The End of the Beginning
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Nov 1942, p. 171-185
Philip, Percy James, Speaker
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Item Type
The speaker's now annual report on the war situation. Coming through another year and still fighting and now able to say "We can win" and "We will win—we are winning." Reaching Mr. Churchill's phrase "the end of the beginning." Recent events leading up to these statements. The danger not past; Hitler still holds Europe. How we may dislodge Hitler. The latest accomplishments of the British Navy, the Russians at Stalingrad, the 8th Army, the American marines, the Canadian bombers, and other members of the team. The French in North Africa and some words on the French in general. Our growing strength in the air, and Canada's contribution to that strength. Hitler's speech ten days ago—the speech of a man who knows he is losing. Some cautionary words about making plans for after the war. An examination of the reasons why we are winning. The British Empire hanging together, acting as a united force as the pivotal fact in the world situation. Setting an example for the future.
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19 Nov 1942
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Full Text
Chairman The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursday, November 19, 1942.

MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: If a guest-speaker who comes to us a second time needs no introduction, one who comes a third time might reasonably be asked to introduce the Chairman.

Mr. Percy James Philip addressed this Club on the 21st of November, 1940, and again on the 23rd of October, 1941, so that his address today is the third in less than two years. Either we like him or he likes us. I venture to say that the liking is rather mutual.

Born in Scotland and a son of the Manse, Mr. Philip received his scholastic education and his introduction to literary work in England. He lived for twenty-four years in France, during twenty of which he was Paris correspondent of the New York Times, and a little over two years ago he came to Ottawa to interpret the Canadian view through the columns of that same well and widely known and friendly journal.

Mr. Philip began his first address with the flat statement that he was sure that we would win the war. At that time France had fallen but our armies were driving westward along the Libyan Coast, past Bardia and Tobruk, towards Bengasi and Tripoli. His address was not pessimistic but was a very realistic description of conditions calling for an all-out effort on the part of all the people. He began his second address by reaffirming his statement that we could win the war, despite the condition then prevailing, that Hitler held all Europe.

His comprehensive view, his keen analysis, his balanced judgment, and his reasonable deductions as applied to present conditions, when our armies are again driving westward along the Libyan Coast towards Bengasi and Tripoli, and are driving eastward, as well, through Algeria, towards that same Bengasi and that same Tripoli, and our recent victories at sea and in the air are matters of continuing jubilation, are awaited with anticipation.

Gentlemen, I have pleasure in introducing Mr. Percy James Philip, the subject of whose address is "The End of the Beginning". (Applause.)

MR. PERCY JAMES PHILIP: Mr. President and Gentlemen: This is the third year in succession that you have done me the honor of inviting me to speak to you and it is with the keenest pleasure in the compliment that I have returned to make my now annual report on the war situation. The first time that I came, on November 21st, 1940, I was newly arrived from France and the tale I had to tell was a grim one. I had seen a great country overwhelmed and crushed by the weight of the Nazi war machine because it was physically, spiritually and politically unequal to the terrible test to which it had been subjected. It was not alone to blame. The other democracies were equally at fault because they were not present in the battle in fulfilment of those promises they made so lavishly at the end of the last war and in the years between, that they would always be ready to help resist aggression.

In Britain at this time two years ago we had refused to surrender and had beaten back the invader. The battle in the air had been hard and perilous but we had won. In revenge the Luftwaffe was pounding at the heart of the Empire trying to break the spirit of our people by bombing us until we cried for mercy.--.

We didn't. We put out the fires and buried our dead, rebuilt some of our two million destroyed homes, and went on. As an American friend of mine said recently in a public speech Britain in these days was armed with little more than her courage but she went on. I am glad to remember now that the message I brought you was one of confidence. I began that first speech with the words: "I am sure we can win this war". And if I added a warning that it would be a long grim business and that no one should take it for granted that we would win it was that I might hearten you in the right way, stiffen your resistance and stir you to even greater effort.

