THE APPROACHING CLIMAX
AN ADDRESS BY
JOHN COLLINGWOOD READE
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, March 1, 1945
MR. CONQUERGOOD: One of the books in my library, which I have always valued highly, was published in 1901 and is entitled "Summits of Success", written by James Burnley. It is probably a forerunner of the kind of career books now becoming popular for use in Vocational Guidance. I am going to quote a couple of sentences from that book for two reasons, first, because it defines the qualifications for a successful career, and secondly, because it may apply to the career of our guest of today.
I quote: "The mental equipment necessary for the sort of success that brings riches to a man is far different from that which is requisite for the achievement of success in the higher things of life, such as may yield fame and not wealth, admiration and not substance. In one case, brightness, alertness, energy, perseverance, endurance are all essentials, and are all very excellent possessions; in the other the stronger qualities of heart, mind and intellect are demanded to begin with."
Mr. John Collingwood Reade, our guest speaker today, has already had a successful career, in that he has at least won both fame and admiration. He was born in England and attended preparatory schools there, and in Belgium. Later, he attended the Royal Naval Class of H.M.S. Conway, in England. He served some time on a tanker plying to South America, came to Canada and joined the R.C.M.P. and spent three years in Western Canada. From there, he came to the University of Toronto, where he graduated in English and History. Following his graduation, he contributed articles to Saturday Night, MacLean's and other publications. From 1928 to 1943, he was on the staff of The Globe and Mail, as editorial writer and columnist. His radio newscasts and comments over Station C.F.R.B. are still remembered. On the abdication of Edward VIII, he contributed a coast-to-coast broadcast for the Columbia Broadcasting System.
In 1937, he spent some time in England and on visits to the Continent.
In 1940, he addressed the Empire Club on "The Twentieth Century Crusade."
In 1941, he returned to England, where he wrote a series of articles for the Daily Mail; did a series of broadcasts for the B.B.C., and observed some naval action in the North Sea. On his return in November, he addressed The Empire Club on "The Russian Campaign."
Mr. Reade is now on the staff of radio station C.F.R.B. He was sent by them to England in October last, but before leaving accepted an invitation to address this Club on his return, which was arranged for early in December. However, his trip was extended and he just returned to this city about ten days ago.
We are glad to welcome him back to Canada and to The Empire Club, and I am, therefore, very happy to present Mr. John Collingwood Reade, who will recount some of his recent observations under the title "The Approaching Climax."
MR. JOHN COLLINGWOOD READE: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: For more than five and a half years the world has shuddered under the impact of war, and society has been shaken to its very foundations. Most of us now believe that the end is in sight and that within a few months, the more formidable of our two enemies will have been subdued. It may turn out that some of our estimates are over-optimistic but a few weeks one way or another will make very little difference after some sixty-six months of war.
The German is a resourceful, determined and stoical enemy, who will patiently undergo the most terrible hardships in order to preserve his national existence and salve his national pride. And so the task of defeating him must be carried forward unrelentingly. Nevertheless, his defeat is clearly imminent and, while we keep our eyes on our work and our hands busy with their allotted tasks, we would not be human if our thoughts did not wander beyond the routine of the moment to explore the new and unfamiliar ground on which we shall spend our days--when the guns no longer speak and the wail of the air-raid siren is silenced for good.
We can never return to the old ways because the emergencies of war, the demands of war and the effects of war have changed the tools with which we work, altered the balance of power among nations and forced economic relations to seek their equilibrium on another plane.
You have probably heard a great deal of discussion recently about the military aspects of the war and, while I have spent a good deal of time during the last five months with units of all branches of the service, I do not propose today to talk about tactics, weapons, supply, terrain or any of the factors which enter into the conduct of battle. I thought you would like to hear instead something of the effect which war has had on the peoples most nearly affected by it and these include the men of our own fighting services overseas and those of our allies.
Man is the most adaptable creature in the world. Otherwise he could not stand the shocks and changes to which he has been so often subjected. But in the process of adapting himself, his outlook, his tastes and his capacities change. Perhaps those, who suffer most in the long run, are those who have been left comparatively serene and undisturbed by the tempests which rage past their door, for to them the new ways will be unfamiliar.
