BRITISH SEA POWER
AN ADDRESS BY COUNCILLOR PETER WRIGHT.
Joint Meeting with the Kiwanis Club-Under Auspices
Navy League of Canada,
October 18, 1919.
The Empire and Kiwanis Clubs united to make this meeting a tribute to Peter Wright, the great leader of British Seamen, who so splendidly supported the Empire at war, and whose views on the rights and duties of labor, both organized and unorganized, during the reconstruction period and after, are recognized as both sane and strongly progressive.
The Toronto Male Chorus enlivened the proceedings with several songs.
MR. F. G. HASSARD, Vice-President of the Kiwanis Club, acted as chairman, and called upon Commodore Jarvis to introduce Mr. Peter Wright, which he did in a brief speech, referring to Mr. Wright as seaman, philanthropist, and orator. -'When Mr. Wright rose to speak the male chorus sang "Rule Britannia," the audience rising.
MR. PETER WRIGHT was received with loud applause, and said: Mr. Chairman and friends, I wonder how many of us here to-night realize the meaning of that song"Britannia Rules the Waves?" It seems almost impossible for you, living so far from our seaboard, to recognize what the navy has done during the last five years,
Peter Wright, Councillor and Trustee of the Seamen's Union of Great Britain was an outstanding leader in the organization of the forces of labor for the prosecution of the war. He was used as a secret service agent by the British Government, and his almost miraculous escapes on a trip of investigation to Petrograd before the establishment of and throughout the, Kerensky regime, mark him out as an outstanding athlete and; " a man of remarkable knowledge and ability."
or what the navy has done for the last three or four centures. If you go back a few years' time you remember there was a Napoleon with an imagination that was too big for his body, and an egotism which is bound to spell failure to any man. He thought that he would like to be Cock o' the Walk and become lord and master of the Universe. Then we had Philip of Spain, and it was then that the navy secured liberty for the world and provided the right for every nation to determine her own soul and become the architect of her own future. Five years ago we had a joke-Dirty Bill-then the Kaiser of Germany; he thought that the time had arrived for him to control Europe and this continent, because he thought that he was a superman endowed with Divine power from the Almighty on high to dominate over, humanity; but it was our gallant little silent navy that has brought him to the dust, down to his knees licking the dust. (Applause.)
And every neutral will tell you today, and every historian, that the naval power of Britain has never been abused by her. (Applause.) She has controlled the seas; she has given perfect liberty to every nation under the sun to carry on its commerce and its exchange of commodities and wares without any interruption by anybody. That gallant little navy has been maintained and financed by that little kingdom of ours in Europe which you could place in the heart of Lake Superior and lose sight of her; that little nation with her forty-eight millions of people has entirely financed and kept up that navy with all the pride that she could lay her hands on. Were I to give you the power of the navy, when I was in Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway since I have seen you last, those neutral nations told me that it was Great Britain and her navy through the blockade that defeated Germany; (Applause.) and you know that Tirpitz, with his long whiskers-Dirty Old Tirpitz--we will hang him by those whiskers before we are done with him. (Laughter and applause.) He told Gerard, the American Ambassador, just prior to America coming into the war, that he would bring Great Britain down to her knees by his submarines, and when Great Britain was defeated he would take our navy and with Germany's navy would come to the United States and this continent and get what they want. Have you ever realized what that meant? He would have bled every fibre in your anatomy; you would have been serfs under him, and your destiny would have been a curse under the control of the iron heel of Germany. But it didn't come off; oh no. He said our men had no soul; they were drunkards, contemptible men, men lacking the audacity and the tenacity to stand the brutality that he could bring to bear with his dastardly deeds through the submarines; but the men of the mercantile marine, like the men of the navy, stood like Britons in defiance of the brutality and the murder committed by their filthy hands. They were inoculated with the spirit of the navy. They would rather have died and gone into Davy Jones' locker than submit to the tyranny of old Tirpitz and that dirty gang. that was ruling Germany at that moment. But I am pleased to-night that I had the privilege of being one of the men who dictated the terms of penitence that the Germans will have to go through, (Loud applause.) and as a sailor I cannot hate, because a man who hates is a coward, and oftentimes I have shaken hands with a gallant and honorable opponent, and the gallant little Welshman, our premier, (Loud applause.) stated only this week that he did not want us to ill-treat a bleeding opponent. We are willing to extend the hand of fellowship to the Hun when he is clean, and not until then. (Hear, hear and applause.) And that can't be done in a week; oh no. We have got to inoculate the brute by punishment (Applause.) and in the very near future we may take some of that fluid of his and make it subject to a critical scrutiny by an analytical chemist, and if the report is favorable we may alter our stand, but in the meantime no Hun will trample the deck of a British ship. (Loud applause.) In the meantime we are willing to give him an opportunity to become converted and to regenerate his dirty, filthy soul.
