A SURVEY OF THE WAR
February 29, 1940
Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946, 56-63.
IT have never forgotten how, nearly three years ago, in what was then an acutely difficult international situation, you here in Liverpool gave me a message of encouragement which immensely heartened me in my task. We are here members of all parties and all faiths to discuss with a freedom we are proud to enjoy our joint effort in a common cause.
In these opening months, the main theatre of war has been at sea. In that sphere our Navy and our merchantmen have per-
formed feats of courage and of endurance that will find their place in history. You, here in Liverpool, have every reason to appreciate the splendid quality of these men who sail the seas, for so many of your own sons and brothers are to be numbered among them. They are indeed a gallant company. Nor must we forget the invaluable help given to them at sea by the airmen of the Coastal Command.
But with this exception the autumn and winter has been a period of relative inactivity in Western Europe. This respite has proved most valuable to us for our preparations, since the aggressor in any war is almost inevitably a lap ahead of those who take up his challenge. But the gain of time, valuable as it has been to us, affords no ground whatever for complacency. Indeed, it may even be dangerous if it is not constantly borne in mind that it is victory in the last phase of war which means the defeat of the enemy. These first six months have been of great assistance in helping us to forge our weapons. Once forged, those weapons have to be used. You will recall the passage in Pilgrim's Progress where Christian and Hopeful say:
"We will need to cry to the strong for strength," and the Shepherd's reply:
"Aye, and you will have need to use it, when you have it, too."
What is the nature of the challenge that we are facing? The German war aim has been clearly defined by Goebbels and von Ribbentrop as the destruction of Great Britain. Goebbels, indeed, was even more explicit when he told us that Germany had never before had such splendid prospects as now to achieve a dominating position in the world. And that, of course, is the true Hitlerian objective, world domination. Vienna, Prague, Warsaw: the fate of Austria, Bohemia and Moravia; the sufferings of Poland; these things are but milestones on the path of Nazi ambition whose goal is world dominion.
We were reluctant to believe it; perhaps too reluctant. But it is now surely clear to all that from the very first such was the scope and scale of Hitler's insatiate ambition. To compass his aims all means are legitimate. This he has made plain enough in Mein Kampf. The most sacred promises can be given one day and broken the next. That is part of Hitler's stock-in-trade. He can speak to you with every appearance of ardent sincerity. I can recall a conversation which I myself had with him in which, while inveighing against the alleged iniquities of the Treaty of Versailles, he stated emphatically that, in contrast to Versailles,
Locarno was a freely negotiated treaty upon which he would never go back. I believed him. Within a year he had torn the Treaty of Locarno to shreds. No one who had been through that experience could easily believe Hitler a second time.
Hitler has continued his faith-breaker's progress. It has all been deliberate, carefully planned with one end in view, to subjugate Europe and dominate the world. To achieve that purpose, no scruple, no pledged word, no sufferings inflicted upon any peoples small or great could be allowed to weigh for one instant in the balance. That is the true Hitlerian doctrine.
And if you ask how is it that the German people can be so easily deceived, how they can follow a leadership, at once so false and so unscrupulous, the answer is given you by Hitler himself in Mein Kampf in his contemptuous reference to his own people:
"The majority are lazy and timid," he writes. "The mass of our nation, that great, stupid flock of easily driven sheep" who "believe and obey because they are too stupid to understand."
At the moment there is not one of us who is not watching with deep concern the gallant struggle of a small nation—Finland— against desperate odds. Not Russia only but Germany also, bears a terrible responsibility for what is happening in Finland at this hour. Hitler and Ribbentrop, these men and their policies alone made Stalin's aggression possible. Stalin is the aggressor in Finland, Hitler the abettor. It seems strange to think now how many hours I used to spend listening to the present German Foreign Secretary when he was Ambassador in London, when he used to expound to me, as indeed he did also in public, many times, the dangers and horrors of Bolshevism. He was never tired of expatiating on this theme. Soviet Russia, this untouchable with whom Nazi Germany could not sit down at a conference table, this leprous thing, this cancer. Many a time the British people were taken to task because we, it was alleged, did not understand the extent of our peril. We did not appreciate, we were told, the realities of the European situation. Only Hitler could do that. He, alone, we were assured, stood as a bulwark between Britain and Red Russia. But for the Hitlerian St. George the Red Dragon would have swallowed us long since. So ran the German fable with its many variations. And what has happened now? The Red Dragon has taken the Hitlerian St. George for a ride. It may be that one day in the not so distant future the German Foreign Minister may have need to recall his own warnings.