There has never been a time of quietude and security throughout the world. Human society, like the earth on which it lives, is always trying to adjust itself to great stresses. As the earth cools down and its crust shrinks, fissures appear--and there are earthquakes; or pressures develop to blow the tops off volcanoes. Economic needs, the assertive tendencies of national culture, the settlement of old quarrels, the rise of new beliefs, which seize the imagination of men who are weary, disillusioned and hungry for an emotional anchor and something on which to pin their faith, will always create stresses in human society. These stresses may not always be relieved by the eruption of war but they will produce social and political disturbances which affect everybody and require them to make personal adjustments to altered conditions.
Before this war is finished, the capital equipment and productive facilities of western Europe will have been virtually demolished by bombardment or sabotage. Indus trial skills, on the other hand, will have been sharpened and developed by that necessity which has mothered so much invention. Personal resourcefulness has increased enormously in the devastated countries, because the inhabitants can no longer depend upon the services of organized industry, transport and distribution. In fact, I think we may see a general movement away from the centralized control of industry and government and a tendency toward the development of smaller and more self-reliant units. Political control and a great deal of economic regulation may pass into the hands of state governments but the administration of many aspects of community life must, I think, revert to the small community.
The task of rehabilitating Europe staggers the imagination. It cannot be undertaken in detail by some vast centralized agency. Even while the work of reconstruction is going on, people will have to live, and in order to live they will have to improvise, and in the very act of improvising they will work great social changes.
There is by no means a clear political trend anywhere in Europe. The people are veering neither to the right nor to the left. They are much too preoccupied with the problem of personal survival for any political doctrine to make much of an appeal. They didn't like Nazism, but they are not at all sure whether the evangelists of western democracy are the saviours they have been awaiting. They have been given their freedom within the limits of military prudence but they don't often get breakfast, or warm dwellings, or sufficient clothes to shield them from the clamp cold, which chills their very bones in winter time.
This, you may say, is not the fault of the liberating armies whose first task is to beat the enemy and who need all the equipment they can land in Europe in order to carry out this vital task. That is quite true, and the more thoughtful Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutch and Italians recognize its truth. But it is not easy to convince masses of cold and hungry people that their present sufferings are a legacy from the German occupation and not a condition brought into being by the arrival of the liberating armies.
I think most people have the impression, which I had myself, that the lot of the people in the occupied countries was almost unbearable during the period of German control. This was not actually the case. They suffered a good, deal of mental anguish and many individuals suffered physical torture but so far as food, fuel and clothing were concerned, the bulk of the population was better off than they are now and the behaviour of German troops, they will tell you, was disciplined and correct. That is to say, there was very little private looting, molestation of women, or destruction of property. The ordinary Frenchman, who minded his own business and kept strictly out of military or political affairs, might be spiritually depressed but he was not deprived of the bare physical necessities.
The Germans went about their task of national dismemberment more subtly than that, and tried to make the private citizen accept the new order and co-operate with it. As the enemy was driven back, however, he began to show his true colors. He was ruthless and brutal in forcing the civilian population to aid his preparations for defense. He slaughtered the milk cattle for food and withdrew everything on wheels including more than six thousand French locomotives and many thousands of freight and passenger cars. He did many other things to the civilian population, which I will touch on later, but the truth is that the people as a whole felt the worst results of the German invasion only after the Germans had been expelled.
I think we promised too much and, though the promises were made in good faith, they were based on an erroneous estimate of the requirements. However well-intentioned the allies were in their eagerness to secure the collaboration of the people in occupied countries before the invasion, the fact is we have not been able, as yet, to fulfill the expectations of those people, with the result that there is not the cordiality one might suppose between the allied armies and the civilian population.
The best feeling is to be found in Belgium, in the British and Canadian sector. In Brussels and Antwerp, the people like our troops and are liked by them. Brussels is the happiest town I visited, although the lot of the private citizen who cannot afford to pay black market prices is not an enviable one. There is coal in Belgium but there are no fires in private houses. There is food, but black market prices are such that very few can afford to supplement their meagre rations.
