Greetings and Tributes to Old Comrades in Arms: The Prospect for the Future
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 29 May 1922, p. 172-180
French, Sir John, Speaker
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Item Type
Some personal background of the speaker, and reminiscences of previous visits to Canada and Toronto. Remembering Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia at the time the speaker knew him. The part played by the soldiers of Canada in the war. Recalling April 26, 1915, Ypres. Personal recollections of Canada's now Governor-General, Lord Byng of Vimy. Canada as the first overseas Dominion to take the field in France, quickly followed by the rest of the Empire. A word about the future. How the great war has impoverished every country. The necessity of practicing economy. Urging Canada to build on her self-confidence gained during the war.
Date of Original
29 May 1922
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Full Text
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
May 29, 1922.

THE PRESIDENT, Sir William Hearst, introduced Sir John who was received with three cheers, the audience standing and renewing their applause.


Mr. President, Mr. Mayor, Col. Denison, and Gentlemen o f the Empire Club,--I must remark on the extraordinary feeling I always have in coming to Canada; it is like a great refreshing breeze of loyalty. You know that in the last few years I have not been living in the highest atmosphere of loyalty, and what strikes me on reaching Canadian soil is the extraordinary loyalty which the Canadian people display on all occasions. Indeed Canada may be called one of the great bulwarks of the Empire, and as such I have always considered it. I am sure no one can realize sufficiently how deeply our comrades on the other side of the Atlantic appreciate


Sir John French began his career as a naval cadet; entered the army in 1874; served in the Soudan campaign, 1884-5; commanded cavalry operation in South Africa, 1899-1902, with Sir G. White and Lord Roberts; was made general in 1907, field marshal, 1913; commander of the expeditionary forces in France, 1914-15, and of the troops stationed in the United Kingdom, 1915-18; and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, 1918-21.


the good will of their fellow-comrades in Canada, and I am sure that no expression of appreciation could touch their hearts more than such as has been given me today. You have deeply honoured me in asking me to come to this great City of Toronto, and I rejoice to accept your invitation not only because I personally feel very deeply, your kindness, but also because I am quite sure that you desire through me to pay honour to our mutual comrades in war on the other side of the Atlantic. (Applause)

When I arrived in New York I was met by a great number of representatives of the Press, who gave me a very warm welcome, but they all seemed to wish to force me to admit that I was on some kind of a mission, or what they called a "stunt." I really don't know whether taking a holiday can be properly expressed by the word "stunt," or whether it is what my friend, Mr. Winston Churchill, would call a "terminological inexactitude." I give you my word I am on no stunt of any kind whatever; but I think after more than fifty years' service to the state I may perhaps be allowed to take a holiday. (Applause)

I have visited Toronto before. You did me the very great honour in asking me to unveil a monument in 1910 to those who had fallen in Soufh Africa, and since then I have thought a great deal of your beautiful city. Toronto is a very representative city of Canada; no place is better suited to my purpose, which is, to send a warm and heartfelt greeting to all my old comrades and express my deep gratitude for the splendid help they rendered the army which I commanded in France in 1915.

In 1910 I was Inspector-General of the Forces, and received an invitation from the Canadian Government to come here and inspect their forces during the fall training in camp, and I have a delightfully vivid recollection of that most interesting time. I remember seeing in Toronto some of the finest of your regiments, and remarking their physique, their bearing on parade, their soldier-like attitude, and the manner in which they performed their movements. They won my admiration. I found an equal degree of efficiency when I visited and inspected the camps at Quebec, Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston, Hamilton, and Niagara. I thought after inspecting the wonderful Military College in Kingston that it fully justified what was always said of it--that it was really a model of what such an establishment should be, and I am sure it exists in the same efficiency today.

