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CANADA: The Redeemed Empire

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The Crown has become the mysterious link—indeed, I may say, the magic link —which unites our loosely bound but strongly interwoven Commonwealth of nations, states and races.

—:Sir Winston Churchill

Seventeen years have passed since Churchill grimly thundered his refusal to “preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” but today the British Empire is only a few steps from a liquidation as complete as that of Rome, Spain and the Habsburgs. Taking Empire’s place is that once implausible, peculiarly individualistic association of free peoples known as the Commonwealth of Nations. As Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan puts it: “Since the war, Communist Russia has absorbed at least 100 million people into her block contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants of the countries concerned. Since the war, Britain—imperialist Britain, if you like—has given freedom and nationhood to at least 500 million people.”

Thus it is not the death groans of Empire but the birth cries of Commonwealth that are heard round the world. They were heard a few weeks ago when Singapore, once proud bastion of Empire, became an autonomous state. They will be heard again in a year or two when Nigeria and Rhodesia, Britain’s largest African possessions, assume full freedom. The process is continuous; the Commonwealth has many potential members. And if the 19th century sun never set on the Empire, the 20th century’s satellites have a Commonwealth country always in view.

The Commonwealth over which Elizabeth II presides is bigger, richer and more populous than that fabulous Empire welded together by the strong-willed ministers of her great-great-grandmother. Victoria. Born of a snug union of Britain and Dominions of European stock, it now has hundreds of millions of brown, black and yellow men. It covers one quarter of the earth’s land mass, contains one-fourth of the world’s people, and carries on within its confines one-third of the world’s trade.

Its biggest member is Canada, which was also the pacesetter in the step-by-step process of converting colonies into nations. Last week, in the most characteristic ruling gesture she can make, Elizabeth II, accompanied by her consort and a retinue of 31 ladies, maids and retainers, began an exhaustive, exhausting Canadian tour to show herself as the Commonwealth’s cohesive symbol not only to the leaders but especially to the plain people of Canada.

She began auspiciously enough with her storybook arrival last week at St. John’s, Nfld., when menacing fog banks, which had clung for days to the airport, rolled back in time for the Queen’s Comet to land. While a 21-gun salute boomed away, the Queen and Prince Philip were greeted by Governor General Vincent Massey and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. In St. John’s, the royal couple bore out advance notices that their visit would be comfortably informal by mingling with the crowd and chatting briefly with ordinary citizens.

This royal tour is also billed as an effort to get to out-of-the-way places—so the Queen was soon off to Schefferville, an iron-mining village near the Labrador border. She greeted chiefs of the Montagnais-Naskapi Indians, gave one of them a reassuring smile when he lost his balance while curtseying in his blue, fur-trimmed parka. At the U.S.’s Harmon airbase at Stephenville, Nfld., a Ford convertible assigned for royal use failed to start. Prince Philip cracked: “Too bad we don’t have a British car”—whereupon the royal couple transferred to a Cadillac. At week’s end, the Queen and Prince Philip boarded the 5,769-ton royal yacht Britannia at Seven Islands on the St. Lawrence River, began a leisurely two-day voyage to Quebec City.

Elizabeth II will be in Canada for 44 days, will make a one-day jaunt south of the border to Chicago, whose Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson in the 1920s threatened to punch the Queen’s grandfather, George V, “in the snoot.” At the trip’s high point this week, President Eisenhower joins the Queen aboard Britannia to dedicate the 182-mile St. Lawrence Seaway, which links the U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes with the world’s deep water.

“I Love the Queen.” In touring her domain and greeting her subjects, Elizabeth II is merely doing what comes naturally. Since her coronation in 1953, she has traveled 80,000 miles, far more than any other monarch in history. In 1954 she survived the loyal ecstasy of a million Australians in Sydney, who broke police lines eight times to surround the royal motorcade, shouting “Good on you, Liz and Phil!” She went to Ceylon even though nationalist agitators collected 150,000 signatures asking her to stay away. In Nigeria, without blinking, she watched the fiery charge of thousands of spear-waving warriors and accepted the homage of such local chieftains as the Rwang Pam of Birom, the Atta of Igala, the Tor of Tiv and the Och of Idoma.