Last year when I spoke to you on October 23rd I repeated that statement "We can win this war" but again

I added the same warning, stressing the gravity of the situation in the title I had chosen: "Hitler Holds All Europe". Even then it was only dimly far away that we could see the future shaping. It was being forged in British and Canadian factories. It was being safeguarded by our seamen of both services who have kept the white and the red ensigns flying from Murmansk to the Horn. It was being assured by the steady building up of that great Empire Air Force that is now so mercilessly grindng down the Nazi power, shattering that arrogant advantage it had during most of these two first years.

But we still had not done enough to warrant confidence. Russia had been attacked in June of that year and had lost much ground and many men. Even the most optimistic could not be sure that the Red armies and the Red leaders would hold. The United States was giving us Lend Lease aid but there was no certainty that the President and those who had been with us in heart from the beginning of the conflict would be able to bring their people to see their danger and join us. Pearl Harbor with its murderous treachery and its shattering awakening of a nation asleep lay seven weeks ahead. I doubt if we would have felt encouraged or discouraged if we had known the disasters that lay in store for us in the Pacific at Hong Kong and Singapore and Burma--that we met when they came still unafraid.

All that we could count on with certainty was our own resolution, our own courage and our own determination to work and fight without faltering, patiently, untiringly, unboastingly as in the manner of our people, and I closed my address to you on that occasion with these words

"Whether or not we win depends on ourselves and on nobody else. May I hope that if you ask me to speak to you again, a year from now I shall be able to give you a more cheerful message, to tell you that we are winning. And even if we have not reached that turning point, let us keep on saying to ourselves "We can win" and let us keep on fighting.

Well, Gentlemen, we have come through another year and we are still fighting. We are doing more than that. Without departing from my usual caution I feel that the time has at last come when I may safely change that formula "We can win" and offer you the more assured one: "We will win-we are winning". We have reached in Mr. Churchill's phrase "the end of the beginning". In this past month, since the last full moon over Egypt, our 8th Army has smashed the German and Italian forces of Rommell as terribly as any army has ever been smashed and routed. We have not just rolled the enemy back across the Libyan desert we have destroyed his carefully amassed fighting power. We have broken one of those greedy claws which the Nazis were stretching out along the African coast towards India and their allies the Japanese while the stubborn Russians have battered and blunted the other which was seeking its way through Stalingrad and the Caucasus towards the same goal. Hitler's dream of a "drang nach Oosten" has been broken like that of his predecessor Kaiser Wilhelm and in this case as in the other it seems likely to be for us the end of the beginning and for him the beginning of the end.

I do not wish to claim to have appeared in the roll of a prophet but in that last speech from which I have already quoted I tried to lighten the gloom by dreaming that, with at least sufficient striking power, we would launch a campaign which would drive the Germans and Italians out of Libya and win the French in Algeria and Morocco to our side. It was perhaps a dream then, a dream that came near realization in January-that was shattered in June when Rommel thrust us back and back into Egypt and even gallant Tobruk fell into his hands.

What a lot of criticism we had to take at that time of British Ministers, of British Commanders and of British soldiers. We had to suffer cheap jibes as well as reverses and the grevious loss of precious lives. But we stood at El Alamein, we weren't beaten. We stood and hit back.

We held Egypt and by God, gentlemen, that dream of a year ago is today a reality, a tremendous reality. Let us give just praise to Churchill and all the others who after the reverse of June went on undiscouraged rebuilding that old 8th Army, plodding ahead with their plan, caking a gamble but making it a safe one because they were gambling on the courage and capacity of these (veteran desert fighters supplied as they had never before been supplied with tanks and guns and planes. Thanks to that foresight and determination we have come through the worst danger that has threatened us throughout this year. We have won a great victory as vital as has ever been won in the history of battles.

