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28. Chapter XXVIII On The Brink—and Over

IN the middle of 1914 the power and prosperity of the Empire were at the highest point yet attained. Although Britain was confronted with a rapidly growing Germany, and with the marvellous development of the United States, she remained the centre of the world's shipping and finance. Her attractiveness seemed to be increasing. Her trade was booming, her industrial population was better off than ever before, and the way in which she “took on” new forms of manufacturing industry showed even in that department that her initiative was as bold and vigorous as ever. Her methods of pushing her wares, however, left much to be desired.

The naval power of Britain was still pre-eminent, and kept in good fighting trim. It had to be, as the distances between the nation and its food, and between its industries and raw materials, are so immense. Military training was compulsory, and military service too, in every other European country. But in Britain, the ruler of one-fifth of the world's surface and inhabitants, a few thousands of partially trained volunteers were thought to be the only necessary call upon the citizens. So dense was the prejudice against military development that even the rudiments of drill were not possible in the playgrounds


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of the British elementary schools—a form of compulsion by which seeds of patriotic efficiency might be sown, and in which the schoolboy would delight.

Our maximum contribution of soldiers to a world war had been fixed at an expeditionary force of 150,000!

For a hundred years our wars had mainly been fights with badly-armed people of slender military resource, however brave in spirit. The Boer War opened our eyes a little. But in the middle of 1914 War Lords of Europe could look down on us as a Great Power without armies.

But why should there be danger of war? Peace was enthroned—on the lips—of every ruler, statesman, and diplomatist. We can see now that on some Royal and Imperial lips those peaceful professions were as hollow as the prayers of a professional burglar. The refusal of Germany to consider a limitation of naval expenditure, coupled with her large army increases, should have been warning enough. I could not help saying, though I suppose at the time it seemed absurd to most people, “We are on the brink of great events which will throw the whole world into some dreadful catastrophe of war.”

To sum up, no Great Power was ever less prepared for a military war on a large scale than Great Britain was in the middle of 1914.

The excuse of the assassinations was exploded by the revelations made by Signor Giolitti that Austria was only stopped from attacking Servia months before by the energetic interference of Italy, who persuaded Germany to stop Austria.




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The pretence made by Germany to our Ambassador, and to Sir Edward Grey, that Germany was afraid to interfere lest Austria might do something rash eclipses every previous exploit of lying diplomacy. Austria at last consented to discuss her grievance against Servia. Just then Germany flung her declaration of war at Russia. If, instead, Germany had told Sir Edward Grey that she was in favour of a peaceful settlement and a European Conference, or even a friendly conference between Austria and Russia, the awful plunge might never have been taken.

Great Britain never had so momentous a decision to make as that between Peace and War in the beginning days of August, 1914. A Liberal Cabinet is more likely to say “No” to war than a Conservative Cabinet. For some days no one could say what the decision would be. At the critical moment the Conservative leaders sent an assurance of support in the event of war.

The Government, in making an invasion of Belgium the touchstone, took high moral ground. Every other consideration concurred. The Entente was really a defensive alliance, as the Triple Alliance was. If Russia, France, or Britain had attacked Germany or Austria, Italy was bound in honour to fight on the side of the Alliance. Not by any such document was Britain bound to stand by France and Russia when Germany attacked them, but in honour and good faith she was equally bound. If she had stood out, France and Russia would have been betrayed— her dominions would have despised her—her enemies would have covered their infamy with her shame—and


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the contempt of the neutral world would have overwhelmed her. We would have helped Germany to get strong enough to vanquish us later. Germany could at once assure our deserted Allies that her object in declaring war had been attained by the exposure of their false and cowardly friend, who had become unworthy to hold such a world-wide Empire. All Europe would be against us, body and soul.

If Napoleon sealed his doom when he attacked Russia, the German Emperor was madder still when in his endeavour to crush France and Russia first he took on Great Britain and her Empire.