I just want to make one or two of these remarks to let you know that, now the war is over, we have not forgotten; and the voice of the deep is appealing to our hearts and mental capacity to do honor to the gallant dead who fought so nobly. (Applause.)
From what I have seen, the Hun has not repented yet; and I am making that statement very cautiously and very carefully. The Hun puts me in mind of a man who used to go down to the Salvation Army penitent form every time when he was stony broke, and become converted, and after he was cared for and received a new rig-out he went back again to his old wife until he was stony broke again, and then went back to the penitent form. Oh, we are determined for a real conversion.
Now, you know our mind on the navy and the mercantile marine. When this war was over I could see the opening of a new epoch, a new era. Dirty Bill stated that there was no affinity between Canada and Australia. He taught that when Great Britain declared war, you in Canada would sit down in your seats and lie on your beds quite unconcerned. He stated there was no affinity between the Dominions and the heart of the Empire. I wonder what he would say now? And now, when we have fought together, when we have suffered together, we are more consolidated than we ever were in the history of the world. (Applause.) I would like you to visualize with me and see whether we can create a structure at this moment which will bring us closer together by the affinities of love, and create an influence and power in conjunction with the Anglo-Saxon race in the United States of America, and create an influence which will make it impossible for any nation to go to war in future. (Hear, hear and applause.) Because, after all, I don't want war. War is the cancellation of reason; and after two thousand years of so-called civilization I believe that the time has arrived when we ought to be able to settle our disputes around the conference table by reason, instead of armies and 20-inch guns; but as long as you have men of the psychology of Dirty Bill, and a democracy that is so ignorant as to be led by a man like him, so long will you be compelled to have a navy protecting your interests, and protecting liberty and freedom for your destiny. (Applause.) How are we to start? The majority of the people in the kingdom did not understand the geography, and unfortunately there are not many Canadians who understand the geography of Canada themselves; Canada was a mere name; but since this war they understand Canada; they understand her soul and they understand her psychology. I want you to make an effort; I want you to dedicate yourselves, your mind and your being and your citizenship, for the purpose of creating a belt going around the world that will become the greatest factor for civilization that the world has ever seen. Although I am a poor man, I feel proud that I am a unit in that great Empire, that I have the honor of sheltering myself under the folds of that Jack that has given a greater opportunity to its citizens than any other flag that was ever unfurled, to the breeze in the world. (Loud applause.)
What is the first thing needful? In my own mind I am satisfied-and mind you, my learning is not book-learning, for I have travelled all over the globe; I have been in every nation under the sun; I have studied its conditions, and I know a little bit about the history, reading it in my own peculiar way-the University student doesn't always read history right, because I remember not long ago reading an account by a Frenchman of the battle of Waterloo. Then I read a German account of the battle of Waterloo; and I read our own account, and after reading the three I was between the devil and the deep blue sea; (Laughter.) I didn't know who won the war; (Laughter.) but this I do know, that we can only keep consolidated and keep our ties in contact by maintaining the. supremacy of the sea, (Loud applause.) and I ask you and the Dominion to help us in that respect, to make up your mind for the supremacy of the sea in spite of all comers, whoever they may be. (Applause.)
Without our navy we will become isolated, helpless, and to a very large extent useless. I feel satisfied in my own mind that it is absolutely imperative to keep intact the navy.
Now, what is the position of our navy? Prior to 1914 we did not worry you; the tax-payers in Britain paid the whole expenditure incurred in keeping that fleet going. You as a Dominion did not contribute a dollar towards the maintenance of that fleet. Well, after five years of war we are in a devil of a hole; 18,000,000,000 is our national debt, and to meet the interest on that amount we will have to contribute 1400,000,000 or $2,000,000,000 every year. That debt was incurred during the war. Now, as an ordinary seaman, not as a statesman, I ask you to come and help us, to contribute something towards that maintenance; or else follow the lead of Australia by providing some ways and means to protect and to safeguard your own coast-line. (Loud applause.) I think that is a reasonable proposition.
