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Landing Craft Operations - North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

I Saw the World - a Journey around Africa for Combined Operations in the Mediterranean


A comprehensive, often humorous account of life in the UK, Africa, and Europe from the perspective of a young Canadian volunteer employed on Landing Craft duties. Lloyd Evans packed more experience of life into just a few years than most young people today pack into a lifetime.

[Photo; Lloyd Evans relaxing in his Canadian garden.]

Although there were times of rest and relaxation, always present was the next unknown mission with moments of great danger.  The full story provides a sense of what life was like for one serviceman in WW2.

How did I end up in a conflict 4000 miles away, which would take me to countries I only recognised as names in a school atlas? For me it was a combination of external circumstances outside my control, chance, a touch of chaos and "Lady Luck." I suppose my story started when I was about thirteen years old. A friend of mine joined the Sea Cadets, so I decided to do the same. We trained one evening a week on subjects like parade drill, rifle drill, semaphore, knots and splices. I spent as much time as I could on the local rifle range and on one occasion at the Connaught rifle range for the Canadian championships. One of the highlights for me was in 1939 when I formed part of the escort for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the occasion they laid the cornerstone of the then new Supreme Court building. 

In the Spring of 1941 we were allowed to leave school early and get credit if our class marks warranted it. I joined the RCNVR and went on active duty a month later on my eighteenth birthday. I was posted to Naval Headquarters HMCS Bytown but, after a few months as messenger for the Naval Minister and Deputy Minister, I realised this was not the work I had in mind. I put in a request for discharge to allow me to join the RCAF as aircrew. A few days later I was posted to the RCNVR Montreal with the prospect of work with their Fleet Air Arm. 

The 'barracks' there comprised a large private home on Mountain Street, just half a block north of St Catherine, the main street of Montreal. There was no living accommodation for us in the house, so we were given an allowance to live out. Several of us bunked up in a large rooming house one block east of the barracks. We often used the YMCA next door, where the food was reasonable and cheap. If my memory serves me correctly, the lodging and compensation (lodge & comp) allowance was 48 dollars a month. 

While waiting for the next "new entry" training course, we underwent basic training and were given various guard and security jobs. On a couple of occasions, we had to police all the exits at the railroad station when Navy troop trains were due in. This was to prevent any of the boys from going into the city and missing the train out. On one occasion, I let a few friends from Ottawa through to enjoy the wonders of Montreal - the city which was responsible for more boys going adrift than any other in Canada... but not due to my efforts alone! We spent a few months in training there and then we were posted to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The new entry training there was the ex-army Wellington Barracks (then C Block of HMCS Stadacona). The training consisted of knots and splices, rifle drill, semaphore, Morse code, ship and aircraft recognition, gunnery drill and parade drill. The highlight of the training was a one-day trip to sea on a Minesweeper for gunnery practice. The whole ship rattled and shook when the 4-inch gun went off. It wasn't all fun - one of our boys was so seasick he pleaded to be thrown over the side! I heard later that he was posted to sea and was just as sick and still pleading to be thrown overboard. He finally got his wish when his ship was hit by a torpedo!

At the end of the training period, the Navy asked for volunteers for a secret mission overseas. Most of our division volunteered, along with several navy motor mechanics and two leading PT instructors. We were given two weeks overseas leave and I spent New Year's day of 1942 on the train bound for Ottawa. These were uncertain times and I knew that this might be my last home visit for a long time. However, I was excited at the adventure of it all without having any understanding of the risks and dangers. 

Journey to the UK

In January 1942, a few days after returning to Halifax, we were inspected by an Admiral as the band played Maria Laina. He wondered why some of the boys had volunteered and was somewhat taken aback when told that they didnít know what they had volunteered for! After the inspection, we were bussed to the jetty and boarded HMS Queen of Bermuda, a peacetime cruise ship (New York - Bermuda run) that had been converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser. The ship carried several 8 or 11-inch guns and had a swimming pool and a movie theatre. There was plenty of room and I had visions of eating really well all the way across the Atlantic, since I was to work in the officersí pantry!

We sailed at noon in a heavy snowstorm, missed the starboard buoy, which marked the channel to follow, and grounded on a rock! The result was a 30 foot hole in the bottom. I spent the evening on board watching a movie and listening to the metal crunching sounds from down below as the ship moved with the motion of the waves. A bucket brigade was organised, stretching up several decks and after a restless night sleeping on deck I joined the happy band. The chances are that it was one and the same bright person who put us on the rocks, who decided to bail out the Atlantic Ocean with buckets! In any event, the ship was filled with sealed empty oil drums for buoyancy to reduce the chances of sinking if hit by a torpedo. Later that day a minesweeper failed to pull our ship free, so we threw our kit bags over the side and into a tug, disembarked and returned to the base. Of course we were not expected to return and the accommodation we had just vacated was now occupied by a new group. Those of us who could afford it were given leave and I went back to Ottawa for a week or two. Later the ship was lightened by removing ammunition etc. and was successfully towed off at high tide. She was out of action for some time for essential repairs.

A few days after returning from leave, we embarked on the Dutch troopship Volendam along with thousands of RCAF aircrew. We sailed the next day with another troopship and an escort of two R.N. destroyers. This was considered a good escort in those early days, as escort ships were very scarce. That evening, while on lookout duty on the bridge, I was surprised to see one of the destroyers, HMS Belmont, go full speed ahead followed shortly by two huge explosions. She had been hit by two torpedoes. I had been feeling a bit queasy earlier but this was miraculously cured by the enemy action. We heard later that the destroyer had sacrificed itself, since the safety of the aircrew on our ship was paramount. For obvious reasons, we didnít slow down to look for survivors but, since we were only a short distance from Halifax, a rescue ship came out to look for them. 

We had to sleep in hammocks and, as every sailor knows, they have to be slung tight for a comfortable sleep. The Airforce boys didn't appreciate this and had a very rough time - the first night being spent all doubled up. In the morning, it took them a while to straighten up their contorted bodies! The rest of the trip was reasonably quiet with the remaining destroyer doing double duty. In effect, she proceeded at high speed most of the time to cover all the distance normally undertaken by two ships. In appreciation of their great efforts, we passed the hat around for the benefit of the crew. About ten days later, we sailed up the River Clyde to Gourock in Scotland. The final stage of our journey was by bus to the Canadian Base HMCS Niobe a few miles away in Greenock. 

Arrival in Scotland

Those of us who were lucky enough to have friends or relatives in the area made early contact with them. Top of my list was my cousin Ashley, whose destroyer, HMCS Restigouch (Rusty Guts), was in the Clyde for repairs. I asked a chief in the RTO (Rail Transport Office?) office how to get to Restigouch in the dockyard.  This was said in all innocence, but after further confusing exchanges, it became clear that there were over 20 miles of docks and, without the name of the dock the ship was in, giving directions was impossible! Eventually, I found Ashleyís ship and after a tour, he took me to visit his girl friend Barbara and her mother in the town of Renfrew, some 15 miles away. 

For the rest of my time overseas, this friendly family became a home from home for me also. They lived in a small apartment above a pub, so if they were out when I visited, I had a good spot to wait for them. When I slept there, they put a very welcome sealed earthen container of hot water in my bed. The rooms were so cold in the winter, the only heat coming from a small fireplace in the kitchen. When staying there, Barbara got up really early in the morning, so I could get back to the base on time. On one occasion, I visited them after an unannounced absence of several months. When I told them I'd been to Africa, the look on their faces was a sight to savour. Of course, this was at a time when a boat trip to Rothesay, 30 miles away, was considered an adventure - such trips were known locally as 'gaun doon the watter' (going down the water). I gave the family most of the food parcels I received from home, since they were on very limited war-time rations. However, they could not have been more generous with the little they had. The local children enjoyed an occasional treat when we threw oranges to them from the back of trucks. The chances were that they would not see another orange until well beyond the end of the war.

