May 9, 1938 (18th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Right Hon. R. B. BENNETT (Leader of the Opposition):

Mr. Speaker, the tragic circumstances to which the right hon. leader of the government (Mr. Mackenzie King) has referred make it unnecessary for me to do more than thank him very earnestly and sincerely for t'he kind terms in which he has extended the sympathy of himself and his colleagues to those of us associated together here as the official opposition.
It is a little difficult to do more than express sorrow on an occasion such as this, when one whom we have known so closely and intimately 'has left us under circumstances so very, very sad. The late Major Betts bore an historic name in the city of London, and early developed those characteristics which he had inherited. You might say that his life divided itself sharply into four divisions. He was a student in t'he schools of his own city and at Ridley College, St. Catharines, where he made for himself a distinct place. Then, while only twenty, he enlisted in the service of his country and within a few months was in France, where he gave such an excellent account of 'himself that promotions followed rapidly. Twice wounded, the later wound being rather serious, he returned to his home and was demobilized early in 1919, having been actively in service until the end of hostilities.
Then came the third division of his life, that in which he served his profession as a lawyer. He was admitted to the practice of law at Osgoode Hall, as was to be expected from one with his antecedents. He took an active interest in the profession, becoming president of the bar of Middlesex and later being elected to the council of the Canadian Bar Association. Then, as might have been expected, he embarked upon the fourth branch of his activities, that of public service. He served in the city council of London and in 1935 became a candidate for his party, and after a strenuous campaign was elected to the House of Commons. I recall being in London just before that election. I had met Major Betts only once before, I think, but I was struck with the thoroughness with which he was conducting his activities. He had visited the
factories; he had ascertained the conditions under which work was being carried on; he had come in contact with the works people in all these factories and had familiarized himself with the products of his city in every branch of industrial activity. I then concluded, from what I saw, that in all probability he would be returned.
When he came here he immediately went to work, which is not what new members always do. So far as he could he made himself master of every matter that he took in hand. He was particularly interested in problems concerning returned soldiers and those that had to do with the militia with which he was associated, being on the reserve of officers. I recall very vividly discussing with him the question of his activities. I pointed out to him, as I have to many younger men, that there is only one way by which you may attain success either in the practise of law or in public life, and that is by work; and whether or not he found it easy, undoubtedly it was his duty to endeavour to express himself on every question that 'he thought of sufficient interest to warrant his intervention in the debate. He found it a little difficult at first, but confidence came, and I think my hon. friends opposite will agree that he was attaining that measure of confidence which enabled him to speak with a measure of certainty and conviction with respect to the many problems in which he interested himself.
It hardly seems possible that, not yet forty-two years of age, one who had escaped gas, bombs, shells and shrapnel, and attacks by sea, land and air, should lose his life under the circumstances to which the right hon. the Prime Minister has referred. Yet so it is, and a striking illustration of what a man of old said: Death hath so many doors to let out life. He is gone out of one of the most unexpected doors, having safely passed all the others to which I have referred, except that he was wounded in passing. He passed by those doors in a foreign land, across leagues of sea, only to lose his life within a few miles of these parliament buildings while engaged in a little harmless recreation. Death indeed hath many doors to let out life.
I think it must be a matter of satisfaction to all of us that men of his training interest themselves in public life, and I trust that his example may be followed by many, in this new country which so much requires the services of those of his type, who are prepared to place themselves at the disposal of their country whenever the opportunity offers whether in offering their lives as a willing
The Late Mr. Bells

sacrifice, or their time for the promotion of the welfare of their fellow citizens in days of peace.
All these things have to do with a public career, but there was the private side to the life of Major Betts that we cannot overlook. He had but recently been married, and had a young daughter not yet six months of age. I think those of us who may have seen him night after night, between ten and eleven o'clock, busily engaged in writing, realized that he was writing a note to the loved ones at home. He never wearied of speaking of his wonderful wife and child, and I read in the press that small photographs of them were found upon his person after his death. Those of us who had the privilege of meeting his mother when she came to Ottawa at the opening of this house, when her son took his seat, will realize something of what her sorrow must be, that one who had escaped death in so many forms had to meet his end under the tragic circumstances to which we have referred. Indeed we who knew him as a comrade, as a colleague, had become so accustomed to his cheery ways that usually he was referred to in no other terms except the word "Freddie." He made for himself so secure a place in the hearts of all who are here that it is impossible to contemplate as a reality the fact of his leaving us. We think of it only as something that is not yet real, that one to whom we were speaking but yesterday, so it seems, has gone from us, and that he shall return no more to this house, neither shall his place know him any more. These words from the book of Job fittingly express the situation.
We would indeed be a poor people, Mr. Speaker, poorer than we are, if in the midst of all this sorrow and sadness we had not the firm hope and conviction that after all, although death has so many doors to let out life, it is in reality the gate to life eternal. With this thought we shall cherish the memory of a dear friend, a devoted colleague, one who had endeared himself to us in so many ways by so many little acts of kindness that his memory will live with us until the end.

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