THERE had been, originally, a perfectly definite
route for the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour—as definite a route as
is mapped out for me when I am touring the United States. Our route had
called for a fairly steady progress from Vimy Ridge to Peronne—like
Bapaume, one of the great unreached objectives of the Somme offensive,
and, again like Bapaume, ruined and abandoned by the Germans in the
retreat of the spring of 1917. But we made many side trips and gave many
and /many an unplanned, extemporaneous roadside concert, as I have told.
For all of us it had been a labour of love. I will
always believe that I sang a little better on that tour than I have ever
sung before or ever shall again, and I am sure, too, that Hogge and Dr.
Adam spoke more eloquently to their soldier hearers than they ever did
in parliament or church. My wee piano, Tinkle Tom, held out staunchly.
He never wavered in tune, though he got some sad jouncings as he clung
to the grid of a swift-moving car. As for Johnson, my Yorkshireman, he
was as good an accompanist before the tour ended as I could ever want,
and he took the keenest interest and delight in his work, from start to
Captain Godfrey, our manager, must have been proud
indeed of the "business" his troupe did. The weather was splendid; the
"houses" everywhere were so big that if there had been Standing Room
Only signs they would have been called into use every day. And his
company got a wonderful reception wherever it showed. He had everything
a manager could have to make his heart rejoice. And he did not, like
many managers, have to be continually trying to patch up quarrels in the
company! He had no petty professional jealousies with which to contend;
such things were unknown in our troupe!
All the time while I was singing in France I was
elaborating an idea that had for some time possessed me, and that was
coming now to dominate me utterly. I was thinking of the maimed
soldiers, the boys who had not died, but had given a leg, or an arm, or
their sight to the cause, and who were doomed to go through the rest of
their lives broken and shattered and incomplete. They were never out of
my thoughts. I had seen them before I ever came to France, as I
travelled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, singing for the
men in the camps and the hospitals, and doing what I could to help in
the recruiting. And I used to lie awake of nights, wondering what would
become of those poor broken laddies when the war was over and we were
all setting to work again to rebuild our lives.
And especially I thought of the brave laddies of my
ain Scotland. They must have thought often of their future. They must
have wondered what was to become of them, when they had to take up the
struggle with the world anew—no longer on even terms with their mates,
but handicapped by grievous injuries that had come to them in the
noblest of ways. I remembered crippled soldiers, victims of other wars,
whom I had seen selling papers and matches on street corners, objects of
charity, almost, to a generation that had forgotten the service to the
country that had put them in the way of having to make their living so.
And I had made a great resolution that, if I could do aught to prevent
it, no man of Scotland who had served in this war should ever
have to seek a livelihood in such a manner.
So I conceived the idea of raising a great fund to be
used for giving the maimed Scots soldiers a fresh start in life. They
would be pensioned by the Government. I knew that. But I knew, too, that
a pension is rarely more than enough to keep body and soul together.
What these crippled men would need, I felt, was enough money to set them
up in some little business of their own, that they could see to despite
their wounds, or to enable them to make a new start in some old business
or trade, if they could do so.
A man might need a hundred pounds, I thought, or two
hundred pounds, to get him started properly again. And I wanted to be
able to hand a man what money he might require. I did not want to lend
it to him, taking his note or his promise to pay. Nor did I want to give
it to him as charity. I wanted to hand it to him as a freewill-offering,
as a partial payment of the debt Scotland owed him for what he had done
And I thought, too, of men stricken by shell-shock,
or paralysed in the war—there are pitifully many of both sorts! I did
not want them to stay in bare and cold and lonely institutions. I wanted
to take them out of such places, and back to their homes; home to the
village and the glen. I wanted to get them a wheel-chair, with an old,
neighbourly man or an old neighbourly woman, maybe, to take them for an
airing in the forenoon, and the afternoon, that they might breathe the
good Scots air, and see the wild flowers growing and hear the song of
That was the plan that had for a long time been
taking form in my mind. I had talked it over with some of my friends,
and the newspapers had heard of it, somehow, and printed a few
paragraphs about it. It was still very much in embryo when I went to
France, but, to my surprise, the Scots soldiers nearly always spoke of
it when I was talking with them. They had seen the paragraphs in the
papers, and I soon realized that it loomed up as a great thing for them.
"Aye, it's a grand thing you're thinking of Harry,"
they said, again and again. "Now we know we'll be no beggars in the
street, now that we've got a champion like you, Harry."
I heard such words as that first from a Highlander at
Arras, and from that moment I have thought of little else. Many of the
laddies told me that the thought of being killed did not bother them,
but that they did worry a bit about their future in case they went home
maimed and helpless.
"We're here to stay until there's no more work to do,
if it takes twenty years, Harry," they said. "But it'll be a big relief
to know we will be eared for if we must go back crippled."
I set the sum I would have to raise to accomplish the
work I had in mind at a million pounds sterling. It may seem a great sum
to some, but to me, knowing the purpose for which it is to be used, it
seems small enough. And my friends agree with me. When I returned from
France I talked to some Scots friends, and a meeting was called, in
Glasgow, of the St. Andrews Society. I addressed it, and it declared
itself in cordial sympathy with the idea. Then I went to Edinburgh, and
down to London, and back north to Manchester. Everywhere my plan was
greeted with the greatest enthusiasm, and the real organization of the
fund was begun on September 17 and 18, 1917.
This fund of mine is known officially as "The Harry
Lauder Million Pound Fund for Maimed Men, Scottish Soldiers and
Sailors." It does not in any way conflict with nor overlap, any other
work already being done. I made sure of that, because I talked to the
Pension Minister, and his colleagues, in London, before I went ahead
with my plans, and they fully and warmly approved everything that I
planned to do.
The Earl of Rosebery, former Prime Minister of
Britain, is Honorary President of the Fund, and Lord Balfour of Burleigh
is its treasurer. And as I write we have raised an amount well into six
figures in pounds sterling. One of the things that made me most willing
to undertake my last tour of America was my feeling that I could secure
the support and co-operation of the Scottish people in America for my
fund better by personal appeals than in any other way. At the end of
every performance I gave during the tour, I told my audience what I was
doing and the object of the fund, and, although I addressed myself
chiefly to the Scots, there has been a most generous and touching
response from Americans as well.
We distributed little plaid-bordered envelopes, in
which folk were invited to send contributions to the bank in New York
that was the American depository. And after each performance Mrs. Lauder
stood in the lobby and sold little envelopes full of stamps, "stickybacks,"
as she called them, like the Red Cross seals that have been sold so long
in America at Christmas time. She sold them for a quarter, or for
whatever they would bring, and all the money went to the fund.
I had a novel experience sometimes. Often I would no
sooner have explained what I was doing than I would feel myself the
target of a sort of bombardment. At first I thought Germans were
shooting at me, but I soon learned that it was money that was being
thrown I And every day my dressing-table would be piled high with
cheques and money orders and paper money sent direct to me instead of to
the bank. But I had to ask the guid folk to cease firing—the money was
too apt to be lost!
Folk of all races gave liberally. I was deeply
touched at Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the stage hands gave me the
money they had received for their work during my engagement.
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