Posting to Combined Operations

After a few days at the Greenock base, we were posted to HMS Northney III on Hayling Island near Portsmouth on the south coast of England. The purpose was training and it was there that we discovered we had 'volunteered' to operate Landing Craft for future raids and landings under the auspices of Combined Operations. While there, Portsmouth and Southampton came under heavy bombing raids, courtesy of the Luftwaffe. What an unforgettable sight it was with ack ack fire arcing upwards and bombs dropping. Large piles of timber, located in uninhabited places around the cities, were set alight during bombing raids. This was to confuse German bombers into thinking that the fires were part of the cities marked by their Pathfinders and to have them release their bombs where they would do little or no damage. 

Some nights I stood guard duty at the end of a long pier, as lookout for German raiding parties. In the lonely darkness of the night, this inexperienced 18 year old discovered the power of the imagination! It seemed that the end of the watch would never come.... I was gaining a sense of the terrible nature of modern warfare, as I realised in my imaginings how easily they could be turned into brutal and bloody reality.

At the end of the training period, around February or March 1942, we returned to HMCS Niobe for a few weeks until our next training base was ready for us. In peacetime the building was an old insane asylum and a hospital. While there, I worked in the pantry, so I was able to 'procure' the odd half-pound of butter for my friends in Renfrew. Glasgow was a popular hangout for the Canadian Navy. It was then a big dirty seaport but we always felt quite welcome. The Lacarno Dance Hall was a favourite haunt, where we were sure to find out what Canadian ships were in port. Surprisingly, the Lacarno was a 'dry' dance hall but one of the best for dancing, the main part of the floor being built on springs. The 'no alcohol' rule was enforced at the door too. A hostess, in a fancy tux, stood guard with a cane, which she used to tap pockets for concealed bottles. One night she tapped my jacket as usual and thought she had found a bottle. When she discovered it was a .45 Smith & Wesson, she immediately checked it for me until I left.

In April '42, we returned to the familiar surroundings of Hayling Island, only this time to HMS Northney I a few miles from the first base we'd used. This one had previously been a summer holiday camp of chalets with two bedrooms, a small sink in each room and no heating. In the winter months, there was usually an icicle hanging from the tap when we arose in the mornings! I used my navy mattress at night in an often vain attempt to keep warm. Meals were served in a large central dining room, which was a welcome relief from the cold.  The RN types couldnít imagine why we complained about the cold, since we came from the land of ice and snow -  not appreciating that our Canadian homes were, out of absolute necessity, well insulated and properly heated.

Like the proverbial yo-yo, we returned to Scotland but this time to HMS Quebec situated on the shores of Loch Fyne near Inveraray. Just outside the town was Inveraray Castle, occupied by the Duke of Argyll, the Chief of Clan Campbell. The food at HMS Quebec was desperate. It improved slightly after a couple of our men threw a rope over a beam, in the style of a Wild West mob hanging, and were heard to mention something about the cook!

We then spent some time in different locations around Scotland and England training on several troop ships, train ferries, and oil tankers that had been converted to mother ships for carrying Assault Landing Craft HMT Iris, Ettrick, Ennerdal, Daffodil, Queen Emma etc. We sailed from the Firth of Clyde on one of them, down through the Irish Sea, and, somewhere near Lands End, our convoy was bombed...my first night bombing at sea. I  hastily donned my tin helmet which always gave me a headache but this time it seemed as light as a feather and caused no problem at all! One of the main Ack Ack guns on our fore deck jammed and a JU 88 came in real low to take advantage. Our gunners cleared the jam and shot him down before he could drop his bombs. We managed to get away in safety and ended up in Portsmouth. 

We had canteen messing on this posting. Under this arrangement, each mess was allowed a sum of money per head to buy food from the canteen. Each day, a member of the mess had the duty to prepare the food for the members. When my turn came around, I made a rice pudding and put the rice in a pot to soak overnight. I knew it would expand but had no idea by how much. Next morning there was enough rice for the whole crew not just our mess! 

We had no clear idea why we were there. The situation was all the more confusing when a large flotilla of Landing Craft, loaded with soldiers and Commandos, set sail that evening and we remained in port. We could see the Commandos putting detonators in their hand grenades and blackening their faces as though they were preparing for action. The mystery deepened when they returned a few hours later. We found out that they had sailed for a raid on Dieppe, France but returned when they found out the Germans were waiting for them. We could never figure out if our presence there was anything to do with the abortive Dieppe Raid and, if it was, why we were not part of it. We later set sail for Clyde Bank and stopped in Cardiff, south Wales, where half of our crowd were given a few hours leave... but I was not one of the lucky ones on this occasion.

An American submarine base at Roseneath was our destination on our return to Scotland. We were in the camp on the 4th of July for the American Independence Day celebrations. What a night to remember that was, with real cowboys and Indians reliving the drunken fights of the Wild West. We were having such a good time when one of our boys heard there was some booze in a nearby jeep. He picked up the can and took a big drink - it was gasoline and he later became quite ill! 

While there, I ran a small harbour craft between Roseneath and Helensburgh. Some of our boys developed scabies and were put in the American submarine base hospital, where the food was reputed to be excellent. I wanted a taste of this and rubbed my arm with a stiff brush until it took on the appearance of a scabies attack. I then reported to the American doctor but he wasn't fooled by my deception. However, he thought a few good meals would do me no harm so he checked me into the hospital. I couldnít believe how good the food was but the American sailors, who were used to it, thought it was terrible and arranged for one of the cooks from their sub to bring us all steaks and other goodies. 

After discharge from hospital I was given leave and, as usual, spent it in Glasgow, only to run into one of our boys, who told me we had been recalled. Those of us who heard the recall and returned to camp were posted to HMS Tormentor in southern England. It was a Free French Navy MTB base but they were neither expecting us nor had space to accommodate us. We were sent across the bay by MTB to the RAF Air Sea rescue base at Calshot, where the food was very good. With nothing to do, we were allowed to finish the leave we had been recalled from. If this sounds like things were screwed up, you are right! I never saw so much confusion. Combined Operations always seemed to be in a state of confusion. 

On return from leave, I discovered my friend Bob from Ottawa and a few others had left the camp, having volunteered for something. More volunteers were needed so I  joined Bob and the others in an hotel in Brighton that had been requisitioned  by the navy. It was soon obvious that something was up. The beachfront was loaded with 'R' boats built by Higgins in the USA. These were plywood Urika landing craft familiar to us. We had used them in training and found them to be easy to handle and reasonably fast. Their main drawback was that they couldn't even slow down a 303 bullet.

The Dieppe Raid

At noon we were told that a big training exercise was scheduled for that night and, if it went okay, we might see action later. However, that evening down on the boats, the Senior Naval Officer admitted that he didnít think he had fooled anyone and that this was the real thing... just one of the war's little deceptions to preserve secrecy. 

The landing craft I was assigned to had broken down and our crew of three were going to be left behind. We had other ideas and planned to jump on another craft which had our CO on board but soon realized that there just wasnít enough room for unplanned passengers - the topsides were completely covered with 5 gallon gas cans that were needed for the return journey back across the English Channel.

