GOING ON TO THE END
AN ADDRESS BY
PERCY JAMES PHILIP
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, October 5th, 1944
MR. CONQUERGOOD: Today, instead of introducing our guest speaker, it might be more fitting if I were simply to present him to you.
He was first introduced to the Club by President G. Howard Ferguson in 1940. He has been introduced by each president in succession, by President Sanderson, President MacBeth, President Humphreys and now for the fifth season is to bring us a message.
Surely such an unusual record might reasonably entitle him to proceed without further introduction, but, since we have a radio audience, may I say for their in formation that our guest speaker is Mr. Percy J. Philip, Ottawa Correspondent of The New York Times. Previous to his coming to Canada, he had been for a number of years correspondent of The Times in Paris, France.
Gentlemen: A great speaker from a great paper will now address you on the topic "Going On To The End".
MR. P. J. PHILIP: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen Nothing has pleased and encouraged me more during these four years that I have spent in Canada than the compliment you have paid me by inviting me back each year to report to you on the progress of the War. At times it has been a pretty grim report. Yet we have never been discouraged, never lost heart.
When I first had the honour of addressing your club, in the dark days of November 1940, I began with the statement: "I am sure that we can win this war". You and I knew that there was little enough at that time to justify such optimism. We were fighting alone and almost unarmed except for our courage. In the next two years the picture I had to paint, if it was to be true, was of desperate need and urgency. Hitler held all Europe from the heart of Russia to the Pyrenees from the Arctic to the Aegean Sea. In the Atlantic his U-boats were taking dreadful toll of our shipping and our Seamen. England was torn and rent by the bombs of the Luftwoffe. We lost great ships and gallant men when the Japanese treacherously attacked the American Fleet and brought us into that war. They were bitter years as we fought with varied fortunes in Africa and waited for the day when we would have enough trained men and planes and tanks and guns and bombs to hit back as Churchill promised we would fifty and hundred-fold.
When I spoke to you in January of this year I felt justified in amending my original statement to make it read: "We can win the war against Nazi Germany this year." Well, gentlemen, as a prophet I have not done so badly. We are going to come near it. We have come through the greatest danger that has ever threatened our race, our Christian civilization and human liberty since these things became known of men. However it comes and whenever it comes the end of this struggle is not now in doubt. But I am of those who, knowing the Germans and the ruthlessness of the Nazi regime, believe that in the months ahead we must be prepared to face the bloodiest, most obstinate fighting and the greatest nerve strain of the whole war. We have seen how in these last two months isolated German garrisons at Brest, at Le Havre, at Boulogne and Calais have held out stubbornly even when they knew that all hope for them was lost. Along both frontiers they were fighting with a ferocity that has checked the advance of the Russians, the Americans and ourselves. It is clear that they hope to try to keep the invaders out until winter comes. That is what we would do-and whatever we may think of Hitler and his gang, let us be fair to them and to ourselves and admit that they are fighting men.
If we are to see the end this year, or in the spring, we must go on as grimly, as earnestly and completely as we have done at any time in these past five years.
To me it sometimes seems like a miracle that we have come through as we have done. The contrast is so sharp, so violent between what is happening now and what happened four years ago. I saw the tragedy of Holland and Belgium and France in 1940, when the Nazis "blitzed" their way across these countries. assured and fiercely proud of their immense superiority in armaments and in numbers. It did not seem possible that we could hold them off and beat them. I have always had a certain sympathetic understanding of those in France who abandoned their lost battle because they could not see any prospect of Russia or the United States coming in and did not believe it possible that the British peoples alone could hold out. But these people backed the wrong horse. Only a handful led by General de Gaulle believed in us. Sometimes, it has seemed to me our loyalty to him has been far short of his to us.
The miracle has happened and it is in no humble mood that we can look back on it today. It was a miracle of our making-all of us-but we can all take pride in what we have done, in the kind of people we are. What I find most satisfactory is that we of the British nations especially, and the home country most of all. have done what we have done so steadily, so calmly, without any nonsense of great gestures and extravagant claims. We have never become hysterical and we have never become boastful. We entered the war deliberately, for a cause which we felt to be compelling and right, and we have fought it deliberately without ambition or passion, or fear, or illusion. It was just a job to be done.
