Monday, February 8, 2016

Carry On Gang 9, "Long Walk a Beaut"

Saturday and Sunday - Smooth Sailing

"The warm weather may be spoiling us"

Don noticed a couple of walkers ahead of us on Saturday and one was noticeably smoother, possibly healthier, than the other. He said, "You can tell which one will live longer than the other." And, in my opinion, the winner appeared obvious.

Women in Canada, on average, live longer than men, and the husband and wife team ahead of us looked like an average couple to us. So, to the guys I say, get out there and walk a couple of miles everyday and add a couple of years (or more) to your lifespan.

My solo long walk on Sunday was a warm one when the sun peeked out from behind clouds. I felt I'd over-dressed until a breeze pick up and carried me home. I finished 8 miles in about 2HR:40MIN (average speed, 3 miles per hour), in Greenway and Springbank Parks. I don't know if people would say my walking style is smooth, but I'm pretty steady. Svelte is what I'm going for... by 2017!

Photos from along the way with rambling commentary:

 "Is the couple up ahead 'average'? Husband seemed in poor shape"

 "I would rather see some snow in February. Too much green!"

 "Lots of people in Greenway Park are using the dog park"

"On the way home I noticed I'd forgotten my granola bars! Hungry Man!"

Link to Carry on Gang 7, "Good Days on Tap"

Photos GH

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Carry On Gang 7, "Good Days On Tap"

"Back to Near Normal"

Looking north, enjoying the quiet, toward the noisy Oxford St. bridge

The GREAT Canadian Comeback continues as I walk mile after mile in a steady manner. I rested my feet on Monday and Tuesday because of blisters that developed during last Sunday's eight-miler. Had I taken Monday off I may have been back at it after only one day of rest and repair. However, two day's worth of strategic recuperation will do me no harm.

Colour co-ordination is very important as well

I look forward to two month's worth of 'Carry On Gang' walks 

Don mentioned the other day that he has lost weight because of all the miles we have covered during the last year. I cannot report the same result because I have not noted my weight since I retired from my demanding exercise routine (linked to marathoning) at the YMCA in 2006. That being said, as long as my feet stay healthy and I keep heading out the door to cover 25 - 35 miles per week, I will be able to report on several healthy results in the future.

Why, already I feel like a 1000 bucks! But, I know, a million would feel better.

Carry On Gang, I say.

Link to Carry On Gang 5

Photos by GH

Friday, February 5, 2016

Story re Combined Ops, "Revenge for HMHS Talamba"

Germany Sinks a Hospital Ship. Lone Skipper Strikes Back

HMHS Talamba: 10/07/1943 - Bombed & sunk off Syracuse during the landings
in Sicily. Attacked even though fully illuminated and showing red cross markings.
Photo Credit - TyneBuiltShips

Canadians who served in Combined Operations during WW2 write about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Talamba by German aircraft in July of '43. A brief passage found in With The Utmost Spirit by speaks of the Allies' revenge.

References to the loss of HMHS Talamba follow:

The comparative quiet was broken at nine o'clock in the morning (July 10). An enemy bomber came in very fast and dropped a stick of bombs  along a stretch of shoreline occupied by two British vessels and by the Canadian landing craft carrying the Senior Officer of the 80th Flotilla. The smaller British vessel, a tank landing craft, was squarely hit and blown to pieces. The other British ship was heavily damaged, and every man on her bridge was killed. The Canadian craft, well up on the beach with some of her shore nearby, had a miraculous escape. The force of the explosions knocked down the men on the beach, and the Flotilla officer was blown back into the well deck of his ship, but no one was injured. Considerably dazed, but marvelling at their luck, the men recovered and went to the assistance of the British merchantman, helping to take off her wounded and transfer them to a hospital ship.

