ANADDRESS DELIVERED BY MAJOR-GENERAL SIR
CHARLES TOWNSHEND, K.C.B., D.S.O.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto.
May 3, 1920.
Tar; PRESIDENT, in introducing General Townshend, said: Gentlemen, you will agree with me that this is a very proud occasion in the history of the Empire Club. (Applause) It is a remarkable, but nevertheless a true. fact that in all crises in connection with the Empire, whether they relate to the civil government-the foreign and domestic policy of it-or to commerce and finance, there always arises the man of the hour. We have seen various instances of that. Take the Premier, Mr. Lloyd George. (Applause) Regardless of politics or anything else, can anyone say that he was not the man of the hour? In the navy, Admiral Jellicoe and Admiral Beatty will go down in history for all time. (Applause) Admiral Jellicoe himself declared in our presence that it was the army that won the war, while men in the army will tell you that it was the navy who really won the war. Well, Gentlemen we have with us to-night an equally great man in the Empire, a brave and true man. (Applause)
The campaign in Mesopotamia will go down in history as a highly important part in the outcome of the war, and upon the future status of the different people and races affected by the issues. In connection with that campaign, I think our distinguished and illustrious guest is entitled to every honour that can be bestowed upon him by a grateful people. It was fortunate for Great Britain, fortunate for us that we had a General Townshend who was available; it is fortunate for the Empire Club that General Townshend is going to look us in the eye to-night and talk to us for a few minutes and let us understand something of what he has done and experienced. It requires no stretch of imagination to go back to the time when you and I would get up at four or five o'clock in the morning to find out what was becoming of General Townshend and his army. You remember it well. He is here tonight to tell us the story. I ask him to allow neither modesty nor time, nor anything else, to interfere with his telling of that story. Let him tell the whole story and we will be very grateful and delighted to hear him. We want him to know that we are good Britishers here. (Applause) We want him to know that we are trying to live for the Britain that he was willing to die for. I have great pleasure in introducing to you General Townshend of whom you have heard and read so much. (Applause)
GEN. SIR CHAS. TOWNSHEND, K.C.B., D.S.O.
My President and Gentlemen, I am going to take the president at his word and talk ahead. Since I came to Toronto I have talked far more than I thought I was going to, but all I can say is that I am very glad and proud at the treatment I have received here. This place is indeed truly British, and when one crosses the border he soon realizes that it is Britain he is in. (Applause) We don't want to hear any more that a man is a Canadian, an Australian, or a New Zealander; we want to know he is British, and that is all. You know the smallest part of this great Empire is our little island itself. (Laughter) You can imagine the feelings I have for Canada; for I may say I have some connection with Canada myself, as it was my greatgreat-grandfather who received the fall of Quebec in 1769. I may say also that it was my great-great-uncle, Charles Townshend, who passed the Stamp Act which caused a bit of a stir at that time. (Laughter)
Now, Gentlemen, let us proceed to business. I may tell you that just prior to the war, I was given a command in India. Everybody said that war would soon be coming, but we were told in perfect confidence that such was not the case, and even men of finance appeared to know nothing about it. Well, I arrived in India, and to my horror as soon as I had taken over command of my depot at Rawal Pindi war broke out. I thought to myself, here have I been wasting years of my life training and studying hard in the art of warfare and ready and anxious to fight the Germans, and now to think that Great Britain has declared war on Germany and I out here. You can imagine how pleased I was, when I suddenly received orders to proceed to Tigris and to take over command of an expedition to that place. My force consisted of some 13,000 men, and as you know, I was ordered up the Tigris. I will just skip over that pant, as it would take too long to describe and it is all given in my book which I hope some of you will read. I think you will find much in that book that will interest you.
