by Brad St Croix

Chapter 6 — An Act of Political Theatre: The 1942 Hong Kong Inquiry

(Link to footnotes for this chapter)

The Hong Kong Inquiry was one of the earliest attempts to shape the legacy of the Battle of Hong Kong on a large scale. As many of the myths about the battle began with the Inquiry, its role must be fully understood to properly discuss the battle’s legacy in Canada. While held in camera, the Inquiry received national attention. The Inquiry came to life, as Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King hoped that it would dispel concerns about the despatch and loss of “C” Force. However, individuals seeking to further specific personal and political goals greatly influenced the Inquiry. Also, the Inquiry became an exercise in passing blame for the despatching of Canadian troops to Hong Kong when Lyman Duff, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Inquiry head, absolved King’s government of substantial blame, a finding that incited accusations of a government cover-up. Contemporary Conservatives plus future historians and authors alike labelled the Inquiry as a whitewash.1 Such claims possess merit for the Inquiry was designed to make the Hong Kong episode disappear. As Canadian historian Gregory A. Johnson has concluded about the Inquiry’s immediate aftermath, “the general consensus was that Hong Kong was an unforeseeable tragedy that was perhaps best forgotten.”2 There was little consensus, as many, including bombastic Ontario politician George Drew, made sure the battle would be remembered negatively. Interest in the Inquiry’s findings and the battle itself dwindled during and after the war, only resurfacing briefly when controversies arose or when new information emerged. In this chapter I argue that the Inquiry gave life to many zombie myths, leaving an indelible mark on the legacy of the Battle of Hong Kong.

J.L. Ralston’s Investigation into the Transportation Issues of “C” Force

Minister of National Defence J.L. Ralston launched an investigation within the Department of National Defence (DND) only a few days after Hong Kong’s fall. Meetings were held on 1, 2, and 4 January 1942 to establish why the motor transport assigned to “C” Force had not been put aboard the ship that had carried the troops to Hong Kong.3 Chief of the General Staff (CGS) General Kenneth Stuart, Major-General E.J.C. Schmidlin Quartermaster-General, Victor Sifton Master-General of the Ordnance, Colonel W.H.S. Macklin Director of Staff Duties, Lieutenant-Colonel E.H. Spearing Assistant Quartermaster-General (AQMG) Movement Control, Captain E.D. James Director of Mechanization Branch, Lieutenant-Colonel R.J. Henderson Inspector of Ordnance Branch, and T.C. Lockwood and D.C. Connor from the Controller of Transport office all attended these meetings.4

From the very start of the investigation, Ralston focused on the Quartermaster-General’s Branch, as “it was part of Q.M.G’s. responsibility. On a troopship we should load whatever could be loaded. I think what happened was when we found that Motor Transport was so large it couldn’t possibly all be loaded we took it on ourselves to ask Navy and Transport Controller for another freight ship and then put out of our minds sending anything on the first ship.”5 But when Ralston, blaming Spearing, asked him if he would take responsibility for the vehicles, Spearing deflected the question.6 When Ralston asked repeatedly about how Brigadier J.K. Lawson and others had wanted the ship to be filled, Spearing, claiming he had not known the name of the ship, could not have scheduled the motor transport, a bizarre assertion for Spearing had attended a 14 October 1941 meeting where the Awatea was identified as the ship that was move “C” Force. Made aware of this fact, Spearing alleged that he, sitting too far away when the relevant telegram had been introduced, did not hear the ship’s name.7 But some doubted that the missing vehicles would have made a difference in Hong Kong. While Schmidlin commented twice on 1 January that the focus on the extra space was overblown for “the 10,000 feet [the estimated space] was nominal. It wouldn’t have taken more than eight or ten vehicles,” Ralston interjected that “somebody will say these vehicles might have been useful.”8 Shortly thereafter, Schmidlin and Spearing were forcibly retired.9

Ralston delivered information about the Battle of Hong Kong to the House of Commons in January 1942. Admitting that the vehicles carried by Don Jose did not reach the colony, Ralston also noted that while twenty vehicles were to be put on the Awatea, they did not arrive at Vancouver’s port in time to be loaded. Ralston provided Parliament with considerable information about Hong Kong. Unwilling to cover up the details, Ralston admitted that 138 of “C” Force’s soldiers had not met the established standard of training time for overseas service.

While another ten men’s records had not been given to him. Ralston also announced that an investigation was being made into why these undertrained men were taken on strength.10 R.B. Hanson, Leader of the Conservative Opposition, offered “no criticism at all of the government for having sent these two battalions to Hong Kong. If we are to be in a total war, and to undertake a total war effort, aside altogether from questions of prospective manpower, and methods by which that may be attained, we must expect to share in common with the other gallant soldier of the British empire, and of our democratic allies, the fortunes of war.” Still, while Hanson raised conscription, “that of course raises another difficult question, namely the whole question of reserve manpower, one which I do not propose to discuss in the house to-day. But I would remind the minister and the government that it is a very live issue throughout the country, and an issue which sooner or later parliament, the government and the individual membership of the house must face.”11 In The Globe and Mail, journalist William Marchington claimed that Ralston’s speech was clearly a response to George Drew’s claims that untrained men had been sent to Hong Kong.12 Questions about Hong Kong continued over many months, including some about the Quartermaster-General’s Branch. On 27 July 1942, Ralston claimed that personnel changes at DND Headquarters had been made, not just because of the vehicle issue, but because “the net result was that it appeared to me that the quartermaster-general’s branch had not realized its responsibility, and I did not want an occurrence of that kind to be repeated.”13 While there were legitimate problems with the way the Quartermaster-General’s Branch had handled the vehicle issue, Schmidlin and Spearing’s dismissal demonstrated that a quick and simple solution had been sought for the “problem” of “C” Force’s failure at Hong Kong. However, this action did little to solve the problems facing King’s government.