What above all has seemed to me to mark our performance as great, is that we have not had to have recourse to any violent changes of method and regime. In these five years of great emergency we have not lost a single essential liberty. Our institutions, from the Monarchy, which unites the Empire in a Family group, down to our luncheon clubs, have stood the strain and set high example without change or need for amendment. In every one of our countries discussion and criticism has remained free in Parliament, in the press, in public assembly. Our governments with the law courts and the police have helped maintain and organise but have never pressed down on the liberty of our collective and individual lives. We have had price ceilings and rationing and controls of one kind and another but they have never been arbitrary and there is no section of the community in any British nation which can fairly complain that it has been harshly or unnecessarily constrained or asked to make greater sacrifice than any other.
We have every reason to be proud of ourselves for we have proved that we are, in the real sense of the word, mature self-governing peoples who do not need governments to do our thinking for us or any self-appointed individuals, acting in the name of the State, to dictate our course. It has been out of the conscience. the intelligence, the courage and the capacity for organisation and improvisation of all our people educated in the use of freedom that victory has come. If there has been any miracle it has been that our queer monarchic parliamentary democracy, with its unwritten constitution, its constant querulous argument, its human mixture of loyalty, dispute, egoism and indifference. that looked like chaos, should have in the end beaten the great stream-lined totalitarian machines that seemed so impressive and so efficient. That is a miracle that is worth moralising on. It is something that we should constantly remember when we try to plan the future.
There have been from time to time a good many critics of our hap-hazard way of life. One might say that the woods are full of them. They crop up especially at times like these, when a great effort has been made and a great emergency overcome, and seek to tell us how we are to do better in future. Now, it is not for me, who am just a reporter of what men say and do, to minimize or criticise these reformers and their ideologies. But looking back over these five years as we are doing today I think that we are entitled to claim that we owe less to the brilliant ideas of the political prophets and pundits than we do to the homespun courage and tough fiber of a great many very ordinary people.
I was very much impressed with this fact this past spring when I visited England for the first time since just after the war began. It has been nearly thirty years since I lived as a resident there and it was almost as a foreigner that I went back to see how my own people had behaved and were behaving under the strain.
Now, I don't want to brag about them-that would be unbecoming and they would not like it--for they have become even more sensitive than usual about anything that savors of publicity and advertising. You see, they have endured too much for that sort of thing. They all know that their next door neighbor is just as much a hero as they are, and none of them have any vanity about their personal heroism. Blitz bombs and doodlebugs have a way of curing that effectively.
On the other hand I found these English a very confident people. In a way it could be claimed that they are enjoying war. That may seem an odd thing to say but I would like to try to explain it, for it applies to the troops over there as well as to civilians. On this side of the ocean, where we have fought the war in comfort vicariously, we have become accustomed to thinking of the people over there with sympathy, pitying them because of the blackout, the bombing, the strain and constant danger, the shortness of food and the dullness of the diet. Underneath that sympathy there has been a tendency to thank God that we are not as these others are and to feel just the least bit smug about it.
But, believe me, we are wasting our sympathy and exaggerating our good fortune. I found over there far less discontent, certainly far less complaining, than I have noticed here in the course of some elections that have been held or are in process. These people in Britain, and this is true also of those who are fighting, are proud of themselves and of each other. They are enjoying the struggle as a great-hearted horse enjoys pulling a full load or thundering down the race track. They may be a bit weary but they are buoyed up with legitimate pride in what they have done and with the certain hope of victory.
One day I met a man who had been bombed out of two houses, had lost his business and taken a small government job, who spent two nights a week as a fire watcher and spent every week end practising with the Home Guard. He seemed to think it quite a normal life and said to me quite seriously and with sympathy: "It must be pretty dull over there in Canada." It had not struck me that way before, but my respect for the truth compelled me to admit the estimate at least on a relative basis.
Yet in fundamental things I found that life in England has not changed greatly. The wind has been violent but the little roots of the old tree have stood firm. The first thing that impressed me and my Canadian companions when we landed at a little port near Glasgow was that we could get beer in a railway station buffet. It was not very good beer and it was very expensive compared with the old days, for it carries a heavy tax, but it was beer and later I was to find that one of the really solid foundations of British resistance has been the age-old institution of the "pub" where men could gather in a companionable way and drink a glass and talk over their fortunes and their misfortunes, crack jokes and comfort each other.
