Britain in the Third Year
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Oct 1941, p. 102-116
Drew, Lieutenant-Colonel George A., Speaker
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Item Type
The speaker's first address upon his return from Britain. Britain in the third year of the war. Some of the speaker's impressions of Britain, much of it untouched by the bombings. History as Britain's secret weapon, with incredible reserves of strength coming from a deep consciousness of a debt to the past. A description of the damaged areas, particularly London. The passing nature of material damage. Disappointments and losses suffered by the British people; their high spirit nevertheless. The will to win. The miracle performed by British industry in the past 16 months. The grave position of Britain and us in the West. The danger of invasion not past. An examination of what Britain has done. Pointing out how far we Canadians must go before we begin to put forward the same comparative effort in this desperate struggle. How Britain is fighting this war. Details of weapon and equipment production. The impressive new aeroplanes. The extent of construction of new ships. The spirit of employers and employees throughout the whole of Britain. How Britain has been able to do what she has done. The importance for Canada to prepare for war. Some words from Winston Churchill. Only one policy for Canada to follow now: as one united people we must demand and support every measure that will call forth from our people the last ounce of effort.
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30 Oct 1941
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Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Sanderson.
Thursday, October 30, 1941

MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Gentlemen, some years ago, Colonel Drew occupied the presidential chair of The Empire Club of Canada. He therefore comes back to us as a past president. He comes to us also as the Leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the Province of Ontario. He comes to us also as the personal friend of the vast majority of our audience. And he comes to us as a man who has just returned from what is, at this moment, a very significant visit to the Old Country, to talk to us about "Britain in the Third Year." On all these counts, Gentlemen, he is more than welcome, and it is my pleasure to present to you George Drew. (Applause.)

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW, K.C., M.L.A.: Mr. Sanderson, Gentlemen, it is with special pleasure that I come back and make my first speech on returning from Britain to the members of The Empire Club and their guests. After all, these sentimental associations do mean a great deal at a time like this, but beyond that is the fact that I can think of no other body in Canada to which I would rather speak on returning from the heart of Empire than to that Club which has as its motto, "Canada and a United Empire".

What is Britain really like in the third year of war? That is the question people invariably ask anyone who has returned recently from the British Isles. It is not an easy question to answer, because Britain presents a scene of surprising contrasts and the scene must be viewed as a whole if it is to be understood.

If the visitor arrived by air and landed in Devon, the Cotswolds, Shropshire, near Edinburgh, or just outside of Belfast, there would be nothing whatever to suggest war or anything connected with the war in the undisturbed beauty of the lovely countryside. So it is in many parts of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. I recall a lunch I had not long ago at a beautiful old fifteenth century inn at Wansford-some of you may remember, it is just a short distance away from the busy Great North Road. It was a heavenly spot. It seemed as though centuries of quiet security had left such a heavy layer of peace over the dear old village that nothing could ever disturb it. Let us hope nothing will. It was a perfect gem of Old England, left to remind us of the centuries of gracious, simple, decent living, that has had such a great part in forming the character of those splendid people.

Another picture comes to my mind. I was in Cambridge one Sunday-a Sunday set aside as a National Day of Prayer for Victory. It would have been difficult to find anything more beautiful anywhere than the scenes along the river that day. There you see the most magnificent blending of perfect architecture with splendid trees rising above the greenest of grass. It was so restful and so peaceful that it was very hard to believe that the aircraft roaring overhead were winging their way eastward on deadly missions.

In the morning I went to church at old St. Benet'sthe square tower of which today stands exactly as it did one thousand years ago. It had looked clown on British history since long before the Battle of Hastings, and as we sang "O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come", it gave a very special meaning to the words. The ages do matter there, and I believe part of their almost incredible reserves of strength come from a deep consciousness of their debt to the past. History is Britain's secret weapon.