Beginnings of the Hong Kong Inquiry

Criticism by the Conservative opposition in Parliament in early 1942 prompted an official investigation on the Hong Kong reinforcement. King initially was unsure whether the Inquiry should be a Parliamentary one—he feared Opposition challenges—or a judicial Inquiry.14 In his diary, King recorded Hanson’s concern that if a Parliamentary committee created the report, the Liberal majority would pass it with conclusions favourable to the government regardless of the actual findings.15 On 4 February 1942, Hanson agreed to a judicial Inquiry if Lyman Duff was appointed commissioner.16 Reluctant to agree due to his health, Duff accepted after King pressured him to do so. While lawyer and historian David Ricardo Williams has claimed that King wanted Duff to take on this role as a quid pro quo for extending Duff’s term as Chief Justice, King presented Duff’s decision as one of a duty be done to support the nation and not “a matter of his either seeking to oblige the government or myself.”17 Before the Inquiry began, Duff wrote that he was “rather immersed in preparations for my enquiry which is, of course, a nuisance.”18 Clearly, Duff was unhappy to be involved in the process.

As historian Edward F. Bush has argued, “King first considered that a Parliamentary Inquiry would serve to defend his government against Drew’s charges, reflecting as they did on the cabinet’s competence and collective responsibility, but then decided that nothing short of a full scale Royal Commission would suffice to clear his government and satisfy the nation.”19 Williams argued that “King saw the inquiry, however constituted, as a weapon with which to fight the Tories on the dangerous conscription issue.”20 King had other motivations for launching the Inquiry, notably shifting blame to others and clearing himself of any wrongdoing.

George Drew and the Hong Kong Inquiry

George Drew loomed large over the Inquiry given his appointment as the Inquiry’s Opposition counsel in February 1942. King was certain that either Drew, leader of the Conservative Opposition in Ontario, or Arthur Meighen, a former Conservative Prime Minister, had pushed for the Inquiry.21 Indeed, Hanson told Drew that he had requested the Inquiry on Meighen’s orders.22 As King confided to his diary:

really is a help to us as it will show where the onus really lies, how ready we were to meet a British request, and will put the blame where it ought to be on those responsible for taking some men overseas who should not have gone. Instead of helping the Tories in their determination to have conscription at all costs, it is going to react against them. The public will see that our whole war effort being what it is, that mistake is being made in pressing matters so far. I hope the Defence Department will see the same.23

As King and Drew loathed each other, the Battle of Hong Kong’s legacy became entangled in their feud. King’s disdain for Drew was evident from his diary entries, as was his desire to seek good omens in the details of everyday life: “I was interested in noting the straight lines of the hands regarding Hong Kong when I complete reading at 11.25. That matter, I believe, will come out all right despite Drew being retained as Counsel for Hanson.”24 Other Liberal Party members also despised Drew. A note made during a meeting of Liberal Members of Parliament to respond to criticism from the Opposition read that “since Drew is a public man, the final judge of his conduct must be public opinion. Drew is a 5th Columnist, pro-German, anti-Russian, with Italian family connections.”25

Drew used the Inquiry as an opportunity to attack King. His intentions, revealed during his correspondence with Hanson, were clear. In a 26 January 1942 letter to Hanson, Drew wrote that “the mere fact that Mr. King immediately conceded the necessity for a public inquiry did more than anything else to convince the general public that the Government recognizes the seriousness of the blunders which took place.”26 In a 5 March letter to Hanson, Drew accused the government of holding the Inquiry “in camera for their own protection.”27 While Drew clearly believed he had caught King in a vulnerable position, the course of events shows this was not the case.

