War Impressions
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 23 May 1918, p. 243-252


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Paulin, Captain J.B., Speaker
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Text
Text
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Speeches
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The disease of war-weariness; fighting that disease. Everything that we hold dear hanging on victory or defeat in this War. The criticisms of those at home who are immune from the awfulness of this war as the greatest casualty of all; too much of that criticism abroad in our land today. Thinking of the situation of the men who face the enemy. Shame on us today if we grow discouraged. The wonderful spirit of the people back in old England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland. The war work of the women. The work of the British Navy and the mercantile Marine. Achievements of the Canadians. The speaker's witness to the initial stages of the battle which resulted in our taking Vimy Ridge. Work done by the infantry, and the engineers. Words from Lloyd George. Some words on retaliation. Fighting on the made democracy safe for the world.
Date of Original:
23 May 1918
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English
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Empire Club of Canada
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Full Text
WAR IMPRESSIONS
AN ADDRESS BY CAPTAIN J. B. PAULIN
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
May 23, 1918

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OP THE EMPIRE CLUB,

I always have a certain reluctance and hesitancy about addressing others upon a subject about which many of them know more than I do myself, and I am aware that there are many here today who do know more about the war situation as a whole, than I do, and the only claim I have to a theory today is that I was in rather close touch with the activities at the front for a short time, and the one bitter pill in the cup of pleasure furnished in my return, is the thought that there are many more deserving to return to Canada who must remain in the thick of it,-I think every man who returns to Canada from the front must always have the same feeling.

There is a disease which is very common in the world today, and I think anyone may notice it making rather good headway in Canada, the disease of war-weariness, -and we must fight that disease just as much as we have to fight our enemies in the field, and the enemy's propaganda. (Hear, hear.)

General Smuts, who, in my estimation, is one of the greatest combinations of statesman and soldier in the present war, says the stakes are the highest for which

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Captain Paulin went overseas three years ago last April as Chaplain of the 86th Machine Gun Battalion from Hamilton. He was senior Chaplain at Crowborough Camp in Sussex, England, until the fall of 1916, when he joined the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade in France. Captain Paulin was wounded at Vimy Ridge on the 9th of April, 1917, and returned to Toronto in November of 1917.

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the human race has ever striven, and that persistence, patience and perseverance will make us the winners ultimately.

Gentlemen, the war is the only event in the world today, the only thing worth while in which to invest our thoughts, resources, time and money, because upon its ultimate issue, victory or defeat, hangs everything we hold dear in life. Donald Hankey in an immortal volume, -one of the finest ever produced,-has said, "I have seen our casualties over here, oh God, but the casual criticisms of those at home who are immune from the awfulness of this war, that is the greatest casualty of all," and there is too much of that criticism abroad in our land today. We are told when Rome was burning, Nero played his fiddle. Well, if Nero was a good musician, there was perhaps some compensation in the music to make up for the crackling of burning Rome, but there is no compensation today for those who say fiddling things when freedom may be consumed in the flames of militarism and autocracy. We took up the challenge of autocracy in 1914, to vindicate our freedom, or to undergo servitude for one thousand years, and we are not going to be defeated. There are people who think the thing is always at an end, and I have continually said, "When you are writing to your boys don't mention the word defeat;" for it is wonderful what an influence your letters have on the minds of those who receive them at the front, particularly in view of the fact that they know only what has taken place on their own line and are more or less disposed to take the views of those at home.

I say we are not going to be defeated. Churchill very recently said, "We have been hundreds of times much nearer defeat in this war than w e have been during the past few months, but we didn't know it. We were living in a fool's paradise."

When we think of the situation of the men who faced the Germans in the first days of the war, it ought to be a rebuke to us today for allowing discouragement to take possession of us. When we think of that thin khaki line that saved the world for us today, we see in them a miniature picture of democracy. They did not become discouraged then. Shame on us if we today grow discouraged!

