- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Feb 1941, p. 370-384
- Dimsdale, Mrs. Marcus, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Some words about England before the war. The youth lost in the last war. Old men ruling England through the last crucial years before this war—old in vision. Signs of this that the speaker has seen in her own life. The Conservative Party machine in England. England regaining freedom under Winston Churchill. Letters from young men in England. A comparison to France's troubles, and their lack of power of recovery. The lack of a French Air Force. The war of civilians and the civilians' answer. Dunkerque. Various names for the next battle: the Battle of the Civilians of England; the Battle of England; the Battle of Britain; the Battle of London; the Battle of the Rights of Men. Hitler's failure to conquer by fear. Four million women in industry in England now; thousands in the Navy and the Air Force and the Army and the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Men and women working together in all the dangerous places. Work being done by the speaker's children, as examples. Civilians in the front line. The example set by the King and Queen. The increase in kindness between people. The difficulty of expressing what Churchill means to the British people. Some words from Roosevelt to Winston, and from Winston to Roosevelt, the two great men of the war. A prayer, and a new toast of England "to the Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the Citizens of London."
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- 27 Feb 1941
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- Full Text
- THERE ARE NO CIVILIANS IN LONDON
AN ADDRESS BY MRS. MARCUS DIMSDALE.
Chairman: Mr. W. Eason Humphreys.
Thursday, February 27, 1941
MR. W. EASON HUMPHREYS : Ladies and Gentlemen The Honourable Mr. Ferguson greatly regretted his inability to be here today. He has, unfortunately for us, been called to the West. He, however, has asked me to welcome those members who are honouring us with their presence today from the English-speaking Union and the United Empire Loyalists Association and we do extend to you a very sincere welcome.
Our speaker today, among her immediate Toronto friends is known as "Our Lady of the Snows." The reason for that is that my wife and I had the privilege of entertaining Mrs. Dimsdale at dinner last November when we had a very, very heavy storm, and as I happen to live just outside Toronto, unfortunately for Mrs. Dimsdale and very fortunately for us, we were unable to get her out. She tells me today that she had a similar experience -I think it was in Buffalo-so I think we shall call her with affection "Our Lady of the Snows."
Mrs. Dimsdale comes from a distinguished Welsh family. That family has given to the Empire a very full quota of distinguished soldiers and Parliamentarians. Mrs. Dimsdale's family, I think I can say, are really steeped in war. Mrs. Rosemary Marshall, her daughter, is a pilot and has returned to England leaving her children here. She is working in the Cambridge Airport and Mrs. Dimsdale tells me she has just heard from her daughter that one of the German pilots attempted to machine-gun her in her garden. We are very glad to hear that Mrs. Dimsdale's daughter escaped injury.
Mrs. Dimsdale is a first-class graduate of Oxford and won a fellowship at Cambridge. She took charge of some eight hundred refugees during the last war, for which the Queen of Belgium honoured her with a medal. She was later appointed Assistant Director of Milk Supplies in the Ministry of Food, under Lord Rhondda.
She arrived in Canada last June with a plan of receiving evacuee children and delivering addresses under the sanction of the Ministry of Information.
I, therefore, have very great pleasure, Ladies and Gentlemen, in introducing "Our Lady of the Snows," Mrs. Marcus Dimsdale. (Applause.)
MRS. MARCUS DIMSDALE: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a very great pleasure to me to be invited to speak to your august assembly on this, my first visit to Canada. One cannot but be impressed by the beauty of your wonderful country and by the intelligence and hard work of your men and women. If the people of England are showing courage and fortitude at this time, you are showing real generosity and giving hard work. If our places were reversed I have no question but that you would have been as brave and I hope that we should be as kind.
I am rather embarassed by my notes today. I never write a speech and I was told to do so. If you see me referring to the manuscript I hope you will forgive me.