At the time, we were very disappointed but little did we realize how lucky we were. That evening the few of us left behind watched the movie "Joan of France." At one point it stopped and a sign appeared on the screen saying the allies had landed in France. We couldnít believe what we were reading, because our men had only left a short time before. The movie then continued and it dawned on us that it was all part of the movie story!

Early the next morning, we went down to the beach and watched the squadrons of Spitfires or Hurricanes take off from the nearby airfield and head for Dieppe. We checked the ID letters of some planes in the group and then watched for them to return later. We soon knew that several of them had not returned and we wondered how our gang was making out. Not in our wildest imaginings did we think of the hell they had run into over there. The planes landed, fueled up, re-armed and then took off for the bloody beaches again and again. 

That evening, the first of the surviving landing craft returned and we learned first hand about the carnage on the beaches around Dieppe. Many friends and comrades well known to us did not return. One such was my friend Bob from Ottawa. We spent some leave together visiting his aunt in northern Scotland and now he was gone. Our CO, and several others, spent the rest of the war as prisoners in Germany.

[Photo; Some of the Canadian troops resting on board a destroyer after the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe. The strain of the operation can be seen on their faces. © IWM (A 11218).]

After the war, I found out that Bob had turned to our CO and said, "Sir I think Iíve been hit" and then dropped dead nearly cut in two by machine gun fire. Canadian Navy HQ in Ottawa were surprised when the casualty figures came in. They didnít know anything about the involvement of our group in the raid! Apparently there was a shortfall in numbers and the R.N. had cleared lines with our CO to use our group. He agreed figuring that the RN had agreed this with our HQ.

The boys who didnít hear the first recall from leave in Scotland ended up on a Mother ship for LCAs also bound for Dieppe...at least these craft were made of metal and could take a hit from a .303 slug with impunity. A couple of our boys visited them onboard just before they sailed. When they were ready to return ashore, the ship had been sealed and they were unable to disembark. The Canadian soldiers were bunched around putting the detonators in their hand grenades, when one of them heard a slight noise and knew the detonator was going to go off. He fell over on top of the grenade to prevent others going off and killing many of his buddies. His body and a couple of injured men were taken ashore, so our boys were allowed off too but, for security reasons, they were locked in a room until after the landing had taken place.

Food Glorious Food!

We returned to RAF Calshot and then back to HMS Quebec (Chamois Camp) in Scotland. There, we undertook more training with the army on night landings on Loch Fyne. On one occasion, our duties were to spend the night in the cold pouring rain on manoeuvres. After a supper of a slice of cheese, a pickle and a slice of bread, we all refused to go until we were given more to eat. To the RN this bordered on mutiny and the old Chief PO couldnít believe what he was seeing. He lined us up and called out the armed guard and, when we still held firm, he gave the order to load their rifles. One of the kids didnít know how to do it, so one of our boys stepped forward, loaded it for him and then handed it back. The poor old Chief was, by this time, in a state of near apoplexy. However, in the end, common sense prevailed - he dismissed us and provided more food before we went out for the night.

On another occasion, a dozen or so Americans civilian mechanics arrived, whose job was to repair landing craft. They simply refused to eat the RN food, so they set up their own kitchen. This turned out fine for us Canadians, as anything that the Americans had left over was brought to our table. 

North Africa - Algiers

Around November 1942, we went aboard the RFA Derwentdale, an oil tanker anchored off Gourock on the Clyde. With purpose built gantries, she could carry a dozen or more MLCs loaded with heavy equipment and launch them at a speed of about ten knots. My craft carried a large American Army truck and two American soldiers. We spent a day or more loading thousands of 5-gallon cans of high-octane aviation fuel into one of the ship's holds. This was hard, gruelling, smelly and monotonous work. We secured a rope around the cans, lowered them into the hold, removed the rope and stored the cans away. We could only spend a short time in the hold, because of the fumes. Surprisingly, feelings of nausea struck only when we climbed back onto the deck. The fresh air often made us throw up. When we reached our destination, the aviation fuel was to be transferred into the landing craft and taken ashore. It was to last until a port was captured with proper unloading facilities.

After inspection by several high-ranking officers, we set sail with a large convoy. The accommodation on board was totally inadequate, as the ship was not designed to handle all the landing craft crews and the American soldiers. All services were hard pressed to handle the extra people and, near the end of the trip, only half of the bread was useable after the blue mould was cut off! We always ate better during an invasion, as we took all the food ashore and made up for earlier deprivations. The two American truck drivers and I slept in their truck. At night the cold north Atlantic wind nearly froze us to death, even with all our clothes on and blankets on top. To confuse the enemy, we often sailed south at night and north during the day to waste time.

A few times we helped the merchant crew refuel some of our destroyer escorts at sea. The procedure was both dangerous and complex, especially in heavy seas. The crew of the destroyer shot a fine rope line over to our ship by means of a special rifle. We secured it to a much heaver line and this was pulled on board the destroyer by their crew. Finally the fuelling line itself was attached to the heavy duty rope, which, once again, the destroyer's crew pulled to their ship. The whole operation was much more impressive in the doing than in the telling.

One evening, the merchant crew held a little party for us in their mess. There was plenty of black humour around. One Scottish wit said, optimistically, that it wouldnít be so crowded on the return trip and an old hand almost had us convinced that his duties included the watering of wreaths that were to be thrown over the side in memory of the dead! 

One bright sunny day, around noon, we left the Atlantic Ocean and passed through the Straits of Gibraltar.  Another large fast convey of troopships, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and motor launches split up around us and passed by at full speed. What a glorious sight it was. Our convoy then picked up to full speed and that night we anchored off the beach of the little town of Arzew in Algeria. This was on the eastern flank for the attack on Oran. We lowered the landing craft over the side, lined up in formation and headed for the beach. Unfortunately we couldnít find the two American truck drivers when it was our turn to leave the ship. I had never driven a car, let alone a big army truck, but it looked as though I'd have to learn real quick, since there was nobody else!. I sure as hell hoped there wasnít going to be too much enemy fire. Fortunately, we landed with no trouble and one of the beach party was able to drive the truck ashore after I managed to get it started. I wasnít keen on hanging around a moment longer than was absolutely necessary, so made a quick turnaround!

It was reasonably quiet during the couple of weeks we were there - we were only strafed once by a Spitfire the French had captured. To the west of us, in Oran, there was more activity, where a large French battleship sunk a small American ship that had approached to invite its surrender. The battleship could have sunk almost the whole landing fleet but a RN battle cruiser was standing by for just such a possibility - a few broadsides could have put the French battleship guns out of action in seconds. No one had wanted this to happen but there was no alternative.

We spent the next week or so unloading troop ships, cargo ships and ammunition ships that had just come from the USA. Other than the RN and RCN naval personnel, this was strictly an American operation. It was strange for us to see the jeeps and trucks we took ashore loaded with cigarettes, gum and chocolate bars. One night, we had to make an emergency trip ashore with a load of Tommy gun ammo for an American group, who were almost surrounded by the French Foreign Legion and fast running out of ammo. 

On our last night there, we pulled our craft alongside an R.N. Tank Landing Craft and went aboard for a visit. They had liberated wine casks from the thousands on the beach waiting to be shipped to France. The Americans had got into this stuff pretty heavy, so they put it under guard to stop any more drinking but a couple of the RN sailors had other ideas! They threw a hand grenade nearby and, when the American army guards went to see what was up, they rolled one of the casks on to the TLC and pulled away. In the dark, they fumbled around in a vain attempt to open the cask, so they just blew a hole in it with a .45. With the wine flowing freely, we used our tin helmets and drank our farewell to North Africa.

