Why Canadians Fought in South Africa
The Story of How Laurier Was Won Over to Participation
John Bayne Maclean
THERE is no reason why the inside story of the sending of Canadian troops to Africa may not now be told. The article which precipitated the final settlement of the matter was the subject of much comment and inquiry, but hitherto the facts have not been published.
Was the sending of a contingent part of Joseph Chamberlain’s scheme for Imperial Britain? Were Lord Minio and General Hutton sent here to commit Canada to the principal of participation in Britain’s wars?-
Important Imperial events are often anticipated. It is quite remarkable that the mounted equipment for the Jamieson raid was made by a Strand saddler two years before the event. In 1897 a deputation of extreme Tories in the House of Commons, headed by an M.I’., then President of the Institute of Journalists, warned the Premier, Lord Salisbury, that Chamberlain was preparing for war with South Africa. In 1903 a British engineer officer wrote a book which foretold the present war with marvellous accuracy. He names French as commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium and Kitchener as commander-in-chief of the Allied forces. He described in detail a struggle in Belgium almost identical with what took place in 1914. Not only is the theatre of strife the same, but the combatants, the forces, in some cases the very generals whose operations were described in this book were those actually engaged in the Belgian campaign. He makes the Germans cross the Belgium frontier July 1st instead of August 2nd. He tells of the fall of Liege, Namur, etc., all, eleven years before the event. The most remarkable reference is to the fall of Namur. He writes: "If Namur falls, it will be grave news indeed to send Lord Kitchener.” The actual fall of Namur proved to be a most serious blow to the Allies — one gigantic mistake on our part.
Chamberlain undoubtedly expected war in South Africa, but did he also foresee the present fight, and send .these two men in 1898 to prepare Canada? Hutton had already been to, and had worked up, Aus-
REVIEWING the situation in Canada in 1899, Mr. Sanford Evans says in his book, “Canadian Contingents and Canadian Imperialism,” published in 1901:
"So far the Government had been silent. They did not attempt to lead public opinion. The situation was difficult, not only because of the principles involved, but also because of uncertainty as to the attitude of some sections of the country. But an official utterance was precipitated by the publication on October 3rd of an article in the Canadian Military Gazette. The Gazette is a military paper, under private control (Lt.-Col. J. B. Maclean). The article began, ‘If war should come in the Transvaal—which seems most probable—the offer of a force from the Canadian Militia for service would be made by the Canadian Government.’
“Was this article merely the guess of the editors of The Gazette f Did it represent the intentions of the Government?
"Or was it prompted by someone at headquarters, or elsewhere, for the purpose of forcing the issue? As Sir Wilfrid Laurier, on behalf of the Government, immediately disavowed it, the conclusion gained ground that it represented the views of Major-General Hutton, the Imperial officer holding the position of General Officer Commanding. If this was the case and the latter was responsible for the publication of the article, it carried the suggestion of a conflict between the Imperial element in the administration of the Militia and the Canadian Government, which, if followed up, might lend to interesting discoveries.
“At this point an enquiry as to the attitude of the Imperial Government and the representatives of that Government seems pertinent. It may be snid at the outset that no direct or circumstantial evidence is obtainable to connect Major-General Hutton with the article in the Military Gazette. The article may have been a rendering of what wns believed to be Major-General Hutton's opinion. To imagine, however, that he would deliberately arrange for the publication of such a statement is to imagine him ready to resort to very daring and rather questionable measures in order to force the hand of the Government. This explanation is quite untenable. But there is no doubt that MajorGeneral Hutton had plans all ready for the raising of a contingent. It may be thought that this is giving prominence to a trivial incident, but it was far from trivial in its effects. It caused an important Government declaration; and because it was supposed to make an exposure of differences between the Government and the G.O.C., it helped to bring to a head the differences that really existed, which ultimately resulted in MajorGeneral Hutton's resignation. . . .
