EXPERIENCE ON AN ATLANTIC CONVOY
AN ADDRESS BY
CLARENCE M. HINCKS, B.A., M.D.
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Sanderson.
Thursday, March 5, 1942
MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Your Honour, Gentlemen of The Empire Club: Your president is privileged today to welcome in your name our Guest Speaker, Dr. Clarence M. Hincks. His presence with us gives us an opportunity of telling him in person how much we admire the great work he is doing, and of saying that we recognize in him a public benefactor. (Applause.) Some of the things he has said and written have doubtless struck all of us with direct and startling force. For example, when he tells us that, out of every one hundred school children entering our Canadian schools, more will go into mental hospitals than will graduate from our universities (and he is not speaking merely of morons, when he says that; he means that four out of every hundred children who enter our schools will ultimately become inmates of hospitals for the mentally deranged) I think, Gentlemen, we can understand why Dr. Hincks is working with such vitality and determination to remove illness from the mind as well as f rom the body.
But, as a medical man and as a social leader, he does not confine himself merely to curative efforts. To use his own words, he aims to keep well people well.
In his address to us today, he is not going to speak directly on this subject which is nearest and dearest to his heart. But everything he does in this world is not really very far away from his life's enthusiasm, and he is going to describe one experience which he has just been through in carrying out the responsibilities which he has assumed in connection with child welfare.
Your Honour and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present to you Dr. Clarence M. Hincks, who will tell us of his "Experience on an Atlantic Convoy." Dr. Hincks.
DR. CLARENCE M. HINCKS: Your Honour, Mr. President, Distinguished Guests and Gentlemen: I do count it a distinct pleasure and privilege to be with you today. When in London I accepted your kind invitation to be present, I didn't know at that time that Mr. Hitler, through his submarines, would be attempting to prevent me from filling this delightful engagement.
Now, on a winter morning, at a British port, I boarded a ship bound for Canada, and, before we got under way, I took a last look at a hundred barrage balloons that guarded the docks and the shipping in the harbour. They floated high in the air-really brilliant jewels glistening in the sun. I looked back at the proud buildings of that world famous port, at sections that had been razed to the ground by Nazi bombs, and at the funnels and masts of two sunken ships in the harbour. While I was glad to be returning home, I sensed, at the same time, a great yearning to remain in Britain. In two months I naturally made many friends and I had come to appreciate British valour and greatness. And, in a way, I did not want to leave. I had a desire to share with the good people of Great Britain the dangers of bombing from the air, the dangers of possible invasion. You see, I felt that it was not quite fair to have enjoyed magnificent British hospitality, and, at the same time, to have escaped exposure to the physical dangers that had been the lot of my hosts during recent months. Little did I realize, on that winter morning, that, while I had experienced nothing of the hazards of the Battle of Britain, I soon would be getting a taste of that other great battle, so crucial to the Allied cause,--the Battle of the Atlantic. Professor Jaffary and I were fortunate in securing passage in a medium-sized freighter that was used in the banana trade before the war but is utilized now to carry bacon, ham, and pork products from Canada to Britain. Our quarters were most comfortable and I would advise anybody to travel on a freighter, particularly in peace time, rather than a passenger ship (I hope my friends of the C.P.R. aren't here), if he wants general comfort and courtesy and service. We had the luxury of hot salt water baths in the morning, tea in bed before breakfast, tea at eleven o'clock, tea at four o'clock, a snack at nine-thirty. My wife won't know what to do with me, now I have come back,--I am a tea addict. We were the only passengers and we sat at the Captain's table with the Vice-Commodore of the convoy, representing the Royal Navy; with the Chief Engineer; and with the First Officer, who told me I was appointed Honorary Psychiatrist and Ship Surgeon. I said I hadn't practised medicine for twenty-five years.
Now, we learned that our boat had seen plenty of action. She had suffered from "near misses" when a German plane had dived down upon her, straddling her with bombs and machine-gunning her decks. The bombs came so close that the ship was almost lifted out of the water, and the cradles holding her propeller-shaft in place were smashed. I took great delight in going, down into the bowels of the ship and seeing the repaired cradles. Six days after the beginning of the war, when she was unarmed, she was attacked during daylight by a submarine. She zigzagged to escape torpedoes and managed to dodge the shells from a four-inch gun, and she did it because her Captain was on a decoy boat in the last war. His job was to lure submarines on. He said, "I know their habits; I know what they can do; I know what they can't do. While I have a little freighter, I know how long it takes to heat up the diesel engine in a submarine. I have an even chance to get away, and yet those Germans thought I was going to surrender." Yes, the boat was already a veteran in this war.
