of the Empire Youth Movement, inaugurated in 1937 in England and Canada and which is now being developed in all parts of the Empire.
When the evacuation of England took, place in 1940, it was through his arrangements that several hundred Public School children were brought to Canada and affiliated with Private Schools here.
A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, of the Royal Empire Society and the Royal Zoological Society, he has been honoured by St. Andrews University of Scotland with the Degree of Doctor of Laws.
He has just returned to Canada after extensive travel throughout South Africa, the Middle East and the Continent, under various auspices.
Gentlemen, it is with pleasure that I now present to you Major F. J. Ney, M.C., who will address us on the subject: "The Empire in Africa and the Middle East".
MAJOR F. J. NEY: May I, first of all, Mr. President, assure you and the members of the Empire Club of Toronto, how greatly I value the honor you have done me in inviting me to be your guest today.
Though I still speak with the tongue of an Englishman, as I am not infrequently reminded, I have lived in Canada and served her to the best of my ability for 38 years. I am not indulging in cliches when I say that I should be very happy indeed to regard today's honour as the crowning satisfaction of these years. But, many as the years have been--I can assure you I am not yet seeking a crown-in Canada, or elsewhere! Indeed, it is obvious that in this urgent, angry hour, that there is still much to be done, though the time in which to do it may now be short.
It was this conviction which, following a year in Great Britain under the aegis of The Ministry of Information, led me to accept an invitation to visit South Africaan invitation extended in 1938 through Lieut. Colonel E. G. Malherbe, soon to become Director of Military Intelligence. Once the journey had been decided upon, the plans developed quickly and extensively. Ultimately my itinerary covered not only South Africa, as the joint guest of The Union Government and The Rhodes Trust, but practically the whole of that great Continent, the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. I served jointly under various auspices including the East Africa Command and the Middle East Command. In all I have covered over 50,000 miles. Obviously, therefore, I must rely upon both the imagination and the knowledge of my audience, seen and unseen, if the story of this lengthy Odyssey is to appear at all intelligible. We may linger but very briefly at stopping places so full of interest both to mind and eye, that they must be seen to be either understood or fully appreciated. Our halts must not only be brief but fewer in number than I could wish.
I set out in convoy from Liverpool on a cold November day in 1942--with influenza and a temperature of over 103. It was a bad start, for I had broken the rules at the outset, having but shortly before signed a document to the effect that I was perfectly fit.
The story of the voyage itself would make a not unworthy subject for such a meeting as this, for it was one continual thrill. Every stage of the long voyage when the submarine warfare was at its height, filled me with increasing admirating for the organization which lay behind it and the courage of those veteran commanders who, night and day, lived upon the bridge and the officers and men who sailed the many ships of the convoy.
It is from the bridge of one of these small ships--the "Sarpedon" of 7,000 tons--that this sketchy survey of the Empire in Africa and the Middle East must, must in any event, begin. But one incident of that memorable voyage of 39 days must suffice.
We proceeded by devious courses in convoy as far as Takarada on the West Coast. As in a large well-run railway system, we reached unmarked junctions upon our route from where ships went forth upon their different duties or where we were joined by others coming out of the East or West, nosing their way to their appointed stations without fuss or incident. These, like the "Sarpedon", were veterans: they knew their job. It was fascinating to watch them coming and going. No more punctual schedule was ever maintained; there was never a hitch.
But there came a day when, arriving on deck one morning, I found we were alone. There were, tell tale wisps and lines of smoke upon the horizon-emphasizing the fact that from now on, we were to proceed upon our long journey alone-trusting, presumably, to our speed. I climbed to the bridge to see if the Captain were in a happier mood, for he loathed convoys. "He'd much rather be on his own", he was constantly saying, and, as I anticipated, he was happier.
I asked him what was our top speed-we had become great friends and were now alone, so that he could be confidential. "Well," he replied, with all the pride of a Nelson and the assurance of a Drake, "We might blow our ruddy funnels sky high, but we could do a good 10Y2 knots". "Grand", I replied, "After all the new subs can only do 16".
There were, of course, moments of excitement, but on Christmas Eve, 1942, in a temperature in the shade of 93, we landed at Cape Town, that lovely city at Africa's southernmost point, the great headland of which Sir Francis Drake, looking up to it from the deck of the famous Golden Hind has written, "This Cape is the most stately thing and the finest cape that we have seen in the whole circumference of the earth". The table cloth of white cloud was thoughtfully spread over Table Mountain and the Cape Rollers rolled and rocked our stout-hearted "Sarpedon". All was as it should be; a never-to-be-forgotten voyage had come to an end. I was in the Union of South Africa, one of the most hospitable countries in the world. Of this I shall hope to say more on some other occasion. Today, we are thinking of the Empire in Africa, rather than of the countries and the regions which comprise it.
