- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Apr 1947, p. 331-344
- Drury, Brigadier Charles M., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The unhappy condition in which Poland found herself at the end of the war. Widespread misconceptions which appear to have been formed both on this continent and in the British Isles on the subject of Poland. Evidence of this misconception. Sympathy and liking for the Poles experienced by the people who worked there for the U.N.R.R.A. The hospitality and friendliness of the Polish people. The difficulty of conveying a precise picture of what is going on in Poland, both good and bad. The absence of apathy and indecision in Poland, which appears to characterize a number of other European countries which the speaker has visited since the war. Poland's losses during the Second World War. The state of the health of the Polish people at the end of the war. A detailed description of a hypothetical Polish family, to illustrate their condition. Assistance to Poland through the UNRRA, with figures. Details of food and agriculture. The state of Poland's industries. Retooling the railway repair shops. Advisory services made available through the UNRRA. Direct and indirect effects of UNRRA. Avoiding inflation. A description of the UNRRA Mission itself, centered mainly in Warsaw. The function of the Mission to supervise and insist that distribution was carried out without discrimination as to race, religion, or political belief. Discussion as to whether in fact such equitable distribution was achieved. Results of preference for given classes of people. The solicitous treatment of university students and children. The appreciation of the Polish government, demonstrated by their participation in international specialized agencies. The future of Poland.
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- 24 Apr 1947
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U.N.R.R.A. IN POLAND
AN ADDRESS BY BRIGADIER CHARLES M. DRURY, D.S.O., M.B.E,
Chairman: The President, Major F. L. Clouse
Thursday, Aril 24, 1947
MAJOR CLOUSE--We are honoured today in having as our guest speaker a distinguished soldier and one who an authority on the rather complex Polish situation of today.
That unfortunate and harassed Republic-Poland-situated between two of the world's mightiest and most unpredictable powers and through the centuries acting as a buffer: invaded and carved up four times in a little over 50 years, and, in spite of the guarantees of the integrity of Polish territory proclaimed at Warsaw in November, 1918, and substantiated by the signatories of the treaty of Peace in June, 1919--and again by France and Great Britain in March, 1939--again invaded from the West by the hordes of Hitler September 1, 1939, precipitating the last World War: 17 days later invaded from the East by the Russians and on September 21, 1939, declared jointly by Germany and Russia to have ceased to exist and forthwith carved up and divided again. It is interesting to recall, in the light of subsequent events, the irony of the pledge of the Soviet Union--following Germany's invasion of Russia in July, 1941--which ledge maintained the independence and freedom of Oland, the same as for all other countries occupied by means of force by Hitlerite Germany.
And today we find Poland awaiting the decision of the council of the United Nations as to what will constitute her new frontiers--and what is to become of her altered population numbering nearly 35 million--and in the meantime virtually destitute and relying on U.N.R.R.A for sustenance.
Brig. Drury, following a distinguished military career, as appointed in 1945 Administration Officer of U.N.R.R.A. in Poland. He returned to Canada-and to the Dept. of External Affairs at Ottawa-last January, and he has graciously consented to address this meeting today on the subject:
"U.N.R.R.A. IN POLAND".
It is my pleasure to introduce Brig. Charles M. Drury, D. S. O., M. B. E.
Mr. Chairman, Members of The Empire Club: It is a very great privilege and honour for me to be asked to speak here this afternoon. I have not had many occasions, either to speak to large gatherings or to discourse publicly on the issue of Poland, and it is with some trepidation that I have looked forward to this ordeal.
As I say, I am very pleased to have been asked to come here, but I take exception, or slight exception to continuous reference to me as "Brigadier" Drury. During the war as a citizen soldier, I was accorded a certain rank, and I feel that possibly the use of that rank should cease with the end of the war. I have found on occasion that it has been a source of embarrassment to me and I will, if I may, illustrate that with one incident.
At a fairly large diplomatic reception in Warsaw, I was introduced to the Chief of the Polish General Staff, as General Drury. The Poles use the title because a Brigadier doesn't exist in their army, and they relate it to Brigadier-General, which is shortened to "General", upping the rank.
General Byhousky (?) was very polite and only raised his eyebrows, but after a few moments' conversation he went away and spoke to a colleague and I subsequently found he had asked his colleague whether he had heard right--he thought he had been introduced to General Drury, but it must be General Drury's son-could General Drury be produced for him?
Again today, without mentioning any names, when I came I was again greeted by a raising of the eyebrows. "This is surely not Brigadier Drury but one of his emissaries", and I feel the sooner that title is dropped, the better it will be for me.