Well, after we had got as far as Amara and settled things there, I went back to India to have a talk with my Commander-in-Chief, and see what he wanted me to do. After considerable discussion I mentioned the fact to him that, if he wanted me to take Baghdad, I hoped he would make my forces up to 30,000 or 40,000 men. I pointed out to him that to take the offensive with an inadequate force was simply asking for disaster. He told me I was quite right, and that not one inch should I go beyond Kut-el-Amara unless I could make my forces up to 40,000 men. He wanted me to take Kut-el-Amara and I told him I would if I had sufficient troops. He was a very fine man and knew the difficulties that were in front of me. I had very fine troops my 30,000 men--tithe pick of the British regiments in India consisting of the Dorsets, Norfolks, and the 57th Oxford Light Infantry, the, late 43rd-a name well known to Canada-and my Indian regiment, a great regiment also. Well, I moved north from Amara and came into contact with the enemy whom I found entrenched in a very strong position. He was in a very strong position indeed with every modern convenience as regards warfare, such as trenches, redoubts, and so forth. Of course you can readily imagine that I was not going to put my head into a noose by making a frontal attack against a position like that, so I made a big detour in the night and got on the right flank and rear of him and rolled him up like we would roll up a blanket. Directly we got in the midst of him with bayonet and grenade, the trick was done.
I thought that there I would take things a little easy, until my forces were increased and something decisive had taken place in the principal theatre of the war which was in France. You must understand that in war your principle theatre must have every force available. I knew that every soldier that could be spared was wanted in France. If everything went on well there, I knew that all other operations would fall into our lap like ripe apples off a tree. You can then understand my astonishment when I was ordered to advance' on Bagdad with the small forces at my command, now reduced after the battle of Kut-el-Amara to 8,500 bayonets: I want you to realize what that meant. You know it is your bayonets you have to depend upon to win a battle. No matter how much good work the artillery has done in smashing the trenches, and so forth, there comes a time when the infantry has to advance if it is going to win that battle. Well, the enemy had been giving it to us pretty hot, and I knew that the worst was yet to come, but I went on with my unfortunate infantry. I advanced where the Turks were very strongly entrenched, and consisting of a force of 24,000 men. I had hoped before then to hear that reinforcements were arriving, but having been ordered to advance I lost no time in deciding this battle. Before, I proceeded, however, I warned the Commander-in-Chief in Mesopotamia that to advance with my small force meant disaster. It was against my own wishes, but I had to obey orders.
In civil life if a man is not satisfied and disagrees with his superiors, well, he can resign. That cannot be done in army life. Imagine on the eve of a big battle if John Jones or Sammy Snooks said, "I am not going on!" Can you imagine the results? Why there would be nothing but disaster. However, I had done my duty in warning my superiors, and I was ready to carry out any order I might be given. That was my view, and if you place me in such a position tomorrow I will do the same thing again. (Applause) Well, after that battle-the battle of Ctesiphon, in my opinion, one of the bloodiest battles in the war-I was in a very desperate situation, but I did not consult anyone as to what I should or should not do. A man who is in sole command, on his shoulders alone rests all the responsibilities. I certainly listened to' all that my officers had to say, but I never told them that I would do this, that, or the other thing. If the result turns out satisfactorily, the leader will get all the credit, but if he is defeated, he gets all the after-blow. If a man is instructed in the art of war and understands his business, he does not want anyone to prompt him. If, in a situation like that, you mistrust your own mind and your own judgment, you can only preserve authority by letting your men see that you have entire confidence in your own ability to pull through. If you have reason to think that there is anything wrong with your own judgment, you might send for this man or that man and talk over the situation with him, but you would never tell him your opinion of what you are to do. After talking over the situation with him, you would then dismiss him and consult somebody else and get his opinions on the matter, but you would never tell them what your thoughts were, and whose opinions you considered best. In that way you always preserve your authority. It is the same in business; once you start to listen to the opinions of your subordinates and ask for their advice you lose your authority.
To proceed to the battle of Ctesiphon. I occupied the enemy in front with a small force, and with the remainder I made a long night march of fifteen miles around their flank, and fell upon him at dawn, and in an hour or so I had the supreme delight of seeing the whole Turkish army in flight. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that the Turks were flying in rout; it was a wonderful sight, and I jumped on my horse and raced over and galloped as fast as I could go to watch them. The battle was mine, and I thought, was there ever such a victory as that of Ctesiphon ! We captured the position with most of the guns, when I was suddenly attacked by a new army coming up of about 70,000 men. You can imagine what that meant to me with only 8,000. It was a situation similar to that which happened at Waterloo in the critical moments when Napoleon made his last advance against Wellington, and when the Prussians appeared on Napoleon's flank. There was no help in sight for us, and the only thing to do was to set our teeth and fight it out.
