- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Dec 1918, p. 407-416
- Wright, Peter, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- How the British Empire is different from other empires, and how different from the Germans. Reasons why the seamen have stood loyally by the Crown, and used every effort to bring Great Britain successfully through this great war. Gratitude for what the Navy League has done over the last 14 years. Some words on the German Emperor. Some personal reminiscences and anecdotes from the War experiences of the speaker. How the Hun broke the honour of the sea which had not been broken for four centuries. Our duty now to deal with the Hun that is here in our midst. Guarding against the doctrine of the Hun, of Karl Marx. Up to us to see that the honour is done to the brave boys who gave up their lives in this War. A concluding poem.
- Date of Original
- 5 Dec 1918
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- Full Text
- THE BRITISH NAVY
AN ADDRESS BY PETER WRIGHT
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
December 5, 1918
Past President Sommerville introduced the speaker as the Chairman of the Seamen's Union of the British Empire, who for twenty years has been the active spirit of that Union. It is due to his conservative, wise and loyal advice that there has been no strike on a single British ship in any sea since the war began.
MR. PETER WRIGHT: MR. CHAIRMAN, COMRADES,- As an old sailor I am anxious to express to you, on behalf of all our seamen, their greetings; and I would like also to express gratitude on their behalf for the reception that you have given me here this afternoon. I consider it a great honor to be privileged to speak before the Empire Club, because, of all men, none realize like seamen what Empire means. We have found by experience in coming in contact with all nations and flags under the sun, and by seeing the various ways in which these people live, that there is no Empire like ours under the
Peter Wright, Councillor and Trustee of the Seaman's union of Great Britain, was practically unknown to the Canadian public when he came to Canada. His address to the Empire Club was the first of an extended series which he delivered in Canada from coast to coast. As a powerful advocate of organized labor he was active throughout the war in stimulating the war spirit at home. No one could be more definite in statements against Pacificism and for the punishment of Germany for her crimes on land and sea. He was used as a Secret Service agent by the British Government and had wonderful experiences on a trip to Petrograd just before the establishment of the Kerensky regime. His training as a boxer and wrestler of international repute stood him in good stead on many occasions.
canopy of heaven. We know by experience that where the flag of Great Britain flies, there you have liberty and freedom, and the possibilities of drawing out all the hidden potentialities that lie within the brain and body of man. Therefore we can speak from experience, and it is for that reason that our gallant men during the last four years, in season and out of season, have stood on the deck steadfast, no matter what the difficulties were that surrounded them.
How different the German! When he refers to Empire he analyzes the contents of text books; he goes into the history of Assyria, of Babylon, of Rome, and there he finds that those great Empires were kept intact by the iron bands of brute force and autocracy. How different with this Empire of ours ! Look at this great country of yours, that has been kept intact by the silver threads of altruism, of love for Mothercountry. See how you have proved it by your actions when this war started, how Canada's sons came forward because within the human breast there was a kernel, a germ, that compelled them to go forward and to stand loyally by their Motherland while the Hun was trying to get his stranglehold and throttle her. today, gentlemen, after all this carnage, after all this slaughter, we have come out victorious, and Great Britain will be able to remain the greatest factor for civilization that the world has ever seen.
How different from the Hun! He says, "I am the chosen from God on High, and if any man dares to stand against me I will cut him asunder with the sword. I am predestined; I am the Elect from the Messiah to rule and become the greatest predominating factor in the world." How different with Great Britain. Here we areCanada, Newfoundland and Australia, members of this great Empire, members who are kept intact because we have freedom to express our opinions and freedom to work out our own salvation. Those are the reasons that we as seamen have stood loyally by the Crown, and used every legitimate effort to bring Great Britain successfully through this great war.
You know that in 1914 when this war started we were unprepared; and I want to express here, to the Navy League, my gratitude as an individual for what they have done during the last fourteen years. For ten years prior to 1914, I was journeying right through the land, appealing to the democracy of Great Britain not to rely upon these Little Englanders in the House of Commons who were continually trying to reduce the expenditure on the Navy. Through the efforts of the Navy League, and through them efforts only, were leading politicians kept true, but had it not been for the Navy League I do not know where our Navy would have been in 1914. We had prominent men in Great Britain who said, "As there is an affinity between the Germans and Great Britain, we will never have any war; it is only the jealous who say that." Experience has taught us for the last twenty years that Germany was determined with all the forces at her disposal to wait for "the Day," and to strike that mortal blow and bring Great Britain into obedience. I have tramped through Germany; I have met all the greatest men in Germany for the last fifteen years; I have dined with the Kaiser; and I will tell you here now, that I never came in contact with any beast who was such a dirty tyrant as the German Emperor.