She kept her royal composure drinking soapy-tasting kava in Fiji and eating breadfruit in Tonga, while laka laka dancers whirled about her to the eerie music of nose flutes. In Jamaica, the Queen was unruffled when an idolater threw his cream-linen jacket at her feet and prostrated himself, crying, as the police hauled him away, “I want the Queen to walk on my coat—I love the Queen!” Rarely did the royal nerves give way, but once, in New South Wales, the Queen and Prince Philip seemed to be squabbling as their closed car whisked through a town, and a group of deaf-mute bystanders swore they lipread Philip’s retort to Elizabeth: “Come off it, sausage.”

At 33, Elizabeth II is a handsome woman of 5 ft. 3 in., brown-haired and blue-eyed, her head held royally on a swanlike neck. Her smooth skin, spring-in-England coloring and regal carriage give her subjects cause to call her beautiful. Her voice is clear-toned, with a still youthful ring; her movements are slow and assured. She wears her royal costumes and glittering gowns with majesty and grace; yet in tweeds and low-heeled shoes she gives out a no-nonsense warmth that can put any housewife in Winnipeg or Salisbury at ease.

Crown, Family & Horses. She takes seriously her task of being Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Ghana and South Africa—and in manner she grows increasingly queenly. Not long ago a palace official who has known her since childhood leaned his arm on a mantel in Her Majesty’s presence. “Are you tired?” she asked. He replied: “No, ma’am. Why?” Said Elizabeth: “Because I think you should stand up straight when you are talking to me.” She runs her royal household strictly—and with a clear awareness of the consequences of her acts. Last week she chose a new equerry: Ghana’s Major Joseph Edward Michel, 52, the first Negro ever to join royal inner circles.

Elizabeth is often separated from her husband, Prince Philip. In paying his own Commonwealth calls, he has circumnavigated the globe three times. Her ten-year-old son, Prince Charles (who many of her subjects wish would get his hair cut), is usually at boarding school; her eight-year-old daughter, Princess Anne (who some critics claim is spoiled), is ordinarily seen by the Queen but twice a day.

The Queen’s consuming passion, outside the Crown and her family, is horses. On a recent visit to the university city of Cambridge, she said: “I am so glad to be here. I have passed through so often on my journey to the Newmarket races.” The Queen also referees bicycle polo, a game that Prince Philip devised and, popularized for their children. “Do hit it, Anne!” the Queen cries. Elizabeth likes to sit with Philip in the evenings and watch television—at Buckingham Palace, TV is specially piped in to eliminate the static caused by London’s rush-hour traffic.

Monarch of Canada. In Washington, when Press Secretary James Hagerty recently told reporters that arrangements for the St. Lawrence Seaway dedication were being handled by the Canadian, British and U.S. governments, Canadians indignantly asked what the devil the British government had to do with it. Elizabeth is visiting their shores as Queen of Canada, and nothing else. For most of them the event is joyful and important. Sudbury, Ont. has been torn for weeks over whether or not the Queen’s route should take her past the old people’s home. A note of outrage was sounded in the Montreal Gazette when an indignant royalist reader protested against Canada’s No. 1 hit song, The Battle of New Orleans, a catchy Tin Pan Alley jape about the rout of the British in the War of 1812: “I do suggest that this song be removed from the radio before Her Majesty’s visit; otherwise she may get the impression that we are sadly lacking in manners.”

There are also some dissenters. A Windsor, Ont. construction worker grumbled, “If I went to Europe, she wouldn’t pay attention to me, so I’m not going out of my way to see her.” Canada’s prettiest TV star, blonde Joyce Davidson, appearing on television in New York last week, said that “like most Canadians, I’m indifferent to the visit of the Queen.” Furious phone calls jammed the switchboards of Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Joyce’s employer. Returning home, Joyce announced that she was taking an indefinite leave of absence from her job because of the “ferocity” of the criticism.

The Queen, to most Canadians, is particularly precious as “something we have that the Americans don’t have.” Explained a businessman: “We Canadians need a symbol to rally round.” And he added tartly: “On the U.S. scene there is a vacuum. After all, you can’t rally round the country’s most prominent golfer.”

