- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 Oct 1953, p. 1-8
- Monsarrat, Nicholas, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The Commonwealth in the Twentieth Century; a subject which for the speaker holds special significance. The Coronation in London three months ago. Getting a new Elizabethan age by hard work, courage, and imagination. Some examples. Achievements and contributions of the Commonwealth. Advances in the science of living together in peace; in the art of peaceful, neighbourly living. A new role to be shared by all Commonwealth countries. Being conscious of our power; our collective wisdom and our collective strength. The weakness of being spread out. Strength demonstrated in two world wars, daily at the United Nations assembly. Some personal reminiscences. Living in difficult times with problems and dangers, but with a belief that the Commonwealth has an enormous contribution to make to the rest of the world; in particular, a sense of stability and order.
- Date of Original
- 1 Oct 1953
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- "THE COMMONWEALTH IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY"
An Address by NICHOLAS MONSARRAT
Thursday, October 1st, 1953
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. A. E. M. Inwood.
MR. INWOOD: It is a pleasure to welcome you back from the summer holiday season, and to open our first meeting in our 50th Anniversary Year by presenting to you a most distinguished and well-known personage and member of this Club.
This meeting is crowded, but you will be interested to know I protected you from over-crowding at the expense of some adverse criticism from Miss Lotta Dempsey of the Globe & Mail staff, who in a recent article threatened to picket this meeting if ladies were not invited to attend. The ladies too, apparently were anxious to see and hear Mr. Monsarrat.
Mr. Nicholas Monsarrat was born in England in 1910, the son of an outstanding surgeon who was a member of Britain's General Medical Council. Our Guest Speaker was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated with honours in law. Abandoning a promising legal career in favour of writing in 1933, he proceeded to publish some twelve novels and war books including two best sellers--"The Cruel Sea" and "H.M.S. Marlborough Will Enter Harbour", as well as writing a play--"The Visitor", in which Greer Garson took the lead. As recently as last month published a new novel called "The Story of Esther Costello".
In 1940 he joined the Royal Navy in which he served throughout the War on Atlantic escort duties, latterly being in command of corvettes and frigates as a Lieutenant-Commander. Many of his bitter personal experiences may be found in "The Cruel Sea."
After leaving the Navy, he took part in English local government as a Borough Councillor of the Royal Borough of Kensington in London. In 1946 he was appointed Director of the United Kingdom Information Office in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1951 he received the double honour of the Heinemann Foundation Prize for Literature and election to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
In April of this year he was appointed Director of the United Kingdom Information Office in Ottawa and as advisor to the United Kingdom High Commissioner. Maybe this last appointment was in no small way due to his known personal enthusiasm and devotion to the Commonwealth.
Gentlemen, when you contact the head of the United Kingdom Information Office in Ottawa, you find- M r. Monsarrat.
When wou seek out the best selling novel, you find as author of it--Mr. Monsarrat.
When you go to attend the outstanding film of the day at Odeon Theatres, you find the story is by--Mr. Monsarrat.
When you read your Empire Club announcement card, you find of course, the speaker is--Mr. Monsarrat. Gentlemen, I am happy to say our distinguished, youthful guest speaker has, if you will pardon the expression, "arrived."
The title of his address today is "The Commonwealth in the Twentieth Cetntury."
MR. MONSARRAT: I would like to begin by saying how honoured I feel at being invited to speak on this occasion, an occasion of some importance in the life of your Club-the first meeting of the season which inaugurates your second half century. Fifty years is a long time, at the pace that history moves today: the years from 1903, when your Club was founded, to 1953, have held, as you all know, more violences, more action, more discovery, and also more achievement, than any comparable period in any history book. I'm delighted to see, by the size of this gathering today, that whatever else has happened in those fifty years, the Empire Club of Canada has gone from strength to strength. It's very welcome evidence that it isn't only the wicked that flourish.
