By Terry Reardon
TORONTO, October 12, 2011—Sixty Five Members and Guests of ICS Canada attended an “Evening With Sir Winston” at the historic Albany Club of Toronto. The theme of the event was “Churchill’s Deadly Decision,” which concerned the July 3rd attack on the French Navy. Three speakers addressed themselves to the operation. Dr Eric McGeer spoke of the terrible dilemma facing Churchill. In the summer of 1940 France had signed an armistice with Germany. This agreement stated that the French Fleet “shall be collected in ports to be specified and there demolished under German and Italian control.” Although the French Admiral Darlan had previously given assurance that he would never allow the Germans to take the ships, Churchill obviously knew that Hitler could not be trusted. With a semi-circle of German occupied countries facing Britain he had to keep control of the English Channel and could not afford to take any chance on the powerful French Fleet being used by the Axis. ICS Canada Director Gord Walker took over detailing the events of July 3rd with an ultimatum given to the French Admirals. They could join Britain in fighting Germany and Italy; sail to a British port or to the West Indies. If these were not acceptable then they had to sink their ships. The main French Fleet was in the harbour of Oran in Algeria and the admiral there, after contacting the Vichy Government, refused any of the options. This resulted in the British Navy firing and sinking or damaging most of the Fleet, with the loss of some 1,300 French sailors. ICS Canada Director Terry Reardon covered the aftermath with Churchill reporting to Parliament the next day
where he received a standing ovation from the MP’s. The action also resulted in President Roosevelt changing his previous negative opinion as to Britain’s chance of survival, and thus the “Leases for Bases” agreement, which gave Britain the much needed fifty WW1 U.S. destroyers. The answer to the question as whether the decision was correct was overwhelmingly in the affirmative. Then followed the showing of an excellent PBS documentary on the same subject. Feedback from the audience was that the evening was one of the most interesting ever presented.