I want for a moment to speak about England before the war, because so many people say to me how England has changed, what a revolution we have had, and things like that. I do want to say a word on this subject, as an English-woman coming from England, because we have not changed. We were exactly like this before but there was something clamping us clown, something very sinister which fortunately has been smashed and which will never happen again. How it came about I think, has something to do with the last war. We lost in that war the flower of our youth. We let all the young men who offered themselves first-the politicians, the scientists, the poets, the artists, the sculptors, the most brilliant of our youth-we let them go into the front-line trenches and in that way we have lost a generation. And the old men made the peace, and it is the old men who have been ruling England through the last crucial years before this war. I say old, but I don't mean old merely in years, because we have many examples of those who never grow old in years-I mean those who were old in vision.
I am only going to tell you of the signs of it that I have seen in my own life. You perhaps heard of the vote of the young men at Oxford when the best young men of England voted that they would never die for King and Country. The old men of England were horrified. They said, "This is Red. This is something terrible. There is a Red Revolution." It was not so. England was never Red. The young men were never Red. But when they had no other way to protest and show their impatience with the stupidity and lack of vision of the powers that be, the only thing to do was something rather extravagant so they would be noticed. And the young men did something rather extravagant and they were noticed.
Then other things happened. As you know, there was Manchuria and Abyssinia. Such was the uproar in England over Abyssinia and the Hoare-Laval Treaty, that the government of the old men had to take Sir Samuel Hoare and practically pull him down and hide him because of the fury of the people in England.
Then there came Spain and when the young men of England couldn't make their voice heard they went and fought and died in Spain, telling the government what it would mean to the world if Franco won.
My own son, a Cambridge scientist of thirty-two, wrote to Winston Churchill saying, "I represent a number of young men who know that England is all wrong, who know that the world is wrong and are terrified at what is going to happen and they believe that you are the one man who could save it. If you will tell us what to do we will do it." And Winston wrote back to them a charming letter and thanked them very much. He said that they were quite right but that there was nothing they could do. In his own words, "England is ruled by the Conservative Party machine"-and, if I could ever write the history of my own times, I should add to that "and the Treasury," which in England at that period had lost all vision.
I don't suppose you would understand what the Conservative Party machine was in England. There had been an election at perhaps a bad tune and it had come into power with a majority. The young men were not very enlightened and they would follow wherever the Whip would lead. An extraordinarily gifted young Sergeant-Major became the Whip--David Margesson, who with the machine in his hands had unheard-of powers over Parliament. He made it into a most extraordinary machine and nobody said him nay, except Winston. They were afraid of Winston. Winston was outside the machine. No by-election was to be allowed at Epping.
But when Munich was followed by hopelessly futile war preparations, the thunder broke and the people of England would stand it no longer. Then that House of Commons had to awake. In the hands of Winston, England has acquired or rather regained that freedom which she never had under Chamberlain and the old men.
I can tell you, from my own experience, how it was chalked up all over London, in turn, "Swinton must go," "Burgin must go," "Chamberlain must go." I have seen processions in Hyde Park holding umbrellas over dummy figures. The feeling was there all the time in England. Everybody can say what they like on the soap boxes in the park. They were saying it, too. I used to go and listen with the greatest interest. It wasn't until there was something really serious that the thunder broke. Then we had Winston.
You remember that when Burgin was appointed Minister of Supply, there was a deadly silence in the House of Commons, and a Labour man ejaculated. "My God!" And when Sir Thomas Inskip was made Minister to Co-ordinate Defence instead of Winston, an old and eminent statesman is reported to have said, "There has never been such an appointment since Caligula made his horse a Consul."
I have a letter in my hand from a young man in London, dated February 2, 1941, and he says, "The striking feature now is that the country is united which it really never was at any time under the last Government. Parliament is really doing its job which it has never done for years, merely because of our slackness in letting it be run by Party machines. I don't think that mistake will ever be made again. We are a democratic country and it is always our fault when the Government goes wrong."
France had its troubles, but in a different way, and France had not the same power of recovery. I was very much struck by the first chapter in Andre Maurois' book, in which he tells how Winston met him in 1938 at a luncheon party and said, "Will you please write an article, a poem or a letter every clay, to say that the French must have an Air Force." Maurois said, "I don't know anything about an Air Force." Winston said, "It doesn't matter, write it." Maurois said, "I wish now I had."
