VIMY-TWENTY YEARS AFTER
AN ADDRESS BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL, THE
REV. GEORGE FALLIS, C.B.E.
Thursday, 8th April, 1937
THE PRESIDENT: (Applause.) Thanks for the applause but this is just a special business meeting.
We have had a notice sent to all the members this week of a proposed amendment to our Constitution and as this notice has been regularly sent, such motion is now in order.
MAJOR JAMES McC. BAXTER: I will move THAT Article 6, subsection 2, be amended by the substitution in the third line of the subsection of "April 30th," in place of "April 15th."
MR. H. C. BOURLIER: I will second the motion.
THE PRESIDENT: You have the motion, duly moved and seconded.
That means that our Club year which ends on the 30th of April will be the end of the year, coinciding with the Annual Meeting. There will not be a lame duck session as there has been in the past.
It requires a two-third majority of all members present to carry this. What is your pleasure?
CARRIED. I declare the motion carried and the Constitution amended, accordingly.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen: Just twenty years ago tonight was the eve of a battle which made Canada prominent in world history. At Vimy Ridge all the Canadian Corps was engaged and after three days that Ridge was captured and it may now be said to be a part of one of the two places in the world where Canadian soil exists which is not within the boundaries of this country.
A portion of the court-yard in Edinburgh was deeded to Canada many years ago, for the purpose of establishing Scottish knighthoods in New Scotland, or Nova Scotia. I don't know of very many which have been established by reason of that deed.
In France, what was formerly Hill 145 is now forever Canada, and that noble memorial executed by our own Toronto sculptor, Mr. Allward, stands there forever as an emblem of perpetual peace.
I regret very much to say that Mr. Allward was unable to grace the head table today as we expected he would have done.
We have at our head table today, we have the honour of having Padres who were with the Canadian army during the date war. With your permission, I will introduce them, starting on my left: Rev. Robert Graham, Canon C. W. Hedley, Rev. F. Vipond, Rev. J. E. Ward, Colonel G. W. Peacock, Rev. George Fallis, Rev. H. P. Charters, Brig. N. Pitcher, Commander John McMillan, Rev. J. K. Holland, and Rev. Roy Essex. I welcome these gentlemen as a representative group of those fine men who during the conflict, now many years past but still with us in many respects, looked after the spiritual needs of the troops arid who, perhaps, played a bigger part in keeping the morale of the troops up in preparation for just such a battle as Vimy Ridge than most people give them credit for.
I have great pleasure and the Club has great honour in having an address today from what we call the Senior Chaplain of the Canadian Forces. He tell's me his designation is Assistant-Director of Chaplain Services. Lieutenant-Colonel the Reverend George Fallis will address us on "Vimy--Twenty Years After." Colonel Fallis.
LT.-COLONEL, THE REV. GEORGE FALLIS, C.B.E.: Mr. President, Distinguished Guests and Members of the Empire Club of Canada: I wish first of all to express to you my great appreciation at being asked to come to this Club and to speak today on the twentieth anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. I recognize that many distinguished men have stood where I now stand and I assure you my feeling is one of very great humbleness. I am very pleased to see about me my confreres, the Padres of War days, and I know they will feel for me as I speak for them and also for those who served overseas, in an endeavour to say something that may make us better Canadian, citizens because of our going back into the past, stimulating our memories anal making new resolves. I am very pleased to look out on the group assembled and see familiar faces of other days. It gives me courage as I undertake this task of interpretation.
Twenty years ago, as we have just heard from the President; there was fought one of the great battles of history, the battle of Vimy Ridge. There are those who say that Canada was really born as a nation in its self-consciousness through that great battle, and so it might be a very good thing for us to look back over the years that are gone, and bring close to our memories those men of the past. In fact, I take it, that one of our primary thoughts in coming here today is to do honour to the memory of those men who fell at Vimy arid who are symbolized in the great monument at Vimy Ridge. Yet, I do not believe that would be satisfactory to the men who laid down their lives, if we just stop there. I am quite sure that they would have us review the events of the past and interpret their lives in a fashion that we here would resolve that we would be better Canadian citizens and that we would go from this place to do all we can to preserve and to develop this fair Canada that they loved so very, very dearly.