The black market is perhaps the most insidiously evil factor in the life of western Europe. It fosters the gangster and increases his power. It bleeds the citizen and exhausts his resources. But it cannot be exterminated or even too severely restrained, for it is the only efficient means of distributing the margin of goods which spells the difference between endurable living and unendurable living.
And so the black market will flourish until means have been found to replace it with officially organized transport and distributing facilities. This is the core of the problem. I don't believe that the people of western Europe are going to require millions of tons of food from North America. France is a great agricultural country with an almost self-contained economy which, if her land is intensely and scientifically cultivated, is capable of feeding her people with some to spare for their neighbours.
The help she will need, from the great industrial nations of the western world and from England, is motor transport to begin with-the replacement of rolling stock, as a long range project to restore basic transport, and industrial machinery.
There may be some who will question the wisdom of putting these countries back on their feet economically and setting them up in business to compete with us. All I can say is that, unless we do, the world will be deprived of important sources of wealth and that the exchange of goods and services amongst peoples, which is the foundation of prosperity, will not be revived. In the meanwhile, the economic depression of people accustomed to a high standard of living will turn their thoughts once more to colonial expansion and wars of conquest.
The best safeguard of peace is free and equal access for all peoples to the resources of the world. For these are the heritage bequeathed by Providence to all mankind and not set aside for the exclusive use or abuse of those who happen to live within the political boundaries in which they are situated. The possession of great mineral deposits, great forest resources, great agricultural possibilities and an abundance of hydro power gives those, in whose country they are found, a responsibility to develop them and make them available to the world on a just basis of exchange.
If they are treated as a corner, a means for holding the world to ransom, an opportunity for denying to those less fortunately situated the means of helping themselves to raise the standard of living of their people, their denial to the world merely encourages the competition of low-paid labour or engenders those hatreds and jealousies which lead to war.
There have, of course, been other consequences following the German occupation than the mere destruction of physical things. I do not want to leave the impression that, because the Germans behaved in a disciplined fashion while they were undisputed masters in western Europe, they perpetrated no crimes against the conscience of humanity. The very coldness and deliberation with which they carried out their atrocities made them all the more shocking. The debasement and deterioration of the human mind by sheer organization is an object lesson in the futility of reason without feeling, efficiency without philosophy, faith without love.
I visited one or two of the German places of detention in France, Holland, and in Italy, and I can assure you that thousands of people in western Europe have been harrowed and anguished beyond all hope of recovering their poise this side of the grave.
The Germans were absolutely ruthless in demanding collaboration and in their punishment of those who refused to collaborate. While they left the private citizen pretty much to his own devices so long as he minded his own business and carried out the functions allotted to him, they punished with the utmost severity any who affronted their dignity or attempted to frustrate their purposes. They were not in the least particular whether the victims of their vengeance were actually guilty of the charges laid against them, and they worked on the theory that, so long as enough people were punished and severely enough punished for any act hostile to the German regime, the deterrent effect on the people as a whole would enable them to keep the situation in hand.
This absolutely cold appraisal of values seems to have been applied to their own people as well. They took the view that their only purpose was to win the war and establish the unquestioned supremacy of German power over all of Europe, and this purpose was to be achieved in the swiftest and most efficient manner possible, no matter at whose expense or at what sacrifice of humanitarian or social principles.
I heard stories from people, who had lived the past few years in Switzerland, concerning the treatment of the German wounded, that would raise your hair. I am not in a position to verify this personally because I didn't see it, but I saw enough evidence of German treatment of political prisoners that I would give some credence to these stories. My informants told me that German troops, who were, so severely wounded on the Italian front-that there was no likelihood of their being able either to work or fight any more, were simply piled into closed railway cars and dragged back to Germany with no regard for whether they survived or not. The general impression seems to have been that if they could neither work nor fight they were a liability which should be liquidated as fast as was possible.
As I said before, I can't vouch for the truth of that, but I can tell you that there is a camp at Struthof, where several thousand members of the resistance movement and other political prisoners were put to death by the Germans by the most modern methods and in the most sanitary conditions you can imagine. The camp was beautifully constructed and equipped with many ingenious electrical devices. The victims, however, were put to death by the application of these various devices and notes were taken on their reaction during the process. As it happens, the enemy was compelled to abandon the camp so fast that the records fell into Allied hands and are available for inspection.
