On Active Service with the Fighting Forces
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Nov 1942, p. 139-153
Wemp, Major Bert S., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Overseas forces. The Dieppe raid. Pilot Don Morrison of Toronto. Bob Reesor of the Reesor family in Scarborough. A description of some of the aircraft used in the raids: the Halifaxes, the Wellingtons, the Avro-Lancasters, the Beaufighters, Night Fighters, the famous Canadian Demon Squadron, the Spitfire Squadrons, the Mustangs and the Mosquitoes. The sweeps over France and Germany. "Ops tonight." Coming back from Duisberg. Details of several operations. Combined operations. Submarines sunk by our own boys of the Canadian Navy and by our boys in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Bringing the ships safely through to Britain. Several messages from General McNaughton, the head of the Canadian Forces. The people of Great Britain, carrying on regardless of raids. The devastation of the English cities. The A.R.P. work in the City of Toronto. Great Britain not broken, and with Victory on their minds.
Date of Original
5 Nov 1942
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AN ADDRESS BY MAJOR BERT S. WEMP, Editor, The Evening Telegram.
Chairman The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursday, November 5, 1942.

MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen, before the speaker is introduced I should like to make an announcement which gives me great sadness to have to do. In the last few hours we have lost an Executive of the Club in the person of Mr. Ross Robertson. He was a very fine gentleman and we shall miss very much his counsel and advice. It gives us great sorrow to have to report his passing.

Gentlemen of The Empire Club: It does us good to see so many representative citizens here today to listen to the address of this speaker of merit. It sometimes falls to the lot of a Chairman to introduce to an audience a speaker who needs no introduction. Today is one of those happy occasions. The requirements of our official records; however, must be met, and, therefore, we say that our guest-speaker is the City Editor of The Evening Telegram, that he was Chief Magistrate of this city in the year 1930, and that he has just returned from a trip to Britain as one of a small group of representative newspaper men who, at the invitation of General McNaughton, went to visit the Canadian troops. He is himself a soldier, a veteran of the 19141918 phase of this war, a Major of the Royal Air Force, as were designations of rank and service at that time, today's comparable rank, which he holds, being Squadron Leader. He carries the Distinguished Flying Cross of Britain and is a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold with Croix de Guerre of Belgium. He has been flying since 1911, and it is of special interest in the development of aviation to record that he has flown one of the airplanes built by Bleriot, of the type in which Bleriot himself flew across the English Channel in 1909.

Gentlemen, it is my privilege to present Major Bert S. Wemp, who will speak to us on the subject, "On Active Service With the Fighting Forces".

MAJOR BERT S. WEMP: Mr. President, Mr. Mayor and Members of The Empire Club: It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to have this opportunity to speak to you on the service of our boys who are "On active service with the fighting forces overseas".

Flying the Atlantic both ways overnight or between meals leaves even an old flyer rather confused for a day or two as to time and space. We flew in a four-engine bomber in 9Y2 hours, and made the trip homeward, the last 2,500 miles, in one jump. The peculiar circumstances of that is, that you only have 19 hours in the day going over and you have 29 hours in your day returning.

Leaving Ireland we had our dinner in a luxurious machine, heated, lighted, ventilated, upper and lower berths, all the accommodation and meals just like this, over the Atlantic. We played bridge until midnight, then turned in, had eight hours and twenty minutes sleep, or rest, and then got up at 3.20 in the morning, having gained five hours, and it was quite a long wait for breakfast.

I have often predicted an hourly service to the Continent, but that is not only an accomplished fact now, but at the rate the bombers are going over the Continent it will be necessary to cut that by a half or two-thirds for on some nights they are leaving every 20 minutes. We spent two weeks with all the units of the army, ten days with the Royal Canadian Air Force, with our boys attached to the R.A.F. We visited the Navy, Merchant Marine, the Royal Ordnance, airplane factories, huge underground cities, devastated cities and had the privilege of interviews with nine members of the British Cabinet including Prime Minister Churchill.

