BRITAIN SEES IT THROUGH
AN ADDRESS BY
LIEUT.-COLONEL THE HON. GEORGE A. DREW, PRIME MINISTER OF ONTARIO.
Chairman: The President, Mr. W. Eason Humphreys
Tuesday, January 11, 1944
MR. HUMPHREYS: An introduction to our distinguished guest of honour today is obviously unnecessary. Instead, and with your permission, I shall read to you two short letters written last August.
The first, written in the name of The Empire Club to Col. Drew, read as follows
"Dear Col. Drew
As a member and a Past President, you have always upheld the constitutional aim, traditions and non-partisanship of The Empire Club of Canada. We cannot, however, let your acclaim as Premier of the Province of Ontario pass without tendering to you congratulations, sincere good wishes and success for the task you are now called upon to perform.
The Empire Club finds great satisfaction in your belief in the maintenance of the British connection. Our very best wishes,
Col. Drew replied
"Many thanks for your very kind letter of August 13th.
I am very glad you approve of the course I am following in regard connection to the maintenance of the British and I appreciate your congratulations more than I can say.
With kindest regards and all good wishes, believe me,
Gentlemen: The Honourable Geo. A. Drew, K.C., Premier of the Province of Ontario.
COLONEL DREW: It is just over two years since I had the honour of addressing The Empire Club on returning from Britain after an earlier trip when our prospects in the war and the situation in Britain itself were very different to what they are today. It is with special pleasure that I speak to The Empire Club and its guests because the main purpose of this Club is to do what it can to maintain the traditions and strengthen the ties between those nations and other areas which constitute the most remarkable world-wide fellowship of free people known to history.
What is Britain like in this fifth year of war? That question is not easy to answer. Returning after two years' absence, there are, however, a number of first impressions which remain very clearly in my mind. Most buildings, except the very old and the very new ones, are beginning to look somewhat shabby. No paint has been available for nearly four and a half years. Repairs have been limited to those which served some really useful purpose. On the other hand, the signs of destruction are less noticeable. In most cities, much of the bombs wreckage has been cleared away. Where there were twisted beams and huge piles of masonry are now in many cases tidy vacant lots very much like those which are used here for parking cars. Even the buildings which have been gutted by fire do not convey the thought of recent destructions. After all, buildings which were destroyed a thousand years ago, a hundred years ago, or two years ago, may all seem equally part of a distant past. And those days of widespread destruction in 1940 and 1941 do seem to be very much a part of the past. Even the deepest personal tragedies cease in time to be part of the material surroundings in which they occurred. In London, in Birmingham, in Edinburgh, in Cardiff, or in Belfast, there seems to be little thought of the possibility that Germany will ever again be able to mass the great bomber forces which did so much damage in those terrible years. To that extent, the war seems more remote.
That, however, is one of those first impressions which is apt to be so misleading. The great cities of Britain may seem less heroic than in days when the world thrilled to the stories of how London could take it. But the war is not farther away. On the contrary, it is part of their daily life-so much a part of it in fact that it is taken as a matter of course. The stranger may be surprised at the carefree gaiety of those who dance either at the fashionable restaurants of the West End or the little dance halls in the suburbs. Perhaps he will learn, however, that the good-looking pilot dancing with such enthusiasm was bombing Berlin last night and that his friend who has been sitting at the same table was fighting the Huns at forty-thousand feet over France only a few hours before. Or it may be that the gay lads in the navy blue who are having such fun could tell you something about the last moments of the Scharnhorst, if they cared to talk about anything so remote from their present surroundings. Those boys in khaki have been far from the Arctic ice. Their browned complexions and the African Star tell you that they have just returned from a Mediterranean trip with Montgomery. No! With all their gaiety the war is very close and soon it will be closer still. Those lads, whether in light blue, dark blue, or khaki, are waiting for another trip which they know will be a rough trip. But they are ready for whatever may come so long as their destination is Berlin. In the meantime, they have the good sense to be gay, and that I think is the gaiety of Britain at this hour.
