UNITED CANADA'S ANSWER TO THE CALL
AN ADDRESS BY LIEUT.-COL. PERCY GUTHRIE, M.P.P.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto November 6, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--This is the first opportunity I have had of visiting Toronto, and it is a proud thing to come to this centre of British sentiment in the Dominion of Canada and be able to see around the Board the men of Toronto who have at heart the best interests of this great Empire, and to know that one is being welcomed by a Club which bears the name of Empire; and to realize for the moment how dear that word is to every British heart-how it takes us all in and clothes us all, more particularly at the present time than at any other since the Empire began. As we look across the Atlantic we see rising out of the mists yonder that little sea-girt isle peopled by those sons who years ago accepted Christianity and the principles of life and brotherhood which were handed down to us by the Christ from the cross, and then uniting themselves together, as one people--Anglo-Saxon, Pict and Celt and Scot-and we find them going around the world and scattering themselves like seed until other little nations, fashioned after the manner of the parent state, grew up, and are now welded into this great chain of nations that make up this Empire. It is a proud thing to come here and have an opportunity of saying a word for the Empire, and to tell of the sons of the Empire who are fighting in France and Flanders today.
It is well to go back to the beginning of the war when people, in common with those of us who have donned the khaki, thought little of war; they had not prepared for war with the exception of a few days at camp each summer as a relief from business, as a chance to shoulder the musket of our forefathers, to strut around in all the fine trimmings of war, little thinking that it would soon be upon us. Then we found to our amazement that war was soon to be real, and we found that we should have been up and doing years before, because every adult man in the enemy's country had been growing up in a mighty nation where, from the monarch down, farmer and statesman, carter and artisan, everybody 40 years since, flushed with their victory over France, had been building up an army that might at a moment's notice crush out all forces that might oppose them. Then when that last moment came we find them prepared to strike, and the mighty host of the great Kaiser rolled down on poor little defenceless Belgium. If there ever was a statesman, a politician, or a king, who by his memory and his deeds commended himself to us, it was good King Edward, who caused us to have that alliance with France, with her trained army, which we had to stand in the gap and to stand by Belgium until we might prepare. It was the army of France and the navy of England that did the trick two years and a few months ago. And then, my friends, the Old Countries found that they could not handle the job alone; and we remember how the call came across the ocean until it reached the shores of Canada, over our mighty forests and over our streams; and we found the boys leaving the plough, and swarming out from all parts of this smiling continent from the southern border to the northern zones, of all tongues, of all breeds, of all races, of all religions, putting on one coat that garbs us all. Then Canada began to realize what she had missed when she did not do something for the British Navy, when she saw her great armada, the largest that ever crossed the ocean, guided safely over the Atlantic's storm-tossed water by the ships of Britain; when she saw her sons being safely conveyed across and landed on British soil, and realized that she should have had a few ships, perhaps, in that navy of Britain. Then they landed in England, and they trained in the mud and the rain, and some were disgruntled at the treatment they received, not of the English people, because they were kind and the homes were open, but they hated all this long time in England. Soon the call came, and over in France and Flanders we find them, and then Canada woke up more than ever to realize her part in this mighty Empire when on the 22nd April of last year Canada with her first Canadian division about which we have heard so much met the Huns and held them in check at Ypres.