After the Inquiry, Drew, a 1 June 1942 letter to Hanson, claimed that “I undertook this task as a public service and, in accordance with my discussion with you, I declined to accept any fees, disbursements or travelling expenses in connection with my attendance before the Inquiry.” Certain that he was helping the Canadian people, Drew proclaimed that “the Inquiry, therefore, can be of the utmost public service and it is my hope that in dealing with the facts disclosed, the Report will lay the foundation for constructive reforms in the administrative control of our armed forces.”28 Despite his claims, Drew’s motivations for participation were personal, and he was not sincere in wanting to help Canada’s military. Drew was merely motivated by politics and hatred. His motives remained the same as when he helped to produce the series of articles in the summer of 1941 for The Globe that assailed King’s handling of the war effort. Drew’s objectives were also apparent to some outside the Canadian government. After Duff’s Report had been released, British High Commissioner to Canada Alexander Clutterbuck told the Dominions Office that Drew’s support for the “enquiry originated in desire of Opposition to use Hong Kong disaster as stick with which to beat Government over conscription issue.”29

The Inquiry

As Commissioner of the Inquiry, Duff had:

to enquire into and report upon the organization, authorization and dispatch of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the selection and composition of the Force and the training of the personnel thereof; the provision and maintenance of supplies, equipment and ammunition and of the transportation therefor; and as to whether there occurred any dereliction of duty or error in judgment on the part of any of the personnel of any of the departments of the Government whose duty it was to arrange for the authorization, organization and dispatch of the said Expeditionary Force resulting in detriment or injury to the expedition or to the troops comprising the Expeditionary Force and if so what such dereliction or error was and who was responsible therefor.30

Lawyers R. L. Kellock and R. M. Fowler were appointed to prepare and present all relevant evidence, W. Kenneth Campbell was made Secretary of the Commission. Several reporters were hired by the counsels and Duff to take notes and review the proceedings. George Campbell was appointed as counsel for the Commission, Drew represented the Opposition. Ultimately, the responsibility for the Inquiry rested with Duff. While numerous counsels aided him, “these gentlemen were present merely to assist me. Counsel for the Commission, therefore, felt it their duty, as it was their duty, to probe in every direction for the purpose of getting the facts; and in this process a mass of oral evidence and of documents was placed before me. This resulted in lengthy hearings, but it was unavoidable and indispensable to a thorough investigation.”31

The Inquiry started with the questioning of individuals on 2 March 1942, a process that lasted until the 31st. Many witnesses appeared, including Ralston; General Andrew McNaughton, commanding Canadian troops in Britain; former Acting Corporal Wilfrid Middleton, a deserter from the Winnipeg Grenadiers; and those responsible for loading the Awatea. Over 300 exhibits were filed, over “2,288 typewritten pages” ranging from correspondence, ship manifests, training reports, meeting minutes, and battlefield updates. For obvious reasons, there was no testimony or documentation from anyone who fought in the battle, a problem for Duff as he sought to determine how “C” Force had been trained.32 Only statements from former commanding officers and soldiers were presented as evidence. Displeased that the Cabinet War Committee’s meeting minutes were excluded at the government’s request, Drew informed Hanson that “I do not believe it is possible for the Commissioner to make a finding in regard to the individual responsibility of members of the Government.”33 Even with all of this evidence, Duff’s biases, which will be discussed below, influenced his decision.

Duff’s Report

Duff delivered his report on 4 June 1942. It had two parts, the report itself, plus an appendix expanding upon the Commission’s findings. As to whether Canada should have accepted Britain’s September 1941 request for troops, Duff absolved the government of any wrongdoing: “It would perhaps be a possible view that the propriety of this decision by the Government is exclusively [a] matter for consideration and discussion by Parliament. Since, however, I am required to pass upon the question, it is my duty to say that I have no doubt the course taken by the Government was the only course open to them in the circumstances.”34 As for General Harry Crerar’s part in the decision-making process, the matter was muddled by Crerar’s inability to attend the Inquiry in person. According to Crerar’s telegram, “I desire it to be understood that my personal desire is to appear before judicial enquiry as I have no wish to avoid any responsibilities in connection with Hong Kong contingent which are mine.” Arrangements were being made to have Crerar come back to Canada on 14 February 1942, but the plan was cancelled.35 Duff relied on Crerar’s written answers about the training of “C” Force units plus conversations Crerar had with others to make his pronouncement. As Crerar believed that he had made the right decision to recommend “C” Force’s despatch,36 Duff concluded that “the evidence…satisfies me that General Crerar’s recommendation was made upon sound grounds and that he is not chargeable with any error in judgment, still less with any dereliction of duty in relation to it.”37 Duff also exonerated Crerar for selecting the Royal Rifles of Canada and Winnipeg Grenadiers as “I can perceive no ground upon which the propriety of his decision to accept the advice of his professional adviser can be justly criticized.”38

As for the training levels of the extra men added to “C” Force’s units, the Chief Justice “found that the inclusion of this small percentage of men was not the result of any shortage of fully trained men in Canada. It arose from the necessity of obtaining the men with great speed and secrecy and the impracticability in the time available of selecting them from a larger number of training centres.”39 Duff also concluded that it was not unfair that these extra men had been added to “C” Force.40 Duff noted that if weapons shortages were reason enough for the Royal Rifles or Grenadiers to be excluded from going to Hong Kong, then no battalions in Canada could have been chosen.41

