Canada’s CEF First Contingent, Binoculars, Shovels, Housewives, 1914 Purchase Scandal.

It was in the purchase of binoculars for the officers of the Canadian expeditionary forces that the full effect of the Tory patronage system, with its inevitable middleman, was proved most plainly. When it came to binoculars there was no question of just one middleman-the sworn evidence proves that there had to be two, or three, or even four-and of course everyone of them had to have his “bit.” And it was no small “bit” either, as witness the evidence that one particular pair of glasses were purchased at wholesale by the first man for $9, and finally reached the Government at a net cost of $58. Some profit!


AGENTS PLENTY, BINOCULARS FEW AND OF POOR QUALITY: The investigations of the Public Accounts Committee concerned only one particular lot of 166 glasses. Here is a list of the people concerned in their purchase: First, the Canadian Government, which might just as well have dealt direct with the makers, eliminating all profits and saving the people’s money. Second, Col. Hurdman, the Government inspector. Third, the P. W. Ellis Co. of Toronto, appointed by the Government on the recommendation of Major General Sam Hughes to “supervise” the purchase of binoculars at a fee of 10% of their whole cost. Fourth, T. M. Birkett of Ottawa, son of a former Conservative member of Parliament, and sole director of the Keystone Supply Co. of Ottawa. This company was organized immediately after the Borden Government came into power in 1911 and all it does is to supply goods of all kinds to the Government, which the Government might as well buy direct.


Fifth, Sam Bilsky, a well known and reputable Ottawa jeweller, who offered to supply the Government with all the binoculars it wanted, of standard make, at $45 each, but who had no chance to do business with the Government because he was a Liberal. Sixth, Milton Harris, a New York broker who found the glasses for Bilsky to turn over to Birkett. Seventh, the original makers or importers of the glasses, Bausch & Lomb and other wholesale and retail New York firms, who would have been glad at any stage to sell direct to the Government, at regular wholesale trade prices. And for good measure, it might as well be remembered that Mr. Birkett had a partner, Alex. Taylor, who was supposed to get his share. So, to trace the history of one pair of binoculars; Bausch & Lomb sold to Harris who sold to Bilsky who sold to Birkett who sold to P. W. Ellis & Co. who got the glasses passed by Col. Hurdman who then turned them over to the Government. The sworn evidence showed that.the binoculars cost Birkett and his partners an average of $30. He turned them over to the P. W. Ellis Co. at an average of $52, and the Government paid $58. Bilsky, with whom the Government refused to do business direct, because he was a Liberal, got $5 a glass from Birkett, because Bilsky knew where the glasses could be got and Birkett did not.


BINOCULARS VERY POOR QUALITY: And the worst feature of all was that the binoculars were not of the stipulated quality. Think of that for a moment. They were for the use of officers and on the accuracy and power of the glasses might easily depend the lives of whole companies of Canadian soldiers. Officers use binoculars to keep track of the enemy and to see what is coming. But the safety of Canadian soldiers was secondary to the necessity of giving fat profits to political middlemen. The P. W. Ellis Co. got their job as “supervisors” through Major General Sam Hughes, who bodly defended the whole affair, gloried in the fact that he had given them 10% on all binoculars purchased and even lamented on the witness stand that he was “sorry it was not 20%.” There could be nothing wrong he declared because he “liked the Ellis boys-fine boys-I went to school with them.” And P. W. Ellis boldly testified that he had saved the Government $12,000 by buying the binoculars. But he omitted to add that for this ostensible saving of $12,000, he got $9,000 commission for doing practically nothing, and all his expenses besides! The evidence showed that Ellis never saw most of the glasses that he knew nothing about them until they had been passed by Col. Hurdman for Birkett. And one witness swore that he was. told that Colonel Hurdman was “figured in” at $2 per glass. The public Accounts Committee, in reporting to Parliament on this particular deal, said: “From the evidence it appears a number of binocular glasses were of poor quality, low range and inferior efficiency, but passed inspection and were paid for at excessive prices; and this was due to misrepresentation and inadequate inspection.” The Committee recommended that the matter be turned over to the Department of Justice.



Sam Hughes holding the McAdam shovel Valcartier Camp 1914

Sam Hughes holding the McAdam shovel Valcartier Camp 1914


 The Shield-Shovel:


The above is the story in brief’ of the shield shovels. Lieutenant-Colonel Stoneman of Hamilton claims he is the patentee of this shovel and before the Public Accounts Committee on March 39th, swore, when exhibiting the blue print of t.he pattern of the shIeld shovel, that he had sent a copy of the shIeld shdvel pattern at the beginning of the War to several persons, including Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts and General Hughes, a,nd that he had received an acknowledgment from all of the gentlemen except Major General Sam Hughes. On the witness stand General Hughes stated that his private secretary, Miss McAdam, when in Switzerland had seen the requirements for such a spade and on returning to Canada, and some 15 months later, after the outbreak of War had taken out this patent.


DISCARDED-NOT OF SERVICE PATTERN In the British House of Commons on Thursday March 11th, 1915, the question was asked by Mr. MacVeagh in regard to the McAdam shovels. QUESTION: Mr. MacVeagh asked whether the McAdam spades’ with which the Canadian soldiers were supplied at Salisbury Plains have been discarded; and, if so, under what circumstances.

ANSWER: Mr. Tenant (Under Secretary of State for War). It is necessary that the entrenchment implement should be carried on’ the person and as the Canadian. troops had no means of doing this with their’ spade, the Service pattern with the appropriate moment was issued to them. (See British Parliamentary debates, Thursday March 11th, 1915). The fact is, the Government purchased 25,000 at a cost of $33,750; money practically thrown away as the shovels as shown above were discarded by the British Government as unfit for service. General Sam Hughes stated however, that the Highland Brigade took 600 shovels without handles to the front. Giving General Hughes the benefit of this doubt, that 600 of the shovels were used, it shows conclusively that the country had thrown away 24,400 shovels at a loss of $30,940.




Source Canadian, Housewives, dated 1916 (top) and 1918. Sewing kit carried by Canadian soldiers.

Source Canadian, Housewives, dated 1916 (top) and 1918. Sewing kit carried by Canadian soldiers.


 Housewives: Purchased without tender from the President of the Ottawa Conservative Association. A housewife is a small piece of cloth arranged as to be tied up and contains thread, needles, twist, darning needles, darning cotton, etc. Each soldier is supposed to have one of these utility packages in his equipment. Without asking for tenders and without securing any competitive prices, the Government got into communication with Mr. Stewart McClenaghan of Ottawa, the owner and proprietor of The 2-Macs store and President of the Conservative Association for Ottawa, and asked him to give a price for supplying housewives. He quoted 53Xc each and was immediately given an order for 30,000. In the following three months this was increased to 100,000, and the same price 53)ic each was maintained.


According to Mr. McClenaghan’s own statement his profit on these goods had been 24%,16% of which he had charged to overhead expenses and 8% to clear profit. On April 13th, Mr. T. McNichol of the J. M. Garland Company, Ottawa, refused to produce their original invoices to show what they had paid for these goods. Why?





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