- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 29 Aug 1916, p. 193-204
- Perley, Sir George, Speaker
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- Item Type
- Perpetuating the British Empire; making it come closer together. The speaker's belief that the British Empire is the greatest secular force for good that the world has ever seen. Finding some practical way in which we shall get a voice in all matters of any concern, such as peace and war, and foreign affairs—something that we as a self-respecting people claim that we should have, and that we have a right to. Public opinion in England in favour of such a course. The inadvisability of a concrete plan for bringing about such a result. The speaker's suggestion for a convention or meeting in London at which all the different parts of the Empire should be represented, and would try and find some plan or system which would be agreeable to all. The need to retain our autonomy for which we have fought over a great many years. Keeping our privileges and rights of self-government within our own borders while having a voice in Imperial matters, in common concerns. What Britain has done in this war. The current state of affairs in the war now. Canada's participation. The nature of the British Empire. The condition of things in England. The work being done by women in this war. The speaker's experiences at the front and the conditions he found on two visits. The life and death of the soldiers. Organizations that help make the boys more comfortable. The work of the Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian War Contingent Association, the Maple Leaf Club and other Clubs in London where the fellows can go and feel like they are in a home. The cheerfulness and courage of our men applying equally well to those from the other Dominions and to the British. The British Army today a citizen army just like our own. Practically all of the men in the original regular army either wounded or missing. The benefit we will get out of this horrible mess the closer co-operation from the mingling together of men from all the different part of the Empire. The need to know each other better.
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- 29 Aug 1916
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PRACTICAL CONSOLIDATION OF THE EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY SIR GEORGE PERLEY, K.C.M.G.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto August 29, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--I have been in England for two years; I was just about to return home when war was declared, and it was my duty and pleasure to stay all through and carry on the work of the High Commissioner's office to the best of my ability. I think it is specially appropriate that I should speak a few words to the members of this Empire Club, because I know of no one who is more anxious than I am personally to see some practical way found by which this British Empire shall come closer together and be perpetuated, because I believe that this Empire of ours is the greatest secular force for good that the world has ever seen. We want to perpetuate it, but we want to find some practical way in which we shall get a voice in all matters of any concern, such as peace and war, and foreign affairs-something that we as a self-respecting people claim that we should have, and that we have a right to. I have spoken about this a good many times in London, and have put this view of the case before them there, and I am happy to say that public opinion over there is growing from day to day more strongly in favour of that course. I have no cut-and-dried plan. I am not sure that it is wise to put forward any concrete suggestion as to how this desired result should be brought about. Sometimes I think that a concrete plan is liable to a good deal of criticism, not only from opponents of what we believe right ourselves, but from those who, while believing in the British Empire being perpetuated, have some other plan which they would like to put forward. My own personal idea is that we ought to try and arrange for a convention or meeting in London, small in numbers, at which all the different parts of the Empire should be represented, in order that they might discuss this question, might sit around a table and try and find some plan or system which would be agreeable to all-much in the same way as the Dominion of Canada was started-and if this Convention would agree, then of course the suggestion would have to be put to the vote of the countries represented, but I think we might take for granted that the vote would be favourable to the plan under those conditions. We must retain our autonomy-we have fought for it for a great many years; we have privileges and rights of selfgovernment within our own borders here which none of us are prepared to give up to the slightest degree. While we keep those privileges and rights, we can still have a voice in Imperial matters, in common concerns, and it seems to me we could work out that problem on some such plan as was adopted for the confederation of these Provinces in Canada. Then I quite agree that we should have a self-contained empire; I have been strongly in favour of that, and have spoken several times in London on the subject. This war has taught us and has taught Britain conclusively that it is a dangerous thing that any vital industries of Britain should be in the hands of the enemy, or that the enemy should have any control over the country. We have within the borders of our empire everything that we can possibly need, not only for sustenance, but for luxury as well, and we should see that those natural resources which are within our own borders shall be kept within those borders and that they shall be always under our control, because in that way it is evident we shall always be, both in peace and war, independent of any other country in the world. That attitude raises questions of policy in Great Britain which they have appointed a Commission to discuss; they are endeavouring to find some common ground in the British Isles, with the idea of meeting afterwards with representatives from the other parts of the Empire to discuss this and other questions from the Imperial point of view. The help that Canada has given towards the war both in men and money is greatly appreciated, and when the Dominions are mentioned m the Old Country any remarks made are received with the greatest applause; but today I should like to