- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Jan 1943, p. 272-287
- Drew, Lieutenant-Colonel George A., Speaker
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- A brief review of the current war situation, particularly Allied successes. Increasing reason for confidence. Ensuring that the enemy is defeated to the extent that they cannot rebuild to fight again. The still long and hard road to victory. Deciding on the nature of the relationship which is to exist between Canada, Great Britain and other parts of the British Empire. The words of a very wise Frenchman: "This is the time for every nation to come to an agreement with its own most secret hopes." Canada's secret hopes. Teaching about the British partnership in our schools. The continuance of the British Empire and its importance to the whole world as a practical demonstration of the fact that widely separated communities of different race, colour and creed and social development can work together for their common good. The Empire representing a cross section of the very sort of association which must be achieved throughout the whole world in the interests of mankind. Some features of the Empire. The danger of isolationism. Security which depends upon collective action. Our collective action beginning with the British Empire. What that partnership means for us, and how it will benefit us in the future. Obligations of partnership. The issue of the word "Empire." The Statute of Westminster and the misunderstanding surrounding the term "British Commonwealth of Nations." A brief analysis of the effect of the Statute upon this question of terms. A look back at the Balfour Declaration. Reasons why we should be proud to use the words "British Empire" and why we should employ that term as the one which correctly describes the larger fellowship which we believe will continue to be associated under the British Crown in the future. More reason for praise than criticism with regard to the British position in India. Examples of the use of the term British Empire in some famous speeches, and the importance of keeping the meaning of that term alive.
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- 7 Jan 1943
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- OUR MOST SECRET HOPES
AN ADDRESS BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW, K.C., M.P.P.
Chairman The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursday, January 7, 1943.
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: It is my privilege to present to you today as guest-speaker a very distinguished member of the Club, one who just ten years ago occupied the Presidential Chair, and who has shown his continued interest by returning to us on many occasions and giving us the benefit of his studies and observations.
Lieutenant-Colonel George A. Drew is a veteran of the 1914-1918 War, an officer of artillery. He is a student by instinct, a lawyer by profession, and a statesman by natural development. He is also a writer arid I am inclined to think that the urge there may have come from one of the Beatitudes in the 5th Chapter of St. Matthew: "Bless them which persecute you".
George Drew received his introduction to politics in his native city of Guelph, where he was a member of Council from 1922 to 1924, and Mayor in 1925. From that beginning he has gone up to the larger field of provincial affairs where he is now Leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the Province of Ontario.
One has to say something in an official capacity in introducing a speaker but even this in many ways was not really necessary today. Gentlemen, I have much pleasure in presenting to you Colonel George A. Drew; his subject, "Our Most Secret Hopes". But before Colonel Drew speaks, may I say that Dr. Edward Johnson, Manager of the Metropolitan Opera Association in New York, Colonel Drew's father-in-law, is with us here today. (Applause.)
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW: Mr. Chairman, Members of The Empire Club: You have done me a very great honour indeed by inviting me to make the first address to The Empire Club for the year 1943. I appreciate the honour doubly because you have been kind enough to again invite one of your members to speak on this occasion. I last spoke to you just after I had returned from Britain a little more than a year ago. I attempted to convey to you then my impression of the magnificent spirit of the people of Britain in the face of very great adversity and with little, but faith in themselves to justify their confidence in the future.
