The Crucible for Change: Defence Spending in Debert, Nova Scotia, During World War II (RCAF Journal - SPRING 2016 - Volume 5, Issue 2)

Table of contents

 

By Major Gerry D. Madigan, CD, MA (Retired)

Reprint from the Royal Canadian Air Force Journal Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way ... .[1]

Charles Dickens

Introduction: The worst of times

People easily quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … .”[2] But Dickens’ opening paragraph to the epic A Tale of Two Cities illuminates much more; it also illustrates the breadth and depth of human emotion, pain, suffering, trials and triumph inherent in history. History is neither black nor white. It is changeable and dynamic, and it is dramatic.[3] The course of human conflict is much the way that Dickens describes.

History, though, is often seen as peeks through the rear-view mirror. Its points are viewed along a line in a continuum. But in so doing, we often miss the bigger picture. World War II is such an example. It shaped the Canadian experience. But we often tend to concentrate on the “specific” period of the war without looking back upon it. There is a context of what came before and what followed that is often overlooked. The before and after provide some insight on who and what we are today.

World War II changed the way Canada looked at itself as well as its values. The war shaped Canada’s future. The story of “opening the floodgates” on public spending during World War II is the story of policy and social change within Canada. The Great Depression was but a very recent memory. Canada’s war investments were used to pave not only the road to victory but also the way ahead for its post-war future. Fiscal policy would become an instrument of economic and social policy and, more importantly, change.

Some consider the “Dirty 30s” or the Great Depression as the most traumatic and darkest period in Canadian history. It was a low point that deeply shaped the Canadian psyche to the core. There was a loss of hope. The mood was one of desperation and despair. Its effects were felt very deeply by many Canadian families. Many were impoverished, and without a job, they lacked the basic necessities of life, food and shelter. The statistics of the day paint a horrible picture. At the height of the Depression, more than half the wage earners in Canada were on some form of relief. One in five Canadians was on the dole.

Interestingly, the poverty line was marked at $1,000 per year for a family of four. What points to the desperation and plight of many Canadian families, though, was the fact that for many the average annual income was less than $500.

What did the government do? It had decided that balancing the budget was more important than feeding its needy and hungry. It took a laissez-faire approach to the management of the economy and suffering. Little succour was provided in the way of government relief. People and families were left to their own devices. These were truly desperate days, the blackest period in Canadian history, with a “government” unmotivated to act to spare the suffering.[4] That desperation was the crucible for change.

Time for change

The change for many was felt 10 September 1939, the day Canada declared war on Nazi Germany. The change was both noticeable and palpable. For many Canadians the government’s declaration effectively ended the Great Depression. It also ended the government’s fiscal parsimony. The purse strings suddenly opened!

Although war would bring great privations, trials and tragedy, it would also bring prosperity and jobs. There would be a vast industrial expansion. The addition of defence spending boosted the demand for labour for war production and full employment. In some ways, the war restored hope and prosperity to a nation by stimulating the moribund Canadian economy. It not only jumped-started the Canadian economy but also was the catalyst for a new view on fiscal management and social development for the post-war period.

A country that had been unable to find work or succour for a fifth of its people in the Dirty 30s and Great Depression would sud­denly, and miraculously, be able to find work for all, including women, young boys and old men.[5] It was an economic miracle that did not go unnoticed.[6]

Government spending became widely and broadly felt across all reaches of Canada, especially in Nova Scotia. This paper will illustrate the impact of government spending on the local economy, expectations and lives, with particular emphasis on Debert, Nova Scotia. World War II was not just fought overseas; it was also fought on the home front.

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

At the onset of the war, Prime Minister Mackenzie King had some expectations for managing Canada’s war effort. He wished to limit the employment of Canadian armed forces.[7] King and many Canadians did not relish the thought of war or “active” service. The open sores of World War I were still all too recent. Thus, King and the public desired a very limited Canadian role at the beginning. So the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was designed as the sop to that end. Canada’s major contribution was designed to be the “aerodrome of democracy” for the training of Allied aircrews on Canadian soil.[8] To King’s dismay, matters did not unfold as intended.

King signed the BCATP on 17 December 1939, which was coincidentally his birthday, three and a half months after the declaration of Canadian hostilities.[9] But King’s desire for limited participation would be for naught. All of Canada’s armed forces, industry and public opinion would be eventually engaged and employed toward winning the war.

On the fast track to building an airfield and an Army camp

The BCATP was just the tip of the ice­berg. It was an ambitious undertaking. Yet, defence spending was increased, thus creating a complex web of military and defence establishments, manufacturing, construction and labour, all in support of Canada’s military. Thus the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Army and Royal Canadian Navy would come to have a huge bearing on defence and local spending. The government would try to find economies of scale. Debert is an example. It was chosen as a site that was strategically located near Halifax, where both the Air Force and Army would be collocated.

As ambitious as King’s BCATP was, the facilities simply did not exist in 1939. They had to be created and built largely from the ground up. Mackenzie King’s declaration of 17 December, in effect, not only increased the defence establishment and contribution to the war effort but also set Canada’s economy firmly on a war footing. The government of the day not only mobilized defence estab­lishments; it also mobilized the country’s economic and labour flows to achieve those ends under extremely tight deadlines.

