- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Dec 1942, p. 218-225
- His Excellency The Right Honourable The Earl of Athlone, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- A look back at the speaker's previous speech in January of 1941, and conditions in Britain at that time. The different picture in Britain today. A consideration of the war in relation to Empire. Making sure that criticism of the Empire is based on accurate and complete knowledge and not on mere emotion. The effect of war, so far, on the British Empire. A demonstration to the rest of the world and to ourselves that the independence of the great self-governing Dominions was a fact and not a fiction. The realization that however divergent we may be in our several policies, we are all actuated by a common purpose. Bringing into the limelight our declared purpose of permitting any of our dependencies or colonies complete independence as soon as they show themselves capable of governing themselves. The links which connect the countries of the British Empire. Spreading information about the Empire as a public service of inestimable value.
- Date of Original
- 10 Dec 1942
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- THE EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL OF ATHLONE, K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., A.D.C., GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF CANADA.
Chairman The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursday, December 10, 1942.
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Your Excellency, Your Grace, Mr. Prime Minister, My Lords of the Judiciary, Sir William Mulock, Gentlemen of The Empire Club, We have the unusual pleasure and distinction today of entertaining His Majesty's representative in Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable The Earl of Athlone, who has kindly consented to address us.
It is our custom to use the expression "Guest Speaker" when referring to the speaker of the day, but unless one can be a guest in his own Club, the appellation "guest" cannot properly be applied to His Excellency, who is a member of our Club, and holds the office of Honorary President. (Applause.) I might say, Gentlemen, that I am just one office removed from that honorary degree.
The Empire Club of Canada is affiliated with The Royal Empire Society of England and it is of significant interest to us that our Honorary President is the Deputy President of The Royal Empire Society. To strengthen the bond of unity within the Empire is the single purpose, the common aim, of both organizations.
His Excellency has had a distinguished career as a soldier, as a statesman, as a diplomat, and as a Christian gentleman. Personally, I like to associate him with the profession of the law, where he ranks as an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple.
Your Excellency, the City of Toronto is a loyal city, loyal to the cause of Christian democracy, loyal to the cause of freedom and truth, loyal, Sir, to the person and the throne of His Majesty, and to His Majesty's representative in Canada. This large audience in presence is a token of that loyalty. This audience, however, does not constitute, Sir, the entire audience, for scattered throughout the length and the breadth of the land are many, many thousands more than are here, thousands who are with us in spirit, gathered about their radios to listen to your address, and in the heart of every one of these our countrymen burns the flame of that same inextinguishable loyalty and devotion.
Your Excellency, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you, Sir, this magnificent audience here and beyond. Will you, Sir, be pleased to address us. (Applause.)
His EXCELLENCY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL of ATHLONE: Mr. President, Your Grace, Mr. Prime Minister and Gentlemen: I am indeed greatly honoured at being invited to address The Empire Club for the second time. The last time I had the pleasure of being your guest was in January, 1941. I spoke to you then of England and of what was meant by the English Inheritance. It was at a time when Great Britain stood alone under the fierce concentrated attack of the German Air Force. She was, of course, sustained by increasing help from Canada and the other Dominions, and she was encouraged by the goodwill of the United States. But still she was alone. It was in that small island that homes were being destroyed every night and the lives of women and children lost, in a mounting toll of death and deprivation. It was in Great Britain that large portions of our cities were battered to the ground or wracked by fire in a roaring furnace of devastation. It was against Great Britain that the vast resources of Europe, speedily and skillfully mobilized by a Germany flushed with easy victories, were directed with almost overwhelming power. It was to Great Britain that the whole civilized world looked with varying degrees of confidence as the last bulwark against the aggressor before the evil forces of Germany carried their standards to the ends of the earth. The civilized world appeared to be tottering to its fall. It didn't look as if anything could save it. The future seemed to be about as dark as at any time in our history.