I think there is nothing more wonderful than the spirit of the people back in old England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland. How they have answered the call, especially the women of the land, who are making munitions in such large quantities today! I visited one of these munition factories and I see nothing in this room as yellow as the skins of those women who were working there, and the Doctor who accompanied me told me that many of them were as surely victims of this war as the men against whom the shells they were making would be used. One million six hundred thousand of them came forward from every walk of life, to carry on at home, while their men folk carried on abroad. (Applause.)

One statesman has said that without the women of the land the men would wilt for want of supplies and munitions. The spirit of the women of England today is absolutely marvellous. It is now almost six months since I left, but I believe that the spirit of the Old Land is as strong and determined today as it ever was.

In the Old Land you see the mill of war at work, grinding at its greatest, and it is grinding very small. On the one side of the country you see great training camps with their thousands upon thousands of men being trained to the highest standard of fighting efficiency. In between there are great factories and mines toiling night and day, while on the other side lie great hospitals where men and women are laboring incessantly in order to nurse back to health and strength again the broken fragments from France.

On the sea the British navy has never had any opportunity of doing anything spectacular, but she has been doing a service all these weary months and years, without which we would have been defeated before we had begun.

One of our brothers from the other side said to me today, "If the Germans get past the British navy, there will be only one thing for us today,--you Canadians and we of the United States will have to get together and fight this thing through," and I said "If they get past the British Navy, we can hold up our hands and yell 'Kamerad'." (Applause.)

There are a great number of people who wonder what would take place tomorrow if the Germans did bring their navy out and give battle. Well, we cannot decide from what took place yesterday, what will take place today, but we can say that if the spirit which dominated our fighting men on land and sea in the days of long ago is still the same spirit, then we can never know defeat. (Applause.)

There is one department that has received very little mention,-the Mercantile Marine. No one who has crossed the seas during these days since the submarine became a very real menace-thank God its best days are over-can but realize what an awful venture it is for these men who go bravely down to sea in the ships day after day, taking as they do their lives in their hands. I was reading of one fellow who had been submarined or mined eleven times, and when, on the last occasion, he landed on the shore, the first thing he did was to enquire when the next boat started out. I have not heard that he received any decoration. As a matter of fact, I have not heard that any of these men have been decorated, but they certainly deserve it. (Applause.) Thousands upon thousands have gone down, unhonored and unsung, but equally as true martyrs to the cause of liberty as the men who have died on the field of battle:

We have fed our sea for a thousand years

And she calls us, still unfed,

Though there's never a wave of all her waves

But marks our English dead

We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest

To the shark and the sheering gull,

If blood be the price of admiralty.

Lord God, we ha' paid in full!

There's never a flood goes shoreward now

But lifts 'a keel we manned;

There's never an ebb goes seaward now

But drops our dead on the sand

But slinks our dead on the sands forlone,

From the Ducies to the Swin.

If blood be the price of admiralty,

Lord God, we ha' paid it in

We must feed our sea for a thousand years,

For that is our doom and pride,

As it was when they sailed with the Golden Hind,

Or the wreck that struck last tide--

Or the wreck that lies on the spouting reef

Where the ghastly blue-lights flare.

If blood be the price of admiralty,

Lord God, we ha' bought it dear!

Further, it is something for which Canadians must always be proud, that six weeks after the war was declared 33,000 men were transported over there, and also that it was given to the Canadians to stop the last serious effort on the part of the Germans to reach the coast, and to call forth from Marshall French that glorious tribute: "The Canadians faced the situation." (Applause.)

The officer to whom I previously referred said, "There seems to be a fear back here in Canada that the Germans are going to make a frontal attack upon the Canadians, but the Canadians at the Front are afraid they won't (laughter) and," he continued, "they will get the biggest reception they ever got and pay the biggest price"; and it is interesting to us to know that the only part of the line that the Canadians fought for so strenuously arid won which is still in the hands of the Allies, is that which is being held by the Canadians themselves. (Applause.) They are called "The storm troops of the British Empire" by the Kaiser, and his own "storm troops" are the biggest men of his various divisions; and when he speaks of the Canadians as being the "storm troops," it means that in his estimation, they are the best troops of the British Empire. I think the Kaiser has come more nearly to the truth there than he has ever done in anything else.