Duff only faulted the Quartermaster-General’s Branch for it could have done more to ensure that “C” Force’s transport had arrived at Vancouver in time to be loaded onto the Awatea. But while Duff criticized Spearing for lacking the energy required in wartime, he ruled that the troops had not suffered from a lack of transportation during the battle. To justify this claim, a large part of the appendix was devoted to examining the extra space on the Awatea. Duff concluded that while bureaucratic bungling was at fault, ultimately, the effect of the lack of motor transport on “C” Force could not be known, a contradictory conclusion that demonstrated the Inquiry’s true goal was to avoid blaming King’s government.42 The conclusion that Canadian troops did not suffer from lack of transport deviated from the evidence presented at the Inquiry. For example, a telegram from Hong Kong sent to National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) in Ottawa on 13 December 1941 stated that nearly all carriers and all armoured cars had been evacuated from the mainland to the island, demonstrating their importance to the garrison.43 NDHQ was informed the following day that “Chinese labour situation grave and majority of mechanical transport drivers deserted.”44 These desertions severely hampered the transportation plans that relied on local Chinese labour, as there were not enough drivers from the garrison to assume such roles. A telegram from the 22nd read “water and transport situation critical.”45 Another telegram from 24 December asserted “troops now very tired. Water and transport situation still very grave.”46 Duff clearly had ignored this evidence when he concluded that the lack of transportation had not hurt the Canadian troops. Indeed, blaming the Quartermaster- General’s Branch was Duff’s easiest option as Ralston had made changes in the Branch in January 1942.

Duff also blamed Britain for the intelligence failure at Hong Kong because “the Canadian Government, having no sources of its own of military information in the Far East, naturally and necessarily relied upon the Government of the United Kingdom for advice as to the military and diplomatic situation there.”47 As we have seen in Chapter 3, this was not the case. Historian Edward F. Bush has argued that “Duff’s Report contended that Canada had no contacts in the Orient, and so was utterly dependent on British intelligence, from which no forewarnings had come concerning the imminence of war in the Far East. This defence really amounted, in essence, to laying the blame at Britain’s door, on the premise that the colony was indefensible.”48 While Duff helped to deflect blame for Hong Kong, he made important points about the decision to reinforce that stand the test of hindsight. The maintenance of peace, while it failed, was worth seeking:

But these events of December cannot, of course, invalidate the grounds of the decision of the Canadian Government in September to accept a share of the responsibility for strengthening the garrisons of the Pacific, as Australia had accepted a share in strengthening the forces at Singapore: that the despatch to Hong Kong of a reinforcement of one or two battalions would increase the strength of the garrison out of all proportion to the numbers of the reinforcements; that it would have a powerful moral influence on the whole of the Far East and thereby might have a sensible effect in maintaining peace; would reassure the Chinese as to the British intention to hold Hong Kong; would give fresh evidence of the solidarity of the British Commonwealth; that to gain time was all important.

Duff offered a conclusion that still holds true today: “Statesmen and soldiers can properly be held accountable for a reasonably capable practical judgement as to such probabilities, but not on the assumption that they must have had anterior knowledge of subsequent events.”49 Despite the many issues with Duff’s handling of the Inquiry, he offered prudent insights about the vital importance of context.

Duff’s Legacy

Like much else surrounding the Battle of Hong Kong, Lyman Duff’s legacy was negatively influenced by his participation. However, unlike numerous other individuals, Duff’s tarnishing was well deserved for Duff’s findings were deliberately biased for he arrived at his conclusions due to his support for King and his dislike of Drew. Writing to Drew before the release of Duff’s Report, Hanson—displaying a naiveté about Duff and the government’s power over him—did “not believe the Chief Justice would be influenced by them but he may have been after an examination of some of the documents.”50 Williams claimed that Duff’s political affiliation made him biased. Initially appointed to the Supreme Court by Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1906, Duff was chosen to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in early 1933.51 For many years, Duff’s political affiliation was listed in Who’s Who as Liberal. Williams has argued that King chose Duff because of his support of the Liberal Party. Duff coordinated with both King and Ralston to choose his counsel, a highly partisan action. As Williams has highlighted, “In a real sense, it was the government and the army that were on trial, and for a judge to consult one of the accused before appointing counsel for the prosecution is nothing short of extraordinary. King had not misplaced his confidence. The explanation, of course, was that Duff was not impartial, something that King realized full well.” Finally, Williams concluded that while Duff’s political views did not influence his Supreme Court decisions, they did so during the Hong Kong Inquiry.52 Kenneth Campbell, Duff’s private secretary for several years, was “certain that the report, which completely exonerated the government from any blame in the unfortunate affair, represented Sir Lyman’s unbiased appreciation of all of the evidence presented to him.”53 Of course, such a statement must be viewed critically given the close relationship between Campbell and Duff.

Duff’s dislike of Drew also played a role in his report. Drew and Duff had many sharp exchanges given Drew’s displeasure with Duff’s procedural choices. For example, when Drew asked General Kenneth Stuart about the cables that had been included as exhibits, Duff chastised Drew for wasting time with such a question. Rejoining that the process being followed was wasting time, Drew asked Stuart the same question. But after Stuart answered that there was no way for him to know that, Duff responded that that answer was to be expected.54 On 12 June King recorded that Duff privately spoke ill of Drew’s behaviour during the Inquiry and revealed that he had shown great restraint by not having Drew removed from the courtroom.55 On 8 April 1942, King recorded that Duff had his mind made up about how to complete his Hong Kong report before the counsels made their oral arguments.56 While Duff’s supporters have praised his ability to remain impartial, the evidence does not support this conclusion. In fact, displaying disinterest in the Inquiry, Duff had wanted to finish the matter as soon as possible. As a result of his apathy, the legacy of the Battle of Hong Kong was negatively influenced for Duff’s summary report left the government vulnerable to allegations of a cover-up.