Now, there are difficulties in the way. When I go back home this time they want me to get into Parliament; and of all the infernal hells that I don't want to get into, it is the House of Commons. (Laughter and applause.) You know that when a man gets into Parliament he is damned. (Laughter.) I don't know why they are so eager to get there. Of all the peculiar people that ever I have met, the men in Parliament are the most peculiar. (Laughter.) I have been studying their psychology for twenty-five years, and I have given it up as a bad job. (Laughter.) They make you all sorts of promises; they will sit on the fence and watch which way the cat jumps, and then they act. We have some in Great Britain. I remember that in 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913 I went out with a man called Lord Roberts, and the politicians, Lloyd George included, mind you, said he was an old man who was getting softening of the brain, and not responsible for his actions; all my colleagues of the Labor Party called him a jingo; they said we had a wrong imagination; all the people in Parliament were trying to cut down the budget and the expenditure; and I tell you here and now that if it had not been for the Navy League in Great Britain and the eminent and capable men who led them I don't know where you and I would have been to-night, but they fought and they created a public opinion that so stimulated the enquiring capacity of our citizens in England that they compelled the politicians to move. They won't do it unless you hit them on the head with a hammer. They will hang on and they will camouflage.
Now, I don't come here to-night for what I can get out of it, for I travelled 2,400 miles to come here, and it is no joke living in hotels, and I can't sleep on railway trains; but I am coming here to-night to tell you that I believe that in your Navy League you have the finest organization that I know in Canada. (Applause.) It is controlled by far-seeing, clear-visioned, hard-headed, brainy men, men who are non-political; and it is a non-political organization whose whole aim and ambition is to keep the supremacy of the sea under the Union Jack. (Loud applause.) They are men who recognize the great hidden potentialities in Canada, and I agree with them. I do not know of any nation under the sun with the hidden potentialities that you have here in Canada. You have an immense future providing that you can train men big enough to see the innate hidden possibilities. Now, these men are of that opinion, and they have history to support them, that no nation can ever be great unless she has at her hand sea-power and a mercantile marine. You know that my friends over the border, in the land of Uncle Sam, have a great imagination. (Laughter.) They are friends of mine, you know, don't misunderstand me; it does not pay us to fall out with the United States, but I would like to tell Uncle Sam, in spite of the fact that he wants to have the supremacy of the mercantile marine, that Great Britain still has a little life left, and she is not down and out, (Applause.) and that that little spark is going to germinate and put her back into the position that she had as far as her mercantile marine is concerned. (Hear, hear and applause.) Lots of people on this continent imagine that Great Britain is in an awful state of anarchy. One American told me, "Great Britain is played out; you may as well shut up." I replied to him, very gentlemanly, that I didn't know any nation under the sun where there is likely to be hell with the lid off like the United States. (Laughter and applause.) Of course he was going by the newspapers, and you know you cannot always take the newspapers for gospel, though they tell me you do it here in Toronto; (Laughter.) but we don't do it at home.
I don't want you to be alarmed about Great Britain. I am in "the inner know," and this war has spiritualized every fibre in that little land. Of course there is a little bit of trouble, because we have a few men there who are eager to get back to pre-war conditions, but it is not coming off; oh no. It has been a political democracy in the past, but this war has humanized Great Britain, and in future it is going to be a real democracy where every man and woman, and every child, will have an equality of opportunity to get a fair start in life, and then to prove by capacity the survival of the fittest. (Loud Applause.) We are determined that every man and woman in future will have a decent house to live in, because, after all, God Almighty never intended a single section of the community to live in hovels where nothing but tubercular disease could result to the children. I believe this is a world beautiful with all the things that we need, and plenty for everybody. I feel proud of our leaders; they are men capable of taking the position of any statesman, men who have been educated through the university of pain, agony and suffering, men that are not swell-headed, men that have no personal ambition, only to alleviate and to emancipate suffering humanity. These men have behind them the whole labor forces of Great Britain, an army of six million men who can be controlled by them, and they are anxious and eager to see that in future, and as far as it is possible within the state, or for any statesman to remove poverty in all its horror and to remove unemployment, it shall be done. They are determined that in future it will be impossible for a multi-millionaire to exist, and they are also determined to recognize that that can only be obtained by constitutional means. You know that the last time I was here I told you what was going to happen. People called me a blithering idiot; but I knew what was coming. We have too many men who are eager to reach the moon with a boat-hook; they want to regenerate society in a week; they imagine that as long as we have more money and shorter hours, everything will be well. Using the words of Clynes, one of our labor leaders in Britain, and one of the finest men, when he appealed to the workmen there-and that appeal applies to you and to every other nation-"We can have an improved condition, but we cannot have better conditions and shorter hours unless we increase our production." (Loud applause.)
