A DINGY six-story apartment building in downtown Ottawa is the nerve centre of the Canadian
There are no grand arches, like London’s Admiralty arch; no splendid setting in the heart of the capital. In London, the Admiralty faces Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, and at its back is St. James’s Park, with Buckingham palace in the distance.
At Ottawa, Navy headquarters in the Aylmer apartments are a stone’s throw from police headquarters and the local fire station.
But if outward appearances are humdrum, there nevertheless pulses within this modest exterior a great fighting service. Our ships of war are fighting day and night, in fair weather or foul, and the broad pattern of their operations is decided at headquarters, Ottawa. This, then, is no organization operating at one remove from the battle line: it is the real thing.
This, no doubt, explains why the men in the Aylmer apartments are so different from other headquarters staffs. They have a sparkle as surprising as it is refreshing. Ratings, with their billowy pants and trim blouses, dash along corridors, up and down stairways, as if they were zipping across holystoned decks or swarming up companionways: in short as if the ancient and stodgy Aylmer apartments was a capital ship.
If you phone Navy headquarters, a rating will pipe out: “Hold the line
while I step on deck and find out.”
In this building, surrounded by the headquarters personnel of our Navy, is Hon. Angus L. Macdonald, Minister of National Defense for Naval Services. It is a part of his calm Scot’s temperament that he takes the dash and spirit, the make-believe, strictly as a matter of course.
Mr. Macdonald, at fifty-one,
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creating Canada’s first real Navy. Ships built in the early months of the war were coming into service in July, 1940, when he was sworn in. Since July, 1940, he has had but one purpose in life—to expand the Navy as rapidly as possible.
His background is Nova Scotia— the sea. He was born in Dun vegan; his father a Highland Scot and his mother Acadian French and Irish. He was educated at St. Francis Xavier College in Antigonish; Dalhousie, Columbia, Harvard. Beaten for Parliament in 1930, he became provincial Liberal leader and won the premiership of his province in 1933. He left the premiership to become Minister of the Navy and to sit (of all places) for Kingston, Ont., the cradle of the Tory Sir John A. Macdonald himself.
Mr. Macdonald is married, has four children. His wife, formerly Agnes Foley, is a Halifax girl, and as Irish as the shamrock. He has three daughters at home and one son, Angus Lewis, Jr.,atschool in Halifax.
In a personal sense, no doubt, the best news that has reached Mr. Macdonald in recent weeks is word of his re-election as Chief of the Scottish Clans of Nova Scotia—the gift of the chieftains of the fourteen clans assembled at the Gaelic Mod in Cape Breton.
A word or two about Mr. Macdonald as a public man. Many people regarded him, when he came to Ottawa in 1940, as the obvious successor to Mr. King. He is eloquent. He had surprised friends and opponents alike by his capacity as an administrator. He has rare personal charm and when in the mood there is no better political campaigner in the country.
By 1941, however, the exalted expectations of many of his friends were unfulfilled. Many were lamenting his slow progress toward the top.
So far as Mr. Macdonald is concerned it is only fair to say that with respect to his friends he seemed equally unaware of their hope and disappointment. He never coveted popularity, national prestige. He is unusual in that he is not personally ambitious. The last thing that worries him is political success, or lack of it.
He would want to be judged not by eloquence of speech, brilliance of repartee, usefulness as a party warrior in Parliament; not by Hansard or press gallery comment. He would want to be judged by the work of the Navy.
He thinks of his service at Ottawa as war service. His record as Minister of the Navy is one of unclouded success but, strangely, in achieving this success he has made no deep impression on the Liberal party or on the nation-at-large. And he has not desired to do either.
His heart is in the Navy. He loves the sea. He gathers to himself the light and the shadow, the exaltation and the heartbreak of the battle as it unfolds. He does this with an
intensity of feeling which is part of his Highland spirit.
I have listened to Mr. Macdonald telling of the heroism of the lads of the Navy. There was the Ontario boy, only a boy, whose ship was torpedoed, who struggled in the icy water until his strength was done. At the end: “There’ll always be an England,” he said and was gone. Mr. Macdonald’s eyes were dim with tears.
Never a ship of our Navy puts out to meet the enemy, but it is as if the crew were his own flesh and blood. He feels each blow; glories in the triumphs; grieves for those who will tight no more; salutes alike the heroes of victory or defeat.
And the touchstone of his success with the Navy (never mind Parliament or the constituencies) is that he sees it not in terms of ships but in terms of men. To him the Navy isn’t ships or guns, but Canadian boys— out there fighting a courageous and resourceful foe, giving everything they’ve got, never quitting.
Mr. Macdonald differs from his two National Defense colleagues— Mr. Ralston and Mr. Power—in that whereas they have been concerned chiefly with the training of men for battle in Europe or other continents, he is directly concerned in the unending battle of the North Atlantic. The bulk of the 300 and more ships of our Navy are fighting under direct control of Canadian Navy headquarters. Moreover, all the intricate, difficult business of assembling and ordering convoys, of outguessing enemy subs, and of fighting them, fails under his supreme command.
Thus Mr. Macdonald’s day is different from that of the other defense ministers. He is at his desk at nine o’clock and has an hour for his correspondence. Sharp at ten a.m. every day, he sits in with the chief of the naval staff, Vice-Admiral P. W. Nelles and the vice-chief, Commodore H. E. Reid, to review the progress of the war at sea. The day’s “signals” are gone over in detail, reports from Naval Intelligence at
London are studied. Navy head! quarters are kept intimately informed on the progress of the war at sea by the Admiralty. At these conferences, the day to day decisions are made.
Once a week a more complete review of the situation is made by the new Naval Board, consisting of the vice-admiral and the heads of the various branches, which is Canada’s equivalent of the British Admiralty. Mr. Macdonald is chairman of the board and as naval minister corresponds to the “First i Lord of the Admiralty.” It is at these I conferences that long-range future planning is done. The broad outline of the war is reviewed and our policy with respect to ships, training, supply and similar matters is laid down. There is, of course, no shortage of recruits for the Navy. On the contrary, there is a long and growing waiting list.
Once a week, the Defense Council consisting of the three defense ministers with their chiefs of staffs and deputies, meets to co-ordinate general war policy.
Apart from these activities, Mr. Macdonald must play his part on the War Committee of the Cabinet, which deals with war policy affecting all services and with such matters as production, compulsory selective service, man power and so on. The War Committee, ordinarily, meets twice a week. But when urgent questions must be decided, the committee meets almost daily until j the decision is reached. Throughout j December and January, the com! mittee rarely missed a day.
Meetings of the full Cabinet also ; eat into the minister’s time. Mr. Macdonald calculates that three quarters of his time is taken up with the Cabinet, committee work or conferences.
He works a long, gruelling day, from nine in the morning until midnight when Parliament is in session. But there is no self-pity in this Cape Breton Highlander. He regards it as a privilege to serve the boys who fight the ships. And serve them he does, to the limit of his strength.
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