There are but just over three million Europeans in the whole of Africa, and of these, a little more than two million live in the Union. In Canada, we generally assume that South Africa is a young country. As a Nation it is, but it is interesting to recall that the Hollander, Van Riebeck, established his settlements at the Cape of Good Hope only thirty years after the sailing of the Mayflower. Cape Town itself, was born before New York or Washington had been heard of. It had become of considerable importance, lying as it did on the sea route to the East, a century before the Battle of The Heights decided the destiny of Canada.
The history of the Cape Province and of the Union is too well known to need more than a word. Following the Dutch came the British; the former afterwards moved North on their Great Trek and Britain ultimately paid Holland four million pounds for the Colony, only to "contribute" it to the Union which resulted from the Boer War and a treaty without precedent in history. That it's terms were wise and the generosity of the victor a rich investment in goodwill and understanding, the years have magnificently demonstrated. Unity has been built in the face of two great wars involving immense strain upon loyalties and national temperaments and despite a most regrettable controversy over the Union's flag. Civil war was narrowly averted after no little bloodshed and the country divided as it never had been since the signing of the Treaty of Veerninging. Today, South Africa flies two flags-the Union Jack and the Union Ensign. In the latter, the Union Jack occupies a pitiably small segment. The decision arising out of bitter controversy resulted in a flag which satisfied neither Africaander nor Briton--a fact from which we in Canada may possibly have something to learn. The subsequent integration of South Africa is illustrated by the fact that the Union forces in the World War comprised percentages of the two races exactly corresponding to those of the nation as a whole, these being approximately 65 per cent Africaans and 35 percent British.
I believe South Africa has chosen its path of destiny if only by reason of her position on the frontiers of Asia, on which I shall have something more to say later. I believe that South Africa intends to remain in the Imperial Commonwealth. I believe the Union regards it as an excellent Club, membership in which possesses many advantages and carries with it an honour second to none of it's kind. Incidentally, no good club ever touts for members as is now being so notably demonstrated by Britain's attitude to India, and in the constitution of the new Union in Malaya. Possibly the greatest tribute paid to this world-wide club was made by that great South African soldier and statesman, Denys Reitz, just before his death in London, in a foreword to an exceptionally interesting volume by Julian Mockford, called "Here are South Africans", "In the war of 1899-1902", wrote Denys Reitz, "I served as a private soldier under Field-Marshal Smuts and when we were defeated, I for one, went into exile rather than live under the Union Jack. But Mr. Mockford tells us how the wheel has come full circle. How the British, having defeated us, dealt so magnanimously with South Africa, that we old recalcitrants are content in the knowledge that within the four corners of the Empire we enjoy complete liberty, a liberty greater than we possessed under our own rule of long ago."
But I must hurry on for we have still great distances to travel and many calls to make.
Thus far I, have spoken only of the Union and of it's white population of two millions. What of the African who numbers in the Union alone, over nine million, presenting a problem the solution to which no man can see?
But I must say a word about the three Native Territories which lie within the Union, yet form no part of it. Basutoland, Swaziland and Bechuanaland, all of which I visited. The Basuto is a splendid fellow-with a desperately keen appreciation of his personal freedom under the Colonial Office Administration. Much the same can be said for the Swazis and the Bechunas.
It cannot be denied however that in all three territories there is a prejudice against the Union based upon historic rather than current policies.
It was some part of my programme, indeed, an important part, to meet the African in all the British Colonies and personally and without reference to local authority ascertain his attitude towards the Empire and those immediately responsible for his welfare and safety. May I then, as we go Northward, illustrate the response to my enquiries as briefly as possible. For our purposes, let us assume that my question throughout is the same: "Do you wish the British to go and some International organization to take you over?" Here, then, are some of the answers:
In Bast-uoland, at Maseru the Capital:--"No, we would rather die".
In Bechuanaland, at Serowe:--"No ! for then we should have neither Father or Mother". This from a greyhaired chief, well over 70.
Ire Tanganyika, which as you know is a mandated territory: "The only change we want is to become a real part of the Empire. We went to belong!"
And so on, through the Rhodesias, Kenya, Uganda and Somaliland, and out to the islands in the Indian Ocean. The answer was always the same though the language and the expressions varied.