The curious twist of the Teutonic mind enables the German to believe inhumane and indiscriminate killing is perfectly justifiable if it be done under scientific auspices and scrupulous records are made by appropriate experts.
I also visited the notorious concentration camp at Vucht in Holland which is near Hertogenbosch. Here Dutch saboteurs and members of the resistance movement, as well as those from other countries, were interned. The camp again is well constructed and supplied with adequate sanitary facilities but the death rate was so high that it required a crematorium with three furnaces to dispose of the mortal remains of Dutch patriots. As it is at present used as a concentration camp for German civilians evacuated from occupied German territory and Dutch collaborationists, it is fairly easy to compute what the normal death rate in the camp should be. Its present population is over eleven thousand and the death rate is around twenty a week. As most of the inhabitants are of Roman Catholic faith, they are not cremated but, if they were, one of the three furnaces installed by the Germans would be adequate for the purpose.
There is a grim reminder of German sadism to be seen at Vucht--a reminder which I think should have been preserved but which was being dismantled when I visited the camp. It was a gallows without a trap-a contraption with two uprights and a cross-member. From the middle of the cross-member there hung a rope with a noose on the end of it. This is suggestive enough but it did not complete the apparatus. There were two little blocks of wood that went with it. These blocks of wood were about as long as a human foot at the top and about half the length of a human foot at the bottom. The top part of each was provided with ledges to keep the foot in place. Perhaps at first you don't see the significance of these blocks but you would if you tried to stand on them. If you stand very still, you can keep your balance even with your hands tied behind your back, but, if you were to get tired and a little shaky on your pins, the narrow bottoms of these blocks would not support you and the blocks would topple over, and, if the noose were around your neck, you would remain suspended. The ordinary gallows is comparatively humane; the victim falls through a trap and drops far enough to break his neck and he dies instantly. But the simple device, which the Germans installed at Vucht, forces the victim to contemplate his approaching doom while trying to remain alive by balancing himself on the treacherous blocks. When, finally, through exhaustion or terror he can no longer maintain his balance, he simply strangles to death in a most unpleasant manner.
I am telling you these things, not because I love the morbid any better than you, nor yet to harrow you unreasonably. I don't believe in needless horrors. But I think it necessary that we should know the truth about the enemy we are fighting and understand why it is necessary to defeat him, even at the stupendous cost of blood and toil which has been expended upon it.
I went overseas a little skeptical of the atrocity stories and wondering if, after all, they were exaggerated for the purpose of propaganda. I am now convinced that they were not. I have talked to mutilated men and women who have survived. I have seen some of the evidence which is now in the hands of the French Ministry of Information. It is in these ways that the Germans manifested their essential brutality to the people of the occupied countries. But, in other ways, I do not think that the people suffered any more privation than the people of Great Britain, who underwent their suffering voluntarily and curbed their appetites by self discipline.
Before I sit down, Mr. Chairman, I would like to touch upon the contribution which Great Britain has made to the prosecution of this war.
We all know that Britain stood alone and undaunted, with the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations beside her, for one breathless year--a year during which she was sending the output of her factories to the Middle East, while the Germans massed their strength no more than eighty miles from London. We know that she was gathering up her strength and mobilizing every resource she possessed, while the supplies her friends were trying to send her were being sent, with the ships that carried them in frightening quantities to the bottom of the ocean.
Perhaps it is not sufficiently borne in upon us how, without minerals, without hydro power, without oil, with practically no natural resources, she yet contrived to turn out in staggering numbers the most practical aircraft in every department now in use against the enemy--the Lancaster which carries the heaviest bomb load; the new Mosquito bomber which will carry as big a bomb load as a Flying Fortress and exposes only two men, requires no escort, and is so fast that it doesn't even require to be armed; the Spitfire which performs excellently at all altitudes and makes up in manoeuverability whatever it lacks in speed, and which is the direct lineal descendent of that ancestor which, with the Hurricane, won the Battle of Britain.