I would call you, then, to think of these men who are gone, and I am going to ask you, first of all, to think of them as real men, as men who were red-blooded and who were thoroughly human. I sometimes think that at many memorial services the overseas man is entirely misrepresented. I have heard a great many addresses in the last twenty years at memorial services throughout Canada and, having been four years overseas, there are times when I have sat and wondered if the soldiers who lie in Flanders' fields and at Vimy really were able to lie still in their graves when T heard the things that were said about them. Of all the things that could be said about these men who laid down their lives, I think nothing would please them more than to say of them that they were normal human beings. I have heard so many, addresses that have tried to make them angel's, that have dressed them up in clothes they, themselves, would not recognize as garments they had ever worn, and when we think of them, if they are to be of any value to us, I am sure we must think of them as they really were. The last thing in all the world that they would want to be, I am sure, would be angelic, and if we make them ethereal, then we are going to abstract ourselves from them so they will really not be a great inspiration to us. There is a verse in the Scripture which I think makes Jesus a very intriguing person to most of us. That verse says "He was at every point tempted and tried like as we are" and, because of his experience in life you and I feel that He can understand us, He can inspire us. I feel much the same about those men who laid down their lives at Vimy. If we make them ethereal they cannot inspire us. We would feel like people apart, like people separated from them, but if we can bring them here today as they were, men and women, too, with all the traits of character we have, yet with all those traits of character measuring up to a magnificent life of sacrificial service, then I am sure they will he of great blessing to us. I said a moment ago, we are here for two purposes. First, to honour the dead; second, to inspire the living. I am sure the best way to inspire the living is to do the first, that is, to honour the memory of those dead, and we can honour them best, I am sure, by remembering them as they really were. So I am asking you to think of these men as we Padres and others here knew them overseas. I want you to, think of some of their qualities that are just as essential for the well-being of the Dominion of Canada in 1937 as they were for the well-being, the strength and the co-operation of the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge.
Now, what I am going to say to you today may appear, possibly, commonplace, at first thought. Yet, I am sure, if we think through we will discover this, that possibly the commonplace represents the greatest influence that comes into daily life and, in fact, that comes into the very universe itself. I am going to ask you to think first of all of these men who laid down their lives at Vimy as men who practised a magnificent comradeship. If you would go into a front line trench or into a dugout or into a but overseas you would find all ranks and conditions of men. I have known men who were most illiterate who found one of the warmest pals and comrades in a man who was a university graduate. I have known men who came from what might be called the lower levels of social life, as we call it, who became a comrade of a man who had almost been born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
If you went into a but you would find there Catholics and Protestants and Jews, you would find Liberals and Conservatives, you would find there represented almost every group in this whole Dominion of Canada and yet, for the moment, they were big enough and fine enough to forget every difference that they had, to break down every artificial barrier in their splendid comradeship for the good of a great common cause.
Now, I wonder if you are not going to see that that was fundamental in the making of the Canadian Corps, fundamental in making it a magnificent unit of co-operation that could do the things, ghastly as they were in those days, that they were called upon to do. Think you not, my dear Canadian citizens, that that spirit of comradeship and co-operation is not necessary in Canada at this very moment? You say that these men were sentimental Johnnies when they had this rare spirit of comradeship? Well, if they were sentimental Johnnies, their very sentimentality linked them together in co-operation so that they were able to do the very biggest things. You and I who are called upon to do very great things for Canada, can never do them unless that spirit comes to us. We can never make this land what it ought to be if there is going to be sectional interests, if there is going to be bigotry, if we are going to forget that the ultimate goal of the Canadian citizen is to make this a very great and wonderful land.
So, it would appear to me that the spirit of these men who laid down their lives comes to us at this time and appeals to us as Canadian citizens to have the very finest spirit of comradeship. I want to back up this viewpoint by bringing to you just a very short line from the pen of one of our great Britishers of today--L. P. Jacks, a most creative mind, who is the Principal of Manchester College at Oxford. It is very interesting for me to read this line from his pen because it indeed does back up the wisdom of pulling together in any great cause in the spirit of comradeship as those men did overseas and, I am sure these words will sink into the minds of every serious person who is hearing my voice at this time. He says: "Our civilization has now reached the point of advance when its very survival depends on the willingness of all citizens to stand loyally together as comrades in. a great adventure. Indeed, comradeship, world=wide and world-deep, is a supreme necessity of the present day."
