What Canada Means to Me
In Canada you say of the war, "Time is on our side" — Time is on our side only if we use it to mobilize every man and every dollar—Mrs. Forbes
TOWARD the beginning of my grown-up life. Canada meant my first holiday after the Great War. I had been driving an ambulance at the French front. In those days our forty h.p. Mercedes had neither windscreen nor self-starter so we were rarely dry and generally half frozen, with a perpetual pain in the back from cranking stubborn motors. We wore the French army greatcoat and kepi, were issued with the usual meagre rations of 1918, including a daily packet of bitter black cigarettes, and we drew the poilu’s pay of fourteen sous a week—about twenty-two cents. My ambulance ended in ashell hole under fire near Commercy. The Armistice came. With another girl in her teens, I went round the world.
When we reached your beautiful Rockies, our money was nearly at an end, so we started hiking without clock, calendar, timetable, or much sense of direction. I remember we dragged along a pack pony called “Butterfly,” which had a habit of wallowing like a hippopotamus whenever it came to water. You can imagine what a fairy tale the forest-bound lakes and the glaciers seemed to a girl still battered from experiences on the Western front !
Because of those carefree days, with their memories of a bear that sat up in the middle of a trail to look at us and a porcupine hidden under a bed of pine-branches, Canada has always been for me a haven and an inspiration. When I landed at Saint John at the end of last January, the fairy-tale atmosphere still held—after more than twenty years. For there was so much light and comfort, so much ease of travelling and such lots to eat ! Those are not frivolous impressions, I assure you. They were the result of six months of war conditions in Britain. Almost the first thing I heard in Saint John was “Another submarine sunk. The Germans will never be able to blockade England!”
I hope and believe that is true, but it is a mistake to underestimate the effect of Germany’s autumn and winter offensive with planes, mines and submarines. It has meant that, in order to guard our vulnerable island, protected by no allied or frightened neutral frontiers, our Air Force has been patrolling night and day, and our Navy, combined with the merchant and fisher fleets, has been working all out every hour of the twenty-four.
If we agree that the land forces equalize each other in comparative—and temporary—inactivity, it seems to me that Germany cannot be employing more than a few thousand men to lay the mines, man her dwindling number of submarines and pilot the dozen or twenty raiding planes with which, weekly, for seven months, she has kept our total sea strength and at least half our Air Force on the alert. She must be spending at this moment, in money and material, only a fraction of what we are obliged to disburse. Her submarines may well be fuelling in Mexico, or—unknown to the Irish Government—in some of the innumerable deserted caves off the west coast of the Free State.
If you think it out, you will realize, therefore, that Germany is using practically no war material. She is still manufacturing hard. Her plants and her arsenals are working triple shifts, so she must be storing an enormous amount of supplies. She is certainly gaining on her peacetime expenditure of petrol, for all her civil vehicles are running on synthetic spirit. (I have motored right across Germany on it in a high-powered English car, and apart from occasional knocking in the engine, it is quite satisfactory.) Germany is using at the moment very little military transport or ammunition. Consequently, with six years stores of war and raw materials, she cannot be even remotely affected—as yet—by our blockade.
Britain, of course, is equally unaffected, so far as essentials are concerned, but when I sailed in January, the Government had wisely decided to conserve petrol and primary foodstuffs and, above all, to keep space in the ships which would normally bring meat, butter, sugar, bacon and so on, for the transport of necessary war material !
The result was that ordinary people had to go decidedly short. When I left England, very little coal was available, partly owing to the German sea mines which interrupted —although they certainly did not stop—sea-borne traffic in the North Sea and the Irish Channel. Many people went to bed regularly at seven p.m. because they could not heat their cottages. Even the rationed food was often difficult to get. I myself have bicycled from village to
village in the country before I could buy my weekly half pound of sugar.
