THE WORLD FROM WESTMINSTER
AN ADDRESS BY
A. BEVERLEY BAXTER, ESQ., M.P., LONDON, ENG.
August 24, 1939
DR. F. A. GABY, the President of the Club, occupied the Chair, and introduced the Guest Speaker, as follows: Gentlemen of The Empire Club
We are highly honoured in having with us today as guest-speaker, Mr. Beverley Baxter of London.
It is very opportune that we should have this great pleasure of hearing one who is so closely in touch with Empire affairs at a time when conditions are so critical.
He is not a stranger in Toronto or Canada, although it is some twenty-five years ago that he left for overseas. His frequent visits still keep him in touch with his native land.
Mr. Baxter, during his early boyhood years, took an active part in the musical life of Toronto. As a boy he used to sing with Professor Blakeley's choir at Sherbourne Street Methodist Church. He was a member of the then famous "Blakeley Boy Trio", which toured all over Ontario. The other members of the trio were Jack Gooch and Clarence Glass, and an extra attraction was frequently a boy organist by the name of Ernest Macmillan.
Mr. Baxter commenced his literary career on the suggestion of Charles Chambers, of Chambers Journal, during convalescence in Scotland after the war. He is also indebted to Col. MacLean who was the first to suggest a journalistic career, and one of his first writings was in MacLean's Magazine. In his autobiography, "Strange Street", Mr. Baxter tells a fascinating story of his contacts with the great figures of the Empire.
In 1920 he joined the London Daily Express under very great doubts indeed, and I think what has happened the last few days justifies those who had those doubts. Now what has Germany accomplished by this move? Undoubtedly she has had a swift diplomatic success. We may say what we like about the Germans: we may think what we like. But in fairness, gentlemen, they do get things done, don't they? The swiftness of this thing is really astonishing. But remember, that Stalin has been trying for it for five years behind the scenes; but we knew it in London.
What has Germany done now? She has eased her position so far as Poland is concerned, but she has completed, if it was not already completed before, the encirclement of fear and hatred in Europe.
We speak lightly of the Balkan States and the Danubian States, and they are a quarrelsome family, causing much distress to themselves and to Europe, but there are some brave little nations in Europe, and I think if you would travel-as many of you have-if you would travel through Europe and see those little nations keeping their culture alive, keeping their independence, and today, at this hour, daring to stand against the German machine, I think you have to admit that bravery is something that you find even in those little Balkan countries. (Applause)
You have today Hungary, Hungary on the very frontier of Germany, and the pressure on Hungary from Berlin in the last year has gone to the very limit, and still Hungarians stand out for their freedom.
I was in Roumania last year, and Roumania has had a taste of German occupation. Roumania too keeps her dream and will fight for it when the time comes.
And Poland! What do we know of Poland? Paderewski came to Massey Hall so often: Pilsudski, the General; and perhaps Madame Curie. Otherwise we know very little of the Poles. But they too are facing catastrophe and possibly destruction, but they are saying, and they are saying tonight, "Better death than slavery again." Although I think we should only regard Poland as a point on the map, as a point where we say to Hitler; "Thus far and no further", it is still possible for us to feel human admiration for men who put an ideal so far above physical survival. Well, as we look around, Gentlemen, we come to that land of sunny skies, Italy, and although I feel very little temptation today to think or speak except with absolute seriousness, I do feel that Italy is perhaps possibly a vital point in this whole situation, and certainly a point not without some humour. When Chamberlain went to Rome last January I decided to go as well. That is, I went the day before so as not to embarrass the Prime Minister by the two of us arriving together. (Laughter) So I took my faithful wife with me, and we went to the Grand Hotel in Rome the day before Chamberlain was due-and I would give you this advice, when travelling in Europe always go to the Grand Hotel wherever you are, because there is always something going on there, unexpected.