So, you see our soldiers were wise men in that they developed in their hearts that spirit of comradeship that made it possible for them to pull together. Indeed, I cannot help but pause for a moment to take you back to those days and, to bear witness to that wonderful fellowship. I can remember as if it were yesterday, after the third battle of Ypres, being in a dressing station, just a little bit east of Ypres, and we were doing all in our power to look after the wounded in a practical way. We had a huge cauldron of cocoa and I remember corning to a chap lying on a stretcher; he looked famished and pale and he said, "O, Sir, can I have a drink of that cocoa?" I brought a huge, rude dipper, and putting my hand under his head, put the dipper to his lips. He began to drink. May I say it reverently, he drank something like a hungry calf-if you were brought up in the country you will understand--he seemed to gulp it down. Suddenly he stopped and over his face came a sense of shame. He said, "O, Padre, I forgot the fellow there lying on the next stretcher." I said, "O, there is lots, my good fellow, take a good drink of this." He finished the drink and I went to the next chap and a very, very striking thing happened. The chap next to him was a German prisoner and when I gave him the final drink of cocoa, he turned and said to me, "Padre, don't forget that poor Heinie because I expect he is just as thirsty and just as famished as any of us Canucks." That spirit of fellowship, that spirit of chivalry, that spirit of comradeship was the vital thing overseas and I ask you, is it any less vital in the building up of Canada in these times of disintegration. When we have to face the future and look at strange problems, Canada cannot afford to have sectional interests, Canada cannot afford to forget the lesson of comradeship out of which there came cooperation of the very finest order.
Then, I am going to say another commonplace thing. You may say again it is a commonplaces but it is fundamental. It is this: That these men knew how to laugh. These men knew how to be humorous. Humour is the outward expression, some one has said, of music in the soul and these chaps had such control of themselves that in almost every occasion of life they were big enough and fine enough to smile and to laugh in the face of the most intense difficulties.
I was reading a book the other day by a very prominent psychologist. He actually said that in these times it would be a good thing for most of us to stop in the midst of our perplexities and throw our shoulders back and give a hearty laugh at life itself, that it would help us and, it would strengthen us.
I ran remember hearing Sir Harry Lauder address a great number of men in the Vancouver Hotel a number of years ago. As he rose to speak he said, "I do not apologize for my profession. I am a professional humourist and I do believe that a professional laughmaker has a divine calling."
Now, I would like to say that those men overseas lived very much like that. I do not know where they were trained or where they got the psychology of the situation, but I am quite sure of this, they were great men in attack, in the things they had to do because day after day they kept the sense of humour and the power to laugh at difficulties very much to the front.
And, again, for fear you think that these soldiers were sentimental Johnnies, I want to read you a line from the pen of that old rugged philosopher, Thomas Carlyle. He said, "How much lies in laughter. The cipher key that will decipher the whole man. The man who cannot laugh is not only fit for treason, stratagems and spoils, but his whole life is already a treason and stratagem. Let none such be trusted."
You say these men were just humourists, that they were just whistling, so to speak, to keep their courage up. I want to say, if whistling will keep my courage up, I am goring to whistle, and I would say to you, if whistling or singing or smiling will keep your courage up, in the name of God, do it as those men did overseas. And, again, I must pause to bring to you that spirit that was in their souls that on occasion would express itself almost like a flash of lightning. I remember marching from Bailleul to Godewaersvelde in the fall of 1915. You all know that overseas the first five miles were not half as far as the second five miles, possibly not a third as far and I think from Bailleul to Godewaersvelde is eleven or twelve miles. We were marching along and at the end of five or six miles some one had the bright idea that we were near Godewaersvelde. Our Colonel stopped the Battalion and asked a chap on the road, "How far is it to Godewaersvelde." Overseas men had a strange way of giving an officer an answer, even if they knew absolutely nothing about it. I think they liked to have the officer on, because they knew the officer had them on so very often and so the chap said to our Colonel, "About a kilometer, Sir." Well, I suppose it was twelve or fifteen kilometers at that time. We marched on, believing we were just about at the end of our march. In about a half hour we met another chap and the Colonel said, "How far is it to Godewaersvelde?" "About a kilometer, Sir." On we marched again and a third time stopped a man, and asked, "How far to Godewaersvelde?" And this chap answered, "It's about a kilbmeter, Sir." I was marching with "A" Company with a Major Allan from British Columbia and behind me were two chaps and in the dark one started to laugh and he said, "Well, Bill, thank the Lord, the darned town is not gaining on us."
(Laughter.) Now, you see, these men had that something in their souls that made them laugh. Something bubbled up that was humorous and I am quite sure all the men who heard that man went a little lighter on their way as we turned into Godewaersvelde on that rainy night in November, 1915.