As Bush has remarked, “never perhaps in our history have the findings of a Royal Commission come under such fire as have those of Sir Lyman Duff on the ill-fated Hong Kong expedition.” Duff’s legacy was damaged by the Inquiry. As Bush lamented, “it was undoubtedly a pity that the Chief Justice was fated to be enmeshed in this maelstrom of an issue so very near the end of his illustrious career. He complained to the Prime Minister that the Toronto Globe & Mail and C.B.C. Radio had cast reflections on his integrity, a radio commentator having observed that it looked as if Drew had been right after all.”57 As Bush concluded, “the tangled and contentious Hong Kong inquiry was the one blot on an otherwise brilliant career; nonetheless, government responsibility for the dispatch of half-trained troops, and evasiveness thereafter in its justification, merit as much criticism as the effort of the Chief Justice, if such it was, to defend its conduct.”58 But Williams, taking a middle course, wrote that Duff was personally affected by “Drew’s charges and the persistent coverage they received made any reference to the Hong Kong affair painful to Duff for as long as he lived.”59 Williams contended that it is difficult to reach one conclusion about Duff: “To chronicle the contradictions is to wonder whether in his the case the appearance was reality.” Williams found that Duff “professed to be impartial, but he could not always submerge his political loyalties.”60 The Hong Kong Inquiry was one clear example of Duff’s inability to put aside his political views. Canadian legal historian Blake Brown has offered a stark conclusion about Duff’s legacy: “Critics have also pointed to Duff’s alcoholism, his alleged partiality in the Hong Kong inquiry, and the Supreme Court’s racist judgments regarding Canadians of Chinese and African descent during his tenure.”61 While Duff is best known for gaining legal independence for Canada from Britain, his politically motivated conclusions about Hong Kong tainted his legacy.62

Charges against George Drew

As Clutterbuck told the Dominions Office, “in view of decisive terms of report I find it hard to think that Hong Kong disaster can yield much further political capital for Opposition.”63 But some of the Opposition’s political capital was created when King’s government charged George Drew on 3 July 1942 for unlawfully making “a statement or reference with respect to the Report of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong likely to prejudice the recruiting of His Majesty’s Forces, contrary to the Defence of Canada Regulations...”64 The charges stemmed from Drew’s public assertion on 5 June 1942 that Duff was ignoring evidence and reaching conclusions without evidence, and that the proceedings were held in camera to allow Duff to reach the conclusions desired by King’s government. Drew also wanted the various telegrams sent to Canada by Britain about the Hong Kong reinforcement to be released, a request that had been refused on the grounds that Britain would not grant permission.65 On 2 July 1942, King confided in his diary that there were nefarious motivations behind the charges:

Also, question of considering whether it was wise to proceed with prosecution against Drew. A good many feel a mistake has been made. [Minister of Justice Louis] St. Laurent, however, seemed to take the suggestion much to heart. He felt that any action by the government would be, so far as he was concerned, a spanking in public. He pointed out that an effort was being made to link the Drew matter with that he had said in the H. of C. and to find a way to get him out of the government, as the same forces were always trying to do with me. It is clear that he preferred to have the prosecution proceed. I confess I was surprised how much he took the matter to heart, but it is clear the injustice of the criticism of the press has gotten a little under his skin.66

The charges were subsequently dropped on 10 July 1942 when Crown prosecutor D.L. McCarthy contended that the release of Duff’s Report co0mpromised the standard of law that required silence about ongoing cases.67 Told by Louis St. Laurent that the charges were withdrawn, King was “greatly relieved that the Drew charge is being withdrawn, not because it is not thoroughly desirable but we would not get justice and the whole position would be reverted.”68 King’s desire to see Drew charged and then his support for a quick reversal highlights that these charges were intended to scare Drew, a politically motivated misuse of the criminal justice system by King.

Responding to these charges, Drew wrote two letters to King, on 11 and 16 July 1942, expressing his disagreement with Duff’s conclusions. King recorded his disgust with Drew’s letters:

Then read a letter received during the day from Colonel Drew, of Toronto, regarding the Hong Kong enquiry, a perfectly appalling communication attacking the Chief Justice, insinuating he had used part of the evidence and concealed other parts in order to make a finding which was not in accordance with the facts. All kinds of extreme language charging St. Laurent with using mounted police in a manner which was prostituting the force, etc. I have never read a more extreme or dangerous type of letter.69

Although Drew released his long letter of the 11th to the press, censors blocked its publication.70 Explaining his motivations for taking part in the Inquiry to R.B. Hanson on 11 July, Drew alleged “I also believe that in view of the fact that this was a public Inquiry and that in effect I was counsel for the public, it is my duty to make the facts available to the other parties in the Opposition.” Drew rejected claims that his letters contained any information that might aid the enemy: “The truth is that any evidence that was really secret was kept from the Inquiry.”71 But as Drew had made his leader’s political position difficult, Hanson gave Drew a dressing down for giving information to M.J. Coldwell, leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and John Horne Blackmore, head of the Social Credit Party. As Hanson wrote, “you will allow me to say that you did not represent the public. You were appointed by the Chief Justice on my nomination and you represented me, as the one asking for the inquiry—not the public. Necessarily, you put forward the point of view of the public but that is quite another thing from saying that you represented the public.”72 This exchange demonstrated that the Conservative Party, far from acting in good faith to better the Canadian Army, desired only to attack King.