“Under these conditions the publication of the article in the Military Gazette would not help matters. If the Government and G.O.C. do not agree upon principles or methods, it is a serious matter at any time. But if the opinion of the G.O.C., in opposition to the Government, can appear in print at a critical moment, it is exceedingly serious. This does not mean, either that Major-General Hutton had any intention of letting his views be known, or that the Government thought he had anything to do with it. But the accident would reveal in a new light to the Government the difficulties of a situation in which the Government were responsible to the people for the policy of military administration, and yet the administration itself w’as largely in the hands of a masterful man with fixed purposes. As soon as the Government persuaded themselves that this was the situation, the resignation or recall of MajorGeneral Hutton became inevitable.”
MANY efforts were made at the time by ministers and other politicians, writers and others to find who inspired The Gazette article; and later by Sanford Evans himself when he was writing his book, but I felt I could not then give the story. Some interesting details I must still omit at the urgent request of a man now prominent in political life.
It is a fact, however, that His Excellency neither inspired nor sought to inspire the article.
The article in The Gazette came about
in this way. I took advantage of my trip to Europe in 1899 to be attached for a short time for instruction, at General Hutton's suggestion, to the Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot. Buller was in supreme command, and General (now Viscount) French was training the cavalry. The South African war was anticipated, and as the Aldershot troops would be the first to go there was much quiet talk among the officers.
Shortly after my return we were detailed as escort to Lord Minto, then Governor-General, to a Royal Review, and on the way out he asked about the gossip at Aldershot, the possibility of war and who were to go. Captain (now Sir Arthur) Lee, M.P., rode with us.
Some time after, I had a telephone message from Rideau Hall asking me to go to Ottawa to see His Excellency. He discussed the war in Africa and the possibility of Canada taking part. As I recall it now, he was evidently sounding m** as to my views, which were decidedly in favor of our sending two or three regiments of cavalry. We discussed the Quebec viewpoint and it was finally decided that I should sound a number of FrenchCanadian officers and business men and report to His Excellency. It was comparatively easy. My command, the Montreal cavalry, and the 65th Freneh-Canadian regiment, occupied adjoining quarters. We had a number of Frenchmen in our corps and we frequently dropped in to the 65th mess after parade. They had a fine, very superior lot of officers. In all garrison matters we always worked together.
I found that, from the C.O. down, they were favorable to sending troops. Some were enthusiastic, wanted to go, and did eventually go themselves. Business men seen raised no objection. One prominent lawyer, a leader in the Liberal party, now a Quebec Judge, was very much in favor. He had himself served with the Northern Army in the U.S. Civil War.
There were no unfavorable expressions. This report pleased His Excellency, for he seemed to anticipate serious opposition. He told me the plan was to send a regiment recruited from all Canada; a'l expenses to be paid by Britain, and that the captains and field officers would be supplied by the Imperial army. This would be unfair, as there were many officers in Canada quite as capable as those we were likely to get from England. General Hutton had evidently inspired him. Finally His Excellency suggested a talk with Hutton as to the plans he was preparing, but not to publish anything in the mean-
IKEPT away from General Hutton and sent Major Dixon, the editor of The Military Gazette. The General always wanted The Gazette to publish only what he wanted and to omit what he did not approve. We always refused to agree to this principle. He had told me how the
military writers in Australia always did exactly as he wished. He was a Kaiser, but one of the most useful officers we ever had in Canada. Major Dixon, the editor, was a Royal Military College graduate, with a marvellous knowledge of detail and knew the temper of the Canadians much better than the General. None of my information was given to Major Dixon as I realized that His Excellency in all probability had been using me to “check up” outside opinion with the opposing views of the General and Premier.
Major Dixon returned from Ottawa in a great state of excitement. The General had filled him with enthusiasm for the scheme, but nothing was to be said at the moment.
One Sunday morning, not long after, I was greatly surprised when a friend came to me in the St. James’s Club. He said he had just come from Ottawa, where he learned that a deputation had seen Laurier. He said, “They fixed you, Colonel! Sir Wilfrid promised them definitely that no troops will be sent from Canada to South Africa.” How he knew of the very minor part I was playing I never could understand unless Minto had quoted my report in his talks with Laurier.