About two weeks ago, I took a train from London to Southampton. Near the tracks as we passed through the country I saw a number of signs which seemed to me strangely appropriate. Perhaps some of you who know Hampshire well will remind me that those signs are advertisements for a well-known beverage. But that does not change the effect of the words. Shortly after leaving London, you read the words, "You are nearing the Strong Country." Later, you read, "You are entering the Strong Country." And finally in heavy letters, "This is the Strong Country." I think that if it were possible to reduce to a single sentence the deep impression left by the broad picture of the Britain of today, it could not be better described than in those simple words, "This is the Strong Country."
It is so different to what it was in 1941 when I was last there. The United States was not yet in the war. The Russian armies were retreating. Rommel was still a name to conjure with. Their confidence in ultimate victory really seemed to be based on little more than a passionate intuition that decency and justice must in the end prevail over the forces of evil. Now victory is no longer in doubt. When that great day arrives, whenever it may be, the people of Britain will be the first to acknowledge what they owe to the courage and tenacity of the Russians, and how much they depended on the United States for aircraft, ships and other vital supplies during the most critical hours of the war. But it is to be hoped that others will remember how much the whole world owes to the people of Britain for their resolution and fortitude in the black days of 1940 when they faced the storm alone. It may be easy to forget how much we all owe to them now that the tide of battle has turned unless we remember how unprepared the whole world was in 1940 to meet the Axis tide of conquest. Britain's strength today is apt to make people forget how relatively weak she was in those critical days. In that respect, we can well remember these words of Winston Churchill: "Few would have believed we could survive; none would have believed that we should today not only feel stronger but should actually be stronger than we have ever been before."
Today, Britain is the strong front line of the Western World. The British Isles are, in fact, a mighty aircraft carrier where every level stretch of ground is an airport. 600,000 of the best acres of Britain are being used for landing fields. From those fields the air forces of the British Empire and the United States are striking at the heart of the enemy day and night. I think the word "raid" conveys the wrong impression. When 2,000 men and more fly over enemy territory in a single day, that is really a large scale attack even in terms ordinarily applied to land forces.
Perhaps there would be less chance for misunderstanding if it were better understood how very real the Western Front has been for some considerable time. The combing of German cities has forced the German air force to keep more than three-quarters of their fighter force between the coast and Berlin. For nearly two years the German air force have had less than a quarter of their fighter strength on the Russian front. The destruction of tank factories, fuel stores, armament plants, and technical installations has had a tremendous effect on the ability of Germany to maintain their armies on the Eastern Front. And, as for the effect on man power, there are at least a million men manning the air defences of Western Germany, quite apart from the men deployed to meet the threat of invasion. It is unlikely that bombing alone will bring victory, no matter how great the destruction may be, but at least it can be said that the bombing from Britain is making it possible for the final thrusts of the land forces to be swift and overwhelming.
Of one thing I am certain. No matter when the time for the great attack may come, no matter what the spirit of the German people may be, there can be no doubt about the fact that many of the German cities which produce vital war material have been devastated as few cities have been in all history. I recall brilliantly clear stereoptican pictures of one important German city which showed beyond all doubt that at least 90% of the buildings had been destroyed or completely gutted by fire. Other cities not quite so badly damaged must have been made uninhabitable for a large part of the population. In war, it does not make any real difference whether damage of that kind is done by great masses of artillery just outside the city or by a sudden deluge of bombs from the air. In either case, a point of destruction is finally reached when the time is ripe for the land assault.
In this mighty air barrage, the Royal Canadian Air Force with the Royal Air Force is playing a glorious role. Arguments appear from time to time about the comparative merits of day and night bombing. The truth is that each plays a vital part in the pattern of non-stop bombing. The Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force are doing a magnificent job. It is a thrilling sight to see them roaring overhead in formation headed for France or Western Germany in bright sunlight. With their turbo-super chargers, it is possible for them to fly above the really effective range of anti-aircraft fire. But this demands a very much heavier fuel load than in the Lancasters, which at night can fly comparatively low with more than twice the bomb loads.
Each type has an important role, but as destruction can be measured fairly accurately in weight of bombs, the part played by the bombers of the combined British air forces operating out of Britain can best be measured by the simple fact that in 1943 they dropped exactly seven times the weight of bombs on Germany as were dropped by the bomber forces of the United States. No matter what may happen elsewhere, so far as the destruction of German war plants and German cities is concerned, that has been the special job of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force.