say a few words as to what Britain has done in this war. Great Britain has had a great history, of which we are proud, but I believe she has never been greater than she is in this war. She was utterly unprepared for war, but when Germany ruthlessly invaded Belgium, contrary to her sacred promise to protect that country, Britain, without waiting at all, instantly declared war against Germany and entered into this fight, and sent help to France to carry out her plighted word. No one realized how brave--one man said rash-Britain was to declare war at that time, because of her lack of preparation; but she did not hesitate a moment. Then with the help of Lord Kitchener, whose sad death so short a time ago the whole world sadly regrets, Britain set to work to prepare an army and to make the guns and shells. necessary to enable her to fight this terrible foe. You all know what happened since; I need not go over it; four millions of men enlisted in Britain voluntarily before the Military Service Bill came into force; and the whole country is turned into an arsenal for the manufacture of guns and shells. We have spent the past two years in off-setting the advantages with which Germany started; but now we are on an equality with them. Some people say that Britain should have been better prepared for war-I have heard that said many times--but we are a peaceful country, asking only to be allowed to develop our vast territories in our own way without any thought of aggression against any other country in the world; we dislike the burdens of militarism, and naturally we must abide by the defects of our own qualities. And so we were unprepared for war. But, compare our position today with what it was a year ago, and it is evident that everything is going our way, though slowly. The initiative is now with us. I take it that the crisis of this war is at this time, when we are as strong as the enemy in both men and munitions. Victory will be ours, but it will take all our efforts; there must be no slackening in our efforts. Roumania has come in; it is good news; her soldiers will not only give the help of her trained army, but the moral effect is going to be good, particularly in the east and among all neutral countries, and the effect on the minds of the people of Austro-Hungary must be distinctly disagreeable. I believe this is the beginning of the end; but when that end will come, who can tell? The enemy is still strong and confident, and we must put forward all our efforts to beat him. The Allies need from this country of ours all the help that we can give in both men and money; and I hope that you all well understand that that is my feeling about it. So much for what the army of Britain has done. Then we have the navy-the sure shield of this Empire of ours. It does its work so quietly and without publicity that we are sometimes liable to forget the wonderful effect the navy has had on this war. Through it we can control the seas of the world. German shipping is swept from them-except an odd submarine. By that power we are enabled to send to Britain, or rather Britain is enabled to bring to herself, the food and supplies which she must get from other countries in order to support her own people and carry on this war. Not only that, but through the power of the navy we are able to send across the Channel that dull stream of ships carrying men, food and guns without which--I say it advisedly--it would be impossible to continue this war for a single day. The supremacy of this navy of ours has never been really challenged, and cannot be--the battle of Jutland has demonstrated that, and the more we hear and know of the facts of that battle the surer we are that it was a great victory for us, and if it had not been for the fog and mist that prevented us from keeping the German ships in sight, the enemy fleet would in all probability have been completely annihilated. Then Britain has helped financially; it is hard to realize how much she has done in that direction. She has not only to get an immense sum of money for her own uses from day to day, but she has to supply money for our Allies--for France, Russia and Italy--and the burden on her in consequence of this is terrific. Germany does not have to buy much; rather, we do not let her buy much from other countries; therefore she can use within her own borders a depreciated currency which passes from hand to hand; but with Britain it is different; for she has to buy and pay in cash for those things from foreign countries, and the fact that she has been able to do so shows her financial strength, and the work of that kind has been handled by the British Government in a masterly way. The burden is great, but I am sure that the resources of the British Empire are such that we shall be able to sustain that financial burden longer and better than our adversaries. Canada has helped in this way a good deal also. We were always a great borrowing country, and it is greatly to the credit of the people of this country that they were able to change their mode of life and save the money in such a way that the balance of trade against us has been wiped out since the war, and that now it is the other way. We are now providing in this country all the money we need to use here, and we are also helping largely to finance the purchases of munitions which the British Government is making in this country. Our action in that direction is greatly appreciated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he has told me himself more than once; and I hope the people of this country will continue to save as much as possible in order in that way to help Britain to bear the great financial burden which she is under. I mention these things about Britain simply to show that there is no sign of decadence there such as has marked the empires of the past. The Ger mans thought that Britain would not fight; they knew that she loved pace; they thought that the empire would break to pieces in war. The result has been different, and it is the pride and glory of us all that it is so. For some time the people in Great Britain hardly realized this war, but today every man, aye, every woman in it, is doing his or her best to help, and I say to you that they have shown that they are prepared to protect their own homes and their country with their lives. They have raised this immense volunteer army, something that was never done in the world before, and that I do not believe could have been done in any country except Britain.