There was very little private transport on the roads. You Canadians use your cars as second pairs of legs. Well, remember that our jx'trol ration last winter allowed us— with a thirty h.p. car—to cover about twenty-five miles a week ! Trains were needed for military transport. Passenger traffic was very much a side line. Few of the trains were lighted. Often, coming back from provincial towns where I had been lecturing, sometimes to the Fighter and Bomber Commands strengthened by your undefeatable Canadian pilots, I have sat with a dozen strangers squashed into a compartment intended for six, in pitch darkness for many hours. This has a curious effect on one’s spirits.
From Blackout to Eight
TN BRILLIANT sunshine, at Saint John—with what *■ seemed to me Christmas card snow specially spread so that apple-cheeked children, stalwart and gay, should sleigh and ski over it in woolly overalls and parkas which reminded me of Bre’r Rabbit—my taxi driver asked me, “What’s the blackout really like?” I tried to explain that as we happened to have had a particularly dark and cold winter, it had seemed to us that an irrevocable night descended on us in the middleof each fog-bound afternoon. Thereafter, we felt three parts blind. Light indoors was not rationed, but we had been asked to save as much electricity and gas as possible. So we cooked on a single burner and gathered behind closed shutters round a solitary bulb, to eat or read.
During my first days in Canada, I was always turning off electric light. It is very cheap in your country compared with ours and you are far ahead of us in the use of domestic electricity. Think how you would dislike being limited to a single light in one room at a time. None of these war restrictions are important, but whenever a Canadian says to me cheerfully, “Our blockade must be making things pretty uncomfortable for Germany,” I wonder how much he knows of what I Iitler’s blockade is doing to Britain. It is surely essential to compare what is really happening in the various countries across the Atlantic. I don’t believe either Canadians or our own islanders need reassuring. They want to know the truth. They can face any number of hard facts.
On the first train I boarded between Saint John and 1 lalifax, I was impressed and delighted by the friendliness as well as by the vigor and vitality and common sense of the businessmen who talked to me—just because I was English and because they wanted to know what was happening on our side of the world. There was no end to their desire for information. We had some g;xxl arguments about the strength of Germany, but—fresh from a week of complete blackout on one of the magnificent Duchess boats, my eyes still sore and irritable from unrelieved electric light—the conversations had the same fairy-tale quality as the fir trees and frozen rivers sparkling between snow and sun outside the windows of a superlatively comfortable steam-heated car. For nearly all my travelling companions were pinning their real hopes—the secret hopes of their hearts—to a miracle. They said, “I don’t believe much of Germany’s behind this fellow Hitler. There’s bound to be a breakup soon;” or "Russia and Germany won’t lx; together long. You’ll see, there’ll be a split. Maybe we’ll find ourselves fighting with what’s left of a sound Germany against the Reds in both countries.”
For nineteen years I have travelled regularly in Germany. Between 1920 and 1933 I saw the country psychopathic with defeatism. Then Hitler came inti) jx>wer. In six years of complete success, he has replaced Germany among the great powers. He has given to every German work, wages, enough to eat—although it is not the sort of f(xx! we should like—one of the largest armies in the world, pride of race and position, self-respect and, what seems to I Ians or Fritz, reading only his national press, a chance of world dominion.
Why, in heaven’s name, should Germany break up or revolt? Why should she even be discontented? For at least four years, the German ixxjple have been accustomed to coffee made out of powdered chestnuts, to potato spirit instead of petrol, to suits made out of wood fibres and to “leather” gfxxls contrived from so many hundred sheets of hydraulically compresser! paper. The situation for them has not really changed. They may have difficulty in getting eggs, though I don’t suppose the hens of the Reich have stopped laying because there is a war, and Denmark is still pouring farm produce into Germany, because, like every other neutral, she is naturally far too terrified to refuse the colossus at her gate anything that is asked of her.
As I travelled west across Canada. I fell completely under the spell of some national characteristic which I find impossible to describe. It belongs to the ordinary people of Canada in greater measure, I think, than to those of other countries. It makes your politicians and your political speeches incomprehensible to me. For I Continued on page 43
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think this national quality of yours, due to the fact that you like reasoning things out for yourselves, can best be described as a downright mental honesty. You don’t pretend to yourselves. You can certainly "take it” when it comes to hard times or unpleasant possibilities. Therefore, I cannot understand why you insist on “kidding” yourselves with the idea that this war can be won by leaflets, or a blockade, by stalemate, or internal revolution, or a dispute between Russia and Germany.
