October 12, 1942
British Information Services.
I have never before been made a freeman of any city, and although since the war I have been complimented by a number of invitations which I greatly value, your freedom is the only one I have felt myself so far able to receive in the hard stress of conditions.
It seems to me that Edinburgh, the ancient capital of Scotland, enshrined in the affection of the Scottish race all over the world, great in memories and tradition, immortal in its collective personality-Edinburgh stands by itself, and therefore I am here to-day to be refreshed by your very great kindness and inspiration and to receive the all too flattering tribute from my old friend William Y. Darling, the Lord Provost.
The old quarrels, the age-long feuds, which rend our island have been ended centuries ago by the union of the Crown and by the happy fulfillment of the prophecy that wherever the Stone of Scone shall rise the Scottish race shall reign.
The whole British Empire, and most of all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, owes an inestimable debt to our King and Queen. In these years of trial and storm they have shared to the full the storms and hopes of the British nation.
I have seen the King, gay, buoyant, and confident when the stones and rubble of Buckingham Palace lay in newly scattered heaps upon its lawns. We are even to-day mourning the King's brother, who was killed on active service. And you here in Scotland and in Edinburgh must especially rejoice in the charm and grace of our Scottish Queen. I could not as First Minister come to Edinburgh, which has always been proud of its royal connexion, without expressing your sentiments of loyalty and devotion to our beloved Sovereign and his consort, and paying them this tribute their virtue and grace alike deserve.
I come to you from a visit to the Fleet. I have spent the last few days going over a great many of our ships-some great, some small, some fresh from action in the Mediterranean, others after fighting their way through with the Russian convoy.
I could not imagine a greater contrast than that between this Fleet in harbour somewhere in Scotland and a desert Army which I was visiting for two or three days some seven weeks ago. The scene-the light, the colour, the elements, the uniforms, the weapons of war, all are different. There was one picture that was not different, but the spirit was the same. The desert Army was confident it would stand an unbreakable barrier between Rommel and the Nile valley, and the Fleet is sure that once again it will stand between a continental tyrant and the domination of the world.
I have some ties with Scotland which are of great significance, ties precious and lasting. First of all, I decided to be born on St. Andrew's Day, and it was to Scotland that I went to find my wife, who is unable to be present to-day through temporary indisposition. I commanded a Scottish battalion of the famous 21st Regiment for five months in the last war in France. I sat for 15 years as the representative of Bonnie Dundee, and I might be sitting for it still if the matter had rested entirely with me. Although I have found what I trust is a permanent and happy home in the glades of Epping Forest, I still reserve affectionate memories of the banks of the Tay.
Now you have given me a new tie which I shall value as long as I live. We call ourselves in our grand alliance the United Nations. Here, indeed, is an example of national unity.
From every quarter come reports that the people of Scotland are in good heart. They are also, I am glad to learn, in good health. Here, in the fourth year of the world war, more people in Scotland are to-day getting three square meals a day than ever before. In Glasgow the school medical authorities report that last year, the latest for which we have figures, there was an increase in the weight of school entrants above the figures for the five years 1935-39 of 1 lb.; and boys of 13 were nearly 3 lb. heavier than those in the same period before the war.
And so the country is pulling together better now than ever before in its history. Cruel blows, like the loss of the original 51st Division in France, have been borne with fortitude and silent dignity. A new 51st Division has been formed and will sustain the reputation and avenge the fortunes of its forerunner. The air bombing was endured with courage and resource. In all the Services, on sea, land, and air, on merchant ships and in all the many forms of service which this great struggle has called for, Scotsmen have gained distinction. You may indeed repeat with assurance the poet's lines:
"Gin danger's there, we'll thole our share,
Gie's but the weapons we've the will,
Ayont the main, to prove again
Auld Scotland counts for something still."
Let us then for a moment cross the main and take a wider view. Our enemies have been more talkative lately. Ribbentrop, Goring, and Hitler have all been making speeches which are of interest because they reveal with considerable frankness their state of mind. There is one note which rings through all those speeches. It can be quite clearly heard above their customary boastings and threats-the dull, low, whining note of fear. They are all the speeches of men conscious of their guilt and conscious also of the law.
