What do you do when Ottawa publishes opinion as official history? How do you challenge a government historian’s allegations that malign the dead?
During the Second World War, both in and out of the Royal Canadian Navy, my father Andrew D. MacLean — Great War veteran, sailor and independent publisher — used his political connections and publications to advocate for modernisation of the fleet and an end to the discrimination between the three naval branches. His criticism of the naval leadership created a political crisis in 1943 that led the minister of the day to attack MacLean in Parliament, while his department quietly instigated many of his recommendations. And those reforms, in the opinion of some, helped to shake up the command structure that contributed to the success of the Canadian military, and ultimately to Allied victory. Twenty years later Prime Minister Lester Pearson wrote to MacLean, “I am indeed most appreciative of the contribution made by you and your family to Canada over the years.”
The debate that emerged in 1943 after Andrew Dyas MacLean, a publisher and former reserve officer, printed highly critical articles of the navy in two issues of Boating magazine was both heated and acrimonious. While my book Betrayed is not specifically about MacLean, it does discuss his allegations in some detail since they helped initiate a series of events that led to the firing of the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) top officer, Vice-Admiral Percy W. Nelles. Since Betrayed’s main argument was that Nelles’ removal was politically motivated — brought about by individuals who took their criticisms of the navy directly to the Naval minister, Angus L. Macdonald and his executive assistant John Joseph Connolly — it does take a hard look at Maclean’s motives and rationale. Mr. Rory MacLean’s disappointment is understandable; Andrew Maclean was his father. However, while his criticisms are eloquent as one would expect from as accomplished an author as he, I do not believe they are supported by the evidence.
I was pleased to accept editor Chris Champion’s suggestion that Richard Mayne reply to my article as all earlier attempts to elicit a response from him were ignored. When a scholarly portrait of one’s father is published without consultation or even courteous notification, one is naturally curious about the method of its creation, especially when it bears so little resemblance to the man himself.