Two hours later a series of heavier raids began. Throughout the night and for the next forty-eight hours the attempted blitz rose to a total of  twenty-three separate raids. costing the invasion forces five merchantmen (ships) and a hospital ship. The decline of the Luftwaffe's efforts was rapid, however. Air cover from Malta began to show its murderous effectiveness, and by the third day planes flying from captured Sicilian bases were adding their strength to the Allied umbrella.  [An excerpt from pages 83 - 84, Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks]

We eventually found a cave where we slept safe from the Luftwaffe who in the first 48 hours launched 23 air raids on our sector, sinking five ships including the hospital ship (Talamba).... [From "Miss Canada", LCM 1022 by John Rimmer]

Saturday, July 10: Boat broke loose. Had one helluva time to stop from losing her. Lots of fireworks at zero hour. Battleships shelling the shore. Put the boats over the side and made our first trip in. See wrecks of gliders. Ships and a few dead bodies lying around. Had air raid at 1600 hours. Straddled us with a stick of bombs. One ship hit. Three planes shot down. We fired off our Lewis guns but they were too high for us.

July 11: Hospital ship bombed and sunk last night. Had quite a few raids after midnight. Dropped flares. Another air raid after midnight. Two ships hit. One forward of us. Don't mind the big fellows but the "Stuka dive bomber." Everything going fine. Another raid. Two Gerries shot down in flames. [From "Ed Corbett's Diary"]

July 11: Gerry and Italian planes over bombing but are kept high. Sank a hospital ship. RAF very few but hot when around. 11 raids since yesterday at 4 a.m. [From "Bill Lindsay's Diary"]

The Stukas were overhead like flies. It just went on and on for days. And as I said before, everybody knew where the bloody beach was and down it came.... We had a lot of wounded and the CO [commanding officer] said “get them out to the hospital ship.” So, I got these guys on the landing craft, an LCM, American, and out to the hospital ship I went. Well there was a cruiser and a monitor circling around the hospital ship acting as artillery for the shore. But the range [bore] of those guns is fifteen-inch on a monitor and I think the cruiser was six-inch. They could have gotten away from the hospital ship and still accomplished what they wanted. But anyway the Stukas was over trying to hit them and here is the poor hospital ship right in the middle. Well, I went out and went alongside the hospital ship and it was real hairy getting out there. The stuff was coming down and water coming in from the bottom and we started slinging the wounded aboard. And being coxn I was higher up than most people and I was level with the lowest deck of the hospital ship and I heard a very cultured voice say, “Would you like a cup of tea?” And I turned and here was a nursing sister. An older woman. Impeccably dressed you know. And I said – I would have preferred something stronger – but I said, “Yes, sister.” So she brought me a cup of tea. And I said, “Just the cup, not the saucer.” I was shaking too much. I drank the tea and I gave it back to her and she said, “It’s not much fun in there is it.” And I said, “No sister, it’s not,” and she reached out and she touched my cheek and she said, “God bless you.” And then just then one of the guys yelled, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” So broke off their Red Crosses and we broke out the Lewis [light machine] guns and turned around and headed back and had a “rattlin’” good time going back. You know how effective you are. When you firing back, you feel better.

Anyway, we got back to the beach and blew off about three, four thousand rounds of ammunition and then we went away. Well a couple of days later the hospital ship was sunk and we had came back and the word was out that six staff and four patients were lost with it, went down. The bodies started coming up nine days after, and this day I was on the beach and a landing craft was towing in a nursing sister. And one of the officers said, “Bowen, bring your knife,” because you know the skin swells. It gets all distorted. The skin had swollen up over either a watch or an ID bracelet and they wanted to get an ID. So this officer said, “Bring your knife Norm and we will cut down and see if we can get an ID.” And I said, “Sure,” and I went over and I knelt down and I just looked and she had gray hair. I just had to go away myself and you know this is stupid. It is fifty-five years ago and I still worry and wonder. [N. Bowen, from audio at The Memory Project]

A reference to 'the chance for revenge' follows:

During Operation Husky, one British skipper found himself with the unusual opportunity of being able to personally fire back at his attackers. A few days after the loss of the hospital ship Talamba, Sam Lombard-Hobson, Rockwood's commanding officer, wrote, "The chance for revenge came a few days later. Rockwood was on anti-submarine patrol."