We sailed next morning for the return to Scotland aboard the troopship Reno del Pacifico, an ex P&O liner. Not having fully recovered from the previous night's festivities, I was grateful to find it was calm. We stopped at Gibraltar to set up a convoy and to pick up a few R.N. men. Some of us chose to sleep on deck because of the risk of being torpedoed in the Atlantic approaches to the Straits of Gibralter. I was bitching the next morning, because the RN boys paced the deck all night but calmed down when told that they had recently been torpedoed twice in the same night. Our convoy made it back without any trouble. On our return to the river Clyde, we were given leave ,which I spent in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The next few months were spent in training in the following ships and camps in England and Scotland; HMS Westcliff, Drake, Foliot,, Glengyle, Keren, Ulster Monarch and Rosneath

Egypt via the Cape

The last port of call before my next mission was Liverpool. My cousin Ashleyís new ship was in port in Canada Docks, so I paid him a visit and we had a night out on the town together. That night, we slept on a pool table in a hostel as it was the only space available. He had just recently returned from escort duty on a Corvette in the Mediterranean and little did I know that his next mission on the Tribal class Destroyer HMCS Athabascan would be his last. She was sunk in a battle with German destroyers, MTBís and submarines in the English Channel. Ashley was an Ack Ack gunner on the ship but, sadly, was not one of the survivors picked up by HMCS Haida. The Haida is now a museum ship at Ontario Place in Toronto Harbour. Around this time, two of the three Canadian destroyers were out battling in the English Channel almost every night. The crew of the off duty ship loaded ammunition for the other two to let the crew get a little sleep, since they had been in action all night.

During our short stay in Liverpool, we were given more shots in the arm for tropical diseases, so we knew something was in the offing. About seventeen or so of us ratings and one Sub. Lt. were then sent to the British merchant ship, the MV Pardo, along with our landing craft. The ship was not normally equipped to accommodate the extra men, so living quarters were built into one of the holds. The convoy was set up and around March or April 1943 we sailed for parts unknown. We were on a southerly heading confirmed by the fact that the days grew warmer. In wartime, only those that "needed to know" were given information in advance of missions and we were not among the elite but that didn't stop us speculating amongst ourselves. 

After about two weeks or so, we pulled into the port of Freetown in Sierra Leon on the west coast of Africa. We stayed for a week or so awaiting a new convoy. Unfortunately for us, a torpedoed ship was berthed nearby leaking oil. The resultant combination of heat and the oil fumes was nauseating at times. Despite this, we still managed to trade with some of the native 'bum boats' for their local brand of 'jungle juice.' Two of the old timers got a bottle, gave a few of us a drink, finished the bottle and then jumped overboard to swim ashore. They wanted to see what the jungle was like on the other side of the mountain! The ship's whistles blew in alarm and a harbour craft picked them up before they managed to harm themselves. We were warned not to trade with the bum boats but, with little else to occupy our time, we procured another 10 bottles the next day and had a wild old party that night! 

An interesting distraction occurred when one of the merchant crew bought a baby monkey (I called Jocko), which he kept in a big box but, during the night, it cried incessantly for its mother. He let it loose and it found its way into our quarters and crawled into my bunk for comfort. He slept in the crook of my arm with his head on my shoulder. I felt sorry for him and he stayed with me till we left the ship a month later. At one stage, he became so ill he could barely stand up or chew his normal food. I talked the ship's steward into giving me some raisins, chewed them to make it easier for Jocko to eat. After several days he regained his health. Jocko acquired a taste for candy, so much so that he would come running whenever I shook the tin. In fact I spoiled him so much, he would only eat the candy if he could jump on my shoulder and reach around and take them out of my mouth!

[Photo; One of the mechanics with Jocko.]

The convoy sailed again, still on a southerly bearing. One of our escorts was a large merchant ship converted into an aircraft carrier. It launched planes to circle the convoy and proceed ahead to check for submarines. One day we witnessed one of them crash on landing and the next day the Ensign was lowered to half mast for a burial at sea. Death was never far away in wartime.

It was around this time I celebrated my nineteenth birthday. At this age, women were a major preoccupation. One of the ships had some women troops aboard but were too far off to see them clearly. Undaunted, we swung the stern gun around to gain a clear and close up view through the range finder telescope! My action station was loader for the army DEMS gunner on the 20mm Oerlikon gun and, from time to time, we were given the chance to practice when an aircraft, towing a drone, was provided. These pilots had more confidence in our shooting skills than I did!

I was disappointed that there was no 'Father Neptune' ceremony as we crossed the Equator. I suppose the merchant crew didn't bother, because they had crossed it so often. We had a very relaxing time on this stretch of the journey. Sun bathing interrupted by the odd lookout watch on the bridge was the normal routine. We did have some excitement one night when a porpoise headed for the ship at high speed - it looked like the fluorescent wake of a torpedo heading for the ship! After a week or two, we sighted land and the convoy split in two to distribute the 10s of thousands of men and women between Capetown and Durban. We docked in Capetown. It was the most beautiful sight with the sun shining on the city against the background of Table Mountain. A padre came on board to warn us of the evils of the big city but with limited impact - most of our boys were soon picked up by the Shore Patrol following a bar brawl. They spent the night in jail, when the ships Captain wouldnít allow them aboard until the next morning. I met a local girl in a bar and went to the movies. I was surprised at the beautiful modern theatres and bars in this modern city!

[Photo; one of our group and two of the ships crew somewhere off Africa.]

We received another shot in the arm for tropical diseases and then back to sea again, where we joined up with the 'Durban' half of the convoy; but this time in the Indian Ocean. There was always the chance of the relative peace and tranquility suddenly being shattered. One day there was a loud explosion when one of the ships was either hit by a mine or torpedo. The thought was always there that it could have been any of the ships. As was normal in these circumstances, we didn't stop to investigate, because of the risk of further attacks but, as far as I recall, the vessel didn't sink. After another few weeks at sea, we pulled into the port of Aden. A water boat pulled alongside with fresh water and at noon its crew stopped everything, faced the east, bowed down and prayed to Allah. We proceeded through the Red Sea to the entrance of the Suez Canal, where we lowered our landing craft over the side of our mother ship and continued our journey through the canal. Our mother ship could easily have negotiated the canal but must have been needed for other duties... it's possible that she was also involved in the actions to follow in the Mediterranean. We stopped at a camp in the desert close to the Bitter Lakes, where we joined up with the rest of our flotilla, who had arrived earlier. We were told that the day before there had been large quantities of Quebec Black Horse beer in the canteen... but, unfortunately for us, they'd finished it! Oh Yeah! 


By June 1943, the heat, flies and dysentery made living conditions unpleasant. We spent most of the time lying in our tents, sweating, covered with flies and running to the toilet. The toilets were trenches dug in the sand surrounded by empty jute bags. It was amusing to see everybody lined up on the parade square and the bodies running like hell for the toilet. I think the record was 24 times in one night but my best performance was 24 times in one day.

[HMS Saunders on the Bitter Lakes. Courtesy of Henry More.]

One weekend, three of us decided to hitchhike to Cairo, even though we only knew the general direction. Road signs, as we know them today, did not exist then in Egypt - at least I can't remember seeing any. We hitched a lift on an army truck and, on arrival in Cairo, we found a well appointed hostel that catered mostly for Canadian Aircrew in transit to India. We enjoyed the luxury of sleeping on mattresses on a balcony overlooking the city. As soon as we arrived, we met a RCNVR Special Branch Lt., who informed us that Cairo was out of bounds. We pleaded ignorance and, to our surprise and delight, he asked us to be his guests on a visit to the Pyramids and Sphinx the next day.