The sea was 360 miles behind me, and there were no troops between me and it. We had to stand where we were. The morale of some of the Indian troops at this point was not .all that could be desired, as they were coming back to the rear in groups. That fact alone was sufficient to tell me that the officers had lost control over them. Instead of a wounded man coming in alone there were three or four men helping him, and those of you who are soldiers here to-night will know what that means. I did not like that sight, and I gave orders that any man helping to assist the wounded to the rear would be courtmartialed. I know what helping wounded to the rear means. Things were going very badly then, and there was a great loss of officers. I sent the men forward again, and told them that I was going to fight the thing out. But the force opposing me was too strong,, and I could see that it was impossible for me to advance. I determined to retreat to Kut. It was the only thing that I could do, and I determined to make a stand and wait for reinforcements from overseas to relieve the situation. I knew it meant disaster to go on with inadequate forces. I gave out I was not going to leave Ctesiphon; I gave out I was going to stay there, and told the men to make themselves comfortable. That was simply to give confidence to all ranks under me. That gave me time to evacuate my wounded. I was preparing to start for Kut one night when I found the enemy gradually enveloping my flank. Well, we managed to slip away in the night, and in that retreat of 90 miles, to show you the discipline and valour of those men after fighting a battle like Ctesiphon, I turned around and administered a severe defeat to the whole advance guard of the Turkish army. (Applause) Everything was now moving with clock-like precision. I cannot speak too highly of my troops;' they were simply splendid.
Orb arriving at Kut I took the decision to stay. I knew from my study of history that a besieged force very seldom escapes from surrendering. I thought of Cornwallis of Yorktown, whose position was very similar to my own. I informed my Commander-in-Chief how the situation was, and that I could continue to retreat until I got reinforcements; but I was ordered to remain at Kut, and thought I would be relieved within two months. I thought that perhaps it was better to make a stand with my troops, than to be kicked out of Mesopotamia; for the result in India would have been most deplorable. '
To come now to the defence of Kut. I had two months supplies for the whole of my forces, and I had been reinforced by the British regiment, the West Kents, the old half-hundred. We dug in night and day as hard as we could, and all the time the Turks were advancing on us. The answer came from down below, "Hold on and we will relieve you in two months." Well, Gentlemen, I did all in my power with the small force under my command, and held out as long as I could. That siege lasted five months and two days, and it was starvation only that forced me to surrender. (Applause) My men were dying at the rate of from twenty to twenty-four a day, hundreds were down with scurvy, and only then did I surrender when ordered to do so by my own government. (Applause)
On Christmas day the Turks made a great assault on Kut, but we were ready for them. That attack, however, probably would have been successful, but the Turkish Commander-in-Chief did not send up sufficient troops to the aid of the assaulting party which had gained an entrance. By using every available man I threw them out by 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning after great loss on both sides. After all, that fight was of great advantage to me, because it took all the fight out of (them, it took the guts out of them in every attempt after that. They had a very bloody lesson that night, and never again did they attack me. Several occasions after that their officers tried to get their men to. attack us, but they simply refused to do so. I may say that General Aylmer was the General who was trying to relieve me. He was a very gallant fellow, and I knew him personally. He was a skilful commander, brave and good in counsel, and I always touch my cap to Aylmer. I would rather have been relieved by General Aylmer than anyone else, but luck was against us. You know there is such a thing as luck in war. And when a great Roman general described himself as lucky rather than great, he revealed a profound knowledge of the art of war. You must never rail at luck.
Well, I told you I had two months' supplies, and I could see that I should not,be relieved in that time, so I set to work to find more food. I knew from my experience in the Soudan that the Arab always conceals food. I said to them, "I hear you have got some grain hidden, and if you do not produce it, I will have to shoot you at sunset." The methods of the Germans are sometimes useful, you know. Of course I did not intend to shoot them, but the threat had the desired effect; for in .a short time I had sufficient food to enable me to hold out for five months, although of course it had to be served out in very limited quantities. They were wonderful, those men; I loved them and they loved me. I always went amongst them and mixed with them. You must let your men know that you do not mind going into the firing line along with them. (Applause) You must show that you are human; you must be as man to man. I know I express myself very badly, but you will understand what is in my mind. If you show that human touch, .they will do anything for you. I enjoyed their confidence through to the last.
