THE STRATEGIC POSITION OF ULSTER
AN ADDRESS BY
SIR ERNEST HERBERT COOPER
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, December 21, 1944
MR. CONQUERGOOD: As this is the Christmas meeting of The Empire Club, we are varying our program a little today and are to be favored with a musical selection by the Roberts Instrumental Trio, members of The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, consisting of Mr. Oswald Roberts, 'cello, Harry Bergart, violin, with Mr. Simeon Joyce at the piano. Their selection will be "Christmas Fantasies" arranged by Lake.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Our guest speaker today, Sir Ernest Cooper, is a Canadian, born in Clinton, Ontario, and is a graduate of the University of Toronto.
In 1908, he went to England where he has been successful in the industrial field and is now Chairman of the Board of Gillette Industries Limited, makers of safety razors and other products.
He has maintained his interest in Canadian affairs. He was one of the founders of the Beaver Club in London and serves on committees of the Canadian Y.M.C.A., and the Canadian Red Cross overseas. He is the representative in London of the Canadian Lawn Tennis Association.
He is a veteran of World War I, and in the present war he aided Lord Beaverbrook in the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He was knighted by the King on the first of last January.
For a period of two years, he was Industrial Adviser to the Government of Northern Ireland and has since then been appointed Public Relations Officer for the Government of Northern Ireland in London.
Early this year, Mr. Beverley Baxter wrote two articles for MacLean's Magazine describing a trip to Northern Ireland in company with Sir Ernest Cooper. A sentence from one of the articles may explain why Northern Ireland chooses a Canadian to represent them, and also, perhaps, why our guest chooses to represent Northern Ireland. "There is much in common between the Canadian and the Ulsterman, the same genuineness, the same lack of affectation, the same instinct to welcome the visitor as one of themselves."
I have great pleasure in presenting Sir Ernest Herbert Cooper who will address us on "The Strategic Position of Ulster."
SIR ERNEST HERBERT COOPER: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: The other day when I was approaching an American port on a ship that was carrying a substantial number of American persons, I listened to a ship's broadcast given by a senior American officer, which gave a warning against careless talk, after landing. He concluded with the abrupt admonition, "Keep your mouth shut!"
Shortly after my arrival I received a pleasant letter from Mr. Thompson of your Empire Club which invited me to be your guest and his admonition (not so abrupt) seemed to be, "When you are with us we should like you to open your mouth."
So I am speaking to you today with those conflicting instructions on my mind. But there are one or two things upon which I am free to speak.
Firstly, I think I ought to say on behalf of the coterie of Canadians in London that they realize that during the past five years they have been living in reflected glory--glory reflected from the great contribution that Canada has made to the war effort and from the sympathy and concern you have exhibited in a thousand forms in the tribulations of the people of the United Kingdom. That sympathy has aroused the most profound gratitude and admiration in the hearts of the people with whom we associate daily.
You have called upon some of us Canadians in London to supplement that contribution and it has been our pleasure to serve on committees which your voluntary organisations have set up in London to give direction on the spot to the movement which you have initiated and which you have supported so generously. For instance, the Canadian Red Cross have a London Committee, ably presided over by that great Canadian, Lord Bennett; the Canadian Y.M.C.A. has a London Committee assisting the senior officers of the Y.M.C.A. (of which the chief is a Toronto man, Capt. Ed. Otter. who has done a truly 'noble piece of gruelling work.) That committee is presided over by Mr. McIlwraith, a partner of Wood, Gundy & Co. of this city. The Beaver Club Committee meets regularly in the office of the Canadian High Commissioner. The Canadian Legion and the Knights of Columbus have their committees.
All in all the Canadians in London have been brought more closely together and have seen considerably more of one another than in peace time when our individual avocations did not cause our paths to intersect so frequently. For myself I have not had the opportunity to attend these committee meetings so regularly as I could have wished; that is because I was called upon for other governmental duties directly connected with the war effort.
In June of 1940, just as France had fallen, I was called off the Wimbledon golf course one Saturday afternoon to receive a telephone message from the newly appointed Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook. I was told he wanted to see me. I looked at my watch, figured how long it would take me to finish the round, wash up and travel to town. and then said I could see him any time after seven o'clock. The message came back that my appointment was for 5.20. I replied that I had said anytime after seven o'clock, to which the answer came, "You know our Minister." I was there at 5.20 and during the following years was consistently submissive.
As I see it now the chief tasks of the Ministry of Aircraft Production at that time, aside from its administrative functions were, first, to increase the production of fighter planes and, second, to disperse the aircraft factories in order to minimize the effect of the air attack which we could see was impending.
And let me say here, and it is said by one who was in a position to observe his work at close quarters, Lord Beaverbrook's drive and his direction of aircraft construction immediately preceding the Battle of Britain contributed materially to the successful issue of that momentous struggle.
My own work in the Ministry was on dispersal. Our instructions were to have everything in a factory unit made in three different places, so that no one bomb could affect our output by more than one third. That year our coterie on that task was requisitioning properties pretty fast. So that we even became known as Beaverbrook's brigands, though I must say I found very few property owners who refused to disregard their personal interests when the national need was explained to them.