Drew’s letters repeated many of the same arguments that he had made during the Inquiry. In his 11 July letter, Drew stated, “In the meantime Mr. St. Laurent started the proceedings against me which were withdrawn only yesterday. It is not the purpose of this letter to discuss his attempt to suppress the truth by imitating the methods of the Gestapo but the course he followed in my own case throws new light on his earlier conduct which was one of the reasons why I though it was my duty to write to you.” Drew claimed that keeping this information secret would only help the enemy as the Canadian public must know about the state of their armed forces.73 Drew claimed “it is the future, not the past, with which we must now be concerned. It should have been the object of the Commission to point the way to more effective direction of our military effort. That object has been disregarded.” Drew believed the report to be a fraud.74

Drew conceded that some did not desire more discussions on Hong Kong in order to reduce the soldier’s families’ suffering. But he did not believe “the families of the gallant men who went to Hong Kong would wish to have a single fact withheld which could be of use in correcting conditions which otherwise might cause unnecessary grief to the families of other young men….”75 Spending much of the letter objecting to parts of Duff’s Report, Drew also discussed the intricacies of the various weapons used by “C” Force, the lack of vehicles, and the events that led to the Canadian despatch of troops to Hong Kong. Drew was particularly focused on a telegram from 24 October 1941 that supposedly “stated in explicit terms that the time had come to reckon with the possibility of an early attack” by Japan.76 But the telegram in question did not provide the information that Drew claimed. Instead, it detailed a fall of the Japanese government and stated that “the Washington conversations and the conduct of affairs has been put into extremist hands.” There was concern of an attack on Thailand or the Soviet Union “in the fairly new future.” It was recommended that economic sanctions against Japan continue and that the United States be left to continue its talks with Japan in the hopes of avoiding war in the Pacific.77 However, official Canadian Army historian C.P. Stacey disagreed with Drew, for “the documents were far from creditable to British Intelligence, but they did nothing to support Mr. Drew’s overheated imaginings…”78

Drew castigated King for “C” Force’s October 1941 departure for “there should, therefore, be no delay in correcting the wholly unjust and utterly unwarranted impression conveyed by the Commissioner’s Report that the Canadian Government, having relied upon the Government of Great Britain, received no warning of the impending danger...”79 Drew concluded his letter by asserting:

I wish to refer to the strange suggestion that there is something improper about criticism of this Report…This is the report of a Commissioner and his report is entitled to no special respect simply because the Commissioner on other occasions occupies a judicial position. But even if it were the finding of a judge sitting as a judge, I need hardly point out that British jurisprudence has never accepted the doctrine of judicial infallibility.

Despite the charges against him, Drew did not intend to stop his criticism or restrain his comments simply because Chief Justice Duff presided over the Inquiry.80 Drew made clear that he would criticize the government moving forward, wielding Duff’s Report as a new weapon in his arsenal.

The issue of the 24 October telegram formed the basis of Drew’s 16 July letter to King. Drew believed that the change of Japan’s government on 16 October 1941 had constituted a “warning of war,” and “there could be nothing to excuse the government of Canada or the senior officers, if they took no steps to review the situation, in the light of that completely changed situation.”81 Drew was convinced King had erred by ignoring the warning and that “It would offend every principle of decency, of justice, and of common sense, if the existence of a message which gave clear and explicit warning, were to be hidden under a veil of secrecy when its disclosure is absolutely necessary if there is to be any clear understanding of what took place.”82 Calling the whole Inquiry into question given the early war warning message, Drew charged that “it is time to take off this veil and colour of words which make a show of being something, but which in fact are nothing.”83 Duff had wanted to include a portion of the 19 September request but the British government denied permission.84 However, Drew’s attempt to influence King failed. By the end of July 1942, King hoped that the Hong Kong Inquiry was complete and “from now on, emphasis should and will be placed on the heroism of our men.”85 Drew may have sincerely desired to expose the truth about Hong Kong in order to help the Canadian war effort. But as a hypocritical man, Drew’s claims ring hollow for he used “C” Force’s fate to score political points.