This historic place was closer to the city and easier to reach than we had imagined - a streetcar ride followed by a short walk past a beautiful open-air beer garden and we were there. Our escort for the day was a public relations officer, who, in peacetime, was a reporter for the Toronto Star. The three of us had our photographs taken on a camelís back in front of the Sphinx and took a tour through a Pyramid after paying for a candle and a tour guide. Even in wartime, the place was a tourist trap. After the war, I established that the photos taken that day were not at Naval headquarters, although there were others of our gang taken at the camp in the desert before I joined them. I learned that this officer was killed on a MTB, possibly in the Straits of Massena, before he had time to send the pictures back to Ottawa.

[Photo; some members of our flotilla at the Bitter Lakes on the Suez Canal.]

When it was time to return to camp, I had another bad case of dysentery and the other two boys headed back without me. Later in the day, I felt a good deal better and headed back on my own with only a foggy idea of where the camp was. I managed to get a couple of rides on some army trucks but as darkness fell so did my spirits. Rumour had it that some Arabs would cut your throat for the ten shillings bounty the Germans offered for your pay-book! I was therefore relieved to see the lights of an American Air Force base, which I knew was close to our camp. We often went swimming in the lake, where, from behind its raised banks, we watched ships go by as though they were sailing through the sand.

Later in the week, we took off in a convoy of trucks, stopping for something to eat in Ishmalia (the Garden of the East). Our destination was Port Said, where we spent almost a week in the Marina Savoy Hotel. Not for the fist time, we had nothing to do but wait around and enjoy the sights. One evening, we visited a nightclub dive and watched the girls dance on a high stage with a roll of barbed wire around the front of it to protect them from the patrons. In between their dancing the girls would sit at the tables, scrounge drinks and, with a hand under the table, work away to talk us into a little extra! Even with the barbed wire, some soldiers tried to climb on to the stage, such was the power of drink and the lure of young women.

 [Photo; The author about the time of his 20th birthday.]

We then boarded the American Liberty ship MV Pio Pico along with our landing craft and set sail for Alexandria, where we were allowed to spend the evening ashore. We spent a very pleasant evening at a large peacetime RN base, which had a beautiful navy hostel and restaurant with an orchestra. It was difficult sleeping that night, as the duty Destroyer fired depth charges every hour to prevent frog-men from trying to plant limped mines on the sides of the warships. The Battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth had been damaged this way earlier in the war, so such precautions were necessary.

The Invasion of Sicily - 9/10 July 1943

The next day, we sailed in fairly heavy seas and, as usual, for an unknown destination. A few days later, we were given a booklet describing Sicily. That night we unloaded the landing craft in exceptionally heavy seas - Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, was on.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

The initial landing was fairly quiet but, later, heavy enemy artillery opened up. This was quickly silenced by a few salvos from the 16-inch guns of a supporting Monitor. This particular Monitor was one of two shallow draft Cruisers that had been built for bombardment duties in the China seas. It had been fitted with large blisters on the sides, a kind of sacrificial layer, to reduce damage from a torpedo attack. An hour or two into the landing, enemy planes started bombing the beach area. It was very intensive in the first 24 hours with nearly thirty raids but continued for several days at less intensive levels. The first of the raids each day were a regular wake up call in the mornings! By the waters edge and beach area there were several crashed American gliders, which had been cut loose too early and failed to reach their designated landing zones. They still had bodies in them. After several days of almost continuous bombing, our ship ran low of 20 mm Oerlikon AA ammunition. Such was the intensity of the firing, that the gun barrels overheated and were replaced by the gun crews. Until our ship received fresh supplies of ammunition, we only fired in self defence of a direct attack on our ship.

While all this bombing was hard on the nerves, it didnít accomplish very much. However, about noon one day, three Stuka dive bombers came screaming from behind the mountain and out of the sun. They dropped three bombs, hitting two ships directly and damaging another from a near miss. For a few hours, the black smoke from the exploding ships turned day into night. On another occasion, during a heavy bombing attack, a hospital ship lying off our beach was sunk. Hundreds of bombs were dropped at this time on the numerous ships around the beach, so the incident might have been accidental. After a Canadian Spitfire squadron became operational from a nearby grass runway there was a big reduction in enemy air activity.

Despite the chaos of war, chance meetings with friends and acquaintances happened from time to time. One day, I visited the airfield and ran into Flt. Lt Bob Hazel, who used to play football for the Ottawa Technical High School I attended a year or two earlier. We had dinner and a few drinks together and I slept that night in the squadron ambulance. The squadron later moved inland, taking over an enemy airfield until they were later replaced by RAF night fighters.

After we finished unloading our mother ship, it sailed off and we moved onto the beach. There was still plenty of work unloading supplies from other ships in the area. Good accommodation was hard to find, so we moved into a big cave. It was damp inside, so we put our hammock mattresses on stretchers. Even so they and our blankets were wet through in the mornings and had to be hung out to dry. Before bedding down at night, we had the ritual of shaking bugs and beetles from our beds. However, these deprivations were better by half than the ever present threat of enemy bombs. Several of our boys picked up an infection and ended up in the hospital with a high fever similar to malaria, although we had all been talking anti-malaria pills.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

At one point, Army Intelligence thought the Germans were going to land paratroops to recapture the beach with the aim of cutting off our inland troops from their supplies. We anchored our landing craft off the beach and stayed on them that night instead of sleeping in the cave. The army moved in a group of Indian troops that night with orders to finish off anybody who wasn't wearing a turban! The Indians were excellent at that type of operation but didn't get the chance to show what they could do, since it turned out to be an uneventful night. Perhaps the presence of our Air Force had caused the enemy to think twice about such an attack. 

Our beach was near the town of Avola, part of the flank attack on the Port of Syracuse by the British 8th Army. Italian POWs volunteered to unload the landing craft under the guard of a few Indian soldiers. Some of the Indian soldiers had themselves been prisoners of the Italians in the North African desert and, very much against their religion, had their heads shaved. For them, it was a very serious matter and some chose suicide, whilst others swore revenge. There were a lot of close shaven Italians in the area at that time so, to an extent, the score had been settled! One of the Indians agreed to show me his knife but only if he could cut my finger. Tradition had it that the knife had to draw blood every time it was taken out of its case, even just to sharpen it.

Our departure from the Sicilian beach was both sudden and unexpected. After about a month there, three of us decided to visit the nearby city of Avalo and to trade a few cans of bully beef for wine. It wasn't entirely risk free, however. As we walked through the ammunition supply fields off the beach, we heard the sound of a sniper's bullet passing very close by. When we arrived at Avalo, we dipped our tin mugs into a barrel of vino, which was conveniently located in the centre of the square. We wandered through some empty houses vacated by the owners when they fled to the hills. That evening, we fell asleep outside an air-raid shelter favoured by the local inhabitants who spread their mattresses there every night. Unfortunately an army Provost group spotted us and removed us by truck to their HQ. Not for the first time, we discovered that a city was out of bounds. We had consumed a fair amount of vino and were not too happy about this and called them several uncomplimentary Limey names. The sergeant in charge, a Scotsman, thought all this was pretty funny. He promised to send as back to the beach, by jeep, in the morning if we behaved ourselves. However, the officer in charge had other ideas but when the sergeant explained our fondness (?!) for the Limeys, he relented and we were delivered safely to the beach. When we arrived back, the flotilla was loading our gear onto our landing craft and, with an escort of Motor Launches and a Destroyer, we set off later in the day for Malta, about 75 miles to the west. 

