Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Rip-Snorting Recruiting Speech of Will Crooks

Will Crooks, MP

Will Crooks (1853-1921) was an important British trade unionist and MP, remembered for his campaigning work against poverty and inequality as a member of the Fabian Society.  When war was declared, unlike pacifist colleagues in the Labour Party he supported the war efforts of the government. On 9 February 1915 he was invited to speak at recruiting meeting in the Market Hall at Abedare, Wales.  It was both interesting and entertaining, as well as thoroughly  rousing for the audience.  His talk was included in Sir Edwad Grey's anthology, Great Speeches of the War.

Ladies and Gentlemen:—In these days we cannot have public meetings because there is no one to abuse. [Laughter.] So we have ceased to hold them; and instead we have family parties. We are all one happy family. There's only one who doesn't understand us, and that's the Kaiser. He doesn't know much about us—but he will do. He will understand us later on. [Applause.] So in this large family we have left off talking about Sally Binks's father-in-law, and other domestic matters. [Laughter.] We have lined up front square against a common enemy. There are, unfortunately, still a few people in the world not yet certified, who think that we should be as well off under the Kaiser as under George V. We shall see, when I am done, whether you think so. I daresay there is hardly a man—certainly not a woman—in this vast family party who will not agree with me when I say that wages have gone up during the past ten or fifteen years, and you are no better off. Do you know why? Because you have to spend your money to meet the Kaiser; so he has actually got indoors with you. Ninepence out of every shilling he has done you for. [Laughter.] What a wonderful fellow he is! Didn't your blood run a little faster last Sunday week, when you read that a German submarine had sunk five British ships. There's Kultur! There's valour for you! [Laughter.] Five merchantmen gone down! Weren't you frightened? I tell you what I think. It reminds me of the village bully, who used to terrify everybody: "Bring'em out, any size, any colour, under nine or over ninety." [Loud laughter.] "Bring'em out; we're ready for 'em," says the Kaiser. There's valour for you. Wonderful and marvellous, is it not? [Laughter.]

But, you know, the Kaiser is really a wonderful man. When he was a dear little chap, five years old, he was taken to the wedding of King Edward and Queen Alexandra. They could not keep him quiet, so they sat him between two ambassadors, and he slipped down and bit their calves. Nice boy! [Loud laughter.] Dear little lad! [Renewed laughter.] Then when he came to power he commenced to do great things. He even wrote poetry. [Laughter.] Shelley, Schiller, Wordsworth, GÅ“the, and Browning weren't in it. Anybody but the Kaiser would have been hanged for it. [Laughter.] Then he painted. My word, what genius! All the newspapers wasted gallons of ink and tons of paper. Rubens, Herkomer, Collier, and all the great painters weren't in it beside the Kaiser. [Laughter.] Do you know, I once had my picture painted, and it was presented to me in public. When it was over I said nice things about the painter, and the paint especially. [Laughter.] I left the platform hugging the picture to my breast, when a dear old lady said, "Turn it around, Mr. Crooks." I did. She looked at it, and said, "My God!" and fainted. [Roars of laughter.] Now, if the Kaiser had painted that, I should have been hung in the National Gallery.

We did everything to please the Kaiser. We gave him a little island called Heligoland to keep him quiet, as something to play with, and then he went and hid his fleet behind it and wouldn't come out. The Germans hate us now more than ever they did before. What have we done? I can well remember the Franco-German War, and for forty-four years we have been living in mortal terror of German militarism. Don't think, you know it is true. So we formed a German friendship. We inaugurated peace associations, brotherhood leagues, etc. We said, "If you please, be so kind, always think of us; we are always cousins, and help us when we are in trouble," and the Kaiser said, "Oh! we'll think it over." [Laughter.] I once proposed the health of the Kaiser. Think of that. [Laughter.] Fancy walking about with that on your conscience. [Laughter.] It's like buying a purse with a shilling in it, and finding three ha'pence. One blessed Sunday morning we gathered in a hall in Berlin, and the chairman had not uttered half a dozen sentences when the military came in and took possession of the meeting. It was a peace meeting! How would you like that, you men who think you would do as well under the Kaiser as under George V? [Applause.] There were four million Socialists and trade unionists in Germany when the war broke out, and only a solitary one raised his voice in opposition. When our men wanted help, they went to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Balfour, and Mr. Bonar Law, and said, "Look here, this war is likely to bring trouble and distress in certain districts, and we must make some provision for it. Result, £90,000 has been paid over by the British Government at the request of the British trade unionists. [Cheers.] Could the trade unionists of Germany have got that? No, the Kaiser is minding their money for them. [Laughter.] He has invested it in war loans, and if—if—they want it, he may give it them back, you know. [Laughter.] Think of that, you men who say you would do as well under the Kaiser as under George V.