Finally, I could see that there was no hope; food was giving out, and the men were dying at the rate of twenty a day. An aeroplane tried to drop food to us, but it was an utter failure, as the Germans at that time had superiority of the air. The plan was not given a fair trial, as we had not the air power, and the Germans were bombing us night and day, and drove off our machines. Finally, I was advised to surrender by my superiors and told to make the best terms I could. You can imagine what my feelings were, for I never believed that I would have to surrender. I offered to cut my way out, but I was told to stay where I was, as I could never gent away with my wounded and my guns. There are son* critics who have said, not to me, because those critics were anonymous, why did not General Townshend cross the Tigris and join Aylmer? You will always find that kind of critics at the breakfast table with their morning newspapers; everything to them seems so easy; but there is a great difference between theory and work, and criticism and execution. Look at the map, look at the position I was in, surrounded on all sides and with no hope of getting help, and then perhaps you will appreciate the situation I was in. I met one of my critics -I only took notice of one- and he was pointing with his finger to the map. "Look here," he said, "why could you not have crossed the river at this point?" "I could," I said, "If your finger had been a bridge". (laughter) That is one way to answer your critics.
When Kut fell, I want to tell you of the chivalry of the Turkish Commander. I offered him my sword. He said, "No!" He gave it back to me with both hands saying, "Wear that sword; you have worn it with honour and you must always wear it." He gave me a written declaration which stated that my men would be welltreated. I pointed out to him that my men would all die if they were forced to march, as they were mere skeletons. He agreed with me, and I am fully convinced that all the horrors which my men were subjected to were entirely due to the German staff officers who surrounded the Turkish leader; that so much pressure was brought to bear upon him that he could not do otherwise. It can easily be seen that the German staff wanted to humiliate the British, as much as possible, in the eyes of the people of the countries they intended to annex as soon as they won the war. As far as my own treatment was concerned, I was treated most honourably indeed, and I did not know of the men's treatment until 1917. I thought, of course, that the men would have been treated in the same way after I had been promised that they would. Before I surrendered, I blew up all my guns and destroyed the rifles by throwing away the bolts so that they would be of no use to the enemy. (Applause) As I said, they treated me most honourably, and took me 'to Constantinople. I had done my best, and I knew that I had done my duty. (Applause)
Well, I was taken on board a launch, and when the Turkish officers came to take me away, my own officers and men crowded down on the fore-shore, and though it may seem vain of me to tell you-I do not mean it that way-but those men cheered me as long as I was in sight. I don't mind telling you that I cried like a child. (Applause) On arriving at Constantinople you would have thought that I was inspecting the place. I was wearing my sword, and there was a guard of honour at the station, of Turkish officers. I thought to myself, am I a prisoner of war, or am I going to command Constantinople? Everyone saluted me---me, a prisoner of war-and I was given a house with a pretty garden, and had a yacht at my disposal. You know I am very fond of yachting. (Laughter) I tell you there was no limit to the generosity of the Turks. I confess I feel a kind of hesitation in referring to it. At the same time, I think I will tell you the whole truth while we are here tonight. '
The Turkish commander came to me one day and said, "I am sorry that your Excellency is fretting." It was perfectly true. We were sitting in the garden supping coffee and smoking cigarettes, and I said, "Of course I am, I wonder at times I do not go mad." I said, "Give me my liberty and let me go; I do want to go to the Western Front and fight the Germans." He said, "Yes, we will give you your liberty, we will be delighted to give it to you." Those were the wonderful sentiments of the unspeakable Turk. (Laughter) He then said, "We want you to make a marriage." I felt rather diffident. I said, "I am married, I married a French lady in Paris, a most charming woman." "Oh," he said, "this is only a temporary marriage." (Laughter) "We have some beautiful Circassians." I said, "Yes, I know; pray don't put me down as being qualified as a subject for a stainedglass window, but we don't do that sort of thing in our Club." The Turk seemed very upset at my refusal. I just mention this to show you that there was no limit to his generosity. (Laughter)
Well Gentlemen, I made three attempts to escape, but it would 'take too long to go into all the details. I had succeeded in getting a message to the British, and I had also succeeded in getting to sea several times in a small boat. I flashed a light up and down by means of an electric light, but with no result, and had to go back after a five mile pull, and had to climb cliffs, through gardens and windows and back into my "home"-in fact I may say that, after that experience, I am now qualified as a firstclass burglar. However, there was only one thing to do and that was to keep on smiling. Words fail me to describe how I felt, and I must confess that my spirits sank very low. But I was determined I
should get away. One day the Turkish commander sent for me and asked me if I would help him. I was rather surprised at the request, and I told him I would. He then told me that Allenby was approaching Aleppo and had taken Damascus. I pointed out to him that in that case he was "in Queer Street." He said he was, but that he could keep the game going for another five months, and would I help him to secure good terms with the British? I told him I would, as he had treated me honourably. Remember, I had never given my parole, and never would. But I made a certain proposition to them, never thinking that they would listen to it for a moment. I told them that, if they were, agreeable, they must authorise me to open the Dardanelles. (Applause) They accepted all my proposals, and I accomplished what I considered a great coup. You can imagine my satisfaction at having accomplished as a prisoner of war what I had failed to do with my army.
