GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

They Volunteered for War ... but not for Peace

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1946
GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

They Volunteered for War ... but not for Peace

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1946

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

They Volunteered for War ... but not for Peace

WHEN THE RCMP pulled the rug out from under that batch of spies hidden in the Canadian Government service, they sprang a trap that had been set for some time.

According to people here who should know, Intelligence agents in the western democracies got wind of what was a foot not long after V-J Day. This was one of the things Mr. King talked to Mr. Attlee about in Britain last October, and one of the reasons why he popped down to Washington first to see Mr. Truman.

At that point we knew the Russians were getting secret military information from the democracies, but they didn’t know we knew it. This gave us a good chance to watch what was going on, find out who was betraying the information and how it was reaching the Soviet Union; and generally to learn how the machinery worked. How much of what we know will come out in the enquiry at Ottawa is anyone’s guess— but a good guess would be, not much.

The important thing for Canadians to realize, though, is that this was not a case of Canada dropping the ball, letting slip secrets entrusted to her by her great Allies. The spy ring was by no means confined to Canada— this just turned out to be the best country to catch them in.

NOT MANY people in Ottawa are 100% happy about the decision to pull the Canadian Occupation Force out of Germany at. the end of this month. But the Government feels it has chosen the best of several unpleasant alternatives.

First point made by defenders of the withdrawal is that Canada, unlike United States, is not an occupying power—our boys are just tagging along to help the British, who are an occupying power. Canada suggested, over a year ago, that occupation of Germany should be an Allied job, instead of a Great Power job as it has been. The Americans vetoed this suggestion. So Canada has been, ever since, in the position of lending troops to support a policy in which she had no direct voice.

Next consideration is the enormous, disproportionate cost of keeping a small independent force of 20,000-odd men overseas.

T hey need their own medical services, their ow'n pay machinery, postal system, entertainment and amenity services, the whole laborious setup of a supply line 4,000 miles long. High-ranking officers here have estimated that when you add it all up, every man kept in the COF in Germany costa enough to feed six European families.

There are other minor factors, too, duly taken into account. A year ago our smaller Allies, like Belgium and Holland, weren’t in a position to help with the job; they are now, and Belgium has an occupying force ready.

However, nobody denies the fact that the decisive reason for the withdrawal is political.

Of those 20,000-odd voters in uniform, only 6,000 volunteered for the job of policing Germany. And those 6,000 said “yes” before V-J Day they volunteered for Germany as an alternative to volunteering for Japan. Practically all of them have changed their minds now. They’re fed to the teeth with sitting around idle in a hostile country, and they’re desperate to be home.

Until about Christmastime the Army had been able to take some refuge in the fact that they couldn t bring the men home anyway, there weren t enough ships. Transfer of the Queen Elizabeth and the Aquitania to Canadian service ruined that excuse in about a fortnight. Ever since January there have been ships to bring home more men than could be spared from the occupation job.

DECISION to start withdrawing from Germany on March 31 was actually taken early in December. As late as the end of October Canada still intended to keep troops in Germany longer than that. March 31 was the date our formal commitment expired, but Defense Minister Abbot told Parliament on Oct. 30 that this didn’t necessarily mean the men would be coming home then.

In the ensuing month, though, it became more and more obvious that the COF’s position would soon be untenable, and the Cabinet decided to make the formal expiry date stick. The British were informed of the decision, and by all accounts they were none too pleased. This may be the reason why the decision wasn’t announced at the time.

Silence continued to reign until the Air Force strike in February brought the matter to a head. The Air Force boys had been told they could count on coming home by June 30, when the RCAF’s commitment expires. The Army in Germany had been told nothing. The Government decided it was loo risky to keep silence any longer.

AIR MINISTER Colin Gibson was on a hot . enough spot already about repatriation, occupation and what not. But it was made a lot worse, through no fault of his own, when he was misquoted the day he arrived back from England.

Overseas he had found the RCAF boys most concerned over the fact that their families thought (quite wrongly) that COF airmen were all volunteers. In fact, less than 20% of the ground crew volunteered— they’re mainly, in their own words, “overseas conscripts.” So Mr. Gibson promised that the first thing he’d do when he got back to Canada was make it perfectly clear that these men were being kept overseas against their will, and thus pacify their resentful wives.

So at Roekcliffe airport, on his return, Col. Gibson duly referred to the fact that four fifths of the men overseas were not volunteers. Canadian Press reports omitted the “not”Mr. Gibson was represented as saying the precise opposite of what he’d said. When that item was cabled overseas and published in The Maple Leaf, the airmen really blew up.

It was this, more than any other single thing, that set off the Odiham and Down Ampney sit-down strikes.

There were, however, a lot of other misunderstandings too. The RCAF has had bitter cause to regret its decision, months ago, to release for discharge the men brought home as volunteers for the Pacific war. It seemed a good enough idea at the time—there were only 200 of them anyway, and there were then 35,000 airmen overseas. RCAF commanders thought surely they’d be able to find 100 men among that number who wanted to stay on and finish the job. Failing that, they thought shipping troubles would keep enough airmen in Europe in any case.