I would keep you here until tomorrow morning if I told you of experiences with men that really just made me laugh so hard on occasions that I forgot all the drudgery and forgot all the struggle of the day. And we Canadian people must be a happy people. Whatever we do we must not allow these difficult times to so overcome us that we will not be able to smile, that we will not be able to laugh.
Let me read this line from L. P. jacks: "To save our world something more than the ability to diagnoze is needed. Something more than social science. Courage is needed, courage on a universal scale. I would urge you, beware of social doctrines which obscure the necessity to high courage. Fear is a disease and never so deadly as when the soul of a nation or a community becomes infected with it so that it cannot even laugh."
Here you have the spirit of a fine philosophical mind, backing up the psychology of the daily life of the soldiers at Vimy when he tells us that courage is born out of the spirit of laughter--and trying to see the sunny side of life: I do not think much of the poetry, but I do believe there is something in that philosophy that says
"It's all very well to smile,
When life goes along like a song,
But the man worth while is the man who can smile
When everything goes dead wrong."
Now, I am going to say a third commonplace thing. I am saying it in no denominational sense at all, not even as a churchman, but just as a human being who is trying to struggle through the way of life as you are. These men overseas were men of tremendous force and power because they had in their souls a spirit of religion. I do not know what the Padres here would say but my four years' experience overseas would say this, that our soldiers were incurably religious. When I say that I do not mean denominationalism, or that they loved services. Some of them hated them, especially when they had to go on parade, with the thing mechanized. After all, religion must be an inspiration, a well of water springing up within us to be vital. My experience overseas was just this, these men had an inarticulate but very deep faith within them. I think that a great many of them lived in the spirit of the Old Testament. They liked the God of battle. If you analyzed the attitude of most of them possibly they could have claimed Jehovah, rather than Christ as their leader in spiritual things. Yet, there were many who were mystics, men who seemed to think they could feed on that verse that Jesus said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
I remember down on the Somme, talking to a little lad with dark hair, olive skin and dark eyes. I said to him, just before the zero hour had come, "Aren't you afraid to go, over the top?" He said, "No, I am not afraid." I said, "Why are you not afraid to go over the top?" He said, "I am not afraid because I have read the 15th of St. John, and I read there, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down, his life for his friends,' and I have just arrived at that position and 'if there is anything in it at all I don't think I will be let down when I am quite wilding to give my life."
I was at the headquarters of the British Army for twelve months. I had a little office two blocks from Sir Douglas Haig, the Ecole-Militaire, where he had his headquarters. One of the things that used to impress me most was to see Sir Douglas Haig, morning after morning, turning to the right and going dawn two blocks, to a little chapel on the ramparts yonder at Montredil. On more than one occasion I humbly followed in the wake of his staff to see those men bow in earnest and thoughtful prayer for their tremendous task and for the interests of the Empire that they represented.
But I think I would not truly interpret them, if I did not say in the presence of the Padres here today that they did not understand denominationalism. They thought religion a universal thing. I remember one of the most distinguished Anglicans of Canada saying to me, "We are here in the mud together, we are eating plain food together, we are living in vermin-infested huts together, we are men dieing together, surely we ought to have our religion together."
I remember another occasion, that makes plain the catholicity of spirit of that day. I was in the 8th Brigade, with Father Knox, one of the best known Roman Catholics of Canada. When he went on leave I buried his dead and when I went on leave he buried my dead. The story goes that when he returned from leave on one occasion he said to me, "Padre Fallis, did you bury any of my dead while I was away?" I said, "Yes, I buried six in Phoegsteert Wood." He said, "Let us walk up there." We walked up so the story goes and as we came to the cemetery he said to me, "Where are the graves?" I pointed to the six -and he said, "You Roman Catholics, buried by Padre Fallis, as you were"-and then he buried them all over again. That the story is told and can be told shows that the very opposite spirit was in vogue over there.
Will you; pardon me if I go further, because I am one tremendously interested in the unification of all our Christian forces in this land of ours. May God forbid that anything should arise in this country that would divide us anti split us as a people in this fundamental thing of our national life, called religion.
I can remember an occasion, indeed I would name it possibly as the high experience of my fife. Up in a dressing station, a Roman Catholic boy who was dying pointed to his tunic, and I opened it, he pointed to his shirt and I opened his shirt and there, around his neck was a gold chain and on the end of that chain a crucifix. It was a gold crucifix, a beautiful thing to look at, and it meant so much to him. He nodded his head and I held it before his eyes. Suddenly it dawned on me that he might think I was a Roman Catholic priest. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Laddie, I am not a Roman Catholic. I am a Protestant." He said to me one of the most inspiring words of my life overseas: "Padre, thank you for your service to me. I knew you weren't a Roman Catholic." Many years have gone by, over twenty years now, in fact twenty-two, but I never sing that hymn that we sing in all churches so often that my eyes do not grow misty
"Hold thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies."
