EXPERIENCES AT THE FRONT
AN ADDRESS BY PRIVATE PEAT
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
May 7, 1918
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN OF THE EMPIRE CLUB,-
I cannot tell you how deeply privileged I feel in being permitted to address you today. It is good, too, to see so many white heads amongst you-we know where the others are. We know, too, that you would not be here if you could go "over there." Now, gentlemen, I have not come here today to make a speech, nor could I make one if I would, but I just want to say one or two words about our boys, your boys-who are and who have been fighting for liberty, for freedom and for democracy. I have no doubt that the majority of those I see before me here have, or have had, sons or relatives over there, and it is natural to presume that much anxiety and concern is felt with regard to the life they are leading. Only the other day I listened with mingled feelings to the utterances of a man who had been in "The Battle of London," (laughter) and when I heard him exclaim that war had a demoralizing effect upon the participants therein, I knew that that man had never lived
One of the striking figures brought to light by the war is Private Peat, of the first Canadian Contingent. Woundedone arm almost useless and one lung affected-Peat returned to Canada, finished as far as fighting went. Almost his first move was to send for the girl he had met and fallen in love with while in the hospital in England. Early in the fall of 1917, Mr. and Mrs. Peat left Edmonton with a total joint capital of $15.00. Up to the time of this address, Peat had spoken to almost a million people, and published a book-"Private Peat," of which 200,000 copies have been sold. He has been a popular lecturer on the war in the United States.
and moved and had his being with the soldiers at the front. And I want to assure you, you fathers and brothers and cousins of those who are right now demonstrating the fact that chivalry and honor and nobility of character are in no sense dead, that no man can pass through such experiences without benefit to his soul qualities. Your sons may have gone through the University of Toronto or Harvard or Yale or Wisconsin or Oxford, but how infinitely more superior is the education in regard to the true meaning of life which one receives in the University of War, wherein a man learns, amidst hardship and danger, to treat his fellow-men as they should be treated. (Applause.) I say it is impossible for any man to take a six weeks' or six months course over there and not benefit therefrom. Of course, we all know that you can go anywhere and make a hell for yourself. Today many young men are being drafted who have the idea that the army is a rotten institution. Well, gentlemen, they can make it rotten or healthy just as they please. In all my experience on the Western Front-not very long, it is true, but that was not my fault-I never saw one single instance of deliberate selfishness on the part of one soldier towards another, and I think you will agree with me, that if you take selfishness out of the ordinary human being you leave a pretty good scout (Applause.) It is not denied that over there men swear and gamble and play "the great American game," .and that they are rough and sometimes crude, but, gentlemen, we cuss because conditions demand it. (Laughter.) And you must always remember that the exigencies of modern warfare, as found today on the Western Front, create an environment which has no parallel in a civilized community-the conditions are hellish in the extreme. I do not think one per cent. of those one enlisted in the First Canadian Contingent knew until they got there, what they were going over there for, or what they would see when they did get there. Some went for love of country, some for love of King, some for love of home and mother, and some for the experience or the fun of the thing. But, gentlemen, I never knew a man to go "over the top" for the fun of the thing. Some went over swearing and snarling, but had you been able to take a peep into their hearts, to see past the shell or crust to the hidden diamond within, you would realize that only a deep and abiding love, a love for mother or wife or sister obtained there, a love that made them willing to die that others might live. And finally they do die. I have seen many of them shot who die with a snarl on their faces, swearing and blaspheming, but you could never get anyone to believe that because they died that way, God will send their souls to hell. I believe that God will understand that their sin was not quite as great as their sacrifice. The most beautiful and pathetic incident I ever witnessed in my life took place one day when I was lying at a little station "somewhere in France" in the year 1915. It was a cold, miserable day. A soldier boy not more than seventeen or eighteen years of age came in, exhibiting a dreadful shrapnel wound and a badly shattered jaw, and one arm was in his bosom. He had no overcoat on, and was shivering with the cold. Evidently he had limped a long distance to get to this field station, and as he stumbled inside, the nursing sister in charge looked at him and said, "Why, where is your overcoat? You should have had it on. You may get pneumonia," and he replied "The reason I have not got it on, sister, is because my mate was killed out there and he looked so cold that I just covered him up, and it doesn't make any difference if I do die; that is a very little thing." I say, gentlemen, that they do no preaching over there, but that is the kind of practising they do. (Applause.)