When we arrived I was a little disgruntled to see the foyer full of Swastika flags. It seemed an inappropriate beginning to British entry. Just then a little man walked in, with twelve officers marching behind him, and everybody making the Fascist salute. I said to the hotel proprietor, "Who is the gentleman in uniform?" "Oh," he said, "that is Dr. Funk, the German Trade Minister." So I sent word up to the Doctor enquiring if I might see him, and he said, with German courtesy, that nothing would make him so happy, but he was just off. And out they marched again, this funny little man, with the officers behind him, all made the Fascist salute again, and Funk disappeared. And when I turned around, not a Swastika flag was to be seen in the hotel. Somehow, Gentlemen, I think that is not without significance in the events which lie ahead.
The next day Chamberlain was due to arrive, and we went down to the station to see him come. The place was very crowded but there was a sign up, "Journalisti", and owing to having been educated at Harbord Collegiate no doubt, I was able to translate that almost at once into "Journalists". Well I want to describe that scene for a moment because again I think it will have something to do with the events which are crowding upon us. There was an archway in the station and all the little Italian generals about five feet tall came in, not only covered with medals on both sides but with medals clinging to medals, clusters of them. There was an Oxford graduate-not an Oxford Grouper but an Oxford graduate--there and I said to him, "What are all these medals? I don't seem to be able to remember the battles for which they were bestowed." He said, "They are for the 100 yards, the 220 and the 440." (Laughter) All the little Italian generals came in swaggering around, and finally came Count Ciano looking very much like Prince Danilo of the "Merry Widow". Then came in the escort of 100 very fine troops and with the death skull and crossbones on their helmets. Then the rumour spread that Mussolini was not going to arrive, but suddenly the air grew tense, the very heart-beat of Italy stopped, Ciano went out, and in marched Ciano and Mussolini, with the Duce's chin a foot out looking like an avenging Thor, a very broad man, extraordinarily broad with his waist pulled in by a rope, and marched down, turned right, marched down, turned to the Guard, kept on marching, inspected them, thrust his hand into his side, -and of course the train should have come in. (Laughter) Italy, however, is still Italy and the train did not come in and Mussolini held his dramatic poise as long as he could, and then broke into a most agreeable grin that went right across his face. I swear he still sees the joke of being dictator.
At any rate, the train then came in, and out stepped perhaps the most discussed and in some ways the most condemned and in some ways the most controversial figure of our time. Out stepped Neville Chamberlain in his morning coat, with his umbrella and silk hat, followed by Lord Halifax looking rather like a benevolent bloodhound. I cannot tell you the extraordinary effect of Mr. Chamberlain's appearance upon the whole scene. In the midst of all these pantomime soldiers-I mean in appearance, I am not saying anything about their character-but with everybody thrusting their chins out and swaggering, out this man Chamberlain came like somebody from a more decent world. He looked like a great gentleman and he moved like one. (Applause) It had such an effect upon Mussolini that that night at the reception at the Palazzo Venezia Mussolini wore tails and a white tie-which he should never do. (Laughter)
But, Gentlemen, I saw Chamberlain leave the station. He drove through the streets in an open car, and the streets were crowded with people who had come from the Seven Hills, and I saw women with tears running down their faces reaching out their hands to him as if something clean and decent had happened in the world which had pierced the dark night which they had experienced so long. And that went on and never stopped right through his stay.
The people of Italy were profoundly touched, profoundly moved, and standing here in Toronto today, with possibly the climax of disaster only a few hours off, I do not believe yet that we have seen the complete harvest of Chamberlain's brave and gentle attempt to rouse Europe to better things.
Who and what is this man Chamberlain? I see by a letter in the Globe and Mail of yesterday, that a lady said that I am faithful to Mr. Chamberlain because of hope of political profit, and because I could not hold my seat without him. It does not matter; people must write to the papers about something. But let me say this, a private member in his first Parliament, anxious for a political future, does not pin his faith to a Leader of seventy years of age knowing that the man cannot stand the strain very much longer. That is not good politics and good tactics. I believe profoundly in this man, although I realize that the events of the last few days have made his future difficult and dark.