Defence construction at Debert commenced August 1940. There was virtually nothing there but woods and farmlands. The Army and Air Force facilities were literally carved out of the woods. Engineers hired local woodsmen to clear the forests, and then, these were followed by the builders who turned 28 million board feet (66,073 cubic metres) of lumber, poured concrete and paved roads and runways that transformed the forests into the training facilities, accommodations and other infrastructure, which were crucial to the war effort.[10]

The construction effort required the rapid mobilization of Canadian industrial capacity and labour to meet a looming start date of 29 April 1940 for the BCATP alone.[11] Nine hundred and eighty nine million dollars was set aside to achieve the aim of the plan that was designed to train 29,000 aircrew annually. The BCATP “sausage machine” was geared to produce 850 pilots, 510 air observers / navigators and 870 wireless operators / air gunners monthly.[12] Debert was to play an important role in execution of that plan.

The BCATP aerodrome building program, alone, was most ambitious. It required detailed organization, thought and planning. But its ends were ultimately achieved through basic standardization. All the training establishments would be built on the same pattern, thus achieving efficiencies that helped save time and effort.[13]

Contractors were able to rapidly build the facilities because of the forethought of standardization. The aerodromes were often built with all buildings (including hangars, barracks and workshops) and hard-surfaced runways completed within the incredibly short period of eight weeks from the shovel in the ground to planes on the tarmac.[14] The economic impacts were felt very quickly and locally. Many rural communities were transformed from sleepy hollows to bustling centres.

Debert and the impacts of the Air Force: Army presence

Donald Davidson, a long-time resident, recalls Debert in the 1930s as a small rural town located in central Nova Scotia. This small town’s population numbered no more than 500–600 people at any one time. The local residents survived on mixed farming and lumbering, with a permanent lumber mill and factory located near the local train station. The town, by the standards of the day, was large. It supported three stores, a post office, a barber shop, a two-room school, a community hall and a blacksmith shop at the outset of the war.[15] All that changed with the local defence construction.

Some 5,400 men were soon employed in the construction of an Army camp and airfield nearby. They had to be provisioned, housed and fed along with elements of the Army which also occupied the same site while under construction. It was to the credit of this workforce that the necessary accommodations, sewage, hospital facilities, special storage areas for gasoline and 30 miles (48 kilometres) of paved roadway were constructed in quick time.[16]

In the meantime, the village of Debert changed too. It grew immensely. The town now supported 10 restaurants, two drug stores with lunch counters, two meat markets, an additional grocery store, a hotel with telephones and running water, two barber shops, a telephone office, a bank, three taxi services, a laundry service, a bus line service to Truro (20 kilometres southeast) and a charter service to meet a growing demand.[17]

This gives one a sense of the pace of construction and prosperity, but in no way does it adequately describe the magnitude or scope of the Air Force and Army projects. The Army project was massive and was the first to be “completed.” Approximately 13,150 personnel were accommodated by Christmas 1940. In a nutshell, some 512 buildings (including a fully equipped 500-bed hospital; two fire halls; four dental clinics; a supply depot; a 100-cell detention barracks; quarters for other ranks, non-commissioned officers, medical staff, nurses and officers; and various messes) were all completed in that time, along with adequate water, sewage, septic and electrical systems. By the end of 1940, only 24 buildings remained under construction for the Army.[18]

The work on the airfield and facilities was deferred; it was completed in 1941. It continued in a small way over the course of the winter of 1940–41 with the further clearing of woodlands and fields in preparation for the next construction season. The Debert aerodrome required its own buildings, hangars, barracks, workshops and associated hard-surfaced runways. Those projects commenced with better weather. The work progressed well, and the aerodrome was ready to receive its first unit over the summer of 1941.[19]

Difficulties

There were bound to be difficulties and introspection, given the hurried state of the construction. Many were concerned with the lack of oversight as well as checks and balances. It did not help matters that, despite the apparent completion of many projects, much was left undone. The progress of the construction became subject to intense parliamentary scrutiny. None other than John George Diefenbaker, future Prime Minister of Canada, came to Debert to investigate.

The aerodrome was designated to and occupied by the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) Operational Training Unit 31 (O.T.U. 31), one of four units transferred from Great Britain. The unit and its equipment were moved across the North Atlantic in three echelons starting in May 1941.[20] Training at Debert, though, was necessarily delayed until August 1941, once again because of the unfinished state of the airfield.[21] It became a lightning rod for public scrutiny and attention.

Diefenbaker said of Debert, “if ever there was a camp chosen anywhere in Canada which is little short of disgraceful from the point of view of the men required to live in that Camp, it is Debert.” In the spring of 1942, Diefenbaker stated that the camp was “inundated.” He found difficulty with its selection, given all the available sites in Nova Scotia. Diefenbaker found it incredulous that this site was chosen, given that $239,000 had to be spent immediately on drainage.[22]

Diefenbaker’s concern was not unwarranted. His observations were supported by the opinions of many trainees at the time. The facilities were indeed still under construction and the living conditions were Spartan.[23] Still Colonel Ralston, then Minister of National Defence, tried to dust off Diefenbaker’s remarks as simply exaggerated.[24] Ralston could defend the costs, but he was hard pressed to defend the state of affairs at Debert.

