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.
Betrayed began as my master’s thesis written and published by a private individual. My book is therefore not official history and the analysis is my own. Mr. MacLean’s displeasure with the Department of National defence is therefore misplaced. Moreover, I do not agree with his comments about the Canadian War Museum’s series of published by UBC Press. This is an important venue to freely explore various aspects of Canadian military history. While UBC Press has a rigorous peer review process, the ultimate responsibility for the interpretative analysis rests, as it should, with the individual author. Finally Mr. MacLean claims that my book repeats “Old Toronto gossip” from two veterans who were “happy to trash” his father for some unexplained reasons related to a divorce. I take exception to this allegation. All the veterans with whom I corresponded were extremely professional, creditable, and complete gentlemen; moreover, their opinions were always related to the navy and provided valid historical context. As such, their comments should not be dismissed simply as “gossip” by those who happen to disagree with them.
Mr. MacLean’s greatest criticism is that my book does not explore the possibility that Andrew MacLean was acting out of patriotism and a belief that “Canadian lives were being put in danger by bureaucratic intransigence.” While Betrayed does not question Andrew MacLean’s patriotism (in fact on page 17 it observes how anxious he was to serve his country), it does challenge his motives for publicly attacking the navy as well as the validity of many of his allegations. In specific, it argues that MacLean had trouble adapting to naval life, had his own ambitions for a fleet of vessels known as Fairmiles, and finally tried to stir up opposition to the navy’s top brass based on unsupported personal perceptions rather than facts.
This interpretation of Andrew MacLean does not come exclusively from Federal records. Instead, it is also based on a fascinating and extensive correspondence between Connolly, Macdonald and Andrew Maclean. Located in the Macdonald Papers at the Public Archives of nova Scotia and the Connolly Papers at the Library and Archives Canada, these letters, many penned by MacLean himself, provide much of the evidence that supported the analysis contained in Betrayed. It is interesting to note that none of the specific correspondence can be found in the MacLean collection at the Ontario Archives. While writing Betrayed I was not aware of the existence of any MacLean papers. However, I have reviewed them extensively since that time. In fact, out of the entire collection which also contained a sub-series from another family member, only one box contained personal papers of Andrew Maclean. Within the twenty-six files in that box there are only three small dockets that deal directly with his military service. One file with the promising title of “military controversy” merely contains copies of two issues of Boating magazine in which MacLean’s articles appeared, as well as some newspaper clippings covering the controversy, and transcriptions of the debate in Parliament. There are some other letters from the period scattered throughout the larger fonds, but unfortunately the collection reveals little new information. Some of the material actually re-enforces my conclusions in Betrayed.
MacLean’s service with the RCN started on a controversial note, and underscores the tone of his relationship with the permanent force. After Joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) while on the navy’s retired list, the RCN’s request for Maclean to report to duty was met with a response that “the rank of lieutenant Commander is not sufficiently attractive to induce me to resign my commission from the RCAF.”1 This was a breach of protocol and regulation and in spite of a follow-up letter from MacLean explaining why he wanted to be reactivated as a Commander, the RCN simply decided to cancel the naval appointment and leave MacLean to the RCAF. However, Hugh C. MacLean, Andrew Maclean’s father, interpreted these events as an example of how Nelles “bore a grudge” against his son and was “indicative of the petty way the Chief of the Naval Staff has dealt with the many able and courageous men who have volunteered.”2 While Macdonald was able to show the MacLeans that Andrew was subsequently re-admitted into the navy on Nelles’ personal orders, it nevertheless marked the beginning of MacLean’s insistence that he, and many other reservists, were being “persecuted.”
The claim that Andrew MacLean was something of an agitator is well supported by documentation in the Connolly papers, as well as through adverse performance reports from a wide range of individuals, including officers of the Royal navy who one would expect be immune to such accusations. MacLean’s agenda was to turn the Fairmiles into a sizeable force with himself at its head is equally well documented. For instance, in the summer of 1942 he wrote to Macdonald observing that the control of these vessels should be removed from the current operational authority in Halifax and “set up under a suitable and senior RCNVR officer. At present available in Canada there is no better officer than Lt. Cdr Maclean.”3 Despite MacLean’s self-described suitability, the major problem with his plan for the Fairmiles fleet was that they were not what the RCN needed at that juncture in the war. With the navy in the process of a fifty-fold expansion, the RCN was concentrating on getting as many Corvettes and Minesweepers to sea as possible. They were right. The Fairmiles, while suitable for in-shore work, was limited in its ability to hunt and destroy u-boats. As a result, decisions to divert their crews and resources to the larger escorts were the product of an operational necessity to focus on ships that could do the most damage to the enemy. It was not the product of “bureaucratic intransigence” or the incompetence of the regulars, as MacLean would later claim.
That the navy did not have all the resources it needed was not its fault. This was something that MacLean was appeared to comprehend in the opening months of the war as in October, 1939 he observed, “Yet the Department– bad as it is, is taking a lot of blame that should be levelled against the government itself. The regular Army, navy and Air Force is just as efficient as is possible after twenty years of economy…”4 In fairness to the government, pre-war defence spending was not popular with the electorate, but a good portion of Betrayed advances the argument that the RCN and Department of Munitions and Supply were confronted by the fact that a shipbuilding as well as a refit and repair infrastructure, had to be created almost from scratch. This was a key part of the puzzle that some of the sharp end of the fighting did not understand. Certainly in Maclean’s case, while some of his recommendations regarding the Fairmiles were implemented, doing so when he wanted would have undermined mid-Atlantic convoy operations at a time when this area was witnessing some of the most intense battles of the war.