I think, for instance, of an occasion when in Kenya Colony, I stood in an "Information Hut" used in the training of the African as a soldier. And how splendid a soldier he has proved, only those who fought beside him in Burma can tell you!
A small group and I were standing before a map of the worldwith the Empire coloured in red. I had been showing them where I came from and emphasizing the greatness of this family of peoples to which a quarter of mankind belonged. There followed a silence--a characteristic achievement of the African. Then a Sergeant, speaking as if to himself said: "Yes--one great Shamba". Here was his idea of the Empire--a great Shamba, a home and garden and family, all in one, for such is the Shamba to the African. It is his all.
But, we are visiting Africa, not merely British Africa, for we need to know something of the influence which the Empire exerts on the rest of the Continent. Because of that, among others, I paid two visits to Ethiopia, first as the guest of the British Mission and afterwards at the request of the Emperor. Time permits of one observation only and I make it merely to illustrate that Britain is not always the preying overlord her enemies-and not a few of her supposed "disinterested" friends--so often proclaim to be. Ethiopia was, it will be recalled, the first of the enslaved nations to be freed. Only Empire forces. were used but in a subsequent understanding reached with our great southern neighbour, the British accepted the Military Mission; the U. S. A. accepted the economic.
The British Mission is headed by one of the finest officers and men I have ever been privileged to meet--Major General Cottam. It was he who provided me with one of the most significant experiences of my African' journey, by asking me to inspect his Boy's Battalion on parade and afterwards to give them a talk. Here were boys' he had literally gathered in from the gutters and off the steps of the brothels of Addis Ababa. Disciplined and trained to honour the simple uniforms he provided, these boys constituted the greatest satisfaction his difficult task had afforded him. Everywhere he went, boys would rush his car and thrust little pieces of paper in the window as a plea to be allowed to join his Boy's Battalion, then numbering about 500. It happened every time we drove through Addis Ababa.
"What a pity", I said on one occasion, "that you can't double the size of it". "Yes" he said quietly, "I should like to do that immensely, but it costs quite a bit of money you know!"
The Economic Mission, as I have already said, was undertaken by the United States. Recently, it was announced that it had acquired the mineral rights of Ethiopia for 50 years. It, too, undoubtedly, will do a good job to the advantage of both countries.
The most amazing, and I think the most inspiring place in Africa, is Khartoum, the capital of the Soudan, which, frankly, I believe to be the best governed country in the world: its people certainly among the happiest. It is the best possible monument to the Empire in Africa. It is, as you know, an Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, a form of dual administration which obviously has many advantages. Khartoum, as many will recall, was townplanned by Kitchener, an engineer of no mean capacity. It's broad avenues and fine streets follow the lines of the Union Jack. The city is one of the cleanest and the best administered in Africa, with buildings which would do credit to any of the modern cities of North America.
Across the river is Omdurman, the largest African city on the Continent. Here, one evening I spoke to a large audience of Soudanese soldiers and afterwards showed them a part of .the official film on the King's visit to Canada. From the moment the "Empress of Australia" arrived in Quebec, to the end of the film, these fine, tall, swarthy soldiers joined in Canada's welcome and in the cheers of the Canadian crowd. It was a touching experience. Afterwards, I expressed to the British Resident Commissioner, that the echoes of these cheers would not reach the Abdin Palace in Cairo!
And because the Anglo-Egyptian Condominum has been so great a success, I suggest the same principle might be adopted in deciding the future of the ex-Italian Colonies in Africa, Britain participating with Ethiopia in Eirtrea and with Italy in Tripolitania. Thus would Ethiopia be given a much-needed outlet to the sea and means to that assistance from Britain which is so much desired. Italy, on the other hand, would not be cut off from Africa where her colonization has on the whole, been of a high order and where, in association with Britian, that work could be carried on to it's logical conclusion and under humane conditions. The British and Somali Territories on the East Coast must obviously be united under Britain to the essential grass lands of the Ogaden, for which area Ethiopia should, in my opinion, be amply compensated by the joint acquistion of Eritrea and by a cash payment of considerable size The days of the scramble for Africa are over and on no account must that policy be re-started by the admission of Russia's claim to Tripolotania That way lies grave danger to the whole continent and to the Western World. From Capetown to the Mediterranean, Africa is stirring, not only because of world events and the call to the natives from alien sources and from malcontents within, but by virtue of the impact of Asia which is so clearly to be seen all along the East Coast. Of all the continents, strategically, Africa has now become the most important. Asiatic bridgeheads, stretching along thousands of miles of it's coast facing the Indian Ocean have already been firmly established, making the fateful decision soon to be taken by India a matter of momentus concern to the West. Of the many impressions arising out of my African journey, this is outstanding. But it is more than' an impression, it is a conviction which an impartial observer cannot escape.