My friends, no words of mine can properly express the feelings that I have for my old comrades of the first division, as I look back at those memorable hours and days which were counted for our Empire. When I turn my mind on that subject I see a great cloud of gas that rolled down and was turned loose for the first time by the murderous heart of the Huns upon our Franco-Algerian troops, and they were swept aside. A moment before everything seemed so pleasant; a few shells were dropping down, and through it all the little birds were singing in the trees; the leaves were fluttering in the honey-laden zephyrs; the grass was green upon the ground; and then the gas sweeps on its way of death: the leaves have turned yellow and slowly flutter down; the song of the birds was heard no more; the grass is yellow and wild; hundreds of those brave allies are gasping for breath; Prince Henry of Rupprecht with 10,000 Huns is marching on to seeming victory, and close upon the heels of that gas wave they were marching upon the allied centre. The first Canadian division waited not for orders, but dashed up into that gas cloud, and when it rested and rolled above their heads and the 140,ooo dashed down they were met and hurled back, and back and back again by the steady wall of Canadian steel. The boys from Toronto were there-Curry's 48th and Rennie's Own, in that First Canadian Division, to hold back the Huns. Yes, my friends, your boys were there; we get acquainted sometimes better away over in France and Flanders than we do in this country. We don't visit one another enough; we don't see you Ontario people down East, only when you want to come down and sell your goods. The only time I ever got acquainted with an Ontario man was when he wanted to sell me law books that I would never read. But we are getting acquainted, we soldier men, so that when this war is over there will be a strong feeling spring up between the East and the West, between Province and Province, that will be a wonderful thing towards building up a greater and more united Canada.
Then we come to the battle of Festubert and the battles that have been fought since, and we always find the Canadian soldier taking a foremost place and standing in front of the soldier men of the Empire, holding the same relative position that the business men and the statesmen of Canada hold in their particular lines--Canada always to the front, more now than ever before.
I can remember how some of the boys went into the battle of Festubert. A chap by the name of Costigan was in the 10th at that time. Just to give you an instance of what men will do for their fellow men and for their country; as we lay at halfpast four one afternoon we were going into the trench, and at the command we were to make a smash out at the line, which we did. Before we went over I woke up one night thinking I was hit on the head, and that the blood ran down my fingers and dropped off my sleeves. I told some of my friends I was going to get it in the head, and they said, "No, you are going to come back and be hung." Next night I got up again and the same thing happened, and the third night following, Well, on this particular afternoon this man Costigan, whom you have heard so much about in Ontario as well as in the West was left down at the end of the trench. Just at the time that we were to go over the parapet, when the bombers and bayonet men were ready to make an immediate smash, when the artillery had silenced for a moment from that particular line, I said, " Come on, boys," and started for the German line. Somebody grabbed me and said, "Never mind, Major, you have got three kiddies and a wife at home; I will go." It was Costigan, and as he climbed over the parapet something hit him in the head and he fell into my arms, and I put my hand up on the head and blood dripped from my fingers and ran down my sleeves. Old Costigan was for two months crazy in a French hospital. He came back to England; they thought he would never be any good again, but on the 11th of last November Costigan was back in the firing line. Costigan led his bombing company into the German trenches, and you remember it was he who reported that he had found, fresh and warm in their blood, two little French girls who had been kept there for the uses and purposes of the Prussian officers; their throats cut so that they could not tell the story of what had happened to them when the place of line was captured. Those are the things that the sons of Canada are fighting for today--to put down just such things as that. I could tell you some more stories, but I am picking out individual cases from hundreds of them, thousands of them no doubt. I could tell you the story of a New Brunswick fellow who, when the old 10th were ordered out on the loth April at Ypres to drive the Germans out of a defence position, found that our flanks on right and left were not coming up, and although being a Brigade Major of the Second Brigade I was entitled to send up an orderly, orderlies were not on hand. He was a friend of mine; I wrote out the message and he took it in his own hand and went in the daylight with the machine guns turning on from both sides, carrying that message A shell broke over him and split his head open and his brains hung down over his right ear, and John Currie will tell you that he still rushed on. After picking himself up he found he could only run over to a point where he was free of shell-fire, and then he fell again till he finally pressed that message into another hand. It was "Hang on for further orders, your flanks have not come up." Had we gone forward our flanks would have been turned; not a man would have come back, because Canadians don't come back when they start out to do their duty.
Then I could tell you the story of Joe Bollindu, who at Festubert went with his machine gun to the end of a piece of trench, and when 50 yards out laid flat, and there was not a man left alive, and he was holding the line against a bomb and bayonet attack of the Germans, and a shell broke and killed six of his comrades, one being his brother, and pieces of his brother's body were scattered over him and embedded in his cheek so that we had to pick them out with our fingers; and he stayed there and worked his own gun until we sent a platoon up to his assistance. Such men as those are born on the banks of the St. Lawrence, and in Ontario, and in the West, and they come trooping from the Yukon to do their duty to the flag.
