July 28, 1942

LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

Does my hon. friend think that has anything to do with the expedition?

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NAT

James Arthur Ross

National Government

Mr. ROSS (Souris):

No, but it is part of the training. It is a manual which has been got out, which the soldiers are expected to read.

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

If hon. members think it is' necessary to take the time of the house discussing it in connection with this debate I will tell the hon. gentleman what I have been able to learn about it this morning. As a matter of fact I knew there was a plan by the special services section to provide for the

Hong Kong Inquiry

giving of lectures in connection with matters of citizenship. I made inquiries this morning in that regard and I find that over a year ago the material for a series of lectures was prepared. It was gone over by the officers of the department. It was sent out-a very limited number-to the various establishments in Canada, with instructions that such material as was desired be used in connection with a series of experimental lectures, to see whether or not it was suitable, whether it was desirable to continue that phase of training, and to have a report back on the question. The reports have come in and the idea of the lectures generally is approved, but very extensive revisions have been suggested, and they are in process of being made at the present time. It was so temporary and experimental that the booklet was never printed; and if my hon. friend has seen a copy he will notice that it is a photographic reproduction of a typewritten pamphlet. The matter is under extensive revision at the present time in view of suggestions that have been made from various training centres and establishments. The department of course must take full responsibility for the document having been sent out.

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NAT

James Arthur Ross

National Government

Mr. ROSS (Souris):

In closing may I just say that I sincerely trust that the very sad experience which this nation has encountered through the authorization and shipment of this Hong Kong expedition may prevent any repetition of any such incident. As I said at the outset, if the long argument of the Minister of National Defence proves anything, it is the impossibility of adequate training of men in the time these men had. I trust that the government will take immediate action to see to it that the gallant men now awaiting the zero hour in England do not have any such experience, and that proper steps are taken to reinforce them and do everything we can as a nation to win this war.

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IND

Joseph Sasseville Roy

Independent

Mr. J. SASSEVILLE ROY (Gaspe):

A great many things have been said in the course of the debate on this unhappy and deplorable Hong Kong expedition. I agree with the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Ralston) when he says that he and his lieutenants are doing their utmost to improve conditions in the army. I congratulate him upon his spirit of humility in acknowledging that everything in his department is not perfect. I do not think there is any man in the world who would accept such a responsibility as he has and give the assurance that there will be no mistakes anywhere, on his part or that of any of his men. This affair comes within the domain of human action where perfection is impossible.

I wish, however, to bring up a point and make a few remarks arising out of the minister's speech last night, in which he said that this expedition had to be undertaken because if we had not responded to the request other nations would have said that Canada was afraid to send soldiers where there was danger. At that time Canada was not even at war with Japan. Hong Kong is not one of Canada's possessions. There, it seems to me, is found the reason for the authorization of that expedition. From the reading of the report of the commission and from all that has been said by the officials, my impression is this: the reason was that we wanted to show our good-will, our earnestness in answering the call of the British government. That is why we authorized this expedition in such a hurry without being better prepared and without the men being well trained and equipped. All sorts of excuses and explanations might be given, and some of them might be acceptable to some people.

But there is another point which is pretty hard to explain and justify. First let me say that when a man volunteers his services in the army he is entitled to receive proper training and proper military instruction before he is sent to a battlefield. Some of the boys from Bonaventure and Gaspe counties who were sent to Hong Kong with the Royal Rifles of Quebec were recruited in the first part of August, 1941, some in the latter part of August, and some in the first part of September. They were sent to Hong Kong, as we all know, in November. This is not a mistake; it is not an error; it is nothing but a crime. Some of these boys were only seventeen and eighteen years of age at the time. It is my desire on behalf of the families of those boys to protest against this, and to condemn with all the energy of which I am capable the officers and all those responsible for that crime, which will remain a black spot in the record of the Canadian army and of the government.