Malta - Aug 1943

On arrival at Valetta harbour, we tied up our LCMs. We were billeted for a week or two at old Fort Manuel before moving to a tented camp. One of our jobs there was to load Tank Landing Craft that had been converted to rocket ships. These vessels could deliver an intense bombardment, usually of heavily defended beaches, which was greater than that produced by 16 inch shells from Battleships and Cruisers. They could be delivered in a fraction of the time it took for conventional shells but probably not as fast as those used in early trials when all the rockets, and there were many dozens of them, were fired in one salvo. Due to the enormous forces released, the ship disappeared below the waves! The next time, the rockets were fired in a couple of salvos, but on this occasion, the deck became red hot and the crew had to jump overboard! By what seemed to be a process of trial and error, a workable formula was arrived at. One of these rocket ships could flatten 5 acres of beach. If these ships had been available during the raid on Dieppe the outcome would have been quite different.

Malta is a rocky island set in the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean. The Germans had tried for two years to bomb the island into submission by raids on the island itself and by attacking supply convoys. One RN submarine sneaking through the German blockade could supply the island with essentials for a couple of weeks. At the start of the war, the RAF air defences comprised three old Gladiator bi-planes called Faith, Hope and Charity.

[Photo; Following Italy's surrender, the first batch of Italian merchant ships arriving at Malta in early September 1943. © IWM (A 19325).]

These, of course, were improved upon but shortages in fuel supplies and spares were a constant problem. The islanders never gave up the fight and the Island was awarded the George Medal for Valour. Several books have been written on the convoy battles that took place to keep Malta in British hands. It's accepted by many that, if Malta had fallen during those crucial years, we might have lost the Middle East and probably the Far East as well.

This was the Island where the Canadian pilot Buzz (screwball) Beurling, at that time with the RAF and later with the RCAF, became known as the "Knight of Malta." The story goes that he was shot down near the water's edge and, although injured, made his way back to the airfield. He immediately took off in another plane and shot down the plane responsible for shooting him down earlier! After the war, he was killed taking off from Rome on his way to fight for Israel; the plane had been sabotaged. 

In most locations we were posted to, there was entertainment if you knew where to look. In the case of Malta, it was an area of narrow streets of Valetta, the ancient capital city known as 'The Gut', where there were numerous bars with dancing.

The Invasion of Italy - 9th September 1943

Most days in Malta were bright and sunny and one particular day in early September of 1943 was no exception. I, and a crew of 4, found ourselves back in our landing craft on a northerly tack. We had several escort vessels and after a few hours under way all hell broke loose, when about 60 enemy bombers dropped their loads all over the place. They were flying low enough for us to clearly see their bomb doors opening and their bombs being released. Fortunately, they didnít hit anything and soon departed the scene when heavy A.A. fire threatened their safety... or perhaps they didnít think a bunch of empty landing craft was worth the risk of being shot down. It soon became clear that we were heading back to Sicily for the invasion of Italy. By this time, Sicily was firmly in Allied hands. 

We spent a couple of days in the harbours of Augusta and Catania and then to Messina for the attack on Italy itself. We went in at Reggio with our load of Canadian troops under a very heavy allied artillery barrage from the hills of Messina. There appeared to be little or no opposition. We later found out that Italy had already agreed to surrender but hadnít announced it to wrong foot the Germans. The deception worked, since the Germans did not reinforce the positions vacated by the Italians. I can still see the Sicilians running around cheering, 'Benito et finito' (Benito (Mousellini) is finished.) To celebrate, one of the locals dug up a bottle of great wine he had buried to keep it safe from the Germans.

Allied forces advanced quite rapidly, so another unplanned landing further up the coast was set in motion. The object, this time, was to land supplies for the advancing Allied forces and our flotilla was one of several selected for the job. While we waited on a safe beach for the signal to leave, a few large warships, including a battleship, went past at high speed. Their mission was to shell the new landing beach before we moved in during the night. The waves they created started to wash the landing craft off the beach, so I winched the door up a little, prior to ramming the craft back onto the beach. Unfortunately I left the safety catch off the winch handle and the next wave lifted the boat and I took the full force of the spinning winch handle on my left leg before I could remove it. One of the other boys made a similar mistake but this time with the kedge anchor winch. It hit him on the head to his severe injury. An Italian surgeon inserted a steel plate in his skull to repair the damage. Since this landing was not part of the original plan, there was little reliable intelligence as to enemy defences. An LCI was sent in to investigate but luck was against them, as the beach was defended by some top German artillery units and the craft was destroyed. The landing was called off.

Three of us decided to do a little sightseeing when the other crew were on duty on our craft. We visited Reggia di Calabria and called in on a police station with a letter requisitioning any guns we wanted. Under the occupation rules and regulations, locals had to turn in any weapons they held. To make the letter look authentic, we stamped it with an official looking mark...the stamp having been made out of a potato. As we suspected, the local police couldnít read English and they fell for it. Most of the weapons looked like antiques from the Boer war but I managed to get a lovely little Baretta ladies gun, that I later sold to an American sailor in Gibraltar.

I didnít think my leg was too bad other than very sore but it got worse a few days later. After a visit to the first aid post, I was sent down the coast by ambulance with a few others. We spent one night in a church and next day  arrived at a British hospital in Catania near Mt Etna. When they noticed my Canada badge, I was offered a move to a Canadian base a short distance away - the 5th Canadian Casualty Clearing Station that was situated in a modern Sicilian hospital. The next day they operated on my leg to remove a blood clot. 

My period of recuperation was not without its benefits. The nurses' accommodation was off the main wing of the building, so was in full and easy view of our ward. One of the nurses was either an exhibitionist or perhaps she just wanted to keep our morale up. Either way, after taking a shower, she was in the habit of drying herself directly in front of a clear glass window! I often wondered why our part of the building didnít tip to one side when the lookout reported that the show was on. To a man, we all eagerly made our way to the windows to take in the scenic beauty of Italy! We never did figure out which nurse it was, although there was a lot of conjecture at the time.  

One of the soldiers in the ward had been caught in machine gun crossfire. About 70 bullets had hit him but amazingly only one drew blood, the others just left burn marks as they grazed him. I only accepted the truth of his story when I saw his shirt cut to ribbons. The one that did the damage went right through his rear end. I was deeply impressed with the skill and dedication of all the medical staff and the hours they put in. This was especially the case, when a large number of casualties arrived from the front lines. 

One of the tank soldiers bemoaned the day in Africa when his unit captured an Italian Army Paymaster with a load of Italian Lira. The boys used it for toilet paper, thinking that they would never have an opportunity to spend it. The same guys ruefully wondered what they could have done with it now they were in Italy. Our main source of entertainment was to gather around the patients when they returned from the operating room to see how they reacted to the Sodium Pentathol, an anaesthetic in common use at the time. Reactions varied from heightened libido, in which case a male stood by to protect the nurses, to cursing, swearing and making rude suggestions. An hour or two later, when the effects of the anaesthetic wore off, the patients had no recollection of what had taken place. It wasnít all fun and games, however, especially when the really bad cases arrived from the front. This was particularly the case with a number of bad burn cases from tank battles.

I heard that our flotilla had left the area and I didnít know what would happen to me. I asked to be discharged, reckoning that I'd find my own way back. An American pilot came into the hospital for a short time and I cadged a lift back to England. He initially neglected to mention that, on the way, he had a delivery for Berlin. I thanked him for his offer but decided that there must be a safer route back to the UK.