We sat down in a private room and had a long talk on the situation. My friend was, and still is, an enthusiastic FrenchCanadian Liberal; very active in Quebec politics, and a man with a lot of good, sound, broad, earnest common sense. He favored sending troops to Africa but he gave me the views of those who were opposed. Not only from a Quebec, but from a practical standpoint, they Were reasonable. It was easy to understand the Premier giving his promise that Canada would keep out of the South African trouble.
NOTWITHSTANDING these very
reasonable arguments there was the other side. If Canada was to remain, and be a factor, in the British Empire, it was very important that we should be formally represented alongside the Imperial troops. Laurier had adopted a preferential tariff within the Empire showing himself to be an Imperialist. Many of us did not agree with his method. There were strong doubts among business men. Canada was not growing and we constantly heard that Britain was decadent. Her business methods gave us that impression. Many business men wanted to know what the situation was. and what its future effect on Canada. I spent some time in 1897, investigating, visiting the leading financiers, manufacturers and business men in all parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland. The conclusion I came to was that if they could be awakened, no country in the world could stand up against us. There were unusual opportunities of learning, because one of the greatest strikes in the manufacturing industry was in progress. The employers were winning and I was assured everywhere that they would immediately adopt, among employers and men, efficient methods. They were producing the right quality of goods, but not at the lowest cost. They had old machinery, limited output, fearful waste. They were giving their workmen no encouragement to increase their efficiency or to obtain an interest in the business they were helping to build up. Ownerships were not transferred to employees but to heirs, who had neither capacity or ambition. They were
indifferent to modern selling methods; and business was not fashionable. It was undignified to advertise. Of course there are a number of brilliant exceptions—the Northcliffes, for example.
It happened that during the time I was in Europe the editor of The Iron Age, New York, was also investigating conditions in France, Austria and Germany, as well as Britain. Some months after his return he told me that if the British people adopted efficient methods, no country in the world could compete with them commercially.
From purely selfish standpoint the preferential tariff and closer trade relations with the Mother Country looked like a good thing for us.
Unfortunately the British did not wake up. So many of their business men had grown rich, and lazy, and indifferent. Perfectly content with what they had, they allowed themselves to be governed by the big, idle, impractical rich. Luckily for us Lloyd George, an entirely different type of man, a poor boy who had risen from the ranks, came on the scene. The marvellous success that has attended his organizing of the employers and employees in munition and other productive industries has proved what I found, and what the editor of The Iron Age found, that the British people once awakened would do wonders.
I FELT that the announcement should, at once, be made in The Military Gazette, that Canada would send a regiment selected from all Canada.
An experience of two years before showed me that this would stir up the whole country; that thousands of applications for positions on the contingent would at once be made to Ottawa; that every minister and member of Parliament would be deluged. I had been told in confidence by the Minister of Militia, early in 1897, that Canada had been invited to send twenty-five officers and men to take part in the Queen’s Jubilee, and that I would be one of them. This interested me, so that, when, some time after, I saw in an Australian paper that each of the Australian Provinces would have the same representation as Canada, that is, Canada would be in the procession with twenty-five men while Australia would be represented by one hundred and seventy-five, it struck me it would be a very poor advertisement for Canada. We would be at a great disadvantage. We would be in the same class with little Bermuda and Newfoundland. The Minister was away, recuperating from a railway accident, but I felt the matter was of so much importance to Canada, from a purely business standpoint, that I went at once to Ottawa and laid it before the G.O.C.—General Gascoigne —and suggested that he should make the proper representation to the British authorities, lie was a typical, red tape machine British official. He said that if he dared to make such a suggestion he would be snubbed, and he snubbed me pretty severely for bringing it to his attention. I left his room and stopped to chat with Colonel Lake, now Sir Percy Lake, of Mesopotamia fame, then Quartermaster-General. He had some common sense and sympathized with me and finally suggested, in confidence, my seeing Sir Frederick Borden at once. He thought it was of sufficient importance for me to telegraph him and to go to Lakewood, where he then was. Sir Frederick sug-
gested that a contingent of say 400 be raised in Canada who would offer to go at their own expense to represent the Dominion, and he gave instructions that the Militia Department should co-operate with us and eventually pay all expenses.
