EMPIRE CLUB OF CANADA CANADA AND THE GREAT WAR
AN ADDRESS BY RT. HON. SIR ROBERT L. BORDEN,PRIME MINISTER
Before the Canadian and Empire Clubs, at Toronto, on December 5, 1914
YOUR HONOUR, MR. MAYOR, AND GENTLEMEN, -I appreciate very much the opportunity afforded me today- of speaking to the members of these two clubs. As the Mayor has fortunately observed, recent months have afforded the opportunity rather for work than for speech-making. It does seem very proper that the first public utterance that I have made since the outbreak of the war, except in the course of the parliamentary session, should be made in this city of Toronto; and I am very glad indeed to acknowledge here in. the outset the great feeling of appreciation that is entertained, I am sure, by all the people of Canada for what has been done in Toronto and what will still be done, I am sure. When the Mayor spoke of the spirit of cooperation and mutual helpfulness which pervades all the people of this city, I feel that the like spirit prevails all through this country. I am perhaps a little at a loss for words to describe it-" Faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." I believe that the word " charity " is translated in the New Version as " love." But neither the word "charity " nor "love" expresses precisely the spirit which I feel pervades the people of Canda at the present time. It may be described as the desire to help, sympathy, co-operation, self-sacrifice, the spirit which pervades men and women alike-and God blew the women of Canada for all they have done in these days of trial and stress
It is fitting I should speak to you of that which is uppermost in the hearts of men, the great trial and stress through which this Dominion is passing, in common with all the Dominions of the Empire at the present time. And I desire to emphasise in the first place my conviction, my supreme conviction, that the statesmen of Great Britain strove most earnestly to find an honourable way by which peace might be preserved and war avoided. And I believe no people more earnestly desired to avoid war than the people and nations that compose this vast Empire. Why is it that war has been forced upon it? The public journals today, the information you have got from many sources, make it unnecessary that I should say much about this. But I do desire to say this: it seems to me this war was inevitable. The policy of the German Empire under Prussian domination is foreshadowed in the words which found expression by the great Prussian statesman Bismarck in 1862, " These great questions are not to be settled by speeches and majority votes, but by blood and iron." This policy of blood and iron seemed about to consummate the realisation of that which had been the dream of the German people for centuries; the German Empire was constituted, the King of Prussia became its Emperor; then followed in quick succession the attack on Denmark in 1864, the overthrow of Austria in 1866, and the downfall of France in 1870. From that time until the present, the policy-I will not say of the German Empire, in one respect, but of the oligarchy which dominated it-has been to make Germany all-powerful on land and sea. And you will realise, gentlemen, what it would mean if the dominance of the German Empire upon the ocean were at all comparable to that which it has attained upon land. Make no mistake, gentlemen, you are face to face with the most highly-trained, most powerful military organisation the world has ever known, and you are at least impressed with the strength of that organisation which our men are going forth to fight. So, I say, we have to realise this great task we are undertaking, to realise as the world realises today, that the cause for which we are fighting is just, that it is the cause of democracy against a militarism which, if it does not meet its downfall in the next year or eighteen months, will dominate the world, and throw back the work of civilisation for the next hundred years at least.
I don't know if you are all familiar, as those who are obliged to study the matter are, with the astonishing teaching to which the German people have listened for the last fifty years. Men who have exercised unbounded influence upon the thought of the young men of Germany are the great historian Treitschke and his disciple Bernhardi. Let me read to you a little of the characteristic teaching which has gone forth through the universities, and has been preached by the War League and the Navy League and every organisation that studies to influence the German people.
" War," says Bernhardi, " is in itself a good thing. It is a biological necessity of the first importace . . . .War is the greatest factor in the furtherance of culture and power; efforts to secure peace are extraordinarily detrimental as boon as they influence politics. . . Efforts directed toward the abolition of war are not only foolish but absolutely immoral, and mast be stigmatised as unworthy of the human race: . . . Courts of arbitration are a pernicious delta. The whole idea represents a presumptuous encroachment on natural laws of development which can only lead to the most disastrous consequences for humanity generally . . . ." It is almost impossible to believe that such teachings as these have gone abroad from institutions that are-supposed to represent the highest culture and embody the most advanced, phases of our modern civilisation I Further-" The maintenance of peace can never be, or may be, the goal of a policy . . . . Efforts for peace would, if they attained their goal, lead to degeneration . . . .Huge armaments are in themselves desirable. They are the most necessary precondition of our national health."