In all fairness to Ralston, the facilities were started from scratch. Ralston defended Debert as a choice because of its accessibility to railroads, its central location and its proximity to the RAF airfield.[25]

Yet Diefenbaker’s criticisms put the government of the day on the defensive. This scrutiny ultimately led to a public accounting of the results to 1943. Costs were at the forefront, and the public’s need to know had to be satisfied.

Economic spin-offs

It is worthwhile to investigate the known costs, given the level of public scrutiny. For good or ill, money was being spent and many prospered. O.T.U. 31 and Camp Debert came into being. An additional 1,082 permanent and training staff were accommodated on this aerodrome; this was incremental to the Army’s staff of 13,500 men already situated at nearby Camp Debert.[26]

The addition of approximately 15,000 military personnel in a small town of 600 produced many economic opportunities and financial windfalls. Soldiers and airmen get paid and do like to spend money. But there was more to it than that; there was local government spending on capital as well as operations and maintenance costs that also had collateral impacts.

There is a paucity of data on the indi­vidual costs for the BCATP and Army construction. However, F. J. Hatch provides insight for the Air Force costs in Aerodrome of Democracy, outlining details of the BCATP’s total costs. From there, we can extrapolate some local impacts.

Methodology

The problem of estimating the individual airfield costs becomes a simple one. The essence of the plan was standardization, and as one airfield was designed to be more or less the same as another, it is logical, then, that they shared similar costs.

Still, we must recognize that each airfield did have unique circumstances. We can only arrive at a rough estimate of the individual costs, but surely, this is an indicator of the magnitude of the local economic boom.

To arrive at those rough costs, the first step is to segregate Hatch’s data between flying schools and ground support establishments. There were 67 airfields built during the BCATP programme. But the BCATP was more than airfields; training was required for both flying and ground establishments. The BCATP consisted of 56 flying[27] and 13 ground support[28] establishments that directly supported flying training. From this first step, we can easily identify the standard airfield from the non-standard elements and estimate their costs. Then we apply the percentage of the standard airfield pool against the gross total to determine its portion of the total costs.

Results for Debert airfield

Debert was one of 56 air training establishments. Thus, we can identify the percentage of Debert as part of the standard air training total (1.79 per cent) and apply that result against the share of the total costs to derive its component costs of the BCATP (see Table 1). It is a rough estimate, but it does provide an indication of what was spent locally. Thus, it is an indirect measure of the impact to the local economy.

 

Table 1. Derivative costs of Debert airfield, 1939–45
Category# of Establishments% ofCost (1941$)
All BCATP units 69 100.0 2,231,129,039.26[29]
Flying establishments 56 81.2 (BCATP units) 1,810,771,394.18
Ground support establishments 13

18.8 (BCATP units)

420,357,645.08
Debert 1 of 56

 1.79 (flying establishments)

39,841,589.99

Debert in 2012 $ (per cent change 1,273.03)[30]

547,038,460.31

 

Debert’s representative share of the BCATP costs was approximately $39.8 million. It was a huge investment for its time. It may sound like a bargain today, but in terms of 2012 dollars, the expenditure amounts to $547 million (Table 1).

We can estimate the component and period costs associated with Debert. It must be noted that not all costs are associated with local spending. Capital costs and contributions are such examples. Furthermore, spending was not homogeneous. There were two critical periods of investment in Debert for the Air Force.

First, Canada invested $31.3 million from 1940 to 1943 for O.T.U. 31 alone (see Table 2). Notably, this is the period that had the highest intensity of investment in capital. Secondly, the remaining $8.5 million was spent between 1944 and 1945, when the airfield reverted back to RCAF control that had a lesser capital component but a greater operations and maintenance component.

 

Table 2. Invested and capital costs estimates to 1943 for O.T.U. 31
Major ElementsSpecial Elements1941$
All flying costs 6,757,400[31]
O.T.U. 31 capital costs – aircraft 5,925,960[32]
Replacement value aircraft 2,021,560[33]
BCATP Debert share of costs (estimate) Equipment contribution 2,897,514[34]
Materiel contribution 500,009[34]
Lend lease 5,062,506[34]
Army contributed capital investment 1,400,000[35]
Maintenance services and associated personnel costs Maintenance 438,000[36]
Personnel 704,155[36]
Estimated O&M costs 3,714,494[37]
Other personnel costs (military salaries) 1,959,962[38]
Canadian $ investment total 31,381,560

 

The potential local spending figure can be estimated by deducting the pertinent capital contribution and lend-lease cost categories from the grand total. Great Britain contributed all of the flying equipment that was used. Capital costs of aircraft likely had a minimal local impact, if any. Still, the aircraft had to be fuelled, that fuel transported, the airfield provisioned, heated, and so on.

But what likely matters to local spending were the direct costs associated with military/civilian salaries as well as operations and maintenance (O&M). Approximately $8.4 million in these costs was spent between 1940 and 1945 (Table 3).

 

Table 3. Estimate of annual O&M spending, Debert airfield, 1940–45
PeriodCategoryAmount($)
O.T.U. 31 1940–43 (from Table 2) Maintenance 438,000
Personnel 704,155
Estimated O&M costs 3,714,494
Military salaries 1,959,962
Total O.T.U. 31 6,816,611.00
RCAF No. 7 Squadron 1944–45 Estimated O&M costs

1,643,418.99[39]

  Total (1940–45) 8,460,029.99
  Average spent annually 1,692,006.00[39]

Recognizing that there were likely peaks and valleys to the spending pattern, the data suggests that the government’s annual local spending on the Debert airfield was approximately $1.7 million.