For the first week of our journey we had good weather and no excitement. It was a different story, Gentlemen, for the succeeding eight days. We were continuously trailed by submarines. Depth charges were dropped daily by our destroyers. On two nights we were subjected to submarine raids, with five separate attacks in all. The first night's raid occurred at three o'clock in the morning. The second night, the attacks were at twelve midnight, at two in the morning, at four in the morning, at five-thirty in the morning.
Professor Jaffary and I were placed in a position of great advantage to keep track of what was going on. At the beginning of each raid, the ship's alarm would ring, and we would go on deck with members of the crew to see what we could see, and to be ready to abandon ship, if the order came. After each raid, it was our custom to sit in the ship's lounge, and here we would pick up snatches of telephone conversation that went on between the boats of our armed escorts. This we were able to do because the telephone receiving set in our ship was in a room immediately overhead, and the shrill character of its sound penetrated the ceiling of our lounge,-and here were two Canadians sitting, listening. We thus had the opportunity, which, I am told, is rather unique,-certainly for passengers,-of witnessing a raid and then getting the essential facts of what had transpired. It was just as if you were looking at a football game and had missed some of the fine points of it, and then could listen to those very fast announcers as they described the details of the play.
When we reached the deck, in the first night's raid, we found the heavens lit with flares and sky-rockets. My friend, Jaffary, said, "Isn't this just like Toronto Exhibition?" The sky was luminous and the greater number of the ships in our convoy stood out in bold relief, with the water in between sufficiently well lighted to make a submarine visible if it were operating on the surface, and with every gun on all those thirty-four ships manned with eager eyes, looking to take a smack at any submarine that showed its back.
Previous to the ringing of the ship's alarm, in this first raid, we had heard several explosions. These had been the sounds of bursting torpedoes that had found their mark in two of our ships-one ship that had been placed at the end of our line in the convoy, and the other in the next line. By the time we reached the deck, these boats had sunk. Our rescue ship managed to pick up fourteen survivors from one and twelve from the other.
On the second night of raiding-actually two nights from the first--we learned that, at nine o'clock--and here we got it again through our telephone system--an SOS had been received from a boat ninety miles astern to the effect that she had been torpedoed. Of course, it is tragic when you are out in a convoy and know there is a boat torpedoed fairly close to you. Convoys are not broken up. They keep going-they have to. This circumstance gave rise to the speculation that the submarine that had attacked us on the first night was again at work, and that, possibly, we ourselves would be unmolested. But we were wrong. Apparently the Nazis had another sub or subs because all the attacks had the character of two subs attacking at the same time. They were in our vicinity and we were subjected to four attacks, as I have said, from midnight to dawn, on this second occasion. Four of our ships that night were torpedoed with only two, however, sinking. The two remaining afloat--and here is one of the marvels of the sea, and of ship construction--were able to proceed slowly under their own steam, although they had holes thirty feet in diameter in their bottoms. Fortunately, from those four ships torpedoed on the second night, everybody was rescued.
It is very interesting. The first night of torpedoing in a convoy, people are more or less unprepared. I was the last one on deck on that first occasion, and, on the four latter occasions, I was the first. Well, I think we were all first, as a matter of fact, because one has only thirty seconds, Gentlemen, on some of these torpedoings.
Now, I had often wondered-and here I am reverting to being a mental hygienist-during the past few months, concerning the way I would feel in a submarine raid. I suspected, knowing myself, that I would be tremulous, excited, apprehensive, perhaps jittery. You can use any term you like along those lines, and that was going to be "me". Well, my expectations proved to be more or less true the first night. In fact, I exceeded my expectations. I found myself tense, worried, and beset with more than a trace of fear. I won't go into all my physiological reactions that night. They were plenty. But, to my great amazement, I experienced no such feelings on the second night, when, for hours, we were under attack. I felt as cool and collected as the officers and members of the crew. I slept soundly between raids--and they were coming every two hours. I was able to make uncomplimentary remarks, very uncomplimentary remarks, that my father would not like to hear me make, about the enemy, and to chat with those about me on other matters than submarines.
In comparing notes with my colleague, Professor Jaffary, I found he had gone through an identical experience. Both of us had become veterans, as it were, after a single night's torpedoing. You know, in medicine, we talk about establishing immunity in regard to physical disability, contagious diseases. Here you have, Gentlemen, in the psychological realm, a parallel proposition, where you establish immunity with a single night's experience. And I have to admit that we couldn't even work up a sense of excitement, when later raids were on.