I was taken to Smyrna in plain clothes, and when the inquisitive ones asked who I was, I told them that I was a Swiss Admiral. (Laughter) The Turk, you see, has no sense of humour. Well, I arrived at Smyrna, and there was a guard of honour at the station, and the streets were all be-flagged, and the people shouting and hurrahing. I had now left Constantinople, and was very anxious to get on board a boat and shove off. At last I got away, and steamed down the Gulf of Smyrna. Just before we came quite close to the shore, the officer in command of the mine sweeper came to me and said, "Your Excellency, I propose to anchor." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, there is a mine field-five miles of mines -and I don't know where they are." I was determined to get away, however, and I said, "Go very slowly, at half speed." He said, "No, I won't take the risk." However, I persuaded him to go until we discovered the island for which we were heading on our port beam, and made for the harbour, which was occupied by some English destroyers, 'the men on board of which I am told were never asleep. All was in darkness, and we got alongside of a destroyer and climbed on board. Suddenly the whole place was full of lights. Someone shouted, "Who are you?" And I said, "General Townshend." "Good God!" I heard a voice say, "I never expected to see you here."
I stayed there a week, when I got on board a boat which the admiral had placed at my disposal, and I arrived two mornings afterwards at Tarantum, and ultimately arrived at Paris, at which place I received quite a reception. I went to see Clemenceau, as he had sent for me. He shook hands with me and said, "I congratulate you on having shortened the war by several months, saved millions of money and thousands of lives. (Applause) Well, shortly after everything collapsed in the Turkish Empire. I do not wish to say that it was by my diplomacy, it was only a remarkable series in the chain of events. One thing I will say, however, the Turks treated me most honourably. I think they used me as a sort of ambassador. It was stated in the press that I had been seen in London several times-a most extraordinary thing. Many people appeared to think that I was sent there secretly, and that was during the time of my captivity. It was purposely untrue, of course.
Well, Gentlemen, I thank you all most heartily for the reception given me to-night, and I hope some day that I will come back to Toronto again and see some of your magnificent buildings, which have quite delighted me. (Loud and prolonged applause)
HON. AND REV. DR. CODY:
Mr. President, Sir Charles, Gentlemen :-From the earliest days of recorded history many famous soldiers have also been men of letters. Soldiers have been able to give marvellous accounts of their deeds. Many of you, I suppose, have. read of the wonderful achievements of one Julius Caesar. We remember the marvellous aptness of phrase and clearness of description that characterized the telling of his campaign. Tonight we have a living, instance of the literary continuity between the great writers of the past and the guest of the evening. (Applause) It gives all of us a strange thrill to listen here in this City of Toronto to one of the great soldiers in the late war telling us in plain, straightforward language -the story of the campaign in Mesopotamia. We. have heard in this room Cardinal Mercier telling us of things spiritual and things moral, of what he had seen and suffered in Belgium. We have heard Admiral Jellicoe tell something of what he was privileged to do in the great days of conflict. And now we have to-night just had the privilege of hearing one of the great heroes of endurance in war tell us bluntly and in a straightforward manner of his heroic achievements, and still more heroic defence. (Applause) It is as though the great crises of history were being displayed before us. No man, I think, was more fitted to undertake the task which General Townshend was called upon to do. Ile has been a man of war from his youth up; he has been a fighting soldier, a brilliant strategist, one of the most brilliant students of the history of war, and one of the most scientific writers on strategy. He has also shown us that he is a man through and through, human and humane. (Applause) He never ordered one of his men to do what he was not willing to do himself. He is also indirectly a great diplomatist, and he has also revealed to us that he is a humourist of no small kind. (Applause) Now, as I was looking over my "Times' History of the War" this afternoon I came upon a cutting that carried General Townshend back to the days when he was in a pretty hot part of the world, where with his banjo and cheerfulness he whiled away hours of weariness in the writing of verse. Perhaps he would disclaim the authorship-but this is the chorus of his famous song of the "Camel Corps" written in 1884:
"Oh, I have rode on a horse, and I rode on a bus,
1 rode in a railway train,
I have rowed in a boat, and I rode in a pub, And I hope to do so again.