Our overseas forces are a grand body of men, toughened, hard and Commandos all. We saw them on the English Channel returning from Dieppe. Our boys, that is the boys from Central Ontario and Toronto, including the Royals, the Essex Scottish, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, went in on the east. As you know, they met a German convoy and E-boats, one hour out and two to go which gave the enemy plenty of warning. They had to go on and finish the undertaking.

I asked General McNaughton in one of the three conferences with him, "Why our boys had not withdrawn when the Germans had been warned so long in advance of the coming attack?"

He said it was too late. The others had gone in on the right and centre and the operation had to be completed. Our boys went in under murderous fire and that is why the casualties were so heavy.

One of the outstanding flyers in the raid on Dieppe was none other than Pilot Don Morrison of Toronto. Don now has a record of six shot down, six probables and four damaged. He was so close to a Focke-Wulf when he opened fire with his cannon it went down in pieces and the wreckage flew back to damage his own machine. He was forced to jump and parachuted into the English Channel. He was rescued by an assault landing craft. He wanted to be taken to England at once to get another machine--he had to get back in that fray. They told him they were sorry they couldn't return to England. He would have to stay with them and wait for the withdrawal of the troops. Not being satisfied with that, while the Huns were diving here and there sinking their craft, he dived in and saved two soldiers from a boat that had already been sunk. (Applause.)

The pilot alongside of him was Bob Reesor, of the Reesor family in Scarborough. I spent a day with them later after they shot down two more Huns. I said to Don, "How old are you?" He had just graduated from North Toronto Collegiate. He said, "I am twenty". And he has a record of six planes shot down and ten more probably shot clown or damaged.

I turned to Bob Reesor and said, "How old are you?" He said, "I think it is all right to tell you now. I am eighteen." There was a boy in the Battle of Britain at seventeen years of age, and doing a magnificent job, and when those boys went out after the Huns they got them.

We spent a day and a night with the Halifaxes, (I don't know whether the names of these machines will mean anything to you or not, but they carry anywhere from two tons to 17,500 pounds apiece), the Wellingtons, the Avro-Lancasters, the Beaufighters, Night Fighters, the famous Canadian Demon Squadron, the Spitfire Squadrons, the Mustangs and the Mosquitoes, one of which you saw fly over Toronto a week ago.

In the sweeps over France and Germany, these boys, seventy and a hundred of them together go down and blow up the trains and shoot up the troops in Germany. When you think, any of you who were in the last war, that we played around with these things (sample displayed)--303's. To have an idea what the boys in these Spitfires do, there is a shell of a Spitfire, an armour-piercing bullet. What our machines are using in Egypt today are just that size (sample displayed). So you get some idea, when a block of Spitfires and other machines, seventy-five and a hundred at a time, and pouring down these shells at the rate of 500 to 1,000 a minute each, you know what damage can be done when these are sweeping over Belgium, Holland, France, and raiding Germany in the daytime.

We spent a day and a night with the Halifaxes and the Wellingtons. The Halifaxes are the large 4-engine machines, and the Wellingtons are the large 2-engine machines. They carry gigantic loads. When we reached the Halifaxes and the Wellington Squadron they said, "You are in luck. Ops tonight." (Operations tonight.) We spent the afternoon looking over the equipment. We had dinner with them and spent the evening and then at 11.00 o'clock they were briefed. They went across to the airdrome to their machines, got into their flying uniforms and we followed them a few minutes later. We went across the airdrome and waited for the flares to be lit as we stood around the control tower that would soon send these machines on their way to Germany. While we were waiting we heard the sound of airplanes overhead circling around and around.

I said to the Pilot of the first Halifax machine, "Have you any idea what machine is overhead?" We listened for a minute, and he said, "No, but it ain't one of ours". That was very impressive, I can tell you.

A few minutes later the German bombers located their targets, dropped white and red flares and started to bomb. They set the place on fire. The whole sky was full of flak. Then, when the flak ceased and the fires either died away or were put out, the boys got into their machines and away they went for Duisberg in the Ruhr. We waited "until the last one was off. Then we went back, tried to sleep, sat up a while, and then waited.

Just an hour or so before dawn we were back sitting in the control tower. The control tower is a square room and on one side there is a big black wall. The boys have their machines listed, A for Albert, D for Donald, G for George. After a while, out of the blackness: "G for George. G for George. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?"

