November 11, 2020
@ The Albany Club: Focus on WWII
As we are unable to host a Remembrance Day event, the Albany Club is pleased to share Club Historian, Joe Martin’s commentary on Canada’s contribution to WWII and the contribution of some Club members. With this being the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, we thought it appropriate to recognize the day in this way.
World War II
World War II, also known as the ‘Good’ War because of the terrible Nazi and Fascist enemy or the ‘Forgotten’ War, because despite its global impact, the war has not captured the popular imagination in the same way that World War I did. The war began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and ended six years and one day later, on September 2, 1945 when Japan accepted the terms of unconditional surrender after seeing the horror of the Atomic bomb. Victory in Europe had been achieved in May 1945. More then 30 countries were involved in the war, and 75 to 80 million people were killed. Unlike the Axis powers, the Allies lost far more civilians than they lost military personnel.
For younger Canadians, all they may know of the war is what they have seen in American movies, but Canada made a significant contribution and entered the war at its start. 1.1 million Canadians served in the war, in the army, the navy and the air force. Approximately 42,000 were killed and another 55,000 wounded. During the war, Canada was subject to direct attack in the St. Lawrence and in the shelling of a lighthouse in British Columbia.
The financial cost was $21.8 billion. By the end of the war Canada had the world’s fourth largest air force, and at one point the third largest navy. The Canadian Merchant Navy completed over 25,000 voyages across the Atlantic, and 130,000 Allied pilots were trained in Canada in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. President Roosevelt called Canada “the aerodrome of democracy”. Canada was a full partner in the success of the allied landings in Normandy [‘D-Day’] when on June 6. 1944, Allied forces invaded Western Europe along an 80-kilometre front. Of the nearly 150,000 Allied troops who landed or parachuted into the invasion area, 14,000 were Canadians. They assaulted a beachfront code-named “Juno”, while Canadian paratroopers landed just east of the assault beaches. Although the Allies encountered German defences bristling with artillery, machine guns, mines, and booby-traps, the invasion was a success.
Other Canadians helped achieve this victory. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors in support of the landings while the R.C.A.F. had helped prepare the invasion by bombing targets inland. On D- Day and during the ensuing campaign, 15 R.C.A.F. fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons helped control the skies over Normandy and attacked enemy targets. On D-Day, Canadians suffered 1074 casualties, including 359 killed.
Canadians landing at Juno Beach
In summary, Canadians fought in the Air in the Battle of Britain, in early campaigns in Hong Kong, Dieppe and the Aleutian Islands, on the Western front, Canadian soldiers fought up the boot in Italy, and participated in the liberation of France and the low countries. Our Navy fought in the Battle of the Atlantic. During the war one could walk across the huge Halifax harbour on war ships.
What an achievement when you consider there were only 10,000 individuals in the armed services when war broke out in 1939. Financially our support of the United Kingdom was staggering. The burden on Canadian taxpayers was four times that on American taxpayers. How is it then that the CBC has only painted Canada’s role in negative terms – for our ‘failures’ in Hong Kong and Dieppe and the ‘disgrace’ of bomber command? It is ironic that the CBC criticized the Dresden bombing for the killing of civilians when the ratio of civilian to military deaths in the Axis powers was 1 to 2 while Allied civilians were three times as likely to be killed as military personnel.
Albany Club Members’ Contributions
On Friday, September 8, 1939, Conservative Leader, the Honourable R. J. ‘Fighting’ Bob Manion, Leader of the Official Opposition rose in the House of Commons and gave an address, the equal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s in 1914. Manion had won the Military Cross for bravery at Vimy Ridge in 1917. On this occasion he said “I may say at once that the Prime Minister has the assent and support of the party which I have the honour to lead. It is our duty to let the world, friends and foes alike, know that we are to-day united behind the mother country in this war for human liberty.”
At Queen’s Park we had an impressive new Albany Club member as Leader, George Drew, often called Col Drew, for his service in World War I. On Jan. 18, 1940 when Liberal Premier Hepburn moved a motion in the Legislature condemning federal government war policies – Drew & our Party supported the motion. And in 1943 under Drew’s leadership we became the Government once again, our Party continued to call for conscription.
And let us not forget that from June 1940 to after the end of the war, Princess Alice, daughter of the Duke of Albany, was in residence at Rideau Hall as the chatelaine to the Earl of Athlone, Governor General of Canada.
At the Albany Club an examination of a 1942 membership list shows that there were at least a dozen members who had been in the Armed Forces, half of them were full colonels and the other half were light colonels, majors or captains. Two of the full colonels were on the Club board. These gentlemen held their rank from World War I. Several soldiers joined the Club after their return from the War.
In 2007, as the result of the initiative of then Club Board member and now Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, we instituted the inaugural Rev. John Weir Foote, VC Memorial Military Luncheon. This was supposed to become an annual Albany Club event to honour a truly outstanding individual. John Weir Foote was a chaplain – and our only Victoria Cross recipient, which he received for his courageous actions at Dieppe. He later served as a cabinet minister and P.C. member of the Ontario Legislature for Durham, from 1948 to 1959. He was a life member of the Albany Club, until his death in 1988.
Major General Richard Rohmer joined the RCAF, age 18 in 1942, fought in several battles and rose to become Chief of Reserves of the Canadian Armed Forces after the war.
Lieutenant John Robarts was a naval officer during the War serving on the HMCS Uganda as Aircraft Recognition Officer and went on to become Premier of the Province.
Two of our most memorable members were ‘Fast’ Eddie Goodman and ‘Gorgeous’ George Hees. Eddie joined up in 1940 at an age of 22. He served on active duty in the armoured Corps with the Fort Garry Horse, was twice wounded as a tank commander in the North-Western European theatre, mentioned in dispatches, and retired with the rank of Major. Eddie became the ultimate political power broker.
‘Gorgeous’ George Hees, a Grey Cup winner with the Argos in 1938, served in North-West Europe as the Brigade Major of the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade and on 1 November 1944, he volunteered to take over command of a company of The Calgary Highlanders when all their officers were killed or wounded. He was later wounded by a sniper. He went on to become, among other things, one of Canada’s most successful Ministers of Trade and Commerce, serving in this position while in the Diefenbaker government.
After a failed attack Eddie was visited by an Infantry Brigadier wanting more tank support. With him was his brigade major who yelled “Hey Benny [there were a lot of Eddies so Fast Eddie was called Benny after the Orchestra leader] how are you doing?” It was George Hees! Men like Eddie Goodman & George Hees became conservatives fighting a war for which the government of W.L. Mackenzie King would not provide the necessary resources.
Out of province, Albany members who served in World War II include such distinguished names as Duff Roblin of Manitoba and E. Davie Fulton of British Columbia. Roblin served as a Wing Commander in both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force during the war. He returned to become Premier of Manitoba. Davie Fulton served with the Canadian Army overseas as platoon and company Commander with Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, and as Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division in the Italian and North-Western Europe campaigns. He was brought home from the war by our party and won a seat by 100 votes in the 1945 general election. He became, among other things, a most distinguished federal Minister of Justice.
We in Canada have much to be grateful for. On Nov. 11 please take 60 seconds to remember the sacrifice others have made so we can remain free. Remember those who fought and died in the ‘Good’ War against Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Think particularly of the members of our Club who made contributions not only on the battlefield but also in our democratic institutions.