Ben Metcalfe (E. Bennett Metcalfe) was, among many things, the first chairman of the Greenpeace Foundation.

He was born in Winnipeg on October 31, 1919, the son of a Cockney mother and Yorkshire-born surveyor. During the Depression he caught fish for his family on the Assiniboine River. Idolizing Charles Lindbergh, he left home at age fourteen and reached England where he joined the Royal Air Force. Trained as an aerial gunner prior to World War II, he was shipped to Karachi and soon saw action in India during civil strife in response to colonial rule. In a two-seat, open cockpit Hawker Demon biplane, Metcalfe's job was to disrupt rebels loyal to the Indian Congress Party. The story goes that he and his pilot deliberately dropped their bombs in fallow fields in support of Gandhi's side of the struggle for independence.

During World War II he served in the campaign against Rommel's Afrika Korps in the desert at El Alamein in 1942. He reportedly decided to become a writer after wandering alone in the foothills near his barracks in Yemen, having witnessed the death of a close friend by machine-gun fire. Discharged from the RAF, he was first employed at an ad agency in Bond Street. At age 27 he was hired as a British Foreign Service information officer in Dusseldorf, Germany, during which time he escorted journalists through occupied Germany. Eager to become a professional writer, he watched and learned as news correspondents plied their trade. Metcalfe resigned and headed to Paris, a la Hemingway, where he married the beautiful Belgian Baya de Frahan, lived in poverty on the Boulevard St. Germain, tried writing a detective novel and fraternized slightly with French intellectuals Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. His daughter Sophie was born and he took a job as a sports editor for the Continental Daily Mail. He sold a story to Reuters about how the U.S. efforts to develop nuclear bombs were reliant upon Canadian uranium. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Partly to obtain his Canadian War Veteran's Grant, Metcalfe moved his new family to Winnipeg in 1950. He worked at the Winnipeg Tribune but his European wife returned to Paris without him after the birth of their second daughter Charlotte, taking both children. In Winnipeg Metcalfe met his second wife, Dorothy Hrushka, of Ukrainian and Polish parentage, and they left for Europe in 1953 as journalists for the North American Newspaper Alliance. After their daughter Michelle was born in London, the Metcalfes returned to Manitoba where he worked briefly for the Flin Flon Daily Reminder until a friend from his days in Germany, Ross Munro, found him a job with The Province in Vancouver. Their sons Michael and Christopher were born on the West Coast in 1954 and 1956. Metcalfe was always looking for a scoop and he found one in northeastern British Columbia. The provincial government of W.A.C. Bennett, in the name of progress, was flooding the homelands of the destitute Sekani First Nation. Metcalfe also worked to expose connections between Bennett's hydroelectric projects and a Swedish Nazi industrialist named Axel Wennergren. Trained as an aerial gunner, Metcalfe became a media gunner. With equal parts wit and wrath, he was formidable opponent, in both print or in conversation, contemptful of colleagues and enemies as he saw fit.

Metcalfe later worked for CBC Radio and founded a public relations firm with his wife Dorothy Metcalfe in Vancouver. Ahead of his time, Metcalfe paid for 12 billboards in Vancouver in 1969 that declared ECOLOGY? LOOK IT UP! YOU'RE INVOLVED, partially in response to two large detonations by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Alaska in 1965 and 1969. Metcalfe coordinated the initial media campaigns of the Don't Make a Wave Committee, soon to be renamed Greenpeace, as it planned to protest the Amchitka nuclear test in the Aleutian Islands in November of 1971. A small consortium of eco-activists argued that the nuclear explosions, near a geological fault line, could set off a devastating quake and a tidal wave.

Metcalfe was part of the Greenpeace crew that used a converted halibut seiner, the Phyllis Cormack, to sail northward in an attempt to disrupt the nuclear testing. Robert Hunter noted at the time that "Old father image mature war veteran cool hip all together Uncle Ben has gone through some awful transformation... "; It was Metcalfe who argued most persuasively to curtail their voyage. "From his experience of how power actually operates in a democracy,"; Hunter observed, "his practical experience, he fought the Amchitka fight the way you would sell toothpaste."; The crew didn't deter Richard Nixon and the AEC, but they triggered the outgrowth of Greenpeace, a worldwide movement with more than three million members.

It was Ben Metcalfe who recruited businessman David McTaggart into the movement. After Metcalfe fought with him over control of McTaggart's sailboat Vega (aka Greenpeace III) and decided to leave the ship in Rarotonga, McTaggart famously sailed with two others into the South Pacific to disrupt French atomic tests in the early 1970s. McTaggart dismissed Metcalfe as a fraud. The French military brutally commandeered McTaggart's sailboat, injuring him, to incite an international controversy. Again, it was Ben Metcalfe who worked at the heart of the publicity campaign to promote Greenpeace's activism. Metcalfe was arrested in Paris and expelled to Italy where he and others succeeded in getting the Pope to bless the Greenpeace flag. His expulsion from France was protested by French intellectuals and activists, including Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Metcalfes welcomed the publicity. (Metcalfe's first wife Baya had remarried to the chief of security of the French Atomic Energy Commission, Henri Messiah.) In Sweden, the Metcalfes and others, including ecologist Patrick Moore, attended the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment and succeeded in getting a motion before the June 14 plenary session "To condemn nuclear weapons tests, especially those carried out in the atmosphere." It was carried by a vote of 48-2. The French nonetheless detonated their 28th atmospheric nuclear test in the South Pacific at Moruroa on July 1, 1972. McTaggart persisted in his efforts and later became the leader of Greenpeace in Europe.

Severely estranged from mainstream media, Metcalfe enjoyed a brief renaissance in Vancouver as a columnist for the Georgia Straight as of 1976, taking uncensored swipes at his peers and exposing the corporate agendae of the Tri-Lateral Commission. Respected as an outspoken journalist with a savage wit, Metcalfe was also encouraged by the Roderick Haig-Brown estate to write a biography of Roderick Haig-Brown--until he was strongly discouraged. The contentious result, ten years in the making, is A Man of Some Importance, a critical biography that attempts to "rescue Haig-Brown from the myth-makers who might have hidden him from true human understanding forever." Metcalfe critically places the long-esteemed Campbell River lay magistrate within a broad social and literary perspective. His 1985 book was independently published after severe objections from members of the Haig-Brown family who prevented him from quoting directly from Haig-Brown's diaries. Metcalfe was assisted in the publishing and legal arenas by David Gibbons, the lawyer for Greenpeace in its formative stages.

Metcalfe retired to Vancouver Island and died at age 83 of a heart attack at his home at Shawnigan Lake, B.C. on October 21, 2003.

At the close of his Greenpeace memoir of 1971, Robert Hunter has added a postscript from 2004 in which reassesses the group and its actions. "Everything we did or said got sucked into an overwhelming power struggle,"; he recalls. But ultimately Hunter concludes the original Greenpeacers succeeded beyond their dreams. He credits the two oldsters among them, Jim Bohlen and Ben Metcalfe, for having saved his skin. "Ben Metcalfe, Bohlen's co-conspirator in the plot to bring us home alive, the other mature war veteran on board, and the mastermind of the media campaign, saw no reason to put us at risk of committing mass suicide, and I sneered at him for having 'lost it.' But this guy had fought in the Desert War against Rommel, had resisted RAF orders to bomb Gandhi's followers, and was so far ahead of me in terms of that elusive stuff called experience that there was never any doubt that in matters of life or death he could outmanoeuvre the mutinous but naïve youth faction.

"He was an old rogue survivor. A genius, I now realize. In the end, I studied at his feet.";

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004] "Journalism" "Environment" "Literary Biography"