Although our course was plain, it made for us an entirely new situation in every sphere besides that of war. When the history of the first month is written the public will be astonished at the immense operations that were effected, quite apart from military preparations. As for these, it was soon seen that there would be swift need for men and munitions on a stupendous scale. There were no adequate foundations to build upon. A nation mobilised for peaceful industry and nothing else for a hundred years had to mobilise for a tremendous war without military training, or depots, or arms, or cannon, or commissariats, to meet the sudden smashing blows of armies, timed to the exact moment, trained to the highest point, and equipped to the last button. Great fighters, too! If the face of our First Lord was radiant, the face of the Quartermaster-General might well look ghastly.

Had we a soldier or a civilian fit for this gigantic job? If we had, would he be thought of? British


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statesmen are rather clever at not sending for the best men. There was one great soldier available. He had served and organised brilliantly many times, and had never lost a battle. He had filled very high posts, except the one he was supremely fitted for—that of Secretary of State for War! He was always on the outer edge of official sunshine, never near the centre! When the War broke out his post was far away, but he happened to be in England. Every unofficial eye turned to Lord Kitchener. But every official eye seemed turned the other way. Lord Kitchener's holiday over, he started for his distant post. Either on the steamer or on the pier he found that he was wanted in London. He returned to London. How he discovered what he was wanted for, and when, will be matter for more intimate telling. But he did come to his own at last! He did enter the War Office at last as the controller of the military destinies of the British Empire. The rest is well known.

The call of our beloved King, the name and fame of Kitchener, and the patriotism and valour of British manhood, combined to achieve the miraculous in producing millions of young volunteers fit to stand against the German legions even when half trained and half armed.

No glory of victory can ever outshine the retreat from Mons to the Marne of our first Expeditionary Force.

The War brushed everything else aside from end to end of the Empire. What Britain took to with quiet resolve the Dominions took to with outbursts of


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enthusiasm. They knew that a fight with Germany must come for our place in the sun. The possibility of a change from the British hand of friendship to the jack-boot of the Prussian jarred every nerve of the oversea democracies. Over and above that, those new communities look forward to an ever-brightening career of liberty and progress, and this they associate with the British flag. They hate the memories of those dark ages of brute force, of which Germany, Austria, and Turkey are the champions. Undying love for the “old folks at home” crowned all.

The Dominion I represented, Australia, had a population of 5,000,000, far removed from the war zone, but it set to work as if it were in hourly danger of invasion. From the loneliest outposts of settlement the Colonists began to move, all keen to join the army of Australian volunteers. In every home loving fingers began to work upon Red Cross comforts. “Australia Day” yielded no less than £700,000. The total gifts collected for British and Allied needs greatly exceeds £2,000,000. The number sent across those remote seas at our King's call exceeds 300,000 men.

The first Australian and New Zealand divisions reached Egypt early in December. I went out, and so did the High Commissioner for New Zealand, to see our men. We arrived at Cairo on December 24th. The Australians were encamped near the Pyramids. The Officer Commanding was General Bridges. The Brigadier-General commanding the First Division was Minister for Defence in my Australian Government—Brigadier-General McCay. I met many old


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friends on the Staff and in the tents. I never felt more relieved than when Lord Kitchener proposed to me that our men should train in Egypt instead of England, because an English winter, with a doubt about huts, and plenty of mud for certain, would have been a severe trial for Australians and their horses.

Our force, about 25,000, was divided into two, so that I should review them on two successive days. Before the review they were on each occasion brigaded, and I delivered a short address, which I venture to subjoin:

“Sir John Maxwell, General Birdwood, Mr. Mackkenzie, General Bridges, officers and men.—I am glad to see you all. I am only sorry that I cannot take each of you by the hand of friendship. Many anxious mothers have implored me to look after their sons. Alas! it is impossible, but I rejoice to think that you are under officers who will be true guardians of you throughout the length of this great venture. The Pyramids—the youngest of these august Pyramids was built 2,000 years before our Saviour was born— have been silent witnesses to many strange events, but I do not think that they could ever have looked down upon so unique a spectacle as this splendid array of Australian soldiers massed to defend them.

“Who can look upon these majestic monuments of antiquity without emotion, without regret?