But I want to go back for just one moment to Munich because there will be many people who think and many people who say that because of that, we have the situation today. I just want to say one word. Supposing that one of you were the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Remember what British policy had forced upon it. We had believed in disarmament. We had led the world in disarmament. Then came the situation which we all know. There sits Neville Chamberlain, with the Czecho Slovakia crisis blown up into a hurricane, and supposing he receives a letter from Monsieur Daladier saying, "You must get out of this, we are not in a position to fight." Supposing he calls his Chiefs of Staff together as he did, and he says to Hore-Belisha, "How about the army?" And Belisha says, "We have no army, but it is ready." He says to the Navy, "How about the Navy?" And the Navy, as it always does, says, "We are ready." (Applause) And he says to the Air Force, "What about you?" And they say, "We are caught out by three months. Three months we are caught out because we have had to build an industry as well as build aeroplanes."
What about America? The silence from Washington was not more noisy than the silence of the grave at that time!
What about the Dominions? From Australia and New Zealand-"to the last man". From Canada--a silence not more noisy than Washington. Not from the heart of Canada, because, believe me, the very silence of a Government sometimes allows the heart-beat of a people to be heard. (Prolonged applause)
And so Chamberlain flew to Munich. He saw it with very clear eyes. Never in the history of politics did a man go on an errand with fewer cards in his pocket, and he stopped that war. At least he gave the Democracies a chance to think, he gave the Democracies a chance to pull themselves together and to speak with one voice, and he gave England a chance to arm to the teeth. Today, Gentlemen, whatever happens, whatever happens, the Mother Country is ready. (Applause) Those of you who have not been, perhaps, over to the Mother Country the last few months would hardly believe the change in the ordinary life of the people. Everything is tuned to a supreme national effort. It has its humorous side, because in England humour is always near the surface. I went to a private dinner party two or three weeks ago for about twenty people. The host did not turn up for an hour later, but we ate his dinner nevertheless. When he came he said, "I am awfully sorry, but I have been out on the fire engines." He is a fireman. Another incident,--a man said to me, a man of very considerable position in England, "Come with me, I want to show you how well I am getting on in Air Raid precautions." He took me to a garage where they all put on their gas helmets and oil skins, and they poured out an imitation of mustard gas on the pavement, whereupon he took a broom and swept it off. Then he said, "That is because I am so good that I got that job. If I continue, I hope some day to pour the pail out."
But behind that effort, is determination and although Russia has double-crossed us or played safe, it does not matter. Remember this: Communist Russia broke away
from the Allies in 1917. Germany made her supreme effort after 1917 and she was defeated. Today, in 1939, Communist Russia breaks away again. Germany hails it as a great victory for her. But Germany has yet to deal with the British Navy and the French Army, the finest Army in the world.
I am sorry that it is possible in this year of grace, or in this year of disgrace, to speak in such terms, but the one chance of peace now is that we do not hesitate to face any situation without equivocation. That is the only chance now, and that is what we must do. I know where we stand with Canada. I know with the United States that overwhelming sympathy will be with us in trouble, but I do resent one thing, namely, those who say, "Let the mad dogs of Europe fight it out. Why should we pull Britain's chestnuts out of the fire?" Is the Pax Brittanica of no importance to the Continent of North America and the United States of America? In the nineteenth century, under the Pax Brittanica, under friendly trade, under the domination of the world by Great Britain, there was the greatest development of human liberty that the world has seen in any period of its history. (Applause) Is it nothing if that ends? Is it nothing if Britain is defeated? I wonder.