And a little girl, of ninety pounds, with a fine voice, at the radio control-all the radio operations are run by the girls in the Women's Section of the Air Force--she had been sitting at the microphone all night and right back came, "G for George. G for George. We can hear you. We can hear you."

Then came a little later the roar of the engines and "G f or George. G for George. May I land? May I land?", and the little voice, back into the microphone as fast as could be, "You may land. You may land."

And around the airdrome, one after another, the machines came in from that raid. Our two Squadrons, the Halifaxes and the Wellingtons had joined hundreds of others of the Royal Air Force in the raid on Duisberg in the Ruhr. They came around and around and landed. Then we waited, for D for Donald was still missing. Finally they said we had better go with the Pilots to the Interrogation Room and hear the story of the raid. They had located the river, located the bridge, located their objectives, they had successfully bombed them and also had taken pictures.

We were eating breakfast when they said, "We think Donald is coming home". We rushed to the control tower again. Out on the balcony on the side we listened and over the radio came, "D for Donald. D for Donald. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?"

And the little voice, right back into the microphone, "D for Donald. D for Donald. We can hear you. We can hear you".

And then, a little closer, "D for Donald. D for Donald. May we land? May we land?" And the answer, "Yes, you may land. You may land."

And back and forth the conversation went. "D for Donald. D for Donald. Can you hear us? Badly shot up. Two engines are out. Fuselage badly shot up. The crew is okay. Prepare for crash landing, if necessary."

So they prepared. They came in, and we stood waiting. Our hearts were hammering and we were watching that undercarriage to see whether there was an undercarriage there or not to come down. Finally, the undercarriage came down and he made a successful landing, and all the boys of the two Canadian Squadrons that night came back from Duisberg successfully. (Applause.)

D for Donald had to take evasive action over Duisberg when he was caught in a terrific barrage of antiaircraft fire. He was for an hour and a half in the Ruhr Valley and was finally driven east and got a bit to the left over Essen. When he was over Essen the antiaircraft fire was so severe that he was blown upside down and he flew on his head until he was out of the barrage. Then he straightened out and came back on two engines.

That broke the tension: "And are you surprised?" We were relieved, I can tell you, because after you have spent an afternoon and an evening with these boys you know them and when they go off into the inky blackness at night, carrying thousands upon thousands of pounds you are with them in spirit and you are with them until they come back home.

The Canadian Beaufighter Night Fighters, which we visited a little later, is commanded by Wing Commander Davoud, who was a bush pilot out of North Bay, prior to the war. He is one of the finest pilots in the Royal Canadian Air Force or the Royal Air Force. They are doing a magnificent job, these Beaufighter Night Fighters. I am not able to tell you how fast they go but they are like the Spitfires. They patrol over the British Isles, the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay and the North Sea. They are up there in pitch blackness of the night, up and down, up and down. The little girl down below in another control tower gets a message from the radio locators that the German bombers are coming across. The message is sent out into the night, "We have business for you. We have business for you." In a second comes the voice from the night, "Where is the business? Where is the business?" The little girl gives the location of the business, and back and forth they go. One of our boys was that lad, George Pepper, a Flying Office from Belleville. He got that message, "We have business for you. We have business for you". And back came the answer, "Where is the business. Where is the business". Saturday night he shot down three of the "businesses" over Canterbury, which is a mighty fine job for any lad in one evening. (Applause.)

We visited the Canadian Avro-Lancaster Squadron. I believe you had the opportunity of seeing an Avro-Lancaster while we were away. They are huge. They are really beyond imagination. We went to the ammunition dumps after we had seen the machines. At the first dump they had a little cradle with a 4,000 pound bomb on it. They wheeled it to the first Avro-Lancaster and a crane hauled it up inside. Four thousand pounds in one bomb and all around it were incendiaries.