Perhaps because of a thick smoke screen, each of the patrolling destroyers "was singled out several times for attack in the bright moonlight." Rockwood was almost hit twice but sustained no damage. "This cat and mouse game went on incessantly until well after midnight." Lombard-Hobson was in his sea cabin around 0400 when he heard the drone of engines. "I went up, and suddenly, out of the darkness, and at a height of no more than 100 feet, I saw the outline of an aircraft coming straight at us." The aircraft dropped a torpedo, Lombard-Hobson said, "But I had guessed the game and was under full wheel when the torpedo passed astern....

As the bomber passed over the ship, it gave me an opportunity I had been waiting for since May 1940, when from the beaches of Dunkirk I had recovered two abandoned Bren guns. Like pair of faithful Purdeys, I had had these two guns with me on the bridge of each ship in which i had served since that day." Rockwood's skipper never hesitated. "Before anyone else could open fire, I seized my ex-Dunkirk Brens and let fly; I couldn't miss! The bullets ripped into the underbelly of the Ju88 as it roared overhead, on its way to attack the merchant ships." Fatally stricken, the plane "burst into flames, and crashed into the sea less than a mile from the ship." [From page 210 of With Utmost Spirit by Barbara Brooks Tomblin]

Please link to Stories re Combined Ops, "One Man's Trek, 1941-45"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Context for Combined Ops,"HMS Belmont sunk, Jan. 1942"

Beware, to All That Dare Cross the Sea

As published on January 15, 1942

The month of January, 1942 can be considered ‘early days’ by the first small group of Canadian officers and ratings (RCNVR) who volunteered for ‘special duties’ overseas in the Combined Operations organization. The following information, from personal memoirs and The Halifax Herald, reports on what occurred during early days that surely affected many of the young sailors already far from home.

From the naval memoirs of D. Harrison, RCNVR and Combined Ops, age 21:

The first group of volunteers for special duty left Halifax January 30th, 1942, aboard the Dutch Liner Volendam. Actually a first try had aborted when the AMC (Armoured Merchant Cruiser), HMS Queen of Bermuda, ran aground a few miles out into the Atlantic. Our second try was in a small convoy consisting of the Dutch Volendam, the Largs Bay and two destroyers, HMS Belmont and HMS Firedrake, and we were designated Convoy NA-2. [A third trooper, the SS George Washington, unable to keep up well with the others, started with us but detached to a port in Newfoundland before action began.]

Early in February, 1942 we arrived in Greenock, Scotland having been safely shepherded there by the Firedrake after the Belmont was torpedoed late on the night of January 31st, with a total loss of life. The Largs Bay was a sister ship to the Jervis Bay, which went to certain destruction against the Scharnhorst on November 5th, 1940 in order to buy time so all but four of its convoy could get safely to England.

*  *  *  *  *

The headlines and an article that follow from the January issue of The Halifax Herald remind us of dangers all men faced who dared cross the Atlantic on their way to Europe.

Closest Approach Yet Made By Enemy

New York, Jan. 14 -- (AP)

The Third Naval District announced tonight the Panamanian tanker Norness was torpedoed by a submarine early today 60 miles south of Montauk Point, Long Island - the closest approach yet made to North American's east coast by enemy vessels in the second Great War. The brief navy announcement said naval craft had been sent to the rescue from New London, Conn., and Newport, R.I., and that a number of survivors was known to to have been picked up.

Menace Increasing

Earlier, the Navy had reported a tanker in distress off the eastern tip of Long Island, and simultaneously warned that the U-boat menace to Atlantic coast shipping was increasing. Merchant shipping had been warned of the increasing submarine hazard, said a navy spokesman, in order that steps might be taken to counter the peril.

At that time, the navy said one of their patrol planes had spotted the stricken ship, its lifeboats filled with the men of its crew, bobbing on the wintry waves around it. The patrol plane's alarm sent other aircraft and surface vessels from New London, Conn., speeding to the rescue and to hunt down and depth-bomb the submarine. While the location of the torpedoing was off Long Island, the navy spokesman said the range of hostile U-boat activities appeared to spread "pretty well up and down the east coast."