How different is the picture today! Our island fortress stood firm against all attacks. The courage and resolution of our people were unshaken. Their heads were unbowed, except in sorrow for those who had died in order that they might live. The vast productive machinery of the Empire has developed beyond all our expectations. The Luftwaffe has been beaten out of the skies by the young men of our air forces, most of whom have been trained in Canada. The almost unlimited resources in men and materials of the United States have been, and are being, rapidly mobilized against the Axis Powers. The people and armies of China. have survived the long agony of Japanese pressure with magnificent endurance under their great soldier-statesman, Chiang Kai Shek; and the epic struggle and tremendous achievements of the Russian people and of the Red Army have diverted the German war machine from our very doors and drained it for over a year of the strength in weapon and manpower which was designed, after a short campaign in Russia, to bring Great Britain to her knees. That is something for which we must be profoundly grateful.
But while it is right and proper to regard the war in its every aspect, it is of particular interest to members of an Empire Club to consider it in relation to our Empire. During the last few months the British Empire has on more than one occasion been the target of some bitter criticism. I, for one, welcome such criticism. Most of it is due to ignorance, and people should never be reproached for their scanty knowledge of so complex a mechanism as the British Empire. Most of our own people know very little about it themselves, so we cannot expect even our best friends to know more. And if they criticize our institutions, it gives our people a chance to answer their charges and, what is far more important, it gives them a chance to describe some of our achievements and explain some of our difficulties.
It would not, I think, be fitting for me as Governor-General to answer our critics, and it would, of course, be necessary for me to describe to the members of an Empire Club some of the things we had accomplished, for you all no doubt know as much about them as I do. But for the benefit of those who may be listening to me outside the walls of this room, I would like to take the opportunity of uttering one plea, and it is this.
Before you criticize the British Empire or any part of it, or the way it is administered, see that your criticism is based on accurate and complete knowledge and not on there emotion.
A distinguished Englishwoman on a recent visit to Canada said these words: "I am profoundly convinced that between the United Nations all judgments based on emotion-even the most generous emotion-without knowledge are at this time a source of potential danger to the coming world". That seems to me a wise statement, and it is particularly true as regards the relationships which exist between different parts of our Empire. To anyone who has not made a close study of our Empire system, those relationships must indeed seem bewildering, and often illogical. But if it is not permissible for me to answer some of the criticisms to which I have referred, I can at any rate make some comments on the effect of the war, so far, on our Empire.
Now, the first thing that the war did was to demonstrate not only to the rest of the world but also to ourselves that the independence of the great self-governing dominions was a fact and not a fiction. The complete freedom of action which each member of our family had a deciding whether to declare war on Germany or not as a remarkable proof that we were entirely independent in what was, after all, the most momentous decision that any nation can make. No one was more surprised at that discovery than we were ourselves. One member of our family decided to remain neutral, and no one questioned her right to do so. Another member came in only after the most anxious heart searchings, and in the face of much domestic opposition. But in no case was the slightest pressure brought to bear by one member on another. Every choice was a free choice, freely exercised.
Another effect of the war on our family of nations was the realization that however divergent we may be in our several policies, we are all actuated by a common purpose. The ties that bind us are in the eloquent words of Burke, "light as air but strong as links of iron". The threat of danger to one of us was a threat of danger to all. That is of great significance because it shows that a free association of peoples bound together by a common obligation to preserve their liberties is a far stronger association than anything that could be achieved by written documents or formal alliances.
Another effect of the war is that it has brought into the limelight our declared purpose of permitting any of our dependencies or colonies complete independence as soon as they show themselves capable of governing themselves. It takes a long time for some people to learn, just as it took us a long time to learn, that there will inevitably be chaos, bankruptcy and poverty in any country in which the claims of good administration are subordinated to partisan political considerations. Most people would be surprised at the large measure of self-government which already exists in countries such as Ceylon, Nigeria and Kenya. In fact, it is an axiom of our colonial administration that whenever the inhabitants of these countries are able to take the place of British officials, then appointments formerly held by the British are available to the people of the country, with the result that throughout our colonies and dependencies, the number of British officials is steadily diminishing.
With so many different systems of administration in the British Empire, it might be supposed that the machinery would break down owing to its complicated and seemingly unco-ordinated structure. It might be imagined that loyalties which are complex are necessarily weak. But the opposite might in fact be the case. The affection of an under-graduate for his university is increased by his liking for his college. An officer with pride in his regiment has even more pride in the army of which it forms but a small part. A good citizen of Toronto is also a good Canadian, and in the same way, a feeling of devotion and pride in the British Empire may be enriched by the same feeling toward Canada. We are all in fact citizens of a greater world than that which occupies our ordinary moments. We must, therefore, strive to be worthy of that greater citizenship.
