Determination. We hear that word often in sports and in business. But what does it mean when it comes to saving lives? Amid harsh, rainy weather conditions on April 29, 1945 on an airfield in Great Britain, we found out.
It was World War II. A flight crew of seven boarded a Royal Air Force plane on a mission. Five of the men were from Ontario, Canada. One of them, the pilot, Robert Upcott of Windsor, made final preparations for take-off.
Only these men were not taking part in an enemy raid. They were on a mission to bring food to starving people in Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Millions of Dutch citizens were enduring what is known as “The Hunger Winter” of 1944-1945, as they awaited the final defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allied Forces.
Plans were in place to air drop food to save lives. This first mission opened the door to a massive food relief operation. It was not only by plane, but later via truck convoys. Canadian forces were a huge part of the Allied effort to feed and liberate the starving Dutch.
A convoy of trucks of Allied food supplies moving into German-occupied territory along the road from Wageningen to Rhenan, Netherlands, 3 May 1945. (Credit: Capt. Alex M. Stirton / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-134419)
The heroism of Canadians during the war continued in the aftermath. For even though the fighting between enemy armies had ceased, hunger still ravaged Europe and other areas.
Famine was the gathering storm after the war. Food supplies were running low. Starvation potentially awaited 800 million. Canada played a crucial supporting role to the United States in fighting this most powerful of all enemies: hunger.
Herbert Hoover was appointed by President Truman as a food ambassador with one simple goal: to “master the famine.” He toured 38 nations and rallied and coordinated food supplies to avert disaster. When Hoover arrived in Canada on June 28, 1946, he acknowledged the help he had received from Canada.
Hoover said, “It gives to me the opportunity to pay tribute to the magnificent service Canada has given to the world. To Canada flows the gratitude of hundreds of millions of human beings who have been saved from starvation through the efforts of this Great Commonwealth of the North.”
Hoover went on to urge the rehabilitation of children in his speech in Canada. Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King backed him up. This determination helped lead to a UN resolution establishing UNICEF—the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. This was critical for the recovering nations that had just escaped a famine but had more hurdles to climb, as drought descended upon them the following year.
UNICEF to this day is helping children all over the globe. Together with its counterpart, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), it is spearheading an effort to feed over 11 million people in the famine-ravaged Horn of Africa.
Children in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and other parts of the region are at grave risk of malnutrition. Thousands of children have already been lost. But many can still be saved, if the world does not turn away.
Jessica Mony of UNICEF writes, “It’s difficult for us to keep looking at the news reports of the famine that has just today been declared. When water comes from the turn of a tap and food means a short trip to the supermarket, the food crisis feels so far away. But for the mothers who have to look into their babies’ glazed, vacant eyes every day, hug them and try to comfort them as they starve, the famine is so close.”
So much is going to be needed to save lives over this period of famine and drought. UNICEF, WFP, and other aid agencies will require more resources than they currently have to fight this famine.
Kimberly Moran of UNICEF Canada reports in the Winnipeg Press that donations are coming in and she believes her country will rise to the challenge of this new famine.
The “Great Commonwealth of the North” is once again called upon to save lives and master a famine.