14 Survivors Landed

Fourteen survivors were landed by a naval craft tonight at the Newport, R.I. island torpedo station. No one was allowed to talk with them at the closely guarded plant. It was believed, however, none of those arriving here was seriously injured, for the station has not medical facilities to treat serious cases, which are taken to the naval hospital on the mainland.

The announcement did not identify the nationality of the submerged attacker, nor did it say whether the damaged tanker, en route from Panama City, Panama, had gone to the bottom. The position of the oil carrier, 60 miles south of Montauk Point, which is at the eastern tip of Long Island about 120 miles from New York City, would place it approximately 110 miles due east of New York Harbor.

*  *  *  *  *

What would the young Canadian members of RCNVR and Combined Operations, with only a few hours of training on a minesweeper under their belts, have thought of reports of the submarine menace or the cartoon below (from The Halifax Herald, January 14, 1942)? 

"Reporting from the East Coast of Canada... safe journey, Boys!"

For more information about Canadians in Combined Operations in WW2, visit my growing blog about the subject @

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Article re Combined Ops, "One Man's Trek, 1941-45"


By Doug Harrison, first published in the Norwich Gazette, circa 1992

Naval ratings off duty enjoying a bathe on the North African coast at Oran
or Mers-El-Kebir, Nov. 1942. Photo Credit - Imperial War Museum (IWM)

Not too much has been written about the Canadian Navy’s active part in WW2 on Assault Landing Craft. For about a thousand Canadian Navy boys, this meant volunteering a second time, which we probably wouldn’t have done if we had known what we were slated to do, once we got to Britain.

The first group of volunteers for special duty left Halifax January 30th, 1942, aboard the Dutch Liner Volendam. Actually a first try had aborted when the AMC (Armoured Merchant Cruiser), HMS Queen of Bermuda, ran aground a few miles out into the Atlantic. Our second try was in a small convoy consisting of the Dutch Volendam, the Largs Bay and two destroyers, HMS Belmont and HMS Firedrake, and we were designated Convoy NA-2. [A third trooper, the SS George Washington, unable to keep up well with the others, started with us but detached to a port in Newfoundland before action began.]

Early in February, 1942 we arrived in Greenock, Scotland having been safely shepherded there by the Firedrake after the Belmont was torpedoed late on the night of January 31st, with a total loss of life. The Largs Bay was a sister ship to the Jervis Bay, which went to certain destruction against the Scharnhorst on November 5th, 1940 in order to buy time so all but four of its convoy could get safely to England.

Upon arriving at HMCS Niobe, the Canadian barracks at Greenock, we were filled in on our Special Duty, and it was revealed to us that we were to serve on landing craft. We weren’t allowed to lay around Niobe for long. The strange new world of landing craft, tides, currents, cold wind, rain and darkness beckoned those of us who were raw recruits, still getting used to the grub, currency and customs of a new land. This early training was at HMS Northney, Havant, near Portsmouth in the south of England.

Then we were entrained from Southern England to Inveraray, Scotland where the heather looked lovely through the early morning mist and sun. We acquainted ourselves with further landing craft and their side effects: wetness, oil, hunger and tiredness. A strong bond was forged which still exists today among this CO group of Canadian officers and ratings while training night and day. At Irvine in Ayrshire we were treated royally by the townsfolk along Harbour Street where we tied up our landing craft, the ladies bestowing tea and cookies on us after training exercises off the Ayrshire coast (south of Irvine).

Officers cried orders in the pitch dark as we trained. “Keep closed up,” or “Out kedge,” (anchor) and just before hitting the beach, “Down door. Up door.” Seamen strained at the cranks on the windlass as the coxswains worked the helm and motors against unfamiliar tides and currents. We were green but learning fast. Little did we know that we didn’t have much time, nor did we know what lay ahead.

The seamen good-naturedly accused the stokers of being seamen with their brains bashed in, but those same stokers never let us down, and it was sure good to have someone you could count on. No one wanted to be left stranded on the beach, nor were they. This was an unwritten law. MLCs changed in name to LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized). ALCs changed to LCAs (Landing Craft, Assault) and were the first victims of our inexperience. The crewmen shouted and cursed amongst ourselves, each caring for his own craft. But we got along well together, existing some days on only Cadbury chocolate and hard tack washed down with “Compost “ tea.