Now, I will say a few words to you about the condition of things in England. As I said, they did not at first realize the seriousness of this great conflict. They do now. Everybody is thinking of the war, not only the men but the women. We see women occupying all kinds of positions which have been vacated by the men who have gone to the front. You will find women conductors on the busses; women taking up tickets on the trains at the stations. Nearly all the men of military age have gone from the shops, and their places are taken by women. Women are doing a great deal in the manufacture of shells and other munitions, and I am told that they are able to do just as good work in that direction as the men, that is, in a great many cases. Then I do not know how the crops in Britain would be gathered if it were not for the women; all classes are helping in that direction. Not long ago my wife and I saw in the north of England five young women, well-bred girls, working on the farm, milking, looking after the pigs and chickens, and one of them was even ploughing. They were there working from six till six for a pound a week, doing their bit, and the father of the chief one among them is one of the very highest officers in the command of the army in Mesopotamia. I mention that to show you that this work of the women is not confined to any one class; they are all ready to do it. I understand that some Canadian women are offering to do this kind of work, and I see that the Munitions Board say they are getting short of men. Well, I hope that a way will be found by which the offer of those women to take the places of some of the men may be utilized by us in this country.
Our stay in London has been a very interesting though busy one; but you know there are no social functions there now as m peace time; everything is work, with very little play. Occasionally we have to have an official dinner, as on the night before I left, when the High Commissioners gave a dinner to the Parliamentary delegates from overseas; but there are almost no social events in the evening; London is dark and dangerous. I do not bother much about the Zeppelin danger; from the military point of view the Zeppelins -do not do any damage; of course one may be hurt by one, but it would be very bad luck. That is the way I look at it. The Germans are simply making those raids to show us that they want to kill all the people they can, it does not matter whether they are women and children or soldiers. But the darkness of London is such that we all stay in in the evening if possible; if you go out you have the danger of being run over, for the taxis and every means of locomotion have dim lamps, while the street globes are fainted down two-thirds of the way and just throw a little glimmer at the foot of the post. Many of you have been in London, but it is getting worse from month to month, and last winter it was far darker than during the previous winter.
I have been at the front twice, both times in winter, once last January and the first time a year ago in January. The first time I was there was before our own men went over to France, and conditions there were much worse than they were last winter; they were so bad that I really think we would have said before the war that it was impossible to put up with them and live. Our line in France at that time was pretty thin-thinner than many of us knew-so that our soldiers had to stay longer in the trenches than they did in this past winter. In some cases they stayed there as much as a week or ten days without relief. The trenches, which had been hastily dug in the soil of Flanders, which is a rich soil which brings the water near to the surface, all had water in them, many places up to the knees, and there were no pumps to empty the water out, and they had no boards to make platforms to raise themselves as they did last winter; the consequence was that they had to fight and hold that line in Flanders under those awful conditions, the whole thing a sea of mud. It rained all the time, and the trenches were in this terrible condition. Of course last winter it was better. They had learned how to make the trenches better, how to raise themselves out of the wet, how to pump the water out, and so on, and they had learned how to make better places for themselves to live in. Of course a lot of these boys live in holes in the ground, and the great art is to make them covered so that if the shells come they will go over it, and if a man is throwing bombs from an aeroplane he cannot distinguish those places from the ground--just as birds and animals try to make homes that cannot be distinguished by their enemies. Before the war I think it would have been considered impossible for human beings to stand the conditions that were forced on the troops at first, but in spite of those conditions our men were well and cheerful. Salisbury Plain was nearly as bad; they had bad luck there, the most rainy winter there had been in London for years. Though it is a nice place in dry weather, in those conditions it was a quagmire much the same as in Flanders. I have seen our boys marching in Salisbury Plain and at the front under those awful conditions bright and cheery, always so; they seem to forget their little discomforts at the front, and they do not know anything but the business they are at, which is to kill Germans. The cheeriness and the spirit of those fellows, our own and British and so on, is amazing under those conditions. It would seem that the fresh air offsets the disadvantages of the mud and dirt; and as those fellows come into my office, in London, as they do every day, I am delighted to see how well they are cheery, red-cheeked, and not as if they had come right straight from the trenches. My own belief is that those of our boys who really escape the German bullets and shells will be better physically than they ever would have been otherwise; this life in the open is going to help them in every way. This cheeriness follows right on to our wounded men. Our boys are well looked after at the front; they are well fed, well clothed-I do not think they need any articles of clothing, extra comforts, except a pair of socks occasionally. Never was there an army so well fed and well clothed as this British army is. The French are probably just as good, but I have not been in their lines. Then there is hardly any sickness; typhoid is almost unknown. The consequence is that when men are wounded nearly all of those recover who get even into the first auxiliary clearing station. When we read those heavy list of casualties we must remember one Dr two things. They are terrible, and we sorrow with the people whose dear ones are there; but we must remember that the loss is mitigated by several things. In the first place, a large number of those wounded teen are only slightly wounded, and they are able to go back to fighting again in a few days. Then, a man who is wounded is taken directly to the first casualty clearing station, where he gets first aid, and then back to the base hospital; and if he is not too badly wounded they send him off to the English hospital as quickly as possible. Cases have been known where a man wounded in the morning at the front has been in the English hospital at. night. The Medical arrangements are really splendid, and I was almost going to say perfect; all the men that are in those hospitals will confirm what I am saying in that respect. The consequence is that the men are so well fed and clothed, they are so well looked after when they are wounded, tat out of those who get into the first casualty clearing station, who do not die on the battle field, the percentage of deaths is exceedingly small, I believe under two per cent.