We invited the French Air Force to have a practice flight over England and I was among the interested spectators who looked at all the aeroplanes going over and I thought to myself, "How splendid this is-our Ally." When I later spoke to a young airman, expressing that same view, he only replied, "There is no French Air Force," and I realized that he knew.
Then our campaign in France was begun-the campaign of the old men of 1914-and you won't mind me quoting my family-a nephew of mine was sent out to see something of the stores and comforts accumulated in France. He told me he was horrified by the comforts--the store-houses full of woollies and chocolates and smokes. He said, "The Medical Officers are kicking at the number of smokes per man."
Don't let us make that mistake again. We don't want comforts first. We don't want food sent to England first. What we want is ships and more ships; what we want is planes and more planes, and munitions and more munitions.
Then came the war of civilians and the civilians' answer. It began in France. You all know well the story of the refugees in France. I heard your press woman, Elizabeth Arnold, tell the tale the other day and what she told about one village impressed me very much. She told of a village where they were told that all must leave--the work of the fifth column--and they hastily packed up their clothes, their babies, their old people, into prams and trucks and they got upon the road. One woman had forgotten her most precious things which she had tied in a handkerchief and put on a kitchen table. Her little boy said he would go back for it. When he got back the village was gone. It was nothing but a heap of rubble, and that is how Hitler not only got those people on the road but kept them on the road. What can you do with refugees who have nowhere to go? They- couldn't go back, they went forward but they had nowhere to go. That was his first use of Civilians against the English and the French armies. They stopped our armies but when they got in the way of the German armies the German tanks rode over them. Our own soldiers tell us this is true.
That was the first round of the civilian battle and the answer was Dunkerque. I have just been reading a little book by a young man I know, an actor, and he calls it My First War. It is worth reading. It is typical of the English young man, and he says at the end that people may think it was a defeat but it wasn't. The soldiers had never been defeated. They knew they were as good as anyone else and far better but they were continually being told to go backward. They didn't know why but they went backward. They didn't realize what had happened to the Belgian Army and the Belgian King, and they didn't know what jeopardy they were in. They didn't know that prayers were being offered in England for the safety of the men. They didn't know that Winston Churchill had said, "Heavy news may be before us."
The Admiralty called out the civilians of England. The Admiralty is a very great place, if, Mr. President you will allow me to call it a place. The Admiralty called out every boat on the South Coast that would float.
Colonel Wallace, whom I met in Ottawa the other day, was in command of the guns in Dunkerque and he was the last man off. He told me that eight hundred and fifty boats registered as coming over but more than one thousand came. All the old men and the girls and the young lads on the South Coast who knew something about an oar or a sail or how to turn over an engine, simply went into that hell which was Dunkerque, a blazing furnace with bombs falling all the time, and brought back their own men. They brought back the Army of England to save England. That was the second round in the civilian war.
Colonel Wallace told 'me there were two other very remarkable things at Dunkerque. He said he walked on the beach and great rollers came in, rollers such as would have broken up any small boat, and an hour or two afterward the rollers were gone. Even the wind, which had been north-east, veered and brought the smoke of the burning oil vats right across the beaches, hiding the men from the German bombers.
The next round was the Battle of England, the battle of the civilians of England. Some people call it the Battle of Britain, some people call it the Battle of London, and Sir Norman Angell tells me I must call it the Battle of the Rights of Men, and I think he is right. It began with the children. Children were machine-gunned on the Island of Scilly. Children were machine-gunned on the beaches at Weymouth They were machine-gunned in Surrey, on the way to school, and men, women and children were all bombed in their homes, schools, workshops, hospitals and in the streets.