How different from the tone of 1940, when France was struck down, when eastern Europe was subjugated, when western Europe was beaten down, when Mussolini hastened to stab us in the back, when Britain stood all alone, the sole champion in arms for the freedom and inheritance of mankind. How different are those plaintive speeches and expostulations from what we used to hear in those days.
Evidently, something has happened in these two years to make these evil doers feel that aggression, war, and bloodshed, the trampling down of the weak may not be after all the whole story. There may be another side of the account. It is a long account, and it is becoming pretty clear that the day is coming when it will have to be settled.
The most striking and curious part of Hitler's speech was his complaint that no one pays sufficient attention to his victories. "Look at all the victories I have won," he exclaims in effect. "Look at all the countries I have invaded and struck down. Look at all the thousands of kilometres that I have advanced into the lands of other people. Look at all the booty I have gathered and all the men I have killed and captured. Contrast these exploits with the performances of the allies. Why are they not downhearted? How do they dare to keep up their spirits in the face of my great successes and their many misfortunes?"
That in fact-I have not quoted his actual words but I have given their meaning and their sense-that is his complaint. That is the question which puzzles him and angers him. It strikes a chill into his marrow because in his heart he knows that with all his tremendous victories and vast conquests his fortunes have declined.
His prospects have darkened to an immeasurable degree in the last two years, while at the same time Britain, the United States, Russia, and China have moved forward through tribulation and sorrow, steadily forward, steadily onward from strength to strength.
He sees with amazement that our defeats are but the stepping stones to victory and that all his victories are stepping stones to ruin. It was apparent to me that this bad man saw quite clearly the shadow of slowly and remorselessly approaching doom, and he railed at fortune for mocking him with the glitter of fleeting success.
But after all, the explanation is not so difficult. When peaceful people, like Britons and Americans, very careless in peacetime about their defence, carefree, unsuspecting nations, people who have never known defeat, improvident nations, I will say feckless nations who despise the military art and thought war so wicked that it never could happen again-when nations like this are set upon by highly organized, heavily armed conspirators who have been planning in secret over years on end, exalting war as the highest form of human effort, glorifying slaughter and aggression, prepared and trained to the last point to which science and discipline can carry them, is it not natural that the peaceful, unprepared, improvident should suffer terribly and that the wicked, scheming aggressors should have their run of savage exultation?
Ah! That is not the end of the story. It is only the first chapter. If the great peaceful democracies could survive the first few years of the aggressors' attack another chapter had to be written. It is to that chapter which we shall come in due time.
It will ever be to the glory of those islands and this Empire that we stood alone for one whole year and gained time for the good cause to arm, to organize, and slowly bring the conjoined, united, irresistible forces of the outraged civilization to bear upon the criminals. That is our greatest glory.
Fear is also the motive which inspires Hitler's latest outrage. From the North Cape in Norway to the Spanish frontier in Bayonne, a distance, apart from its indentations, of nearly 2,000 miles, the German invading armies are holding down by brute force and terrorism the nations of western Europe.
Norway, Denmark, Belgium, France-all are under Hitler's grip, all are seething with the spirit of revolt and revolution. Except in Denmark, whose turn will come, the Nazi firing parties are busy. Every day innocent hostages or prominent citizens arrested haphazard are taken out and shot in cold blood. And every day hatred of the German race and name burns fiercer in the hearts of these ancient States and peoples.
The British Commando raids at different points along this enormous coast, although so far only the forerunner of what is to come, inspire the author of so many crimes and miseries with a lively anxiety. His soldiers dwell among populations who would kill them with their hands if they got the chance, and will kill them one at a time when they do get the chance. In addition there comes out from the sea from time to time a hand of steel which plucks the German sentries from their posts with growing efficiency, amid the joy of the whole countryside.
In his fear and spite, Hitler turns upon the prisoners of war who are in his camps and in his power. Just as he takes innocent hostages from his prisons in Norway, Belgium, Holland, and France, to shoot them in the hope of breaking the spirit of their countrymen, so in flattest breach of the few conventions which still hold across the lines of world war he vents his cruel fear and anger upon the prisoners of war and casts them into chains. I have always expected that this war would become worse in severity as the guilty Nazis feel the ring of doom remorselessly closing in upon them. Here in the west we have seen many savage bestial acts, but nothing that has happened in the west so far can compare with the wholesale massacres, not only of soldiers but of civilians and women and children, which have characterized Hitler's invasion of Russia.