I would like to tell you of one incident that occurred at a factory where I was carrying on that dispersal work. A squadron of fighter pilots came to the factory to give the workers personal "pep" talks. The manager provided lunch in a private room and the squadron leader placed at the manager's right a little fair haired pilot officer, whom you might have considered from his diminutive size the least important member of the party. The manager engaged him in conversation and learned that he had twenty-three German planes to his credit.
He said to him, "I understand you brought down the plane that bombed Buckingham Palace."
"Yes," he replied, "but he got me too and I had to bail out."
"At what height?"
"Oh, about 10,000 feet." "All right?"
"Yes, all right."
"Well," said the manager, "I hope the authorities give you chaps plenty of leave."
"They're not so bad," said the officer. "In fact, I am on leave now."
"What, on leave now and spending it in an aircraft factory! Why not get into the country and enjoy a change of scene?" "Oh well," said the pilot, "I have only one place to go to, that is up in Scotland where I have two old 'aunts and if I go there they will keep talking to me about the dangers of flying."
Lord Beaverbrook left after a year in that office and shortly afterwards I was invited to go to Northern Ireland as industrial adviser to the Minister of Commerce of that Province. You will all know that Northern Ireland is the one part of the United Kingdom that has local or Provincial Government. That was set up as a result of the long political struggle over what was known as Home Rule for Ireland. You know how Dublin wanted Home Rule and how Belfast refused to have it. In 1921 the long dispute was settled (if anything in Ireland is ever settled) by dividing Ireland into two parts, giving Dominion status to what is known as Eire and leaving the six Northern Counties called Ulster within the United Kingdom but with a Governor, a Senate and a House of Commons to administer local affairs. So far as foreign affairs are concerned, the Post Office, Customs and Excise and such things, Ulster is governed by Westminster, but her local affairs are handled by her Parliament at Stormont without the necessity of going through the congestion of Westminster.
Therefore, when it came to production of munitions, many of the problems in connection with the utilization of Ulster's capacity were the concern of Ulster's local Government, though the orders for those munitions emanated from the different supply ministries in London. The Minister of Commerce with whom I worked provided the connecting link.
I say that much to show how for the next two years I came into close touch with Ulster industry and Ulster thought. No man could have been received more kindly and I know that the fact that I am a Canadian helped me. I could tell you a good deal about the achievement of Ulster in munition production, her ships, aeroplanes, shells and ammunition of many kinds, but that privilege is as yet denied to me. What I would like to speak about to you, and what I think is of direct concern to you, is the strategic position of Ulster.
When France fell in 1940, it is no secret that the ports on the southern and eastern shores of the United Kingdom were almost unusable. The Mersey and the Clyde had their troubles but they were the two entrances to the British Isles on which we were dependent. The protection of convoys coming to those two ports was a vital matter. Now if you will remember the geography you learned at school you will realize that Ulster is situated across the St. George's Channel, midway between the Clyde and the Mersey. You will, therefore, realize the importance of the naval bases at Belfast and Londonderry, and the Ulster aerodromes and sea plane bases. in giving naval protection and aircover to the convoys going to and fro.
I have seen sea planes leave an Ulster sea plane base, some going to the coast of Spain, some on Atlantic patrol, some going as far north as Iceland. From an Ulster base flew the Catalina that spotted the Bismark. I have seen many wounded ships find shelter in Ulster ports. Our great danger in 1940 was the uncovered channel in the Mid-Atlantic not reached by the air patrols of either side. Without the bases of Ulster. that is, if the the aeroplanes and sea planes had been based in Scotland, that channel would have been two hundred miles wider than it was.
Let me read you what Mr. Winston Churchill has said about it. This was in a letter written by him to Mr. Andrews when he retired from the Premiership of Northern Ireland in May 1943. He said, "Only one great channel of entry remained open, because loyal Ulster gave us the full use of the Northern Irish ports and waters and thus ensured the free working of the Clyde and the Mersey. But for the loyalty of Northern Ireland and its devotion to what has now become the cause of thirty governments or nations, we should have been confronted with slavery and death; and the light which now shines throughout the world would have been quenched."
One would deduce from that letter and those considerations that there is no longer any basis for the long-existing fear of Ulster that she might be cast out from the United Kingdom, and I believe that there is no great danger of that happening. But there are people who will try for it nevertheless. There are some who look upon the division of Ireland as an untidy arrangement and would perhaps use the traditional British policy of appeasement to effect what they call "tidying it up." Should that attempt be made I hope that Canada will exercise its influence. Let us remember that from the downfall of France up to "D" day every Canadian soldier that entered Great Britain in this war came in under the protection of Ulster--every soldier from the United States likewise.
Mr. Walter Lippman, the American columnist, in his book on the need of a new American foreign policy, has advocated a postwar alliance between Great Britain and the U.S.A. as a first essential to organised world peace. He advocates this alliance not only because the thoughts and sympathies of the two nations are similar, but also because through an alliance with Great Britain, America would obtain three entrances to the Eastern Hemisphere, by Cape Town, by Gibraltar and by the British Isles. Of these three the most important is that by the British Isles. Ulster stands guard over that entrance, and on that account has been called the "Gibraltar of the North." Her strategic position is so important that I submit her political position admits of no compromise, and it seems to me that it should be a fixed policy in Empire councils that there will be no gambling with her ports.
And in considering Ulster from a strategic point of view, let us not forget to be grateful that she is peopled by men who are steadfast and loyal and true.