O.T.U. 31 spent $6.8 million locally over its three-year lifespan in the Debert area. This spending pattern continued with RCAF No. 7 Squadron that subsequently replaced O.T.U. 31. Both entities spent an average of $1.7 million per year in personnel, operations and maintenance locally. The Army’s presence also presented a sizeable opportunity that bears investigating.[40]

Results for the Army

The gross Army spending was easier to identify. The Army was made to account for all its wartime investments to 1943 because of Diefenbaker’s scrutiny and censure. Diefenbaker’s introspection prompted the government to report the spending in order to deflect some of these criticisms. Colonel Ralston, Minister of National Defence, reported that $1.8 billion was spent in defence of Canada’s war effort to 1943. The specific details are found in Table 4

Table 4. Summation of Army and other government spending, 1939–43[41]
Category$% Total
Total War Related Expenditures (All Canada 1939–43) 1,861,578,353.37  
 Army spending by military district  1,468,149,469.37  78.87
 Navy shipbuilding by province  138,377,000  7.43
 Navy building construction  36,668,000 1.97
 Transport Canada departmental expenses  10,052,197  0.54
 Transport Canada in support of air operations  81,446,825  4.38
 Transport Canada in support of navy operations  653,636 0.04 
 Canadian National Railroad capital expenditures 1939–42  116,212,431  6.24
 Works Department to 31 March 1942  10,018,795  0.54

Ralston was responsible for overseeing $1.8 billion spending on capital investments. This oversight crossed many departmental boundaries including the Air Force. The Army represented the lion’s share of spending amounting to $1.4 billion (79 per cent) of the total of $1.8 billion then allocated to 1943.

This gross spending was broken down further by province and military district. The government of the day allocated $70.9 million to No. 6 Military District, Nova Scotia. This represented 3.8 per cent of the government’s total spending to 1943 (Table 5).

 

Table 5. Summation of defence-related expenditure by province, 1939–43[42]
CategoryTotalOttawaONQCNSBCOther
Total war-related expenditures (all Canada 1939–1945) 1,861,578,353.37            
Army spending by military district 1,468,149,469.37 1,051,506,087.00 156,447,745.00 41,129,214.37 70,939,213.00 53,473,248.00 94,653,962.00
Navy shipbuilding by province 138,377,000.00 0.00 42,325,000.00 38,085,000.00 29,997,000.00 25,875,000.00 2,095,000.00
Navy building construction 36,668,000.00 0.00 1,480,000.00 1,154,000.00 29,997,000.00 3,693,000.00 344,000.00
Transport Canada departmental expenses 10,052,197.00 0.00 4,356,817.00 1,921,351.00 58,046.00 863,945.00 5,852,038.00
Transport Canada in support of air operations 81,446,825.00 1,193,267.00 14,280,924.00 5,828,552.00 4,431,876.00 17,923,033.00 37,789,173.00
Transport Canada in support of Navy operations 653,636.00 0.00 180,326.00 107,273.00 184,328.00 181,309.00 400.00
Canadian National Railroad capital expenditures 1939–1942 116,212,431.00 0.00 27,496,823.00 45,610,790.00 13,750,802.00 5,086,432.00 24,267,584.00
Works Department to 31 March 1942 10,018,795.00 6,831,988.00 706,345.00 468,408.00 462,642.00 1,254,905.00 114,507.00
Provincial subtotals (1939–1943)   1,059,531,342.00 247,273,980.00 134,304,588.37 150,000,907.00 108,350,872.00

162,116,664.00

Provincial % share spending (all)   56.9 13.3 7.2 8.1 5.8 8.7
Provincial subtotals (1939–43, less Ottawa and overseas) 802,047,011.37   247,273,980.00 134,304,588.37 150,000,907.00 108,350,872.00 162,116,664.00
Provincial % share spent in Canada (less Ottawa & overseas) 43.1   30.8 16.7 18.7 13.5 20.2
               

Regrettably, these figures could not be broken down into their component costs as was done with the Air Force at Debert. The government only reported the various departmental capital investment costs for the public’s consumption. However, given the importance of Halifax (representing all HQ and armouries in Nova Scotia) and the fact that there were two major training units in Nova Scotia (at Debert and Aldershot), we can roughly estimate what the Army invested. At least one-third of the government’s reported investment on Military District No. 6 ($70.9 million) must have been directed to the Army Camp Debert from 1939–43. That low estimate is approximately $23.6 million, but it was likely more.[43]

The amount that the Army spent from 1944 to 1945 in Nova Scotia was unknown. But based on the Air Force’s spending pattern, the Army spent at least an additional $15.1 million on O&M given that the major capital investments had already been made. Thus, an estimated $38.7 million was spent on Camp Debert from 1940 to 1945.

This truly must have had a regional impact. Ralston’s report provides some positive proof to that effect.[44] Army spending was spread out across the country, but the highest provincial spending gives an indication of where that spending was considered most important by the Canadian government.

Based on the percentage of directed government spending, Table 5 gives a clear indication of the provinces that were key to Canada’s defence. Canada invested its money where the critical industries, strategic areas and major access/departure points were; therefore, these were likely essential and primary to its war effort.