What was the answer? The civilians' answer was the Battle of London and it was the work of the ordinary men and women, and with all these women present today I feel perhaps I may speak especially about the work of the women. Hitler was trying to conquer by fear. We must never be afraid, no one must ever be afraid. The children were unafraid. "Johnnie is your mother frightened in an air-raid?" "I don't think so, she just says 'Johnnie come along, it is only an air-raid'." Fear is not going to conquer and fear was Hitler's chief weapon. He thought if he got the women and the children afraid that the others would have to give in, but the answer of the people of England, the answer of the civilians of England always is to do a little more than they were already doing to combat Hitler.
My eldest daughter is an Inspector of Factories at Sheffield and when she was bombed out, she signed on for six hours more work in the evening to drive an ambu lance. That is the sort of natural retort. In England there are now four million women in industry. There are thousands in the Army, there are thousands in the Navy and there are thousands in the Air Force. In the Army, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, we consider that twenty-five thousand women will release twenty thousand men. In the Navy they are working at all the naval home establishments, releasing men, and in the Air Force they are also doing a good deal of scientific work. I was told by Professor Fowler, another Englishman here on a scientific mission, that it is the women who are so unmoved by the bombs falling that the Air Force has decided to put men and women together in all the dangerous places, because the men are of raid to say they don't like the bombs when the women are there, and it seems to work the same way with the women.
I am pleased because I have always held that anything that is good in the world must be with men and women together, that the basis of life is the family and a family is a man and a woman, that the basis of the world is the child and the upbringing and education of the child is the judgment of the man and the woman together. It is absolutely essential that they should be together to get a fine, sound judgment.
Well, in England, it used to be, when I was young "Is that a job for a woman?" Now it is "Is there a woman to do this job?" My daughter-in-law is a doctor in London and her hospital in London was bombed, but they are carrying on. She says, "It is very popular to be a woman in London today. There is nothing they won't do for us. Compliments are showered on us. Everything the women can do they are asked to do."
My son is manager of five factories around London and he told me that he could not have believed the bravery of the young women between eighteen and twenty-five unless he had seen it. He said, "They sleep in their clothes. They sleep in shelters and holes in the ground and they turn up every day at nine o'clock, just the same."
It began with the restaurant girls who said, "It is much more important for the others to have hot food than it is for us to be safe. May we go on while the raid is on?", and presently they had to ask all to go on working and they answered, "That is what we want to do." He said to me that soldiers have all sorts of aids to fortitude. We give them uniforms, bonuses and pensions and medals and things for their wives, but these little civilian girls haven't anything, there is nobody to give them a bonus or pensions or medals. They are just brave.
The other day I travelled to Toronto with two Canadian business men who have been for two and a half months in English factories and I said to them, "Look, here, will you each tell me two tales about what you have seen in England," and eventually each of them told me three. I must tell you the first one. There was a factory in Manchester and when the bombs fell the men all went to the air-raid shelters. The girls didn't, but the output was delayed. The management were worried. The girls said, "Leave it to us," and the next morning, or whenever it was when the sirens went, they all lined up and they sang, "Run, Rabbit, Run"-and this Canadian man said to me, "It never happened again."
Then the other man across the table said, "I have seen women and children putting out incendiary bombs in the streets." The other said, "I saw a middle-aged woman at Coventry who was taking long turns as a fire watcher and I said to her, 'Are you doing that for a factory?' " "Oh, no, just for my neighbours' safety." That impressed him very much. The other thing that impressed him was the extraordinary skill of the women in the factories. They told me there was one girl who had only worked for two years and was doing what Canadian and American men take fifteen to twenty years doing, and in Canada she would have earned $1.50 an hour. There was another called a knockabout-(I am not very good on these things but apparently a knockabout knows every machine in the shop) and they tell me they were coming back to start training women in Canada with the same high hopes, and I am sure those hopes will be carried out, and the women of Canada will be as good as the women of England. They are all in the front line.
In London, as I said before, the war of civilians, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Rights of Men, is going on all the time. If you are between the ages of sixteen and sixty you have to put out incendiary bombs, you have to watch for the fires, you have to be ready to work and I think one of the finest works in London is that of the fire watchers and the firemen. Once or twice in Canada I have had hopes that you were going to send some firemen to England because our firemen, who work night and day, and there are some millions of men, are getting pretty tired, and I imagined perhaps you would send a dozen men from each of your big cities and they would come to relieve them, but it doesn't seem to have happened yet.* A thousand have been killed in London. How many women, I don't know, but there are a great number of women firemen.