Now the influence of this teaching upon the German people has been very manifest in the almost unanimous support which they have given to vast increases in the Katy fortes of Germany, and particularly to the vast inch in the naval forces of Germany. You realise and know, as I do, that the German fleet law passed in 1900, although it did not expressly name the navy of England ors the farce with which it must try conclusions, described it in most unmistakable terms. From that time to the present, and expressly in the last ten years, Germany has deliberately challenged the naval power of Great Britain; and notwithstanding the most persistent efforts of Great Britain to call a halt and bring about a condition in which the vast sum necessary to support this enormous outlay should not be imposed upon the people. I do not need to do more than refer to the ultimatum presented by the Austrian government to Servia, to which it was necessary to send a reply before the expiration of forty-eight hoursthe most extraordinary thing in all the records of history. And although Servia answered with an abject submission, except on one point, that answer was rejected almost immediately. That was done as Germany intended, as shown in the White Paper just presented, with her consent, as you shall find. I say again that the efforts of Sir Edward Grey, Mr. Asquith, and the British government, can only be characterised as the most earnest possible, to find a way, any honourable way, in the conditions which presented themselves, except to take arms, because in 1839 and 1870 Great Britain had pledged herself to defend Belgian territory. In 1870 she signed two treaties, by which she was bound to attack Germany or France if they attacked Belgium. She put the same before France, and she put the same question to Germany. The answer was the same as to that put in 187o-the invasion of Belgian territory. I say, under the circumstances, Great Britain could have taken no other course! All doubt was swept aside, not only in the mind of the government, but in that of all the people, when Germany undertook to invade the soil of Belgium, which we had undertaken by treaty to protect.
Now, the German ideal of government is absolutely different from our own. The unquestioned obedience of the German people in the past thirty years to constituted authority, is one of the most marked phenomena in its national life. They believe the individual exists for the state. They look with scorn, even with contempt, upon an ideal of government constituted by responsible ministers, and which must obey the voice of the people. They believe their ideal of the principles of government is the true one; and some sincerely believe it would be for the advantage of the world as well as of Germany that these ideals should be imposed upon the world. They say, in so many words; as one of their historians puts it: " As the dominance of Prussia over the institutions and peoples of the German people has in the end wrought the greatest good to the German nation, so the dominance of Germans with German forms of government upon the whole world would bring about the greatest ideal of good for the whole world," and therefore justify as they do the dominance of Germans throughout the world to effect that, if necessary by the use of armed force. We will not say the statesmen, but writers, who studied the situation and spoke with great authority, said that war with Great Britain was inevitable. Great Britain occupies a marked place in the civilisation of the world. The British Empire extends over every sea, upon every continent; and we believe, we think we have good- reason to believe, it has been a great force in thug interests of civilisation, liberty, and humanity. We believe that the British idea of building up dominions throughout the world is the true idea, that is, the building
Mdominions to whom is entrusted self-government, of grace but as of right. Our dominions are built up almost altogether by their individual citizens, not by state undertaking. In Germany the state is ruled, not by the will and consent of the people, but by the influence of a military oligarchy.
The storm prophesied broke in Germany at last with startling suddenness. No one could predict the particular occasion which would be seized; but no one who was a dose student of German ideals and ambitions could doubt that as Denmark had her lesson in 1864, Austria in 1866, and France in 1870, there was a very strong and pronounced feeling, in German military and naval circles at least, and I believe it pervaded the people to a great extent, that "The Day," to which the military representatives are said to have drunk, was at hand, and that as Great Britain occupied the place in the sun to which Germany aspired, it, must be won by their formula, and that which was attained through centuries of national striving and development could be won by a few days or a few months by German military power.
What did we do, and what was our duty? I came back to Ottawa on the 1st of August, three days before the war broke out. I had the honour of sending a telegram, at first secret, since made public, telling Great Britain we would co-operate in every endeavour for maintaining the peace of the Empire and of the world, but that if war did unfortunately come, the Dominion of Canada stood with 'Great Britain and all the Dominions of the Empire, to see that the war should be forced to an honourable and victorious conclusion. And as I said to the officers and men this morning, I am glad to have lived to see the day when the public spirit, the national spirit of Canada, has manifested itself as it has manifested itself in the past four months, and will continue to manifest itself until the issue to which I alluded shall be brought about.
