While Lord Alexander bears his duty as Minister of Defense with a soldier's stoicism, they are “homesick" for summers in the surf of Cape Breton, the Calgary Stampede, the big fish of the Yukon and the easy natural flow of Canadian life
NOW THAT Canada’s best-loved governor-general has a new job—that of Defense Minister of Great Britain—you’d think his six Canadian years would fade into a vague memory. But it isn’t like that at all
Viscount Alexander of Tunis often plans a fishing cabin in the Laurentide hills. Lady Alexander talks wistfully of Canadian kitchens. Young Brian only lives for the time when he’s finished with Harrow and can enter McGill. And Rose Alexander, McGill student, spent last summer as an employee of Jasper Park Lodge.
London rain may lash at London squares, but for the Alexanders, in frequent conversations at home and with friends, Canadian sun always shines in Canada. It’s a happy memory.
When the Royal Academy had its spring showing, among the artists accepted for the first time was Lord Alexander. His three paintings showed Canadian views. The significance of this was doublefold. The obvious paintabüity of Canada, and the fact that Canada to him had meant leisure to do what he wanted for the first time in his full and busy life. Canada was the first after-the-war home for the Alexander family. That fact in itself
will always enrich their Canadian memories.
Today, home for the Alexanders is a flat in London’s Belgrax-e Place and a small country house near Chobham. in Surrey. But there is no more leisure in the Canadian way. Lord Alexander works at his job from seven a.m. to late ex’ening. Lady Alexander has again taken up her busy socialservice life. The family is scattered: the box’s, Shane and Brian, at school at Harrow; Rose in Canada, small Susan—xvho came to Canada as a baby in a wicker basket xvhen the Alexanders adopted her at Copyhold, the Surrey house.
The Canadian years in reflection seem noxv. in spite of their official color, a peaceful respite out of the fast scattered tempo of ordinary life. Lady Alexander sax’s, “We are homesick.”
Canada was home, because in Canada for a time, they could be at home and together. That’s how the Alexanders remember Canada.
Many Canadians know the Belgrax-e Place flat already. As Lord Alexander is xxithout question on exerv Canada House reception list, so his own home is without question open to visiting Canadians. The Alexanders’ easy welcome has none of the erstwhile Goxemment House formality. No going through secretaries and aides-de-camp to those friendly, sunlit, floxx-er-filled rooms. It’s an
immediate. "When did you get to London? Come and see us.’’
One dax’. soon after thexhad arrix-ed from Canada, I rang the second-floor doorbell at Belgrax-e Place. Lord Alexander opened the door to Q crowded hallxvay.
Brian, looking his father’s description of “a Canadian boy.” and smiling his father’s lopsided grin. x\-as on his way to a mox-ie. P is speech couldn't hav-e been more Canadian. Shane, x-ery English in contrast, toxvered abox-e his mother. Lady Alexander, in a blouse and plaid skirt, hurried forward with a small xviggling child under her arm.
"Sav hello. Susan." said Lady Alexander, at xvhich the child escaped and ran away screaming.
Out of the hallxvay we xxent through a double door into a small sitting room. "We x\-ere lucky to find this flat.” said the Minister of Defense. "We’ve had to sell the house in the countrv— the one we bought xvhile xve xvere still in Canada. Can’t afford to keep it. It xvould hax’e been all right if we’d just gone there, and I would hax-e farmed it as I intended. But these flats are expensix-e."
Lady Alexander looked out at the chimnex-forested London roofs. "Do you know it’s alreadxeight xveeks since we hax-e been axx-ay from home. Canada, I mean.”
The most homesick of all is Brian. He hates Harrow and goes there only under pressure and the promise that he can take his college years in Canada. “All my friends are there." he says, and he has promised that he'll be back to enter McGill with them.
“It's natural that Brian should be a Canadian boy,” says his father. "After all, he went to Canada when he was six years old and lived there for six vears.” Shane was eleven when the Alexanders came to Canada, was sent to school in England after two years, and knew Canada only during vacations.)
