July 15, 1943


On the orders of the day:


CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. M. J. COLDWELL (Rosetown-Biggar):

Mr. Speaker, I should like to direct a question either to the Minister of National Defence or to the Prime Minister. I do so, not for the purpose of raising any controversy, but to place before the government the necessity of safeguarding Canada's place in the common war effort.

I understand that Canadian newspaper men were prevented from using the information that our first division had landed in Sicily. The Canadian Press dispatch from London last night states, under yesterday's date:

The Canadian first division which landed in Sicily last Saturday and now is fighting as part of Sir Bernard Montgomery's 8th army, has had more than three and a half years' training experience.

I am asking why announcements with respect to operations of the Canadian forces are made from London or from Washington. Does the Minister of National Defence not think that announcements regarding our Canadian commanders or Canadian troops should be made from Canada?

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Subtopic:   LANDING OPERATIONS IN SICILY-ANNOUNCEMENTS RESPECTING PARTICIPATION AND COMMAND
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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

The question of my hon. friend is a very natural one at this time, and one the asking of which I appreciate. He will understand, and I believe the house will understand that in these military operations, where ' the armed forces of three or more countries are involved, there has to be in advance careful consideration not only of the plans, but also

Canadian Forces-Sicily

the manner in which and the time at which matters arising out of the plans are to be announced. The procedure which is adopted is that the governments concerned receive some notice in advance of what is to be expected, and are also told that they will be advised of the time at which an announcement may be made. I think it is perfectly evident that an arrangement of that kind is essential.

But the difficult part of the whole procedure is that, of necessity, these plans are made in the first instance by the combined chiefs of staff, who meet in the United States, and also the chiefs of staff in Great Britain. They are the ones who indicate the information which is to be given out, and the time at which it is to be given out. That information is passed on to our military authorities here. From time to time additional information is sent by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to myself, personally, in a message which is marked "personal and secret" and in one or two instances "for your eye only." These are very secret communications, to keep the ministry informed of what is to be expected. They are to be kept very secret, indeed. That enables one to be prepared to make an announcement when the moment comes.

In preparing these statements the military authorities take into account what they regard as being important in the matter of secrecy.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

And

security.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

Yes, and of security-secrecy that is necessary for purposes of security.

In regard to the recent movement of troops to Sicily, our government was informed that for reasons of security it was the opinion of the military authorities in Great Britain that no reference should be made to Canadians participating in the assault upon Sicily. It is not for me to give to the house the reasons why the military authorities took that view, but the fact is that they did take it. It may be that it was felt to be inadvisable, for example, to let Germany know that Canadian troops had left Great Britain. There may have been other reasons. At any rate such information as I received indicated that the announcement would simply refer to allied forces. The first communique to be given out was to be given out practically in the following words, "Allied forces" under the command of General Eisenhower-I do not remember the exact words-have attacked Sicily. It was also mentioned that General Eisenhower would make a statement to the French people. I had advance notice of that statement. The

statement General Eisenhower was to make to the French people was to the effect that "Anglo-American armed forces" had attacked Sicily.

As soon as these statements came to my notice, and to the notice of the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Ralston), we immediately communicated with the military authorities in Great Britain, pointing out that since we knew our forces were participating, Canada should be specifically mentioned. I asked and urged very strongly that the announcement should refer to "British, United States and Canadian forces" and that the announcement made to the French people by General Eisenhower should not be in the terms "Anglo-American forces" but rather in the terms "Anglo-American-Canadian forces." Might I add that I did that two days before the announcement was made. If I recollect aright, the announcement was made about midnight on Friday, and this was done on Thursday morning, when I had the first intimation. I took steps immediately by communicating with the High Commissioner for Canada, asking him to assist our military authorities in obtaining permission for the making of an announcement here, the moment the assault took place, that Canadians were among the forces attacking Sicily. I could get no satisfaction from the replies received either through the high commissioner, or those sent to the Department of National Defence by the military authorities.