Now, as we enter the year 1943, the scene is very different. The Germans and their partners-in-crime are tasting the bitter medicine which they thought so good for the rest of the world. In a New Years' message to his own people Hitler has assured them that he never really wanted war. Certainly he never wanted this kind of a war. The brilliant exploits of the British Eighth Army; the 'dramatic occupation of the North African seaports by forces from the United States carried from Britain by the greatest armada in all history under the protection of the powerful guns of the British Navy; the tremendous hammer blows of the mighty Russian Armies along the whole battle line from the Baltic to the distant Caucasus; the American Naval successes in the Pacific, the ever heroic fortitude of the Chinese resistance to Japan; and the constant pounding of Germany and Italy by ever-increasing numbers of aircraft in which so many of our own young Canadians are flying with sublime courage and incomparable skill; all these, and many other encouraging reports come to us at the turn of the year. They make this a period, not so much of rejoicing as of confidence in the outcome of the cruel struggle which may yet be very long and bring to us as a nation suffering much greater than we have yet known. But while there is increasing reason for confidence on every hand, we would be most unwise to forget that victory will only be won when our enemies are beaten to their knees on their own soil. If there is to be any lasting peace and not merely another armistice, our enemies must not be permitted this time to call quits when they know they cannot win and then begin to prepare all over again for the next war. There is every reason to believe that the United Nations are determined that this will not happen again. The road to final victory is still therefore long and hard. But long though it may be and hard though it is sure to be, the time has come when we have sufficient reason for confidence to begin to draft at least the preliminary blueprints of that better world which will emerge after the war.
As we Canadians look to the days beyond the war and contemplate the steps we must take to assure peace, security and prosperity for the people of Canada, it seems clear that one of the very first things we must decide beyond all question is the nature of the relationship which is to exist between Canada, Great Britain, and other parts of the British Empire. Until we have reached a decision upon that point it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to reach other decisions affecting our relationship with other nations.
A very wise Frenchman wrote these words: "This is the time for every nation to come to an agreement with its own most secret hopes." Now that the pattern of victory is beginning to take form I think these words apply with particular force to the people of Canada. We Canadians must come to an agreement with our own most secret hopes regarding the future of our nation. That the hopes differ goes without saying. It will take much frank discussion if we are to know exactly where we stand.
It is no longer possible to ignore the speech of some Canadians who make it clear that they hope we will sever all connection with Britain when the war is over. That is their right in a free country. But I believe it will avoid future misunderstanding if those who believe the very opposite leave no doubt whatever about their own determination that Canada shall continue to be a vigorous member of the British partnership.
I think that many of us have been taking the British connection far too much for granted. We seem to ignore the fact that there is active anti-British propaganda in this country, no matter how much evidence we see that it actually exists. And above all we seem to forget that there is no magic in the air or soil of Canada which will make our youth grow up with faith in the British partnership simply because they are born here. That requires education. When we see what has been done to the minds of German youths by evil teaching, we should make doubly sure that the teaching in our schools lays a firm foundation for the loyalty of our own youth to Canada and to the King as the living symbol of our free and decent way of life. If the British partnership is worth maintaining, then we should insist that the history of that partnership and the extent to which we have benefited by the association in the past should be recognized as one of the most important subjects taught in our schools.
But it is not our youth alone who need to be told these things. All Canadians should keep in mind that the building of the British Empire has been an experiment under one flag in solving the very problems which must be solved for the whole world if victory this time is to be something more than an armistice between wars. There have been many mistakes. There has been much selfishness. But what society anywhere can boast that it has been entirely free from those very human weaknesses? On the other hand there has been steady advancement, yes, even rapid advancement, compared with the slow upward sweep of man's social progress through the centuries. Many men have willingly laid down their lives upon the altar of that high ideal. The good far out-balances the bad. The favorable credit balance of the British partnership stands very high indeed.
There was more than British interest behind Mr. Churchill's statement that he was not prepared to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. The continuance of that great fellowship of free people is of the utmost importance to the whole world as a practical demonstration of the fact that widely separated communities of different race, colour and creed and social development can work together for their common good. The Empire represents a cross section of the very sort of association which must be achieved throughout the whole world in the interests of mankind.
In the Empire itself there will be sovereign self-governing nations, others with some form of government nearing complete independence, and some communities removed by only a few years from savagery and cannibalism with a considerable period of education still ahead of them. The same is true elsewhere. If the Empire with its record of steady achievement were to be dissolved, there would be little encouragement for others to establish similar relationships between many diverse peoples with no background of common interest.