“How pathetic, how stupendous, how useless have been these gigantic efforts to preserve the bodily presence of Egyptian kings from the decay to which all mortality is doomed! It is the soul of deeds that


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lives for ever. Imperishable memories have sprung from nameless graves on land and sea, whilst stately sepulchres are dumb. The homes of our Imperial race are scattered far and wide, but the breed remains the same, as stanch, as stalwart, as loyal in the East and West, and in our own South, as in the Northern motherland.

“What brings these forces here? Why do their tents stretch across this narrow parting of the ways, between worlds new and old? Are you on a quest in search of gain, such as led your fathers to the Austral shore? Are you preparing to invade and outrage weaker nationalities in lawless raids of conquest? Thank God! your mission is as pure and as noble as any soldier ever undertook—to rid the world of would-be tyrants.

“In this bright climate, beneath these peaceful skies, which tempt so strongly, do not forget the awful ordeal which is near you. Do not forget the fearful risks which you are approaching. Do not forget the desperate battles long drawn out which you must fight and win. Do not forget Lord Kitchener's warning to the soldiers of the Empire. Do not forget the distant homes that love you. Do not forget the fair fame and stainless honour of Australia committed to your keeping. A few bad ones can sully the reputation of a whole army. If such there be in these ranks before me they must be shunned. They must be thrust out. The first and best of all victories you can ever win is the victory of self-control. Hearts of solid oak, nerves of flawless steel, come that way.

“Remember the generous rivalries that await you.


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Remember the glorious soldiers of the British Isles, of the British Empire, who long to greet you in the battle line. Remember the heroes of Belgium, of France, of Russia, of Serbia, and of Japan. Remember all the fleets watching on every sea. The allied interest is deep and vital, but there are interests deeper and more vital still. The destinies of the whole world are at stake in this Titanic struggle. Shall the hands of Fate point backward to universal chaos or forward to everlasting peace? Backward they must not, shall not, go. It is impossible. True culture, crowned with chivalry and good faith, will prove too strong once more for savage tricks and broken faith. May God be with you, each and all, until we meet again!”

Familiar as I was with Australians, I confess that the men fairly astonished me. Sir John Maxwell was so pleased with their appearance that he came out to see the second march past. General Birdwood predicted that after some training and experience they would prove first-rate soldiers. No one, of course, could have foreseen the prodigies of dash when dash was wanted, and prodigies of tenacity when that was wanted, which they so gloriously displayed when “hanging by their eyebrows” to the cliffs of Gallipoli.

I don't think the Egyptians ever got such an ocular demonstration of British might as when the young Australians thronged the streets of Cairo.

I had the honour of an audience with the new Sultan, and later of lunching with him. Nubar Bey, a grandson of the celebrated Nubar Pasha, acted


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as interpreter. The Sultan had a high reputation for philanthropy before he reached the throne of Egypt, and his rule will not call for the forcible guidance that of his predecessor the Khedive so often needed.

Under the hospitable auspices of the Administration, Mr. (now Sir Thomas) Mackenzie and I, with his son, and my own, enjoyed a delightful trip up the Nile, in a Government steamer, furnished with every comfort. Luxor and the Great Dam were the main features of our journey. Farther in from Assouan, now that massacre and slavery have ceased to be the alternatives of human existence, there is a possibility of immense developments.

Our visit to Egypt was interesting and enjoyable from first to last.

Two of the pleasantest evenings I ever spent I passed dining with General Bridges and his staff at Mena Camp on Christmas night and New Year's night. Many of these genial companions have been killed or wounded. General Bridges was fatally wounded, and died on the voyage to Alexandria. He was a man whose unaffected modesty was equal to his personal merits, which were conspicuous. He was Chief of the Staff, and then Head of the Military College, in Australia before the War.

The worst things in Egypt are the separate jurisdictions for the punishment of offences committed by British subjects, French subjects, and Italian subjects. Many a brave young soldier's life was blasted by disease, which was rampant, mainly owing to divided control. A centralised vigorous police force


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could have swept out of existence hotbeds of filthy disease which the native population were able to keep away from, but which were traps worse than death for young Australia.

My colleague's son, Mr. Clutha Mackenzie, is a fine young fellow, over 6 feet, but under age. Later on, at Gallipoli, shell shock deprived him in an instant of sight. The brave and cheerful way in which he has risen superior to that awful calamity has excited the admiration of all who know him.

