Some Observations on the War
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Nov 1916, p. 265-274
Hughes, Lieut.-General Sir Sam, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The nature of Canadians with respect to war. The spirit of nervousness abroad in Canada, and what the speaker means by that. Peace societies and their activities in the United States and Canada before the war. Money from the German Government to support these activities. The disparity in terms of war preparedness between Germany and her enemies. Canada's lack of control of her forces overseas during the first year of the war; how and why that was so. The issue of promotion, criteria for promotion, and who is responsible for making decisions with regard to promotion. Discovering that thousands of Canadian soldiers were not in Canadian hospitals, and that Canadian nurses were not nursing Canadian soldiers; changes in that regard. Our convalescent homes. Recruitment statistics. Meeting the boys from Canada at the front, and in England. Regretting our losses of many gallant sons.
Date of Original
9 Nov 1916
Language of Item
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Full Text
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto November 9, 1916

MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--I once heard the late Sir Oliver Mowat make use of an expression which commends itself to me, and I believe to almost every man who professes to be square-that next to the appreciation of his own heart and conscience in pursuing correct lines he valued the good will and appreciation of his honest fellow-men--I thank you, sir, for your kind words regarding me, but I wish it to be kindly understood that before the appreciation of my fellowmen comes the appreciation of my own heart and conscience. When I feel that I am right I am not going to change without good and sufficient reason.

I am to make some observations on the war. I shall not enter into an outline of the causes of the war, nor shall I take up your time by telling you how the people of this land had been a peace-loving nation, endeavouring to develop this great Dominion of Canada from ocean to ocean, to build up homes as far as possible for future generations, to develop our minerals, develop our forests, open up the great vast areas that are as yet unsettled; in other words, we were a peace-loving people, unused to war. But, Sir, we come of a breed that has never yet failed, when their rights were trampled upon, when injustice was being done, or when the great principles of human liberty were in the balance, to come to the front on occasions such as these. Therefore when this war broke out, Canada responded, from ocean to ocean, as no nation ever did before. For with all those positive attributes accorded to the British nation, we had added both from our nativeborn and from our British-descended people; we had added that splendid spirit of individual liberty, progress and human development characteristic of any people in a young and growing country such as Canada is. They saw the principles of human liberty in danger, and they rushed to the front. As Colonel Craig, whom we have the honour of having present, with his Edmonton Regiment in the city, very properly pointed out last night, the old First Division led the way for the other boys to follow, and set the model not only for Canadians to attempt to attain to, but for the Allied Troops, for the British Troops and their kindred fighters to endeavour to attain to, along the entire line. We are therefore proud of what Canadians have done in the firing line.

But, sir, there is a spirit abroad in Canada-as I say we are not a warring people there is a spirit abroad in Canada of nervousness. I do not by that mean fear. There is a tension abroad, a spirit abroad among those who have husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers and sons at the front. Their wives, their children, their sisters, their sweethearts and mothers are anxiously waiting daily for news of those near and dear to them. There is scarcely a home in the great city of Toronto or throughout the length and breadth of the Province of Ontario and the majority of Provinces of the Dominion of Canada where that condition of affairs does not exist. At this table alone, at all the tables in front of me, are men who have their friends at the front in one or other of those classes I have named. Men are engrossed in business, but the women folks in their lonely work at home brood over these conditions until, as you and I know, they are practically at the highest tension possible for human beings to attain and still keep their balance. Therefore it is proper that we should endeavour in every legitimate manner to comfort and soothe these people, and above all things, to abstain from anything that might unnecessarily or unduly excite them. There are, I regret to say, here and there, some who do not observe this principle. I might take the liberty of pointing out to this audience that some four or five weeks ago the Socialist Party in Germany, a very powerful party there, brought in a resolution demanding a statement of the expenditure of two millions of marks, about $500,000, in German money that had been voted in the early days of the war for the propagation of German sentiment and the control of newspapers and other avenues for reaching public opinion in the United States and Canada. The motion was voted down, and the return will therefore not be issued. This money, of course, is not handed found on the street corners; it is insidiously spent; and all I would suggest to our friends is, watch the gentlemen whom you find going up and down the country seeking to play on the nerves of the people, seeking to belittle those engaged in the cause, seeking to dispirit those engaged in recruiting and to discourage those enlisting. Watch these gentlemen. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, directly or indirectly, you will find those gentlemen amenable to the influences of those two millions of marks voted by the German people.