In an almost desperate effort to differentiate from the U.S., Canada proliferates Queen’s highways, Queen’s Counsels, Queen’s Own Rifles, and all manner of “Royal” establishments. The Crown appears on mailboxes and military insignia, the Queen’s portrait on ashtrays, saucers, and brooches, as well as on coins and paper money. No one smokes at a.banquet until a toast has been drunk to the Queen.

Leading the Way. The Commonwealth idea is a means of letting colonies grow into nations, and among British colonies of the igth century Canada led the way to nationhood. After the American Revolution, an estimated 40,000 Loyalist refugees fled the hated republicanism of the new United States and found refuge in Canada—an influx of British stock to an area until then mostly populated by French habitants. In 1837 a brace of piddling rebellions—one led by French-Canadian Louis Papineau, the other by British-Canadian William Lyon Mackenzie—startled London and led to the establishment of “responsible government,” with the Canadian colonies handling their own internal affairs through the adoption of the British Cabinet system.

By the time of the confederation of the provinces in 1867, Canada was largely self-governing, though still under London’s Colonial Office. With the dawn of the 20th century the larger white British colonies became dominions, and in 1917 an Imperial War Conference passed a resolution calling for “full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations.” Canada tried its fledgling national wings by joining the League of Nations in 1919.

By 1926 the term British Commonwealth* had been loosely in use for decades, and Britain’s Arthur James Balfour, World War I Foreign Secretary, undertook to define it—with help from Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King (William Lyon Mackenzie’s grandson). Lord Balfour’s report called the Commonwealth “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another,” and united “by a common allegiance to the Crown,” as head of the Commonwealth. The 1931 Statute of Westminster removed from Britain the right to withhold consent to laws passed by Dominion Parliaments.

Feeling its widening independence, Canada asked the King to stop conferring hereditary titles on its citizens, because “it seemed alien to the life of Canada.”† Today, a Canadian who hopes to be ennobled must live in Britain, as does Ontario-born Lord Beaverbrook. Canada began to issue passports, changed “subjects” to “citizens,” stopped sending appeals from its Supreme Court to Britain’s Privy Council.

Much tidying up yet remains. To this day, parts of Canada still fly the British Union Jack, although the government is trying during the pageantry of the Queen’s visit to spread the use of the Red Ensign, with its hard-to-discern Canadian shield. Canadians are unable to decide on a national anthem, and sing either God Save the Queen or O Canada.

Semantic Upkeep. Britain has stayed busy supplying semantic changes to keep pace with events. India and Pakistan, both republics, became members of the monarchical Commonwealth on condition that they acknowledge the Crown as “Head of the Commonwealth.” At a London Conference in 1949 the assembled Prime Ministers issued a communique that began with a reference to “the British Commonwealth” and ended with a declaration of unity by the “free and equal members of the Commonwealth.” It was no accident that the adjective “British” vanished in transit. Lester (“Mike”) Pearson, then Canada’s External Affairs chief, recalls: “It was the British genius for evasion or compromise or common sense, whatever you wish to call it. Neither name satisfied everyone there, so both were used. It is now officially and in daily talk—at least in Canada—just ‘the Commonwealth.’ ”

Empire Day was rechristened Commonwealth Day, which led the London Economist last December to wonder just what it is “we are celebrating” and to publish a ditty, to be sung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Cwthmas* Carol

On the tenth day of Cwthmas, the Commonwealth brought to me

Ten Sovereign Nations

Nine Governors General

Eight Federations

Seven Disputed Areas

Six Trust Territories Five Old Realms,

Four Present or Prospective Republics

Three High Commission Territories,

Two Ghana-Guinea Fowl,

One Sterling Area One Dollar Dominion One Sun That Never Sets One Maltese Cross One Marylebone Cricket Club One Trans-Antarctic Expedition And a Mother Country Up a Gum Tree.

Club Without Rules. In legal terms the Commonwealth simply represents “the lowest common denominator of consent.” It has no constitution or common law applicable to all members; none is pledged to come to the defense of any of the others. There are no obligations or set meetings, no voting procedures or joint policies, and no stated method of .applying for admittance or of being rejected.

The only lines drawn direct from Commonwealth areas to London are those between the Crown and its representatives, usually Governors General or Governors. In the case of the remaining colonies, real power flows through these lines; in the case of the independent nations, the power is purely theoretical, and in practice the Prime Ministers name Governors General. Because ambassadors represent heads of state, and the Queen in most cases is head of state, Commonwealth nations use High Commissioners as representatives from one to another.