Surely all of us have learned by now that isolation is the surest way to invite war and the possibility of destruction. If democratic governments are to preserve the fruits of victory they must abandon any thought of isolation and overcome its twin evil, indecision. We have been learning the hard way that the nations of the world are dependent upon each other for the exchange of goods and services which will maintain employment and prosperity. There is much talk of personal security and in that respect Britain has given challenging leadership to the whole world in the recommendations of the Beveridge Report. But there can be no personal security in a vacuum, and those who promise personal security and fail to plan for the international security and international trade upon which personal security must depend, are guilty of cruel and heartless dishonesty- to those who accept their promises.
All security depends upon collective action and for us collective action begins within the British Empire. Our partnership is no mere sentimental association of a relic of colonialism. On the contrary the very existence of the partnership is evidence of the maturity and full contractual powers of the partners. It has been of mutual benefit to the members in the past. It can be of far greater benefit in the future.
But in all partnerships there are obligations as well as benefits. In the future I believe the British people throughout the world should look upon their association as a family partnership, maintained on a strictly business basis, with some form of guiding committee meeting regularly to settle all questions of common concern. Something of that kind is, I believe, the first step which must be taken if there is to be a sound foundation for the personal security which our people rightly demand and to which they are entitled.
In what I have been saying to you I have used the expression "British Empire". I recognize that there are some who insist that it should be replaced by the words "British Commonwealth of Nations". Others go so far as to condemn the use of the word "Empire" in the strongest language. Only a few weeks ago, for example, the Winnipeg Free Press went so far as to say that, "to proclaim to the world that the magnificent effort of the British nations is the achievement of an "Empire", is to give support and encouragement to our enemies with whom we are at war." I merely quote this as a specific example of that point of view which contends that it is our duty in Canada to abandon the use of the word Empire entirely.
In view of this violent conflict of opinion I think that it is not only important that we come to a clear understanding in regard to the British partnership but also that we should, if possible, come to some understanding and agreement about the terms we use. In that ancient storehouse of wisdom, the Book of job, we read: "How forcible are right words!" We have been told on many occasions that words are weapons. It would be useful if we could all use the same words to describe the same things. But it is a little difficult for many Canadians to agree that we are giving support and encouragement to our enemies by using the word "Empire" when as recently as Christmas Day the King spoke to the men serving overseas of, "the importance and meaning of those outposts of Empire which the wisdom of our forefathers selected and which your faithfulness will defend."
It is also difficult to accept the argument that this term is not acceptable to Canadians when we recall that Winston Churchill several times referred to the Empire in his memorable speech to the Canadian House of Commons just over a year ago. That stalwart champion of true democracy did not hesitate to proclaim to the world that the magnificent effort of the British nations was the achievement of an "Empire", and you will recall that his speech was greeted with tumultuous applause. I am prepared to accept Mr. Churchill's judgment as to what will give support and encouragement to our enemies.
We are told by some that with the passing of the Statute of Westminster the correct term to describe what has been known as the British Empire then became the British Commonwealth of Nations. That is a complete misconception of the wording or the effect of the Statute of Westminster. But since the confusion does exist and since it is clear that in all sincerity people disagree upon this point, then it is important that we try to understand the words we use and I hope you will pardon me if I attempt to make a brief analysis of the effect of the Statute upon this very question.
It is a short Act of twelve sections which was passed in 1931 to give erect to certain resolutions and declarations which had been approved by all the delegates to the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and 1930. It did not limit the effect of the earlier declarations or resolutions adopted unanimously by those two Imperial Conferences in any way, but dealt only with those which it was thought called for statutory enactments to give them full effect. In that Act the term "British Commonwealth of Nations" was used to describe the free association of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Irish Free State, and Newfoundland. That was not the first time that term had been employed and its meaning was not open to doubt. The relationship of the self-governing nations to each other and their position within the Empire was clearly defined by the first declaration of the report adopted by the Imperial Conference of 1926. It is usually referred to as the "Balfour Declaration." It was approved by the delegates from Britain and all the Dominions including Canada. Referring specifically to Great Britain and the Dominions, the declaration read as follows: "They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or internal affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations."
