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Banner: First Among EqualsRobert Laird Borden banner

Appeal for national service, Ottawa, October 23, 1916


To the People of Canada:

The worldwide struggle in which our Empire is fighting for its rights, its liberties, and its very existence has continued for more than two years. Every effort that could honourably be made on our part to avert war was put forth with the deepest earnestness and sincerity. There was no escape from the contest save in dishonour and ultimate disaster. The wonderful extent and thoroughness of the enemy's long and careful preparation was imperfectly understood at first, and the magnitude of the struggle has surpassed all anticipation. Great Britain's first expeditionary force has been increased more than twentyfold, and that of Canada more than twelvefold. The climax of the war is rapidly approaching. The last hundred thousand men that Canada will place in the fighting line may be the deciding factor in a struggle the issue of which will determine the destiny of this Dominion, of our Empire, and of the whole world.

The most eloquent tribute would fail to do fitting honour to the youth of Canada who have already rallied so splendidly to the colours and whose heroic valour and glorious achievements have crowned this Dominion with imperishable distinction before the world. Remembering the sacrifice by which that distinction was won, we recall with solemn pride the undying memory of those who have fallen.

In the history of every people there may come such a challenge to the spirit of its citizens as must be answered in service and devotion if the nation is to have an abiding peace in the future. The events of this war bring that challenge today to the manhood of Canada.

Since the war began, more than three hundred and seventy thousand men have enlisted in this Dominion. Two hundred and fifty-eight thousand have gone overseas, and more than one hundred thousand are now in the battle line. During the first ten months of the present year, the number sent forward will aggregate one hundred and forty-one thousand. From 1st January to April 15 of this year the enlistments were at the rate of nearly one thousand per day. Up to the present, our forces have been enlisted and organized more rapidly than facilities of transportation and accommodation in Great Britain could be provided. During the past four months the number of enlistments has greatly decreased, and having regard to future needs the time has come for this appeal.

Notwithstanding the success of the allied forces in various theatres during the past summer, there is reason to know that the enemy is still strong and determined. A mightier effort than may be imagined is necessary to secure a conclusive victory. This war must have so decisive a result that lasting peace can be secured. We are fighting, not for a truce but for victory.

In all mechanical appliances which have played so great a part in this war, the allied nations have almost if not quite overtaken the enemy's standard of preparation. Therefore, the result will depend upon the organization, of the man power of the allied nations. Canada must be strong and resolute in that great endeavour.

Our strength can be most effectively thrown into this conflict by utilizing, in all our national activities for sustaining the agricultural, industrial, and commercial stability of Canada, those who through age or by reason of physical condition are not available for service at the front; to the end that we may place in the battle line the greatest possible proportion of those fit for military service. With this view the Government has asked the Director General and the Directors of National Service to undertake duties of the highest importance and urgency. It is imperative that the men and women of Canada, individually and through their various organizations, shall serve the nation in those capacities in which their services may be of the most value. Thus, it is the urgent duty of the Canadian people to join with the Government in organizing the full power of the nation in terms of human energy.

Under the responsibilities with which I am invested, and in the name of the State which we are all bound to serve, it is my duty to appeal and I do now appeal most earnestly to the people of Canada that they assist and co-operate with the Government and the Directors of National Service in the endeavour for this purpose. To men of military age I make appeal that they place themselves at the service of the State for military duty. To all others I make appeal that they place themselves freely at the disposition of their country for such service as they are deemed best fitted to perform.

And to the women of Canada, whose spirit has been so splendid and so inspiring in this hour of devotion and sacrifice, I bid Godspeed in the manifold works of beneficence in which they are now engaged, and I pray them to aid still more in every field of national service for which they may feel themselves fitted.

Let us never forget the solemn truth that the nation is not constituted of the living alone. There are those as well who have passed away and those yet to be born. So this great responsibility comes to us as heirs of the past and trustees of the future. But with that responsibility there has come something greater still, the opportunity of proving ourselves worthy of it; and I pray that this may not be lost.


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Source: Borden, Robert Laird. The appeal for national service. [Ottawa? : Office of the Prime Minister?], 1916.


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