By way of introduction I would like to say a few words about the unhappy condition in which Poland found herself at the end of the war. This background is perhaps necessary in view of the wide-spread misconceptions which appear to have been formed both on this continent and in the British Isles on the subject of Poland.
Of this misconception, perhaps the most striking evidence was provided within our mission, the U.N.R.R.A mission to Poland itself. In 1945 and even to quite late in 1946, we experienced the greatest difficulty in persuading recruits in the Anglo-Saxon world to come to Poland, to come to Warsaw, and work for U.N.R.R.A. The reasons given for not wanting to go were varied, and in most cases nebulous. They didn't relate to pay or to quarters, but generally dissatisfaction and unwillingness. But those whom we did succeed in persuading to come, were there for a very short time when they underwent a complete change of heart on the topic.
This was brought out most emphatically when U.N.R.R.A. began to be terminated, and we began to wind up and send home the personnel of the mission. It was then found that volunteers to go home were lacking. It was anticipated that there would be a rush to desert the sinking ship on the part of people eager to get back and to take up again a normal life and resume interrupted careers. But it came down virtually to a question of firing people. They didn't want to leave.
This sympathy and liking for the Poles is due entirely, I am afraid, to the hospitality and friendliness of the Polish people. This must be so, for life in Warsaw or in other Polish cities at the present moment offers few attractions but work. Amenities in the shape of theatres, movies, sports, whether organized or individual, are virtually non-existent. There is literally nothing to do but work, walk, and talk.
It is extremely difficult to convey a precise picture of what is going on in Poland. Some of it is very good and some of it is very bad. But a great deal is going on action and a considerable degree of talk, but mostly action is the dominant note. The apathy and indecision which appear to characterize a number of other European countries which I have visited since the war, is, in Poland, completely absent.
Now in the Spring of 1945, Poland, as your Chairman has remarked, was virtually prostrate. However, of the pre-war population of some 35 million, about E million or the equivalent of one-half of the total population of Canada, had been killed or had died as a result of war operations. Of those left alive, about 6 million were outside of the country, either in the countries to the East, or the countries to the West.
Of her pre-war area of some 387,000 square kilometers, 181,000 or just under half, was incorporated into the Soviet Union, and the compensation in territory to be received from German hands, was then, and still is, not yet finally decided.
The Polish Government is claiming 104,000 square kilometers of German territory, but even if this were agreed in full, the total area of the country would be smaller than it was pre-war.
As a result of the invasion in 1939, the occupation from 1939 to 1944, and the subsequent operations to expel the Germans in 1944 and 1945, destruction on a greater or lesser scale has been visited on almost the entire country. It has been estimated that 38 per cent of the national assets of the country no longer exist.
The health of the people was in a shocking state. The German authorities pursuing a policy of reducing Poland to a serf state had ruthlessly and efficiently succeeded in eliminating the professional classes, including, of course, doctors and nurses, with a result that medical care had dropped far below what was required for the maintaining of a minimum reasonable health standard.
The denial of adequate food and clothing during the occupation, not only to those locked up in concentration camps, but to the population as a whole, had tremendously lowered resistance to disease, with the result that infection and debilitating diseases were extremely wide-spread. It is difficult for you here to visualize in human terms the figures and statements which I have just given, and I would like to assume the case of a hypothetical Polish family, of a mother and father and ten children, and look at them in the spring and the early summer of 1945. Assuming that they have no more than their share of the national wealth, we would find that one-half of all the family land is no longer theirs.
But the father has high hopes of having his loss replaced by a different type of land on the other side of the farm. Not exactly the same land, but of a sort which would ultimately make his farm more modern and profitable.
Of the ten children, two would have been killed or died, since 1939; two more would be still abroad or in the process of returning to their home, following deportation for forced labour, or escape from the country at the beginning of the war, or during the Occupation. One has advanced tuberculosis, two not able to go to school in the winter because of lack of clothing.
Of the five horses only two are left. Of his six cows only two remain, and all his livestock is in poor condition and inefficient because of overwork and use as draught animals.
The clothes of the entire family are old, endlessly patched, and with few exceptions are confined to a single garment or a single costume to each individual.
The house in which this family of ten lives is about 40 per cent demolished and they are living two or three to a room, including the kitchen and living room.
But, perhaps, worst of all, everyone is hungry, not hungry for good, palatable nourishing food, but hungry for merely something to fill their stomachs--mere bulk--always and continuously hungry. There are few people, I think, on this continent who know what that feeling is. A diet of potatoes, turnips, water, and occasionally skim milk, does not produce a contented feeling.