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. G. RUSSELL BOUCHER (Carleton):

I do not intend to take up much of the time of the house in discussing the Hong Kong matter. I believe every Canadian is very much impressed by its seriousness, having regard not only to the results of the ill-fated expedition but also to the disturbance of the public mind and the concern that has been occasioned by what took place. I felt I might contribute something by endeavouring to give what I conceive to be the opinions of the man on the street not versed in military knowledge, but very much concerned with the fate of our sons, our brothers and our friends overseas. Many people in my constituency

Hong Kong Inquiry

are intimately acquainted1 with boys who took part in that ill-fated expedition, and they have become more and more concerned over the situation at Hong Kong as time has elapsed.

It seems to me that the Canadian people, and especially those with whom I am so closely connected, have had every reason to approve, and do approve, the sending of the expeditionary force to Hong Kong. They have not at any time changed their minds upon the advisability or duty of Canada to send even a token garrison to Hong Kong at the request of the British government. But they have felt, with the pride of Canadians, that to carry out a task of the kind at the request of the British government the best that Canada could do was none too good, and in that regard there has been much concern in the public mind with respect to the expedition.

As we look at the report of the royal commissioner we find that the request for the sending of an expeditionary force came on September 19. It was accepted by the government of Canada on September 23, and that acceptance was communicated to Great Britain on September 29. We find also that we received word on October 9, that the Awatea, the ship which was to take the expeditionary force to Hong Kong, was to be available about the end of October.

On October 16 a change in government in Japan certainly made the people of Canada feel that danger in the east was imminent. I do not think the findings of the royal commissioner have quite appeased the concern of our people in that regard. On September 16 the press of Canada spread the information that Tojo had assumed the head of the Japanese government, that he was sympathetic to the axis powers, and that he was head of a military clique who were likely to be more militant so far as the allied nations were concerned. That I believe was commonplace knowledge about October 16, or within a few days thereafter.

I believe the government should know a little more than the average Canadian who has or should have faith not only in the government but in the military authorities. How the commissioner can say that no change took place in the information the Canadian government had between October 16 and the sending of the expeditionary force on October 27 is a big question in the minds of the Canadian people.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) has repeatedly told us, when dealing with the question of his not agreeing or urging that a minister be sent to the war council in England, that he has been kept closely in contact with war developments, through Great Britain; that Canada House has been a most

efficient and effective liaison between the two countries. He has pointed out that the joint defence board is helping us in our relations with the United States, and that through our neighbours to the south he is kept constantly advised as to the exact situation. Be that as it may; it is not up to me to say how efficient that organization is. But in the minds of the Canadian people the fact remains that on October 16 they were alarmed and the commissioner finds there is no reason why the dominion government should not have been alarmed also.

To send two battalions to Hong Kong for garrison duty left plenty of opportunity for training. A wholly combatant fighting unit might not be necessary for garrison duty. But to send a combatant battalion to Hong Kong is a different proposition. Last night the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Ralston) stated what I believe was probably the case, when he said that the chief of general staff had recommended these two battalions, and had stated that in his opinion they were among the best in Canada at the time. But that statement was made before October 16. It was made at a time when there was no reason to expect war in the east, as it might have been expected, I submit, after October 16.

The minister has asked the leader of the opposition (Mr. Hanson) if he would have recommended the withdrawal of the expeditionary force when the change of government in Japan had changed the complexion of things. I do not think any Canadian would have made that recommendation. But I do believe every Canadian would feel that that was sufficient to impress upon every person in the government of Canada, and particularly in the Department of National Defence, the necessity of using the utmost care to have for this purpose the best they could produce in Canada.

The minister said he did not deem it wise to take a battalion out of the fourth division. He said that he took battalions which had not been allocated to a division, and took them from two different parts of Canada. In that he would have been wise had it been for garrison duty. He claimed he had commitments with England, and that he did not wish to withdraw therefrom. I believe the best commitments with and the best service he could have rendered to England was to send to Hong Kong the best battalions, equipped and trained to the limit of Canada's possibilities, from wherever he may have been able to get them at the time.

The other aspect of the matter in relation to which the Canadian people are alarmed is

Hong Kong Inquiry

-I was going to say the bungling; perhaps I should not use that word-the misfortunes or mismanagement in the transporting of the troops, and the failure to transport such equipment as could go on the Awatea. The people of Canada may receive some consolation when they learn at this very late day that about twenty men in the department have been relieved of their jobs, and have been either put elsewhere or retired. That does seem to be an admission-and I think the minister was very fair in admitting it-that something was wrong.