Now, I dwell at this point on the way in which we humans react to danger, because of my desire to give assurance to those of my fellow-Canadians who may be apprehensive of what would occur in this country if we were called upon to take bombing from the air. We would react as our colleagues in Britain react. And what is that? The way I reacted with my first experience of a torpedo attack. Jittery--make no mistake about that. But, after that first attack, one goes into his stride. So much so in Britain, that they have great difficulty in getting most of the population even to go to a shelter. You will learn that from your friends, and so, if we are exposed to bombing from the air, we will be jittery the first night, whether we want to or not, and, after that, there will be consummate coolness, because a blitz or two, according to Pavlov's phraseology, will have conditioned us.
We thought our troubles were over after our second night of torpedoing. When we came down to breakfast that morning, the Vice-Commodore, looking as though he had had two or three years added to his age, said, "Well, that is over." We thought we had relative immunity during the daytime. Well, our troubles weren't over. The following day a sister ship in our convoy, an 8,000-ton freighter, because of something going wrong with her steering gear, got out of control. Around ten o'clock in the morning a dense fog had just lifted, and we saw this bulky boat, two or three times our size, coming head-on to us, almost at right angles. Of course, there was the expectation that she would hit us amidship. I learned a marvellous phrase, during this voyage, from the Admiral. He said, "The essential of seamanship is anticipation." I wish we would apply that to some other fields aside from seamanship.
Well, thank God, we had seamen on our boat. The Captain knew that, if he put his boat immediately into reverse, as that particular boat had the characteristic of veering around to starboard, it would make us more parallel with the boat that was charging us. His aim was to make this not a dead-on blow but a glancing blow, if he could do it. The Chief Engineer anticipated what the Captain would order and he was right there as soon as he saw the boat coming,--he was right over the engine-room signalling down. He said, "Jim, get your' hands on the lever. Be ready for a quick reverse, full speed. While doing this, be sure your compartment is closed." Anticipation! Never will I forget that phrase. Well, because we had seamanship on our boat and the engines were thrown into reverse, we had a lucky break.
There was something I didn't like about that boat. I had watched her in the convoy, clay after day, and I said, "I don't like her bow." The huge freighter on the other side had a straight stem and it looked better to my eyes. I never want straight stems any more. This one had an outward curving bow and that meant that the main impact was above the eater-line and the force of the blow was broken. They carved us up, of course. It carved up the Captain's bridge, smashed the life-boats, did everything. But, thank God, we were afloat.
Well, to revert to the torpedoing. We lost four ships that we know of, Gentlemen. I won't go on anticipating about some of the other boats, but we actually saw these boats go down. I timed some of them with a watch. They put up a red light as soon as the boat is torpedoed and one can take his watch and see how long it takes it to go down. Sometimes it is thirty seconds. We lost four ships out of a convoy of 34, or a percentage of 11.7. Going on the guess that each boat carried a crew of fifty officers and men (we had eighty-three, so this is a conservative guess) we lost approximately 74 men. And since there would be 1,700 men all told, in the convoy, the percentage lost was 4.3. From the angle of those directly concerned, this loss was tragic and lamentable. But from the broad angle of its implication, concerning the ability of the Allies to keep the sea-lanes open to Great Britain, it should cause serious concern but not a defeatist outlook. In other words, at this time when Hitler is making a special drive to sweep Allied merchant shipping from the Atlantic, he is embarrassing us but he is not licking us.
You heard Mr. Churchill say--we heard him in mid-Atlantic--that the battle of the Atlantic now is more acute and the sinkings greater than at the peak of the sinkings of the last war, and they are up at the top of this war. Now, you see I am giving you an account of what is occurring at the peak, and yet I say, with my friends of the Merchant Marine and the Navy, we are not getting licked, but we are getting an awful run for our money. This experience -in mid-Atlantic has heightened my admiration for the Merchant Marine and the boys of the Navy. (Applause.) Those who manned our armed escort gave all the protection that was humanly possible. Unfortunately, available escort vessels could not handle the whole job alone.
Now, a word about the Merchant Marine. The officers and men of our boat faced the dangers of our voyage with calm courage. At no stage of the game did anybody run to do his duties. There was nothing in the way of hurry. A man was there with an axe ready to cut the ropes for the life-boats to drop--there is no time to undo them. They all knew their jobs. They were all ready. It gives one a great sense of security to be with a well-oiled group--not "oiled" in the sense that the expression is sometimes used. I would say that the Vice-Commodore is as human as I am, yet he wouldn't take a drink on the whole passage. But we made up for it a little when we got to port in the Nova Scotia Hotel. I hope my father isn't listening.