The point in London is you may not be brave but you have got to pretend you are. My youngest daughter who
*I have been told since that Canada has offered but England has refused.-E.D.
is in the Ministry of Supply--her husband is at the war--is living in a flat by herself. She said to me, "I am often very scared, don't think I am brave all the time."
The old Government in England put up the so-called "Safety First" motto. It is a rotten sort of motto, I think--it may be all right when you are crossing a road, but for life-no-we have done with that. "Nothing venture, nothing win"-but not "Safety First."
And the King and Queen, our King and Queen, have set a most splendid example. They live dangerously. I would like to tell you about the first bomb that fell on Buckingham Palace. The King and Queen had been to the country and they came up on Monday morning. They had gone up to the Queen's boudoir and had thrown up the sash window and they were both leaning out, and at that moment the bomb fell in the outer court-yard. The Queen said that she thought the King was killed and the King thought the Queen was killed, the concussion was so terrific. When they pulled themselves together and came out of the room, on the landing of the staircase they saw two fat little pages, who had evidently been told, quite rightly, that when there was an air-raid the right thing to do was to lie on their tummies under a table. They were just crawling out, and the Queen said that it made her laugh and it made the King laugh and they both felt better. She went to the kitchen and the cook was still cooking the dinner. She said to him, "Where was it", and he said, "Your Majesty, it was only in the outer courtyard", and he went on cooking the dinner.
That afternoon the King and Queen went to the east end of London to see how their neighbours had fared. When the Queen found that they had fared worse than she had--many had lost their houses and their furniture--she went back to Buckingham Palace and sent six vanloads of furniture which she could spare to Mrs. Brown and Mrs. O'Connor in the east end of London. Since then, whenever there has been devastation in any town, the King and Queen have very soon been there to comfort the sufferers and encourage the helpers.
I have put around the tables today a letter which was given to me by Major Cole in Ottawa and which he had received from a business friend of his whose business building is just near the Bank of England and the Guildhall in the city, and it gives the account of the city men going back after that night of the fire. Do read it-it is worth reading how those, shall we say, hard-headed business men wept when they saw what London was, what had happened to their beloved Guildhall. It is a good letter. Major Cole had it copied and put up in Ottawa in their offices, and I begged for a copy to bring here to you today.
I have also had a letter from a friend of mine telling of a girl of nineteen who had driven a canteen that same night, the night of the fire in London, from midnight till dawn. She said it was rather terrible but that only three days afterward the Queen came and thanked her.
They are not afraid of death in London. Death has got to come to us all. We can't put it off and it doesn't seem to matter much when it comes or how it comes. Nobody has ever said it was worse to be killed by a bomb than to be killed by cancer in your bed. Only, don't be afraid of anything.
The other effect in London, besides the abolishing of fear, is the increase in kindness. Hitler has broken the Golden Rule but by the very fact that he has killed kind ness wherever he rules he has made the rest of us more kind. There are such opportunities for kindness everywhere and in London everyone is helping everybody else. There is no distinction of persons, there is no distinction of place. If your house is bombed you go to somebody else's house.
I was struck by what Metaxas, the Greek Premier, said to his people, "Freedom is life, death is only an episode."
Winston, our great and wonderful Winston--and this great war has thrown up two very great men--Winston and Roosevelt--and what Winston is to England at this time it is very difficult for anyone to express. If he came to us today and said, "Look here, I want all your money," we should give it, and we should say, "Yes, and what else?" He is absolutely, entirely trusted. There is no fear. All he has promised us in answer to that is that death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey, hardship our garment, constancy and valour our only shield.