You know the rest of it. It always brings back that lad to me and it always brings a catholicity of spirit and makes me feel we all belong to the common Heavenly Father.
I would like to say this to you: You may say the soldiers' religion of those days was a strange kind of religion, a religion that backed up war. Every time I hear that from the lips of some people it makes the spirit of scorn arise in me. Why did the soldiers going overseas believe they were going over in the name of God? Because the press of Canada told them that, because the universities told them that, it was because the churches, almost to a unit, told them that, and if they went over believing they could gain a tremendous spiritual victory by carnal means, don't blame them, but blame the institutions that stood behind our national life and told these young men that was the very thing they were doing. Possibly we have learned a different lesson since those far off days. We have found, perchance, that we can't have great spiritual victories by carnal means.
That leads me just to this last point: that these men who died had a great vision of a warless world. I wrote to fifty soldiers once and asked, "What took you overseas?" I wrote to privates and I wrote to Generals. Thirty-eight out of the fifty wrote back and said, "I believed when I went overseas that I was going over to end war." We all know we didn't do it. We all know, what I think was said so splendidly by Lord Astor in an article he sent me just this very week. I want do read it to you. He said: "If we go to war again it' may be too late to learn that civilization can never be preserved and expanded by arms and warfare, but by goodwill, true neighbourliness and cooperation. In spite of all that has happened, the British people will be well advised to keep alive the great idea in the League of Nations."
I would quote to all of the returned men who hear my voice the words of Haig, which he spoke to the World Conference of Returned Men: "I urge you to join in a crusade having for its object the freedom of the whole word from the devastating scourge of war."
I take it that that does not mean passivism, but a militant spirit against international injustice, greed--in short, a crusade to create the spiritual qualities in men and thus in nations by which the natural outflow would be a peace, aggressive for the development of all the world. I am so glad that the Vimy Memorial expresses that thought.
I say this, in all sincerity, of aft the people in the world who have hated war, they have not been pacifists but soldiers. No soldier who lived in those trenches for any length of time could see anything else but the awfulness of war.
So, it would appear to me today, if we are to build up true and lasting memorials to these men we must not lose sight of those great principles and those great ideals we have been struggling for the last twenty years. We are prone to push them away too far on the horizon. These men rise up today to call upon every Canadian citizen to stand for those principles of world co-operation and world fellowship and world understanding by which the new day alone can come. Plato once said, "You never get anywhere if you go along mistaking occasions for causes," and we have found that out, I am sure, in the last two years. You can't legislate people into being good. You can't make nations warless by passing resolutions or changing treaties. You can only make people warless by creating that heart, that spiritual heart that makes love, justice, goodwill and neighbourly interest and makes them feel that the most futile thing in the world is to abrogate the reason and let the arbitraments of arms be the way to settle international disputes.
I congratulate Mr. Allward on having put in the Vimy Memorial the spiritual ideas of world fellowship the men had in those days.
May I close with a final word on peace and war. I had the very great honour of the friendship of John McCrae. John McCrae wrote a poem, a sonnet that shall live as long as the English language lives. Talking to him one day, he said, "People misinterpret that poem of mine where I say, 'Take up our quarrel with the foe.' I did not mean Germany. I meant all those spiritual forces in the world that would make war possible in any age and generation." So, I say to you, in the name of John McCrae, take up that torch that those men threw to us, with failing hands they threw them. I think we are not going too far when we say that "They shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields," if we do not pursue their ideal, if we do not make their dreams come true that they had for this land that they loved, that they sacrificed for arid for which they died.
(Applause, prolonged.) THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Fallis, may I thank you on behalf of all who have heard you today for this description which has brought back twenty years ago and from you, who have seen so much of it first hand, the character of the fighting troops of that war. You have indeed given us a great privilege in giving this address in which you have so well related to us your own experience. You have also, I think, given us a responsibility to take to heart the lessons which you have so well drawn from those conditions which you then observed and to digest those lessons and to do what we can to spread that propaganda. I thank you very much for coming here today; Colonel, and we would like to hear from you again sometime. (Applause.)