At the next dump there were 8,000 pound bombs. They were loading these in by crane and more incendiaries went along. We were asked if we would like to send a message to Hitler on one of these giant bombs. I don't mind telling you, though I have handled many bombs and had plenty of experience, it was a ticklish situation to sit on one of these monsters and write a message to Hitler. I can assure you I didn't press very hard on the pencil. If you are victim of a 500 pound bomb you may think you are one kind of corpse. I can tell you, you would have a different conception of a corpse if it is an 8,000 pound bomb that goes off.

Our boys are flying these giant machines, night after night, day after day, over Germany, and they are giving Hitler what he asked for. A thousand planes over Cologne six months ago. A hundred machines car do the same job in bomb loads that the thousand planes did then. That is the development that is taking place.

We hear a great many people talk about a Second Front. In the meantime, those who are competent are giving Hitler and the German people a Second Front right in Germany where it hurts the most. These huge bomb loads are falling on German cities and that is a Second Front.

We visited the Demon Squadron which got its name from the work it is doing and led off in its tremendous undertakings by Ralph Christie of Toronto who won the D.S.O. for sinking four ships, the largest being 8,000 tons. These boys with the Hudson bombers do all their work at night. They load up in England and scour the North Sea to search out German ships in convoys off the Frisian Islands and Norway, because Germany must get iron ore and resources from the north for its industries in the Ruhr. Our boys set off for these sea lanes and when they sight their quarry streak down across the decks to let drop a 500 or 1,000 pound bomb and that is the end of Hitler's iron ore.

In that same squadron are two young lads that I suppose are not more than eighteen or nineteen. They didn't look more than sixteen or seventeen, two brothers by the name of Paige, who were born on Leauty Avenue, Kew Beach. They went across in a snowstorm and were down so low they actually hit a rock on the Frisian Islands and bent a propeller. They managed to pull up and came back through the storm to save the machine and crew. For such outstanding work one received the D.F.C. and the other a D.F.M. They didn't think they had done enough and when they got the machine fixed up they said they were going back again.

These are some of the boys whom I had the opportunity to talk with and they have done up to thirty operational flights and spent hundreds of hours in the air. Every opportunity they are over these sea lanes sinking enemy ships. Photographic records back up the work of these boys.

The day of the navy, army or air force winning the war as a unit is passed. Just as Dieppe was a combined operation of all the services, everything today is a combined operation and winning the war will be done by that method. All three work together so that all services are operating with the best knowledge they can get from each other first-hand as the operation takes place.

I attended a Naval Press Conference at the British Ministry of Information and General Tripp, who was speaking for the British Ministry of Information, paid the very highest tribute to our boys of the corvettes. And the First Lord of Admiralty, A. V. Alexander, in making his announcement that 530 submarines had been sunk said a good many of those had been sunk by our own boys of the Canadian Navy and by our boys in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

General Tripp says, "There is no likelihood of a slackening in submarine activity. The output of German submarines remains large. The submarine hazard is a very real one and we must not relax. I cannot pay too high a tribute to the boys of the corvettes. We can't have too many of them. They are bringing the ships through safely to Britain."

And let us not forget the men of the Merchant Marine. Without them this war could not be fought. They are doing a magnificent job every day, all day, winter and summer. They are the boys who are working without glory, just in a pair of overalls.

We had the opportunity of having a half a day each with eight Ministers of the British Cabinet and we had some time with the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill. Some of you no doubt have met him. He is the most dynamic figure I have ever met. He just overflows with optimism and you catch it.

When your President invited me to speak today, I said, "Just a minute--is that a joke, or what?" I notice it is the 5th of November and I know the Houses of Parliament has been blown up but I didn't just quite catch the subtleness.

The Prime Minister emphasized very strongly that we have many hard battles yet ahead, but he was never more confident of victory than he is today. I said, "Do you think the chicken and the chicken's neck are any stronger today than when you made that remark?" You could just see his eyes open and sparkle and he said, "Yes, never stronger than they are today."

I said, "You know the people back in Canada are trying to put bigger and bigger wings on that chicken for you." He came around in front of me, and said, "Yes, and claws, too." He just makes words jump. I wish I could make words jump like he does. You have heard him over the radio but he is just ten times better when you meet him, personally, because those words just jump at you and he is bristling with optimism.