The spirit of Alfred the Great, of Drake, and Nelson, of Marlborough, and Wellington, of Roberts, and Kitchener, of Boadicea, and Edith Cavell, and yes, of Black Douglas, and of Bruce, and of many others who have played their part in the moulding of the British Empire as it is today, march with our men, sail the seas in our ships, and ride the sky with our glorious air force. I believe the British people have a feeling of the presence of that mysterious host of men and women who have loved honour, decency and freedom far above life itself. They are uplifted and sustained in their darkest hour, by the memory of what others have endured throughout the centuries, that we might be free. That is the priceless heritage which we should cherish and preserve as a guide and inspiration to succeeding generations of young Canadians.

I have spoken of these scenes of peace and beauty just to make it clear that they are still there, that their existence does contribute to the fortitude with which British people face an entirely different kind of life that demands the highest type of courage on the part of men, women, and children, who are called upon to endure it. Those peaceful, lovely things are there to remind them of the decent, honourable and splendid things for which they are fighting today.

Plymouth, Coventry, Bristol, Liverpool, Belfast, the Clydebank, Cardiff, and many parts of London, present a very different picture to that which I have described. But even in those and many other bombed cities there are extensive undamaged areas.

London has suffered far more than any other city. I suppose it has suffered more than any city in the world, but even in London there are many places where it is difficult to believe that this has been the main objective of Hitler's evil designs. Except for the air-raid shelters and signs with civil defence instructions, Trafalgar Square seems unchanged. Standing at the foot of Nelson's monument and looking down Whitehall toward Big Ben, there is no damage to be seen. And Big Ben is still sounding the hours and the quarter-hours, not only for Londoners but for all who listen to the broadcasts from London, who hope for peace, who dream of freedom--yes, including thousands of Germans today. There are a few badly damaged buildings on the Strand, but the view toward Fleet Street does not look much different until you come to St. Mary and St. Clement Danes. Those beautiful churches are shells but the walls and spires are still standing.

It is along Fleet Street, as you near the foot of Ludgate Hill, that widespread devastation first meets the eye. Then, as you go up Ludgate Hill, you see all about St. Paul's charred ruins for many blocks. Above this mass of wreckage, Wren's glorious masterpiece rises serene and apparently undamaged. The bomb which fell in the chancel of St. Paul's left few marks outside. Wordsworth might well have had this vision in mind when he wrote

"Dull would be he of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty".

In many ways, St. Paul's is more beautiful than ever before. It can be seen for the fist time in many long years as Wren intended it to be seen. It seems to symbolize the spirit of Britain-religious, upright and enduring, and facing four-square the full fury of Nazi bestiality.

Beyond St. Paul's and down to the London docks is the area which has been most severely hit. Let no one be in any doubt about the extent of the devastation in that area. Just let me give you a few specific details. In the borough of Stepney there were 26,000 homes. Let us bring our minds to the home-the beginning of all civilization. Of those 26,000 homes, 16,000 have been completely destroyed. That is in one borough alone. In the borough of East Ham, where the docks are situated, there were 30.000 homes. Several thousands of those have been completely destroyed, but the thing which impressed me most vividly was the information that repair work had been done to 60,000 homes where originally only 30,000 stood. In other words, most of the home still standing in that one borough had been hit several times. So it is all through the east end of London. I talked to many of the splendid men and women who are still carrying on their daily work, amidst all that destruction. They are magnificent. Their spirit is so wonderful that it is hard at times to hold back the tears when one realizes all that they have been through and can still smile and face the future. Neither death, nor mutilation, nor personal loss, has dimmed in any way their faith, or diminished their confidence that Hitler and all he stands for will be destroyed. (Applause.) There, in the east end of London, you see the true spirit of England-yes, the true spirit of the British people, that same unconquerable spirit of the men who man the ships of war and the merchant marine-of the men of the Royal Air Force, and of the Army, which is increasing in power day by day. And that, after all, is the way to measure the strength of Britain in this third year of war.

The destruction by bombs has been serious. It has been cruel. There is no doubt of that. Material damage, however, is a passing thing. St. Paul's itself reminds us of that. But remember it was Napoleon who stated the principle that "The moral is to the physical as three to one". And Napoleon knew, because he learned to his loss of what noble metal the British spirit is made, and how deadly a weapon it is when it is polished and bright and ready for action.