It perhaps should be recalled that this Declaration in itself was merely a definition of the already existing constitutional status. It is difficult to understand how anyone can be in doubt about what that Declaration means. Britain and the Dominions were described as a commonwealth of free nations within the British Empire. Instead of conveying any impression that the words "British Commonwealth of Nations" were substituted for "British Empire," the Declaration made it clear that those nations which form the commonwealth are communities within the larger fellowship of the British Empire. Each expression has a clear meaning which should not be confused. If one is referring to Britain and the Dominions exclusively, then the correct expression is the "British Commonwealth of Nations". If, on the other hand the intention is to refer to that very much larger group of people in India, Africa, and elsewhere, who have not yet reached the status of complete self-government, then the correct term is "The British Empire". Nor is the only limitation upon the territory covered by the words "British Commonwealth of Nations" that of self-government. Beyond the territory of Britain, the Dominions, and India, the words "British Empire" include such places as Malta, Cyprus, Ceylon, Gibraltar, and Bermuda and we should thank God that it does because they have played a vitally important part in the defence of freedom, not only for ourselves but for all the rest of the world which is still free. The words of the King on Christmas Day were full of meaning when he spoke of the wisdom of our forefathers in selecting those outposts of Empire.
I think there are ever increasing reasons why we should be proud to use the words "British Empire" in describing the achievements of the British people in this war and I think there are important reasons why we should employ that term as the one which correctly describes the larger fellowship which we believe will continue to be associated under the British Crown in the future.
If it had not been for the supreme gallantry of the people of Malta themselves and for the gallantry of many young men who have gone there to preserve against terrible odds that island bastion of freedom in the Mediterranean, it is unlikely that British forces could have withstood the German attack on Egypt reinforced as they would have been without interference across the Mediterranean. Many young Canadians have added new pages of glory to Canada's proud record in the air. Young men like Beurling from Verdun, Griffiths from Niagara Falls, and many others of that gallant company, have done deeds of valour from that island base in keeping with the proud tradition of chivalry, decency and honour associated with the name of the gallant knights of Malta. You will have read today that 955 enemy planes were destroyed during 1942 by the defenders of Malta alone. That gives some small hint of what Malta means to the Empire and to decent people everywhere.
If Gibraltar had not stood strong and powerful defending the entrance to the Mediterranean and providing an assembly base for the great ships of the British Navy, General Eisenhower's forces could not have achieved those dramatic successes in North Africa which have given a new form and pattern to the war. If Cyprus, at the other end of the Mediterranean, had not been held, German forces could have moved with freedom across the Eastern Mediterranean and have changed the whole history of this war. And to go farther west, if Bermuda had not been available as a refueling point for great aircraft crossing to and from Europe, those frequent and rapid contacts between the leaders of Britain and the United States, which have played such an important part in the course of this war, might have been impossible.
And above all, what would have happened to China and what would have happened to Russia if the people of India had not stood firm and loyal? That is something we should keep in our minds and it is something which should be brought to the attention of those who have suddenly become so solicitious that India should be freed from what they term "the British yoke".
Far too much of a critical nature has been said about the British position in India without reply from those who believe that there is more reason for praise than criticism. We have every reason to proclaim our pride that the Indians themselves have given the best possible evidence of their attachment to the British connection and a de°p feeling of comradeship with all of us in the common struggle for freedom.