We had several hours with Sir Stafford Cripps, who had just returned from India. He talked to us a long time on India, and also about Russia. We had an afternoon with the Right Honourable L. S. Amery, Secretary for India. Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. Amery believe that India will settle her problems in India and remain in the British Empire, just the same as Canada has settled her problems and has remained in the British Empire.

I asked Sir Stafford Cripps, "Why didn't you settle the Indian problem when you were there?" He said, "How could I. I couldn't get them in the same room together." He recognized the difficulty. He said, "They will settle their own problems. Another thing you must remember. When the order for the arrests were made in India, there was only one white man at the Council Meeting. All the others were natives." He emphasized that the Indians were ruling India today and they ordered the arrests, not Britain, and not the white men in India.

Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, has really captured the imagination of the British people, particularly with the points system. He said, "The Scotsman had an idea of rationing. A perfect rationing was to have no food and no clothing, but there was only one fault with that--he died. Now, our idea is to feed the people, keep them fighting fit, and not ration them more than we can help."

And he has made a wonderful job of it. During the ninety-one nights of Blitzes in London, not once did the system fail. Breakfast on the table the following morning. The men of that Service delivered the food throughout the British Isles and never once failed for a single meal and they are doing the same today, no matter where the Germans hit. It is a magnificent organization.

The milk is saved for children. Eggs are saved for children. You must remember, the young boys of three years ago are now in the army, so it is necessary to keep them fighting fit in Britain.

He said, "We had queues. We don't want queues. One queue creates another queue."

I think this is an old one, but he told it so I am going to repeat it to you. In one section there was a music hall and the people were lined up away down to the corner. A woman coming along and seeing the queue thought she was going to get something and she got in at the tail end of the queue. When they got to the corner she tapped the woman ahead of her and said, "What are we getting?" The woman replied, "The Tales of Hoffman." "What do you do with them. Stew them?" she asked.

I bring back to you several messages from General McNaughton, the head of the Canadian Forces. He said that the army in England or the Army overseas is only a reflection of what you are at home, nothing more. If the Home Front doesn't support the men overseas, the men overseas can't do the job that you and I expect.

Then he said, "Tell the people back home to keep on writing letters, always keep writing letters, because out of touch is out of sympathy." It is always your turn to write. Don't be like the Scotsman who won the V.C. (And I pay great respect to Major B. H. Geary, V.C., who is here today on my left.) A pal said, "Sandy, why don't you write your wife and tell her all about it?" "O," he said, "I can't. It isn't my turn to write." So just remember it is always your turn to write to the boys overseas."

I met numbers upon numbers of boys who hadn't received any message from home for a month or six weeks. That is not unusual. Brigadier Eric Haldenby, who took over the 48th Highlanders, and who went to France, took over a French train and got his troops back, and across the Channel, hadn't heard from home for a month or six weeks. The letters had gone astray for the time being. And no matter whether you get letters a month or six weeks old, remember, it is your turn to write.

One other message from General McNaughton: "Guns, tanks, airplanes and ships are good today, obsolete tomorrow and a menace in the hands of our men the following day." No one would think of sending our boys into the air, I hope not at least, with an obsolete airplane so he would be sitting duck for the Germans. We must have all the latest of everything-guns, tanks, ships and airplanes, and that is a job on the Home Front.

He says, "Tell the people back home that we must never be satisfied with what we have. We must have better tools all the time, and in the final battle we must have more and better than the Germans to win the victory."

The people of Great Britain today carry on, regardless of raids. There was a time when the Germans raided to interfere with production, but not today. I had the opportunity of visiting and walking for hours in underground cities. One underground city was 120 feet below the surface, in solid rock, and I walked for half a day and only saw one-third. There are many of those cities in the British Isles and they are producing everything, including airplanes for a final victory over Germany.

Probably the funniest sight of Old England trying to hang on to its past ways was to be seen in a lift, about twenty feet wide, where we all went down together and the man operating the lift had a pair of striped trousers, a black coat, a stiff collar, a bow tie, a bowler hat and an umbrella. I thought, there was the Old England, trying to hang on to itself in a city 120 feet below the surface, and where they were still trying to hang on to the old clothes.