I got Sir Henry Pellatt, Senator Mason and the late Colonel Burland to work with me. We met at Ottawa, and when the announcement was made we had fully 20,000 applications from all parts of Canada for places on this contingent. The British War Office at first refused, but Strathcona intervened, and they finally conceded the same number to Canada as to Australia.
WITH this experience before me I knew that an announcement of a regiment going to South Africa would stir up Canada as nothing had ever stirred the militia before. There would be no holding them back.
I asked Major Dixon to prepare the article and send advance proofs to leading newspapers throughout the country, and left at once for Toronto to explain the urgency of the situation to Colonel George Denison. I had already discussed the matter with him several times. Colonel Denison, at one time, sympathized with the Boers, not understanding conditions, but after investigation turned completely round. He called in several senior officers and they decided to hold a mass meeting of Ontario military men. The Military Institute was packed at this meeting and a Resolution was passed urging the Government to promptly offer a contingent. When the article was ready I wrote several of the newspaper editors personally, explaining the exact situation, and saw personally Mr. (now Sir) John Willison, then editor of The Globe, Laurier’s chief organ. Willison had been with me in England in 1897 and had become an Imperialist. The Globe reprinted the article on the front page and said that it was undoubtedly official. Practically every paper in Canada reprinted and commented on it. At once perhaps twenty whole regiments were offered by their commanding officers. Scores of captains telegraphed offers of their entire companies and applications came from thousands of individuals.
SIR WILFRID LAURIER at once issued a strong denial, which makes interesting reading to-day. He said: "There exists a great deal of misconception in the country regarding the powers of the Government in the present case. As I understand the Militia Act—and 1 may say that I have given it some study of late—our volunteers are enrolled to be used in the defence of the Dominion. They are Canadian troops, to be used to fight for Canada’s defence. Perhaps the most widespread misapprehension, is that they cannot be sent out of Canada. To my mind it is clear that occasion might rise when they might be sent to a foreign land to fight. To postulate a case: Suppose that Spain should declare war upon Great Britain. Spain has, or had, a navy, and that navy might be being got ready to assail Canada as part of the Empire. Sometimes the best method of defending one's self is to attack, and in that case Canadian soldiers might certainly be sent to Spain, and it is quite certain that they legally might be so despatched to the Iberian Peninsula. The case of the South African Republic is not analogous. There is no menace to Canada, and, although we may be willing to contribute troops, I do not see how we can do so. Then again, how could we do so without Parliament’s granting us the money? We simply could not do anything. In other Conti mied on page 91
Why Canadians Fought in South Africa
Continued from page 30.
ment. The Government of Canada is restricted in its powers. It is responsible to Parliament and it can do very little without the permission of Parliament. There is no doubt as to the attitude of the Government on all questions that mean menace to British interests, but in this present case our limitations are very clearly defined. And so it is that we have not offered a Canadian contingent to the Home authorities. The Militia Department duly transmitted individual offers to the Imperial Government, and the reply from the War Office, as published in Saturday’s Globe, shows their attitude on the question. As to Canada’s furnishing a contingent, the Government has not discussed the question, for the reasons which I have stated - reasons which, I think, must easily be understood by every one who understands the constitutional law on the question. The statement in the Military Gazette, published this morning, is a pure invention.”
Sir Wilfrid left almost immediately for Chicago. At Toronto, Mr Willison joined him, and travelling there and back argued and pleaded with him for many hours. When he left him at Hamilton Sir Wilfrid had evidently concluded that public opinion demanded the contingent. On arrival in Toronto Sir Wilfrid at once sent for Colonel Denison to meet him at the Rossin House. The Colonel told me that Sir Wilfrid was very much worried, but said that he would send a contingent, no matter whether it broke up his government or not, that it was the right thing to do and he would do it. He would have to break
with his intimate friend Bourassa and his followers. Bourassa would certainly resign in protest and would create a very anxious position for him (Sir Wilfrid). Colonel Denison told me he really felt sorry for Sir Wilfrid in the difficult position in which he found himself, and writing about it afterwards said: “I was very much pleased at the decision and firmness he (Sir Wilfrid) evinced, and have always been grateful to him for his action in this matter, as in many other things in the interest of the Empire.”
