Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A poem by Ralph Connor, stories from a collection of famous writers and the Princess Mary’s Gift Book

Now I wonder how many of our BHC recruits to the Canadian Expeditionary Force ever came across the poem Canada’s Word by Ralph Connor?

It is one of those stirring appeals for young Canadians to enlist and begins “O Canada!  A voice calls through the mist and spume, Across the wide salty leagues of foam For Aid.  Whose voice thus penetrates thy peace?  Whose?  Thy Mother’s, Canada, thy Mother’s voice."

It runs to five stanza’s and concludes “Mother, to thee!  God, to Thy help!  Quick my sword!”

There will be plenty of people who are familiar with the work of Ralph Connor who sold more than five million copies of his works in his life time.*

His real name was Charles William Gordon and as well as a writer he was a leading Church leader in the Presbyterian and United churches in Canada

During the Great War he became Chaplain of the 43rd Cameron Highlanders.

In 1916 he was made senior chaplain of Canadian Forces in England with the rank of Major.

He then proceeded to France as senior chaplain, 9th Brigade, British Expeditionary Force and he was mentioned in Imperial dispatches.*

Now I have to confess I knew nothing of either Mr Connor or the Rev Dr. Charles William Gordon and only came across the poem in a book which was produced during the war and sold to raise money for The Queen’s Work for Women’s Fund which was part of the National Relief Fund.

The National Relief Fund had been launched in early August 1914 and acted as an umbrella for a large collection of charities.

The book which was simply called the Princess Mary’s Gift Book was quickly put together and published on November 27 1914 which is all the more remarkable given the wide range of contributors who included J M Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle , H Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling and Baroness Orczy along with a large collection of line drawings and colour plates.

I suspect many of the stories were already in existence but in age of copyright issues the publication of the book so soon after the outbreak of war is remarkable.

The stories range from the light to the patriotic with a fair few falling back on Imperial themes, the odd more sinister tale of spies and one intriguing account of Spartan Women.

I doubt that my own great uncle Roger would have been over bothered with the book.  He was sent by the Derby Guardians in the care of Middlemore  in 1914 and after a an unhappy time on a series of farms ran away and enlisted in the CEF in 1915, changing his name and lying about his age.

By all accounts he was by the time he sailed for Canada more than a little feral and like his younger brother who was my grandfather had had little time for school
But in that odd way that these things work that poem, along with the book draws me a little closer to him.

In time I will go looking for the story of the book and in particular how many copies it sold and the amount it raised for The Queen’s ‘Work for Women Fund’, but that all seems a long way from my great uncle Roger who may or may not have been prompted to enlist on the strength of the poem Canada’s Word.

Pictures; from the book Princess Mary’s Gift Book, 1914 from the collection of David Harrop

* Ralph Connor,

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