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II

There is really not very much that newspaper men throughout the Empire have in common as newspaper men. The distribution of news by cablegram and wireless is certainly of universal concern to them, also the question of paper supply; but it is surprising the comparatively few subjects to be discussed affecting newspapers of the Empire generally when Empire newspaper men get together. Still, from other viewpoints, the first Imperial Press Conference was a wonderful success, as were also the second Conference held in Ottawa in 1920, the third in Melbourne in 1926, and other later Conferences. They were Empire gatherings of considerable Empire significance.

They were representative of the people who do much to create public opinion in every part of the Empire. In these democratic days Governments and Parliaments are but the creatures of public opinion, and those who form and guide public opinion are doing work of the greatest importance.

At the first Conference there were fifty-six overseas delegates in all, including men from Canada, India,


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the West Indies, Straits Settlements, Burma, Ceylon, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Most pressmen avoid public notoriety. They are of retiring dispositions and the overseas delegates were overwhelmed with the attentions they received, and the public and private hospitality extended to them. At their first meeting at the Waldorf Hotel, which was their headquarters, one of their duties was to draft a telegram to the late King Edward expressive of fervent loyalty and good wishes towards himself and his family. Promptly in reply came a telegram of thanks from the King, hoping that the delegates would enjoy their stay in England. Subsequently, at a garden party given to them at Marlborough House by the Prince and Princess of Wales, King Edward and the Queen asked to meet the delegates personally, and all of them with their wives were individually presented. Later the delegates were the guests of King Edward and the Queen at Windsor Castle.

The overseas delegates were shown all phases of English life. The Government gave them a banquet; the Lord Mayor entertained them at luncheon at the Mansion House. The Labour members of the Commons had afternoon tea for them on the terrace. There was a brilliant reception by the Marquis and Marchioness of Salisbury. A garden party was arranged by the Duke and Duchess of Wellington at Apsley House, where they had an opportunity of inspecting Waterloo relics. The Duchess of Sutherland received them at Stafford House, with its famous staircase and priceless works of art.

They visited numbers of country houses, including Hall Barn, the historic country mansion of Lord Burnham;


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Taplow Court, from whence Lord Desborough took them for a trip on the Thames; Sutton Place, Lord Northcliffe's beautiful Elizabethan country house, and Chatsworth.

They were invited to a military review at Aldershot and a naval review at Spithead.

They were taken for a motoring tour with visits to Coventry, Warwick, Stratford-on-Avon, Manchester, the Ship Canal and Sheffield.

A short stay in Scotland comprised visits to Glasgow, the Trossachs and Edinburgh.

A day was spent at Oxford University, where they had luncheon with the Chancellor, Lord Curzon.

The originator and organiser of the Conference, Mr. (now Sir) Harry Brittain, made certain that the delegates saw English life as it was in King Edward's time. Social gatherings, politics, industries and commerce were all included.

Perhaps the most impressive sight that the delegates witnessed was the naval review at Portsmouth. There were eighteen miles of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, scouts and submarines. They were the guests of the Admiralty, and were entertained on board the Dread-nought. Admiral Sir John Fisher was then the First Sea Lord.

When the special train that took the delegates from London reached Portsmouth, the s.s. Volcano was waiting to take them along the lines of the fleet. A quietly, almost shabbily, dressed elderly gentleman in civilian clothes, unnoticed by any of the delegates, unostentatiously boarded the steamer. As the Volcano went along the lines the delegates consulted copies of a plan that had been supplied to them showing the position


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of each vessel of the fleet and giving particulars of the names, tonnage, guns, etc. A member of the overseas party, the youthful daughter of one of the delegates, was reading aloud, and, for the benefit of those near, giving particulars of the ships she pointed out.

“Excuse me,” said the old gentleman, “you are reading the plan wrongly.”

He then gave the names of the ships passed, mentioned many details about them, referred to the careers of some of the vessels, and answered various questions about them.

“You seem to know a lot about the ships,” remarked the young lady.

“Oh,” he replied, “not so very much.”

“Indeed you do,” was the response.

“Well,” he answered with a strange smile, “I don't know as much about them as I'd like to, but I'm always trying to learn more.”

“And what have you to do with the ships?”

“I? Well—I happen to have charge of them. My name is Fisher.”

Opportunities were provided the delegates for meeting at private houses the leading statesmen and most of the notable people of England. Mr. Lloyd George was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was one of a party of three or four delegates invited to breakfast with him and his wife and family at his official residence in Downing Street opposite the Foreign Office, where the Conference was held. He explained that he wanted to meet some of the delegates, that he was so busy that he could find no other time than the morning,


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pointed out that they had only to cross the road to attend the Conference, and remarked that as he had so few chances of cultivating his family's acquaintance he made it a rule that at breakfast they should be always present, no matter what other guests attended.

It was a pleasant gathering, and the host was particularly desirous of knowing the feeling existing in the Dominions towards the Mother Country.

He was then the subject of fierce denunciations because of his taxation proposals. The quiet homeliness of himself and his family made the visitors feel as if they had known them all their lives.

At a small dinner at Lord Rosebery's London house half a dozen of us met the Duke of Argyll and Lord Northcliffe. Lord Rosebery showed some of his treasures. One that he specially prized was the original of Tenniel's great Punch cartoon “Dropping the Pilot.”