There are, however, other impressions which fill one with less apprehension. Let me as briefly as possible, touch on one or two, for, like the Phoenicians, six centuries before the Christian Ere, I circumnavigated the whole of Africa, although in my case, I travelled by sea and air. I did more, for as the result of many deviations, I travelled extensively by car and plane in Central Africa, visiting not only Britain's colonies, but those of other nations too. I intend to draw no comparisons; merely to record impressions arising out of personal observation undertaken for a clearly defined purpose.
Looking back now, I am more than ever impressed by the outstanding fact that the world's greatest asset in Africa is the influence of Britain exerted through a small army of conscientious colonial administrators and founded upon a tradition of justice and humanity. Much has been left undone; often much might have been done better. It may be urged that economic development has been too slow, resulting in lower standards of living than should be tolerated. Perhaps that is true and yet, here in these British Colonies, it is undoubtedly true to say that you find more contentment and real happiness than are to be found anywhere in the world. Unconsciously, yet instinctively, the African finds in his association with the British Administrator, something that is more spiritual than political. He is made to feel that he "belongs" and that thanks to the British conception of trusteeship and fellowship rather than suzerainity, he remains himself, an African, with not a little pride of race and place. Like the British, he believes that speed may be an evil where the true good of man is concerned.
He does not want wealth, nor in most cases does he want to be harnessed to so-called democratic ways of government, responsibility for which he has neither the capacity nor the desire to assume. He has that inherent simple wisdom which convinces him that what has taken the British people a thousand years to achieve--rather imperfectly--he cannot do over night. For Africa's sake we shall do well to bear this in mind in this unsettled hour, for the political movements now to be discerned do not come spontaneously from the African people; they are foreign in origin, though in some cases, inspired and directed by Africans with foreign training and foreign money.
And this British influence of which I have spoken derives almost directly from the traditions of service built up by a mere handful of men and women who have devoted their lives to Africa. Here is something on which I should like to speak at length but time does not permit. I can only remind you of Cecil Rhodes, the real author of the South African Union, of Livingstone, the missionary in Central Africa and of Gordon, the soldier, in the north.
It was my very good fortune to be in Khartoum on Gordon's Sunday, a day given up to the memory of that great man.
Already Cairo had become clamorous for the Union of the Soudan, and in the afternoon I went to the old city of Omdurman to discuss this matter with a group of its principal sheiks. If my Omdurman friends know anything of this matter, and I have not misread the quiet thoughtful answers given to my questions, but very few Soudanese desire such a union. Indeed, the great majority, I was assured, would fight to the death rather than see it come to pass. They move forward to greater political freedom, not to thraldom under Egypt, a country which I know well enough to be certain of one thing. It is this. The present clamour for the hurried evacuation of British troops is desired only by a negligible portion of the Egyptian people. The many, including a large section of the educated and cultured classes as well as the Fellahin or peasants, are dubious as to the advantages to be gained by a break with Britain. The one fears the shadow of the Great Bear which hangs over the country; the other,, the patient peasant, the corruption of the political leaders and the errant ways of justice.
And these fears are widely shared in varying degree by' the countries of the Middle East, most of which I visited twice. Political exigencies lie closely at the root of the demands for Britain's exit. The news that Syria, with whose President I lunched in Damascus, has now requested that British troops be not withdrawn until the French depart, makes clear the intention underlying the original Syrian demands. Said a small group of business men in Beirut: "Take us into the Sterling Area and we will promise not to press our political aims for two years. We cannot build a stable economy upon an ever-weakening franc, in the future of which we have no confidence. We are actually a part of a large Sterling area and we cannot live as a franc island in the midst of it".
Said a well-known citizen of Baghdad, with whom I spent a most interesting and informative hour--"I have but one complaint to make of the English. She freed us from the Turks, started us upon the path of democracy and then left us while we viere but learning to walk". In Palestine, the politically-dazed Jew, representing but a relatively small part of the old Hebrew population, makes demands which he now knows not only to be unfair but unwise. No longer orthodox, his own spiritual anchors having been lost in the sea of modern thought, lie has been all too ready to listen to the insinuating whisper in his ear of an idealogy which promises all but can give so little.