The immediate prospects for this family do not look good. For even although they all could and did work and earn money, nothing was available or being manufactured on which money earned could be spent. But they did have tremendous confidence and optimism regarding the future. They were prepared to toil incredibly long hours to repair the devastation of war.
I would like to make it clear that this hypothetical family did not represent the worst case in Poland. There were many who were much worse off than that. On the other hand, there were those who were very much better off. But this family would represent the national average as applied to one single group.
This then was the Poland to whose assistance UNRRA came with some 485 million dollars worth of goods and services. This represents, this figure, about 4.2 per cent of the estimated $12,000,000,000 loss incurred as a result of the war, but one must remember that the purpose of the United Nations, through UNRRA, was. not to make good in the devastated countries incurred, but only to provide sufficient fundamental and primary aid as would enable the devastated countries to start and be able to continue their own work of recovery.
Of the total dollars value of assistance, the greater part, or some $191,000,000 were spent on foodstuffs of all sorts. This food was not distributed directly by UNRRA but was handed over to the government and joined with indigenously produced food and made available to the public through the ration system, with the result that the entire scheme of food production, rationing and distribution, came under the scrutiny of the UNRRA Mission.
I may say that, given the conditions of destruction, and understandable disorganization which were then prevalent throughout the country, we were satisfied that the system was as good a one as could be devised in the circumstances.
There were lapses and cases of discrimination, but as soon as the attention of the government was directed to them, they were immediately set right. As a measure of the assistance in this field, and also the necessity for it, I would mention that in June 1946, June of last year, the non-rural population had a daily diet which totalled about 1,500 calories. Of this total about 1,100 calories were provided by UNRRA.
In this same month, some 70 percent of the total consumed bread grain cereals, in effect, bread, were provided by UNRRA. Next to the provision of food to keep the people alive and able to work, the important thing was to raise the disastrously low level of food production so as to make the country at least self-sufficient, and if possible, to go further and raise the level even higher, so that Poland could resume her pre-war position of food exporter to some of the present day underfed countries of Europe. The drop in food production had been caused chiefly by war-induced migration of farmers, internal as well as external, the loss of one and a half million horses out of a total of three million and one-third of the total of three million cattle they had pre-war.
These livestock losses did result in a critical shortage of draught power as well as manpower, and UNRRA met or partially met this condition by providing about 200,000 horses to fill the most critical need, and more important, about 9,000 farm tractors which are equal to 16 to 20 horses each in work capacity.
Artificial fertilizer, a most necessary commodity, as any farmer knows, was also imported to tide over the gap until Polish fertilizer plants could be made to work.
Unfortunately, all of this arrived too late to have any effect on the 1946 crop, but the result will show at harvest time this year and it is hoped that sufficient production will be achieved to make the country self, supporting in respect to food from 1946 onward.
Unfortunately food production last fall was inadequate to meet requirements of the current year, and with UNRRA ending, the food situation, this spring in Poland, will again be serious.
In the industrial fields, needs were so vast and so varied that it was decided to confine the program to essential needs such as transportation and raw materials.
Before the war the main elements of the transportation system were the horse and railway, and the loss of 60 per cent of the horses, and the removal by Germany of the rolling stock of the railroads to replace losses incurred there by bombing, coupled with the German practice of stripping and destroying railway repair shops throughout the country, had left the Poles without the means to transport from producer to consumer what little food and goods there were.
To fill the gap UNRRA sent in about 17,000 trucks with a total load lift of 50,000 tons. Most of these were military vehicles obtained from Army surpluses. The majority were from Canadian Army services, with the Canadian pattern being most evident. These, of course, were rapidly wearing out and with the current impossibility of securing further supplies of spare parts, will slowly grind to a halt, probably at the end of the current year, even though it is planned to make use of demobilized vehicles as a reservoir of spare parts.
In the meantime, they will have served to tide over the period of the crisis until such time as the Poles can reorganize their own manufacture of motor vehicles and make arrangements for importation to meet their needs.
In the railway fields, emphasis was placed on the retooling of the railway repair shops. This was done in order that the number of semi-destroyed locomotives and railway wagons, which the Germans had not been able to remove because of their disabled condition, would be put back into running shape, and made to operate.
In early 1945 the Poles restarted with a repair capacity of about 10 to 20 per cent of pre-war.