We offered them an expeditionary force on the 1st of August. We were told two or three days after to await results. Yet we thought it best to go ahead with it along the lines of the proposal suggested. We took steps at once for the raising and equipment of troops for such a force as was authorised. On the 7th of August, the suggested composition of the force was received from the British authorities, and was immediately sanctioned by Order in Council. Recruiting in the meantime had already commenced, and within, I think, two or three weeks 35,000 men had been enlisted and gathered at Valcartier Camp, and within six weeks from the outbreak of war those men were ready to be transported across the Atlantic, fully armed and equipped for the war.
I want to tell you, if you will permit me, something that will help you to realise the stress of those days. I want to tell you what was done in connection with the preparation of the camp at Valcartier and the equipping of this force. I want you to bear in mind here that Great Britain is not a military country, is not organised on a vast military scale as Germany and other countries, where, when the signal is given, men thoroughly trained can get their munitions and equipment; field guns, stores, and commissariat, and everything necessary for war is gathered together on a great scale. Neither here nor in Great Britain is there preparation on a great scale. Therefore it was particularly creditable to the people--I am not saying to the government--that we were able, by the organising ability fortunately found in this country, to do what has been done in that regard.
I went to Valcartier Camp four weeks after the day the sod was broken for it. The site consisted of a number of little farms, with farm-houses scattered over them. It had been taken for military purposes some time before, but nothing had been done by way of preparing it for use. I want to tell you what was accomplished by the time I saw it. A rifle range comprising a line of 1500 targets, and extending more than three and a half miles, was completed within about ten days. A complete water supply, with necessary piping, pumps, tanks, and chlorinating plant, with about Zoo taps fitted to ablution tables and 75 shower baths, was constructed. An electric light, power, and telephone system was installed. Streets were constructed, buildings and tents erected, and an effective sewerage system, comprising over 28,000 feet of drain pipe, was completed. Railway sidings with necessary loading platforms were constructed. Woods were cleared and elaborate sanitary arrangements prepared. Six large buildings for ordnance stores and for the Army Service Corps, buildings for medical stores, for pay and transport offices, hospital stables for sick horses, fumigating and other buildings were constructed and made ready for use within the same period. Thirty-five thousand men were assembled and put through a most systematic course of training in all branches of the service. Infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineering, Army Service Corps, Army Medical Corps, signalling and ammunition columns were organised, and all were trained in their respective duties. Sixteen thousand men were trained daily in musketry. The clothing and equipment, the transport and supply for 35,000 men were a heavy undertaking, especially in the urgency of haste.
It is difficult for those who did not see the camp, and who have not studied all that has been accomplished, to realise the tremendous demands made upon the organising ability of the Canadian people to accomplish all this. I venture the assertion that the organisation and arrangements of Valcartier Camp have not been excelled in any part of our Empire since the commencement of the war.
It is unnecessary to describe in detail all the equipment, arms, accoutrements, and other necessaries furnished. To equip the force sent forward and to make some provision for future contingents, 290,000 pairs of boots and shoes have been provided, 100,000 forage caps, 90,000 greatcoats, 240,000 jackets and sweaters of various types, 235,000 pairs of trousers, 70,000 rifles, 70,000 bayonets, 80,000 oil bottles, 70,000 water bottles, 95,000 sets of valise equipment, and so on in like proportion over a list of 66 different articles. With the first expeditionary force we sent to Great Britain 21 thirteen-pounder quick-firing guns, 96 eighteen-pounder quick-firing guns, =o breech-loading sixty-pounder guns, a large number of machine guns, motor lorries, transport wagons, and vast quantities of ammunition. The force was ready for embarkation within six weeks from the outbreak of war, and could have been then despatched if arrangements for escort had been immediately possible.
You perhaps do not realise how great an undertaking it was for a non-military country to assemble, organise, train, equip, and despatch so large a force within that brief period. I am claiming this simply as a credit to the people of Canada, because without the organising ability of the people and the earnest co-operation of the nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific, I readily admit it would not have been possible to accomplish this. Just for purpose of comparison, it is, I believe, the largest military force that ever crossed the Atlantic at one time, 50 percent larger than the total number of British troops under Wellington's command at Waterloo, and about twice as large as the force the Spanish expected to land with the great Armada. Of course, it is a small force compared with the enormous forces that are now engaged in the battlefields of Europe. Let me say in passing, that having seen the arrangements which have been made in Toronto for the training of men and sending them to the front, I am delighted with all that has been done, and I take this opportunity publicly to congratulate General Lessard and his staff and all who have helped him for the splendid work done in that regard. I took the opportunity to say this morning, and you will permit me to repeat it here, that the men who are making themselves ready for the stern work which they may be called upon to do later on are serving their country and serving the Empire just as truly as if they were at the front today.