Hitler said last July: “No weapon ever invented will take the place of brave men. The next war will be won by men.”
The German Slant
(GERMANY will not “break up inside” until we have succeeded in delivering a succession of such hard military blows that the mighty German Army is itself shaken. In July, its morale was not particularly high. An officer said to me then, “We are sick of all these mobilizations. No army can stand three in little over a year.” But he also said, “Although we don’t want to fight you, we shouldn’t at all mind a nice pleasant little war against Poland.” “How long would it take you, do you think, to reach Warsaw?” I asked.
“Three months with luck,” he said. In reality, it took three weeks.
“During the first nine days of the war,” said a Polish friend of mine who had fought with a famous light cavalry regiment, “we never saw a living German. It was a completely inhuman spectacle. We saw a wave of metal in the air—planes; and a wave of metal on the ground—tanks; but not a solitary human enemy appeared.”
That is war as Germany waged it against Poland. It was successful. Hitler won in just half the time he himself pre-
dicted. The whole feeling of his army changed. Their morale went right up. In a few days they swept the experimental French advance out of the Saar. The Allied generals did not expect to stay on German territory. The retreat was planned on our side. But it added, of course, to the wholehearted satisfaction of Hitler’s army, which now believes itself invincible.
“You can blockade just 150 miles out of our 3,000-mile land frontier,” said General Goering, economist, organizer, and so daring a pilot that he thinks in terms of the air rather than the land.
“You cannot breach our triple Siegfried I Line, which is so mobile that we can dej fend it from any angle we choose. St; ; where are you going to attack us? If we j simply sit still within our own frontiers, drawing for food and the raw materials we need on our neighboring allies—and on neighboring neutrals who won’t be particular about payment because they’ll be so afraid of being attacked—then how are you going to win the war?”
All across Canada I have quoted these words of Goering’s. For he is a very practical man of affairs. Last July he said to me, “We don’t want to fight you. We think you’d much better be content with your enormous Empire. Surely that gives you enough scope? Stop interfering, and leave Europe to us. But if you insist on fighting over what really is not your concern, we are ready for you.”
I believe last summer Goering thought Germany might have to fight the allied Western democracies. Hitler did not. He thought he could get away with Poland, Danzig and the Corridor. He hoped not to have to fight us for another two or three years. He said, “I shall not make war on the West until I am ready to the last gun and the last plane.” He also said, “I shall
I choose the exact moment when to make ! I war.” He has not yet decided on that moment.
During the same conversation, I remember Goering saying, “Don’t make any mistake about Russia. It is to her advantage to keep the war going as long as pos¡ sible. She will certainly starve a few more of her miserable millions to send us whatever food we need.”
A few years previously, at the Kremlin, Stalin had said to me, “Of course there will be another war. It is foolish of you British to pretend the era of colonization is at an end just because you have got enough land. Inevitably Germany will want to colonize Europe. Asia, of course, will be Sovietized. There may be several more wars, but the only system which will finally j benefit will be ours.”
He explained that the Soviet Union was ] sufficiently vast, productive and resilient j to be able to recover from the most fearful I and the most prolonged war. But, although he often spoke of “locking his back door on the West,” which meant securing the Eastern Baltic and the Gulf of Finland for Russia, his main objective seemed to be Asia. Once he said, “Between Siberia and the Caucasus, we can grow everything except cocoa. It is not the business of a great power to make war in order to change the national drink from tea to cocoa!”
The fall of heroic Finland has given Stalin an effectual key to his “back door.” It will secure to Germany Swedish ore, Scandinavian neutrality, presumably whatever she chooses to demand from Denmark, and in time Finnish nickel.