You know we have been living in a fools paradise for the last five years. It puts me in mind of a bloke that has a deposit in his bank and he is having a joy-ride and a bean-feast-nothing coming in, but he is continually drawing out. That is what we have been doing. We have been living on loans. Everything that has been produced was created for destruction, reducing your raw material all the while, and now we are coming back to our senses; we are like a bloke that has been on a booze for a month, and finally he can't get any more, not even Florida water, (Laughter.) and he comes to himself and he finds out that he has got to sit down to his craft and recover his normal psychology and get his organs back to normal condition. Now, that is our position, and that is what we as labor men realize. We don't want Great Britain to go down. Who would suffer more than the workmen if she did? Great Britain is the finest little land under the sun. (Loud applause.) We are suffering now, going through the acute agonizing labor-pains prior to a new birth, and we will come up, and we will become a glorious living example to the world. (Loud applause.) Uncle Sam is now only passing through conditions which we passed through twenty years ago. You know that all he has cared about was making the almighty dollar. They had ideals in their constitution, but they never practised them. We have had ideals, and we are living them out and working them out, and then you in Canada and over the whole of Europe, including America, will copy the example of Great Britain.
I am out for a new world, and I appeal to your manhood, to your womanhood, to the honor of those noble men who loved Canada, who fought for their motherland, and who are today buried beneath the soil of Flanders; I ask you for their sakes to dedicate yourselves for the purpose of creating a brighter and a happier world. That ought to be the ambition of every man, no matter whether he is a millionaire or not. The majority of our sane men do not believe in a class war. I do not believe in a class war. The millionaire is a product of his environment. Had I been born like him I would be like him in my actions and my ways. He is willing and eager and anxious to do the right thing. He is willing and eager to part with his millions if he could get the assurance that by parting with that wealth the future of society would be an improvement on the one that we have at the present moment. (Applause.)
I am pleased that the Labor Party is fighting the elections. I say to workingmen, don't rely on politicians; work out your own salvation; you have got the brain capacity; you have got the imagination; you have got the encouragement; you have got the tenacity. Select your own men, but while you are selecting them watch these fellows that are out for a good thing. Watch these fellows that are all jaw and no brain. You can't do much talking in the House of Commons, you know. You may have the gift of the gab, but that doesn't count for a great deal; it may cover newspaper space, but that is all. I know what I am talking about. I have been fifteen years in the city council; I have been on committees with the most eminent men in the kingdom, and they will respect you provided you have something else besides gab. (Laughter and applause.)
But I am afraid I am going away from the Navy League. Now, I would like you to support the Navy League. You say, "But what the devil have you got to do with the Navy League?" I am a member of Canada as well as you. I am a member of the Empire. (Hear, hear.) I am interested in you because you are interested in us. Your welfare is our welfare; our welfare is yours; we are inter-dependent on one another; that is what I would like you to recognize--inter-dependence--I ask you to give your hearty support to the League, not merely in giving money-there are a lot of blokes that will give a thousand quid and think they have done well, but they have done nothing. I want you to give your earnest toil, your kind encouragement, your kind consideration, and at every available opportunity inoculate the ideas of its importance and show why others should support the League, and let them inoculate everyone in this wide west upon the need of a navy and the need of a mercantile marine.
I am going to give you some facts. When we started the war in 1914 we had something like 25,000 foreigners in our merchant marine. Why did we carry those foreigners? Well, the ship-owners always thought that anything was good enough for a sailor. I went to sea for two pound ten a month, and they could keep me working for twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four. They fed us on dog-biscuits, and the place that we lived in I am sure no farmer out west would stick his cattle in. They always kept us down. We have converted them since the war. They carried those foreigners from an economic consideration, to cut us down. Well, the war started. Now, we had a hell of a time with those foreigners. (Laughter.) And mind you, I was right in the "inner know," right at the back of five or six men who knew it all; and a great number of those foreigners were working in co-operation with the Huns, and many a ship and many a life is down at Davy Jones' locker as the result. We found that we could not trust those men, because their sympathies were against our interest. Now, we are determined to create facilities in the future so that ships belonging to Britain will be manned by Britons, (Loud applause.) men imbued with British ideas. Now, I want you to support the League to give them an opportunity to train these boys that have a spirit of adventure and an inclination to go to sea. You know, they didn't make a bad one of me, did they? I went to sea when I was nine, and I have done everything under the sun except making money. (Laughter.) They wanted to give me honors. Just fancy sticking a Union Jack in a mud-cart!
I told them I didn't want it.