Earnest men, with whose ideals I most deeply sympathise, from all over Canada have been asking me, " Why did not we send immediately 100,000 men across the Atlantic, why not send 150,000 or 200,000 men? " Do you realise what it would mean to send men untrained to fight against the most highly-trained troops in the world? I would not be responsible for it if all the people in Canada told me to do it!
I have spoken to you of what we have done. Let me say a word or two with regard to what we propose to do. Since the first contingent sailed, we immediately announced that another would follow. In the multitudinous affairs of the most urgent importance that continually crowd upon those at the War Office, we did not receive an answer as soon as we had hoped. I gave the matter some consideration, and I discussed it very carefully indeed with the Chief of the General Staff and other officers who were proper to be consulted, and with my colleagues, and I arrived at the conclusion that the proper course for us in Canada to adopt was that which has already been made public, but which I may be permitted to repeat. I asked the Chief of the General Staff how many men could be efficiently trained in Canada at one time. He told me that, with regard to climatic conditions, 30,000 was as many as could be trained at one time. We determined forthwith that 30,000 should immediately be put in training, and as soon as 15,000 or 20,000 should be required by the War Office--because all this is subject to their ability to receive the men-as soon as they could be properly convoyed, and the War Office could provide training quarters for them, we would send them, and immediately enlist more, so that the number of men should be kept up to 30,000; and with that idea, until the termination of this war, or until the War Office tells us that men are no longer required, we would keep men continuously in training in that way. Later on, after consultation with the Chief of the General Staff, we found there were such splendid accommodations in various parts of Canada--and particularly the facilities at Toronto are not equalled anywhere in the world, I think-we increased that number to 50,000 men. The General Staff at Ottawa is engaged on that work at the present time, and I rejoice, and you rejoice, at the way in which the young men of Canada are coming forward. Their spirit is perfectly marvellous. The military authorities, the Chief of the General Staff, and all the officers, have this difficult work before them: they must provide training, clothing, accommodation, and equipment, as fast as the men come forward. I am sure that condition will continue until it is no more needful for us to send men to the front.
In the press in various quarters, this number of 100,000 has been suggested. No one knows what the issues of this war may be. No one knows what the requirements may be. I am not prepared to name any figure. But if two or three times 100,000 men are necessary, I think there is no doubt but that Canada will respond to the call. And we are prepared to make that call in the full assurance that it will be answered.
I was reading not long ago General Bernhardi's book in a translation which appeared in 1913. Speaking of the Dominions of the British Empire he said: " So far as we in Europe or in the European theatre are concerned, the self-governing Dominions of that Empire may be dismissed as a negligible quantity." I want to make this prophecy, that if this war continues as long as we have reason to anticipate at the present moment, the military authorities of Germany will find within that European theatre not less than 250,000 or 300,000 of the best troops in the world from those same negligible Dominions!
I have spoken of the training of the men. I am afraid (cries of " Go on! ").
The Mayor: " We've got all afternoon! "
Sir Robert, continuing: I am afraid the Mayor is impressed with the idea that I intend to make a House of Commons speech. I have spoken of the training of the men. You know, as I said to the officers this morning, you might as well send a dozen or fifteen men from the street into a professional football club or lacrosse or hockey dub and expect them to succeed, as to send untrained soldiers against highly-organised troops. We must train these men here and in Great Britain; they must be hardened, and brought into such physical condition that they can undergo the hardships of actual service under the conditions which must be present there without breaking down. And understand, that if this training of the men is important, the training of the officers is still more essential, because they are responsible in a certain sense for the lives of the men whom they lead. And the training of the officers is a much more complicated matter than the training of the men. And I say this with the most sincere admiration and appreciation of the splendid spirit with which the officers of the active militia of Canada have undertaken to learn their duties and fit themselves for the work which is before them now. I am speaking in no critical spirit at all, but simply endeavouring to impress upon you, in the first place, that the training of the men is all-important, and in the next place, that the training of the officers is all-essential; and what has gone on at Valcartier Camp, what is going on under such splendid organisation here, is absolutely necessary, and must be supplemented still further by training of the men after they reach the other side. I hope you understand and appreciate that.
Now I know that in the South African War men went perhaps without a great deal of training; but without professing to understand military affairs as many men here understand them, I think the conditions which have to be faced in this war are very different. I say that with all deference to the opinion of men who are better qualified to judge. With reference to the Civil War in the nation to the south of us, men on both sides learned by experience on the field how to fight and to perform their duties as soldiers. But it would be too costly to think of sending our men to learn their duties that way.
