11.28.12

Canada Comes to the Rescue of Great Britain, Again

As many of them did in the Second World War and, more recently, to save British newspapers, a Canadian is coming to the rescue of the Mother Country with the appointment of Mark Carney as governor of the Bank of England. Andrew Roberts on why the English-speaking peoples stick together in tough times.

Canada to the rescue! (Yet again.) The appointment of Mark Carney, a Canadian born in the Northwest Territories, a former Goldman Sachs executive, and presently governor of the Bank of Canada, to the post of governor of the Bank of England, is yet another example of that country coming to Britain’s aid in its hour of need. It is also an eloquent testimony to how the Anglosphere—or what Winston Churchill called “the English-speaking peoples”—continues to work for their mutual benefit, but especially for Britain’s.

Prof Sir Mervyn King, the present Governor of the Bank of England, will be a hard act to follow. Intelligent, decisive, outspoken, and yet almost preternaturally calm, he saw the Bank through its toughest time since the Great Depression. Many—perhaps most—of his key decisions were controversial and politically sensitive, and financial historians will debate them for generations to come, but it must be recognized that Britain is doing better than most of the other Eurozone countries, and has paid off a quarter of its debt, which is largely thanks to him and the chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Now Osborne has chosen a Canadian above any of a long list of Britons to take over the Bank when King retires in July. The Labour Party was dumbfounded when the choice was announced in the House of Commons, as Carney had not appeared on any of the lists of people considered to be in the running. Yet history is replete with examples of Canadians stepping forward to help out what used to be called “the Mother Country,” especially in moments of difficulty and danger. 

During the Boer War, Canadians flocked to the colours to defend the British Empire. In the First World War they captured and then defended Vimy Ridge on the Western Front, albeit at a terrible cost in lives. In the course of that battle, Canadian artillerymen invented the concept of the “creeping barrage,” by which bombardments were inched forward from trench to trench, a tactic that revolutionized overall strategy. In May 1940 the only fully-armed units guarding London from a German invasion during the retreat from Dunkirk were two Canadian divisions. During the amphibious Dieppe Raid of August 1942 it was the Canadians who were sacrificed, with 3,500 killed, wounded, or captured out of the 5,100 men who took part. In per capita terms, Canada contributed far more to Britain in Lend-Lease even than the United States, and at one point at the end of the War, the Royal Canadian Navy was the third biggest in the world, so large had it become keeping the sea routes to Britain open, thus saving the Mother Country from being starved to death during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Individual Canadians have also made enormous contributions to British public life; Andrew Bonar Law grew up in New Brunswick, but became prime minister of Britain in 1922. Once Churchill installed Max Beaverbrook, who was born in Ontario, as minister of aircraft production in May 1940, Spitfires and Hurricanes came off the British production lines at a hugely increased rate, testament to his can-do spirit and refusal to brook bureaucratic holdups. The other great Canadian press barons, Lord Thomson of Fleet and Lord (Conrad) Black of Crossharbour, were also huge contributors to British public life, the latter saving the esteemed Telegraph titles from bankruptcy. Mark Carney thus steps into a breach packed with historical precedent, the latest Canadian to use his expertise to help out Britain when the Mother Country called and hopefully writing a successful new chapter to the history of the English-speaking peoples.