It is good to recall these things and during these weeks of great and satisfying events I have found myself slipping into a state of contentment and easy optimism that was extremely pleasant-like those exquisite minutes when pain passes and one imagines himself well again. But I have been practising realistic journalism too long to be deceived that way. We have won a victory--yes--the first of this war on land. But do not let us for a moment imagine that the danger is past. All this past week Hitler has been rushing troops into Tunisia, he has gob bled up the rest of France, he has swung his battle front from the Russian steppes to the shores of the Mediterranean. He may attempt the direct road through Turkey. Many more great battles will have to be fought, great efforts made, great hardships endured before we rid the world of this evil which has encompassed so many peoples and threatened us all.

We have not yet won the war-let us keep that clearly in mind. Hitler still holds all Europe-as firmly as he did at this time last year. He must be dislodged. The Americans and Australians have been giving the Japanese rough handling at Guadalcanal and New Guinea but they still hold the western Pacific, South-eastern Asia and vast portions of China. They are not beaten. Both they and the Germans will fight like hell-cats to hold what they have won and to defend their own. We are only at the end of the beginning. We must keep on fighting.. We must keep on working and, perhaps as important as any, we must keep on thinking and thinking rightly.

I am not going to try today to prophesy the future course of the fighting. But I would like to make this, observation. These battles of Egypt and Stalingrad and the American naval victories at Midway, the Coral sea and Guadalcanal are only single events in this vast interlocked war which began in Poland and France and Norway and is being fought all over the world in Europe, in Africa, in Asia and the South Seas-which is being fought in the factories of the United States and Britain and Canada as much as on the battle-fields. No one country is winning this war for the others. We have pooled our resources and we must pool the credit. Let us take the wide view and for God's sake don't let us quarrel about who saved who and who fought most or best.

It might be fairly claimed that during these three years the most essential single contribution to that final victory which we are beginning to see shaping ahead, has been the British Navy, to which Canada has added no small measure of strength. Its latest great accomplishment along with the United States ships has been the safe transport and delivery with all their equipment of that strong force which is getting down to the task of clearing the south shore of the Mediterranean so that we shall have a far larger base to work from than the British Isles provide. To be able to strike at the soft underside of Europe we had to have North Africa and it is the Navy which has given it to us. But we cannot give the Navy all the credit any more than we can give it to the Russians at Stalingrad or the 8th Army or the American marines or the Canadian bombers. We must get it into our heads-all our heads-that we are a team and that it will take all of us together to win these two tremendous wars in which we are engaged.

And before I leave this subject of who is winning and who has lost, I feel that you will expect me to say something about the French in North Africa and the French in general. For myself I am willing to welcome help from whatever side it comes. But I, and I think everyone, was glad to have President Roosevelt's assurance on Tuesday that the arrangement that had been made in Algiers with Admiral Darlan was a temporary measure made necessary by war circumstances. I shall add this that it will be, in my opinion, a grave political error on our part to countenance in any way the setting, in French Africa of an authority, acting as a French s Government which is not in accord with the political ideas and aspirations of the French people, which is directed by men stained by past associations and is not in full agreement with the war aims of all the United Nations. I have never ceased to believe in the French people of all classes-and I have made no secret of my opinion-even when many were skeptical. There has never been more than a tiny fraction of one percent which was ever pro-Nazi, even when the others were not especial pro-British, pro-American or pro-Russian. They were and are always pro-French and I don't think any -of us can blame them. We are a bit that way ourselves. Thousands of them have given proof of their loyalty to their country and the cause for which we fight by the sacrifice of their lives and their organized resistance movement which numbers millions of all parties and recognizes General de Gaulle as its head is ready to help us the moment we are ready to help them. Until then they are powerless, but it seems to me an elemental part of wisdom and honesty that we should neither countenance nor encourage any movement of which they would disapprove. France must again be our battlefield if we are ever to get at close contact with the enemy. To her sufferings that new one will be added. But the great mass of the people are ready to take it and to help us. They are prepared through their resistance organization to rise the moment we land and fight with home-made arms and sticks until we can give them guns and grenades. We must not disappoint them. We must not risk estranging them by any political opportunism or intrigue. They have accepted de Gaulle as their leader until their country is restored and a new constitution made. We must be loyal to those who have been loyal to us.