The relationships are shot through with paradox. Members may declare a republic or elect a king of their own (as in Malaya). Ghana feels free to consider federating with Guinea, a former colony of France. Without consulting other members, Commonwealth nations may go to blows with outsiders (Britain v. Egypt) or with each other (India v. Pakistan over Kashmir). Britain welcomes almost any citizen of the Commonwealth to its shores. But Australia and Canada virtually exclude nonwhites, and Ghana and Nigeria forbid white men to own land.

The Commonwealth’s democratic ideals are also freely smashed. South Africa refuses the vote to the 80% of its citizens who are colored. Commonwealth nations have jailed members of their own Parliaments, suppressed newspapers, and in one case (Pakistan) abolished Parliament, deported the President, and imposed military rule. Said a British professor: “About the only thing we can’t stand is being beaten by one of them at cricket.”

More black than white, more poor than rich, the Commonwealth so far has been able to bear apartheid, Kashmir, trade wars, internal snobbery and even Suez, when Britain joined with France and Israel in the 1956 attack on Egypt. India violently opposed the invasion, and Canada, noted a British newsman, felt as though it had found a “beloved uncle arrested for rape.” In this crisis Canada put preservation of the Commonwealth above affection for the mother country, and at the United Nations joined the U.S. in pressing for a ceasefire. With Australia and New Zealand backing Britain, Canada’s stand reassured the Asian members of the Commonwealth, may well have prevented a disastrous split between the group’s white and nonwhite members.

Though enormously popular in her Afro-Asian realms, Elizabeth II clearly cannot excite the same veneration or project the same mood there that she does in Britain. Shortly after Ghana’s independence, Prime Minister Nkrumah substituted his own picture for the Queen’s on postage stamps. He explained disarmingly: “Many of my people cannot read or write. When they buy stamps, they will see my picture —an African like themselves—and they will say, ‘Aiee, look, here is my leader on the stamps. We are truly a free people!'” Other African leaders have given fair warning that, “if it is ever a choice between loyalty to Africa and loyalty to the Commonwealth, then Africa will win.”

The Glue. Disparities do not split the Commonwealth for the simple reason that greater likenesses hold it together. The most important are British law and the British parliamentary tradition. From Barbados to Tasmania to Quebec City, courts generally work well, and black-robed Speakers of the House keep lawmaking orderly and pondered. Other ingredients in the Commonwealth glue:

DEFENSE. The leaders of the newly free Afro-Asian countries were farseeing enough to realize that the world outside was cold and forbidding, too gale-swept by war and ideology for them to stand alone. By linking up with Great Britain, the newcomers could make their piping voices heard in the councils of the world. They are further drawn to the Commonwealth because “we don’t want to shake off British imperialism merely to replace it with Russian or Chinese.”

TRADE. Commonwealth membership is a good way to hold on to markets already achieved. Loans are easier to get in prosperous Britain (see BUSINESS) than in New York, for British bankers are familiar with the problems of such places as Accra and Lagos and Colombo. Tariff preferences and unity in the sterling bloc is another bond (but Canada is a dollar area); India, Pakistan, Malaya and Ghana all keep their balances in London vaults.

BRITISH SCHOOLING. Ceylon’s Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dras Bandaranaike was a fellow student of Anthony Eden at Oxford; India’s Nehru and the King of Buganda went to Cambridge. Pakistan’s boss, General Mohammed Ayub Khan, was trained at Sandhurst, Britain’s West Point, as was India’s Chief of Staff, General Thimmaya. Every fourth cadet on parade at Sandhurst is dark-skinned. Nyasaland’s rabble-rousing Dr. Hastings Banda got his postgraduate medical education at Edinburgh, Kenya’s Tom Mboya went to Oxford, Ghana’s Nkrumah to the London School of Economics, and Singapore’s new Communist-leaning Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew is a Cambridge honors graduate, which Britons feel makes him easier to reason with. Currently, British universities have some 18,000 Commonwealth students. The old school tie is found in every corner of the Commonwealth. Says Canada’s Ambassador to the U.N. Charles Ritchie: “We appreciate the same jokes and reminiscences.”