You don't see such nobility of soul exemplified in the everyday lives of the people back here,-no, not even in some of our churches and clubs and societies, and I do beg of you not to judge our returned men too hastily for it will take them two, three, four or five years to reinstate themselves, to be assimilated again by the communities from which they departed in order to help protect them. and so I beseech you to be very, very patient with them. They may make it hard for some of us to be patient, but rest assured that this war is going either to make or break them, and it will make 999 out of every 1,000 finally; the war will do us good as a country.
Today on the Western Front, men of France, of Britain, of Belgium, of Italy, of Portugal, of Bohemia, of the United States and of Canada are fighting side by side. From the North Sea to the Adriatic there is one great army of Freedom under one commander. Behind this army of many climes there has been effected an organization economic and in part political, such as the world has never known.
The League nations have pooled their material resources, harmonized their aims, and so subjected their pride and prejudice that with one accord they follow the leadership of an American in the realm of idealism, and a Frenchman in the field of battle. War has become a vast melting pot.
What may come of the composite now in the seething cauldron of the Western Front?
We have heard much of internationalism in the last year. And the word has gained a sinister connotation because of its use by Bolshevists, and Pacifists and Radicals. But while the theorists who stay far from the firing line have been talking glibly of internationalism, the welding of the inter-nations has been going forward with the anvil of War.
Can we believe that when Peace comes, the ties which have been formed through the exigencies of the common peril will be broken? Should this happen, it seems to me victory will have fallen short of its full possibilities.
The peace that is to be made upon the foundation of victory must be secured by continuing the community of interests that war has created. The nations that have survived the sufferings and deprivations of this great struggle, that have stood firm against the shock of force and the subversion of intrigue, will have qualified for a service to civilization that they must undertake together. That service must consist in the better reconstruction of the shattered world, and the provision for its freedom and safety through all the years to come.
It is a striking thing about the internationalism of the fighting front that it has grown more intimate in its relations as the war has continued. The original compact signed and sealed between the Allies has been superseded by an increasing sense of common interest and common aims. Particularisms that once threatened to divide, have sunk to inconspicuous levels. There is a moral welding that is deeper and more significant than the merging of material resources, and this moral welding has been consecrated in sacrifice and shed blood.
This impresses me with the conviction that we are witnessing today much more than a winning fight against the central Empires. These pangs and labors are the birth agencies of the new era for the world, and the wisdom that directs the strategy of warfare is not more necessary than the wisdom that will guide aright the immense possibilities of the greater melting pot for the days that are to come.
Today there are about 7,000 returned soldiers in Toronto. I would have you, gentlemen, remember that these are the men who have been daily in touch for months or years with the greater melting pot, with the internationalism of tomorrow-some of their ideas and views may appear at this moment ragged and unshaped, but it is for the leaven of the stern minds of business men such as yourselves which we depend upon to make efficacious in the world the lessons to which the world now is lending an open ear.
That, gentlemen, is all I intended to say to you today. You see how tired I am, and so you will pardon me if I say no more, except to reiterate my appeal to you to be patient with the boys who have returned. Canada and the United States will live to see the day when everyone will say: Thank God for the European war. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT : "I can readily understand the physical exhaustion of a man who has just come through a Liberty Loan Campaign and who, on the streets of the leading cities of the United States has personally sold over $16,000,000 worth of bonds, but in view of the fact that we are in the midst of our Y.M.C.A. Campaign I am going to ask him to say a word or .two about that wonderful force on the fighting front."
PRIVATE PEAT : "Well, Mr. President and gentlemen. the Y.M.C.A. is so big and so well known to all of us, both over there and at home, that I am afraid I shall be unable to add anything to your knowledge in this regard, but I may say it is really a wonderful organization and I am sure if you could only picture the gladness of heart with which your boys, as they leave the trenches for a short time, welcome a stay in the Y.M.C.A. dugout, and a cup of their wonderful coffee, you would have no difficulty in subscribing to the utmost of your ability. In my opinion the Y.M.C.A. and the Salvation Army have not received anything like the credit they deserve for the splendid work they have done and are still doing over there. Now, I have not yet given a donation to the Y.M.C.A.-and I am not in any sense a rich man,-but just to prove the truth of my own convictions, I shall be very glad to subscribe $50 right now. I think that is all I need say." (Applause.)