Before the war, peace societies in the United States and Canada were very active in attacking anyone who presumed to speak of preparedness for war; yet it was shown recently at Washington by investigation committees of the United States Government that money from the peace societies was spent in influencing newspaper editors and others in the great cause of peace both previous to and subsequent to the outbreak of the war. Investigations at Washington since then have shown that among the large contributors to the peace organizations of the United States and Canada was the German Government. In other words, peace societies of the United States were engineered by German money; not altogether, mark you-but the records of the United States enquiries show these things before the war and since the war. In short, they were preparing in their shot and shell factories in Germany for the war, and they were doubly preparing by dulling the public sentiment in Canada and throughout the world against war; therefore when war broke out they were ready, while we were correspondingly unready.

For the first year of the war Canada had practically no control of her forces overseas. Let me repeat that expression; for the first year of the war Canada had practically no control of her forces overseas.

In the second year of the war it had been ascertained that Bavaria--part of the German Confederation--Wurtemberg, Baden, Saxony, and some of the larger German principalitiesall integral parts of the great Germanic Confederation--that each and every one of those controlled their own appointments, made their own promotions, absolutely controlled their own commands, although paid out of the German Imperial Exchequer; while Canada, paying her own men, furnishing all her own supplies, bearing the entire cost of the whole arrangement, had not a similar privilege. It need not, therefore, surprise anyone to learn that those of us who were brought up under responsible government, took steps to see that Canada should be recognized in this matter, and that our promotions and appointments-while conceding to the British officer the command in the field, as we had a right to concede to him-that in all those other matters Canada, and Canada alone, should control those appointments.

Let me point out that I do not blame the British Government, but simply the officials, for Canada not having absolute control of those things at the front, as she should under responsible government.

Another matter which has concerned some friends, and has concerned me a good deal, is this. From the outset we have taken the stand that promotion should be by merit, and by merit alone. As I pointed out, for the first year of the war we had nothing to say in the matter. Then steps were taken, as I have stated, under the principles of responsible government, to see that our Canadian boys had a chance. I might point out that the British regular army had officers and staff enough to furnish outfit for an army of 150,000, and yet it had swollen to 4,500,000, and they still could furnish regular officers for the entire outfit, while Canada had a little standing army of 3,000 permanent corps men about half officered, and those men were not considered inferior to active men of the militia; those men you see around here, second to none in the British army, those men of the permanent active militia of Canada. We took the ground that those boys should have a fair show and be entitled to promotion. Further, other things being, equal, the men who had taken the places in the front trenches should be considered as far as possible, consistent with their proficiency-because it does not stand to commonsense that every boy that has been sent to the trenches has turned out a Caesar or Bonaparte-but as far as possible, efficiency and merit considered, the boys who had been doing duty in the trenches and who deserved it, should receive consideration. Let me point out that from the outset to the present moment that has been the line that I have endeavoured to pursue in all this matter.