In these poor men's clubs I heard more commonsense talk about the war and life than I had heard in all my wanderings about the world. There was not any nonsense about our wonderful tomorrows but there were plenty of stories that told what a wonderful world this is with its heroism, its endurance, its humor, its weaknesses, its sorrows, its pity and its continuous effort.
As well as to the pubs I went to the churches-quite a lot of them of different denominations and some without roofs and windows-for the churches seem to have had a special attraction for bombs and incendiaries. There was, I felt, a deeper meaning in the old prayer: "Give peace in our time, O Lord, for only Thou fightest for us, O God." But there was nothing maudlin in that prayer and nothing sentimental in the attitude of these people. They aren't putting the responsibility on God. They know that they have done their part and will go on doing it to the end.
In a Scottish Presbyterian church the minister with a realism which smacked of the Old Testament, and to my thinking expressed the profound feeling of his congregation, added to his prayer for the fighting forces: "Give them courage, O God, and give our people courage always to fight for the right against evil." I think that old divine came much nearer to the core and centre of life than all those who put their trust in the signed word of governments and the complicated machinery of some new League of Nations.
What cowards and poltroons we would have been if in 1939 we had not replied at once to Hitler's challenge and gone to war for Poland. I believe that these English people don't really care who takes or gets the credit for winning the war. They like the record to be kept straight, as Mr. Churchill did when he made his report to Parliament last week, of what has been done in Normandy and Arnheim, in Africa, Italy and India. But they also remember. and they are content, that they went to war for the principle of liberty and the right of another nation to live, without waiting themselves to be attacked. It has cost them dearly but they know that they have earned the right to self-respect, which is a much greater thing than the applause of others. Perhaps it is that feeling which permits them to give credit and applause to all their friends and allies-and they do it generously, more generously than they get it.
I went to Parliament. It was on a day when Mr. Churchill spoke on Foreign Policy. There were a few sharpshooters of the Shinwell type who took exception to what the Prime Minister had to say about Spain and its Government. There were some who thought that he was weakening because he said that the war had become less ideological. For myself, who saw something of the intricate wrong and right of the war in Spain and have reported the rise and fall of many ideologists, I know of no nation and no national or party leader or newspaper editor who is in a position to give any lesson in political judgment or in practical ideology to the British people and the King's First Minister.
Their Parliament is rather weary of itself. It has been in session a very long time in trying circumstances and has done an immense amount of good work. But everyone realises that it is not healthy to go on without conflict and change. They are puzzled about what will happen when they do have an election. The old party divisions have greatly disappeared and the party machines are rusty. In Parliament they still go through the motions of opposition and every now and then someone rises to remind Mr. Churchill that he is not God Almighty, just in case he should come to think that he is, which he doesn't.
But do not expect any revolutions in England. I found the Monarchy firmly established in the hearts and minds of the people because it satisfies both a personal and political need. The Royal Family is a type and pattern of that responsibility to society which is so marked a characteristic of the English educated classes. The King and Queen compel loyalty by the inspiration of their example as well as by their personal charm and in the Crown we have that unique and tremendous power for national unity, a head of the State who is above and outside politics.
There is another thing. Long before any other country of its importance the British tried the experiment of a Labor Government. It was not a bad, and it was not a very good government, but if it did not accomplish much it proved one thing, that the British people don't like doctrine and dogma and brain trust theories about how life and industry should be organised. They love liberty and personal privilege too much for that. Long before this Continent was discovered they made their King sign Magna Charta when he got the idea that he was the State, and they chopped off the head of another when they found him inclined towards divine totalitarianism. Believe me, the descendants of those Englishmen are not going to allow any person or party or class coterie of pseudo-intellectuals to dominate them even when they claim to govern in the name of the People.
I found the current of opinion ran in just the opposite direction. From top to bottom, including my two brothers and the girl who issued my ration card, I found everybody in revolt against State direction and being State employees. These peoples have accepted restrictions and State employment as a war necessity but just as soon as the war is over they are going to be free again to think for themselves, work for themselves, risk for themselves. I confess I prefer a sporting lot like that, who want to stand on their own feet, to those who are thinking only of security guaranteed by the State from the cradle to the grave, however excellent and needful some such protective measure for the weak may be.