Return to the UK

After a month of great care, my infection hadn't healed, so I and many others, from all the different hospitals in the area, were put on the Hospital Ship Aba and sent to hospitals in North Africa. The facilities in Italy were needed for more urgent cases coming in from the area of conflict. One German prisoner of war was also on the boat and the Matron warned us to "leave poor Jerry alone." She really didnít need to worry, as he was very young and forlorn, showing everybody pictures of his family. After a couple of weeks living in the tents of the 15th Canadian Army Hospital, I was sent to a nearby British Convalescence camp in the desert. The rainy season was just starting, so we had to dig trenches around the tents to keep them dry.

HMS Hannibal, a holding base somewhere in north Africa, was my next destination. Here, Landing Craft crews were being assembled for transit to India and then for service in the Pacific war. I wasnít too keen on this idea and, with the help of representations made on my behalf by a British navy clerk, I and two other Canadians were sent instead to a Canadian Naval Base. The journey was to say the least, unusual. By this time, there were three of us Canadians making the trip. Our train compartment was a box car marked '40 hommes ou 8 chavaux' (40 men or 8 horses). The slow train took us through mountains and tunnels of North Africa. When it stopped, we replenished our water supplies from the engine, although it was so rusty it looked like tea, even before we made it! At every stop, Arabs surrounded us looking for food. I sold one of them a small kit bag and he cut out two of the bottom corners and pulled them on. Hey presto he had a new suit!

We eventually boarded an LCI for passage to England. The first evening ashore in a small town east of Algiers, three of us Canadians ended up in a bar when the air raid sirens sounded. Everyone, including the owner, took off, leaving us alone with all that drink. I will leave you to guess the rest. We finally managed to make it back to the LCI. a lot the worse for our earlier misdemeanour! My much needed sleep was rudely interrupted that night by an enquiry concerning first aid training. We were under way to look for survivors from troopships that had been sunk off the coast by 'Chase me Charlie' radio controlled glider bombs. We didnít find any survivors, as our position was on the periphery of the search area. We proceeded to Algiers, where we disembarked for a few days, which we spent in a girls' convent, requisitioned by the Navy and renamed  HMS Hamilcar. This gave us a few days to explore the sights, sounds and fleshpots of a typical large North African city.

The next port of call was Gibraltar. By this time, the Americans had hit serious trouble in Salerno and all Landing Craft were recalled to Italy. Since the three of us Canadians were only passengers, we had to disembark to the naval base there. Gibraltar was basically one massive rock with the city occupying most of the only flat ground close to the border with Spain. Access was through two tunnels in the rock. There was water to the front of the base, a high cliff (the Rock) behind and on top, a wall. We often saw the Barbary apes marching up and down, apparently mimicking the Scottish pipers who paraded there on occasions. One of the duties of the regiment based on the Rock was to look after the apes. There was a traditional belief that Britain would lose the Rock if the apes ever left. I spent one day there hauling huge electrical cables in the tunnels that honeycombed the rock.

A week before Christmas 1943, we were earmarked for transportation to the UK on the Battleship HMS King George V. We were all set to leave for the ship when we were informed that 50 pregnant Wrens were to take our place. We had been looking forward to Christmas in England, so our disappointment was great and all the more so, since none of us were responsible for their condition! One of the other two Canadians was billeted on the Battleship HMS Warspite. It was in dry-dock after a glider bomb had gone through it and exploded on its way out the bottom. I eagerly visited him, since this was my only chance to get aboard such a huge ship and to sense its awesome power. This ship was patched up and later took part in the bombardment of the Normandy beaches on D Day. 

The day after Christmas, we learned of a Canadian ship, HMCS Prince Robert, which had docked in the harbour. The three of us Canadians immediately went aboard and asked to see the Captain but only got as far as his secretary, an Lt. Paymaster. We told him how we appeared to be getting the short end of the stick from the RN and could we get posted aboard. The Captain agreed and we returned ashore to complete the formalities. After some considerable trouble, and a lot of excuses, it was all settled, provided the Captain took 50 RN ratings as well! He said it was worth it to help out three Canadians and next morning we set sail for what we hoped would be an uneventful trip to England.

In peacetime, the ship cruised out of Vancouver with holiday makers but, like many other ships, she had been requisitioned by the RCN and converted to an AA Cruiser with the fitting of 5 turrets of twin 4.5 in. H/A L/A Anti Aircraft guns. Two of her sister ships, the Prince David and Prince Henry, had also been converted - one to a Mother ship for LCAs and the other to a hospital ship. The second morning out, we became aware that the ship had left the convoy during the night and was proceeding at high speed in an easterly direction. The Captain announced over the PA that we would probably see action that day. The ship's crew let out a joyful yell, as they had never been in action before but, since most of the 53 passengers had seen all the action they wanted, we did not share their enthusiasm.

The Captain explained that a couple of German ships had broken through the blockade and we were going into the Bay of Biscay to get them. An hour or two later, 'action stations' sounded and the crew all closed up to their positions. I went out on deck to spot the enemy ships, only to see the awesome sight of several RAF torpedo bombers skimming the waves. It seemed as though they didnít answer the ship's challenge until all the AA guns were trained at them. Anyway, the all clear was sounded and, some time later, the ship slowed down and we turned around to rejoin the convoy. The bombers had done the job. A couple of days later, we steamed into Portsmouth harbour, where the three of us took the train to HMCS Niobe in Greenock, Scotland, some 500 miles to the north. We expected to rejoin the rest of our LC flotilla but learned that they had returned to Canada earlier to prepare for the invasion of France by converting to an LCI flotilla. We put in a request to join them, which was granted.

Farewell to Glasgow

The chaos of war threw up another unwelcome surprise. Fully expecting to hear about arrangements for our return to Canada, I checked  progress with the drafting office to be told that I was being posted to Whale Island near Portsmouth for a gunnery course with the R.N. After the Padre enquired on my behalf, it transpired that there had been a mistake and that we were indeed returning to Canada. He also informed us that we had just missed the Queen Elizabeth troop ship by one day. I left Greenock that afternoon for my last day in Glasgow and my last meal at the Cadora restaurant. I had spent a lot of time at this restaurant and used to go out with one of the girls, called Josie, who worked there. They knew me well, as I usually left a packet of gum or candy (big deal for the girls) as a tip and the hostess always put me at her table. That night, though, Josie was working in the dining room for a private party. I said that was too bad as I was heading back to Canada and wanted to say goodbye. The upshot was that I was invited to join their private party and was able to say my goodbyes.

My last evening in Glasgow was like most of my time there, enjoying the hospitality of the Scottish people. Most of the people I came to know had never been more than fifty miles outside of Glasgow and were amazed to think how far I had travelled. Parting was a bittersweet occasion - glad to be going home but sad to be saying goodbye to my friends and all the good times I'd spent in the city. That night, we started our long journey home with the overnight ferry to HMS Ferrit in Londonderry, Ireland. On arrival, we were given the rest of the day off and a chit for dinner that we used up drinking what seemed like gallons of fresh milk - the first we had seen in two years! After a few hours spent in a local pub researching the various flavours of Irish whiskey, we took a short train ride and a ferry up the river to the Destroyer HMS Hotspur. This ship had made quite a name for herself in battles around Norway.

Return to Canada

We sailed the following morning as one of the escorts for a large convey to St. Johns, Newfoundland. The journey itself was uneventful insofar as enemy action was concerned. However, one night when I was on lookout duty on the bridge, I spotted a merchant ship through a clearing in the fog. It was on a collision course with our ship! I called out urgently to the bridge Officer and we went full speed ahead. It was just a freak of the fog that I was able to see the ship when the stern lookouts could not and even more remarkable, since my duties did not include looking to the stern. I'll never know if I changed the lives of hundreds of people that night but I wouldn't like to replay the action to find out!

