CANADIANS IN THE IMPERIAL, MILITARY SERVICE.
Address by Lieut.-General F. W. Benson, C..B., on Thursday, April 6th, 1905.
Colonel Mason, Gentlemen arid Members o f the Empire Club,
I need hardly say that I wish I had sufficient powers of oratory to convey to you the feelings of pride and pleasure which have been allowed me at being honoured with your invitation today. As Colonel Mason has said I only had a short notice, but the subject fortunately is not one in which politics enters; otherwise I think I should have been obliged to say that we soldiers are not supposed to be able to speak. That is to say, we are not encouraged to speak. We do not get many opportunities and when we do get opportunities we have to be very careful what we say because it might be misconstrued. However, this is a subject I do not think I need be afraid of. I cannot claim any special distinction over others of my fellow-countrymen who have earned honour and distinction, I am sure, in every country that they have gone to and in every profession and industry in life. We only, after all, follow in each other's footsteps.
I had before me an example in Major-General C. W. Robinson of this town who, as you all know, is a very distinguished officer. His career was always before me. He was an Upper Canada College boy and so was I. He went to the Staff College and I went to the Staff College. He has filled most of the responsible positions on the staff in the field, and was raised to the rank of Major-General, and was caught in a way in which most of us must be caught if we live long enough and that is by the age clause. I myself will suffer in a few years from it. However, I am thankful to say as regards General Robinson that his services to the country are not lost because even in his retirement he is taking the greatest interest in everything that concerns Canada and this town and the Empire. I may say, generally, that he is a prominent member of the Royal Colonial Institute and on the Council of it in London. He is always glad to see Canadians just as he always was to help them when he was in the Service. He is a very old friend of mine; he often gave me excellent advice and, when he could, all the help that was in his power.
There are many other gentlemen, as you know, who have gone from Canada and who have entered the Imperial Service. It is impossible to enumerate them all and therefore, if I leave out the friends or relatives or any who may be here today it is simply because it would be impossible for me, as they now number hundreds, where in my day they numbered only a few, to tell you much about them.
In 1867 when I went as a cadet to Sandhurst there were only three Canadians among the 300 Cadets. The others beside myself were Alan Cameron and Alec Gzowski. In those days I think you could easily count the number of Canadians in the Army and their names were well known from Quebec to Lake Huron. Your own town was well represented by Gamble, Grasett, and others and the Niagara District with Merritt, the two Dicksons, and Burns; those are names that come to my mind at the moment, but of course there are many others, who will forgive my not calling them to mind on the spur of the moment. In these days I doubt if there is a single Battalion of Infantry that has not had a Canadian through its officers' ranks. We have many representatives in the Artillery and Engineers and a few in the Cavalry. .
I will tell you of a few that I have met, and principally in South Africa. While I was Chief Staff Officer to General Kelly-Kenny on the line of communication at Bloemfontein we wanted an armoured train very much, that is to say, that could be constantly on the move up and down the line to prevent its being cut. We wanted an officer who had any amount of go, energy, iron constitution, resources, independence-everything you may say, and we found it in Major, now Colonel, Nanton of the Royal Engineers who went from the Kingston Military College. I can say that his work was of the most useful character and to us of the greatest possible assistance in keeping our line clear. He was a terror to the Boers in the way of line cutting. He and his quick-firing twelve-pounder, with his engine attached, went up and down all hours of the day and night. The moment they heard of him coming they were off. I think he once got it off and that was about all. However, it was the moral effect of it which helped us in that very arduous duty which we had of preventing the lines from being cut here and there and the delay of food and other articles for Lord Roberts' advance further north.
Later on in the war Sir Archibald Hunter came to relieve General Kelly-Kenny. The Division was broken up and he was going home. General Hunter came to Bloemfontein and with him as Intelligence Officer was another Canadian, Colonel George Kirkpatrick, a name I think that is familiar to this Club and to all good citizens of Canada. I remember his father well and it is a great pleasure to me to mention his name. It seems to me that Toronto contributes largely to the officers that I have met. Another one is Colonel MacInnes who is well known here in Toronto, who has many relatives, who also distinguished himself. Another one that I came across was Major Dobell, grandson of Sir David Macpherson. He distinguished himself in the Mounted Infantry and received the Distinguished Service Order and is an officer of great promise and you will hear more of him later on. There was also Major Morris, another name well known here, a Toronto family name. He was with Thorneycroft as his Staff Officer all through the troublesome times and the dark days of Colenso and the operations in the town. These are only a few of the names.