I will never forget my visits to the bomber squadrons. A recall particularly one of the Canadian Pathfinder Squadrons which I visited on the 23rd of December. The crews were told that the raid was on Berlin, were shown the exact route the bombers would follow, and given their time of departure and time of arrival over the target. In the meantime, the bombers were being loaded. It is a somewhat terrifying sight to look up into the open bomb bay of a Lancaster and see the assortment of bombs they carry. A typical mixture would be one 4,000 pounder, four 1,000 pounders, and several thousand pounds more of assorted incendiaries and flares.
On that particular night the time of departure was shortly after midnight, which would get the bombers to Berlin about four o'clock in the morning. About eight o'clock, however, fast Mosquitos had carried out what in all the seriousness of official expression was called a "spoof" raid. The plan was to give the Germans the idea that Berlin had had its raid for the night so that they would not be ready for the real attack. That was exactly what happened and when the mighty Lancasters arrived at four the fighters were not on the job and it took some time for the anti-aircraft to get into action. As a result, only eleven machines were lost that night of the very large raiding force which went over.
It was a thrilling sight to see them coming back still in the darkness about seven o'clock. It had been still more thrilling as we waited in the Control Room while one by one the returning bombers reported on the wireless telephone and the cool and efficient girls at the controls guided them in. It was a lucky night for that Canadian squadron. They all came back and when the last machine reported "Over", you could see the relief and rejoicing on everyone's face.
When the crews come in from a raid, they give their reports immediately to Intelligence Officers who are trained to digest the information they receive. It was a wonderful sight to see these young men from all parts of Canada working as a magnificent fighting team. Each crew of six carne in together, got a cup of tea, and then told what they had seen. They were cool, earnest, and efficient. Theirs is an exacting job calling for the highest form of courage and technical skill. Their work develops a great sense of responsibility. There are no finer young men in the world than these lads of ours who go out night after night on their deadly and dangerous missions into Germany. They are creating the conditions under which victory over Germany in 1944 is possible if those at home do their part in supplying them and all the rest of our armed forces with the weapons, aircraft, ships and supplies that are still so urgently required. That I would like to emphasize. We have not yet placed in the hands of our fighting men all the aircraft, landing barges and equipment of various types that they need. As you see those young men going out to face death night after night, you realize how far short of our duty all of us will fall unless we can say honestly that we have put total effort behind their total sacrifice.
The thing that constantly impresses itself on your mind as you visit airport after airport is the fact that this is a war not only of highly trained men but also of science and design. The full story of that part of the war cannot be told until after it is over. But one of the most significant things about this war has been the number of scientific developments which have had a decisive bearing on the course of the war.
Had radio location not been invented and developed in Britain before the war began, it is doubtful if the few fighters available in 1940 could have beaten off the Nazi Air Armada in spite of the sublime courage of our men. If British scientists had not almost overnight discovered a device for neutralizing first the magnetic and then the accoustic mine, the story of shipping and supplies would have been very different. The Spitfire is still the best all round fighter in the world. Those who boasted in Germany of the way they had harnessed their great scientific skill to their war machine may well exclaim today as they look across the North Sea to Britain
"O Star-eyed Science; hast thou wandered there to waft us home the message of despair."
Yes, Science is carrying home to Germany the bitter message of despair and Canada has played a great part in making those miracles of scientific skill which guide our Pathfinder Squadrons unerringly to the target which they then indicate with coloured flare bombs marking the target clear for the bombers which follow with their devastating loads of a thousand tons or more. Right here on the outskirts of Toronto there is a factory, built since the war began, which is fashioning those uncanny eyes which pierce darkness and clouds and direct our bomb loads with deadly accuracy on the vital nerve centres of the German war machine.
However, in all the justifiable pride we should feel that our workers and industrial leaders have been able to adjust themselves with such success to the demands of war, we would be missing the most important lesson of these past few years if we failed to realize that our success and the very great contributions we have been able to snake to the common cause were to a very considerable degree the result of our partnership with Britain, which has made available for our workshops the plans and patterns growing out of their long years of designing skill and scientific research.