Photograph facing p.354. Group taken at Parliament House, Melbourne, 1914. Rt.Hon.Andrew Fisher, Earl Grey, Hon.Joseph Cook (Prime Minister of Australia), General Sir Ian Hamilton, M.L.Shepherd (Private Secretary to Premier), Sir George Reid, Senator T.Givens (President of Senate), Major Ashmore (Military Secretary), Senator McColl (Vice-President of Executive), Sir William Irvine (Attorney-General), Brigadier-General G.Ellison (Chief of General Staff), Hon.Littleton Groom (Minister of Customs), Hon. Senator Oakes, Sir John Forrest (Treasurer), Hon.W.H.Kelly, M.P.



On our return journey we touched at Malta and Marseilles.

The Bay of Biscay had no terrors for me. I found a storm there only once in eight times, and that was sixty-four years ago!

The year 1915 witnessed a complete change in the work of the High Commissioner's office. My campaign for suitable emigrants was stopped. It had been very successful in 1910, 1911, and 1912, the number having more than doubled in the two years. But in 1913 the movement began to decline owing to good times in the United Kingdom. When a state of war began propaganda work was impossible, as no loyal subject would wish to take men away from the Homeland. Then our advertising and publicity systems were almost stopped too. Expenses had to be cut down also because Australia was determined to bear the expense of all her military expeditions, which will tell very heavily upon the resources of so small a population, the pay all round in our forces being at a rate which would ruin each and all of the Great Powers.




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Our young Navy was invaluable in the South Seas. The presence of the battle cruiser Australia, and the fear of her presence in places where she was not, saved the Commonwealth from many dangers. The Australian ships soon accounted for the German possessions in the South Pacific, and convoyed the New Zealand Expedition to German Samoa. Some day the services performed by the Australia in covering immense distances on various errands, one of which was the pursuit of the German ships of war that met their fate at the Falkland Islands, will become better known. The prompt way in which the Sydney disposed of the Emden showed that Australians, who formed more than half the ship's company, are as brave and dashing at sea as on land; in other words—for that is what it comes to—are worthy “chips of the old block.” Captain von Mueller was the only German commander who combined success with humanity and a sense of humour. His work as an officer on British tramps before the War had done him a world of good. From a diary found in the Emden wreck, von Mueller seems to have been so thorough in his precautions that he never allowed lights in his ship after dark.

The news of the Sydney's exploit arrived in London a few hours after the Guildhall banquet given by the Lord Mayor. If it had come in time what a memorable demonstration the ancient Guildhall would have witnessed!

I was present at many confidential conferences in connection with war business—financial, naval,


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military, and commercial. I am bound to say that I saw no slackness in high places, and many proofs of capacity and “go,” as far as I could judge; but, of course, we High Commissioners were never really behind the scenes. My interviews with Lord Kitchener gave me the strongest impressions. Every time I entered his room I lost every trace of the bustle and pressure of the outside world. I never saw a single paper on any desk in his room. His manner was leisurely, as if he had not a care. If I did not know otherwise I could have believed that he was a country squire in London for an hour or two. When he spoke his words were few and distinct.

Some thought him cold-hearted, and so he was when he was dealing with incompetents and offenders. His sense of duty was supreme. Nor did he carry about with him those cheap coins of calculated civilities which help men of inferior merit. But his was a warm heart, all the same. He was the only man in England who used to greet me with, “Hullo! old man!” I used to feel that such a greeting meant that he thought me fit for my job!

Mr. Lloyd George, at the Treasury, was one of the great successes. The strain in his relations with the City soon disappeared, and in a short time the Radical Chancellor became a favourite amongst the leaders of finance. His quick methods of political fighting became quick methods of learning. He became a master of the art of taking good advice. No one wanted him to leave the Treasury, but his magnetic personality was wanted even more in the creation of a new department of surpassing moment—that of munitions, of


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which he knew absolutely nothing. Again his immense driving power took the right turns; again he achieved a wonderful success; then he became our War Minister; and now he is Prime Minister. Who forced the pace of the Liberal Ministry for the years before the War is a question that needs no answer now.