There is one more thing about the future fighting which I think to be very important; that is our growing strength in the air to which Canada has contributed so largely. I am one of those who believe firmly that our night and day bombing raids on German and Italian ports and factories and communications are doing more to weaken the enemy's resistance than any other form of "second front" that we can as yet establish. Our people in Britain did not give up under the assault of the Luftwaffe, but I am disclosing no secret when I say that they were not very far from it. If the Nazis had been able to keep up for one or two months longer that complete dislocation of normal life, the destruction of water mains and transport systems and power plants and bridges and telegraph and telephone lines, of factories and streets and ships they might have paralyzed our power to produce and to fight, for that kind of destruction is far more effective than the killing of a few thousand people. But they couldn't keep it up. We can. We are bombing them five and six times as hard as they ever bombed us and with the men trained here in Canada and more and more men and machines pouring out from the United States we can and will pound at them until they cry for mercy. I do not claim that you can win this kind of war with an air force alone-just as you cannot win it with an army or a navy alone-but this is equally sure that you cannot win without it and those airmen who keep pounding Genoa and Hamburg and Bremen and Cologne are doing just as much as any troops anywhere to break the Nazis.

Did you read Hitler's speech ten days ago. It is the speech of a man who knows he is losing-who knows that his armies and his people are softening. It will take more time. It will take continuous effort, hard fighting and bitter sacrifice of human lives. We must expect soon another avalanche, like Ludendorff's outburst in March, 1918. But it is we who are now forcing the pace, who have taken the offensive with the power to keep it up and who go on until the Germans crack as they cracked in November, 1918.

There is one thing more. A great many people are already talking glibly about what must be done after the war-not studying the problem, but just talking glibly. That is why I added to the list of things that must be done--thinking, and thinking rightly. It is very important. The future depends on it as much as on the outcome of any battle. And I confess that I have been somewhat perturbed by the plans and prophesies which some people are making about this new world "safe for democracy" and all that kind of thing in which without effort, without discipline, without sacrifice there will be no more war-only order and justice and plenty for everybody equitably distributed. I hope that these people are right-that it is as easy as all that--that they will be able to deliver and are not just raising false hopes. But I have noticed that they are in many cases the same people and the same kind of people who used to say that this war would not happen, that there was no need to spend money on armaments, who seemed to have a chlidlike faith in the power of words and wishful thinking and in a few formulae of government to make this world a second Eden. Again I say that I hope that they are right about what will happen after the war. But I am a realist. I can't help it. I was brought up that way and became confirmed in the habit as I reported through thirty years how great ideals had gone wrong under the acid test of application.

And so on this day of relative rejoicing when we have changed our formula from "We can win the war" into "We are winning," I want to submit to you what I consider to be the real foundation stone of our success, the reason why we are undefeated, and to offer it now that it has been tested as the foundation stone of the future. I especially wish to do so because there are so many people with short memories who are inclined to minimize what we have done, to point to the errors we have made, to our apparent failures, to be critical of the British way of doing things and of our whole much abused Empire which these smart critics think should be run quite differently-that they could run, much more successfully.

In doing this I have no political axe to grind. I am just a reporter who tries to get things right. I might even boast that I have no national axe to grind-for although I was born a Scotsman and love my country, which is very pretty except where it has been made hideous, and very pleasant except when it is very wet, I had some education in England and know the great merits of courage and humor and tolerance and good manners of these people both peer and commoner. I lived 24 years in France and hold the French in affection for their humanity, in esteem for their intelligence and in admiration for their artistry. I have worked over 20 years for the greatest of all American newspapers and many of my best friends are Americans. Finally I have lived for two years among you Canadians and found here a real home. You have all the elements of these other races and something special of your own-a combination of kindness of heart and hard headed honesty of purpose which is salted by a shrewd attention to your own Canadian interests however much you may dispute among yourselves where these interests lie.