LANGUAGE. Many of the new nationalist leaders are more fluent in English, the lingua franca of the Commonwealth, than in their native tongues.

BRITAIN ITSELF. London is still the Commonwealth mecca. Last week it was playing host to Australia’s Prime Minister Robert Menzies and to conventions of Commonwealth motorists, and fruit growers. A parliamentary delegation from Ghana was conferring in Whitehall. Said an Indian diplomat: “If almost any other member dropped out of the Commonwealth, it might well survive. But if Britain dropped out, it would vanish.”

Dovetails. The “traffic of men and minds within the Commonwealth” covers nearly every activity, from Point Fourlike economic-development projects like the Colombo Plan to the training of Afro-Asian technicians in Canada and Australia for fighting disease in equatorial jungles. In the Korean war Commonwealth members fought together in a single division. A news correspondent may send messages between Commonwealth nations at a bargain 1 1/7¢a word.

A degree from almost any accredited Commonwealth school is acceptable to all others. Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand have dovetailed their old-age pension plans, medical and unemployment benefits so as to make them interchangeable. Even Eire and Burma, which left the Commonwealth, are elliptically described as “not foreign countries.” The tradition of the dignity of the individual seems to pay off. In not a single Commonwealth country is there a major Communist Party of importance or prestige.

The tie that binds Commonwealth members has impressive reality. A Canadian will often feel some strange, inarticulate blood link with a New Zealander or a South African or an Indian that he does not feel with an American. One result has been the close association in world affairs between Canada and India. In Washington, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. is able to explain to the State Department some particularly obscure Indian move on the world scene. When he spoke to the Indian Parliament last year, Canada’s Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was heard attentively and respectfully as he allayed Indian fears of U.S. intentions in the cold war.

Though the Commonwealth countries still turn to Britain for parliamentary guidance and cultural sustenance, most are realistic enough to recognize that the challenge of Communism cannot be faced without the help of U.S. military power.

Individually and together, they have entered defensive alliances with Washington: Canada and Great Britain are members of NATO, Australia and New Zealand have joined the U.S. in ANZUS (excluding Britain) and SEATO. Canada and the U.S. made common cause in building the radar DEW line to prevent surprise attacks by Soviet planes coming from the North Pole.

Unity & Continuity. Because the Commonwealth itself is new, the Queen’s role in heading it is new, and is thus a task demanding far more sensitivity and stamina than the easier chores of many another monarch who ruled the Empire. She clearly sees travel as a major method of ruling. But even when she is at home in London and serving as Queen of Great

Britain and Northern Ireland, Elizabeth II does her Commonwealth job. She has assigned Marlborough House as a meeting place for Commonwealth representatives, and when a conference is held in London, she invites each Commonwealth Prime Minister at least once to a private audience. At her coronation, Elizabeth wore a special gift from Commonwealth members: gold armils, or bracelets, a royal emblem that had not been used in a coronation since the 16th century.

Her Prime Ministers, collectively, steer the Commonwealth of Nations, but it is Elizabeth’s ennobling and historically new role to be the single human figure in the great association that symbolizes and inspires its unity and continuity. Calmly seeing her duty, she has pledged herself to a Commonwealth “built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace. To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.”

* “Commonwealth” has nothing to do with sharing riches. The word took root in Renaissance Europe as an equivalent for the old Roman res publica, i.e., the public good or the common weal. Oliver Cromwell’s dictatorship in England (1649-53), after the execution of King Charles I, was therefore dubbed “the Commonwealth.” The U.S. colonies liked the self-governing implications of the word, and several states (e.g., the Commonwealths of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) still bear the name. As early as 1852, British officials were employing commonwealth as a euphemistic name for empire. It has now grown to mean a collection of self-governing communities, united in friendship, but without any central government. Even Khrushchev has put a gingerly foot on the bandwagon by suggesting that his satellite states might grow into a Communist Commonwealth of Nations.

† Wrote an anonymous Canadian bard: Away with honors, knighthoods, swords, In proof of high endeavor. We’ll wear where Adam wore the fig The Maple Leaf forever.

* An abbreviation of “Commonwealthmas”; the “w” is pronounced like that in the town of Ebbw Vale.

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