I remember that my inspection at Kingston was made between four and seven o'clock in the morning of a beautiful summer day, and I stopped my train at the special request of the Minister of Militia, and found the Brigade all armed, and commanded by the late Sir Sam. Hughes. (Applause) Even at that time I remember being most forcibly struck by the military knowledge possessed by Mr. Hughes. I remember reading carefully the scheme of manoeuvres, the orders and instructions which he gave out; they were so concise, clear and to the point that I could not help thinking they must have been the work of some regular trained officer, but I found he had written every word himself, and they were conceived in his own brain, and when afterwards I heard him make the comments upon the work which he had done I realized how powerful a personage he was and what strong military instinct he possessed. I think the whole Empire owes a deep debt of gratitude to this great Canadian. Everyone knows how he struggled to bring the Canadian forces into the high state of efficiency during his term as Minister of Militia, and there can be no doubt that his administration largely helped to enable the forces of Canada to fill the splendid role and to establish the record that they made in the great war. (Applause) A newspaper correspondent in Toronto yesterday, told me that the scene at this great statesman's funeral was one of the most remarkable he had ever witnessed; 2,000 motor cars were there, and people came from all parts of the country to pay honour to him.

Speaking of this inspection reminds me of another great Canadian Statesman, Sir Frederick Borden, who was Minister of Militia at that time. I think some trace of his work is also to be seen in the splendid fighting efficiency that was manifested by the Canadian forces in the great war. I well remember how earnestly he threw himself into the work of the training organizations, and I have the most pleasant recollection of his great kindness and courtesy when he accompanied me around the country. (Applause)

The part played by the soldiers of Canada in the war has been eulogized with much greater power and eloquence than I possess. It forms a very, very brilliant part in the glorious history of the Empire. I have not come to speak so much about that as to say something more personal in reference to the second battle of Ypres. How vividly I recall that fatal day of April 26th, 1915. Things were never very quiet in the Ypres salient, but some days before that they were as quiet as they ever were; then suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, came that terrible report that some miles of the French line had been broken; the English Army was in the air, left completely uncovered and in imminent danger. The history of that time is well known, and I have not the time or ability to properly deal with it, but we know very well the firm stand of the British Army in the salient. On the left of that Army and at the point of danger stood the Canadian Forces, as Lee said to Stonewall Jackson, like a stone wall. They never flinched for a moment. They rendered the most inestimable service to the Empire during those few days of terrible strife, and my heart will never cease to be full of gratitude to them for the splendid aid they brought me on that terrible time of trouble. That is the main message which I wanted to give you today, and wanted you to receive. I felt I could not leave the shores of your continent without coming once on Canadian soil and expressing to you the gratitude which I shall always feel. (Applause) When that classic story comes to be written I feel sure that the foremost place will be given to the soldiers of Canada.

I deeply regret that the fortune of war prevented me from observing so closely during all your subsequent splendid work, but the forces were greatly increased, and the Canadians fought a great deal under that distinguished General who is now your Governor-General-Lord Byng of Vimy. This great soldier is too well known in Canada to require any kind of eulogy from me, but I say that I have enjoyed visiting with him for the last twenty-five years; I have fought with him in two great campaigns, and have had opportunities of seeing the work he has done. He is one of the few men I have ever met who is a great instructor in peace and a great leader in war; he combines those great qualities in an unusual degree. (Applause) His work in war is pretty well known, but his work in peace is not so familiar, and in my position as Inspector-General of Forces and Officer to the Chief of Staff I know very well that the efficiency in the field of war of some of the territorial regiments and divisions was due largely to the tremendous pains he took and the interest he showed in their instruction. (Applause)

Canada can proudly boast of being the first overseas Dominion to take the field in France, and she was quickly followed by the rest of the Empire. Those four years of struggle in that terrible strife differed from anything that had happened before--the soldiers being constantly exposed to fire of the most desperate kind week by week, day and night, year by year increasing; but we stood together for those four years, and then participated in that allied victory which brought freedom to the world. What is the result? We are now bound together by bonds which are absolutely indissoluble. (Loud applause)

Now, Gentlemen, let me say a word about the future. If we only had to consider the great English speaking race, Canada and America, and even our good Allies, France and the rest, we might indeed turn our thoughts permanently from war and think of peace, when by-and-by the world will enjoy the epoch of everlasting peace that we sometimes talk of, and for which we long, and of which we sometimes talk, or perhaps I should say, dream. But can anybody at this moment look round the world and say it is not true that it is only the strong man armed which keepeth his house? (Hear, hear)

You know how the great war has impoverished every country; everybody knows it. We know how an enormous proportion of the wealth of the world lies at the bottom of the sea owing to the action of the submarines. We know how absolutely necessary it is to practice economy everywhere. Nations can never in the future keep up those great standing armies that they have had in the past. They must ever rely more and more upon their territorial and national forces, which I may say Canada has always largely aided in. Whilst speaking of that I would remind you that your Canadian Militia or National Force is one enormous asset which you never had before. You have been tried in the fire, and you have not been found wanting. (Applause) You know what you can do; you know what is wanted of you and you know that you can do it; you have, in fact, that quality which is so valuable to the efficiency of any body of soldiers-self-confidence. Now, build upon that selfconfidence.