On the occasion of our visit last year we found that thousands of our soldiers were not in Canadian hospitals. We found that our nurses, the best nurses we could get from all the institutions of Canada, were not nursing Canadian soldiers. We found that the splendid surgeons-I need not go outside of Toronto to point out the magnificent fellows who gave up thousands and tens of thousands a year and gave their services for the cause of the Canadian soldier-had never attended them; but now they are on duty first and foremost for the soldiers of the Dominion of Canada. We let France look after her soldiers as well as she possibly can; we let Britain look after her soldiers as well as she possibly can; and where the men fall side by side on the field we carry theirs to our hospitals, as they carry ours to theirs; but when the convalescent period comes on we have had at one period men who were absolutely passed the hospital period, and who had entered the convalescent period, who had lost weeks and months, and some of them a year of time, when they should have been back to the regiment, but who were, spending their time at the hospitals not under our control. We then set to work and devised a plan for our convalescents. Therefore, as soon as our convalescents leave the General Hospital, they are taken into what we call convalescent homes, where our own boys are looked after by our own doctors and nurses, divided up into classes according to the degree of their being well, but the last class is absolutely fit, when they leave the convalescent home, to step into the trenches and take their places in the firing line. We made this change, and we restored fifty and sixty percent to the firing line within a given period instead of fifteen percent, and we have spent in twelve months $6,000,000 on this very transaction. Without enlarging on that, I may say with regard to the general medical situation, we have the most magnificent lot of medical officers and nurses over there, all doing their work splendidly, and the attention that is being given to the matter now is more in the line of using to the best advantage our splendid medical and surgical skill. Take your own city of Toronto; I need not tell you the class of doctors you have here. Canada will now have the full advantage of the great surgical skill she has sent over there.

Recruiting is dull. I shall not dwell on these matters. You have your business to attend to, and I want to get away for other functions, other duties. Let me point out, however, that the British-born, and the British-descent people of Canada have recruited more men, a higher percentage of British--born and British--descent, than have the islands of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We have recruited upwards of ten percent of the British-born and British-descent people of the Dominion of Canada-a record of which we are proud. Unfortunately other parts of Canadaand I have made these statements to those people themselves, and purpose right along now to take the matter up with them-other parts of Canada, for reasons I am not going to criticize, have not done so well. Let me point out about the Province of Quebec. In that Province at the outbreak of war there were two city battalions of our French fellow-countrymen that were excellent, regarded as among the best. There was a rural battalion from Rimouski that was regarded as a very fine one. Throughout the length and breadth of other parts of Quebec there was scarcely a regiment, and there were no officers there, and here, let me say, one great reason the city of Toronto has done so well, and Hamilton, is that you have men of the calibre of the officers you see around here and in other parts of the country, ready to form a rallying centre for those lads to form around, and go to the front. That is the 'reason. The 65th of Montreal did splendidly in the 1st Contingent, and sent out a lot of men who have done splendidly. No better regiment can be shown than that of the old Montreal Regiment. Col. Frank Meighen commanded it then; it is the 14th now, mostly British, but a considerable portion of them French. Montreal has done very good work wherever they have had an opportunity of showing themselves, and today we have two very fine regiments going to the front under Col. Papineau, and another one raised in the Rimouski district, a good many of the old Highland stock, wearing French names, and speaking the French language who are going to the Front. I have sized up the situation as kindly as I can. The great drawback has been the lack of officers around whom to rally these men. I am going to try and remedy that. I purpose going down to the Province of Quebec; I have received the most kindly consideration from every part of that Province. There are people who do not want their sons to go to war. I am not concerned with that; we find a few of that sort in other parts of the Dominion of Canada also; but at the earliest possible convenience I propose going down to meet our friends in the Province of Quebec to furnish them the opportunity of rallying points throughout that Province, and 'I hope before the snows of this winter melt away, we will have many regiments from the Province of Quebec going to the front.

One other matter. The Prime Minister of Canada promised 500,000 men. I have no hesitation in saying here that last year, if Canada had the storage capacity, the places for putting them in, and if we had been in a position to equip those men, more than six months ago we could have had more than our 500,000 men; but you gentlemen who are intimately associated with the matter know that we had to hold up on our recruiting wave of last year owing to the lack of accommodation and lack of equipment of our soldiers. But I feel satisfied that it is now being realized throughout the length and breadth of the liberty-loving world that this is a war for the triumph of every great principle of human liberty, or of human democracy; that the lovers of human liberty are not going to stand idly by, no matter what other part of the Empire may fail in its duty; the lovers of liberty throughout the Canadian part of the Empire, at all events, are determined to do their duty fearlessly and well in the trenches, and that although Toronto and every other part of the Dominion with few exceptions have all done well, that you will still do better, and ere spring comes that the ranks of new regiments will be filled up throughout the length and breadth of the Dominion of Canada, and that we will be able by March, early next summer, to join in the great cause of success for democracy at the front.