In Russia and in his reigns of terror in Poland and Yugoslavia tens of thousands have been murdered in cold blood by the German Army and by the special police battalions and brigades which accompany it everywhere and take the leading part in the frightful butcheries perpetrated behind the front.
For every one execution which Hitler has ordered in the west he has carried out at least 200-it may be many more-in eastern and central Europe. In the first few days after he entered Kiev he shot 54,000 persons. I say to show weakness of any kind to such a man is only to encourage him to further atrocities, and you may be assured that no weakness will be shown.
There is another reason apart from his perverted instincts why Hitler has begun the large-scale maltreatment of British prisoners of war. He wishes to throw a new topic into the arena of world discussion and so divert men's eyes from the evident failure so far-I always say so far of his second vast campaign against Russia.
The heroic defence of Stalingrad, the fact that the splendid Russian armies everywhere are intact, unbeaten, unbroken-nay, counter-attacking with amazing energy along the whole front from Leningrad to the Caucasus mountains, the fearful losses suffered by the German troops, the near approach of another Russian winter-all these grim facts which cannot be concealed cast their freezing shadow upon the German people, already wincing under the repeated and increasing impact of British bombing.
They turn a stony gaze upon the leader who has brought all this upon them, and dumbly-for they dare not speak aloud-they put the terrible question: "Why did you go there? Why did you invade Russia?"
Already Field-Marshal Goring has made haste to point out that this decision was Hitler's alone, that Hitler alone conducts the war, and that the generals of the German Army are only the assistants who carry out his orders.
Already Himmler, the police butcher, has been decorated, honoured, and promoted in token not only of the importance of his work in shooting and hanging thousands of Russian prisoners of war and in torturing Poles, Czechoslovaks, Yugoslavs, and Greeks, but because of the increasing need for his devilish arts in the homeland of Germany itself.
Evidently in such a plight it would be natural for Hitler to raise a stir in some quarter, and what could be more attractive to such a being than to mishandle the captives who are powerless in his hands?
There are other matters which should cause Hitler and his guilty but somewhat ridiculous confederate, Mussolini, to ask themselves uncomfortable questions.
The U-boat warfare still remains the greatest problem of the United Nations, but there is no reason whatever why it should not be solved by the prodigious measures of offence and defence and of replacement on which Britain, Canada, and above all the United States are now engaged.
The months of August and September have been, I will not say the best, but the least bad months since January. They have seen the new building of merchant ships substantially outweigh the losses. They have seen the greatest tonnage of British bombs dropped upon Germany. They have covered the most numerous safe arrivals of United States troops in the British Isles. They have marked a definite growth of allied air superiority over Germany, Italy, and Japan. In these months, indeed in September, far away in the Pacific the Australians, with their American allies, have made a good advance in New Guinea. It is not my habit to encourage light or vain expectations, but these are solid and remarkable facts.
Surveying both sides of the account, good and bad, with equal composure and coolness, we must see that we have reached a stern and sombre moment in the war which calls in a high degree of firmness of spirit and constancy of soul. The excitement and the emotion of those great days when we stood alone, undaunted against what seemed overwhelming odds, and single-handed saved the future of the world, are not present now. We are surrounded by governments and nations, all of us bound together in a solemn unbreakable alliance, and all of us bound together by ties not only of honour but of self-preservation.
Deadly dangers still beset us. Weariness, complacency or discord, squabbles over petty matters will mar our prospects. We must all drive ourselves to the utmost limit of our strength. We must preserve and refine our sense of proportion. We must strive to combine the virtues of wisdom and of daring. We must move forward together, united and inexorable.
Thus with God's blessing the hopes which we are now justified in feeling will not fade or wither. The light is broadening on the track. And the light is brighter, too. Among the qualities for which Scotland is renowned steadfastness holds, perhaps, the highest place. Be steadfast, then; that is the message which I bring you, that is my invocation to the Scottish nation here in this ancient capital city, one of whose burgesses I now have the honour to be.
Let me use the words of your famous minstrel-words which have given comfort and renewed strength to many a burdened heart:
"Keep right on to the end of the road,
Keep right on to the end."