A man who had been a great London merchant took me one day to see the Moorefields section of the city where twenty acres of business houses, the richest merchant community in the world, had been totally destroyed by bombs and fire. There is not a ledger left. But do not think these people are whining. This man told me that he had kept in touch with almost all of his two hundred former employees now in the forces or in government employ and that all of them were eager to start in with him again the moment the war is over and rebuild the firm.
You can't beat people like that. Those London merchants, whose adventures in trade opened up the whole world from China to Hudson's Bay, may have lost their fortunes, their offices, their markets and their ledgers, but they have not lost their courage and their enterprise. London City will rise again as great as ever for its people are a great-hearted people.
Just one more story. I went to Law Courts, for I am of those who believe that the administration of justice is a surer indication of a nation's health than all the laws there may be on the statute books. At Bow Street I ran into a nice little case. A policeman was on the witness stand telling how he had seen the accused enter parked automobiles in a street off Piccadilly and search the dashboard lockers as if she was looking for something. The accused who was a woman denied the charge and it was a case of her word against that of the policeman, who was trying to build up a case against her of having stolen clothing coupons.
The constable was very pat with his story but the English law had provided the accused with a counsel for defence who, with what is called an Oxford accent, began examining the witness. He seemed quite sympathetic, that being a trick of the trade, but suddenly he asked how the policeman had seen the accused without being himself seen. "You weren't hiding?" he snapped, for an English policeman must not be hiding. The policeman was a bit rattled but there was a long discussion as to just where the moon was and how he was in the shadow and she in the moonlight. "Looks rather like hiding," counsel remarked to the Magistrate. The woman who admitted that she had had some beer to drink and no dinner had been taking her dogs for a walk. Their photographs were produced and had an effect. Patiently the lawyer went on trying to shake the policeman's story. Quietly he dropped the question: "What first attracted your attention to this woman?" Unguardedly, sure of himself, the policeman answered: "She slammed the door of the car."
His Worship woke up with a start as if he had been roused by the slamming of the door. "Did she slam the doors of all the cars?" he asked. "Yes. Your Worship." the policeman, stammered. He had gone too far and knew it. His Worship did not wait for more. "No woman with two dogs on a lead, even when slightly intoxicated slams the doors of automobiles which she has entered with intent to steal," he snapped. "Case dismissed."
That instant dismissal of anything like an incipient Gestapo and the sight of a gipsy caravan all gaily painted in green and yellow, with baskets and babies hanging from it and old dogs running around biting their fleas, were perhaps the two things among many which did most to convince me that, by God, there is still liberty in England and we have not fought in vain.
You will excuse me. I know, that I have given so much of my time today to talking about England and the English. Certainly I do not wish to seem to detract from what any and all the others of the United Nations have done toward defeating Germany. I am always the first to admit and I think that we should all with humility remember that it has taken all of us together to do it. Yet I would underline this fact that the British have been in all the battles from the beginning. Brigaded with the Canadian 1st Army is a new 51st Highland division. which has taken the place of the old one which suffered so fearfully in the retreat of 1940 to St. Valery, which has fought in Africa and the Far East and has now taken its full revenge along with your fellows. That is only one unit of the British forces which have never given up, never ceased from fighting for over five years and will go on to the end not only against Germany but against Japan.
I have left myself too little time to talk about all our plans for the future as I had intended to do--but perhaps that is just as well. We really can not hope to plan the future any better than we have planned the past and there are already signs of danger ahead. But there are one or two things that we can and must do. We have proved to ourselves and the rest of the world that our system of human liberty, inefficient as it may sometimes seem, is stronger than the strongest man-power machine ever welded by a fanatic faith and a fanatic will. We have demonstrated that happy peoples, who keep a sense of humor in the midst of tragedy, are better fighters than average-hearted men. We have learned by bitter experience that not even the strongest nation can hope to win a war with modern weapons alone and that it is only by grouping their forces that the decent people of this world can expect to resist evil. But even when we have won and Hitler and Hitlerism have been destroyed do not let us imagine that we will have destroyed evil, that no new challenge to our courage and ability will ever rise again. Of the mystery of human life and action we know only a very small part. Let us go humbly toward the future, neither promising nor expecting too much but striving as we have striven during these past five years for what we believe to be right and prepared to fight for it if need be. That is the only road along which not only safety but honor lies.