I was honoured, as I say, by that invitation, but 1 was also rather daunted by something your President did at the time he delivered it. He sent me a book containing all the speeches made last year. I'm not quite sure what his motive was--though I've made one or two guesses--but I must say that I did find that book a bit depressing, in the light of having to make a speech myself. Every one of the speakers listed was not only a good deal more distinguished than myself, but also much more eloquent than I am. The standard, as far as I was concerned, seemed much too high--and there were two names among last year's speaker that made me wonder whether I was really wise in accepting this invitation. Take the Honourable George Drew, for example--what can I do against that opposition? And Mr. Henry Ford--how can I hope to equal his output?
However, I'll do my best; and the subject I want to talk about "The Commonwealth in the Twentieth Century" is something which for me at least holds special significance, a subject as near to my heart--and I hope to yours--as anything could be.
It seems to me to be specially satisfying to be able to speak on this subject in Coronation year, a year that has seen a young Queen coming to the throne, as head of that Commonwealth. The Coronation in London, three months ago, was something more than a matter of ceremonial, more even than an occasion of religious dedication. It gave an opportunity to millions of people, all the way round the globe, to take part in a family occasion. I think you'll agree with me that that taking-part was an expression of loyalty and indeed of love, more moving than any single occasion in history.
But history is not made just by taking part in historic occasions: history is made by doing things. There was a lot of talk at the time, as you will remember, of a new Elizabethan age, an age of achievement which was to rival the days of the other Queen Elizabeth, when the world was also an exciting and challenging place to live in. I don't think that we can complain that the world of 1953 is any less exciting, or dangerous, or challenging, than the world of 1550. But, of course, we won't get a new Elizabethan age just by saying that it's here already. We will get it by hard work, courage, and imagination. Luckily, there are indications that none of these things is in short supply.
For us in the Commonwealth, that hard work and imagination have already got off to a flying start. You will recall that on Coronation Day itself, Mount Everest, which has resisted conquest for thousands and possibly millions of years, was first climbed--by a New Zealander. A few days ago, the world's air speed record was broken, by an Englishman. In the realm of atomic science, enormous advances are being made--some of them in Australia. Canada herself is on the verge of fantastic advances and developments, in the second half of the twentieth century. In Africa, a new country, the Federation of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland, has just come into being, bringing hopes of a black-white partnership in a continent which has had far more than its fair share of racial strife and race hatred. The omens, in fact, all the way round the world, are good.
But there are more things for us to do than are covered by these concrete achievements. Our Commonwealth has other contributions to make; and our greatest single achievement of this century is likely to be, not the realms of science or discovery, or record-breaking, but in a more fundamental realm altogether. It will be our job to show the world another sort of science, a science in which I believe we have made very great advances--the science of living together in peace.
I am of course biased when I say that the Commonwealth has made great advances in this art of peaceful, neighbourly living; it is a bias that I hope to keep for the rest of my days. I do think, for example, that the pattern of parliamentary democracy, which had its roots in the England of three hundred years ago, and has spread not only throughout the Commonwealth but all round the world as well, is a fair, just, and workable way of organising a country's political life, I do think that the system of voluntary association between countries, which is the core of Commonwealth feeling, can serve as a pattern for the rest of the world. I do think that our habit of life--which can be summed up as an ambition that is not greedy, an enterprise that is not selfish, a friendship that is not calculating--might with great advantage be copied by masses of people inhabiting huge tracts of the earth's surface.
The development of that habit of life--that is, the history of the growth and expansion of the Commonwealth--is familiar to you all: I need not go into any details. We've seen a lot of changes, even in so short a time as the last fifty years; and we're likely to see a lot more before the century is out. There may be new members of the Commonwealth, as others in our family grow to full nationhood.
But if we go on as we are doing at the moment, I don't think we need be worried about the future. Those past changes, of course, have been very far-reaching, as far as Britain herself is concerned. For many years she undoubtedly policed the world, as a maritime power backed by a full scale industrial revolution at home and those years are not years that any Englishman need be ashamed of. It was a historic role, and that particular part of history is now over. There is a new role to be played now, a role to be shared by all Commonwealth countries: Britain draws strength from the Commonwealth for that new task, and all Commonwealth countries contribute to that strength, and share in it.