Based on that, and with the assistance of the UNRRA program, they plan to turn out in 1947, some 200,000 locomotives and 13,000 railway vans in addition to simultaneously carrying out the capital repairs to' war damaged stock.
Now the subjects I have mentioned are illustrative rather than exhaustive of the commodities which UNRRA brought into Poland. A catalogue of all of them would fill several volumes. By way of example, one of the smaller but important items was the provision of a complete set of instruments for neuro-surgery. This, while small, was extremely expensive and was done so that the five remaining neurosurgeons in Poland would be able to restart their work which they were unable to do as none of them had succeeded in saving or salvaging their prewar equipment.
In addition to the provision of food and other necessities of life, UNRRA also made available advisory services. In the agricultural, industrial, sociological, and medical spheres, in an attempt to bridge in some small measure the gap in knowledge, and the failure to continue to acquire knowledge in the five years of occupation--these services were highly valued and gratefully received by the Poles who took advantage of their limited equipment to learn and to apply the new ideas imparted.
In some instances, this work of instruction was a little frustrated. For example, a team of dentists were brought in from the United States. Each one of them was an expert in his particular line of dentistry, but they found that lectures on the uses of plastics for artificial dentures and new amalgams for fillings, tended, even when accompanied by demonstrations, to be a little theoretical because of the unavailability then, and for some time, of the plastics required, and the ingredients of the new amalgams.
But, they were all agreed that their mission of instruction was well worthwhile and gratifying in view of the almost pathetic welcome given to these lectures by the Poles who had been starved of technical knowledge throughout the war.
It is of course impossible for one to measure statistically the impact of UNRRA on Poland. One can compare the number of overcoats there were before and after UNRRA, the number of locomotives there were before and after, but equally important, I think, were the imponderables such as the indirect effect of UNRRA on employment, the output per man, and total employment.
I might also mention the spiritual satisfaction derived by the Poles from the knowledge that they were not being forgotten, now that the war had ended, by their war time Allies.
The Polish government has been successful in keeping inflation within moderate bounds, in the period of 1945 and 1946, and this is undoubtedly due in part, in any case, to the stability made possible through, and up to the present, the assured food supply, which not only enabled people to perform physical and mental labour, but also gave confidence that day to day work would lead to a better future.
As I said earlier, UNRRA importations were distributed by the Polish government through the ration system and all items, except those provided free to the indigents and very needy, were sold at pre-determined prices, and the proceeds of these sales were placed in a special account to be used for special relief and rehabilitation work on projects agreed between the UNRRA Mission and the government.
This policy of selling rather than giving away was effective in withdrawing from circulation at a critical or dangerous time a substantial amount of purchasing power which would otherwise have added to the serious and ever present inflationary pressure.
The UNRRA Mission itself, about which I may say a few words, was centered mainly in Warsaw, and numbered at its top strength about 170 imported personnel and about 200 Poles. The imported staff were in the main, English, American and Canadian, but included among our total numbers were Norwegians, Danes, a Belgian, Czecho-Slovaks, Australians, and Russians.
After a period of shaking down, the harmony which was achieved within the Mission was, I think, rather remarkable. Not only was there harmony in working, but an outstanding degree of willingness and ability to cooperate among the various nationalities.
English, of course, was the common language, and our correspondence, not only within the Mission, with London, and Washington, but also with the Polish government was conducted in the same language. The structure of the organization would be divided into three groups. First, advisory personnel who were all highly qualified in their own land, such as doctors of one sort and another, tractor specialists, sanitary engineers, dentists, feed experts, and so on.
Secondly, there was the administrative staff who looked after and provided the necessities of life and office facilities for the Mission. They were perhaps more numerous than many people thought necessary but in view of the disorganized state and the difficult living conditions that obtained in Warsaw, we found that they were all most necessary.
Finally, the third large group were the accounting staff, whose task it was to keep track of and make a tally of the shipments, item by item, made to Poland. At times there were as many as twenty ships in the two main ports of delivery unloading simultaneously, and it was an almost superhuman task to keep track of the entire stuff coming in and account for it satisfactorily, in view of the fact that there was a complete absence of ships' brokers, or customs brokers, in the reconstructed, or half-way reconstructed Poland. While the majority of the Mission lived in Warsaw, there were regional offices in six of the principal cities of Poland, and the task of the regional representatives was to make a local contact with the government administrative officials, and to check, from day to day, on the distribution and end use of such stuff as we brought in.