Press Reaction to the Inquiry

The Canadian press’s reaction to the Hong Kong Inquiry was mixed for attacks upon King and defences of Drew abounded. The press coverage of the Inquiry played a crucial early role in forming impressions of the Inquiry and therefore influencing the battle’s legacy. The charges against Drew resulted in the propagation of zombie myths about Hong Kong taking root in the Canadian collective memory of the battle. Initially, the press praised the Inquiry. King was applauded by an editorial in The Globe and Mail for his decision to make the Inquiry a judicial and not a parliamentary process: “The proceedings of such a committee, in which there would have been a partisan majority, could scarcely have failed to produce a series of unpleasant wrangles and evolve an unsatisfactory report.” The decision to have both the government and the opposition represented by counsel was commended as it “…indicates creditable determination to court the fullest possible inquiry.” Moreover, “By arranging for a judicial inquiry Mr. King has chosen the best method of allaying this disquietude [from the Canadian public], and it is also the method fairest to the Ministers and military chiefs whose reputations are involved. His decision should have the approval of all parties and of the whole Canadian people.”86 The Manitoban, the University of Manitoba newspaper, used the Inquiry to raise questions about Royal Commissions more generally and to back them for they were educational for students.87

Once Duff’s Report was issued and the charges against Drew filed, opinion turned against King and his government. A 22 July 1942 Georgetown Herald editorial directed at the government’s treatment of George Drew opined that “we are not well enough versed in the technicalities of politics to appreciate whether or not Colonel Drew was legally correct in wishing to reveal certain aspects of the Hong Kong investigation, but we do know that the way in which our government has handled the whole affair must be providing many a juicy morsel for digestion in the Nazi propaganda machine.” The editors questioned the decision to charge Drew as he had much sympathy in the court of public opinion. Thus, the quick dropping of charges without allowing Drew to speak to the accusations “most certainly carries with it the implication that the whole prosecution was a blunder. The face of our government must have been very red.”88 But King also received sympathy for the Drew situation. La Gazette du Nord based in Amos, Québec, contended “il y aura sans doute un débat sur l’expédition de Hong-Kong, le rapport de l’enquête Duff, les vues du colonel Drew et le retrait de la poursuite prise contre ce dernier. Les journaux tories cherchent à faire une grosse affaire de ce qu’ils appellant la bévue capitale du gouvernement et en particulier du minister de la Justice. Evidemment, la tâche de gouverner un pays comme le Canada n’est pas facile.”89 Le Devoir critiqued King’s concession to the Conservatives about Drew’s appointment: “Chaque fois que M. King veut apaiser les impérialistes et les conscriptionnistes, en leur faisant des concessions, il se fait prendre au piège. Quand on traite avec certains adversaires, c’est folie que vouloir les apaiser.”90

The Montreal Gazette ran several editorials following the release of the Duff Report. The editors sang the praises of Drew on 6 June, calling him “a man outstanding in Canadian public life.”91 Another Gazette article that day argued that “the responsibility of the Duff Commission was either to assign blame for the botch or to explain what circumstances created the misleading impression. Sir Lyman’s report does neither. It simply asserts—‘I am satisfied’….that no fault was committed by anyone. Canadian confidence in the good judgement of our Chief Justice is or was, very high, but it was never as high as all that.”92

Offering harsh criticism toward King, Duff, and the report on 20 July 1942, The Winnipeg Tribune proclaimed that “the case of the suppressed DREW letter goes far beyond Col. George Drew and far even, beyond Hong Kong.” The Tribune called for the government to give the Canadian people assurance that the mistakes learned during the Inquiry would be applied for the betterment of the Canadian Army. As for releasing Drew’s letter publicly, the article opined “the fact is that there has been a series of on again, off again, somersaults by the government which arouse grave misgivings.” The editorial closed with the following: “Indeed, public confidence had been thoroughly undermined by the government’s whole performance. That is why it is imperative that there should be an open inquiry into the Hong Kong expedition and into the whole situation relating to the training and equipment of our troops in Canada.”93

On 20 July, The Tribune also published pieces from other Canadian newspapers that had commented on the King-Drew affair. Despite The Tribune’s anti-King stance, it ran many pro- King editorials in this section. The Lethbridge Herald, for example, argued that “Col. Drew is haunting the headlines again, charging the Canadian government and military leaders with gross inefficiency in not a sending a properly trained and equipped force to help the British in Hong Kong. With hindsight to help him he is making out what appears to him to be a wonderful case against the Ottawa government.” The Herald, sarcastically citing Drew’s use of hindsight, asserted that “if Col. Drew knew he should have told the President of the United States. Then Pearl Harbor might never have happened. There might still be peace in the Pacific had Col. Drew’s foresight been as good as his hindsight.” The Toronto Star noted that “Colonel Drew’s letter, in the form in which it was written, was in our opinion extremely partisan in its point of view and unfair to the commissioner, who is chief justice of Canada and who, in imposing secrecy, was following powers granted him by order-in-council and, more important, was carrying out the conditions imposed by the British government.” The Montreal Star agreed for “the insistent demand, however, made by Col. Drew and those who support him that the government of Canada break with the government of Great Britain and make public secret documents is of course not to be thought of for a moment by anybody seized of what national honor means.” 94