Down in the South of England, the Germans come over quite frequently-they came while we were there, and a 500-lb. bomb struck, ricocheted off a building about the size of the King Edward Hotel, and killed a lot of people and injured a lot.

In one particular hotel they have a sign. The porters run all the hotels, the staffs are at the war but there is always a porter and the porter is everything in the hotel. When the Germans were coming over two and three times a week the porter in this particular hotel put up a sign: "During an Air Raid-notify the porter if you wish to be called. Otherwise, you will not be disturbed." The "Wailing Willies" may be going, and the buzzers going and the Germans letting them have 500-lb. bombs, but you will not be disturbed unless you notify the porter.

I walked miles upon miles and blocks upon blocks through the devastation of the English cities and some of the cities have had terrific blitzes. There is no question about that. Some of them have suffered because they were not prepared with fire watchers. Bristol was one, Bath was another. There are blocks upon blocks where the business sections are entirely wiped out. One business concern now in the City of Bristol has 245 watchers alone, prepared for anything that may take place in the winter, because most of the damage is done by the incendiary bombs and if they can be dealt with the city can be saved.

I want to say a word with regard to the A.R.P. work in the City of Toronto. More power to their elbow! May their organization grow bigger, because if ever we have a raid in the City of Toronto we want to be prepared for it and not caught napping.

Yes, they have devastation and they have food rationing, and they have clothing rationing, and they have sweets rationing. They have fire watchers-both men and women-and there is no gasoline for pleasure driving. They have all these things and perhaps half the family, in many cases, in a community cemetery. They are experiencing the toil, sweat, blood and tears, but the spirit of the people of Great Britain has never been and is not broken. They are stronger today then ever and there is only one thought in their minds, and that is Victory. (Applause.)

MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Squadron Leader Wemp, you have drawn a very informative picture of real conditions in England, a picture somewhat comparable to that which was drawn by your confrere, C. H. J. Snider, after his return from Britain a few months ago, who gave us the benefit here of his observations. You have touched on very many phases of conditions and you have made special reference to the Air Force, the chivalry of the air. I remember that Bishop Renison, after his return here a few months ago, addressed us, and, in his address, used a quotation which has run through my mind a great many times since. It goes like this

"They looked on Death, And with him nonchalantly passed the time of day; He paused, bewildered, Muttered 'neath his breath, 'Immortals, these', And laid his scythe away."

These Gentlemen of the Air sometimes are said to live a life of luxury, punctuated by moments of extreme fear. It is not to be wondered at, after the picture that you have drawn and given to us today. It is grand to hear you tell of Don Morrison, Bob Reesor, George Pepper, Ralph Christie, the Page boys, one of whom is a D.F.C., the other a D.F.M. These names mean so much to us in our local habitation.

We thank you, Sir, very much. It was interesting to hear you speak of the rations and of the Scotsman's attitude toward rationing. I think, possibly, it has not been thought that good old oatmeal porridge might contribute to that ration. The comment has been made that that is what they feed the horses on in Scotland. The reply, of course, was, "Did you ever see such horses, and did you ever see such men?"

Squadron Leader Wemp, we thank you for the trouble you have taken in coming to address us this afternoon. (Applause.)

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On Active Service with the Fighting Forces

Overseas forces. The Dieppe raid. Pilot Don Morrison of Toronto. Bob Reesor of the Reesor family in Scarborough. A description of some of the aircraft used in the raids: the Halifaxes, the Wellingtons, the Avro-Lancasters, the Beaufighters, Night Fighters, the famous Canadian Demon Squadron, the Spitfire Squadrons, the Mustangs and the Mosquitoes. The sweeps over France and Germany. "Ops tonight." Coming back from Duisberg. Details of several operations. Combined operations. Submarines sunk by our own boys of the Canadian Navy and by our boys in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Bringing the ships safely through to Britain. Several messages from General McNaughton, the head of the Canadian Forces. The people of Great Britain, carrying on regardless of raids. The devastation of the English cities. The A.R.P. work in the City of Toronto. Great Britain not broken, and with Victory on their minds.