Throughout the Middle East, as in India, that whisper is being heard with an ever growing fear at the heart. Now at the eleventh hour many are seeing that incipient chaos will but serve a powerful neighbour in search of a pretext to "adopt" smaller nations as a so-called means to the "security of his frontiers". Voices cautioning patience and order are being quietly insinuated into great masses of people from Hong Kong to Haifa. "Better a live dog than a dead lion", says the African and the wisdom of this is now beginning to percolate through the nations in this harrassed part of the world.
Congress and Moslem League in India warn the rioters in Bombay and Calcutta against the effects of their violence; Palestine takes time to do some thinking under quieter and less aggressive conditions; Syria bids the British troops stay; Iraq as a Sovereign State within the Empire now appears to many of its leaders, including the Regent, to be much desired, and Iran is wondering why the country has been left without the counterpoise of British and American troops.
It is all very confusing, for here in the Middle East we are beyond the frontiers of the British Empire. Here, true, are Mandates, but with no assured future of association with that Empire. And yet throughout these lands, as in Africa, British prestige and influences transcend that of all other nations or of groups of nations. This fact, in itself, is of vital importance, not only to those immediately concerned, but to the world as a whole: It is a fact in which we, as Canadians, should take a deep pride. This prestige is ours, too, to use for the good of mankind. To the peoples of these many lands which I have visited, the British Empire is a vital living organism; a mighty fellowship. They believe in it as a Dart of their faith. On its continuity they instinctively feel that all their hopes for the future depend. Those whom historic circumstance has decreed a measure-and it is only a measure-of political freedom, look at us, as I sum up the situation, with a suggestion of envy in their eyes. Were we, ourselves, to take that pride in it which is its due, that envy, I am convinced, would be turned to hope, and hope to longing. They know, these simple people, that they are free to live their own lives at this time, because the Empire has so fully justified itself as a servant to them and to mankind. They have seen that its own aspirations are one with those of mankind itself. Nothing but our own doubts, persistent disparagement of our own achievements and lack of a fiery faith in our mission, stand in the way of an ever-widening loyalty upon which the greater Commonwealth of Man may ultimately be built. Like ourselves, the Empire is not perfect, but it is the greatest political and humane achievement of all time and the only international organization which has thus far proved workable. If the United Nations Organization is to succeed it must go forward with the same spirit of tolerance and with the conviction that the freedom of the individual is a far more precious thing than so-called political independence. It is for such principles that we fought. The peace will be lost and the world turned over to savagery and chaos if now we forget them. They are the principles constituting the very essence of the Christian philosophy, now being challenged as never before in its history.
In conclusion, I turn again to Africa, where I have many friends whom I hope to see again soon. From the plane which takes me back to England, from Cairo to Benghazi, Castel, Benito and Cagliari, in my imagination I hear the voices and the many noises of that mysterious, fascinating, continent. I seem to hear heavy throbs upon the desert sands, made by great advancing hosts. Where do they come from? Where to? On what journey are they bent? Britain has built a bridge between Africa and the Western World and made Christianity a welcome and a hopeful way of life to millions of the African peoples. Will they take the road over that bridge, or, beguiled by a new and insistent teaching, turn north and east?
The answer must, I am convinced, largely rest with us. Our responsibility is heavy, though largely foreign to Canada. But we cannot avoid it and be true to our traditions or worthy of our heritage:
We, and the world owe much to the Empire in Africa, for if the population of the British Colonies had seized the opportunity and turned upon Britain, so critical was the situation at different stages of the war, that the Battle of North Africa might well have been lost. Indeed, that is more than probable. Much, too, is owed to the Union of South Africa, which, like Canada, was free to take its own way. But let us not forget that our gratitude is none the less due to the peoples of the Middle East, who, in the face of what appeared, from time to time almost certain German victory, stood firmly with us. Faith in Britain and the Empire held, for which fact, let it not now be overlooked, the world of free men and those who would be free stands greatly in our debt.
From Halifax to Cambia, to Freetown and the Cape; from Pretoria to Mauritius and the Seychelles; to Dares-Salsam, Monbasa and Berberaa on the fiery Red Sea; from Addis Ababa to Khartoum; to Cairo and Jerusalem; to Baghdad, Demascus and Tehran, and in the many lands through which our long journey has taken us, whatever loyalty be held, instinctively the peoples know that while England and the Empire stand freedom cannot fall. It is that faith, which more than any other bond, shall yet knit together all mankind, if we, too, but hold it, fearlessly and with confidence in its power for universal good.