Canadian Expeditionary Force, history, Canada, Ca, Can, Canadian, World War 1, WWI, WW1, First World War, 1916-1918
Canada in Flanders Logo
CANADA IN FLANDERS
By SIR MAX AITKEN, M.P.

THE OFFICIAL STORY OF THE
CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
VOLUME I.

CHAPTER IX

THE PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister's visit-Passing of politics-End to
.....domestic dissensions-The Imperial idea-Sir Robert's
.....foresight-Arrival in England-At Shorncliff-Meeting
.....with General Hughes-Review of Canadian troops
.....-The tour in France-A Canadian base hospital-
.....A British hospital-Canadian graves-Wounded under
.....canvas-Prince Arthur of Connaught-Visiting battle
.....scenes-Received by General Alderson-General Turner's
.....Brigade-Speech to the men-First and Second Brigades
.....-Sir Robert in the trenches-Cheered by Princess
.....Patricias-Enemy aeroplanes-Meeting with Sir John
.....French-The Prince of Wales-With the French Army-
.....General Joffre-A conference in French-The French
.....trenches-The stricken city of Albert-To Paris-The
.....French President-Conference with the French War
.....Minister-Shorncliffe again-Canadian convalescent home
.....-A thousand convalescents-Sir Robert's emotion-His
.....wonderful speech-End of journey.

"I think I can trace the calamities of this country to the single
source of our not having had steadily before our eyes a general
comprehensive,well-connected,and well-proportioned view of the
whole of our dominions,and a just sense of their true bearings
and relations."-BURKE.

"And statesmen at her council met
Who knew the seasons when to take
Occasion by the hand, and make
The bounds of freedom wider yet."
-TENNYSON.


   THE news that the Prime Minister had arranged a
visit to England and to the battlefield in France
aroused great and general interest. Since the com-
162
CANADA IN FLANDERS

Index

I
Mobilisation


II
Warfare


III
Neuve Chapelle


IV
Ypres


V
A Wave of Battle


VI
Festubert


VII
Givenchy


VIII
Princess Patricia's Light Infantry


IX
The Prime Minister


X
The Canadian Corps


Appendix I
The King's Message to the Canadians


Appendix II
Canadians in Despatches


Appendix III
The Prime Minister and the War


Appendix IV
Lieut.-General E.A.H. Alderson, C.B., Commanding the Canadian Corps


Appendix V
Honours and Awards Granted


Appendix VI
Statement of Casualties




THE PRIME MINISTER...............163

 
mencement of the titanic struggle which is now
convulsing the world, the standards by which we
used to measure statesmen have undergone great
modification.  The gifts of brilliant platform
rhetoric, the arts of partisan debate, the instinct for
a conquering election issue, all these have dwindled
before the cruel perspective of war into their true
insignificance.  It is felt here in England to-day,
and not least by some of us who are ourselves
chargeable in the matter, that it will be long before
the politicians at home clear themselves at the
inquest of the nation from the charge of having
endangered the safety of the Empire by their
absorption in those domestic dissensions which now
seem at once so remote and so paltry.
   And there is already at work a tendency to adopt
wholly different standards in measuring men who,
in the wasted years which lie behind us, kept stead-
fast and undeluded eyes upon the Imperial position;
who thought of it and dreamed of it, and worked for
it, when so many others were preaching disarma-
ment in an armed world, sustaining meanwhile the
combative instinct by the fury with which they flung
themselves into insane domestic quarrels.
   Sir Robert Borden's was not, perhaps, a per-
sonality which was likely to make a swift or facile
appeal to that collective Imperial opinion whose
conclusions matter so much more than the con-
clusions of any individual part of the Empire.
Modest, unassuming, superior to the arts of adver-
tisement, he never courted a large stage on which
to exhibit the services which he well knew he could
render to the Empire. To-day it is none the less
recognised that Borden has won his place by the

164...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.