The British people have experienced great disappointments. They have suffered heavy losses, but I can say with confidence, and without any hesitation, that on the numerous occasions I have seen them in the past twenty-seven years, in peace and in war, their spirit was never better than it is today and at this hour. (Applause.) They are under no illusions; they know it is going to be a long, tough road; they know that many, many thousands of them will never see the end of that road; but they have the will that wins over any odds, and in God's good time they will win, when other freedom-loving people learn the need to work for victory as they are working today. (Applause.)

They know victory will not be won by words. They know that victory will be won by ships, and guns, and tanks, and aeroplanes, and men, and they are building the ships, the guns, the tanks, and aeroplanes, at a speed no other democracy has yet attained.

British industry has performed a miracle in the past sixteen months. After Dunkirk the army in the British Isles had hardly any modern fighting equipment at all. Why Hitler did not attempt an invasion then with any ships he could lay his hands on, the British military experts still find it hard to understand. They had little but rifles and shotguns and all too few of those. We must never forget the vital importance of President Roosevelt's courageous action in sending from the United States last year reserves of old field artillery, machine guns and rifles. That decision provided badly needed weapons of defence at the most critical hour. It may well have been the decisive factor.

But now the situation is very different. British workshops have almost completed the arming of their troops with weapons and fighting vehicles of the finest and most modern type. How different the situation is can best be judged by the ill-advised clamour for an immediate offensive in Europe. That is the way the war will ultimately be won. But let us face reality. We are still far from being ready for that phase of this stern struggle. The very fact, however, that this demand is coming so loudly from that noisy minority, which, but a little more than a year ago, contemplated the prospect of invasion with such gloomy foreboding, is the best possible evidence there could be of the change which has taken place in Britain in these sixteen months.

Please do not think that I am suggesting in any way that the danger of invasion has passed. Far from it. The position of Britain, our own position, and the position of the United States, is extremely grave at this very hour. Every mile the German armies advance in Russia is another mile toward that day when Hitler can turn his full fury against Britain and us--yes, against us. Let us all remember that, because Canada with its vast mineral resources and enormous reserves of raw materials is the richest prize in Hitler's ever-expanding vision of conquest. No, the danger of invasion has not passed. It takes little imagination to think of extreme measures which may be adopted when Hitler does attempt the invasion which he must attempt, because he has promised his people that he will. Remember, gas has not been used in this war, and the discharge of gas from specially designed ships has not yet been tried. Surely I need say no more. The threat of invasion is very real and Britain must be ready to meet that threat whenever it may come.

Now, I want to describe very briefly something of what Britain has done, not to be reassuring about our own position, but rather to point out how very far we Canadians must go before we begin to put forward the same comparative effort in this desperate struggle, the outcome of which means freedom or slavery for us just as much as it does for Britain. Please let us always remember that, while we fight shoulder to shoulder with Britain and the other Dominions, and are proud that we do, we are not fighting merely to help Britain. We are fighting for our very existence and nothing short of our best is good enough.

Britain is fighting total war. There have been mistakes. There are weak spots. Of course there are. But they are being constantly exposed and corrected by a free, courageous and vigorous press, and by a free, courageous and equally vigorous House of Commons. The British people have not forgotten that criticism won the last war. Anyone who suggested in Britain that there should be no criticism because of the possible effect elsewhere would be laughed to scorn. They know that the government of their own country is their own business and they also know that there never was a good democratic government anywhere since the clays of early Greece, without sound criticism. Yet, even that famous safety valve of freedom near the Marble Arch in Hyde Park is wide open, and scores of wild-eyed orators on their soap-boxes still 'discuss almost every known subject, sacred and profane, and they do it under the benign protection of the stolid London Bobby, who is the same London Bobby he has always been. Gentlemen, free speech is really free speech in Britain and that is one of the important reasons why they are growing stronger every day.