Nova Scotia saw an investment of $150 million in Army spending, representing 8.1 per cent of total Army spending to 1943 or 18.7 per cent of funds actually spent in Canada (Table 5). Ontario enjoyed the lion’s share, but significantly, Nova Scotia rated second. This is not surprising, given its importance as an open-water seaport and the importance of the convoy system as Britain’s lifeline at the time. Added to that was the fact that both air and naval forces were employed in defending the strategic approaches that were essential to that lifeline for Britain.

Turn over of facilities to RCAF

By 1943 though, matters were coming to a head. The tide was starting to change, imperceptibly at first. But the Air Force was among the first to feel the change. There was a virtual glut of surplus personnel in the BCATP training system.

One of the first units to be affected was O.T.U. 31 at Debert. Canada agreed that RAF schools would be the first to be closed as part of a rationalization plan. But British units considered essential were to be Canadianized and given RCAF designations. In the meantime, they would continue to function as part of the BCATP. Thus, Debert was given a temporary reprieve.

No. 31 Operational Training Unit at Debert and No. 36 at Greenwood, NS, were redesignated as No. 7 and No. 8 respectively and staffed with RCAF personnel.[45] A significant air presence would continue to exist at Debert along with the socio-economic benefits of that operation.

Still, a firm decision was made in 1943 to commence winding down the BCATP with the final termination in March 1945.[46] The financial taps for many communities were starting to be turned off and closed. But concurrent with this activity, Canada also commenced studying its post-war future. Dark days still lay ahead. It was not that victory was either assured or certain by 1943. There were still many trials to be surmounted. But, there was a stirring within the inner circles of government to start looking forward.

By late 1944, victory was seen as just a matter of time. May 1945 would bring the joy of Victory in Europe. Then the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that produced Japan’s unconditional surrender on 2 September 1945, finally ended the war. That surrender rendered Debert’s purpose—and that of many other bases, stations and establishments in Canada—moot.[47]

Winding down: Deconstruction

There was no longer a reason for defence facilities once peace had arrived. Demobilization proceeded as quickly as possible. But “peace” was also a double-edged sword. Without the reason for being, the wartime boom soon dried up. Where there once was a frenzied pace, there was now silence and slow decay.

This was a reality facing Debert and many small Canadian communities in the fall of 1945. They prospered during the boom but were now being left to languish during the bust. And the bust was quick. For example, what was once a jewel in the crown of the Army’s training system in Debert was now coming under the hammer. It was no longer wanted.

The Calgary Herald reported that 400 men were involved in the deconstruction and salvage of the Camp Debert buildings. The camp was abandoned. Windows were left open on many of the buildings and gaping holes were noticed in others. It was a ghost town whose only sign of recent activity was the initials left carved on the walls by many of the soldiers of the 168 units who trained at Debert. For many, this would be their final reminiscence of the time spent here in Canada.[48]

At the time of the Calgary Herald’s report, 68 buildings had come under the hammer with 55 totally demolished. In the process, 1.25 million feet [381,000 metres] of lumber, 12 tons [10,886 kilograms] of nails, 1,000 windows, 39 bath tubs, 200 basins, 139 radiators and 24,000 feet [7,315 metres] of piping and plumbing fixtures as well as assorted electrical supplies and other items had been salvaged.

These materials would get a new life under the Veteran’s Land Act or emergency shelter programs in the erecting of new homes. The project was started in the fall of 1946 and was scheduled to be completed in April the following year with 75 per cent of the materials expected to be salvaged.[49]

On the Air Force side, it was much similar. Ralph Harris’ reminiscence is poignant:[50]

Debert, with all its natural advantages of clear approaches, cheap land for expansion, proximity to the army camp, location beside the Trans-Continental Railway and soon-to-be Trans-Canada Highway, not to mention its favourable weather record, was closed in a very few days.

On October 6, 1945, I went to the release centre at Moncton, N.B., returning to Truro October 7. On October 8, 1945, I went out to Debert to see what was going on and found that most of the windows had been boarded up, about 50 personnel of all ranks dining in the Airmen’s Mess, and the Control Tower gutted—radios and speakers had been ripped out of the con­sole, furniture gone (contents of drawers simply dumped on the floor), even the motor gone out of the furnace.[51]

Debert no longer served a purpose, and there were too few people to safeguard the assets. But the government learned well from the BCATP experience. It realized spending brought prosperity. Government had a role to play in conjunction with the private sector. Of great concern from the experience of the Great Depression was the public’s censure of the laissez-faire approach that was taken.[52]

Concluding remarks

There was a certain hope on the government’s part that the ultimate goal of the sacrifice and of its invested treasure would make Canadians the happiest people on earth. As early as 1943, the government looked to civil aviation as key to Canadian prosperity. Investments made in the BCATP and Debert were to be the basis of that expansion, and prosperity happened for some but not for others.[53]

Still, confidence remained high in the post-war period. There was a prosperous economic outlook even with the large industrial draw-downs in war production and the rapid demobilization of Canada’s armed forces. Exports were far above the level required for full employment and were forecasted to remain so in 1946. But the government thought a buffer was needed to ease the future transition to a peace-time economy. Many measures were to be taken to ease any transition or social dislocation, such as the institution of unemployment insurance plans and social welfare.[54]

But Canadians, too, were concerned with the transition to peace. The war left many asking some deep social questions on the use of taxpayers’ money. Many could not understand how the Government of Canada was able to find a billion dollar gift for Britain during the course of the war. Where did that capital come from? Why was the government unable or unwilling to ease the public’s suffering during the Dirty Thirties / Great Depression with a similar investment?[55]

Canada’s gross national expenditure (GNE) in 1943 was approximately $11 billion. This loan, therefore, represented 9 per cent of GNE or, from another perspective, represented 24 per cent of $4.1 billion of government spending that year.[56] That put pressure on the government. The seeds for change in public policy had been sown during the war, as the public had no desire to return to darker days.