Those who talk now of India being held by force against their will under British rule are talking nonsense. True, Gandhi and a few of his associates were restrained when they advocated a course which would have led to the certain occupation of India by Japan as was explained to us by a great Indian jurist here only a few weeks ago. That could not have been done if Indians themselves had not believed that such restraint was wise. There is a splendid Indian Army of more than 1,500,000 men, armed and equipped for modern war with the assistance of Britain herself. They are men of magnificent physique. Do you think a few thousand Anglo-Saxons in India could impose their will by force upon that powerful Army whose men have fought with such superb heroism and determination against the armies of Germany and Italy in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere? Of course they could not. That Army is serving under the British Flag of its own free will. There is no better proof of their continuing friendship.
We have no reason to be ashamed of the present British policy in India. There have been mistakes as there have been mistakes in every other part of the world in the slow evolution of the democratic process. I would like to quote from a book by that great American historian, published in 1940, under the title "Empire On the Seven Seas".
May I read you a little of what he has to say about India because it shows so clearly that there is a well-informed American viewpoint quite different to that which on some recent occasions has been expressed about the Indian situation. These are his words: "India is different from any other part of the Empire and is almost a world in itself. That it cannot yet be accorded full Dominion status and responsible government is evident but the nationalization of its people must somehow be met. Whether this new and honest effort to do so and to train its people in self-government will be successful cannot yet be forecast. The problems of every sort are both unique and colossal . . . . India is one of the greatest Oriental countries and the British effort to educate it politically may well prove the focus of the Occidental-Oriental clash or the working out of some sort of harmony between East and West."
These words were written early in the war before India had really been put to the test. Now that she has stood so firm and Indian troops have fought so bravely under the British Flag on many fronts, I think we have reason to hope that the latter alternative provides the answer and that India, which already has a very great degree of free constitutional government, will find a solution of its own great internal problem and emerge as a free and mighty nation maintaining its British partnership. If that happens it will be the greatest social political achievement of all history because it will mean the adoption for the first time by an Oriental power of the democracy which is based upon Magna Charta. Then in all truth the East and the West will have met at last in true fellowship and understanding and a new and glorious chapter in the world's long history will have opened.
I have mentioned India at some length because India has been cited even in Canada as a basis of criticism of British policy and also because to Indians the great world-girdling fellowship under the British Flag is an Empire. And it is known and described as an Empire by those whose voice is heard throughout the whole world. Please let us dispose of the idea that our avoidance of the term in Canada is going to end the use of the word. If, as is sometimes said, the word "Empire" arouses a feeling of antagonism in the minds of some people in the United States because it carries the thought of imperialism, then please let us remember that the word is still being used whether we use it or not. The word has been used within these past few weeks, while referring to the achievements of British people, in speeches heard in the United States over the radio, by the King, by Winston Churchill, and the Governor-General of Canada. If usage is to give meaning to words, then let us accept the very obvious truth that usage has not erased the words "British Empire" from the British vocabulary.
Why all this talk about the possibility that the use of the word "Empire" carries an evil hint of Imperialism? The question of imperialism in the evil sense is one of fact and not of name. There may be either an empire of aggressive power or an empire of justice, of honour, and good will. The true meaning of the words "British Empire" can only be found in the living proof of what that fellowship means. I am not urging the continued use of this name simply because we have used it in the past. We must not be slaves to tradition and we must not blindly do the things our fathers did before us. But on the other hand there is some middle ground between ancestor worship and a complete break with all the past from which we grew. Those who have no feeling of respect for their ancestors seldom command respect from their own posterity. The teaching of all history is that those who abandon their past usually lose their future. When there is such a wealth of tradition and warm fellowship within that name, why then should we substitute any other term in its place? Let us never forget the symbolic significance of the words we use. Many of the most stirring speeches in the English language lose much of their meaning unless we retain that ancient expression. If we abandon the name, we abandon a rich source of inspiration for all our people.
I hardly need recall that there have been many great Canadians who have stirred the faith and decent emotions of our people by their warm expressions of pride in the accomplishments of the British Empire. One of those was Sir Wilfrid Laurier and many years ago in Toronto he used words which express the feelings of many of us here today. This was what he said
"Since the proud days of Rome there has been no title prouder than the title of one who can say, 'Ego civis Brittanicus sum'"
Everywhere he went Sir Wilfrid was always proud to say: "I am a British citizen."
