GENERAL ARTICLES

I Saw in Britain...

"Britain is tough, doesn’t look for quick victory, is moving leftward, appreciates Canada but knows little of Canada’s part in the air war"—Wilson

KENNETH R. WILSON May 15 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

I Saw in Britain...

"Britain is tough, doesn’t look for quick victory, is moving leftward, appreciates Canada but knows little of Canada’s part in the air war"—Wilson

KENNETH R. WILSON May 15 1944

I Saw in Britain...

GENERAL ARTICLES

KENNETH R. WILSON

ONE OF the first things a Canadian visitor to Britain discovers is that Britain can be cold. Once you get outside a centrally heated hotel in London it is essential to pile on every woollen garment you can muster. For four days, during a tour of the “provinces,” I did not dare part from my flannel pyjamas day or night. As well I wore long woollen underwear (used only for skiing in Ottawa’s “temperate” subzero weather) and a chamois vest

Gone are the cheery coal fires in bedrooms and throughout hotels. As a rule most homes or lodgings boast only one fire per establishment. As a result tea has become more than ever the Briton’s central heating system. Fortunately there is plenty of it. It came as a shock to Britishers to know that Canadians are limited to only one cup of tea or coffee in public eating places.

The shortage of clothing was in evidence the day we had tea with Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden in the Foreign Office. He greeted us in what seemed to be the traditional immaculate black coat and grey pants of the British diplomat. Closer inspection disclosed that the “striped” pants were in reality a well-worn pair of grey herringbone tweeds, which had a good-sized tear in the left pocket.

Wherever possible the Britisher puts up a wellgroomed front, but war has taken a heavy toll of almost everything he holds dear. Even the British railway system has had to abandon its tradition for punctuality and you may wait an hour or two for what in peacetime were crack and punctilious trains. Boots are still shined if you leave them outside your door— provided there is polish, which is very scarce.

* * *

During the six weeks we were in the United Kingdom we visited half a dozen secret war operations headquarters. One of these nerve centres was the great subterranean room where is fought, hour by hour, the Battle of the Atlantic. On a vast, green wall space, which reached far above our heads, was plotted all surface, air and undersea craft known to be on the Atlantic at that particular moment. That we saw this was in itself a good omen for had not this battle been all but won it is unlikely we would have been allowed to enter such a holy of holies.

We also visited Air Marshal Harris in his famous Bomber Command headquarters. To our surprise we were taken there under special RAF escort in broad daylight. I noted with interest that the signposts are back again on English roads.

The cool, sandy-haired, soft-spoken guiding genius of the most powerful and devastating bombing operation in world history talked freely about his hopes and fears.

Despite disappointment at the fact that it had not been given an earlier and bigger chance, he still believes his kind of air power is the new and decisive weapon of this war. He deplores the tendency of war leaders to fight battles in terms of previous wars. Germany, he points out, in the last war fell two or three weeks short of starving Britain by failure to press to its ultimate advantage her lethal weapon of submarine blockade. Germany started this war thinking the submarine was again to be the decisive instrument.

One feels that Harris fears the United Nations may be found to have made an equally grievous mistake in not having thrown more and earlier punch into its bomber command.

* * *

Statistical note: There were 136 acres devastated at Coventry but nearly 50 times that much (about 6,000 acres) were knocked out by us at Hamburg. It had been expected it would take 16,000 tons of bombs

"Britain is tough, doesn’t look for quick victory, is moving leftward, appreciates Canada but knows little of Canada’s part in the air war"—Wilson

to do the Hamburg job; actually it was done with about 10,000. But we’re likely to go back there again —without advance notice. It is expected it will take 40,000 tons to do a real job on Berlin.

Lack of knowledge among Britishers about Canada’s part in the RAF and the Commonwealth Air Training Plan cropped up many times during our visit.

Speaking generally, Britishers are tremendously, even embarrassingly, appreciative of Canada’s industrial and agricultural war effort, but there is surprisingly little understanding or knowledge of our part in the air war.

Most Britishers have no conception of the fact that from one quarter to one third of all air crew operating under RAF command in the European theatre of war are Canadians. They think of the RAF as being a British and not a Commonwealth enterprise. This means they have no understanding of a situation now worrying Ottawa. I doubt if a single Canadian in the RAF has been given even the rank of group captain or higher on the operational side of the European air war. The only aircraft which any Canadian has any authority or right to fly over Britain or Europe, except under orders from the RAF, is the antiquated

“kite” belonging to one senior RCAF officer—Air Marshal Breadner.

Few, if any, Canadians in Britain would argue for a separate Canadian command. But there are many who feel that developments of the past four years justify Canada’s desire to participate alongside RAF officers in the operational side of European air warfare. So far that participation has been denied. This attitude, it is argued, may have been justifiable in 1938 or 1939. But not so today. Nor would it be tolerated, think Canadian officials, if more of the true picture were known and understood by Britishers generally.

This problem has a bearing not only on Commonwealth relations but is of particular concern to Canada as she looks forward to operating her own air force at an early stage in the development of the Pacific war.

* * #

Prime Minister Churchill talked to us in the famous long cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. He had just finished his after-luncheon nap and was dressed in his light blue siren suit, with woollen underwear peeping out at the neck. His cherubic face belied his age and the toll which five years of war have taken in

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his health and physique. I was surprised at how sandy-colored his hair looked.

I can’t report what he said—but he did not tell us the date of the Second Front. We were assured by other sources, however, that the so-called “date” is not a fixed day in the calendar but a set of times in a timetable which will not become operative until certain other events occur. We were assured that the timetable was then “on schedule”; also that it does not depend, though it may be greatly influenced by, what happens in the present gigantic battle to knock German fighters out of the sky.