Looking ahead in 1946, the domestic market was strong and demand for goods and services would continue to increase as they became available.[57] There was a pent-up demand after all the years of scarcity, saving and privation during the war years. Looking on the horizon, the world had to be rebuilt. Canada would continue to be looked upon as a bread basket and a source of raw materials for the post-war reconstruction. Prosperity appeared to be assured, and the future looked bright indeed.

But the reality was that for all the prosperity forecasted, it was boom for some, bust for others. The Canadian economy did grow, but for many regions, the pace was slower. Many communities languished, as their wartime tactical and strategic importance declined. Many reverted to what they were before.

The legacy of World War II was as Dickens foretold, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … .”[58] The investments were not only just for prosecution and vic­tory, but they were also the forge for change to Canada’s future. It was a lasting legacy whose blood and treasure are still paramount and relevant to our generation. The active participation and work by many—in cities, small towns and villages—was accomplished by average Canadians. Their collective efforts were important and vital to winning the war. The home front was also a war front. It is an effort worth remembering!


Gerry D. Madigan, CD , MA is a retired logistician, Canadian Armed Forces. Major Madigan’s (Retired) career spans 28 years as a finance officer. His notable postings included National Defence Headquarters, Canadian Forces Base Europe, Canada’s East Coast and Qatar during the First Gulf War as the comptroller. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada’s War Studies programme.

Abbreviations

BCATP―British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
CBI―Compensation and Benefits Instructions
GNE―gross national expenditure
O&M―operations and maintenance
O.T.U. 31―Operational Training Unit 31
RAF―Royal Air Force
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force

Notes

[1]. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities: A Story of the French Revolution, Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg. org/files/98/98-h/98-h.htm#2H_4_0002 (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[2]. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities: A Story of the French Revolution, Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg. org/files/98/98-h/98-h.htm#2H_4_0002 (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[3]. Herb Peppard, “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” Truro Daily News, http:// www. trurodaily.com/Opinion/Columns/2012-07-04/article-3023331/The-agony-and-the-ecstasy/1 (accessed December 5, 2012). Peppard captures his experiences of the horrors of the past, the face of the present and his hidden hope in his wish for the future. His story is one of many of his generation who share this com­mon background. It is a common story that shapes who and what we are today.  (return)

[4]. Pierre Berton, The Great Depression: 1929–1939 (Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2001), 9.  (return)

[5]. Pierre Berton, The Great Depression: 1929–1939 (Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2001), 503–4.  (return)

[6]. Alexander Brady and F. R. Scott, Canada After the War: Studies in Political, Social, and Economic Policies for Post-War Canada (Toronto: Macmillan, 1945), 3. “[I]f we are not now to take thought for the future we can expect nothing but backslid­ing to the bad old ways of the inter-war period. As to the claim that thinking of the post-war future slackens the war effort, nothing could be more paltry. People are bound to think of the future. Only the promise of better things to come sustains us in war. If this promise is not to be frustrated and our high hopes disappointed, we must be prepared to discuss now in a realistic manner the modifications of our institu­tions necessary to fulfil man’s aspirations for a ‘better world.’”  (return)

[7]. Pierre Berton, The Great Depression: 1929–1939 (Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2001),  499.  (return)

[8]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 1–2.  (return)

[9]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 1.  (return)

[10]. G. H. Sallans, “Wilderness One Week, and a Home for Troops the Next—The Birth of Debert,” The Vancouver, September 15, 1941, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JDNlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OokNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1267,3797474&dq=debert+nova+scotia+1941&hl=en (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[11]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 33.  (return)

[12]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 16.  (return)

[13]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 64.  (return)

[14]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 64.  (return)

[15]. Testimony given by Donald Davidson to William Langille, Chairman, Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, Halifax, March 1, 2001, http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/hansard/comm/va/va010301.htm (accessed December 5, 2012), 6. This is the personal recollections of Don Davidson, who lived in Debert all his life; when the war started he was a teenager—15 or 16 years. During the war he was a busi­nessman, operating Davidson’s Store.  (return)

[16]. G. H. Sallans, “Wilderness One Week, and a Home for Troops the Next—The Birth of Debert,” The Vancouver, September 15, 1941, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JDNlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OokNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1267,3797474&dq=debert+nova+scotia+1941&hl=en (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[17]. Testimony given by Donald Davidson to William Langille, Chairman, Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, Halifax, March 1, 2001, http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/hansard/comm/va/va010301.htm (accessed December 5, 2012), 6–7. This is the personal recollections of Don Davidson, who lived in Debert all his life; when the war started he was a teenager—15 or 16 years. During the war he was a busi­nessman, operating Davidson’s Store.  (return)

[18]. Canada, National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage, DHH File 360.003(D5) Debert Military Camp file.  (return)