On all sides in Britain today you see stirring evidence of the tremendous vitality of their people. Perhaps a few facts might be recalled. They designed and built the best fighter in the world, the best heavy bomber, and the best and fastest light bomber. And now the British invention of an entirely new type of propulsion for aircraft is likely to revolutionize commercial as well as military aircraft production. I talked to scientists in Britain who believed that jet propulsion will become an accepted part of aircraft design in a few years for all types of aircraft, because of the elimination of vibration and engine sound. Quite apart from the remarkable nature of this achievement is the fact that this is merely another proof that even under the pressure of war and the heavy drain on manpower, the brains of Britain were never more vigorous and never more productive than they are today.
I am sure you have read as I have that the British people are getting tired. I could see no evidence of it. I think there may be many cases of individual exhaustion from overwork as there will be in any country. I think that to many people the blackout for the fifth year has become depressing.
We must, of course, remember that they have been under a much greater strain that we have been. The best proof of how far they have been prepared to go in total use of their manpower is furnished by the recent decision to draw a certain number of men by lot for the mines from those drafted for military service. Nor is their total use of manpower confined to men. Nine out of every ten unmarried women between 18 and 40 are in full-time work, either in the services, in industry, or farming. But in spite of this heavy strain, I am convinced that the people of Britain are not exhausted and have never been stronger or more vigorous physically and mentally than they are today.
The powers of compulsion resting in the hands of the Minister of Labour are enormous. But they have been used sparingly because the people themselves are demanding the last ounce of effort to bring the war to an end. All but a very few welcome direction into whatever field of work will best contribute to victory. That is part of the miracle of Britain. They were divided and unprepared when war came. Today they are using their manpower with greater effect than any other nation in the world and they are doing it as a great team. Again, with the few exceptions that only prove the rule, there is political and national unity uneuqalled in any other democracy.
That all grows from a sense of equality of service and equality of sacrifice. From the humblest home to Buckingham Palace, all know that everyone in Britain is fighting total war for total victory. Never was the ancient monarchy stronger than it is today. The King and Queen have won the love and respect of all by the full part they have played through dark as well as brighter days. They have shared the dangers. They have comforted the afflicted. They have in their own family life given an example of the happiness and stability under strain which is so much a part of the decent things we are fighting for.
Britain is getting ready for peace in the same spirit of unity. They are far along the road of post-war planning, reconstruction and education. Nothing is permitted to divert their attention from the main task of winning the war but they look upon preparation for the days after victory as part of victory itself.
From every point of view, Britain today is a partner of whom we Canadians have reason to be proud. Side by side let us march forward with equal conviction into the years of peace. Britain is also a partner that will bring us the greatest business opportunities. Britain was our best customer before the war. Britain will be an even better customer when the war is over and they start to carry out their great rebuilding and reconstruction program. As business partners and as friends, let us join hands to meet the problems of peace as we have combined to surmount the deadly peril of war. May I quote from Shakespeare to express my thoughts
"Further this act of grace; and from this hour, The heart of brothers govern in our loves And sway our great designs!"
No picture of Britain today would be complete without some reference to Winston Churchill. More than ever before he seems to be the very embodiment of the spirit of Britain. I was there when it was announced that he had pneumonia again. His health immediately became everybody's concern. From the highest to the lowest the question on everybody's tongue was "How's Winston?" Seldom in all history has any man so captured the imagination of his people.
In rejoicing with them that he is well on the way to recovery and will soon be saying the things that they, and we, would like to hear, I do not think I can do better than to close these remarks with lines written by Arthur Guiterman some years ago, because I think they so clearly express the feelings of the people of Britain toward him at this hour.
"When others could falter, faint-hearted and hollow, He caught up our banner, he rallied our might;
And glad were the hearts of the young men to follow The leader who laughed in the heat of the fight.
We called him to aid us when evil assailed us, And still as our champion, still in the van
He battles, the Captain who never yet failed us, Clear-sighted, true-hearted, Thank God for a Man!"