Not all editorials praised King. As The Globe and Mail hyperbolically stated, “After the people rose in their wrath it was announced that the prosecution [of Drew] was withdrawn so that Parliament could debate Hong Kong.” The paper claimed that if King kept the facts of Hong Kong secret, “it is the final step in the death of freedom in Canada.” The Montreal Gazette argued that Hong Kong’s whole must be told to improve the Canadian war effort. The Windsor Star contended that the Drew letter must be made public for “the whole circumstances’ surrounding the strange procedure suggest a last-minute scurrying about on the part of Government for excuses to keep from the public eye information which the people should have.”95

A change of opinion by the editor of Toronto Saturday Night magazine was one of the more interesting turns in the Drew letter saga. On 18 July 1942, in support of King, its editors wrote:

We are not disposed to censure the Government for its attitude on the secrecy of the Hong Kong evidence. Opponents of the Government—and since it is a party Government it naturally has opponents—profess to believe that there cannot possibly have been anything in that evidence which it would do the enemy any good to know. This, as we have already noted, appears to us to be highly improbable, considering that the subject-matter of the inquiry must have ranged over the whole field of Canadian military preparation, transport facilities, training operating, equipment and so forth.

Toronto Saturday Night rejected Drew’s position, “which is in effect that the Commissioner must have been either senile or excessively partisan, and we doubt whether any large part of the electorate accepts it either.” Instead, contending that even if the Canadian troops had been better trained and equipped, Hong Kong still would have fallen, they castigated “the irresponsible sob- sisters of journalism who write as if somebody in Ottawa were responsible for the illnesses and deaths among the Canadian prisoners now in the hands of the Japanese are doing no good to Canadian morale or Canadian common sense.”96

But two days later Toronto Saturday Night, editor B.K. Sandwell, changed his mind about the Drew situation after reading a summary of Drew’s letter to King. An editorial appeared in The Winnipeg Tribune on 20 July as Sandwell wanted his change of heart published as soon as possible. Sandwell now believed “that the future liberty of the press in Canada will depend very largely upon the attitude taken by the proprietors and editors of the important daily newspapers in regard to the suppression by the censor of the abbreviated text of Colonel Drew’s letter to the Prime Minister on the Hong Kong Report, which is now in their hands.” As for the assertion that Drew’s letter could not be published lest it damage Canadian morale or provide information to the enemy, Sandwell did “not think that anybody who has seen the abbreviated text would hold that it ought to be suppressed for either of these reasons.” Revising his views about public opinion, Sandwell argued that “if the press of Canada ‘goes to the mat’ with the censorship on this matter, it will have the support of a very large and influential body of public opinion and will add materially to the respect and confidence in which it is held by the Canadian people.”97

In another Toronto Saturday Night editorial several days later, averring that his original position “was based entirely” on the fact that Drew’s letter might contain information that could help the enemy, after reading the summary, he no longer accepted that claim. Asserting that the British refusal to publish this information was “one of the commonest devices of governments seeking to evade responsibility at home,” Sandwell believed “we have not the slightest doubt that the Canadian government could secure the permission of the British government to reveal everything in Colonel’s Drew letter in five minutes...,” Sandwell was overconfident in British openness in relation to documentation surrounding Hong Kong. As will be noted in the next two chapters, Sandwell provided an early example for the belief that a conspiracy surrounded the Hong Kong episode when he mentioned that the censor had forbidden any details not found in the Duff Report from being published: “Nothing could be more exactly calculated to give the Canadian public the idea that there is much in the Hong Kong evidence that the government is desperately anxious to hide.”98 Sandwell’s assertions had some validity for King was desperate to restrain all Hong Kong discussions, while British resistance played a major role in preventing the release of documents, a fight that lasted many more years.


The Hong Kong Inquiry arose when several individuals used the Battle of Hong Kong to achieve their own ends. While it seemed initially that Ralston was genuinely motivated to improve the state of the Quartermaster-General’s Branch, his investigation into the transport issues ended quickly and punished few officials. Duff’s complete exoneration of the King government and his placing of the blame on the Quartermaster-General’s Branch lends some credence to the claims that the Inquiry was a whitewash. Although Duff reached some proper conclusions in his report despite himself, he was wrong about the transportation issue and placing the blame for the intelligence failure on the British government. But Duff was right about training and weapons practice issues. The Inquiry came about because while King wanted the Hong Kong episode to disappear, he could not avoid it due to the pressure applied by the political opposition. In the aftermath of Duff’s Report, Drew and King squared off for another round in their long-running feud. Drew’s letters and actions and the King government’s clumsy handling of the charges against him are evidence of this opportunism. While Drew’s letter to Hanson demonstrates that Drew might have genuinely wanted to aid the war effort, Hanson’s response shows that Drew’s sincerity, if it existed, counted for little in any case. When other works discuss the Inquiry the focused is on individuals and the context of the battle, government policy, and the reasons for the reinforcement are often ignored. This dissertation’s new approach to the Inquiry offers an original approach. The coverage of Canadian press reactions to the Inquiry is also new. King’s desire to minimize attention paid to the Hong Kong episode by holding the Inquiry failed as the issues of government transparency and maintaining wartime secrecy dominated the discussion. British resistance to the release of documents ensured that political debates about the Battle of Hong Kong continued into the postwar period.