[19]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 64.  (return)

[20]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 74.  (return)

[21]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 74–75.  (return)

[22]. “Debert Described as an Efficient Camp, Ralston Says NS Development Best in Dominion Is Said Effectual, Answers Diefenbaker Who Says Choice of Site Is Little Short of a Disgrace,” The Montreal Gazette, 1 June 1943.  (return)

[23]. Sergeant R. W. Harris, “Memories of Debert, N.S.,” undated. Written account in Debert Military Museum archives, http://www.debertmilitarymuseum.org/harris.htm (accessed October 5, 2010, site discontinued).  (return)

[24]. Debert Described as an Efficient Camp, Ralston Says NS Development Best in Dominion Is Said Effectual, Answers Diefenbaker Who Says Choice of Site Is Little Short of a Disgrace,” The Montreal Gazette, 1 June 1943.  (return)

[25]. Debert Described as an Efficient Camp, Ralston Says NS Development Best in Dominion Is Said Effectual, Answers Diefenbaker Who Says Choice of Site Is Little Short of a Disgrace,” The Montreal Gazette, 1 June 1943.  (return)

[26]. Bert Meerveld and Yvonne Holmes Mott, “Art Presswell: A Soldier’s Journey,” (November 2003), 4, www.Ocl.Net/Pdf/Art_Publication.Pdf (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[27]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 16. To avoid duplication of costs, the 15 air observer schools have been excluded as most were collocated with flying facilities for co-training and efficiency.  (return)

[28]. Canada, National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage, DHH File 74/13 No. 31 O.T.U, 2–7 and 11.  (return)

[29]. Canada, National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage, DHH File 74/13 No. 31 O.T.U, 200.  (return)

[30]. Canada, Bank of Canada, “Inflation Calculator,” Bank of Canada, http://www. bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/ (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[31].Canada, Bank of Canada, “Inflation Calculator,” Bank of Canada, http://www. bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/ (accessed December 5, 2012), 212. The 13 ground support establishments are restricted to those that were directly associated with air training and include: the seven initial training schools, two radio direction finding (radar) schools, Air Armament School, AID Inspector School, 1 Composite Training School and 2 Composite Training School.  (return)

[32]. For Debert aircraft establishment see DHH File 74/13, 3–4 and 7. For aircraft costs see “Lockheed Hudson in RAF Service,” Military History Encyclopedia on the Web, http://www.historyofwar.org/arti­cles/weapons_lockheed_hudson_RAF.html (accessed December 5, 2012); and Kenneth C. Cragg, “Charge Laxity in Production of Aircraft – Diefenbaker, Hanson Critical of Mosquito Program,” The Globe and Mail, June 22, 1943.  (return)

[33]. For the number of aircraft lost at Debert, see “No. 31 Operational Training Unit and No. 7 Operational Training Unit, Debert, Nova Scotia, Roll of Honour, Training Casualties,” Ancestry.com, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nbpennfi/penn8b1RollOfHonour_No31OTU_TrainingCasualties.htm (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[34]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 200. These values are 1/56th of BCATP’s total costs for equipment ($162,260,787.89), materiel ($28,000,498.85) and lend lease ($283,500,362.66).  (return)

[35]. “Spendings Broken Down by Provinces: Army, Navy and Transport Department Tell How Money Is Spent,” The Montreal Gazette, June 1, 1943, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=c4AtAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NpkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6720,51314&dq=rcaf+debert&hl=en (accessed December 5, 2012). Debert’s share is esti­mated as one-third of Transport Canada’s investment in support of air operations.  (return)

[36]. Canada, National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage, DHH File 360.003(D5), Debert Military Camp file, 5.  (return)

[37]. This estimate of O&M costs was derived by deducting the Army Contributed Capital Air Investment from the known and unexplained difference of $5 million.  (return)

[38]. For Debert’s personnel establish­ment, see Canada, National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage, DHH File 74/13 No. 31 O.T.U, 2. Pay was cal­culated using “CBI Chapter 204 – Pay of Officers and Non-Commissioned Members” CBI 204.21, CBI 204.211 Tables A, B and C as well as CBI 204.30 Table B (Treasury Board, effective 1 April 2010), Canada, Department of National Defence, http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dgcb-dgras/pub/cbi-dra/204-eng.asp (accessed January 17, 2012, content updated); and “GDP Deflator,” Josh Staiger, http://www.gdpdeflator.com/ (accessed December 5, 2012). The data was deflated and then benchmarked and adjusted to the salaries in J. L. Granatstein, The Generals: The Canadian Army’s Senior Commanders in the Second World War (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1993), 17–18; and Canadian Army, Soldier’s Pay Book, Militia Book MI Part II 40/p & S/279 (6620), D144848, Okeefe, Leslie Jeffrey, Pte.  (return)

[39]. The total (1940–1945) is the dif­ference of Debert’s total cost in Table 1 ($39,841,589.99) and the total Canadian investment in O.T.U. 31 in Table 2 ($31,381,560.00). RCAF No. 7 Squadron’s estimated O&M costs are the difference of the 1940–1945 total ($8,460,029.99) and the total for O.T.U. 31 ($6,816,611.00).  (return)