I could see iniquity written right across his dirty face, and from that time onward I have said, in season and out of season, "Beware of that tyrant, because the day will come when he will try his game and bring us down to our knees."
I remember being in Berlin, having dined with the OberBurgomaster of Berlin, when he took me around the city. I asked him, "What is this high building?" He said, "Oh, it is a grain elevator which we keep full of grain in the event of a European war so that we can maintain the German people." I said, "Governor, you don't intend to go to war, do you?" He said, "Germany must have freedom to expand." I said, "What do you want?" He replied, "We want what you have got at the present moment." And that has been an eyesore to the Hun; when he left Germany, and when he got as far as Dover, he could see the Union Jack flying. When he got as far as Gibraltar he could see another Jack. When he got to Malta there was another Jack. When he got to Port Said there was another Jack. When he got to Suez, another Jack. When he got to Aden, another damned dirty rag! That is one of the ideas of the Hun. More than that, as one who is interested in education, I have seen the text books in the German schools, and I know every little child in Germany has been infused and inoculated with the idea to conquer and beat Great Britain into the dust. Every university, right through the whole of the German Empire, taught its students upon the philosophic lines of Nietsche and Treitschky, that might is right, and that the Teutonic race is the only royal race, bound to conquer and to predominate over the whole world.
When the war started in 1914, Wilson said to me, "Peter, here we have 2,000 German seamen; we must look after them; these men have been loyal to us, and we must stand loyally by them." I told him, "Wilson, if they had been fifty years on our ships, if they had been one hundred years, they are still Huns fighting for the Fatherland." My executive committee thought otherwise, and I purchased an estate in Northhampton, for which I paid £15,000. These men were cared for, were looked after. The day following, the day that the Lusitania was torpedoed, we were to have a big concert. Wilson and I went into that dining hall, a bigger place than this, and he said, "Look here, men, I am extremely sorry that on account of 500 of your fellowmen being buried and lying at the bottom of the sea, we cannot hold our concert tomorrow." You would naturally have thought that those men, who had lived with us, who had sat with us, who had participated in all that we could give them, would have expressed regret and sorrow; but not a sound; and when Wilson and I closed that door behind us, they went mad from five in the afternoon up till three o'clock in the morning, singing "The Watch on the Rhine," and "Deutschland oeber Alles." There you see the typical character of the Hun; although he had been in our midst for so many years, you could see his philosophic and his spiritual temperament revealed in a public manner.
Well, the fight went on. The odds were tremendous. W e had no guns. W e had no light cruisers to protect the mercantile routes. And if I could only tell you the agonies that we went through in the first twelve months--Ah, it was too terrible to conceive! It seemed almost impossible at that particular period that we as a nation would survive and overcome the great difficulties we had to contend with. Among all those difficulties our men were coming in bleeding where they had been shot and fired at by the submarines, but they stood as loyal and as steadfast as any men could be. But I remember the Minister of Shipping ringing up on the 'phone one midnight and he told me that the Aquitania was in Southampton waiting for 100 men. I went down to Cardiff on the first train in the morning and I could only find 50, but presently in came a tug with 70 men that had been torpedoed just outside of Milford, and when I approached those men and said, "Look here, men, I want you for the Aquitania; will you come?" They said, "Yes, just give us a chance to get a drink, and then we will go." They had their spree, and I took them away to Southampton that very night. Incident after incident of this type could be recorded without end. But I am not here to dilate on that, or to dwell on your feelings. I am here to tell you that we are determined to deal with the Hun, now that we have done our duty, and deal with him in no half-hearted manner. I am not a politician, but I have studied international politics, and I was reading the other day a great speech by that great man, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. He stated that the German people are all right,-it is only those that are in power and in military authority that are to blame for this terrible war. I refute that statement, and I am willing to prove to you that any man who makes that statement either utters a deliberate falsehood or is in ignorance.