MacLean’s allegations of discrimination against the reserves, which constitute the major part of his correspondence in the Macdonald and Connolly Papers (there was no mention of modernization) are also problematic. One reason is that MacLean often linked these allegations to his own claims of persecution by the regular force (such as referring to his situation as “the Dreyfus case”), and relied on subjective and anonymous evidence.5 The hard facts indicate that Maclean exaggerated his case. For instance, the charge that the regulars were promoting themselves at the expense of the reserves was not supported by statistical data, which showed that 10.5% and 4.0% of the two reserve branches respectively had been advanced as compared to 3.1% for the regulars. The same was true of his allegation that it was the reserves that bore the operational brunt of the campaign. In specific, his argument was that the reserves deserved special treatment and promotions “for greater sacrifices” at sea. Yet, once again, the statistic show that 44.7% of the volunteer reserve was serving at sea, almost identical to the 43.0% if the regulars doing the same.6
Two small points remain. First, the 1963 correspondence from Lester Pearson (for which Mr. MacLean refers) is an appreciation letter — presumably in response to Andrew Maclean’s congratulations for becoming Prime Minister – -and not related to the controversy with the navy or his military career. It is interesting, however, that it is included with other letters to Pearson in which MacLean asked in 1957 to be made a Senator following the odd 1964 request that he be promoted on retirement list from Commander to Captain.7 Pearson politely declined on the basis that regulations would not permit it, yet this solicited an even stranger response from MacLean that:
This is all so ridiculous that I should be wasting your valuable time — for something of little real value to me except as an indication of your good will. It will not have escaped your notice that Reserve Officesr on the Retired List shall not be promoted. But, I imagine, there is that lovely out: ‘except at the discretion of the Minister’ I could be moved to the Active List for one day, promoted and retired — again, there’s a regulation that those over 65 cannot be on the Active List ‘except at the discretion of the Minister’. The Minister of Defence very badly needs a naval veteran outside the Service to advise him on this new unification of the Service — especially a bloody rebel!8
Second, Betrayed does not say that MacLean remained bitter for the rest of his life, but rather that there was evidence he continued to be “bitter toward the navy.” Interestingly, the MacLean Papers provide support to the conclusion. In a file containing undated draft material for a proposed MacLean family book it was observed after the war that Andrew MacLean:
…is one of the few Canadians publishers who ever suffered a forty minute personal attack in the House of Commons from a Cabinet minister. He has never forgiven the leader of the opposition (Gordon Graydon) for sitting on his behind and not defending the right of a subject to criticise. It was a cruel attack that only could have been made by a member of parliament who was immune from a lawsuit…His contempt for the men he was attacking was such that he believed they lacked the courage the [sic] [to] bring lawsuits that they could easily have won and been awarded heavy damages. It is a reflection upon the times in which we live that the appalling state of affairs in the articles in Boating Magazine did not arouse the public more. We were then war time [sic] and almost as much today the unwitting morons of Ottawa directed propaganda that all is lovely in the garden.9
Neither the minister nor RCN ever laid claim to perfection. instead, the navy was well aware of the real issues affecting its efficiency (most notably training and manning problems as well as the modernization of ships), and as Betrayed argues, it was working hard to make up for a situation created by years of pre-war defence cuts. MacLean’s own ambition, his focus on so-called discrimination against the reserves, and his public campaign, only succeeded in creating a largely artificial controversy that distracted the minister from those pivotal issues.
There have been times in Canada’s history when the top brass deserved public criticism. Andrew MacLean’s campaign was not one of them.
- MacLean to Cosette, 16 July 1940, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Macdonald Papers, MG2, F818/6 and F818/5.
- Hugh MacLean to WP Mulock, 16 July 1940, Macdonald Papers, MG 2, F818/4.
- MacLean to Connolly, 5 August 1942, Macdonald Papers, MG 2 F 818/42; Connolly to MacLean, 13 August 1942, Macdonald Papers MG2 F 818/35; MacLean to Macdonald, 18 September 1942, Macdonald Papers, MG2, F818/36.
- Andrew Dyas MacLean, “Canada’s part in the war at sea,” Canadian Boating and Camp and Cottage, October 1939, 4-5.
- MacLean to Macdonald, 4 January, 1943, Macdonald Papers, MG 2, F818/60; MacLean to Macdonald, 8 January 1943, Macdonald Papers, MG 2 F818/62.
- House of Commons Debates, 20 April, 1942, 1,724-25; Roome to Connolly, 19 February 1943, LAC, Connolly Papers, MG 32 C71, Vol 3 file 11.
- Pearson to MacLean, 30 May 1963, Ontario Archives (OA). MacLean Papers F 4566-6-34, B 804360 Andrew Dyas MacLean to Lester Pearson, 27 February 1957, OA, MacLean Papers F4566 B804360; MacLean to Pearson, 1 April 1964, OA F4566-6-34, Box 804360.
- Pearson to MacLean, 26 March 1964, OA MacLean papers, F 4566-6-34, B804360; MacLean to Pearson, 1 April 1964, OA Maclean papers, F4566-6-34, B804360.
- MacLean Papers, F4556 B804360.
Pieces in this section
- History & Heritage Betrayed? In defence of a father’s memory.
- Just read: For Greater Sacrifices? A Reply To Rory MacLean.
- Nations Need Rebels