[40]. Testimony given by Donald Davidson to William Langille, Chairman, Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, Halifax, March 1, 2001, http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/hansard/comm/va/va010301.htm (accessed December 5, 2012). This is the personal recollections of Don Davidson, who lived in Debert all his life; when the war started he was a teenager—15 or 16 years. During the war he was a busi­nessman, operating Davidson’s Store.  (return)

[41]. “Spendings Broken Down by Provinces: Army, Navy and Transport Department Tell How Money Is Spent,” The Montreal Gazette, June 1, 1943, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=c4AtAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NpkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6720,51314&dq=rcaf+debert&hl=en (accessed December 5, 2012). Debert’s share is esti­mated as one-third of Transport Canada’s investment in support of air operations.  (return)

[42]. “Spendings Broken Down by Provinces: Army, Navy and Transport Department Tell How Money Is Spent,” The Montreal Gazette, June 1, 1943, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=c4AtAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NpkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6720,51314&dq=rcaf+debert&hl=en (accessed December 5, 2012). Debert’s share is esti­mated as one-third of Transport Canada’s investment in support of air operations.  (return)

[43]. Debert Described as an Efficient Camp, Ralston Says NS Development Best in Dominion Is Said Effectual, Answers Diefenbaker Who Says Choice of Site Is Little Short of a Disgrace,” The Montreal Gazette, 1 June 1943.  (return)

[44]. Debert Described as an Efficient Camp, Ralston Says NS Development Best in Dominion Is Said Effectual, Answers Diefenbaker Who Says Choice of Site Is Little Short of a Disgrace,” The Montreal Gazette, 1 June 1943.  (return)

[45]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 184.  (return)

[46]. F. J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945, Monograph Series No. 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, 1983), 178–83.  (return)

[47]. “Lancaster’s of Tiger Force: Canada’s Contribution to Tiger Force,” http://www. lancaster-archive.com/lanc_tigerforce.htm (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[48]. “War Assets Salvaging Debert Camp Buildings,” The Calgary Herald, 21 November 1946, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JilkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=onsNAAAAIB AJ&pg=7393,2288245&dq=debert&hl=en (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[49]. “War Assets Salvaging Debert Camp Buildings,” The Calgary Herald, 21 November 1946, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JilkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=onsNAAAAIB AJ&pg=7393,2288245&dq=debert&hl=en (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[50]. Sergeant R. W. Harris, “Memories of Debert, N.S.,” undated. Written account in Debert Military Museum archives, http://www.debertmilitarymuseum.org/harris.htm (accessed October 5, 2010, site discontinued).  (return)

[51]. Sergeant R. W. Harris, “Memories of Debert, N.S.,” undated. Written account in Debert Military Museum archives, http://www.debertmilitarymuseum.org/harris.htm (accessed October 5, 2010, site discontinued).  (return)

[52]. Brady and Scott, Canada After the War; Kenneth C. Cragg, “Far-Reaching System Told By Mackenzie,” Globe and Mail, March 17, 1943, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession num­ber 100-006-005, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5063669 (accessed December 5, 2012), 3.  (return)

[53]. “Goal Is to Make Canadians Happiest People on Earth!” Hamilton Spectator, December 13, 1943, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession number 893-866-803, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5059746 (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[54]. Brady and Scott, Canada After the War; Kenneth C. Cragg, “Far-Reaching System Told By Mackenzie,” Globe and Mail, March 17, 1943, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession num­ber 100-006-005, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5063669 (accessed December 5, 2012); “Social Changes Require Most Intelligent Study,” Hamilton Spectator, March 22, 1944, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession number 100 017 004, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5063723 (accessed December 5, 2012); “Postwar Planning Information,” Wartime Information Board, May 16, 1944, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession number 100-017-003, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5063722 (accessed December 5, 2012); “The Political Implications of Family Allowances,” Toronto Telegram, July 20, 1944, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession number 084 016 019, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5053637 (accessed December 5, 2012); and Charlotte Whitton, “We’re Off!! To Social Security Confusion,” Saturday Night, March 29, 1945, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession number 100 017 002, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5063721 (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[55]. “Bulk of Billion U.K. Gift Spent on Munitions: Breakdown of Goods Canada Contributed Furnished by Ilsley,” Globe and Mail, May 12, 1943, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession number 071-017-012, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5044854 (accessed December 5, 2012); Conversation Mr. V. G. Madigan / G. D. Madigan, March 28, 2012. My father lived through the Depression as a young boy. I asked him to review my paper for his opinions and for historical context and accuracy. Interestingly enough, he mentioned the $1 billion gift to Britain, which I found earlier but did not include as a reference in earlier versions of this paper. In the context of his time, he stated that many Canadians found it incredulous that Canada was able to provide an outright gift of this sum, yet did nothing on the same scale to relieve the pain and suffering of many during the Great Depression.  (return)

[56]. Robert B. Crozier, “Series F14-32, Gross national expenditure, by compon­ents 1926 to 1976,” in “Section F: Gross National Product, the Capital Stock, and Productivity,” Canada, Statistics Canada, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-516-x/pdf/5500096-eng.pdf (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[57]. “Minister of Reconstruction Confident Regarding Future,” Hamilton Spectator, 11 February 1946, Canadian War Museum Archives, accession number 898-817-881, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5062612 (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

[58]. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities: A Story of the French Revolution, Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg. org/files/98/98-h/98-h.htm#2H_4_0002 (accessed December 5, 2012).  (return)

 

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