The scale of production of all classes of war material staggers the imagination. I was in one of the greatest gun plants in England not long ago where more than 10,000 guns of all calibres from anti-tank guns up to the largest naval pieces were in various stages of construction. Now, remembering that our population is more than a quarter of that of Britain, think of what that would mean in comparative figures here. The arithmetic is simple.

Britain lost the few modern tanks she possessed at Dunkirk. Again, the change is amazing. A short time ago 1 saw an assembly of more than 3,000 tanks. They are of excellent quality. Their tank production is really impressive today. And there is no doubt that our armoured division which arrived in England recently, and is now being supplied with its fighting equipment from British workshops, will have the very best--and to that they are entitled.

Most impressive of all are their new aeroplanes. Never again will British pilots fight against such tremendous odds as they faced in the Battle of Britain last year. That is something in which we Canadians have a very special interest because our gallant young men in the Royal Canadian Air Force are playing an ever-increasing and very distinguished part in the daily bomber and fighter sweeps over enemy territory, as well as in the other branches of this comparatively new service upon which the fate of Britain depends almost as much as it does upon the navy.

The machines they fly today are equal to anything in the air, and it is not divulging any secret when I say that the new fighters, which I saw being turned out in large numbers, far surpass anything in speed and climbing power yet used by the German air force. Perhaps I should also explain that more than 90 per cent of all the fighters now used in the defence of Britain were made in those British aircraft factories. In the air, as on the land, the tools of war are still very much the job of British industry.

The extent of the construction of new ships gives every reason for confidence that the shipping situation will steadily improve. I must admit that, before I went to Britain, I thought the stories about the failure of the German air force to damage British shipyards might be more reassuring than accurate. It is really astonishing how little damage they have done. I went by boat past many miles of great shipyards where everything, from submarine to the mightiest battleship, was in course of construction. I did not, in any place, see any important damage to producing equipment. On the other hand, there had been terrible destruction among the homes along the river. Why it is I will not attempt to guess. All over England, and Scotland, and Northern Ireland, I saw the same thing. Nearly all of the damage was to houses and shops and scarcely any to war production.

The British Isles are one vast arsenal. The conversion from peace to war production has been amazing. There are still some factories, as you will be told, not working as fast as they should. There are still some plants not making the greatest possible use of their machine tools, but those are not typical. They are the exception. I can assure you that generally the tempo of work in British factories is as high as it is anywhere in the world. I still have a very vivid mental picture of a huge tank factory where the men were on their toes as though they were playing a football game.

With very few exceptions there is a really wonderful spirit between employers and employees throughout the whole of Britain. When Mr. Churchill was able to say a few days ago that there was not in all of the British Isles a single interruption of war production by any kind of labour dispute, it may not have been fully realized what a tribute this was to the whole-hearted co-operation within British industry. That was not really the result of the law prohibiting stoppage of work by strikes. It was the result of the spirit which produced that law, because it should be remembered to their very great credit that the British trade unions recommended that law. (Applause.)

The British people are fighting this war as a mighty team, and the British women are playing a vitally important part in that team. (Applause.) In industry and in the armed services, they are taking their full share. That is a magnificent story in itself, which I have not time to tell today. There are a million British women in the uniforms of the different services. They make splendid soldiers, and I use the world "soldiers" advisedly. There are millions more doing their work on part-time jobs. All of them are standing shoulder to shoulder with their menfolk in this struggle. As a result of that fact I believe that the men and women of Britain are learning a new respect for each other, which will have a profound effect upon the social organization of Britain after the war is over.

I have attempted to give these brief impressions of just a few aspects of the general picture, which I think it is important for all to understand, because I do wish to emphasize above everything else the urgent and imperative need for trained fighting men. There is a reason which may not be generally understood why Canada is able to raise a much larger fighting force than Britain in proportion to our population.

Millions of physically fit men and women are required in Britain for the full-time civil defence organizations, the maintenance and handling of the thousands of barrage balloons, the very large number of anti-aircraft guns, the special fire fighting forces, the full-time rescue squads, the repair and reconstruction organizations, and so on. This is quite separate from the army and is obviously a very heavy drain on manpower. We have no similar demands in Canada.