They were assisted by the advisory people in Warsaw, who made continuous trips throughout the country, to visit and supervise their activities. A number of trips made were limited by our vehicles, according to their ability to remain operating on the roads. They were bad. The gasoline we had was indifferent, and there was also a lack of spare parts, but we were in no way hampered by artificial controls. The letters, "UNRRA" on a car were the open sesame to travel throughout Poland.
There were occasions when vehicles were stopped by illegal bands, who were out for plunder, and in the case of many individuals who were so caught on the road, they were stripped of all they had, including sometimes clothing and their vehicles taken away from them, and forced to set out on foot for the nearest settlement. But, as I say, although occasionally our vehicles were stopped by these same lawless individuals, never was any of the UNRRA personnel molested nor the vehicles interfered with, with one exception. This occurred last fall when a truck carrying penicillin from Warsaw to Cracow was stopped half way there. After a certain amount of arguing by the driver--this was an UNRRA truck and so should be inviolate--the marauders removed the cargo and told the truck driver to go on his way.
However, before leaving he demanded and succeeded in getting from them a receipt and subsequently, in answer to a public appeal that was made, the entire load was returned intact about a week and a half later.
It was remarkable, even in the outlying areas, how widespread was the knowledge of the presence and operation in Poland of UNRRA. One would find that going into a small remote village and stopping to enquire the way, or for any other reason, your car would be surrounded by a number of eager, friendly people who were there not to ask for assistance, clothes, food or anything else, but merely for conversation, and in order to express their gratitude for what UNRRA was doing.
This occurred even in cases where they themselves had not received any direct benefit but where the feeling of gratitude existed for what UNRRA was doing for Poland as a whole.
Now the function of the Mission in Poland, as I mentioned earlier, was not to distribute the commodities brought in, the distribution was done by the government. It would have required a staff of four or five thousand people to do the work and we neither had the time nor could they have been found. The function of the Mission was to supervise and insist that distribution was carried out without discrimination as to race, religion, or political belief.
There has been a certain amount of discussion as to whether in fact such equitable distribution was achieved, and I myself and those who were with me in Poland are generally agreed at once, that the Polish government felt very strongly that their primary object was to achieve, at the earliest possible moment, the return to normalcy of the country, and to do this they were given the choice of two alternatives, in view of the continuous and overall shortage of the necessities of life: either they could spread misery or shortage evenly throughout every layer of population and when an intermittent shortage developed, let everyone go short, and consequently reduce the national output during this particular period, or, as a second alternative, they could insure that those who were most actively engaged in the reconstruction of the country were provided for in the way of food and clothing at any rate, as a first charge, and that those who either could not, by reason of incapacity, or would not, by reason of preference, contribute actively and continuously to the reconstruction of the country, that second category should be less preferred, and get along on their own.
Of the two alternatives, the government chose the second. It is a more hard-boiled alternative, but the one which will lead undoubtedly to an earlier return to normal conditions and one which will produce an earlier state of overall prosperity which will provide sufficient for all.
The result of this preference for given classes of people, was that the miners, railway people, port operators, among the industrial classes, were always or nearly always assured 'of a minimum amount of food, and in the period of greatest shortage, whereas those who were not doing the arduous labour that the heavy workers were, were deprived or denied this minimum standard of food, when serious shortages occurred.
This I think, is what has helped largely to lead to complaints that the discrimination has been on a political ground. In fact it was not on political, if any, but on economic ground.
It seems the one large exception to the general rule that heavy labour is preferred is the university students, and the children, who were always treated with the greatest solicitude as it was felt in them lay the future of the country.
In our task the greatest cooperation was received and a working relationship was achieved with the result that, as has been demonstrated in Poland, not only can an international organization be efficacious and productive of results, but also, given a certain mutual understanding, cooperate without any great amount of difficulty.
The Polish government appreciates this, realizes this, and I think it is demonstrated by their participation in such international specialized agencies as the European Central Inland Transport Organization, the International Civil Air Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, to mention a few, as well as UNO itself.
This, I hope, augurs well for the future of Poland, for Poland, like Canada, must rely for its future and security very heavily on international cooperation.
The purpose of UNRRA was to enable the people of Poland to help themselves, and the outstanding degree of success, which they have achieved to date, reflects the greatest credit on their courage, optimism, and industriousness, but it is safe to say that without the assistance of UNRRA no such recovery could have been achieved. The people of Canada, together with those of other contributing nations, may therefore take a large measure of credit for successfully putting into practice, for perhaps the first time, one of the great Christian precepts, that of the Brotherhood of Man, and this success is almost certain to show dividends in the form of mutual understanding and good will in the future.