In recent months it has been my privilege at the Dominions
Office to work in close contact with His Majesty's Governments overseas. When Germany launched her unprovoked aggression against Poland she made many miscalculations. Perhaps the gravest of all was her confident belief, so frequently expressed, that at the outbreak of war the British Empire would crumble into ruin. At the first critical hour, the Nazi propagandists confidently foretold, this flimsy structure would fall to pieces. They could not understand that in our greater freedom lay our greater strength. How should they understand, these men who have extinguished the last spark of freedom in their own land? These Nazi prophets of evil have been utterly confounded by the event. It would be impossible for me to find words in which to pay adequate tribute to the ready willingness with which collaboration has been given to us on every hand. The nations of the Empire have been spontaneous and whole-hearted in their response. This afternoon I want to give you some brief account of what the co-operation of the overseas Dominions already means.
If I were to attempt to describe to you what that effort means by detailing to you the help which is being given in every sphere by each of the Dominions, my story would repeat itself in a record of the mobilization of their resources in finance, production and manpower which would be impressive indeed. But it is not even in such a record that the true significance of the action of the British Commonwealth is to be found. The contribution of each part is great, even splendid, but it is in its cumulative effect, in the unity of each and all that its true strength lies. We are indeed participating in one great joint endeavour, ourselves and our kinsmen and partners in the Dominions side by side, straining every nerve for victory.
At sea, from the declaration of war the naval forces of the Dominions have co-operated closely with our own. Canada's navy and air force stand guard upon her Atlantic and Pacific seaboards. Her ships have helped to convoy her soldiers on their long journey to Europe. Ships of the Royal Australian Navy are at this moment giving invaluable help in seas remote from their own shores. There could be no more characteristic gesture of generosity than this. As for New Zealand, the cheers for the victors at the battle of the River Plate still ring in our ears. Achilles is, as you know, a ship of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy. Behind her six-inch guns, as they exchanged salvo for salvo with the eleven-inch guns of her foe, were New Zealanders, sharing with Ajax and Exeter the hazards and the honours of that glorious action.
It was a happy coincidence that on the day when the men of the Ajax and the Exeter were being acclaimed in London, the people of New Zealand were thronging to welcome the men of the Achilles at Auckland. Such events as these bring home to us all that in truth the seas unite.
Now let me turn to the Army. Some of you may perhaps have seen men of the Canadian Active Service Force who are already training in our midst. If you have seen them, you can have no doubt that they will worthily uphold Canada's splendid military tradition. From Australia and New Zealand have come the first detachments of their overseas forces and they in their turn have reached their stations in Egypt and in Palestine. I have been fortunate enough to have seen these men. You can take it from me that in spirit and in stature they cannot be beaten.
Now as to the air. As you know, there is a large percentage of pilots from overseas in our existing air force. In addition, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand squadrons are now operating from bases in this country. But over and above all this is the great conception of the Empire Air Training scheme. On Canadian soil there is now taking shape a far-reaching plan for the training of men for the Air Forces of the British Commonwealth which may well prove to be the decisive factor in the war. As a result of this great effort, men from this country, from Australia and from New Zealand will be trained side by side with Canadians on the aerodromes of Canada. These will be in addition to the pilots who will be training under the same plan in Australia and New Zealand also. From this vast scheme as it develops there will flow a continuous stream of pilots, observers and gun crews to be numbered not in their thousands but in their tens of thousands every year.
The Union of South Africa, and the self-governing Colony of Southern Rhodesia, are staunch partners in the south of the great African continent. There, in the last war, the campaigns in the German colonies cost us dearly in men and material. This time we may be thankful to be spared a strain on our resources such as those Colonial campaigns imposed. Nevertheless, we have from that great statesman, General Smuts, the promise that if, as the war develops, our Colonial Dependencies in Africa should be threatened, the forces of South Africa will be beside us in their defence. Those forces are being expanded, trained and equipped so that if the time comes, we shall know again, as we knew in the last war, the dour courage of the South African, English-speaking and Afrikaner alike. An air unit from Southern Rhodesia is already
on duty in Kenya, and in no less than seven of our African Colonial Dependencies Rhodesians are to-day performing invaluable military service. The Cape of Good Hope still plays its historic part on the sea routes of the world, and so we find there at the naval base of Simonstown the Royal Navy co-operating with the forces of South Africa for the protection of our common interests in these waters. It was a notable instance of co-operation in maritime warfare when, flying southwards from the Cape, a reconnaissance flight of the South African Air Force recently intercepted a fugitive German vessel and put an end to her career on the high seas.
In addition, plans are in the making for personnel to be trained for the Royal Air Force in Southern Rhodesia, and also in the Union, side by side with the young men for the South African Air Force.