Britain's foreign policy has had great discouragements, perhaps many fumblings. But much as we respect and love America-and she is a great and friendly neighbour or it would not be possible to make such a speech here todaybut when America pulled out of Europe with the League of Nations, she left he British Isles too great a burden to carry. Ever since then Britain has turned and tried to hold the balance, when she herself was not sufficiently powerful to do it.
Now comes this issue. Is it peace or war? I wired yesterday to my friend, the editor of Reuters, and I want you to understand it was yesterday, and the reply I got was last night, so it does not take into any account what happened today. But the editor of Reuters is in touch with every city of Europe, and I asked him for a very frank opinion of the situation. He says (quoting cable) "Situation is serious but far from hopeless. Well informed people here regard war as possible but very improbable. Whitehall is surprisingly calm and cheerful." That, I think, is of some importance and may cheer us up.
Now, Gentlemen, my time is nearly up, and I want to--well I think the Government may stop me speaking on the wires if I do not stop before,--but I want to say this one thing to you. Supposing that this telegram is wrong, supposing the issue was joined and once more Great Britain goes to war, then there will come a challenge to every man here for himself or for his son, and perhaps for every woman as well. That challenge has to be accepted, I suppose, by every person according to his conscience and his heart. Such a situation in the world, if war comes, will appeal differently to different people. You remember Rupert Brooke, the young poet in England, who when 1914 came, wrote with a splendid defiance, "We thank thee, God, Who has matched us with this hour." He felt simply the thrill of the generation caught and challenged by fate. There are others-I would like to think I could include myself among them-who are content to fight for King and Country. (Applause)
I had the pleasure of a talk with the Queen when she came back from Canada. I have never seen anyone more moved or more inspired than she was by her experiences in this country. I didn't have a chance to talk with the King, but I talked with her. I don't believe that this country is indifferent to the fate of their King and Queen and what they stand for. I don't believe it. (Applause)
But supposing that there are some who are not appealed to by the heroic aspect, are not appealed to by the patriotic aspect, there is the other side of it. Centuries can go by in the creation of human liberty, and the work of centuries can be over-done and over-thrown in twenty-four hours. That is the thing we must face. That is what Tom Kettle had in mind. In Parliament in 1914, in the British Parliament, Kettle was an Irish Rebel. He hated Britain. And then came the challenge of Germany, and Kettle went out to the front, and he wrote a book, and he was killed. But in the front of that book he wrote, to my mind, these incredibly beautiful words,
"Know that we, with the foolish dead
Fought not for King or Flag or Emperor
But for a dream born in a herdsman's shed
And for the secret scripture of the poor."
That is what he saw, and I claim that today we are up against something bigger and more menacing than national insecurity. It is perhaps the end of a dream, the dream that men shall be free to live and think according to their conscience, and if that dream passes, I don't think it matters very much what else survives. (Applause)
DR. F. A. GABY: Gentlemen, the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club are honoured to have at the head table today, in addition to other distinguished
gentlemen, the presidents and representatives of the Board of Trade, the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, St. George's Society and the Sons of England. We are indeed glad to have many of their members with us today.
I am sure we would be much pleased to have Mr. Henry Borden, Vice-President of the Canadian Club, extend to our guest-speaker a vote of thanks.
MR. HENRY BORDEN, Vice-President of the Canadian Club: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: We have just heard a most interesting and instructive address on matters which deeply concern and vitally affect every one of us. This vast gathering today and the close attention with which it listened to Mr. Baxter's remarks gives him some indication of our appreciation of his coming here today and analyzing for us the complicated network of international politics, which unfortunately seems to become more complicated as each day goes by.
There is one thing which he mentioned. He used the phrase, "The Heart of Canada." Mr. Baxter is returning to Westminster shortly. I am sure we would all wish him to take back with him his fervent conviction that through that heart red blood still flows, blood as red as has flowed before, and that if the testing time should come, Canada will not be found wanting and she will be standing with the other nations of this Empire.
Sir, on behalf of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto, I ask you to accept our warmest thanks. (Applause)