How has it been possible for Britain to do what she has done? What lesson can we Canadians draw from that inspiring scene? After all, it is little use seeing what is going on there unless we can draw some lessons from it. I think what they have done is largely the result of a very real feeling of fellowship and equality such as never existed before. I think the lesson for us is that, when the safety of the nation is in jeopardy, the welfare of all the people of the nation must override the traditional, individual choice of action. (Applause.) There the individual is called upon to recognize a social obligation to serve in whatever capacity will contribute most to ultimate victory.

Every one to whom I spoke in Britain, men or women, recognized that this was not something the individual could decide for himself or herself, but that it was necessary to have compulsory selective service if they were to do their job. (Applause.) What interested me very much was that the farmers particularly pointed out that, if it had not been for compulsory service, they would not have been able to achieve the enormous increase in production which was so important, so vital, in supplying food for Britain, because they would have lost their farm workers to the army, or to the industrial firms which could pay much higher wages. As it was, those who were needed on the farms were kept on the farms where their trained services were most valuable. That was a vital factor in the harvesting of the greatest food crop in British history and the winning of the second battle of Britain. That is only one of many examples of the result of proper allocation of individual service.

I am convinced, from what I have seen there, that the only fair and the only proper method is for the government to allocate tasks to our men and women, in the armed forces, in industry, and on the farm. The lives of all of us are at stake. This is such an emergency as we have never faced before. We need men, large numbers of men, in the armed forces. We need them immediately and we need them badly. We need men also on the farms and in the factories and we need women, too, in all these services. We also need women to relieve men for heavier jobs where that can be done.

We have no time to dodge cruel and inescapable facts any longer. (Applause.) Surely we know now what we are up against. Either we win this war or we too may eat our hearts out in impotent anger, while a hundred innocent Canadians are shot down in cold blood, in supposed retaliation for the death of one German officer who was in fact killed by a drug-crazed member of the Gestapo. You think that can't happen here? Who thought that could happen in France, less than sixteenth months ago? Who thought such unparalleled savagery could exist anywhere in this world we know? Just think of the insane arrogance which conceived that fantastic arithmetic of death, and then think of what that might mean here in Canada. It can happen! Surely we know that now. We must not waste an hour or a minute in preparing to the limit of our strength to prevent that possibility. (Applause.)

We must mobilize to the full all our human and material resources without further delay. There must be equality of service and of sacrifice for all under a system of compulsory selective service. (Applause.) Nothing else will produce the manpower we need so urgently. Nothing else will keep the men on the farms and in the factories if they are needed there. Nothing else is truly democratic in a war of survival, such as this is.

This is not, and must not be, a political issue. (Applause.) It is the duty of the government in power in this or any other democracy to act upon the special knowledge in their possession, for the dreadful threat to our national existence can be met effectively in no other way.

Let me read to you the words of Winston Churchill.

Would that God had given us more like him! (Applause.) Let me read these words lest there be any who say that it is not the responsibility of government to say' what should be done. These are his words: "If (mark the word!)-if the battle is to be won, we must provide our men with ever increasing quantities of weapons and ammunition they need. We must have, and have quickly, more aeroplanes, more tanks, more shells, more guns. There is imperative need for these vital munitions ... In that supreme emergency we shall not hesitate to take every step, even the most drastic, to call forth from our people the last ounce and the last inch of effort of which they are capable. The interests of property, the hours of labour, are nothing compared with the struggle for life and honour, for right and freedom, to which we have vowed ourselves".

Those are the words of an inspired leader. (Applause.) Let me repeat his solemn undertaking: "In that supreme emergency we shall not hesitate to take every step, even the most drastic, to call forth from our people the last ounce of effort".

This is Canada's supreme emergency. There is a lull in Western Europe which is as dangerously deceptive as was the lull which preceded the attack on Holland, on Belgium, and on France. The people of Russia are fighting for their, homes against the invader, with the same sublime courage and tenacity they have shown for centuries when their Fatherland was threatened. (Applause.) They are fighting our enemies and it is our duty to support them to the limit of our ability. (Applause.) But let us not be deceived. Once he has fully occupied the rich Ukraine and the industrial areas to the north, Hitler may at any time attempt to stabilize his eastern front, establish a defensive frontier, and turn his full fury westward once again.