There is a British army group fighting in Burma. About half the American Fifth Army in Italy is British. About a third of the Canadian First Army is British. I think it necessary to keep these things in mind because the British are very poor at reciting their own accomplishments and stand very badly in need of the respect and sympathy of the world. Their position in the future, if they are to rely on their economic bargaining power alone, is very obscure and not too encouraging.
Apart from stiff rationing, the perpetual blackout and the unpleasant results of continuous bombardment, the British have had to turn their country into a forward base of operations for all of their allies. This has been a great trial. No matter how much you may love your friends and cousins and no matter how gratefully you receive their help, or how much you may need it, no one really enjoys having his house crowded with friends and relatives for a long period of time.
There is always somebody in the bathroom or into the icebox or using the telephone or occupying your favourite chair. This metaphor holds good for Britain. All the Englishman's amusements, shopping centres, public houses, hotels, taxis, and railway trains are crowded out with allied troops. True, they are there to help but it is much credit to the English people that they take the resulting inconvenience with patient good nature.
As time has progressed and they have come to know each other better the British and Canadians have become very good friends. There are still a number of petty irritations and differences of viewpoint but I noticed a great difference and a vast improvement in the cordiality of their relations since last I was in London in 1941. The German bombardment of Great Britain is by no means over. Enemy aircraft seldom visit the island but the flying bomb and the rocket bomb are still being sent over in considerable quantities. I have examined specimens of the flying bomb which failed to explode and landed without too much damage. It is an ingenious apparatus, very cheaply made, but equipped with a number of contrivances to control its direction, range and altitude. In this respect it is rather like a torpedo. The flying bomb is driven by a jet-propulsion motor. The motor develops about one thousand horsepower and looks something like the heater in your car, except that it is about twice the size.
The flying bomb is no longer a serious menace because the anti-aircraft defenses can deal with it. Hundreds of them have been destroyed by fighter aircraft, anti aircraft guns and the balloon barrage. I should think that probably not more than one in five reaches its destination. The V-2 or rocket bomb is another matter. It is projected into the stratosphere and reaches a height of seven miles before it begins to drop. The only protection against it is to keep the areas from which it is launched under continual harrassing from the air so that the launching apparatus cannot be used.
As far as I can find out the V-2 requires no elaborate installation for setting it off. Its flight is controlled by apparatus within the rocket itself and all it requires is a firm surface from which to take off. I have seen many of them go up, or perhaps I should say I have seen the evidence that they have gone up because they travel too fast to be perceptible to the eve. On a clear clay, you will suddenly notice a spiral trail of white vapour printed in the sky and if you look at the ton of it very quickly, you will notice it grow longer. You will then know about a ton of high explosives is on its way either to Britain or some target in Belgium.
These weapons, the flying bomb and the V-2, are unpleasant enough but without military effect, for they cannot be directed with any precision. Their chief value, from the German point of view, has been to deceive the German people in to believing that effective reprisals were being taken against the allies for the dreadful damage which allied aircraft have been and are doing in Germany.
I talked with a Dutch doctor who had been pressed into service by the Germans because of the great shortage of doctors in Germany. He had travelled extensively throughout the country and he assured me that the damage done by our aircraft was beyond all conception. It' must be remembered, however, that Germany is a very large target. It is not like Great Britain, where a quarter of the population is massed in one city, and about 66 per cent of the industry is comprised in an area of a few square miles. Until last summer, Germany was able to dissipate her industrial activity over the whole of western Europe. Each essential part of any piece of equipment could be made simultaneously in half a dozen different places so that it was practically impossible to bring production to a halt by bombing. Nevertheless, it could be and was seriously retarded.
Now that the enemy has been driven out of France and Belgium and is being forced to withdraw from Holland, his production problems will become acute because he will be compelled to concentrate al; his productive efforts within a restricted and dwindling area. This can be subjected to intensive bombing, the effect of which will rapidly become critical. The need for maintaining widely distributed industries may account for the tenacity of German resistance in Italy, for Italy always was an, industrial nation of consequence and her industries have been greatly extended and developed by the Germans. The whole of industrial Italy is still in German hands. Such cities as Turin, Milan, Padua, Cremona, Verona and Genoa are still capable of providing important supplies to the German army and the enemy, is not ready to abandon them to us, even though the line of retreat for troops is seriously threatened and there may be no chance of withdrawing more than a fraction of the 26 divisions which he now maintains in the Italian theatre of war.