In fact, of (he 9,000 ground crew that the RCAF needs in England, fewer than 2,000 volunteered. They sit over there wishing themselves home, and glumly envying the luck of those 200 Pacific volunteers who, of course, have now been multiplied by rumor to at least 2,000.

Two other factors sharpen«*! the airmen’s discontent.

First, th«*y’re all relatively long-service men. The RCAF stopp«*! recruiting in 1944, so every airman has at least two years of service behind him. There ár«; none of the really low-point men with whom the Army can fill its gaps. And an airman with two or three years to his credit looks sourly at an Army policy that discharg«;s “Zombies” and new recruits while lit:, the veteran, still languish«*« overseas.

Secondly, RCAF repatriation priorities have been split up according to trades necessarily so. But in some of the scarcer trades it means that men with very long service may IK; held overseas whil«; their juniors in other, more plentiful trades are sent home for discharge.

This sec:ond point has been evad«,*l to some extent by the policy of sending a few RCAF tradesmen back overseas from Canada. About 250 left last month; it’s hoped by the end of this month to have dispatch«*! 300more. Since one squadron from overseas is scheduled to start for home this month, that will atld another 500 men to the repatriation total— only 8,000 will lxleft overseas. But even 8,000 can do a lot «>f grousing between now and the RCAF occupation dead line, June 30.

Neither overseas nor at home «lo most people realize how many RCAF personnel are needed, over and above peacetime requirements, on this side of the water. Goose Bay, Gander, the Northwest Staging Route and similar hang-overs from wartime «operations are keeping nearly 6,000 men busy in this hemisphere, and keeping them just as remote from home and family as if they were in Britain. This is one of the reasons why the RCAF can’t do as overseas men suggest— send their whole Canadian force over as replacements.

RUSTRATTON and disappointment, borne with fortitudethat’s the typical condition of the demobilized veteran, and it’s «our fault, not his. This, broadly speaking, is the conclusion of a rehabilitation survey by the Canadian Information Service. Its report , published last month, more than bears out Leonard Brockington’s phrase: “The veteran is not Canada’s problem, Canada is the veteran’s problem.”

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Of a random sample from all services interviewed in Montreal, 85% were either employed or in training courses; only 15% were out of work, and of these only half were drawing out-ofwork benefits. The others “didn’t like to ask for charity,” so didn’t even claim their rights.

But of the vast majority “settled in employment” only half were really “settled” in satisfactory work. Not that they’re grousing—on the contrary, the survey people found them courageously cheerful, and often “satisfied, or at least indulgently resigned,” in jobs below their capabilities. But cheerfulness won’t pay the rent. The typical veteran, even when he’s making what looks like a fair salary, has a hard time breaking even.

Generally their wages are low. A quarter of those working at hourly rate jobs got 50 cents an hour or less; more than two thirds got no more than 65 cents, or $31 a week. The percentages were only a little better in the salaried group—precisely two thirds of the men surveyed got $35 a week or less, and a fifth were under $25.

But wages aren’t the whole story. At least one third of the married veterans interviewed were having a struggle to make ends meet, because of the disproportionate burden of wartime rentals. And in this particular problem some of the luckiest veterans are the low-income chaps whose wives have kept the home fires burning in a prewar flat with the rent frozen.

“An unskilled laborer is managing better on 50 cents an hour and an $18 monthly rental,” says the report, “than the $35-a-week veteran with a $50 rental.”

But only a fifth of the veterans interviewed were enjoying pre-war

frozen rents. Most of the others were paying double the rates for equivalent housing, like the couple whose income is $19 a week and who pay $10 a week for one room.

“Veterans’ cost of living is higher, on an average, than that of the rest of the community,” says the report. “In many small ways the veteran is obliged to buy special high-price facilities, commodities and services which the established civilian can avoid. Many are forced to deal with ‘black market’ operators. All are unanimous in the statement: ‘You have to be in our

spot to realize what it costs to get set up in this town.’ ”

Employers came in for some sharp criticism for being long on lip service to rehabilitation, short on delivery. All declared their policy was “preference for the veteran.” But, says the report:

“In practice more than half the employers contacted were evidently acting on a basis of expediency. ‘All else being equal’ they would engage an ex-serviceman rather than a civilian. But in many cases the ex-serviceman lacks the superficial skills and up-todate know-how which would make him ‘equal,’ for example, to the better warworker currently available. There was evidence that employers generally were obtaining civilian help which could be adjusted to the job more readily than the green veterans.”

On the employer’s side, though, the report does note that many employers are left uncertain as to when, or whether, ex-employees are coming back. Reinstatement was found to be generally observed, in spirit as well as in letter. But the honest employer was “bedevilled by those who, on discharge, take advantage of the threemonth time limit to shop about elsewhere, leaving the employer in mid-air.”