An interesting document in a frame was hanging on a wall. It was the round robin signed by the mutineers of the Nore in 1797. It was faded, stained and blotted. Most of the signatures were of uneducated men evidently unaccustomed to writing. Some signed by a cross as their mark. Several were those of sailors who were subsequently executed, including that of the ringleader, Richard Parker, who assumed the position of Rear-Admiral.

At one end of the dining-room was a large painting of George Washington—a painting for which he sat. Opposite to that portrait, at the other end of the room, was a life-sized portrait of the Lord North who was Prime Minister of England during the American War, so that the leaders of the American and British


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people during a period of peculiar difficulty and danger to both countries faced each other whilst men who came from all parts of the Empire enjoyed an excellent dinner. Lord Rosebery told us that when he was a Minister he was curious enough to look up some of the despatches sent from the American colonies prior to the revolution, and he found that several of them had never been opened. They were full of warnings of the impending trouble.

Most of the great political leaders addressed the Conference, which lasted some days. The one thing that struck us was that the Conservatives especially were impressed with the danger of a great European war caused by Germany's scheme for aggrandisement. Though not in so many words, yet the message that the Homeland gave to us to take back was, “Keep your eye on Germany.”

At the banquet given by the British Press to the Overseas delegates at White City, a feature of the evening was Lord Rosebery's great “Welcome Home” speech. It was perhaps his best effort as an orator.

A strange story went the rounds of London regarding the speech. It was said that the promoters of the Conference were specially desirous of getting the finest orator of the Empire to deliver a welcome address to the delegates. He complied, but later, as he thought over what he should say, he changed his mind and told them that on reconsideration he would rather not do it. They endeavoured to get him to again change


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his mind, but without avail. They were much concerned. Finally, the first Lord Burnham approached King Edward, and His Majesty was sufficiently interested to speak to Lord Rosebery on the matter. Lord Rosebery, feeling that it was a Royal command, tried to excel all his previous efforts. And he did. None who heard him can forget the attractive diction, the touches of humour, the charm and foresight of his utterances. Speaking of the tour arranged for the delegates he said:

“... throughout the country you will see those old manor houses where the squirearchy of Great Britain have lived for centuries, almost all of them inhabited long before the discovery of Australia and some even before the discovery of America—a civilisation, a country life, which I advise you to see on your present visit, because when you next come it may not be here for you to see it.”

How many of these old homes have disappeared since 1909 the English people well know!

Lord Rosebery put the ominous international position as it existed in 1909 in the plainest language. “There is a hush in Europe, a hush in which one might almost hear a leaf fall to the ground,” and yet, he added, “There never was in the history of the world so threatening and overpowering a preparation for war.” He went on to issue this significant warning:

“Take back to your young Dominions across the seas this message and this impression: that


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some personal duty and responsibility for national defence rests on every man and every citizen of this Empire. Yes, gentlemen, take that message back with you. Tell your people—if they can believe it—the deplorable way in which Europe is relapsing into militarism and the pressure that is put upon this little England to defend itself, its liberties and yours.”

Lord Roberts, then seventy-seven years old, was even more prophetic when addressing the Conference. I can see now the old warrior—short in stature but an erect, soldierly, well-proportioned and commanding figure. With his face keen and his eyes sharp and alert, he was the embodiment of mental and physical energy despite his wrinkled face and grey hairs. He stood up to address us, looking as if he had something definite and highly important to tell us. And he had. “A shot fired in the Balkan peninsula,” said he, “might produce an explosion which would change the fortunes of every remotest corner of the Empire.” These words were uttered five years before “a shot fired in the Balkan peninsula,” at Sarajevo, precipitated a war in which “every remotest corner of the Empire” was engaged for several anxious years in a life or death struggle to maintain their freedom. Unfortunately, whilst Lord Roberts had many admirers in those days, there were thousands who viewed him as a garrulous old nuisance. His constant urgings, “Be Prepared,” did not always fall on sympathetic ears.




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A notable utterance made at the Conference was that of Mr. Amery, then one of the British delegates, but afterwards Secretary of State for the Dominions. The discussion was on the question of Empire defence. Mr. W. T. Stead and others had ably put forward the case for those who were inclined to oppose heavy expenditure on defence on the ground that it tended to provoke war. Mr. Amery, in a short speech of wonderful power, rebutted these arguments. He referred to various conflicts of interest between the Empire and foreign countries, and went on to say, “Each time the clouds passed away, and they passed away because the statesmen of those countries, when they were brought face to face with the alternative of war, counted their ships and counted our ships—and they decided in favour of peace. During the years 1894 and 1904 we won half a dozen bloodless Trafalgars.”

There was no one who seemed to have a better conception of Germany's designs and Germany's strength than Mr. Amery. Some weeks after the Conference, at a dinner he gave to some of the visitors, he asked me what I thought of all I saw during my visit to England.

“It seems to many of us,” I replied, “that Britain is unnecessarily alarmed. After seeing the stupendous power of the fleet at Spithead it gave us the impression that it is invincible. Then we saw everywhere evidences of Britain's wonderful wealth and her marvellous industrial activity and the extent of her commerce. How can she really fear the result of a conflict with Germany? Britain evidently minimises her own strength and exaggerates Germany's in order


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to make assurance doubly sure by representing that a grave danger exists when really there is no danger.”

Mr. Amery pointed out that the truth was that the danger was far greater than represented. He went into details of Germany's military and naval strength, and expressed grave doubts as to the result of a conflict between the Empire and Germany. “If we do win,” he said, “then it will only be after a long, bitter and costly struggle.”

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