Now, there will be room for your Canadian boys in your ships, and mind, they are not paying a bad wage now-thirteen pounds and a half, and the food is something decent, and we will make it better still. And I want you to support the League because I don't see that there is anything to prevent you building a mercantile marine to have a fair go with Uncle Sam, when you may carry your own commodities to any part of the globe. (Applause.) But there are a great many Canadian ships manned with foreigners; isn't that so, Mr. Jarvis? (Commodore Jarvis: "Yes.") My contention is that the men ought to be Canadian born, and you have got some splendid men. Some of those boys from the middle west and right throughout Canada brought glory to our navy; they performed heroic deeds equal to any that were done during the war; (Applause.) and mind you, some of those kids never smelled salt water in their lives, they came right away out of the green west. I want you to support the League to give encouragement to the boys-The Boys Brigade, the Naval Boys' Brigade. Even if they don't go to sea, it will impress upon them the indelible stamp of courage and discipline that will be useful to them in their after life. You know that discipline is the thing we need today. Our liberty has to a large extent been converted into license. If you send those boys under the care of the Navy League they will add an asset unto their mental and physical make-up, and if they don't go to sea they will be more useful as citizens to the Dominion of Canada. (Applause.)
Now, I believe they are making a start to get half a million dollars throughout Canada. Well, I think you could do it in Toronto. I want you to do your best. I know you will, and I am eagerly waiting. They are going to wire me at Winnipeg, and I want to be able to sling my hat up in the air and say, "Good old Toronto." I want you to do your best. We can't do these things without money, and you have got some able men sitting on the platform here that are not getting a single soul nor any political consideration for all the toil and the labor that they are expending on this organization. (Applause.) I remember some time back when I could not sleep for the agonies that I was going through, and the suffering of our men that were drowned, the agony of the women and the children. The Canadian Navy League cabled to the Navy League in Great Britain, and we received a message from them stating that they would give us all the money that we required. I feel grateful to the Canadian Navy League. (Applause.) More than that, hundreds of men are physical' and mental cripples. We established a home called Linfield. The Navy League handed over to me $200,000, and the finest room in that home has been dedicated, and will be opened by our Prince of Wales when he gets back home, for Canada. (Applause.) But while I appreciate these things, I am out for a big thing-Empire not merely in a material sense, but a great and mighty nation, a consolidated nation; and that can only be accomplished by being master in controlling the sea, and I want you to support the League in that particular respect; and I want you in future to dedicate your beings; I want you to dream to the stars, and fling your dares a thousand miles; I want you to realize that there are secrets yet hidden in the bowels. of the earth and in the spaces above you; and the dirt beneath you contains temples of mystery. Of all the men and women that ever lived you are the greatest, and all that you have and all that you know are but the pledges of the glorious heritage to come. The past has been an era of ignorance, of cruelty, of pain, of suffering. The true chronicles of civilization have yet to be written. It took the human race centuries piled upon centuries to set its table and to prepare the scene for the twentieth century. A hundred years ago, machinery had just started to turn its wheels, human and animal power were the sole forces for production, there were no colleges, there were no law schools, women could not enter college, and flogging and wife-beating were special privileges with which the courts would not interfere; charity was a mere biblical injunction-a word, not a deed; superstition,-ignorance, fatalism were the prime ministers that governed the human mind. Think what your fathers did for themselves. Just imagine them cutting down the forests here a hundred years ago, living against all the odds that you can conceive. They died so that you and I may live, and you and I are comfortable here to-night as results of our forefathers. Think what they did for themselves, with what inadequate tools, and with what inadequate information they wrought. If you dare to doubt, if you dare to falter, if you dare to cringe, you are a coward and a disgrace to mankind. I want you to rise, to get on and up, because there is a glorious dynamic future awaiting you. We want men. That is the need of the day, men like Lloyd George, (Loud applause.) a man who has given his all so that the Empire may live. The great and good God has imbued him with that power, with that tenacity, and with that courage that have brought us successfully through this war.
My appeal to you Canadians is to arise and make this country the greatest, the happiest and the brightest asteroid in this great solar system of ours. This is my prayer, and this is my farewell for you tonight. (Loud and continued applause.)
THE CHAIRMAN: I am sure we have been inspired and enthused by this message of Mr. Peter Wright. We are aware that he has to leave us, but we. are not going to say good-bye, but just good-night.
As Mr. Wright left the platform the audience broke out into cheering, and gave him also the Chautauqua salute. In response, Mr. Wright called for three cheers for the Navy, which were given with enthusiasm, followed by a tiger, and Mr. Wright left the hall to catch the night train on his return trip to Winnipeg, he having come to Toronto from that city specially for this meeting.