Now, we have many organizations who help make those boys more comfortable. You all know about the Red Cross. The Canadian Red Cross has done splendid work. I know that Colonel Marshall is an ideal head to that institution-and I believe as far as my knowledge goes that it is excellently managed, and that it does everything that those of you who are so generous in supporting it expect and think that it ought to be. We have Colonel Hodgetts there in London at the head of it, an excellent officer; and Lady Drummond has charge of the section that looks after the wounded men in the hospital. Every wounded man when he arrives in England is given a card with the address of the Canadian Red Cross so that he may communicate with them, and then a visitor is sent to make a personal visit to each one of those men as soon as possible in order to make him feel that somebody is personally interested in him so that they may write to his relatives at home; then anything they can do to assist and make him more comfortable they do. Mrs. Bulkeley is looking after the work regarding our prisoners in Germany. We have to send them food to supplement their scanty rations there, because unfortunately the Germans do not treat our men whom they hold as prisoners the same way that we do theirs; and that office is well managed too. We have the Canadian War Contingent Association-each one of the Dominions has such an Association, Australia and New Zealand similarly. Our Association is made up of Canadians in London, and Mr. Comber, who for years was in the High Commissioner's office, a most capable man, is really the governing manager of it, and gives more than half his time to it; although I am nominally President of it, he does all the work. That Association was formed for the purpose of providing comforts for our men in the firing line-our men who are well. Under the Geneva Convention the Red Cross can only do that for wounded men. We must look after our wounded men; it is our solemn duty to do so; but it is the fellow who is well who is going to win this war, and we must try and make him comfortable, hence this Association was formed for that purpose. We are working with the Red Cross; they help us a good deal. We have been helped largely from Canada, but- the greater part of this money has been raised in London. If the war continues much longer you will find an- appeal for Canadians to help this Canadian Contingent Association. We send those boys baseball outfits, footballs, gramaphones, carbolic soap, tooth brushes, odds and ends of that kind, and try to make their lives a little more comfortable than 'they otherwise would be. They are very grateful for all those things, and from what I hear of the result of this work at the front, they appreciated it greatly and it has done a lot of good. Then we have the 'Maple Leaf Club and other Clubs in London where our fellows can go, which are more like a home. We found that these chaps coming over from the front had no home in London; many of them came straight from the trenches, leaving there in the morning at 3 or 4 o'clock and getting into London at night dirty, covered with mud, sometimes with various visitors on them-and the hotels did not want to take them in, so we started the Maple Leaf Club in a house given by a lady in London for that purpose. The money was subscribed by people in London and over here. The ladies have been running it; Lady Drummond had a good deal to do with it, and my wife has 'been working at it. The boys are taken in and given a bath and a change of clothes right away, and they are only charged three shillings a day for their bed and meals. They are made comfortable and at home, and the house has been filled from the beginning, so that we have had to take an annex, and other clubs are going to be started. Canadians have the first claim, but- any Australian or New Zealander or South African was welcome also, so we started the Peel House Club, where they used to train the Police, and more Australians and New Zealanders go there, although our men do so also. Then we have the Victoria League for those men, but the Maple Leaf is more distinctively Canadian than any of them, and they have done good in keeping our fellows off the street and out of mischief and making them feel at home and more comfortable than they otherwise would be. All our Canadian ladies are doing some kind of work over there-working at the hospital, at the canteen or tea room or something of that kind--all voluntarily, and it is good for them, giving them something to occupy their time, and they are doing excellent work in that direction.
In closing I would say that what I have said about the cheerfulness and courage of our men applies equally well to those from the other Dominions and to the British. The British Army today is a citizen army just like our own. Practically all of the men in the original regular army are either wounded or missing, and the British who are put up today to fight this offensive against the Germans are volunteer troops of Britain. One of the greatest benefits we will get out of this horrible mess is the closer co-operation from the mingling together of men from all the different parts of this Empire, which we all need so much. We want to better understand each other, and if we are going to keep the Empire going we must know each other better. Our men are mingling in the battlefield, in the hospital, in these clubs and in many other ways, and this is all helping; and it may very well be that some day history will relate of the Kaiser, even, that this awful horror which he brought on the world has really helped to bring about what you in this Empire Club want so much-the consolidation of our Empire.
Sir William Mulock moved vote of thanks to the speaker, which was seconded by Mr. J. M. Clark, K.C.