After seventy of our ships had been torpedoed, I wrote a letter to the German Labor leaders in Berlin. We were attached to the International Transport Federation, and I wrote to Jaeger, the secretary, and I said, like a man to men, "Jaeger, will you endeavour, with your power, to appeal to the military authorities and ask them to be men?" I stated frankly in this letter, "We don't give a damn if you torpedo our ships, but be sportsmen, and after our men are in the lifeboat defenceless, for Heaven's sake don't fire on them with shrapnel and high explosives." There I wrote to a man who was an ultra social democrat, a man who considered that he was inspired with the German Kultur and social democracy, the only palliative and the only religion to cure and regenerate the world. The reply I had from that man was this: "After conference with all the Labor leaders in Germany, we have decided that it is not our policy nor our intention to interfere with naval or military matters." There you have my reply to Laurier. Here we appealed to the chief, to the leading Labor leaders of Germany, to see fair play and justice in a fair fight; but, Mr. Chairman, it is not in the make-up of the Hun to fight fair.
I went to Berlin to wrestle for the International championship of the world, and after wrestling for nine days I came in the last six or eight men. I came in contact then with men among whom Berlin thought would be the winner of the middleweight world championship. I remember that night when I approached that terrible audience of twenty thousand people; not a single cheer, because they knew I belonged to Great Britain. When my companion came on you could feel the roof almost vibrating and lifting: After skirmishing for a matter of twenty minutes to find out the weak spot in that Teutonic anatomy, he went down on his knees, and the three judges and the three referees were looking at him, and what did he do?-It was only a Hun that could do tactics of that kind-He caught me by a very private part of my anatomy. What did I do? Did I preach the Sermon on the Mount to him? Did I say, "Look here, Fritz, we had better go to Stockholm and have a conference for peace negotiations?" No, no; I caught the Hun by the lug, and I pulled the ear off his head-the only way to deal with a Hun; the only logic that appeals to him is force, and nothing but force.
We seamen are now determined to see that the beast is inoculated after this war. We will see that the serum for inoculation comes from the right part; and not until every microbe of German kultur is eradicated from his blood will we touch, handle, or have any dealings with the Hun. I am here on behalf of the seamen to ask for your co-operation. Now when we have done our duty, and we are out as it were on a holiday, we ask you for your support, we ask you to stand by us, to give us your mental and your moral, and if need be, your financial support. We are determined not to rely on politicians, because politicians study their own interests, their own seats, and very often at the expense of the nation and the community they represent. We are determined to work out our own salvation and to see that no Hun will ever enter a British ship. We are also determined to see that dirty Kaiser Bill, Bethmann-Hollweg, Tirpitz, Jago, and the whole of that dirty gang shall appear before the bar of justice, before the bar of judgment of an Allied and International Tribunal, there to be tried for the murders they have committed. Not only have they been dirty on sea, but they have been dirty on land.
I want to give you one or two things that I have seen, not what I have heard. In 1915 I was asked by our Premier to go to the front line, to get about and to come home and tell the people. After doing the whole of our front line, wading up to my knees in mud, continually under shell fire, housed at night in the dirty dugouts, I went to Paris and General Joffre accompanied me down to Rheims. While at Rheims one night, the Germans evacuated a little village. I went into that village, and what did I see? I saw the native French women lying in the trench, disembowelled after they had been raped and used as machines for the sake of satisfying the lust of the dirty animals. I also saw with my own eyes from twenty to thirty boys whose right wrist was amputated -not done by the brutish soldier, but done by skilled medical men. And I will tell you now, I have got the information from the highest authority in London that our people discovered after the Germans retreated from Levigne, Tournai, and all those places, that every boy under sixteen had been sterilized, and made incapable of becoming a father for the remainder of his life. That is the character of the Hun, from what I have seen with my own eyes. More than that; I have met the dirty dogs since the war. Since people stated, "It is not the German, it is only the autocratic leaders." When in Stockholm I met Hans Scheideman, who is at the present moment in the Cabinet in Berlin. I said to him, "Look here, Sir, isn't it time that you went back to your own country to try to arouse within the democracy of Germany their sense of duty and responsibility for the purpose of defeating the military autocracy?" Herr Scheidaman, with that dirty Teutonic countenance, stood cool and collected and said, "Look here, Peter, I want you to remember that the whole of the German nation is in support-of the military and naval authority, and unless you are willing to accept a German peace, every man and every woman in the German empire will fight until they are exterminated." I met Dr. Haas in Copenhagen, one of the most prominent German Labor leaders, a man of responsibility, and a man of position today; he told me that they would fight until arrogant Britain was brought to her knees, in order to let a race, superior morally and intellectually, rule the universe, instead of Great Britain. Here, you have the opinion of the leading Labor leaders.