Now, all these men were proficient in their work, and, as soon as their ship is repaired, they will face the Hun again. They will carry food again to Britain. I asked these gallant lads what I could do for them in return for all they had done for me. They said, "Doctor, you are made. All you have got to do is tell the story of these eight days. You will make big money out of it, Doctor." They said, "You had a grandstand seat for one of the most interesting actions on the Atlantic." Well, I asked them what I could do for them, and I repeat almost verbatim what they said. They said: "Tell the Canadian people to build us more and more corvettes. We cannot expect the same amount of protection for freighters and tankers as is provided for troop transports, but we would like to have more protection than we have at present."
You see, a troop transport is girdled round with destroyers, with cruisers, even with battleships, and I don't think a submarine has a chance. But you have a contrast there, Gentlemen; with all these ships carrying oil, carrying food to Britain, it is a different story. They haven't the protection.
They said: "We appreciate the fact that corvettes cannot be built overnight, but if we know that you are busily engaged in the building of many of them, then, with greater heart, we will take our chances at present with what we've got." (Applause.)
This, Gentlemen, is the message I bring you from the men of the Merchant Marine, and, needless to say, it has my hearty endorsation.
Now, a few words about my mission to Britain. The National Committee for Mental Hygiene was invited by the British Ministry of Health to study the problems connected with the evacuation of children from London, Plymouth, and other target areas, to regions of greater safety. And so, on November 2I of last year, Dr. William E.--Blatz, Professor Stuart K. Jaffary, and I, left Halifax for Liverpool. When we arrived in Britain, we were immediately attached to the staff of the Ministry of Health and given every opportunity to make a wide range of observations.
We discovered that, since the beginning of the war, approximately two million people, most of them children, had been evacuated from London and other centres. This huge undertaking-the largest planned migration in history had been effected largely by the. Ministry of Health, in co-operation with the local authorities. We discovered that splendid attention was being given to the education, health, and welfare of the children concerned. Most of the young people had been billeted in private homes. There were, however, special arrangements for sick children in so-called sick bays and for difficult children in appropriate hostels. Young children under five were billeted in company with their mothers or were placed in residential nursery schools. Canada had been helping out in the situation by providing clothing and comforts through the Red Cross, the Lord Mayor's Fund, and through other avenues. But, for the most part, Britain had been shouldering the responsibility of evacuation through the utilization of her own re. sources. And I wish I could convey to you the dimensions of her task. Perhaps you can gain some conception of the size and difficulty of the job if I make reference to what was done outside of Plymouth. And if there is a place I would like to live, outside of Muskoka in Canada in the summer time, it is Devonshire-and they gave me Devonshire cream, although it is not allowed.
Well, before the bombing of Plymouth, the surrounding territory, for miles, had received a very considerable number of refugees from Czechoslovakia and from other European countries. Added to these newcomers, were the thousands and thousands of children who had been sent to this region from London. Indeed, the district was already crowded with children and their mothers before Plymouth had been blitzed. And then, one night, the bombs began to fall on Plymouth, and, in the space of a few hours, thirty thousand people walked out from this city to escape 'the rain of death from the skies. By utilizing every church building, every school, every public hall, and every hotel, these thirty thousand people were provided with beds, hot meals, medical services, and personal attention. And everything was done without confusion, without a hitch. What a wonderful people the British are! (Applause.)
Now, while we discovered that our compatriots across the sea had everything well in hand in reference to the care of evacuated children, it was evident that acute problems were looming ahead. Britain was facing a serious shortage of trained children's workers-school teachers, social workers, teachers of children under five, and so on. And, in addition, the British had been so absorbed in doing a good job for these children, that there had been relative neglect in the conduct of scientific research in reference to the many problems of evacuation-research that would lead to the development of better programmes for child care.
With these observations of Britain's need, I took the liberty, on your behalf-on behalf of my fellow--Canadian citizens-of offering a Canadian Children's Service. Such a service will, to begin with, include a small token contingent of twenty-five social workers and teachers--a university department of child psychology to undertake the task of training hundreds of British women for work in wartime nurseries.
You see, Gentlemen, they are developing wartime nurseries at the rate of several hundred a week. Here are mothers with young children going into the munitions factories. Somebody has to look after the children, and there aren't enough child specialists in the world today to take care of that need. So it seems to be appropriate that we, in Canada, help out our British friends in training people in Britain for that vital task.