What other living statesman would have dreamt of taking on as an “extra turn” a settlement of the Irish question? The result was almost inevitable, but the attempt was a magnificent display of daring in a good cause.

The Coalition Government was only possible because the leaders and the rank and file of the Conservative Party were ready to sacrifice their Party interests to the public welfare. It was, indeed, a noble sacrifice. Promises of loyal support and co-operation—yes; but they would leave the Party free to inherit office if Liberal mismanagement went too far. To forget all former quarrels and yoke up fully with their former enemies in the dreadful responsibility of Government—that was a course which will command the admiration of posterity.

If one may interject a personal note, we celebrated my seventieth birthday on February 25th, when His Majesty and the Queen, and Queen Alexandra sent me gracious congratulations.

I celebrated that, to me, interesting event by a dinner at the Athenæum Club. Before the War it would have been a daring step to invite any of the leaders of the two great parties to meet at the same dinner table. I felt, however, that the bitterness of past


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party conflicts had been effaced by the country's call to arms, and so it proved. My guests were:

               
The American Ambassador  Viscount Bryce. 
(Mr. Page).  Lord Stamfordham. 
The Archbishop of Canterbury.  Mr. Lloyd George. 
Mr. Lewis Harcourt. 
The Marquis of Crewe.  Mr. Austen Chamberlain. 
The Earl of Rosebery.  Mr. Winston Churchill. 
Earl Grey.  Sir Edward Wallington. 
Earl Kitchener.  Mr. Douglas Reid. 

On May 19th, 1915, there was a patriotic demonstration at the Guildhall which was remarkable as the first really Imperial gathering within its venerable walls. The object was to show how grateful the nation was for the help, in men and gifts, received from all parts of the Empire. The Prime Minister and Mr. Bonar Law made the chief speeches, and admirable they were. I spoke also, and I was reported as follows:

“I ask the Prime Minister and Mr. Bonar Law to accept Australia's most grateful thanks for their splendid utterances and most generous acknowledgments. Their gracious and enthusiastic approval will equally delight the Australian people. (Cheers.) A long procession of memorable events adorns the archives of this civic temple of the world's greatest city. For many generations songs of praise and hymns of gratitude to God have made sweet music here. But, naturally enough, all the noble monuments and inspiring memories relate to the good deeds of warriors, statesmen, and benefactors of the British Isles. To-day,


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for the first time, perhaps, in the history of the ancient Guildhall, it contains a demonstration of a truly Imperial kind. More than that, the great leaders of the British Parliament are yielding the place of honour to the Dominions and the countries of the Empire beyond the seas. On this platform to-day every member of the great family of races and nations has an official representative. What a world-embracing vista of Imperial power that simple fact suggests. It covers one-fifth of the earth's surface and includes one-fifth of the human race. In these cruel times, in this dreadful war, those facts, magnificent though they be, are only the outward setting of facts infinitely bigger and brighter.

“All the peoples who inhabit that vast surface, across which is never seen the flash of a tyrant's sword, affirmed afresh their unshaken loyalty and devotion to the throne and person of His Majesty the King. (Loud cheers.) Every sea has carried on its bosom volunteers; and the cry is ‘Still they come,’ hastening from all parts of the Empire to every point of danger, ready, if need be, as the Prime Minister and Mr. Bonar Law have said, to lay down their lives in defence of our Sovereign and our Flag—the one beloved Sovereign and the one beloved Flag that no deed of arms, or trick of knaves, or coward's blow can trample in the dust. (Loud cheers.) The most wonderful feature of this marvellous display of universal loyalty is not the stanchness of our own race. There is nothing new in that. It is the loyalty, the solidarity of hundreds of millions of our fellow-subjects to whom our race is alien, who do not know our


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language or comprehend our ways, or believe in our religion, yet stand shoulder to shoulder with us in Britain's darkest hour. (Loud cheers.) It is that spectacle which astounds the world. Is not that a sublime and overwhelming tribute to the honesty of British rule, the equity of British justice, and the wholesome integrity of human nature—when it lacks German culture? (Laughter and cheers.)