We should be using every minute to the full and not waiting for that event. We should be using every minute that has been given us to assemble and train the greatest fighting forces we can support. The lives of our families and the future of our children depend upon it. These are no idle words. Our civilization and our freedom demand the last ounce of effort now. This is our supreme emergency--the lull before the most terrible storm we have ever faced.

There can be only one policy for Canadians to follow in this dreadful hour. As one united people we must demand and support every measure, no matter how drastic it may be, that will call forth from our people the last ounce of effort. That is the price of victory. With the soul-chilling knowledge of what is happening to the women, the children, and the men, of France, of Poland, of Czecho-Slovakia, of Norway, of Belgium, of Holland, and of the other captive nations, I believe that all thinking Canadians are now fully aware that we dare not contemplate the alternative to victory. I am convinced they are prepared to support whatever steps are necessary to put all the untapped strength of this mighty young nation into the struggle upon which the survival of Canada, the survival of the British Empire, and the survival of freedom everywhere depends. We can do no better than take to heart and act upon that ancient Biblical injunction "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might". (The audience rose with prolonged applause.)

MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Gentlemen, what can a Chairman say following so magnificent an address? Whilst Colonel Drew was talking I wondered how many of us used to play at "Grandmother's Gardens" when we were children. Do you remember those winter evenings inside the house, when the fire was burning brightly, when the lamps were lit, but when the blinds were not yet drawn, and when as youngsters we clustered at the window? And looking through the window we could see the picture of the furniture and the lamps all mixed up with the bushes and snow outside? Grandmother's Gardens!

But today Colonel Drew has shown us no Grandmother's Gardens. He has given us a vivid picture of reality as it actually is. And I think, Sir, you must yourself have been comforted by the very spontaneous outburst of feeling with which this audience has responded so sincerely to your appeal, an appeal made with such obvious conviction and such compelling sincerity, that we can no longer be content merely to look through the window at the world outside, believing in the artificial security which distance may seem to offer.

We are grateful to you, Sir, that we should have had the privilege today of listening in person to this, your first public address since your return from Britain, a public address which I think you have never surpassed. (Applause.) '

This audience and the audience on the air, I think, will wish to know two things. First, that this address of Colonel Drew will be broadcast at seven o'clock tonight, Eastern Daylight Saving Time, on the C.B.C. national network. And secondly, I think you will wish to know, that I have been sitting almost between a family compact--with Colonel Drew on my right and with Mrs. Drew's father, Dr. Edward Johnson, whose fame is as great in the United States of America as in Canada, on my left. (Applause.)

Colonel Drew, if I express the gratitude of this audience for your address and for the privilege of listening to it, it is a very, very imperfect "Thank you" for a magnificent occasion. (Applause.)

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Britain in the Third Year

The speaker's first address upon his return from Britain. Britain in the third year of the war. Some of the speaker's impressions of Britain, much of it untouched by the bombings. History as Britain's secret weapon, with incredible reserves of strength coming from a deep consciousness of a debt to the past. A description of the damaged areas, particularly London. The passing nature of material damage. Disappointments and losses suffered by the British people; their high spirit nevertheless. The will to win. The miracle performed by British industry in the past 16 months. The grave position of Britain and us in the West. The danger of invasion not past. An examination of what Britain has done. Pointing out how far we Canadians must go before we begin to put forward the same comparative effort in this desperate struggle. How Britain is fighting this war. Details of weapon and equipment production. The impressive new aeroplanes. The extent of construction of new ships. The spirit of employers and employees throughout the whole of Britain. How Britain has been able to do what she has done. The importance for Canada to prepare for war. Some words from Winston Churchill. Only one policy for Canada to follow now: as one united people we must demand and support every measure that will call forth from our people the last ounce of effort.