|The cries of cowardice ring hollow given that this ship and crew were quite good and valued. They were still learning on the job while on station but were doing quite well and the Brits wanted the ship to stay.|
But there were problems between the Canadian forces and their government.
Most of the Canadian forces in all three services were made up of volunteers. It was only near the end of the war that conscripted men, and very few of those, were sent to the army in NW Europe.
The AF and the Navy were all volunteers who, along with the army had to be asked to continue to fight in the Pacific war.
I have told this story before but quickly, my father finished the war in Wilhelmshaven. He was denied passes to town and was quite bored. The men had been told that if they wanted a 30 day leave at home, all they had to do was sign up for the Pacific war. Dad eventually stopped an officer and asked about the deal. The officer reached inside his coat and produced a document and a pass to town.
"Sign here", he said and shortly my father was on his way home. The bomb was dropped on Japan when he was a day out of Halifax so he never had to go, thank goodness.
The crew of Uganda also had to be asked to volunteer which is a little ironic, considering that they were already in combat in the Pacific.
The crew wanted to know why they were being asked to volunteer again because they had already volunteered when they enlisted.
As well, they would have been entitled to 30 days at home BEFORE deployment. But they were already deployed so the whole situation was confusing to them.
The Canadian government was in conflict with the British who were trying to cobble together the British Pacific Fleet. PM Mackenzie King told that British that Canada would,
"decide ourselves what contribution we would make toward the Japanese war."
The RAF and the FAA were full of Canadian pilots and crews who were already fighting against the Japanese.
So here we had a nation that wanted to assert itself but had already lost control of thousands of its personnel who were serving with the RN and the RAF and the FAA.
The government also did not want the one RCN vessel to work with the RN, preferring that it support the USN.
PM King to the British:
I said we were co-operating together on the sea in the Pacific. Our men had been fighting with the Americans in Alaska and along the Pacific Coast, and their airmen protecting parts of our coast.
It might be thought wise in the strategy of war for us to continue in that way, when attacking ￼Japan.
I also said our armed forces had been co-operating with the Americans in the attack on Kiska. We had all combined together there. I assumed we had to consider this aspect in the war against Japan.
It was felt that Canadian sovereignty was best furthered by distancing the country from Britain and aligning with the Americans.
Britain was apoplectic. Canada eventually agreed to work with the British but only after being assured that the RCN would not be supportive of British colonialism in the Indian ocean.
PM King was being deliberately vague with his statements regarding the Pacific. He did not wish to create a conscription crisis in the navy and so announced that only GS volunteers would be drafted for duty in the Pacific. It is worth noting that an election was on the horizon and King was a political survivor of some skill in that regard.
So the government was in a quandary as it was not sure how to define a "volunteer" and only volunteers would go to the Pacific. Not even former zombies who had gone active would be sent against their will to any army that went to the Pacific.
The cabinet decided not to mention conscription in its announcements about the Pacific War.
These navy, army and air force contingents will be formed in part from personnel now serving abroad and in part from personnel now training in Canada. It is not intended to detail men for service in the Pacific. This applies to general service personnel as well as to all others. The men to make up whatever military force is to be employed against Japan will be chosen from those who elect to serve in the Pacific theatre.
No one serving in the European theatre will proceed to the Pacific without first having the opportunity of coming home. All personnel returning from abroad will be granted thirty day's disembarkation leave, in addition to any normal leave to which they may become entitled during their period of duty in Canada while the several forces are being reorganized.
Here is where it gets interesting. Angus Macdonald, Minister of the Navy was asked about the status of men already in the Pacific, which was of course, HMCS Uganda.
Initially Macdonald said that they were all volunteers but he added:
That ship has been in commission now for six months, and I should think that during the summer or fall, assuming the European war to be over, if some men on board the Uganda feel they should return home, we would allow them to do so if we felt that we could replace them. Perhaps I should not make that broad statement, but I should think very sympathetic consideration would be given any man on the Uganda who, having put in a year of service on that ship, and the European war being over, wished to return to civilian life. I think such a request would be very carefully and sympathetically dealt with.
The Canadian navy was not caught short in this matter and it determined to ask the men to volunteer.
It is therefore necessary for all repetition all personnel to state whether or not they are willing to volunteer for service in the Far East. ...
Any who do not volunteer or who do volunteer but are not selected for service in the Pacific Theatre, will continue to serve as required elsewhere subject to eventual release....
Commanding officers are to explain the situation, and give all officers and ratings an opportunity to sign the following undertaking.
"I hereby volunteer for service in the war against Japan and agree to serve in the Pacific Theatre and/or any other theatre for the duration of hostilities should my services be so required.
There were rumblings that the RCN would NOT be able to raise the necessary number of volunteers.
And officers, who were assigned to squeeze the ratings to volunteer protested that his was duty unbecoming of an RCN naval officer. Nor did they wish to sign themselves, seeing the act as a request to attest to their loyalty once again.
Some demanded that they be ordered to the Pacific to serve, as they had already volunteered to do so. They put it back on the government.
Crews of RCN vessels had other concerns:
1. Having already fought the war that they had volunteered for, they had assured wives and loved ones that they would be coming home.
2. Concern for employment. If they volunteered, those who did not volunteer would be getting all of the good jobs.
Anyway, the war in Europe ended and Uganda, the only RCN vessel that was a long way from port, received a message:
"Do you volunteer to fight against the Japanese?"
Even Commander Mainguy thought that this was stupid. His ship was on station and fighting the Japanese.
The crew wasn't mollified by the promise of 30 days leave. They weren't stupid. When was that supposed to happen?
Permanent force men, those few, felt that they should continue.
The reservists had the attitude that if they weren't really needed, then what the hell were they doing there.
Mainguy mishandled the situation on board ship. At first he just asked those who didn't want to volunteer to hand in their names and he said that they would be dropped off in port as soon as possible. The crew seemed OK with that but then Mainguy was ordered to conduct a full vote to determine who was IN FAVOUR of staying on board ship.
There is much conjecture over the speech that Mainguy made to the crew. Some say that he told them that he would have little respect for them if they decided to leave while the ship was in combat.
Others say that he called them "four flushers and cowards".
So the crew of Uganda got their noses out of joint.
Some said that if the government wanted them to fight then they should order them to stay on station. If the government thought that it could put the decision on the backs of the crew, then they would exercise their vote as they saw fit.
The response was "screw you."
Then it was back to port at Esquimalt to take on a new draft.
An article on the event:
Things aren't always what they seem.