Let us get one thing clear. We could not possibly have helped Finland. We had no bombers to spare from our own equally vital defense. Even if Norway and Sweden had agreed to give our troops passage, there is only one single-line railway and one narrow, gravelled road, useless for heavy traffic, from Bergen to the Finnish front. To have sent the British fleet to Ixanbard Murmansk, or to have landed an expeditionary force in Arctic Russia, would j have been in the first case completely ineffective so far as stopping the Red advance was concerned, and in the second case sheer murder. Nevertheless, Finland’s jx;ace will have the most serious effect on the war, especially in the Balkans where no neutral will dare make an active step on our side until its Government sees us definitely—and successfully—on the offensive. And that offensive will have to be military, not economic.
Germany and Russia?
T_TERE IS the answer to the question which followed me from East to West in Canada: “Won’t Germany and Russia quarrel?” Why should they? I cannot see where their interests clash. Germany will provide the fighting forces and the organization, and Russia the raw matenial. In the Urals, the Soviet has almost all the metals Germany needs. Some ores, like wolfram used for hardening steel, she can supply to her ally via the Trans-Siberian railway, from China. Germany does not want the East. Russia has got as much of Europe now as she requires, except perhaps Bessarabia, the northernmost province of Roumania. which Hitler would certainly cede to her in return for western dominion. These two outlaw nations have everything to gain and nothing to lose by strengthening their alliance. There is nothing to choose between their creeds of violence. One word, “nationalism,” used to stand between them. When Hitler seized Prague, he ceased to be a nationalist. When Stalin j attacked Finland, whose recent frontiers were categorically pledged for all time by the Russo-Finnish peace of 1918 by the great Lenin, he shed the travesty of internationalism.
Now Sovietism and Nazism are based on identical lines—force, the abolition of religion, the elimination of individual thought or purpose, the creation of a massj mind obedient to dictatorship, and a com[
plete ignorance of conditions or aspirations in foreign countries.
For many years Germany has poured her engineers, traders and technicians into Russia. Her plans have long been ready. Now she will start to organize the supplies she needs. Let us, therefore, wake from our dreams of an easy war followed by a “live-happy-ever-afterward peace.”
I would like to keep some fairy-tale impressions of Canada—that magnificent group of government buildings at Ottawa, their steep green copper roofs soaring out of the snow midway, it seemed to me, between earth and sky; the forest-girt shore of Lake Superior, its islands jewelled in a cold clear sunset; mountains rising from the unbelievable seas of evening in British Columbia. But there must be no make-believe about this war. You will have to back the sons and brothers and husbands you sent so gallantly and generously to the front, with every man and every dollar you possess. We in other parts of the Empireshall have to do the same. It is necessary for our very existence that we win this war. Therefore, it is possible. But all the way back across Canada you have been saying to me, “Time is on our side.” It is on our side only if we use it to work as hard and as unitedly as Germany has been doing for six solid years.
In July Hitler said, “I don’t want Africa. When I have conquered Europe, I shall
have all America to colonize.” I don’t suppose he meant by force of arms. He has often said to me, "There are sufficient German organizations in the United States to make a Nazi revolution if I can establish my law in Europe.” That revolution might be one of trade, religion, culture and language. For I cannot believe that the American continent could remain democratic in principle if the Nazi religion of mass-force dominated the whole of Europe.
Canada is heir-apparent to the British Empire. If Britain is overwhelmed—fighting like the Rawal Pindi, gun for gun, while men are alive to handle them—you will have to carry on. On Sunday, March 10, some of the U.S. papers were giving us a forty-five per cent chance of winning this war after what they headlined as “The Allies’ First Major Defeat” (the Finnish I>eace). They were wrong. Democracy produces a better type of individual fighter than the totalitarian state. That is why our pilots—quicker thinkers and quicker, therefore, in action—are establishing an undoubted ascendancy over the enemy.
“The war will be won by men,” said 1 litler. I agree. It will—by our men, when we have ceased to dream of any easier way of winning.
Editor's Note: A second article by Mrs. Forbes will appear in an early issue, of Maclean’s.