As I said the other day, so far as the word from Great Britain was concerned we were left in the position where any announcement I was to make should be made on Saturday evening, some twenty-four hours after the Canadians had landed. I believe it is only fair that I should tell the house that on Thursday, realizing the seriousness of the whole ma.tter, realizing that these communiques were to be issued by General Eisenhower, and that the United States government, as well as the British government, would have to take the responsibility for omitting any reference to Canadians, through one of our officials at Washington I got in direct touch with the President of the United States and pointed out that I thought it was an extraordinary thing that a communication should go from General Eisenhower without any mention of the participation of Canadian troops. The President said at once that he agreed entirely with the point of view I had taken, and that he would see to it that General Eisenhower was instructed to include mention of Canadian troops in the communiques he sent out. General Eisenhower was so instructed. Just why in the first announcement

Canadian Forces-Sicily

the words "allied forces" were used, instead of "forces of Great Britain, the United States and Canada," I cannot say. But in the announcement made to the French people almost immediately after, I noticed that General Eisenhower did make specific reference to Canadian, as well as to British and American troops. That undertaking had been given during Friday, and had been communicated by me through the high commissioner in London to the British authorities-that the President of the United States had said he would see that in the announcements which were made by General Eisenhower mention would be made of the participation of Canadian troops. In the light of that undertaking I stated that I could not see why we in Canada should be precluded or why I should be precluded from telling the Canadian people that Canadians were participating. Despite that I was not authorized to alter the position to which I was committed by the information that I had received earlier from Britain. Then, as I told the house yesterday, an announcement was made by military headquarters in the United States which carried out the undertaking which the President said he would see was carried out. There was an announcement from military headquarters at Washington that Canadian, British and United States troops had made an attack upon Sicily. That arrived at a late hour, just immediately after midnight on Friday. When I heard the announcement made I felt that there was no obligation on my part, which would bind me further not to make an announcement to the Canadian people. I immediately made the announcement which I had hoped I would have had the chance to make to this House of Commons before it adjourned on Friday night.

I said yesterday that I am not criticizing anyone. I notice that one communication in the press has indicated that I was criticizing the United States authorities for having disclosed this information. I made no reference capable of that interpretation. I only thank the United States authority for having made public the information they did. What I cannot understand is why at the last minute I, as Prime Minister of Canada, could not get authority to make any statement and as a consequence was bound by the confidential information which I had received from British sources.

I am going to keep all the military secrets I can, but certainly so far as Canadian forces are concerned I am going to regard their services as being on a par with those of the

British and United States forces, not necessarily in the extent of service they may render because of numbers, but from the point of view of quality and efficiency, and of right they are entitled to equality in all the statements that are made in reference to military service.

Topic:   CANADIAN FORCES
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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. COLDWELL:

May I just thank the Prime Minister for his very frank statement, but I would point out that he has not answered the question I asked regarding the announcement that the troops of Canada are taking part. I believe the Minister of National Defence said the other day that he could not give that information to the house, and yet this dispatch from London appears in the papers w'ithout any reference from our own government, from the Minister of National Defence or from anyone else. That was the point.

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Hon. J. L. RALSTON (Minister of National Defence):

Mr. Speaker, I can say to the

house that as far back, I think as July 1 or July 2, knowing of the operation which was impending and having regard to what I know to be the desire of the Canadian people to have as much information as possible with regard to Canadian participation, I sent a wire to Canadian military headquarters, which I think was followed up shortly afterwards by a wire to the high commissioner in England, specifically mentioning that it was highly desirable that as soon as the first communique was issued the Canadian Prime Minister or the minister should be in position to give the Canadian people, first, some idea of the number of troops involved; second, the identity of the formation and, third, the name of the commander. There were telegrams back and forth indicating that this was information which it would not be desirable to give at the early stages. On the eighth-I. have some of the telegrams under my hand-we received a definite wire to the effect that information of that kind could not be released until it was indicated by the commander in chief at headquarters that it was not against the interests of security to do so.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

That would be the headquarters in Africa?

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

Headquarters in Africa.

That refers to the subject I have mentioned. As I say, that was on the eighth. On the ninth we got further confirmation of that, this time from Washington. Nevertheless, on the eleventh I again sent a communication pointing out that I thought the time had . come when we might possibly release this information. I may say that no reply has

Canadian Forces-Sicily

come to that message which was sent on the eleventh. In addition to that, another message was sent asking that if we could not make the first announcement with regard to the numbers, the identity and the name of the commander, might we be informed as to when that information would be released by allied, headquarters in North Africa so that it would be possible for the Prime Minister to advise the house that notwithstanding the fact that we were not able to give the information, it was anticipated that the information would be released within a short time or on such and such a date. No reply has been received to that either.