         
side of Rhodes and Chamberlain and Botha, in
that charmed circle of clear-sighted statesmen whose
exertions, we may hope, have saved the Empire in
our generation as surely as Chatham and Pitt and
Clive and Hastings saved it in the crisis of an earlier
convulsion.
  Sir Robert Borden is the first Colonial statesman
who has attended a British Cabinet, a precedent
which may be fruitful in immense Constitutional
developments hereafter.
  I wonder whether any of those whose delibera-
tions he assisted recalled the prescience, and the
grave and even noble eloquence, with which Sir
Robert closed his great speech-delivered how
short a time ago !-upon the proposed Canadian con-
tribution to the British Fleet. The passage is worth
recalling
  "The next ten or twenty years will be preg-
   nant with great results for this Empire, and it
   is of infinite importance that questions of
   purely domestic concern, however urgent, shall
   not prevent any of us from rising to the height
   of this great argument. But to-day, while the
   clouds are heavy, and we hear the booming of
   the distant thunder, and see the lightning flash
   above the horizon, we cannot, and we will not,
   wait and deliberate until any impending storm
   shall have burst upon us in fury and with
   disaster. Almost unaided, the Motherland, not
   for herself alone, but for us as well, is sus-
   taining the burden of a vital Imperial duty, and
   confronting an overmastering necessity  of
   national existence. Bringing the best assistance
   that we may in the urgency of the moment.


THE PRIME MINISTER...............165


    we come thus to her aid in token of our deter-
    mination to protect and ensure the safety and
    integrity of this Empire, and of our resolve to
    defend on sea as well as on land our flag, our
    honour, and our heritage."
   This gift of wise and spacious speech has been
used more than once with extreme impressiveness
notably at the Guildhall-during the Prime Minis-
ter'secent visit. "All that," he said, "for which
our fathers fought and bled, all our liberties and
institutions, all the influences for good which pene-
trate humanity, are in the balance to-day. There-
fore we cannot, because we must not, fail in this
war."
   It was my duty to accompany Sir Robert Borden
on the visit which he paid to the front, and I gladly
embrace this opportunity of substituting for the
stories of bloodshed and glory, which have engaged
my pen so much, the record of a mission which,
though peaceful, was of profound and often of most
moving interest.
   Sir Robert Borden arrived in England in the
middle of July. On Friday, the 16th, he motored
to Shorncliffe, accompanied by Sir George Perley
Mr. R. B. Bennett, M.P. There he met General
Hughes.  At nine o'clock on the morning of the
17th the Canadian troops of the 2nd Division
marched past the Prime Minister. It was impossible
to watch without emotion, if one came from Canada,
this superb body of men gathered from every part of
the Dominion, and animated in all ranks by the
desire to take their place side by side with the
1st Division, and, if possible, to wrest from the war
laurels as glorious as theirs. Certainly, on the view,
         
 




166...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.
           
no finer body of men could be imagined, and if to
a critical eye it seemed that the tactical efficiency of
the Western regiments was a shade higher than that
of the Eastern, the reflection readily occurred that
the whole of the 1st Division was criticised on this
very ground, and that this war, of all wars, is not
to be determined on the parade ground.
  Sir Robert Borden's tour began on Tuesday,
July 20th. Accompanied by Mr. R. B. Bennett and
a military staff, he embarked for France. Colonel
Wilberforce, the Camp Commandant, who had
served on the staff of a former Governor-General
of Canada, met him at the pier on his arrival. After
lunch he visited a Canadian base hospital, com-
manded by Colonel McKee, of Montreal. It was
pathetic to see the pleasure of the wounded at his
presence, and the plainness with which they showed
it, in spite of the pain which many of them were
suffering.
  The next visit was paid to a British hospital,
where Sir Robert saw Captain George Bennett, of
the Princess Patricias, who was just fighting his
way back to consciousness after one hundred and
twenty-five days of burning fever.1
  From the hospital the Prime Minister went to
the graveyard, where he planted seeds of the maple
ree on the graves of our dead officers and men.
The scene was touching, and Sir Robert was deeply
moved. Side by side with the British dead, lie Cap-
tain Muntz, of the 3rd Battalion Toronto Regiment,
Major Ward, of the Princess Patricias, whose fruit


1 Since that time Captain Bennett has been brought to England,
but even now he is in a convalescent home and only slowly
recovering.