For about fifty-five officers and ratings the moment of truth drew near when they would be put to the test, untried, but with a high esprit de corps and ready to live or die by Canadian Navy traditions, and die some did. Seventy-one men of CO, RCNVR took part in the Dieppe raid, 19 August, 1942. One officer died at 0347 hours, August 19th in the Channel, killed in a fiery exchange with a small German convoy. During the long, suffering day two Canadian seamen were killed and one severely wounded. He later died and was buried in Berlin in October 1942. The commanding officer of the flotilla and a wounded stoker were captured. The stoker was repatriated in an exchange of prisoners but the officer remained captive for the duration. At least two Canadian officers and the wounded stoker were awarded medals. A Canadian seaman and officers were mentioned in Dispatches for the Dieppe raid.

1989 Reunion of two shipmates at Dieppe
Stoker R.W. Brown (“severely wounded”, left) and Lt. McRae
(“remained captive”, back right), with D. Harrison (middle, with cap)
and Art Bailey (right). Photo - St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1 

The remainder regrouped with comrades in England and were joined by other officers and ratings from Canada. They set sail for North Africa in late October or early November, 1942. The Canadian men, with a sprinkling of Royal Navy personnel were lowered with their LCMs over the side of tankers at midnight, November 8, 1942 to ferry goods and supplies to the undefended shores of North Africa - and against resistance at Arzew, just south of Oran.

After about a week of this and the loss of one coxswain who was killed, the LCMs were left behind and the Canadians boarded three ships for the return to England. The Reina del Pacifico arrived safely but a slow old blister named the Clan MacTaggart and the P & O liner Ettrick were torpedoed off Gibraltar. One sailor died in the sinking of the Clan MacTaggart. Eight died when a torpedo scored a direct hit on the mess deck of the Ettrick. So these fine Canadian sailors were buried at sea.

In late spring of 1943 about two hundred officers and ratings of Combined Operations (CO) left Britain from various ports to man LCMs in the invasion of Sicily on July 10th. Some of these men suffered terribly from dysentery while camped in the desert waiting for slower ships to arrive with their boats and many were still in a weakened condition when they hit the beaches south of Syracuse near a town named Avola and in the Pachino-Marzamemi Beaches further south. These Canadian sailors, with no change of clothing, subsisted on what they could scrounge for themselves for over a month at Sicily. Some slept on the beaches and on landing craft and one group found safety from bombs in an abandoned limestone cave near the beach. Very damp and lizardly, it was a welcome haven at night.

The men under a new commanding officer did yeoman work, although working long hours, under fed and pestered severely by Stukas and JU88s. The stokers kept the landing craft running, if not on two engines, then on one (no down time) and the Canadian Flotillas were highly praised by the British Admiralty and General Montgomery himself. Their monkey mascot went bomb crazy and was buried at sea in a sandbag. It was a sad occasion when it was chucked overboard for our safety.

Late in the Sicilian campaign, because of poor conditions, some of these now-seasoned veterans came down with dysentery and were shipped off to Malta to recuperate. The favourite Navy cure for dysentery seemed to some to be a six or seven day starvation period; some of the boys certainly had nice looking rib cages while convalescing in Malta. All the flotillas soon appeared at Valetta, Malta with only a few days to make things shipshape for the Italian landing early in September. After a few weeks of ferrying supplies from near Messina to Reggio, they returned to Africa and again to England in October; some were well-laden with side arms picked up at AMGOT stores (Allied Military Government of Occupied Territory). This group returned to Canada, landing at Halifax on December 6, 1943 after two years of overseas service.

"This group returned to Canada, landing at Halifax" aboard Aquitania,
including Chuck Rose (Rosie), Don Westbrook (Westy), Al Kirby (laughing)
and Joe Watson (turning his collar): Photo - G. D. (Doug) Harrison

Some of this group joined new officers and ratings and took a very active part aboard the LSIs Prince Henry and Prince David on D-Day. In many war photos of that time, Canadian manned LSIs are shown in the forefront of their landings in both the D-Days in France and in the Adriatic and Aegean Seas. A few Canadian CO ratings accepted drafts back into General Service and served admirably there as well for the duration of hostilities. Other CO ratings and officers with recruits from Canada manned 30 LCI(L)s for Normandy D-Day and did ferry service for two months. They were carrying soldiers to the landing beaches and artificial harbour - or Mulberry(s) as they were called. They appear on a recent commemorative stamp of the Normandy Landing. The letters and digits stand out clearly showing LCI(L) 299 as our representative. (Even the glue on the stamps has a nice taste).