I also promised that a group of Canadian scientists will contribute on the research side. This offer, which I made, by the way without having a single dollar in sight or any authority for making. Gentlemen, was gladly received by the British Ministry of Health and the British Board of Education. And. while it is necessary to collect funds in Canada within the next few weeks, in Britain, where one feels all the resources should have been exhausted long ago, a little group, without any solicitation on my part came to me and said, "We would like to start this ball rolling by giving you £1,000, and, if you are finding any difficulty in raising money in Canada, come back and we will give you another £ 1,000."
Now, as you know, the welfare of children is very close to the hearts of the entire British people. As one East End Londoner put it to me, in the presence of his small boy: "In this war we are fighting for equal chances for nippers like him." Yes, the supreme war aim in Britain is to secure a victory that will make possible the giving to their children of an opportunity to develop a better world than we have ever known. And, during the war, the British want their children to be safe and to be given every advantage in the way of health and education. British morale, magnificent as it is, would be put to a terrific test if those in the fighting forces felt that their children were being neglected.
So,--and I am going to make an amazing statement for some of your ears,--it is quite as important for us in Canada to send children's workers to Britain as it is to send soldiers and the materials of war. At least some such thought was expressed by one of the heads of the British Army, right at the top.
So much for my own mission. I wish I had time to raise a question or two. I will raise one partially, and attempt to give an answer, in the light of my British experience. I just raise this question: Aside from the war effort, is Britain, compared to Canada and the United States, a really progressive country?
The answer here is unquestionably in the affirmative. Indeed, I was continually being surprised, during my two months' stay, with striking evidences of British initiative and with her amazing progress along many lines. I could give you a list of examples in different fields. I will go on just to one or two.
In the domain of industry, I found that splendid attention was being given to the health and welfare of workers. Arrangements at the Enfield Cable Works, for example, employing two thousand men, are indicative of the British policy to labour. I spent an afternoon at these works, in company with Lord Forrester, the son of the proprietor. And what did I find? The vast plant, for the most part, was air-conditioned, with forced ventilation, insuring a refreshing movement of clear air so conducive to health. Lighting was effected by overhead neon lamps, as easy on the eyes as natural daylight. You see there are no more daylight factories in Britain, and, even in daylight, they are all blacked out. A large cafeteria supplied balanced attractive meals at approximately cost prices. But most important of all, the relationship between management and men was ideal. All the workers knew and respected Lord Forrester, but, at his request, he was always referred as to "Mr. Forrester." Gentlemen, there is no distinction in Britain between the classes today. They are all one family. I can tell you that absolutely. To get the men's point of view, Lord Forrester, before the war,--mark you, a graduate of Eton and of Oxford and one of the most brilliant men in Britain,--said, "For management I have got to have the technical side of, my business." So he spent several years in Austria, in the steel business, where he learned the latest processes. "But", he said, "the technical side in industry is comparatively easy. The hard side is the human side." So what post-graduate work did this graduate of Oxford take to get the training in the field of men? He spent six years with unemployed miners in Wales, living their lives with them, sharing their hardships, and, for two years, being accepted absolutely as one of them. He said, "Doctor, I learned more in those six years than I expect I will ever learn the rest of my life."
I only wish I could tell you the advances that, at this moment, are being made in education, in health, in invention, in any field which you like to mention.
Now, this word in conclusion. I left Britain with the firm conviction that she is the greatest country in 'the world; that she possesses inexhaustible strength, mental, physical, and spiritual; that she is a religious country today; and that, by close association with her as a partner we, in Canada, can profit from this strength.
Now on the other hand, Britain needs us. You and I, therefore, should work, in season and out, as you all do in this Empire Club, to knit together more closely our bonds of Empire. (Applause.)
MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Your Honour and Gentlemen: I think many of us have wondered what our own reaction would have been to an experience like that which Dr. Hincks has just described. Many of this audience know from first experience in the last war what it is to be under fire on the ground. Some of this audience saw service in the Navy, but those who know only ground dangers know little of the dangers of the sea, and I was extremely interested to know that Dr. Hincks could describe a gradual immunity from fear even on the sea.
But, Dr. Hincks, those eight days must have been eight long and tense days and nights. We thank you Sir, for your--vivacious, for your honest, for your frank, for your cool, story of that crossing. , What you have said brings out once more the courage of the Navy and the courage of the Mercantile Marine. But it also brings out the courage of civilians doing a civilian wartime job. That is what you were doing, Sir.
We are glad that you have also let us share once more your social philosophy. A whole-out war effort means much more than lip service, and, if the better world which you envisage for us is to be reached, it involves much more than lip service in our social philosophy. We are grateful to you for letting us share your experiences, and, on behalf of the audience in this hall, and, on behalf of the audience that has been listening to us over the air, may I turn that gratitude into words, Sir, and say "Thank you, very much". (Applause.)