THE PRIME MINISTER...............167
farm in the Okanagan Valley lies fallow, and Lieu-
tenant Campbell, of the 1st Battalion Ontario Regi-
ment, who won the Victoria Cross and yet did not
live to know it. How he won it, against what odds,
and facing how certain a death, has been fully told
in another chapter.
   Sir Robert then visited the McGill College Hos-
pital, commanded by Colonel Birkett, the Canadian
Base Hospital, in charge of Colonel Shillington,
and Colonel Murray MacLaren's Hospital, under
canvas, in the sand dunes fringing the sea. Every-
where one noticed the same patience under suffering,
the same gratitude for all done to relieve pain, and
the same sincere and simple pleasure that the Prime
Minister of Canada had wished to see them and to
thank them.
   Perhaps the long corridor tents in the sand dunes
impressed themselves most upon the memory. The
convalescents stood to attention to receive the
Colonial Prime Minister.  Some would not be
denied whom the medical staff would perhaps rather
have seen sitting. Nor was it less moving to notice
how illustrious in private life were many members
of the brilliant staff which had assembled to meet
the first citizen of Canada.  Colonel Murray Mac
Laren, Colonel Finlay, Colonel Cameron, and many
others, if they ever reflect upon the immense private
sacrifices they have made, would draw rich com-
pensation from the knowledge that their skill and
science have in countless cases brought comfort in
the midst of suffering to the heroic soldiers of
Canada.  Sir Robert, in a few sentences of farewell,
made himself the mouthpiece of Canada in render-
ing to them a high tribute of respect and gratitude.




168............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.
         
  Early on Wednesday morning the Prime Minister
set forth to visit the Canadian troops at the front.
He was joined in the course of his journey by Prince
Arthur of Connaught, who came to represent the
Governor-General of Canada.
  The road followed took the party near to where
Canada, at the second battle of Ypres, held the left
of the British line. The Prime Minister examined
the position with the greatest care and interest, and
looked upon the ruined city of Ypres, and far in
the horizon identified the shattered remnants of
Messines. And before he left he spoke to those
about him, with deep pride and thankfulness,
of those who stood and died for the honour of
Canada in that great critical day in the Western
Campaign.
  At noon Sir Robert reached the Canadian Divi-
sional Headquarters, where he was received by
General Alderson. Two familiar faces were missing
from the number of those who had made the staff
dispositions in the great battle.  Colonel Romer,
then Chief General Staff Officer, always cool, always
lucid, always resourceful, had become a Brigadier.
He is an extremely able officer, and if a layman may
hazard a prediction as to a soldier's future, he has
in front of him a very brilliant and perhaps a very
high career. However brilliant and however long
it may prove, he will never, I think, forget the
second battle of Ypres, or the brave comrades
whose exertions it was his duty, under the General,
to co-ordinate and direct.
  And we missed, too, the quiet but friendly per-
sonality of Colonel Wood (now Brigadier~General),
who had been transferred to Shorncliffe to organise