You must believe me then that I am speaking as a reporter, without prejudice of race or political theory when I tell you that I have reached this conclusion that in all this turmoil the greatest contributing factor in the salvation of the world from Nazi domination has been that the British Empire has hung together, has acted as a united force and that the peoples of all its many old and new races have proved themselves men of character and courage. This fact that the whole Empire stood together is the pivotal fact in the whole world situation--it is the whole reason why we are safe today in our homes and have come successfully into this more promising stage of the war.

Disunited we would have perished one by one. Don't make any mistake about that. Don't let anybody lead you into that isolationist error. Without your support and that of the other Dominions we in Britain would have failed as France for in our little islands we did not have the resources of men and materials equal to the task.

Without Britain what chance had any of you to survive--to keep your independence. It has been by hanging together, working together, fighting together, that we have come through, and I shall add this for contrast between where we are and where we might have been. Without those two minute specks of Empire, Malta and Gibraltar which some people wanted to have us give back to Italy and Spain--what would be the situation of the battle for freedom in the Mediterranean. Without Australia and New Zealand loyal and trained in battle where would the fight be taking place in the Pacific. Without its attachment to the British Crown where would India be? I cannot think that the Congress Party so beloved by some would have protected it from the Japanese. And I cannot believe that from among its mixture of castes and races there would yet have sprung, although it may some day happen, any Chang-Kai-Shek who would have unified it and galvanized it as China has been unified and galvanized. Giving full credit to all others we can hold up our heads and boast if we are challenged that it has been the unity in liberty of the British Empire that has saved the world. And we have done more than that. We have set an example for the future to all the other disunited nations which perished because their narrow nationalism prevented their union. If there is to be a safe new world after this war, a world in which there will be peace and justice and plenty it is on the model of the British Empire that it must be built. Germany has failed to destroy us. Are we going to let others talk us out of what that great hearted man Jan Smuts, who forty years ago was fighting us to defend the isolated independence of the Boers recently called "This greatest human experiment in political organization, this proudest political structure of the time, this precedent and anticipation of what one hopes may be in store for human society in years to come."

This is not only the ideal of this Commonwealth. It is the essence. It has survived, it has brought the world safely through the tremendous test of these past three years. We have our differences and scraps. We are Scots, English, Canadians, Australians and Afrikanders--all strong individual peoples and stout arguers. We all have our special interests. But we have proved that we can cooperate freely, eagerly in face of a common enemy, for a common ideal, with only this rivalry that each of us wants to do as well as any other. Are we going to let people talk us out of that free union, of that mighty co-operative power for good. I do not think we will. Deep in all of us there was a cheering echo the other day when Mr. Churchill declared frankly: "We mean to hold our own. I have not become the King's minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire."

We have not just come through. We have set an example to the whole world. Hitler holds all Europe just because there was no such spirit of voluntary association between its countries as there is among the countries of the Empire. They were defeated and overrun because they refused to stand together and co-operate for their mutual independence and defence. They have all of them now realized that there can be no liberty without strength and there can be no strength without free union. No country is now rich enough, powerful enough, wise enough to stand alone. If any try it again as they did after the last war we shall have the same drift down the road that leads to weakness, disorder and predatory war. Instead of bowing to these critics who preach a false freedom we can be proud of our Empire which has survived this terrible challenge and emerged stronger from the test, and we can confidently proclaim it as an example which all the rest of the world might profitably follow of how to organize itself for peace and the defence of true human liberty. (Applause.)

MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Squadron Leader Stuart C. Parker is here. He is with us on his embarkation leave. When Mr. Philip was here with us two years ago--not quite two years ago--it was Squadron Leader Parker, then the Right Reverend Dr. Stuart C. Parker, who was called upon to thank the speaker for his address--I am going to ask Squadron Leader Parker to speak to the motion of thanks, but before doing so I should like to extend an invitation to Mr. Philip, on behalf of the Speakers' Committee of The Empire Club, to be with us probably in less than a year again, as he has already expressed his willingness to be. (Applause.)