Rose, the absent member of the family, was at McGill last year. She was expected home for the summer. But she wrote that she'd rather go and work at Jasper like the rest of her friends. While her father was still governor-general Rose took a secretarial course and later worked in an Ottawa office. Lord Alexander says: "She's found out she likes independence.”
And so the conversation was well launched into Canadian subjects. There's one big-fish story that Lord Alexander never tires of telling.
It was up in the Yukonand it didn't get away. At the drop of a hat Lord Alexander will tell about the trip—an hour out of White Horse by Dakota into the wilds, two hours by motor boat, two hours by jeep, two hours tramping through woods owned bv vigilant armies of mosquitos, then onward by canoe - but of course the location of that wonderful lake, and the illegally wonderful catch, is a secret. Somebodv else might get there before he gets back. That’s part of Canada for him.
There are also summers at Cape Breton to remember, there is the Calgary Stampede, skiing in the Gatineau Hills, square dancing at Rideau Hall, the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinners. — well-remembered incidents, but not yet conclusions. which only time can draw.
"Oh dear, oh dear." says Lady .Alexander. "The things we remember and will always remember. It’s endless. Canada is like no other place in the world.”
"About Canada you are always conscious of the bigness, the cleanness, the directness, the brightness.” Lord Alexander says. "What we liked speciallv was the way the people took their time to make up their minds about us. And then they judged us as just two people, and took us at our value as such two people. They figured us out everywhere we went. It sounds perhaps a wild statement to make about a nation where we met so many people, but quite sincerely we liked the people we met. They were true.’’
"Life in Canada.” said Lady Alexander, "you know, it is attractive and simple. Things are made easv and natural. Oh. what I would give for a Canadian kitchen!” In fact, Canadian women have collected about nine thousand dollars to send her one.
She added thoughtfully. "I suppose it may have something to do with Canada geographicallv. partlv. It’s a fresh country and unspoiled. Those qualities must be catching as you five with them. All Canadians seem youngeven the older people."
"Nothing at all to criticize?" I asked.
Lord Alexander cocked his eyebrcw and grinned. “Why should I be giving away mv best quotes." he said, as Canadian as could be. "I’m going to write a book as soon as I get the time.”
He is going to write it himself, longhand, word bv word, no ghost writing requested. He says he'll start it from the first memory he has. This was at home in Caledon. Ireland, when he was a very little boy. Somehow, that day he remembers, the whole house seemed in a preoccupied confusion. Feeling lost and alone he wandered the halls and there the family doctor came upon him. "What do you think.'’ said the doctor, hand upon small Harold Alexander's shoulder, "vou have a brother. What shall I do with him?" "Oh. throw him in the Black Water.” said the future field marshal.
“What do you think of that for a beginning of a book?” he demanded. "I don't believe in flashbacks. From there I'm going to go right through my life—Harrow, Sandhurst, the Guards, the First War, the Baltic, Istanbul, the Second V.ar. so on. \\ hen am I Lor.rinued on page 56
Lor.rinued on page 56
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9
going to write it? I was going to get started when we came back from Canada and then the Prime Minister wanted me to do this job. It’s very interesting, but it’s quite a lot of work. So now I have to wait until he either throws me out of the job. or until the Government falls.’’ He grinned suddenly, “Every other general has written a book,” he said.
Some months after this conversation the Alexanders, feeling hemmed-in by the city living in an apartment, found a small old house in pretty, flat Surrey, an hour's drive from London. Copyhold—the name is an archaic legal term meaning freehold—is a red-brick wooden-beamed Tudor cottage in seven acres of rambling woods and gardens. It would be. the country-loving family felt, a nicer place to come home to from school and work, over week ends.
They moved in in midsummer, faced the problems of all English householders. For example, it is quite impossible to get wood in England so Lord Alexander is building bookcases from the wooden packing cases in which his books came from Canada. The Thames is only five miles away and there, now in storage, is a Canadian Peterborough canoe. During the working week only four-and-a-half-yearold Susan and her nanny hold forth there, but during the week ends the old mansion rocks with family merriment. Though, even here, the Minister of Defense works. Week ends are the only time he has time to attend to his private correspondence.