THE PRIME MINISTER................169


the Corps Staff.  He has returned again to the
front and is now in charge of our "Administration."
General Wood spent some years at the Royal Mili-
tary College at Kingston, Ontario, and there acquired
a great knowledge of, and sympathy with, the Can-
adian point of view. He is devoted to the Canadian
troops, of whom he is intensely proud, and they
on their part understand and trust him.
   General Alderson accompanied Sir Robert on his
visit to the units of the Division not on duty in the
trenches. The Brigade of General Turner was
commanded for the last time by that officer, for his
soldierly merits have won for him the command of
the 2nd Canadian Division. The command of his
Brigade has been given to Brigadier-General Leckie,
of whom I have frequently written.
   Sir Robert addressed the men in a few ringing
sentences which excited the greatest enthusiasm in
all ranks. The men ran after the moving motor,
and the last to desist was Captain Ralph Markham,
a gallant officer, who was unhappily killed a few
days after by a chance shell as he was returning to
billets along a communication trench.
   The 2nd Brigade, under the command of General
Currie who has since been given the command of
the 1st Division, and the 1st Brigade (General
Mercer) were also visited. Here it was that Colonel
Watson, of Quebec, marched past at the head of the
2nd Battalion, leading his men to the trenches. A
capable, brave, and very modest officer, he now
commands a Brigade in the 2nd Canadian Division.
   Sir Robert then visited the trenches accompanied
by General Alderson and Brigadier-General Bur-
stall, and after a visit to the Army Service Corps,




170 ...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


under Colonel Simpson, he parted from General
Alderson and his fine command.1
   His next visit was neither less important nor less
interesting, for it was to the Princess Patricia's
Canadian Light Infantry. The Regiment, which
assembled 500 strong in a field five miles fro~
Canadian Headquarters, received with cheers,
which broke out again and again, the Prime Minister
and the brother of the Princess, under whose name
and favour the Battalion has so bravely fought
Major Pelly was in command, the second-in-com-
mand being Lieutenant (now Captain) Niven, of
whose deeds I attempted to give some account in
the preceding chapter.
   The Regiment was formed in three sides of a
square and as the Prime Minister and the Prince
advanced, the colours, presented by the Princess in
Lansdowne Park on that great day which seems so
long ago, were ceremoniously unfurled  And, as the
tattered folds spread before a light breeze, the clouds
broke, and there was a moment or two of bright sun-
shine. Overhead two enemy aeroplanes flew, and
there followed them persistently through the sky
bursting shells of shrapnel.


1 Before returning to England, Sir Robert Borden sent the
following message to General Alderson, which was circulated
in Orders of July 30th :~" The fine spirit of the Canadian
Division, and their evident efficiency for the great task in which
they are engaged, very deeply impressed me. It was a great
privilege to have the opportunity of seeing them, and of convey-
ing to them, from the people of Canada, a message of pride and
appreciation. As I said on more than one occasion in addressing
the officers and men, they can hardly realise how intensely all
Canada has been thrilled by the tidings of their achievements.
The President of the French Republic, as well as General Joifre
and Sir John French, spoke of the troops under your command
in terms of the highest praise. I bid you God speed in the
great task in which you are engaged."




THE PRIME MINISTER...............171


   The Prime Miriister conveyed in simple words
a message from the Governor-General. The Prince,
in plain and soldierly language, spoke in deep affec-
tion of the Regiment whose glory, he said, was so
dear to his sister's heart.  The men were deeply
moved.
    On his return to Headquarters the Prime Minister
was invited to take part in a conference with the
Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief and his Staff.
Among those present was his Royal Highness the
Prince of Wales.
   It had been arranged that Sir Robert's visit to
the French armies-a visit most courteously and
even pressingly suggested by the French Govern-
ment - should take place on the conclusion of the
conference at General Headquarters.
   Sir Robert was received at a small town, which
it would be indiscreet to name, by General Joffre.
The famous General, who was full of confidence and
hope, was surrounded by one of the most brilliant
staffs which any army in the world could boast. For
a long time he discussed with the most charming
frankness, and the most lucid explanations, the posi-
tion and the prospects of the Allied forces in the
field. 
   The French Staff was most anxious to enlarge
upon their plans in conversation with the Prime
Minister. It was interesting, indeed, to an observer
of Canadian birth, to listen to the animated con
versation carried on entirely in French.  What
reflections did the interview not suggest?  The
Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of France
in conference with the Prime Minister of Canada
in the throes of a mighty war!  Jacques Cartier,
  




172................CANADA IN FLANDERS.