The world has been watching with admiration and wonder the sensational advances of the Russian armies. So much so that it is inclined to forget the no less remarkable accomplishments of the Allied armies of the West. If the Dnieper, the Dniester, The Vug, the Pruth and the Oder, each in its turn, has presented a formidable defensive barrier to the sweep of the Russian Army, picture what a formidable barrier a water gap twenty-one miles wide at its narrowest must have been to the armies of the West. It is expected that it took 500 tons of paper to carry the necessary orders for the landing in Sicily. Several times this tonnage must have been used to plot and execute the landing operations in Normandy.
Landing craft of all kinds had to be constructed. Escort vessels and anti-aircraft equipment had to be obtained to protect them during their passage. Construction equipment was needed to set up air fields; great concrete tanks were built to be towed over and serve as docks and jetties. Until one has seen the amount of equipment that has to be massed in support of an army, one cannot realize what the task of accumulating it in a forward base like the British Isles, and then transporting it across water in the teeth of enemy resistance, must have been.
While I would not in any way detract from the magnificent accomplishments of the Russian armies, I must point .out that they are situated on the same land mass as their enemies. All their resources are within their own country, with the exception of certain equipment which is supplied to them by Great Britain and the United States, and this equipment is delivered to their door in American and British ships or over the Trans-Iranian railway which was built for them by their Western allies. As we approach the climax of the war and begin to look past the days of campaigning as comrades in arms, it has become more and more necessary to appreciate fairly generously the contributions which each of the allies has made. It will not be possible to retain a temperate and reasonable atmosphere at the postwar conference, if any member of the fighting team believes that they deserve the large share of the credit and have been primarily responsible for the enemy's defeat.
Had the Royal Air Force not won the Battle of Britain, there would have been no forward base from which to attack the enemy in the West. Had the audacious policies of Mr. Churchill, and the brilliant generalship of Field Marshal Wavell, not held the enemy out of the Middle East, Russia might not have been able to hold the Crimea and the enemy would have laid his hands on the Anglo-Persian oil fields. Turkey would have gone in against us. The Arab States would have revolted and it would not have been possible to prevent the crisis in India from turning into disaster. Had it not been for the timely material and economic help from the United States to the British during those difficult days they could not have discharged their vital functions. And we owe it to the Russians that so many of the Germans were held on the Eastern front that we could overcome our natural disadvantages of external lines of supply and long sea routes, which made it so difficult to bring our military power to bear swiftly and at decisive points.
In all these various phases of the war, Canada has been called upon to play her part, and it has been a most important one. In the early clays her function was to train airmen, to provide naval escort for shipping in addition to being the larder for British food and the manufacturer of all kinds of military equipment. Naturally, Canada has furnished some of the best shock troops at the disposal of Field Marshal Alexander in Italy, and Field Marshal Montgomery in the Lowlands. The contributions of sister dominions, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have been equally spectacular. The American campaign in the Pacific and the stubborn and successful battles which have been fought by the American armies in the Central sector of the Western front, not to mention the mass daylight bombing regularly carried out by the U.S. Army Air Corps, these things are sufficient proof of American skill and tenacity and her genius for large scale production.
If we are to avoid the bitternesses, which were such a strain on international harmony after the last war, we must all be generous in our appraisal of the contributions made by our associates and allies. No one nation and no one factor is solely responsible for the defeat of the enemy and there is not one of the Allied Nations that has not contributed, according to its means and circumstances, the very most of which it was capable. No one needs to stand in awe of anybody else. American advances are frequently possible because British and Canadian troops are pinning down the main weight of German armour and transport. British advances in Africa could not have been made had the German army not been preoccupied with the bitter struggle in Russia. Russian advances today would not be possible without the paralyzing effect which British and United States bombers have had on German mobility and production. Let us remember these things in the coming peace.