In this connection I would like to make a personal reference. I have known Colonel Spearing for a long time, and I have always heard of the high respect in which he was held in the department in which he worked. For many years he was a soldier tried and true. I believe his services have been outstanding in connection with the transportation of troops and equipment. Looking over the findings of the commissioner I have found that, although only third in command in connection with the transportation of equipment and troops, Colonel Spearing was in a most responsible position, and that he did not until about October 20 know with any definiteness the capacity of the Awatea to carry mechanized equipment. He did not at any time know the cubic contents of that ship, nor did he have given to him any knowledge as to what vehicles he could load in even the estimated capacity. He is relieved of his position. Was full justice done to Colonel Spearing in asking him to take the rap for this unfortunate incident?

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SC

John Horne Blackmore

Social Credit

Mr. BLACKMORE:

I am interested in this particular matter, and I should like to ask the hon. gentleman if he has any information which would indicate why Colonel Spearing did not know these facts?

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BOUCHER:

I should like to find that out. I quote from page 56 something which I think should be put on the record:

Brigadier Macklin undertook to take care of the question of priority. He did so by acquainting both the commander of the force (Brigadier Lawson) and the staff captain (Captain Bush) with the situation and handed to both of them, on October 22, before they left Ottawa, a memorandum setting out these facts. From that time forward no one at national defence headquarters did anything further in connection with these twenty vehicles. This was left in the hands of the transport controller.

I ask the house to pay attention to this: It is clear on the evidence that the amount of free space in the Awatea was at this time merely an estimate.

We must be fair. Surely when the ship was made available on October 9 and its

name was known; surely when Cooke, the general manager of this company, was available, these particulars should , have been handed to the transport controller. The report shows that Brigadier Lawson was insisting upon getting what mechanized equipment he could, and these facts should have been known a long time before they were. They should have been given to Colonel Spearing or to the transport controller and should not have caused the debacle-I think that is the word to use-or the fumbling or the bungling or the muddling in connection with what was to be done.

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

Should have been given to Colonel Spearing by whom. Who is the hon. member suggesting should have given them to Colonel Spearing?

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BOUCHER:

The minister asks who would have given them to Colonel Spearing.

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

I am asking my hon. friend to suggest who should have given them to Colonel Spearing.

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BOUCHER:

I suggest that they should have had the capacity of the Awatea from whoever would know it.

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

The commissioner has

found that Colonel Spearing was the one who should get that capacity, because he was movement control officer in the quartermaster-general's branch which had the responsibility for the movement of troops and the movement of equipment by land, sea and air. That is exactly what the commissioner has found. He found that Colonel Spearing did not take all the care or show the diligence and aggressiveness which he should have to ascertain that as early as he should have.

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BOUCHER:

Was it also Colonel

Spearing's responsibility to find out what twenty vehicles should be sent when there was capacity for those twenty?

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

The report is clear with regard to that. Before you can decide what vehicles are to be sent you must know what space there is. Colonel Spearing found out what space there was available and had to give that information to the director of staff duties and to Brigadier Lawson in order that they might make up what vehicles would fill up that particular space. As I pointed out yesterday, he gave that information to Brigadier Macklin, the director of staff duties, on the 18th, and to the transport controller on the 20th.

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BOUCHER:

He gave an estimate.

Hong Kong Inquiry

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

It could only be an estimate; it could be nothing else. You cannot tell exactly how many cubic feet are going to be taken up by equipment.

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BOUCHER:

The inference which 1 would take, and which I believe the average Canadian would take, is that there is something hinging in the commissioner's mind in connection with the knowledge that was available to Colonel Spearing when he was making his report.

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

I do not know what my hon. friend means.

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PC

George Russell Boucher

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BOUCHER:

Possibly the minister does not, but I think my point is quite clear. Anyway General Schmidlin was relieved of his post. I see no evidence in the report of his ever having given any evidence before this commission. Surely that was his right?

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July 28, 1942