I was deeply interested yesterday, and very much gratified to be allowed to stand beside the Lieutenant-Governor of this Province and see those splendid men, to the number of 3,000, file by. They looked like men who had seen good service in the field, and nothing could drive out of them their self-confidence. But as time goes on, remember that cannot always be so. We have all got to die sometime, and unless that feeling of self-confidence is transmitted it will die out; therefore I urge you to keep up that spirit, and maintain that splendid training which has enabled you to do all those great things. You know that I have not served in the trenches, and you know better than I do how necessary and very important it is in these days for the non-commissioned officer and private soldier to learn all you can possibly teach him. You know how often he has to act on his own initiative. You know how often there is nobody near to tell him what to do, and it is only his own knowledge, his own previous instruction, that can enable him to do it. Remember all this, and remember that you have taken upon yourselves this very sacred trust. You have done a very noble and patriotic thing in joining the national forces of the country. You have done it of your own free will, but as you have so gloriously fulfilled that trust in the past I urge you to keep up the good work, and I am quite sure you will thus be benefited, and will maintain the glory of your country. (Loud and continued applause)


Sir John, in moving a vote of thanks to the Viscount of Ypres, said that in the long centuries of British History there were no more amazing chapters than those which recounted the retreat from Mons, the martyrdom of the invincibles, and the endurance of the first hundred thousand. (Applause) John Buchan had said that the chain of events that culminated at Ypres was the greatest military performance in all British History, and he had applied to Lord French the tribute which a Wisconsin soldier had offered to General Grant when he said he "didn't scare worth a damn." (Laughter and applause) It was because of what the British Empire had been, was, and would be that Canadians were of it, and meant to have an influential voice in its councils, and were determined, whatever might be the outlook for the moment, to bear their fair share in the cost of its defense and security. (Loud applause)


Colonel Denison was received with cheers when he rose to second the motion. He said he did so with pleasure because he looked upon Viscount French as the most distinguished and able cavalry officer in the British Empire, as evidenced by his conduct in the South African War. (Applause) His command of the retreat from Mons back to the Marne was one of the most wonderful known in warfare. (Applause) He entirely agreed with the writers on the war who had given this testimony, and he thought the Empire owed to Lord French most heartfelt thanks and gratitude for the ability with which he had carried the gallant little army, for such it was in the beginning of the war, through that awful campaign in the face of enormous hordes of the invading army. (Applause) The retreat had been carried out so successfully owing largely to the exertions of the British Cavalry. The speaker referred to his address given to the Empire Club during the war, at the end of 1916 or beginning of 1917, when he had warned against the politicians making an insecure peace with the enemy. Events had shown that his fears were well grounded, and he asked if anybody knew how the war had been finished? As far as he was concerned he did not know; he knew that it had never been finished. Foch should have been allowed to march straight on to Berlin and take it, and assume control of the country, and make peace there. (Loud applause) On behalf of his comrades who fought during the war, and of the families of those who had laid down their lives, he felt deeply the fact that these final measures had not been taken so as absolutely to ensure a lasting peace; but he wished to second a very hearty vote of thanks to Lord French for his address today, and for all he had done for the Empire and for Canada. (The motion was carried amid cheering.)

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Greetings and Tributes to Old Comrades in Arms: The Prospect for the Future

Some personal background of the speaker, and reminiscences of previous visits to Canada and Toronto. Remembering Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia at the time the speaker knew him. The part played by the soldiers of Canada in the war. Recalling April 26, 1915, Ypres. Personal recollections of Canada's now Governor-General, Lord Byng of Vimy. Canada as the first overseas Dominion to take the field in France, quickly followed by the rest of the Empire. A word about the future. How the great war has impoverished every country. The necessity of practicing economy. Urging Canada to build on her self-confidence gained during the war.