Even if our air power achieves that feat before the Second Front begins, there will still be long and tough work to be done. Air Marshal Harris thought the European war would go on at least six weeks to two months after German air power had been knocked out. Others put the figure at at least three months.

No one in Britain looked for quick or easy victory. In fact the poor showing of our command in Italy has strengthened a feeling that the Second Front had become so vast and complicated an operation that its mechanics and preparation had almost smothered the willingness and ability of our forces to take bold and courageous risks.

* % *

Most observers in Britain feel that after the war the country will go pretty sharply “left,” though not in the same sense that we in Canada think of that term. Many Britishers regard the current epidemic of CCF Socialism in Canada as 30 years behind the times. It is obvious the British are not nearly as excited about so-called “private enterprise,” as an alternative to stateownership and control, as we profess to be in this country. As one Labor leader

commented, when talking about postwar international trade: “We think government control of import and export policy is much more important than an argument about who owns the business.”

The general feeling was that most types of business would remain in private hands, but that the Government would take an increasingly strong hand in determining the rules under which business operates. There is almost certain to be a great deal of postwar bulk purchasing of Canadian wheat, bacon and other products; also continuance of quantitative controls by licensing quotas.

Britain argues that having lost about half her revenues from investments and services such as shipping, she will be forced to keep a tight rein on the control and direction of her trade. Not only have her capital reserves been materially depleted but her trade balance has been so upset that she expects after the war to have to increase her exports by from 40 to 50% even to pay for a pre-war level of imports. She wants actually to increase her imports in order to give her people a higher standard of living, especially in respect of nutritional foods.

I was told that Denmark would probably negotiate a bacon agreement with Britain within two months of the end of the European war, and that she would be back in the British market within two years of that time.

Politically, Britain is expecting the postwar years to be highly inflammatory—especially as the effective age of parliamentarians and other leaders is expected to drop by possibly 20 years or more. Just how “revolutionary” this trend is likely to be is anybody’s guess but there is no denying the strong undercurrent of support and sympathy in Britain for Russia.

Britain doesn’t expect to have too much difficulty in getting on with

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Russia after the war. This may he explained, in part at least, by a prevalent Cabinet view that the difference in language and temperament as between Russia and Britain is a help rather than a hindrance. Not speaking the same language Britishers and Russians don’t expect each other to think the same way; they try hard to understand that different point of view. Said one Cabinet minister:

“With Canada, and to some extent America, our common language may actually be a handicap because it makes I us think, quite wrongly, that we hold the same views. Having a common tongue, we in Britain are inclined not to take the trouble to learn about you the way we learn about Russia.”

* * *

One of the most exhilarating experiences of the entire trip was a day spent at the great Prestwick airport in Scotland. This is the arrival point for j most if not all the eastbound bombers which wing their way from North American factories to Britain. It is not only the most important but by far the most fascinating and cosmopolitan ; flying centre in the world today. Planes arrive as often as one a minute, from ' all corners of the earth. In the mess i room you can meet young men who j have, between them, spanned the globe i within the previous 30 hours.

Prestwick is a tribute to the foresight j and imagination of two young Scotsmen: the Duke of Hamilton and David MacIntyre. Both of them made history some years ago by flying over j Mount Everest. More recently the Duke and Rudolf Hess made the front pages of world newspapers.

What interested me especially was to hear them talk with assurance about Britain’s postwar air future, both as to manufacturing and transportation. They showed me models of the gargantuan Prestwick of the future with four-mile runways and British-made planes which make today’s Liberators and Flying Fortresses look like pygmies. These imaginative young men are planning now that the great airships of tomorrow shall be made in Scotland, just as the great passenger vessels of today come from the Clyde and other famous Scottish workshops. They admit it may take a few years to catch up on the United States but they are determined to do just that—and to do it without government support or intervention.

I was told that once Victory is assured the King and immediate members of his family are planning to make a grand tour of the Commonwealth and of various British possessions as a sequel to the highly successful i Royal Tour of Canada in 1939.

1 Whether the party will travel by air is ! not determined.

There is much interest in Britain ; as to Canada’s postwar immigration ! policy. Britishers don’t want to make ! up our minds for us, but they do think ¡ that a positive Canadian immigration I policy might be a very important factor in their postwar planning.

I met any number of people who want their sons and daughters to find j their lifework in Canada, even if they themselves do not have that opportunity. This is partly for security reasons, partly because they think opportunity will be greater. I suspect that women will be even more eager than men to emigrate.

Were there any reason to believe that future Canadian immigration laws would encourage mass migration from Britain, there would probably be alarm in high British quarters for fear that youth, skill and enterprise would

depart, leaving older or less productive people to carry the brunt of social security and other postwar costs. At the moment, however, there is no belief that Canada will let down the barriers to anything like an extent which would undermine the British economy.

It seems important that Canada should break down the still all-tooprevalent British idea that this country is a land of milk, honey and easy, getrich-quick opportunity. Britishers also lack understanding of the tremendous pulling power of our huge and wealthy neighbor to the south. There is little understanding of the futility of any Canadian immigration policy which merely turns this country into a funnel through which good British stock filters promptly into the United States.

There is no talk or thought in Britain of Canada becoming the new centre of the Commonwealth. On the contrary many people in Britain are openly discussing the possibility that Britain’s future may lie not so much with Canada as with European and Empire countries which have since pre-war days been part of an informal “sterling” currency bloc. Canada, of course, is outside the sterling bloc because of her close association with the United States and the U. S. dollar.

Many Britons who heard for the first time something of the Canadian viewpoint as a result of the Halifax speech in Toronto this year are now beginning to feel that despite the close political and sentimental ties between Canada and Britain, Canada’s economic future will be increasingly influenced by our geographic proximity to the United States.