Two stalwart close-mouthed secretaries guard the huge bare offices of the Ministry of Defense. Storey’s Gate, where Lord Alexander is chief. When I went there by appointment he rose from behind a huge desk, sartorially perfect in black coat and striped pants. He explained away his morning elegance. He didn't have any other clothes at Copyhold, having worn the grand regalia for the Eton-Harrow game on Saturday on the way home. “Usually,” he says genially. “I wear an old black coat. It’s more economical. Doesn't wear out my good suits.” He looked out the big windows over St. James's Park. “A ven.paintable view.” he said, regretfully remembering the desk work awaiting.
His working day starts at seven. He breakfasts at the fiat and then takes the comfortable half-an-hour walk across wide windy London squares and gentle tree-shaded St. James's Park to his office. In the mornings he must read reports from all the armed forces, economic and political world news, messages from his opposite numbers in other countries, repons on British forces in action all over the world—in shon everything that’s connected with defense, and almost everything is. There are often cabinet meetings, conferences. or interviews with the Prime Minister. Soon he will have to visit all current war theatres.
At one o'clock he takes half an hour off for lunch. Quite often he has it sent up to his office. He continues working until six or seven in the evening. Then, when he can't avoid it. he has to dine out. make speeches, meet some VIP. or entertain visitors. The Canadian official routine seems simple in contrast.
His mail is stacked with requests for public appearances, from attending sporting events to speaking at dinners. One of these dinners caused his first parliamentary row. It was his afterdinner speech to the Canadian Club in London, in which he said that Britain had not been advised by the U. S. about
the Yalu bombing border incident in Korea. The House of Commons jumped on the cabinet. Winston Churchill probably jumped at Lord Alexander for saying what was true and what he thought. The ruction left him unruffled. “Well,” he remarked, “why not? What could I do about it afterwards? I had said it.”
In the Conservative Party caucuses Lord Alexander has a reputation far bigger than his time in office would indicate. As a member of the Lords he is not allowed in the Commons and therefore it is only in caucus that MPs have a chance to challenge him and his policies face to face. Members of parliament report that when under attack he not only remains bland and untroubled (as Canada knew him) but often with deceptive mildness gives back a thrust as sharply as he gets it.
One MP reported the general opinion in political circles: if the Minister of Defense hadn’t been a peer, and if he had wanted to go into politics seriously, there is no limit to the position he could have reached, judging from his performance even in the short time in which he has been in office.
He writes his own speeches. This is a lifelong practice. Once in Canada he
was asked to write a first-person article, and I suggested. “If you ha%-en’t time for it we could supply some help.” “Anything written under my name,” Lord Alexander said at that time with unusual sharpness. “I write myself.” For a House of Lords speech he gets his information from allpossiblesources, consults experts and his advisers, checks every point, and then sits down to write the thing himself in longhand.
"I couldn't speak if they weren’t my own words.” he says. "One can’t use other persons' phrases. In Canada I must have made hundreds of speeches. Though I didn’t say anything I most certainly wrote every one myself.”
Lord Alexander insists he is not a politician by nature. “I’m here to do a job of work." he told me. His theory about the whole thing is that he is just lucky. "The world doesn't produce supermen.” he says, "but in every age there is a tremendous number of men who are able and capable. Not everyone gets a chance. If I had been born earlier or later would I have been presented with the same opportunities? It wouldn't have been my rime I would have been out of it.”
As a professional soldier Lord Alexander had a reputation for directness and bluntness: these Canada
helped to temper. His own sense of humor helped too. During his six strangely peaceful years as the representative of the King he had to curb his tongue. One time on the MontrealOttawa run his private car at the end of the train got an unmerciful rocking. “What’s the matterwiththat engineer,” the Governor-General snapped after a particularly bad bump had slopped tea on his saucer. And then he grinned, "But I know how to fix him. I won’t smile at him when we leave."
That training serves him now. It’s a help in coping with what he calls "the unpleasant part of public life.” It comes hard to the Minister of Defense, hard-hitting in private conversation. that "people can say all sorts of nasty things about you, and you just have to sit and take it.”
He adds his own happy fillip“But one day I’m going to write a book.” if
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