I want to quote the words of these two great men to each other. Roosevelt to Winston
Sail on, O ship of state; Sail on, O union strong and great. Humanity with all its fears, With all the hopes of future years, Is hanging breathless on thy fate. And Winston to Roosevelt "Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing and under Providence all will be well. "We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job." As we go on, death from the air in all its fury is striking at our sons and daughters, at our brothers sand sisters in London. By day and by night, unceasingly, bombs are being hurled at them. A service was to be held in Westminster Abbey. The sirens' warning came so the King and Queen were told not to come, not for their safety, but because where the King and Queen move there is apt to be a crowd, and a crowd in dangerous. The Dean said, "What shall we do?" "Let us carry on," the Prime Minister said, and he walked into that fortress of stone which is the Abbey. The sirens wailed, the services began and they closed with a prayer by the Dean, and I want to read that prayer, if you will forgive me, because it is a prayer for the young men who are watching up there and the young men who are watching down there. We hear a great deal about the young men up in the air but not so much in detail about the young men under the water. I remember in the last war I had a nephew in a submarine and he used to come back and cheer us with tales of how pleasant it was to sit and see the German ships overhead, and he didn't really mind when he stayed down overlong, because the men all got jaundice and he got the sardines, and his cheery point of view made one' feel when he didn't come back that it wasn't really sad, it was what he wanted. Here is the Prayer "Remember, O God, for their good, those watchmen who by night and by day climb into the air, as well as those who watch from under the sea: Let Thy left hand lead them, we beseech Thee, and Thy right hand hold them; and grant that faithfully and fearlessly, in conflict or in calm, they may do the work entrusted to them through Jesus Christ, our Lord."
I should like to add, if I may, two sentences. The first is that Winston Churchill takes off his hat to every woman he meets in uniform. Somebody said he must have a busy time.
The other is this: Do drink the new toast, the new toast of England "to the Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the Citizens of London." (Applause.)
MR. W. EASON HUMPHREYS: On your behalf, I should like to ask Major Vincent Price, President of the English-Speaking Union, to thank Mrs. Dimsdale.
MAJOR VINCENT PRICE: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: May I first of all, on behalf of the members of the English-Speaking Union, and the other organizations represented at this function, extend to you, Sir, and the Committee of the Empire Club, our very sincere thanks for having the opportunity to attend this very delightful function this afternoon. It is appropriate, perhaps, that the members of the English-Speaking Union should come to such a function as this to hear the inspiring address that we have heard today, because whether those among our members come from the Old Land, or whether they are members of the English-Speaking Union of Australia, or New Zealand or anywhere throughout the United States of America, they realize today, Sir, that this struggle in which we are engaged is a supreme effort for the salvation of civilization and those of us who are here today appreciate the opportunity of hearing what Mrs. Marcus Dimsdale has said.
It seems to me that the two outstanding things which we carry away from this address this afternoon, this stirring address and so sincere in its message are, first of all, the abolition of fear. Fear has gone. And, second, the increasing of kindness in the people of London, and to Mrs. Dimsdale we are deeply indebted for the message which she has brought us in such a splendid and sincere way.
I notice in the public buildings of Toronto and in many other places, including the street cars, a quotation printed in large type which gives the very famous lines of His Majesty, the King, uttered some time ago: "This time we are all in the front line." As has already been said today we in Canada are fortunate in not going through the sufferings which the brave people of London and the West of England are facing, but surely such an address as we have heard today, from one coming from the heart of the Empire, it seems to me should put new meaning in those words, Mr. Chairman, and while we are not in the front line, from the point of view of bombs and cannon, I suggest we must in this country realize we are in the front line so far as a united war effort is concerned.
I know, Mr. Chairman, that I am expressing the feeling of everyone here today in saying to Mrs. Marcus Dimsdale that we do appreciate her coming here. We are thrilled by this sincere and stirring message telling us what the people of London are doing and I hope that this message will spread across Canada and enable and cause all of us from the Atlantic to the Pacific to go ahead as we have not gone ahead up to date, in doing our part to see that the struggle ends in the only way it can end, and that is in complete victory. May I, on behalf of this gathering. Sir, tender to our speaker our very sincere thanks and appreciation. (Applause.)