There is one further contribution that must not be overlooked —that of Newfoundland, our oldest Colony. From that island six hundred men have already come to join the Royal Navy, and a thousand more will follow. In addition, two thousand loggers are already here in response to an appeal to help us. Finally, recruiting for the Royal Artillery has recently been started in the Island and I am delighted to be able to tell you that the response has already been excellent.
In this survey which I have given you I have dealt exclusively with co-operation in the military sphere. Behind all this endeavour in each one of the Dominions are men and women doing their part in the spheres of production, in the fields and in the factories alike, turning out those supplies of food, raw materials and munitions on which our war effort essentially depends. This vast effort is swinging into its stride, already it is gathering momentum.
Let me try to describe to you three scenes, each in their special setting an expression of the war effort of the Empire. The first is a grey morning at a Western port. A number of our ships of war are in line ahead, their convoy duty over. Slowly the giant liners steam in, their decks packed with cheering soldiers. They are there in their thousands. As the transports pass a band on one of the warships strikes up "Oh, Canada", and a momentary hush falls over the waters. The first contingent of the Canadian Active Service Force is here.
The second picture is in sharp contrast. Many thousands of miles away, in a different clime, under a warm sun, transports slowly stream into Suez. Once more the decks are packed with soldiers in their thousands. This time from "down under". Austra-
lia and New Zealand have taken their place too in the common effort.
The third picture is of no display of military might, but its message is scarcely less plain spoken. During the flights which I made recently in the course of my visit to the Middle East, we landed to refuel on one occasion upon an aerodrome in a very remote spot. There was scarcely more than a handful of people present, none of them Europeans. The only other machines on the ground at the time were two single-seater fighters of a British make. We went up to them and spoke to the two young pilots, one of them turned out to be a Scot from Lanarkshire and the other a South African from Johannesburg. From the opposite ends of the world these two men had come as volunteers to serve the same cause, and here on this remote aerodrome we met for a few minutes' conversation before each flying our separate ways, we northward, they back to the east from which they had come.
There seemed to me to be a message in this chance meeting. What is it that has brought these men, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, across the world? What is it that has moved them to leave their homes, their work, their factory or farm in their tens of thousands and offer man's proudest gift, his service as a volunteer? It is something more than sentiment, deep as no doubt that sentiment is. It is something stronger even than the ties of kinship, strong as those ties are. It is because, as one of them put it himself, in the simplest but most expressive terms: "It seems there is a job of work to be done." Just so. Though separated by thousands of miles of ocean, these men, who might very well have been excused had they failed to appreciate the extent of the peril that pressed in the first instance upon us, saw clearly from the first. They understood the issue, and it is this clear perception, the vision of the men beyond the seas who see truly, that should give us courage now. The truth is that if there is to be any hope for the future of the human race, then the Nazi system and all it stands for must go. An end must be put to this era of broken faith; political perjury must be shown to have had its day. Until this is established beyond question, until Hitlerism and the international gangsterdom for which it stands is finally destroyed, there can be neither security for the present nor hope for the future.
Any truce, any patchwork compromise that ignored these stark realities would confront us with greater dangers in a few months' or at most in a few years' time. It might then be too late, and for a free people the servitude of Nazidom is worse than death. We were
reluctant, very reluctant, to take up this struggle. Now that we are in it we shall see it through to the end, whatever the cost. Any other course would be to lose the present and to betray the future.
After this war the task of statesmanship will be hard, more exacting even than in 1918, but there will be elements of hope and cheer. First and foremost there is the close collaboration of the nations of the British Commonwealth. Next there is our ever more intimate unity with our French Allies. A unity which must be carried through in its entirety into the post-war years, for this time our co-operation must come to stay. Many of us indeed believe that it is capable of further development, and that in the economic and financial as well as in the strictly political sphere Anglo-French co-operation offers a most hopeful augury for the future.
Along these paths, though the way may be hard, progress is possible, but any compromise with those whose only faith is in brute force, whose methods are in themselves a denial of civilization, could only plunge us back into the dark ages.
And so we can go forward, conscious of the severity of our task, but strong in the knowledge that we do not stand alone. We are one of a team with the overseas Dominions, Canada and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with Newfoundland and Southern Rhodesia, the Empire of India and the Colonies, with France and her Empire, with Poland whose spirit is unquenched despite her suffering, with the Czech people who have for so long endured so much. For nothing in the world would we change our team for theirs. Together we are a team, and we can take as our watchword that message from a soldier "down under". "It seems there is a job of work to be done." With God's help and yours, it will be done.