I could tell you another little story of something that happened on the "Hesperian" on the way back to Canada, when after being torpedoed in the night time, and her nose opening towards the bottom of the Atlantic, we were all in turmoil and trouble; I with my crutches, weak, four days out of the hospital bed, down in my bunk. Knowing and feeling that the hour was about to strike for me, as I had thought it was about to strike on two or three other occasions, I waited at the bottom of my door for the water to bubble through, expecting it would come in at any moment. I repeated for the fifth time the Lord's Prayer--perhaps some of you old fellows don't repeat it enough in your homes now, but you get out on the "Hesperian" when she is sinking and you will say it over more than once. As I was lying there a chap by the name of Geggie--that is the name of a Presbyterian preacher in Toronto-was on board that vessel, and he hunted me up, and though he was weak from his own wounds he trailed me up the stairs, put me with my back against a post, got a life belt and put it around me at the risk of his own life, and then went back looking for women and children, whom he helped and put in life boats that were leaving the ship. Then, to give you an idea that all the sympathy and all the bravery has not been done on the part of the men of Canada, there was a woman whose home is in North Bay, Ontario, and after that crowd had sobered down, a few minutes afterwards this woman lurched from one side of the vessel and grabbed me and put me up against the post. I said, "Go away, woman,"--you would have thought she was a woman travelling back and forward from the Old Country to pick up a man for herself--and I said, "If you think you are getting a man for yourself, you are getting a poor class of man, because there is no chance for m; you better run on and get saved." She replied, "Oh, no, you boys have fought for us over in France, and it is time a woman stood by you." The woman stood by me there when the railing was torn up by the torpedo and the ship was supposed to be sinking in a moment, and Hercules Bollindu, the Frenchman from Montreal, came around and got me under one arm, and the woman under the other and brought me to the lifeboat, and I was hanging back until the woman would take her place before one, saying I was not much use for going home anyway, but they both got behind me and heaved me over into the life-boat.
Women like that and men like that go to make up this great Canada of ours. Those are the people we ought to be backing up today, for our daughters as well as our sons are giving their lives for this country, and when they are giving their lives for this country they are giving their lives for you and for me who are staying here at home.
Are we as much a united people as they are over in France and Flanders today? That is a question I want to ask here today. That is the key-note of what little thing I have to say to you. I want to stand here, my friends, if you will let me, and try to bring to you a message from the boys over in France and Flanders whom I represent, to whom I am going back once more as soon as I am able. I want to say to you, my friends in Orange Toronto-and I am an Orangeman myself and am proud of it-get together, as I said a while ago in Quebec. At the beginning of this war, up in Valcartier Plains, there were no racial differences; you did not ask a man whether he was a Scotchman or Irishman or Welshman or Frenchman, but only that he was a volunteer. Over in France and Flanders do they ask you any questions about what your nationality is? Not for a moment.
Coming down on a trench line on the afternoon of the 22nd May, before we made the smash when we took the 425 yards at Festubert, I saw a Roman Catholic counting his beads, and I pressed with the Orange grip the hand of my Orange brother crawling through the mud, and they were not asking one another anything about bilingualism or any racial feuds or differences; they had only one thought in their hearts; their minds and hearts were full of that thought, which was that at halfpast eight that night every man was going forth with the knowledge of the order that had been handed down to us: " Go over the trenches tonight; don't expect to come back; use up your battalion; break through. (Signed) Haig." It was necessary that one battalion must be sacrificed, and I had the honour of leading that battalion.