I said a moment ago that I thought we in the Commonwealth had found a way of living together in peace; one needn't look far, in 1953, to be convinced that it's a lesson that the rest of the world must learn--and learn fast. The world, at the moment, seems to be split basically and tragically, into east and west; but east and west must learn to live together. That is something that we must believe in, if we believe in anything at all: otherwise we might as well give up now, and commit that particular form of suicide known as an atomic war.
We're not going to give up, of course: it is our special responsibility not to give up, because we believe that the world can be organised on reasonable lines, no matter how different one nation may be from another, no matter how deeply they seem to be split. The most important thing for us to do is to be conscious of our power: our collective wisdom and our collective strength. No one in the Commonwealth stands alone: there are 603 million of us, inhabiting nearly a quarter of the earth's surface, and out of that 603 million, over 70 million claim direct descent from British stock. Surely, in the realm of world organisation, world influence, there is nothing that 603 million people cannot do.
We have weaknesses, of course: we are spread out instead of being concentrated. We have our own particular national problems that often look much larger than world problems. Perhaps our principal weakness is the weakness of a family that tends to quarrel too much, to quarrel and to criticize each other. But I don't think that a family is any the less good to belong to because its individual members keep a fairly sharp eye on each other. I know that mine wasn't anyway . . . Our strength, of course, is in being a family. That strength has been demonstrated in two world wars: it is demonstrated daily at the United Nations assembly. It is demonstrated in small ways as well as big. No Canadian is a foreigner when he goes to England: no Englishman is an outsider when he goes to Australia. They may think he has very serious defects of pronunciation, but that is not really important. What is important is that there are a tremendous number of us: that we can all speak, basically, with the same democratic voice: and that that voice, by and large, is the voice of sanity in a world that does seem to be in need of a good sharp dose of commonsense, if it is not to destroy itself.
I've been lucky, in my post-war job of working for the British Information service, to see something of the Commonwealth. I've just completed seven years in South Africa-a country with unique racial and social problems, a country where it would take a very brave or a very self-confident man to say that he had found a ready-made solution to those problems. Now I hope to be working in Canada for the next three or four years. It's not my first experience of Canada, by the way: during the war my ship was the lone British ship working with a Canadian escort group out of St. John's, Newfoundland. Your sailors were good enough to treat mine as practically human beings-doubtless another of the virtues of belonging to the same commonwealth. And I've just made the very pleasant discovery that one of my ancestors, with the unusual name of Nicholas Monsarrat, was born in London, Ontario, in 1829. He died there in 1910, which happens to be the year I was born myself. There's a kind of family continuity there, which somehow illustrates what I've been trying to say today.
I must confess that I did make one error. In a book which I wrote after the war, I was speaking of St. John's, Newfoundland, and I happened to say that I thought St. John's was rather a bleak place. I should have known better than to use that word. I got scores of letters, saying that I ought to be ashamed of myself, and didn't know that St. John's was the garden city of Canada, where roses bloomed practically the whole year round. Well, I know now.
Mr. President, that is really all I want to say on this occasion which has given me so much pleasure. My own understanding of the Commonwealth is still somewhat vague, though my feeling is not: but what we can all understand is that the thing does work. We are all those millions of people, we belong to a dozen different religions and races: yet we can, if we want to, speak with one voice, and make that voice heard and respected, all the way round the world. A famous Commonwealth statesman once said-and I'm sure this will be familiar to most of you: "Membership of the Commonwealth is not independence with something taken away: it is independence with something added." That something can be given very different names; to me it means strength, and confidence, and family solidarity.
We do live in very difficult times; there are problems and dangers which the world often seems quite unequipped to deal with. But I believe that we in the Commonwealth have an enormous contribution to make to the rest of the world: in particular, we can contribute a sense of stability and order. If we continue to work on those lines, if we renew our faith and hope in the Commonwealth, we renew at the same time the faith and hope of the whole world.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Dr. C. C. Goldring.