Then comes the dispatch to which my hon. friend refers, from a Canadian Press correspondent, which evidently was and must have been passed by the censor at allied headquarters and which I have to regard as a release by the allied commander of that particular bit of information. So far as information with regard to the name of the commander or the approximate number of troops involved is concerned, that still is under wraps, to use a colloquial expression, but it may be that at any time that may, to use another colloquial expression, "break" from allied headquarters. I wish we were in position to give the information here. It is difficult to understand entirely why this information cannot be given. I can imagine that there are good reasons why. And I am not assuming for a single instant, as I said the other day, that people are just being fussy about these things or trying to make it difficult or to be secretive. There is some good reason for it, as I said yesterday, and I think we have to believe that when the time comes the information will be released. That is the position in which the Department of National Defence finds itself.

I just want to close with this one statement. There was an indication in one of the newspapers yesterday that the Department of National Defence had had some hand in the withholding of this information.

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Subtopic:   LANDING OPERATIONS IN SICILY-ANNOUNCEMENTS RESPECTING PARTICIPATION AND COMMAND
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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

It said that the censorship was here. I could not understand it.

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

Censorship in the Department of National Defence; I think that was the indication. Not only has there not been the slightest bar put in the way of the release of this information, but, in the reverse, wre anticipated that the Canadian people would like to have it and we were most anxious that it should be released. As I have said, a week before the operation we began to lay the grounds so that we might have an opportunity

to make that announcement. I only wish it could be made publicly and officially now. I should have liked it if the Department of National Defence could have had the opportunity of doing it from Ottawa. But there is the situation. I should add this that I feel that if in any way the security of even one individual soldier in the Canadian forces is involved in the withholding of this information, then that is paramount to any consideration of the public getting it an hour or two earlier, or from one source or another. I have to be content with that.

I only hope that the information will come in some way. What I do hope above all is that it does not come irregularly, that is to say, that it does not come from some place when it has not been authorized by the commander in chief. I always fear that possibility when information is withheld so long. However, that is the situation. I have to believe that those who are in charge understand the reasons for the action which has been taken and the attitude which they have had to assume, and that the information will come as soon as possible.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

May I ask this question? Is this the position, that the department has information as to the numbers and units involved and as to the commander in chief, but that it is not permitted to divulge the information as yet?

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

That is the exact position at the present time. We have had that information, I should say, for more than four weeks.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

Is there any information with respect to Canadian casualties?

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

The only information that has been given is what is in the press reports- casualties slight.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

That, I suppose, is subject to the same limitations. The information with respect to casualties will be given through the same channels. Will there be details with respect to them?

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LIB

James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. RALSTON:

I endeavoured in a statement given to the press the other morning to indicate the position in respect to casualties. A combined casualty list will not be published for some time; but notification of casualties will be given immediately to the next of kin in the regrettable and unfortunate cases in which there are casualties. The next of kin will be quite free to tell the local newspapers about it, and any reference which is desired may be made in the newspapers. The thing

Jackson Building

that is objected to, and the thing with regard to which a definite arrangement has been made and an understanding given, at the express request of those who are in charge, particularly the British, is that for a considerable period compiled lists of casualties will not be published. People may gather together the local lists, but we will not publish a compiled list for some considerable time. One exception to that is that in the case of the missing; it is not desired that even the names of the missing be published by the next of kin, for the reason that was given at the time of Dieppe namely, that it may be possible that the man reported missing is still at large, and if his name is published it might give some lead which would accelerate action to apprehend him.

In answer to the direct question of the hon. member for York-Sunbury, I was going to say that our position in the Department of National Defence at the present time is that by express advice to us the names of the commanders and the formations and the numbers are not to be the subject of reference, but that these facts will be released at allied headquarters in North Africa when security permits.

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SC

John Horne Blackmore

Social Credit

Mr. BLACKMORE:

It seems to me that one matter we ought all to keep in mind is that evidently the whole attack on Sicily has been executed with superb success. I gather from the bulletins this morning that our troops are at least twice as far as they expected to be at this time. Whatever the devices were which were considered necessary by the men in authority to obtain that laudable object, they certainly have been successful, and I believe that until we hear all the details it will be well for us here to contain ourselves in patience.

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ARRANGEMENTS FOR DELIVERY OF PARCELS AND LETTERS TO TROOPS IN SICILY


On the orders of the day:


July 15, 1943