Frontenac, De Levis, De Salaberry, Wolfe, Mont
calm, the Heights of Abraham, the far-flung
antagonism of the great French and British nations
-how many memories crowded the mind as one
silently watched this historic interview ! And, of all
reflections, perhaps the most insistent was that the
bitterest antagonisms of mankind may be composed
in a period relatively very brief.
  After a long day in the French trenches, varied
by visits to advanced observation posts, from which
the Prime Minister could plainly see the German
frontline trenches, the party returned through the
stricken city of Albert. The majestic fabric of its
ancient cathedral has been smitten with a heavy
hand. There remain only a scarred and desolate
ruin, and the figure of the Madonna-a true Mater
Dolorosa-hung suspended in mid-air from the
mutilated spire.
  And so to Paris, with minds saddened indeed by
all the misery and the havoc and the horror, but still
full of confidence that right shall yet conquer wrong,
that a period shall yet be assigned to that bloody
and calculated savagery which has swept over so
many fair provinces in Europe, and has not yet
abandoned the hope of dominating the world.
  The rest of the week was spent with the Govern-
ment in Paris and in discussion with the French
President and the Minister of War. Here again
Sir Robert met with the most distinguished kind-
ness.  Nothing promising or unpromising in the
prospects of the Allies was concealed from him,
and on his departure from Paris the First Citizen
of France conferred upon the First Citizen of
Canada the highest order of the Legion of Honour.
         


THE PRIME MINISTER................173


   After a visit on the way home to the great Cana-
dian Base Hospital, over which Colonel Bridges,
an officer of the Permanent Force, presides, and in
which Major Keenan, of Montreal and of the
Princess Patricias, gives his services, the party
reached Boulogne on Sunday, and were carried back
to English soil again.
   Monday morning was spent in visiting the great
hospital at Shorncliffe, which is under the direction
of Colonel Scott, of Toronto.  Everywhere one
noticed in the hospitals the same cheerfulness, the
same patience under suffering, and the same un-
affectedpleasure at the visit of the Prime Minister.
   In the late afternoon the Prime Minister arrived
at the Canadian Convalescent Home, where troops
are gathered from all the hospitals in England,
either to return in due course to duty or leave for
ever the military service. This wonderful organisa-
tion is under the direction of Captain McCombe.
example of what such a home can become under
intelligent and humane direction.
   The convalescents here were over a thousand
strong. Those physically fit stood to attention.
Others in the blue and white uniform of the hos-
pital leaned heavily upon their crutches. Others
lay upon their couches unable to move, but watching
and listening intently. All Canada was represented,
from Halifax to Vancouver. Here were the survivors
of the battle for the Wood; there a remnant of the
heroes who charged to save the British left. Here
were those brave men who gloriously assaulted the
Orchard; there the veterans of the 1st Ontario Regi-
ment who attacked on June 15th.
         




174...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.
   The Prime Minister was profoundly moved.
Flanders had moved him too. Nor had he escaped
deep feeling when he saw the Canadian troops
marching to the trenches. But not until he came
face to face with the shattered survivors of four
glorious battles, did he openly show that deep spring
of emotion and affection which those who saw him
will always cherish as their fondest recollection of
him.
   The warmth and sincerity of his nature found
expression in one of the most wonderful speeches
which he or anyone else has ever made. It has not
been reported; it cannot be reported, for those who
heard him were themselves too much moved to recol-
lect the words.  But it was a speech vital with
humanity; it was the speech of a father who mourned
over stricken sons, and, closing in a sterner note, it
was the speech of one who foresaw and promised a
day of retribution for the conscienceless race which,
with cold calculation, had planned this outrage on
humanity.
   And so ended the memorable journey.  The
narrative attempted here cannot, of course, be too
explicit. But the writer has not altogether failed in
his purpose if he has shown the dignity, the restraint,
the eloquence, and the wisdom with which the Prime
Minister of Canada has represented our great
Dominion among the leading soldiers and states-
men of Europe.   



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Second Publication: Monday, 12-Mar-2001 21:51:21 MST
First Published: March 1, 2001