I got as far as Petrograd. I just want to tell you a story or two. You know the Germans are very clever, but somehow or other they always fail just at the psychological moment. I remember sitting outside a big hotel in Frontenag, the entry port for Stockholm, and about two yards from me there was a Hun trying to overhear the conversation. He had his practical eyes protruding with that big Roman nose and that square jaw--the typical Hun. I did not know him, and I wanted to get his title, so I went in to the waiter and offered him a quid if he would get me the information; and I found out the whole of his pedigree. When I found out his strength I looked for him that night, and he was willing to give me all the hospitality that he could provide. I slept with him in one of the biggest hotels, in the room adjoining his, with a door between our two bedrooms. The following morning, in came a great buxom fine girl with a tray of coffee and toast, and placed it to the right of my bed. About a quarter of an hour after, I opened the door and I could see that Fritz was asleep. I went to him and I motioned in front of his eyes. No movement. I threatened to stick my finger in his eye, and still no movement. I thought he was asleep all right. I placed my tray and coffee on his table, and I took his. I sipped his coffee, and at half past-nine Fritz was as cold as a stone, and an everlasting corpse. While he was lying in that position I took his photograph, and then presented it to our ambassador in Stockholm, and he thought it was the greatest feat that ever had been done, because all the secret service men had failed to accomplish that.
When I went to Russia, I remember traveling along in a motor car, and a flying man dropped a big bundle of literature-pretty leaflets written and signed by the German Labor leaders-"Fellow-workers, why fight any longer for the capitalists? Why not cut down your armies, and live on the basis of peace and brotherhood, no annexations and no indemnities?" A portion of the Russians believed that to be gospel. And why, in the name of fate, if it is not the rank and file of the German people, why did not the German Labor leaders kick against that agreement which they compelled the Russians to sign? Not a single one of those Labor men ever did so, because they are infested with the German kultur, with the German materialism, and they were trying to become the ruling factors in civilization.
Now, Mr. Chairman, we have tried the Hun; we have tested him fairly well; we have no feelings of animosity; we are sporting men; but we say the Hun has broken the honor of the sea which had never been broken for four centuries. There has always been a chivalry between seamen,-they were always ready after a fight to help their companions and to save their lives; but the dirty Hun has disgraced that code of honor, and we will see that he is cured, that lie is clean, before he will be allowed to participate in future comradeship and fellowship with our men.
Now the war is over. We have dealt effectively with the Hun. Now it is your duty and my duty, in Great Britain, in Canada, in Australia, in Africa, to deal with the Hun that is here in our midst. Wherever you go you will find peculiar pernicious doctrines spread about in a silent and sinister way. The doctrine has originated from the German, from the Hun ideal. That doctrine was first started by Karl Marx, and today it is everywhere, waiting for the opportunity to bring about in our land what is in existence today in Russia. Gentlemen, be on your guard. Be careful. Now when this war is over, our task is very great We have lost some of the flower of our manhood. Some of our boys have gone, and it is up to you and me to see that their lives have not been lost and given in vain. It is up to you and me to see that the honor is done to these brave boys, to see that we uphold that for which they gave their lives. I felt that particularly when I looked at the grave of my own boy, and found him surrounded with boys belonging to Canada and Australia. I thought, "Good God, here are these boys used for a fertilizer; and yet that fertilizer will bring a new life that will produce the millenium, a new world, one of my ideals." I want you to remember that-
The crest and crowning of all good, Life's final star, is Brotherhood, 'Twill bring again to weary earth Her long-lost poesy and mirth. 'Twill bring new life to every face, And Kingly power to every race, Until that comes the men are slaves, Traveling back to dust and graves. Come, clear the way Blind Kings and creeds have had their day; Break the dead branches from the path! Our Hope is in the aftermath! Our Hope is in heroic men, Star-led, to build the world again. To this event the ages run; Make way for Brotherhood; make way for men!