On another occasion, I stood lookout in the Crows Nest. This put me a lot closer to my maker, in more senses than one, than all the bombing raids I'd witnessed. I had not fully regained my strength since my time in hospital and was still very weak in the legs. I found the climb up the mast almost impossible to negotiate with all the heavy bulky clothes essential for the North Atlantic winter. My legs seemed to be paralysed and the whipping motion of the mast made it impossible for me to move up or down. For a moment, I considered whether to fall off when I was over the steel deck or over the water. Either way, there was only one possible outcome. Self preservation must have kicked in, because I finally made it to the top of the mast and into the relative safety of the Crows Nest. The view from up there was unbelievable. When the ship was at the top of a wave, I could see almost all the ninety or so ships in the convoy and the next minute I couldnít see any. On another day, there was a submarine alert at the rear of the convoy and we were dispatched back at full speed but couldnít find anything and we rejoined the convoy at our usual station. 

A planned transfer at sea to a corvette that was proceeding to Halifax was abandoned, so we found ourselves at HMCS Avalon in St. Johns, where we stayed for a week. During this time, I was able to try the famous or infamous "Newfie screech" before catching HMT Lady Rodney for the overnight run to Halifax. I went on leave for a month at home in Ottawa and Detroit and then reported to HMCS Scotian, where I learned that our flotilla had already left for overseas duties. The authorities refused to allow us to rejoin them, even though it was our wish to do so. Our two convoys had probably crossed paths as we journeyed to Canada. It was January 1944.

I heard they were looking for people to work in the Harbour Craft Office. I applied and was accepted as crew on one of the many harbour craft. One day I was informed that our craft was going to Shelbourne for the summer. The prospect of working for the particular officer in charge didn't appeal to me, so I applied for a Coxswain's course at the Leadership School in the dockyard and was accepted. At the end of the course I was given the craft stationed at McNab's Island at the entrance to Halifax harbour. My job was to ferry supplies and personnel between McNab's Island and the dockyard. It was 24 hours on and 24 hours off as there were 2 crews

One day, we were tied up alongside the HMCS Standard Coaster, which was working with the Naval Research Dept. on "Cat Gear" designed to prevent ships being hit by acoustic torpedoes. The first evening, my crew suggested we go around the eastern passage where there was an Army wet canteen in the Sergeant's mess. I was reliably informed that we would be made welcome. On entering the mess, I noticed an RCNR Skipper Lt., who called me over. Maybe I had a guilt complex but the first thing that came to mind was that I was in trouble on the first day in my new job!  It turned out he was more interested in hitching a lift, so I agreed to phone him whenever we travelled there! He was the CO of the Naval Degaussing Range on the Island. Every ship that entered the harbour passed over sensors to ensure that the large electrical coils of wire around their hulls were working Okay. Ships with effective degaussing coils would be much less susceptible to magnetically detonated torpedoes or mines when they were at sea. The Skipper, an ex merchant navy captain, lived on the Island with his wife and we spent many a good time together.

Although the front-line was thousands of miles away, we were still subjected to security measures designed to keep the enemy out of our in shore waters. I left the harbour one day and as I passed the gate ship on the return was advised that I wasnít flying identification flags and, even worse, I hadnít reported to the Guard ship on the way out. In fact, I'd inadvertently slipped out under cover of the Standard Coaster, which was leaving at the same time. Unbeknown to me at the time, the army coastal battery was preparing to open fire on me but relented, because I used to take some of the gun crews ashore without asking for their pass! Even in war, one good favour deserves another. Some twenty years later, when discussing old times with a friend in Fredericton NB, it transpired that he was the officer on duty who gave the order not to fire! 

I should have listened to the wartime warning that you should always be careful what you say - but in my case, and on this occasion, for reasons other than security! This particular day, I was waiting in the office of the P.O. and the Chief for my craft came in. I made a sarcastic remark about how nice it must be to work in a nice warm office while others, like me, went out in all weathers. Clearly the Chief thought it was a job application, because in no time I was a shift dispatcher in the office where I remained for the rest of the war! For the most part, I enjoyed this job, because it afforded the opportunity for the occasional private accompanied cruise!... and it gave me a chance to visit at "up spirits" times, when friends' ships returned from overseas. This was the case when my cousin Lloydís ship came in and again with my friend and neighbour from Ottawa, Donald 'Duke' MacDonald on HMCS Assiniboine. Donald collected the rum ration of half a dozen men, so we had quite a good reunion.

During the winter of 1944/45 most believed that the war was drawing to a close but German submariners didn't seem to know this. There was a lot of activity outside the harbour entrance and the noise of depth charges could be heard at times. When Victory in Europe (VE) day arrived, the normally quiet and peaceful city of Halifax erupted. A substantial part of the fleet was back in port and the city could hardly cope with the numbers of sailors, soldiers, airmen and merchant marines. There were almost no recreational facilities, since theatres, restaurants and everything else were closed. However, the need to celebrate was paramount and some sailors took over a brewery and some liquor stores. One chap I know ended up with sixty cases and that was just a drop in the bucket. Security was tightened and I was stopped twice in the three blocks from the dockyard to the house I was living in at the time. Fortunately, the duty officer gave me a note to explain my presence in the street, so I wasn't detained.

After finishing my discharge routine, I returned to HMCS Donacona in Montreal for final discharge after leave in Ottawa. By the end of my leave, a discharge base had been opened in HMCS Carleton in Ottawa and so I returned there to formally end my nearly five years with the RCNVR..... at the ripe old age of twenty-two. I was one of the lucky ones. Thousands of others didn't come back. What should have been a joyous occasion was tinged with some sadness and regret, particularly over the loss of several of my shipmates and friends. 

Several years later when working for I.B.M. in Moncton, I joined the RCSCC Moncton as a Lt. and spent two weeks on summer courses training with the RCN - one in HMCS Royal Roads, the Naval College in Victoria B.C. and another in HMCS Cornwallis, the training base in Deepbrook NS. When in BC, we spent one day at sea in my cousin Lloydís old Frigate HMCS Jonquere. On another occasion, I bumped into one of my 'new entry' instructors, who was then a CPO on a minesweeper I was visiting. He had been an instructor  at the old Wellington barracks when I first joined up. We spent a few hours talking about old times and so my navy career had gone full circle, starting with the Sea Cadets as a thirteen year old and ending as a Sea Cadet Lt. at the age of almost forty.

Places Visited During Naval Career

CANADA - Ottawa Ont., Montreal Que., Halifax NS, Dartmouth NS, Mcnabs Island NS, Georges Island NS, Bedford Basin NS, Toronto, Ont, Vancouver BC, Victoria BC.

ENGLAND - London, Hayling Island, Portsmouth, Southampton, Southend on Sea, Plymouth, Brighton, Calshot.

SCOTLAND - Glasgow, Gourock, Greenock, Inveraray, Troon, Renfrew, Paisley, Edinburgh, Dumbarton, Irvine, Helensburgh, Rosneath, Gairloch and Forres (?).

IRELAND - Londonderry.

NORTH AFRICA - Arzew, Dijeli, Algiers.

WEST AFRICA - Freetown.

SOUTH AFRICA - Capetown.

EGYPT - Bitter Lakes, Cairo, Ishmalie, Port Said, Alexandria.

SICILY - Avola, Saracuse, Catania, Massina.

ITALY - Regio de Calabreo.

MALTA - Valetta, Hamrune.

GIBRALTAR - Gibraltar

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By Lloyd Evans and Geoff Slee.


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