Then may I remind you of that stirring speech of King George the Fifth when he spoke to British people everywhere after the memorable day in 1935 when millions of people from the whole world gave voice in London to the deep love and affection with which they regarded the simple and admirable man and woman who were their titular King and Queen. After recalling what that day had meant to them, in his closing words he appealed in his deep and earnest voice to the youth. This is what he said; "I ask you to remember that in days to come you will be the citizens of a great Empire. As you grow up always keep this thought before you; and when the time comes be ready and proud to give to your country the service of your work, your mind, and your heart."
Are we to revise the words of that stirring message? Are we to rewrite thousands of histories? Are we to re-chisel the inscriptions on many thousands of memorials to whose who died in the service of an Empire? And all to what purpose? We will not erase the word from the minds of our enemies who respect and fear it. We will not erase it from the minds of our friends who know how much they owe to that Empire in this war. We will not erase it from the thoughts of the gallant sailors on thousands of ships in the seven seas who are maintaining the vital supplies of war everywhere in the world under indescribable hardship They know what Empire means.
Why not continue to use the word which carries with it a long tradition of service, of justice, of honour, and of proven determination to work constantly for the betterment everywhere of the lot of the common man. The meaning of the word "Empire" is to be found in the hearts of our people and their own convictions, not in the interpretation placed upon it by our enemies.
Are we to erase from our memories and the memories of our children this simple and historic exchance of words which were so precious and meant so much? Just before he died seven years ago this month, King George turned to his very close friend, Lord Wigram and asked "How is the Empire?" And you will remember that Lord Wigram replied, "All is well, Sir, with the Empire." No, gentlemen, we must never erase those words from our memories and I suggest that it is our duty and our privilege to play our part in maintaining and increasing the strong bonds which held firm when all the world was drifting to slavery only two years ago. All was dark and disaster seemed very near. But the Empire rode the storm and the strong friends who are now with us recognize what that unity meant to them as it did to us. I think we have every reason to express our pride that in spite of devastating attacks and storms which have rocked the whole world, the old British partnership is still carrying on business at the same stand and under the same name. If each of us plays his own small part in the great task which lies ahead, we too will be able to say when the war is past, "All is well, Sir, with the Empire.
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: You will recall a Scriptural quotation, "Remove not the ancient landmark". I suppose all of us have been at funeral services where we have listened to the recitation of the 23rd Psalm--not in the King James version, but in some modern version. How flat it seems to fall when we get away from the ancient, the King James version. Those words just don't seem to have the effect we expect them to have, the effect they had upon us when we read them for the first, the second, the hundredth time.
We are very grateful to you, Colonel Drew, for making this Forum, your old Empire Club, the place for releasing your views on this important subject. Your address forms the third of a trilogy of addresses that we have recently had with reference to the Empire.
The Earl of Athlone gave us a wonderful address on the meaning of the Empire, that centre, as it were, of nerves, from which all the various ends of the earth receive their inspiration.
Lord Hailey gave us some idea, some special picture, of how the more remote parts of the Empire are to be co-ordinated eventually when they become able to look after their own particular interests, how they are to be co-ordinated and brought into the Empire of self-governing states.
You, Sir, have given us today a picture of the future with the thought that it should not be divorced from the national development growing out of the past. You are perfectly correct. People that have no past have no future. I think that possibly your whole address might be summed up in the idea that you expressed a little earlier, that political advancement has somewhat outworn social advancement. We are ready to take on these new jobs. We are a little at sea about the words. I think, Sir, as long as His Majesty's Loyal Opposition is in your hands, His Majesty's Government will be safe. (Laughter.) We thank you, Sir, for this address and we are delighted that you have come back to us.
The meeting is adjourned.