My friends, we know that years ago our fathers have fought in every land and clime, with nearly every people that have ever graced God's foot-stool. We have found them good enemies and poor enemies, but more particularly those battles were fought with this French race. We seem to get together in enmity wherever our two peoples meet, they have something to fight about, and it seems that a great number of us have something to fight about still, and the war still goes on. A few years ago old France and old England got together and forgot the differences of the past. Two years and a few months ago the young sons of old France and old England got together, and today in France and Flanders the blood of those two peoples that had mingled in a stream of enmity is now mingled in a stream of comradeship and brotherly love, and they are becoming a united people. It is up to the people of Quebec and the people of Ontario not to delay one minute longer, but to get together. If a soldier man can forget his differences when he is about to give his life for his King, surely you people can forget your differences when you are not called to make the supreme sacrificeand I say to you, my friends, that until you get together and get behind the united forces of Canada over in France and Flanders, you are leaving undone something that is wanting. They are looking back across the waters from out there on the edge of No Man's Land, where death is stalking and picking first one and then another, and no one knows whose turn is next; but there in that little line of khaki they are holding back the Huns; and I say to the man who tells me that he is fighting for England or fighting for France when he is over there, that he is wrong; a man who is over there is fighting for Canada, fighting for every inch of Canada, just as much as if a line was drawn between Quebec and the city of St. John and the fighting was going on there. All the people of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick think of the people in Ontario and the West as fighting for their homes, and we are saying to the rest of Canada, "come on, we are fighting for you." Some add to that, "Oh, no, Ontario, Quebec, and the West have not been attacked yet; we will wait until our own homes are in danger, and then we will go forth and fight." But if that line in France is broken, six days brings the enemy to our shores. If by any mischance, which God forbid, the Navy should be swept from the seas, we are only six days away from the seat of war; and I say further that it is necessary for every civilian in this country to feel that this must be his duty as well as that of the men in khaki. What is the difference between you and me ? Yesterday I was practising law in the city of Fredericton, making a humble living for my wife and three kids; today I am fighting in France and Flanders, giving up my practice, sacrificing everything.
I am only putting myself forward to show what every other soldier is doing; and are you spending as many hours at the work of the Empire? Are you doing your duty? I say to you that the boys over in France and Flanders, more particularly now than at any other time, are looking across the water at what you are doing here. Every man in France and Flanders is a conscriptionist; every man believes that the only way to win this war is to turn into the forces of Britain every available bit of man-power within this Empire--and that is by conscription. I feel, since you have applauded, that these words are falling upon willing ears. I would that it were so from coast to coast. I trust that in the next six months it will be so, and that this matter will come to a final issue; and that the people of Canada, forgetting at last and for all their party ambitions, their party allegiance, as we call it, in a time of Imperial stress, will cast aside all the ties that bind them to whatever cause they have espoused before, and come out flat-footed, holus bolus, for the one idea that appeals to the heart of a Canadian fighting man at the present moment-conscription of our forces in Canada.
My friends, then if that is so, when the war is won by the sons of the Empire who have come from all parts of this far-strewn Empire of ours, when once more victory rests upon our banners, when our boys come trooping back home again, if you have done what I have asked you on their behalf today you will be able to look into their eyes with a feeling of pride and satisfaction. If you have not gone to their assistance as they have asked you to do, then, my friends, you will have to look at your fate when those boys come home again, because they have forgotten all party ties, they have forgotten everything else but Empire -a man must forget everything else but Empire when he is willing to sacrifice his life, for what more can a man give but his life? They are giving it daily; they are giving it nightly; giving it for you and your loved ones; and when they are willing to give their lives, all we ask of you in their behalf is to give every pound of your energy and every dollar of your money that is necessary to bring about that which they are fighting for the successful end of this war, the tramping out forever of the power of oppression, so that if we are to be a land of peace we can come back and feel that the wars of the world are over and that it will now be a land of peace. Then we can take stock of ourselves and everything, and build up an even greater Empire than we have at the present moment.
I feel your interest, and I know you are interested in yarns from the front; and I only wish you were not so busy, and that my voice could ramble on and on, and I could tell you many more instances; but I trust that now you have made me a member of your Club there may be an opportunity of coming back to Toronto again during the next few months, perhaps not as an invited guest, but as one of your own members, and be able to spend a few more moments with you some evening as pleasantly as I have today.
Mr. W. F. MacLean, M.P., moved a hearty vote of thanks, which was carried.