But I am riding now on an animal
' I never rode before,
Equipped with spurs and pantaloons
I'm a member of the 'Camel Corps."'
Gentlemen, we can never forget the part he played in the sensational and brilliant defence of Kut. As we all know, so far as British soldiers are concerned, it is not the immediate and outward sense of valour that really counts, but whether a man did his duty; and some of the greatest and proudest achievements have been wrought out in dark days when men have had to act on the defensive, a position proverbially dangerous, as a rule, for the enemies of Britain. (Applause) We welcome him here tonight to Canada as one of the overseas envoys of Empire. He needs no defence; the part he took in Mesopotamia speaks for itself. He obeyed, and he did his duty. His great siege and defence of Kut-el-Amara will take its place in British history as one of the most inspiring events of our long and glorious record. We greet with admiration one of Britain's greatest generals, and we are glad and proud to think that he has honoured this Club by his presence here to-night. We feel that his presence throughout the towns and cities of Canada will make our Empire more real and true to us, and will strengthen still more, if they need strengthening, those invisible ties that bind us together in the greatest league of Nations that has ever been known-the glorious, invincible, optimistic British Empire. (Applause)
General Townshend and Gentlemen,-I suppose that most of you know that the Canadians were given the name of being the biggest thieves on the Western Front. (Laughter) They sometimes surpassed our friends, the Australians. In 1916 I was in charge of some roadwork for the Canadian Construction Corps. A Canadian sergeant was in charge of a party, or perhaps I should say a Canadian engineer. He told me one day that he had some souvenirs, and he would be very glad if I would accept a little present from him, One of the things he had was the bronze letter slot of the front door of the Cloth Hall of the Town of Ypres. Another day a portion of the bell from that same place had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. This young man told me he had some wood from the door of the same Hall, and he said he would be very glad if I would accept the cane which I have today. He was afterwards sent to the Somme, and he bequeathed me the remains of the door, which I have had made into canes. I presented one to Byng and to Currie. Being of a Scotch turn of mind, I realised that this was thrifty business. Going through, I wondered if there was any more of that door left. I may say I found the whole of the front of the Cloth Hall had originally been enclosed with a pair of huge doors. The remains were shattered and blown off by shell-fire. Well, the doors were cut into canes, and the cross-bars were made into riding crops.
I presented one to General Gough, who was commanding the Fifth Army in those days. Shortly after, the King visited us. The next day I was told that His Majesty would like one of those canes, and of course I gave him one. Unlike some of his predecessors who had received the canes, he was thoughtful enough to return me his autograph. I then inquired if Sir Douglas Haig would like a cane. The answer came back, "Why, certainly," and I had a cane duly inscribed and sent him one. I got a charming letter. As I had met the Commander-in-Chief a couple of times I thought it wise to send him a personal note; for I wanted his autograph, which I duly received. In giving away these canes, I have only given them to men who have done something really good for our British Empire, men who have done something worth while. Coming here I thought it would be a pleasant memento for the General to carry away with him. I realise the able work General Townshend has done for us and the British Empire as a whole. I have much pleasure, General, in handing you this cane. (Loud Applause)