“India, one of the inscrutable wonders of the world —how much closer to us now are the princes and the people of India? (Loud cheers.) Surely we shall always find for India a place in the heart of our affections? (Hear, hear.) From budding time to sere and yellow leaf—(laughter)—I have spent my life in Australia, a land in which there is plenty of room— (laughter)—and sunshine and opportunity, and where a man can really laugh and grow fat. (Laughter.) Many seas roll between, and some twelve thousand miles of distance separate Australians in their island continent from their ancestral home. Not a single hostile shot has ever been fired on the coasts of Australia. Yet safely stored in the ardent soul of young Australia are hatred of outrage, love of freedom, and the fighting instincts of our Northern race. (Hear, hear.) The rape of Belgium startled the young lion in his distant home, and now Australia is one vast recruiting ground, and fills your trenches. But yesterday Australians leapt into the Ægean Sea with empty rifles in their hands, and facing storms of shot and shell, won their dauntless way to beach, and then to shore, and then to precipice, and placed our Flag victorious on the highest summit, as if the very best


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of all our fighting ancestors had come to life again. (Cheers.) Australian statesmen deserve a word of praise. Before the storm burst they called their young men and boys to warlike training. They brought a fleet of warships into being. And when the storm did burst, Australians held up the Southern seas, and tore down every German flag that flew beneath the Southern Cross. (Loud cheers.) How joyously the sprightly Mueller rushed the Emden out to meet and crush the silly youths that manned the Sydney! There may be some differences between John Bull, Senior, and John Bull, Junior, but there were none that day! (Loud cheers.) In the lurid glare of things as they are, we see to what horrible dangers the Empire was drifting. Twenty years more of German friendship would have been worse than asphyxiating gas, that last word in diabolical cowardice. (Cheers.) Twenty years of German hate—why it would be a healthy bracing tonic! One of the painful astonishments of the war is the strange ferocity so suddenly developed in the average German. It does seem to justify what some said of him—that from his cradle to his grave he is such a creature of authority that he will do anything which anything in a uniform tells him to. (Laughter.) Last year I was a member of an Anglo-German Friendship Society. It seems ages ago. I was such a lover of peace that I laid hands on every International Peace Society I could find. I am now more than ever a lover of Peace. (Cheers.) But the only sort of Peace Society I will ever join now is one pledged by a solemn bond to teach a lesson that will endure unto the third and fourth generation


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of those who repay chivalry with murder. (Cheers.) And to please my friend, Dr. Lyttelton, I will add this: In the sure and certain hope of making them better Christians! May I take the liberty, before I sit down, of asking you to join me in giving three cheers, full of admiration and gratitude, for the heroic soldiers and sailors of our Empire, and for all our brave and faithful Allies.”

The great audience leapt to their feet and cheered heartily.

At the beginning of September I visited Sir John French at General Headquarters, and saw some of the battlefields. I did not go into the trenches because I am not “built that way.” The sound of the first shot fired in anger within my hearing gave me a curious sensation, as if it had been fired at me; as a matter of fact, the shell exploded half a mile away.

The Prince of Wales honoured me with a visit whilst I was at St. Omer.

The most astonishing thing I noticed at the front was this: even when short of munitions the men under fire were a jolly sight more cheery than many one meets on this side of the Channel. The best of Old France and the best of Old England have been blended and superfined in the battle lines of this War.

The extension of my term for one year made January 21st, 1916, my last day in office. I offered some months before to continue in office without salary whilst the War lasted. This offer was gratefully acknowledged, but the Government had other views.




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In the middle of December the other High Commissioners—Sir George Perley, Sir Thomas Mackenzie, and the Rt. Hon. W. P. Schreiner—gave me a dinner on the eve of my retirement from office. There was a very agreeable gathering. I found myself sitting between the Prime Minister and Mr. Bonar Law. Later in the evening Mr. Asquith stated that His Majesty had been graciously pleased to confer upon me the Grand Cross of the Bath. I had not the remotest idea of the great distinction that was in store for me. The G.C.B. in one step is a rare, if not an unprecedented, honour. This recognition of my services was far in excess of their merits, but that made the element of goodwill on the part of His Majesty and his Ministry all the more marked.

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