“Seventeen” I am always saying, “When I was seventeen, I joined the Navy!” When I was still sixteen, I wrote a letter to the Naval Recruiting Office in Ottawa (with my father’s permission) asking for an application to join the Navy. The war had started about 18 months
previous. I soon got an application along with the news that I could not join up until I was 17 years old, and that I would have to stay in the Navy for seven years after I became 18. I sent my application in right away and it was a long six months waiting to be 17, trying to grow up in such a short time.
I hadn’t been any more than 50 miles away from home in my whole short life. Two days after my seventeenth birthday at 5' 11" tall and weighing 126 pounds, I had to leave home and report to the naval barracks in Esquimault B.C., 3000 miles away. Some of my friends were at the house to see me off as I left to catch the noon train that would take me to B.C. and a new experience. The train ride was really great, across the prairies and through the mountains, but it was long. Every mile took me further away from the home and the people I loved. I guess I was homesick, but I couldn’t let anyone know that.
The naval barracks seemed to be awfully big, about half the size of the entire village I had just come from. I was given a medical, signed a few papers, and was issued a hammock that I would sleep in most of the time that I was in the Navy. I was also given a big kit bag full of navy clothes that would be mine for the next 8 years. I was put in a platoon with eleven other fellows my age. The first week, our instructor showed us, and constantly reminded us, who was the boss. “Yes, Sir!” “No, Sir!” Respect was what he wanted and what he got, I soon found out that, as long as you remembered that, things went OK. We were now ‘Boy Seamen’, to bed in our hammocks at 9:00 PM, lights out at 9:30 and no talking (not a whisper), up at 5:30 am and out on the parade square at 6:00 for a mile run down the road. It soon increased to a five mile run. I’m not sure whether this was to build us up or wear us down.
After six months of training and everyone in shape, we were sent to Halifax, 4000 miles away, by train, with a two weeks leave en route. I should mention here that for the first six months in the navy I was paid $15 a month, but they held back $10 a month so you would have some money when you went on leave. So here I was with 2 weeks leave and $60 in my pocket. Boy was I rich!! It was great seeing my parents and friends after a long six months. They asked a lot of questions, and I had a lot of stories to tell, but all too soon, we had to say goodbye again as I had to catch the train to Halifax.
We were soon assigned to different ships. Now I would be in the real world - no instructor to watch over my every move. I remembered all that I had been taught, not just in the past six months but every day as I was growing up - showing respect for others, knowing right from wrong, and resisting temptations.
I went aboard a converted passenger ship, “Prince Henry” which was to sail in two weeks for British Columbia. On the way we stopped at St. Lucia, and Kingston, Jamaica in the Caribbean. The day after we left St. Lucia, a ship was torpedoed at the same dock we had just left. We sailed through the Panama Canal and up to San Francisco. While there we went to Hollywood, visiting some of the stars, and then on to Esquimault, B.C. After a week we left for Alaska and the Bering Sea. After about three weeks of really rough weather, it was back to Esquimault again. I had now been in the navy for one year, and being 18 I got a raise in pay to $37 a month. I wasn’t used to getting all that money, so I sent $10 a month home.
At 18, I had traveled 7000 miles by train, sailed south and through the Panama Canal and up to Alaska, and now I had to leave the west coast by train and report to Halifax. This time I was assigned to a destroyer, “Gatineau” which would be doing convoy duty between “Newfie” and “Derry” (Newfoundland and Londonderry, Ireland) making about 15 trips across the Atlantic. There would be lots of enemy submarine activity here.
Later we were sent to the English Channel for ‘D Day’ landings, escorting landing craft and other ships to France and the landing beaches. Finally, it was back to Halifax for ship repairs and a well earned leave.
Before too long, I was assigned to the cruiser “Ontario” which was being built in Belfast, Ireland, so we had to go across the Atlantic on a troop ship loaded with thousands of army, navy and air force personnel. I celebrated my 21st birthday shortly after I went aboard the “Ontario.
After a few weeks of trial runs and training we were off to the South Pacific sailing through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, stopping at Ceylon, India - now Sri Lanka and on to Hong Kong. The war had just ended, Japan had surrendered, so we had to do occupational duties, living ashore with the Chinese, looking after “rice line-ups”, and maintaining law and order among the people. After 3 months of this, it was back to British Columbia again, stopping at Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, Hawaii and then Esquimault.
The war was over so most of the fellows were being discharged, but not me. I still had 2 ½ years to serve. I was transferred to Halifax, this time going aboard another destroyer, "Nootka” sailing up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal. In the winter months, we sailed to Bermuda, The Caribbean Islands and Key West, then back to Halifax. After a short time around Nova Scotia, we sailed for Hudson’s Bay, and were nearly late getting back to Halifax for my wedding in October, 1948. I was discharged the next May - just eight years after I enlisted.
As I read this over, it seems to be like a nice cruise that anyone would like to take. But I have left out “the not so pleasant” memories, like the ships in the convoy being torpedoes, and the friends lost on different ships. Sometimes we wouldn’t have our clothes off for a week at a time, and seeing all the landing craft going into the beaches on D-Day, many of the boys never returning, and the COLD, ROUGH NORTH ATLANTIC.
I consider myself pretty lucky – our ship seemed always to be at the right place at the right time. We had some close calls but no loss of life.