When any one suggests that Canada should send 150,000 or 200,000 men at once, let me say that those men, in my judgment, would not only be an incubus but a positive danger; whereas if trained and adequately prepared they will do their part well. I have every confidence in the spirit of courage and endurance of the citizen soldiers of Canada, and all they need is training and preparation to make them capable of acquitting themselves with credit not only to the Dominion but to the armies of the Empire as well.
This has been a great test of the national spirit, and Canada has emerged triumphant. The people have responded, contributions have flowed from all over Canada, great contributions from your city and others, to the Patriotic Funds. I .am sure it is a splendid thing to have lived to see this national spirit, and I have spoken of all the work of the women with their desire to help, their model self-sacrifice. Different ideals are put on one side. Races and creeds of the most divergent type have joined together. There has been a splendid spirit. The unity of the Empire has been demonstrated, as well as the unity of this Dominion. And perhaps we may say that we owe this at least to the Kaiser, that the unity of this great Empire has been demonstrated to his satisfaction, I think, and certainly to the satisfaction of others.
I sincerely believe the German people did believe the British race was decadent, that this Empire was a sham and deserved to be destroyed, and that this colossus with feet of clay only needed to be attacked to fall prone at the feet of the Germans. Do the fields of Belgium and France tell you the British race is decadent? I have confidence and belief that the record of Canada will be as worthy as that of the British Isles. The Empire was to fall apart; India was to revolt; the self-governing dominions were to stand aside; Ireland was to go into rebellion. But instead, the whole Empire has become tense with unity again. This is the answer Canada and the Empire have given to the Kaiser. And that is the answer which they will give him to the end!
Now in speaking of all this, I do not want you to think that I do not appreciate all that the world has owed to German thought and achievement in the past. In every branch of art, science, literature, every useful phase of human activity, the Germans have been well to the front. Although I understand and appreciate further in the German people that habit of unquestioned obedience to the dominant Prussian spirit, greatly perhaps to their cost, still I can say this war is really waged against the military autocracy which dominates Germany today, while I say that the destruction of that military oligarchy means much to the world, and more to Germany itself; and the German people, therefore, when freed from that dominance imposed upon them by Prussia, may have a future of greatness even surpassing that which they have achieved in the past.
Now I am very thankful indeed to have had the opportunity of speaking to you today. Let me allude to the German people in our own dominion. I would like to pay a tribute to what has been done in Canada by Canadian citizens of German descent. I remember the mayor of a city in the western part of Ontario, a city whose population is almost altogether composed of citizens of German descent, coming to me in Ottawa and saying that their purpose was to make a contribution in that city to the Patriotic Fund greater per capita than that of any other city in Canada. They have accomplished, or nearly accomplished, what was proposed at that time. And as far as concerns those who have been brought to this country upon the invitation of the people of Canada and the government, Germans and Austrians who have come to make this country their home, I desire to say, that I have been very closely in touch with them, and they have given every satisfaction; with very few exceptions their conduct has been exemplary and all that could be desired. They will make good citizens of Canada, they and their children. I am sure we realise the trying situation in which they must be placed. One of them was telling me how he almost got into a fight with a neighbour over the question, and he said to his neighbour, " I know I am wrong; forgive me; but there is something in my heart-I have tried to get it out, and I can't get it out." You appreciate what that feeling would be for a man whose relatives are still natives and citizens of Germany or Austria. So I think we owe to these people consideration and fairness.
Your Honour, Mr. Mayor, and Gentlemen, I must tell you how deeply I feel the honour of being privileged to speak to you today. In conclusion, let me say that Canada, I believe, is united in the strong conviction that our cause is just, and in the inflexible determination to make it triumphant. I believe that that is the spirit of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And our people realise fully that this terrific conflict was not of Britain's seeking. Let rile say just one word as to what may be the result in the future. No one can tell the fortunes of war. I believe this war can have only one conclusion. But reverses may come, and if they do come, it should be our watchword and that of the people of Canada, this must only inspire us with deeper courage and greater determination. Our fortitude and endurance must equal all demands which the future shall make upon us. All that our forefathers fought for and achieved, all that we have inherited and accomplished, our V institutions and liberties, our destiny as a nation, the existence of our Empire, all are at stake in this conflict. And I am confident that the resolution, the determination, the self-reliance, the resourcefulness, which never failed Canada in the stress and trials of the past, will assuredly not fail her now!