I believe it was Bonar Law who said of the Canadians after Passchendaele : "The splendid manhood of the Canadian forces has lifted modern warfare to a higher standard than it ever had before, and by their heroic sacrifices, they have made it a grander and worthier thing to be a Canadian henceforth." (Applause.)

It was my privilege to witness the initial stages of the battle which resulted in our taking Vimy Ridge. The French had tried to take the Ridge the year before and their casualties were 89,000 and they did not take it. So from the fall of 1916 to the spring of 1917, preparations were being made for the battle of Vimy Ridge, the greatest battle of the War up to date. One could see under the cover of night, great lorries groaning under their burdens making their way up to the rear of the lines filled with shells of every size and shape, which were deposited behind the lines in stacks 22 to 24 feet high. While this was going on, thousands of men were being employed in making gun emplacements, so that every point of the German line could be smashed up. Sand bags, earth and steel were used in making these emplacements. Meanwhile our flying men, whose praises can never be too loudly sung, were going back and forth over the German lines, taking photographs of the German trenches, from which maps were made which set forth clearly every detail. These were furnished to our artillery and infantry so that they knew exactly to what they were going. During this time our infantry were in the rear taking rest and training, preparatory to going over the top. In the meantime the guns were registering, while the flying men corrected their errors. The programme of our artillery is a very wonderful one. An artillery man has a map which looks very much like a railroad time-table. It is very accurate and it has to be so because where a large number of guns are concentrated, it is impossible to use them all unless they have this time-table. Ten days before the boys took the Ridge, these guns were increasing hour by hour in intensity. One would have thought on the Thursday of the day preceding the Monday that they had gained the maximum of their intensity. It was on that day that sixty of our men were sent over the top to get information about the German trenches. Sixteen did not come back, ten were wounded and two prisoners were taken who informed us that they had not been able to get out and had had no supplies in for forty-eight hours. When this report was communicated to headquarters, it was found very satisfactory and the artillery kept up their fire with increasing intensity until the following Monday, so you can form some idea of the feelings of the Germans in those dugouts waiting for the boys to come over and take them prisoners.

The infantry are the men who do the dirty work. I think if I had a choice, I would choose anything in preference to the infantry, but I never saw anything which thrilled me so much in my life as I saw when watching one of these divisions moving in for the battle. The French women came to their doors with tears in their eyes and waved their handkerchiefs--they knew many of the men would never retrace their steps. But these men were as care-free as children running from school, as they swung along to the music of their bands, their packs on their backs, rifles over their shoulders, and their faces alight with ardour and determination.

In the meantime our engineers had built a tunnel of considerable length which was lighted by means of electricity and through which our reinforcements were brought up to the trenches. I shall never forget what I saw of our men on that Faster Sunday night as they waited in the dull grey hours of the early morning for the hour of battle, 5.30 a.m. The non-commissioned officers passed up and down their men and then the order came "look to your bayonets," and every man placed his hand on his bayonet to make sure of it. Then came the order "Take footing on the parapet." . . . the tensity of the strain of that moment before the boys go over the top is beyond all imagination-it means "Blighty" or "Blanket." "Blighty" means wounded and eventually crossing to England and "Blanket" means crossing the Great Divide. By the way, our officers, unlike the German officers, lead their men; they do not follow them. I have wondered during these last few days what is the significance attached to the statement that the German officers are now leading their men, and I think it must indicate a decline in the morale of the German army. Prisoners have told us that it would not be safe for their officers to go before them because they would be killed, and not by the bullets of the enemy. Somebody has said of our end of this war that it is a lieutenants' war; it is a hard war on lieutenants. I heard a letter read not long ago in which the writer=he was writing to his folks at home-said "We would follow our officer to H l," and mother did not know what it meant and asked father, and he said, "Why, that means the Hindenberg Line." (Laughter.) There is another story about a colonel who was going up to the trenches and a German sniper tried to get him but failed, whereupon the colonel instructed one of his men to go out and get the sniper. The soldier went out to search for the sniper and came upon him unawares, whereupon the sniper, who spoke very good English, held up his hands and cried "Mercy, mercy," but the soldier said "No mercy for you, you missed by colonel twice." Of course, that is not true of many of our officers.