It has been my privilege to travel along the frontier, to meet the boys from the city of Toronto-some of your regiments happened to be in a brigade that I was visiting-and I met others of them in England, and I want to- point out that all over, on every hand, we find but one spirit among these lads, that is, determination to do or die in the great cause. Many and many a soldier has been offered a commission at the front, and many and many a soldier has refused to accept, replying, "We decline to accept the commission; we will stick by the old brigade, and stand or fall in the trenches." When we ask a young man to leave the ranks we have three conditions; first, he must be willing to come; second, he must be recognized by his officers; and third, he must have the qualifications necessary to entitle him to be an officer. We find the last two time and again fulfilled, but I want to point to university graduates from the city who are today fighting in the trenches and who have refused to take out commissions, but who are standing by their old comrades in the trenches and doing their duty as Canadian soldiers fearlessly and well.

One more point and I am done. A good many people have again and again pointed out that unless you had a regular standing army you could not successfully carry on a war; many others holding the idea that a man in business who gives a portion of his time, whose mind is developed in his business training or occupation in life, and who gives a fair proportion of time to the cause of the militia-much more in many cases than do the gentlemen of the regular permanent service

that those gentlemen, other things being equal, would be the natural leaders of a democratic army at the front. The gallant lads you have seen from the Northwest, the boys you see around Toronto, trained in Toronto or any other part of Canada-keen, active-minded fellows -when they come down and get a little smattering of drill and rifle shooting that is necessary, are the equal of any men in that firing line. The records of St. Julien, or the second battle of Ypres, Festubert, Givenchy, and by no means least the salient at Zillebeke in June, and above all things, all this terrible fighting on the Somme, show that those boys, trained in civil life your sons and my sons and friends throughout the length and breadth of Canada-are the equal of the best regular soldiers that the world has every produced.

We all regret the loss of many gallant sons, not only from your city, but from everywhere. I recall General Mercer, the lawyer, an expert rifleman and a trained soldier-brave, modest, one of the greatest men it has been the privilege of any army to have; I have that testimony from the highest in command. And you are going to honour the memory of a young lad, a mere boy, Col. Allan. I had a conversation with his Brigade Commander the last time I saw him in France, and he said, " I have such and such a lad in command now of this battalion, but he is hardly yet seasoned to the task, and I am waiting every day for Allan to come back." I saw Allan shortly afterwards in the hospital, and he expected to be back with his regiment in a very short time, and I was greatly shocked to find that he had passed over to the Great Beyond. These are only two of thousands and thousands of your lads that have done duty on the field of honour and brought credit to the great cause.

I shall not detain you longer, gentlemen. I thank you for the honour you have done me, and am glad to have had the opportunity of meeting you, my fellow soldiers and many old friends; but I want to give a closing word. So long as the enemy is unconquered, so long is the great cause of human liberty in danger; and so far as I am personally concerned-and I know I voice the sentiments of a great majority of the thinking people of this country-we will never rest content until autocracy is overthrown, and until liberty, both within the Empire and without the Empire, is guaranteed for at least a hundred years to come.

Hon. I. B. Lucas proposed the vote of thanks, which was seconded by Hon. Mr. Justice Riddell, and supported by Lieut.-Col. Craig, of Western Canada.

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Some Observations on the War

The nature of Canadians with respect to war. The spirit of nervousness abroad in Canada, and what the speaker means by that. Peace societies and their activities in the United States and Canada before the war. Money from the German Government to support these activities. The disparity in terms of war preparedness between Germany and her enemies. Canada's lack of control of her forces overseas during the first year of the war; how and why that was so. The issue of promotion, criteria for promotion, and who is responsible for making decisions with regard to promotion. Discovering that thousands of Canadian soldiers were not in Canadian hospitals, and that Canadian nurses were not nursing Canadian soldiers; changes in that regard. Our convalescent homes. Recruitment statistics. Meeting the boys from Canada at the front, and in England. Regretting our losses of many gallant sons.