SQUADRON LEADER STUART C. PARKER: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: There is a variety of technique in proposing a vote of thanks to a speaker. Some do so by underlining, painstakingly and boringly, the points which the speaker has made. That, in the case of Mr. Philip, with his clarity of expression and his vividness of phraseology and his direct simplicity of language would be a frank impertinence.

There are other proposers of votes of thanks whose technique involves the expounding of their own opinions about the matters which have been raised. That, too, would be an impertinence, as I think you will agree. This war, like all great public commotions and movements, has drawn forth a perfect horde of commentators and I am afraid that on reading or listening to the opinions of most of them the average intelligent man of some education, has it borne in upon him that in the last resort they don't know any more than he himself knows, nor do they gather it from any source other than the source open to himself, which is the press. So I think you will agree that for me to tell you my opinions about the things Mr. Philip has talked about would be in The Empire Club, here and at this late hour, the most unpardonable of the unpardonable sins.

It is in fact very difficult to thank Mr Philip, except just to say that the address which he has given us today is precisely what we would have expected of him. (Applause.) More than that needn't be said.

The great peripatetic evangelist, however, the late John MacNeill, who once was minister for a brief period of Cook's Church in this city, but whose parish was the world, or at least the British Empire, said to me in England during the last war, and apropos of his own peculiar and most engaging way of speaking, "My boy, when you don't know what to say, tell a story." He faithfully followed that out and it gave him an almost unique style among evangelists, so I am going to tell you a story, but even at that, the story is Mr. Philip's. On the last occasion when I had the pleasure of being beside him at an Empire Club meeting he told me a Scotch story which I had never heard before, and I thought that that put him in a position far higher than any other living human being, because it was my fond impression that I had heard every Scotch story that ever was fabricated, but this one was new to me and in his honour, and as a further commendation of him I would like to repeat it to you.

It is of course derogatory to the Scottish race, as all good Scotch stories are. It is a story about a Bishop and Dr. Renison will forgive me I am sure, because he is not that kind of Bishop. It is a story about a very prim and proper Anglican Bishop who was invited to Scotland to the ancestral home of some notable--the MacNab or the MacIntosh, or some other such--and in whose honour the clan piper played up and down on the lawn outside the dining-room windows after dinner.

An excited clansman in a perfect ecstasy of devotion to the national music, poked the Bishop in the ribs violently and said, "Mon, did ye ever hear music like that before?", and the Bishop adjusted his spectacles and said very clearly, "I shall always look upon it as a signal mark of the Divine Providence that such dreadful noises are not accompanied by an equally dreadful smell."

I think, Mr. Chairman, that with that I may take my seat. Mr. Philip has really proposed his own vote of thanks with my telling of that story. The voice is my e voice but the story is Mr. Philip's.

We thank Mr. Philip very much indeed and we are greatly heartened by his own expressed wish that he may be with us here again. (Applause.)

Mr. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Mr. Philip, you have heard the vote of thanks so ably moved by Squadron Leader Parker and responded to so generously by the audience. I have very much pleasure in conveying that now to you through my Presidential Office.

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The End of the Beginning

The speaker's now annual report on the war situation. Coming through another year and still fighting and now able to say "We can win" and "We will win—we are winning." Reaching Mr. Churchill's phrase "the end of the beginning." Recent events leading up to these statements. The danger not past; Hitler still holds Europe. How we may dislodge Hitler. The latest accomplishments of the British Navy, the Russians at Stalingrad, the 8th Army, the American marines, the Canadian bombers, and other members of the team. The French in North Africa and some words on the French in general. Our growing strength in the air, and Canada's contribution to that strength. Hitler's speech ten days ago—the speech of a man who knows he is losing. Some cautionary words about making plans for after the war. An examination of the reasons why we are winning. The British Empire hanging together, acting as a united force as the pivotal fact in the world situation. Setting an example for the future.