Some people say that the various links which connect the countries of the British Empire are so intangible as to be of little practical value, and that in the hard world of reality, sentiment has but a slender chance of holding people together. But it seems to me that that depends on how deep is the sentiment. In our case we all owe allegiance to the same Throne, and that sense of loyalty to the Sovereign has never, I think, been so widespread or so strong as it is today. During the last war, there used to be recruiting posters in England which read "For King and Country". You don't hear so much of that today, and yet--I think it is not by any means a bad idea. It doesn't mean, of course, that people are to go out and protect the life of the King in case somebody tries to shoot him. But it does mean that what the Crown stands for is worth fighting for. It does mean that the unity of purpose of which the Crown is the focus is worthy of protection. The mere fact that feelings of loyalty and devotion to the crown are so wide-spread is evidence of its value; for whether one comes from Toronto or London or Quebec or Calcutta or Brisbane or Capetown, and whether one lives in the prairies of Canada, the slums of Liverpool, the veldt of South Africa or the swamps of the Upper Nile, the same feeling of loyalty to a common ideal acts as a binding force and a protective covering.
The Throne has the same meaning to the dark-skinned inhabitant of Fiji as it has to some one who lives in the shadow of Buckingham Palace. Toronto is sometimes spoken of as a city with a great sense of loyalty to the Empire. That is indeed a proud and noble reputation, but I would remind you that uninformed loyalty is a snare and a delusion. Loyalty implies understanding and understanding, so far as the Empire is concerned, means knowledge of its structure and its achievements. To whatever extent the members of your Club can spread information about the Empire, they are indeed performing a public service of inestimable value.
Therefore, Gentlemen, thank you for having invited me to come to luncheon today, and I wish you well in your good work. (Applause-prolonged.)
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: In the British coronation ceremony it is the Church that places the Crown. The Church, as it were, has the last say. Will Your Grace, the Archbishop, please voice the thankful gratitude of this audience for His Excellency's address.
ARCHBISHOP OWEN: Mr. President and Members of The Empire Club: It is a privilege to attempt to voice the sentiments of your heart after hearing the address of His Excellency. My office is a very simple one, but a very real one. I should like to thank him on behalf of the guests at this head table and all the members of The Empire Club present, and I think I can say on behalf of thousands who are listening at this moment, for what he has said to us. It was a word of good cheer. I well remember his address of two years ago, when he spoke on England, and today he has spoken to us of the Empire, and I should like to say to His Excellency, if I may, that I feel sure that many of us who have heard his word of admonition to understand more of this Empire is a word that has not fallen on fruitless ground. May I therefore thank him very much, in great simplicity, on behalf of you all for speaking to us.
The second thing that I should like to say is that he speaks to us, of course, in his great office as Governor-General of Canada. We value his presence here and we thank him for coming to us, and for sparing the time to prepare the address and to speak to us as he has spoken to us. He represents His Majesty, the King. Your Excellency, you were right indeed when you said that in The Empire Club there is a very real veneration for the Throne of the Empire.
There is another reason that I wish to express our thanks today to our distinguished speaker. It has something to do with that way of life which we have in the Empire, in Canada, and in all the Commonwealth. That way of life of which we hear a great deal now is like the Empire, very difficult to define. It is difficult to differentiate between the greater and the lesser things that make up the complex picture which is the Empire, but one of the things, one of the greatest things in that Empire, but one of the things which links these different ways of life into a way of life is the service that is rendered by a great and distinguished family which is represented here this morning at The Empire Club. (Applause.)
Therefore, I am sure that you would wish me to say to His Excellency that we value with real veneration, with a deep sense of gratitude the high service, the unselfish service that is rendered by His Majesty the King, by Her Majesty the Queen, and by the other members of that great family which is represented here this morning. There is worked into this complex picture that thing which binds us together, the service that is rendered by that family, the dignity, the kind of character that is worked into the fabric of our Empire.
Your Excellency, may I, on behalf of the members of The Empire Club, thank you for them for being with us and speaking to us as you have today. (Applause.)