Sir Percy Girouard's name is well known to you all and his ability and the high position he has always taken whenever he has been called upon to serve his country in any capacity. There are a great many others who are following in the footsteps of ourselves who will rise to higher rank and I have no doubt that you will hear a great deal from them in a few years to come. They are all working their way up steadily. Many of them have gone through the Staff College, all of them, I am sure, imbued with the same feeling that I and others have had before me, and that is that we are watched by our friends out here, that our movements are watched with interest, that our successes are shared, we may say, by those who wish us every prosperity in the career we have chosen. It is that, Gentlemen, that I think keeps us on the go. There is something about a Canadian which I think gives him a start by a good many yards when he enters the British Army. As a rule constitutionally they seem to be fitted, like most men born in northern climates, for almost any climate or any change of climate. They are always better in India or the tropical climates. I don't know why but it is a curious fact that I think you will find they do stand the climate better than most other people. There is another point about them and that is the early education that they receive in Canada. Their minds are enlarged, they have no contracted, narrow ideas. Not that I am going to run down our Old Country, but still I mean the boys, taking them age for age, when they come out of Canada they really start two or three years ahead of the boys of the same age over on the other side.
Gentlemen, I wish that I had been better prepared with more detail regarding our officers in the Imperial Service that have come from Canada, but you know many of them yourselves and hear from them. You must remember that in our Service we are scattered so much. We will say that I am in .the north of India. There may be a hundred or more officers from my own country serving in India that I may never come across during the whole of that time. I hear of them principally through their own country and reading accounts of them in our own papers. Before I conclude what is necessarily a short address, I am going to allude to an officer who is here with me today, who is your guest as well, and that is Colonel Bridge. He is in my Department of the Army, and something more, he is almost Canadian-born. You may not know it but he was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, where his father was Rector in the Cathedral, I believe, that stands there at the present day. So that I think you will admit he has something to do with us as well and I am very glad that Colonel Mason and you, Gentlemen, asked him to be present today. I will say a little more about him and that is, in the South African war I think that if Colonel Bridge had not been in Cape Town there might have been no provisions in Ladysmith. He was the officer, I always feel who in his position there hurried everything. He foresaw the necessity of it and with his foresight and prudence, which he at all times exercised, he pushed everything around to the Natal side so that the officers in the Army service there should have it available; and therefore he performed great service and I feel very proud of him.
There are others that might be mentioned but I think you must excuse me as being, what shall I say, not a very ready speaker; that is to say I have not had the practice that would enable me suddenly to command the language which I believe I might have if I stayed here much longer, because I think I have spoken more in the last three or four days than in the past six and thirty years of my service and I really believe that if I went on and had a little more practice that I would become quite an orator. Whether I would be able to open my mouth without putting my foot in it I don't know, but still I hope that there is nothing that I have said today that can be construed in any other way than that I feel highly honoured by this invitation. My sympathy is entirely with you in every way. I think that we who go abroad are the links of the Empire. We try to give information; we try to let those who live in the darkness know a little of the light which we have in this country and I think we succeed. However, I am sure you will find that all of us who are serving in the Imperial Army are of one mind as regards the future of our country. I will not express my exact opinion about it but you have my best wishes. The Chairman called upon Colonel Bridge, C.B., C.M.G., who said
Colonel Mason and Members of the Empire Club,--
I have been, to my utter astonishment, dragged from dignified or rather undignified obscurity to address you. I always thought that when the head of the firm made his remarks that the tail might lie low. However, as I have to say a few words I must take this opportunity of thanking the gentlemen in Toronto for the cordial reception they have given me and the kindness and hospitality they have extended to me. I believe the objects of this Club are those of binding together the Empire and its dependencies. What has struck me most in Toronto is the extraordinary size of the place, the marvellous goaheadedness of it, the huge buildings, the bustling streets, in fact so much have I been struck with it that I believe I have solved the question for which this Club was formed. I believe if we had a rule that every member of Parliament was to graduate by a visit to Canada, commencing or ending with Toronto, that we should hear very little about any weakening of the bonds which bind the Mother Country to its dependencies. I think if they came here and saw men with intellects as clear as the northern atmosphere, with energy as unbounded as these vast territories which they still have to subdue to their use; that we should hear very little of the differences of opinion that might end too disastrously for me to mention. I believe it has always been in all history a fact which has come out clearly and that is when an old country loses its elder children that country feels the loss and runs great risk and danger of sinking very low in the scale of nations. Gentlemen, I am afraid I am no orator and I have very little else to say except to thank you and to say what an immense pleasure to me my visit has been.