Over the top they went. Some never got over, even, while others fell as soon as they did so, but on went the rest, swaying and struggling against the fire of the enemy, until the German trenches were reached and the men who were there were either silenced forever or taken prisoners, and ere the curtain of night had fallen the news had flashed around the world "The Canadians have taken Vimy Ridge." (Applause.)

So far as I know, the actual casualties amounted to 23,000, and 60% of all who were wounded were walking cases. I do not know how many were killed, but considering the number that took part, it was not very many. They still hold on, and I believe that unless the Germans outflank us, the Canadians will still continue to hold Vimy Ridge against all comers.

A large number of the men are now returned and, gentlemen, they need the country which needed them so badly, and I hope that Canada will see that these men get a square deal.

The war must still go on, and I think it is encouraging for us to hear such words as have recently been uttered by the President of the United States and our own Lloyd George. Lloyd George said: "We mean to win this war, but win it or lose it, we are in this thing to the last of our resources--to the last ounce of strength, to the last drop of blood, to the last farthing of money, we are in it." And what does President Wilson say: "With all that we have and all that we love, we are in this thing until success crowns our supreme endeavor." (Applause.)

I am glad to know that Lloyd George won a victory a week or two ago, for it means a victory for the attitude of the men at the front who are not afraid of actual defeat on the battle field; they have been far too long fighting against an enemy with odds about 50 to 1 against, and they know that every day is hastening the time when the balance will swing in their favor. They do not want unequal odds and they do not want peace negotiations when they have held on so long at such terrible sacrifice. They want a peace by force of arms. They know that Germany forced this war on us and that we must force peace on her. Before coming here this afternoon, I heard that the Germans yesterday made a concerted attack by air-machines upon the hospitals behind the British lines,--a deliberate attack upon our hospitals, and a reporter from one of the newspapers called me up and told me about it and asked: "What do you think about retaliation?" and I said, "I always insisted upon retaliation for the same reason that the surgeon's knife is used to cut out a disease that cannot be got at in any other way," and I believe that is the only kind of warfare the Germans understand. I was almost nauseated a year ago, when lying in an English hospital, to read the letters by prominent men protesting against retaliation, saying, "We must keep our hands clean." That, gentlemen, is the very thing the Germans are counting on. I think it is good psychology to reason that the very thing that will do for them will do for us, and I do not believe that this war will ever come to a successful conclusion until the people in Germany know something of the frightfulness of their own warfare, until they have seen their towns and cities devastated and looted and their art treasures destroyed. Until then I do not think we can ever have permanent peace. (Applause.) I say it would be better to die out of the world altogether than to continue to live in it while this awful monster that has hacked his way across Belgium and Servia and France and the highways of the sea still struggles defiantly across the pathway of humanity. I say that peace today on any terms whatever would only mean a wounded St. George and an unkilled dragon,--a dragon which would rise from its exhaustion with increased venom and strength and strew the world with further desolation. For the sake of the past with its heritage of freedom for which our fathers fought and bled and died, and for the sake of the future, we must still fight on "To make the world safe for democracy." (Applause.)

But, gentlemen, we must also work to make democracy safe for the world, and that is a bigger problem than to make the world safe for democracy. The only thing that can make democracy safe for the world is evolution. Some people speak as if the only alternative of autocracy was democracy, but the alternative maybe "mobocracy," which is ten times worse than democracy.

In conclusion I say we must still fight on for the safety of the Cause for which our men have paid the last full measure of devotion, in order that liberty and righteousness and justice might not perish from the earth. (Applause.)

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