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Then look at South Africa; there Dr. Poutzma, who was exiled by the South African Government, and had a just grievance, has joined the Army. With all its faults, he prefers British to German rule. "Are you going to hesitate now? I have been round the world twice—but not at my own expense." [Laughter.] I am only saying that to stop you saying it. [Renewed laughter.] I went at the invitation of the National Parliament of Australia. There were twenty legislators chosen by the Speaker of the House. They chose eight Liberals, eight Tories, three Lords—and me. [Laughter.] Wherever we went, even into the remote parts, we got the same old question put. "Have you been to Aberdare lately? Have you been in the Rhondda? Have you been to Swansea?" All thoughts were of those at home. Same love, same fears, same hopes, same sympathy, whether in the little shack far away or the lonely hut in the bush.

What are the ties that bind us together? Can any one define them? It is love of the homeland that binds us all together, has bound our Empire together. [Cheers.] A supreme belief in justice and a true God. No talk of blood and power and tyranny; no talk of frightfulness. [Cheers.] Wherever we went we saw always the Union Jack flying. I noticed it so frequently that I said to some one in Albany, "What do you fly the flag for? Nobody ever comes up here," and I received the reply, "If nobody comes, we go out and have a look at it ourselves." [Laughter.] I remember one meeting in Adelaide. We turned on the imperial speaker, and he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are not a mere parochial or parish pump deputation. We represent those vast imperial interests to which you are all proud to belong." It went very flat, so they came and asked me to have a go, and after some persuasion I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, my colleague has called your attention to the fact that we are not a mere parochial or parish pump kind of delegation. We represent those vast imperial interests of the British Empire to which you are all proud to belong." It went just as flat. And then I added, "But what in the name of God would have become of the British Empire if it had not been for the village pump?" [Laughter and applause] The fact of the matter is, we are all out in this war. The man at the forge, in the mine, in the field, in the foundry, and the factory, even the Johnny in Rotten Row—they are all taking their little part. How many times have I poked fun at the Johnny in Rotten Row! One said to me once, "Do you know, Cwooks, you don't speak pwoperly. You were not pwoperly twained. You drop your h's." I said to him, "That's nothing, you drop your r's, so between the two of us we shall drop the alphabet." [Laughter.] Where is Algy to-night? In the trenches fighting for his King, his country. [Cheers.] You say you have no land, no money, and it doesn't matter if you are under the Kaiser. You have more than money, more than land—you have liberty. [Cheers.] Liberty to say that your soul is your own. Why hold it so cheap? I can tell you why. It is because you have never fought for it. You Welshmen inherited it. It was won by our fathers and grandfathers on many a bloody battlefield. They gave us liberty. [Cheers.] Can it be that we Britishers shall hand it down less pure than we received it? After all, we have more than a life interest in it. We have to think what generations yet unborn shall say about us. Shall it be that on the little mountain-side home, where the mother is nursing her little children, she shall have to say, "Hush, children. The military will be here, and yet our fathers and grandfathers in 1915 might have settled this military monster for all time. They did not do it. Curses on their memory"? How different will it be if you line up and do your bit now. [Cheers.]

You cheered the brave lads when they went away, how you glorified the men who joined the colours. You sent one man into the trenches where there ought to have been three. You cheer them as they go. Are you going to leave them there? It is murder if you do. You are bound to go and help them. Cannot you hear the mothers of the future saying to their little children, "Aye, it was glorious, the deeds that were performed in those days. We had men with wrists of iron and hearts of oak"? Yes, our children's children shall be told how Britain's sons stood by her in her dire need, and won immortal glory. It is an obligation. You cannot refuse the call, and yet there are a few who walk about lamenting this war has happened. As there is a God above me, I say this is a holy war. [Cheers.] Whether it takes six months or six years, we have to fight it out to a finish. [Cheers.] I would rather see the whole British race blotted out than I would see any man, woman, or child working under the Kaiser.

Abedare Cenotaph Remembering 700 Local Men
Who Fell in the War

We have read the German proclamations. "Strike terror to their hearts; frighten the women and children; leave the women nothing but their eyes to weep with," says the Kaiser. How little do they know of our family! Leave us nothing but eyes to weep with! Fancy the son of a woman of Aberdare coming back to-night and saying, "Are you frightened?" "Frightened! What do you mean?" "Oh! I understand the Germans are leaving the women with nothing but their eyes to weep with." "Oh! you've heard that, Tom, have you? Well, have you beaten the Germans yet?" "No." "Well, don't show your head in Aberdare again till you have." That's the sort of terror the Aberdare women fear most.

Be strong, we are not here to play, to dream or drift;

There's hard work to do and loads to lift.

No matter how entrenched the wrong.

The fight how hard, or how long,

Faint not, fight on; to-morrow will come the song.

1 comment:

  1. What a great oration! I would have signed up at once.