\\T HEN Sir Wilfrid arrived at Ottawa he found the feeling among the members of his Cabinet running very high. A split was threatened. Two or three days were spent in discussing the matter. He told them that the sentiment of Canada was so tremendously strong for a contingent that he could not resist. Unfortunately the situation gave opportunity for the development of race animosity for the agitators in Ontario as well as Quebec. Notwithstanding this a large number of French-Canadians still favored our taking part, many volunteered and many went, including some of the clergy.
From a material standpoint our taking part was most profitable to Canada. We found ourselves. It raised us in the estimation of the Empire and of the world from a colony to a nation. It was the
first big advertisement of Canada as the place for the settler and investor. Our greatest growth in population and prosperity dates from that time.
OUR participation then came about because public sentiment forced it upon the Government and the political leaders. To-day we have a far more important problem, the war and the paying of the cost. The United States has made far more effective progress in the last six months than we have in the three years since the war began. They have done so because they have called in their most capable men and women—hundreds of them—who are working unselfishly for the public good.
Where our manufacturers had a chance they did wonderful work. An improvised plant in Canada has been producing more munitions than any other in the world.
The same conditions exist in Canada now as prevailed in 1899. A little group of Bourassas is appealing to, and stirring up, the prejudices of the voters. But they are not in Quebec. They are the anarchist dailies and weeklies and the platform agitators, the noisy deputations inspired by them, and the self-seeking professional politicians. They are making every effort to keep out of public service the expert men and women who can do most for us at thistime. The men whohave built up'the industries of Canada—they whose careers show they have the capacity to do big things and get big things done—whose services the nation needs— sorely needs—are the very persons this group desire to keep out and by their disgraceful, outrageous, attacks upon them are keeping them out.
Sir Robert Borden has taken the first bold step. Ilis reorganization of the National Government, and the preliminary announcement of his reasons, and his policies, is the most progressive move ever made in our public affairs. He has given a Union, not a Coalition. Exactly what we have fought for. Laurier, in opposition, will be worth millions to us as a check on graft, waste and incompetence. What the changes mean and the courage necessary to make them are only beginning to be appreciated. Borden hates his job. He was forced into it. But he stays on it as a duty. He is the reverse of the popular type of politician, for he is a poor speaker and a bad mixer. But he is proving himself to be the most progressive and useful Premier we have ever had.
But Sir Robert has gone only part way. He has brought in some able men. Mewburn, Ballantyne and Crerar have shown marked administrative capacity. The other new men are all well spoken of, but they have yet to prove their ability as great executives. Rowell showed the right spirit in going to Europe to study the situation on the spot. There is a big job before the new Minister of Immigra-
But Sir Robert still retains weak incompetents in some of his most important departments. The present Ministers of Trade and Labor are delightful men personally, but failures as administrators. After Militia, Agriculture, Finance and Immigration these are the most important departments.
If we are prosperous, we can easily pay the debts that are piling up. To be prosperous we must produce and use at home and sell abroad more Canadian goods. That requires great business leadership and successful salesmanship,
in our Trade Department, not brilliant oratory. The Minister of Labor should organize, inspire and lead masters and workers to a better understanding; but politics compel him to devote his time to vote catching. ,
Finally, under Sir Thomas White, who has proved himself a most capable financier, we should have a Deputy Minister of Economy and Efficiency. These are no one’s business to-day. A responsible head could save us millions annually, in military waste alone. R. B. Bennett, M.l -, says there are at least 1,000 more men in the Civil Service than are necessary.
We can give Sir Robert our moral support by each of us telling our local nominee for the Commons we expect him to insist on conscription, of the most successful men, for public office. This will get us the right men for these, now weak, departments. A government of experts will mean lower taxes and more prosperity for each of us.
Silice the above was written, an article has appeared in the Saturday Evening Post advocating the reorganization of the US. Cabinet on these same lines, lne writer, Mr. Blythe, says there are only four flrst-rate men in the Cabinet, others are second raters. The President has overcome this by conscripting the great business leaders to do the work for which their experience fits them. We have not yet done so in Canada.