In all, twenty or more awards were made to the men of Canadian Combined Operations for outstanding devotion duty to Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily, Italy and D-Day Normandy.

Unattributed Photos by GH

Carry On Gang 5, "Uphill Some of the Way"

Feels Like Spring

Is Spring around the corner? I hope not. I'd like cold weather for at least 6 more weeks. It kills the bugs. (Doesn't help with blisters!)

Good walk yesterday, though the blister that developed on Sunday - during an eight-miler on a wet day - grew worse by the time I reached home.

By the numbers -

I walked 30 out of 31 days in January

30/31 = 96.8%

I covered about 30 miles per week.

Not bad, I say.

More photos from along the way on Sunday:

Link to Carry On Gang 4, "Wet and Woolly"

Photos GH

Monday, February 1, 2016

Video re Combined Ops, "Raid on Dieppe, 1942"

Presented by News of the Day

A German photograph of the aftermath of the Dieppe raid.

The website entitled Critical Past has a deep catalogue of videos (thousands) and still images (millions), and many concern World War 2 events and battle fronts in which Canadians in Combined Operations were whole-heartedly involved. Though a price tag is attached to high-resolution videos and stock images, the public will find free access to the same material, though in low-resolution and with the website's title displayed in the centre.

Link to the accompanying Video - Allied aircraft and amphibious assault troops in action during the battle of Dieppe in France during World War II.

Synopsis, in part:

Raid on Dieppe from Allied point-of-view, so it is limited and dwells chiefly on positive results. A Royal Navy warship bombards the coast of Dieppe at night... Allied airmen get into an aircraft... American, British and Canadian troops in landing crafts underway toward Dieppe... German aircraft drop bombs and explosions occur at sea... Landing crafts at sea. LCTs (Landing Crafts Tanks) go ashore... Wounded Allied soldiers disembark from a ship in England...

More coverage and reading required for a well-balanced view of Dieppe's outcome.

Location: Dieppe France
Date: 1942
Duration: 5 min 40 sec
Sound: Yes

Landing craft taking part in Operation Jubilee, the raid on Dieppe
Photo credit - Canada at War

Link to Video re Combined Ops, "U.S. Troops in N. Africa"

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Carry On Gang 4, "Wet and Woolly"

Busy Pathways on Sunday

"Nice woollen kilt is all one needs on a mild winter's day"

On Saturday, Don and I passed through Harris Park, at first heading north towards Blackfriars Bridge. We met a dog named 'Fox' and noticed the river was running high. After we crossed the bridge we headed south for home, knowing full well we had halfway to go and still half of the world's problems left to solve. That being said, it is amazing how many good solutions we came up with by the time we reached our front porches in Wortley Village. All was well with the world.

"Carry On Walk #4 was a long one"

On Sunday I tackled an eight-miler on my own and reached my turnabout spot near Springbank dam before the rain came down. Fortunately, I was dressed for wet weather and made it home - in under three hours - without having to swim. Front crawl is not my strong suit. Neither is colour-co-ordination but I still hold it in high regard.

By the numbers for the day:

8 miles in under three hours

estimated speed - 3.16 miles per hour (19 minutes per mile)

one blister for the first time (related to my choice of socks, I bet)

Photos from along the way:

 "This fellow has a smooth shuffle. One day that could be me"

 "Lots of folks outside today"

"My turnabout point, just short of Springbank dam"

Photos GH

Friday, January 29, 2016

Short Story re Combined Ops, "N. Africa and Reina Del Pacifico"

Below is but one of the many WW2 stories, facts and details I am sharing at my new blog entitled '1000 Men 1000 Stories: Canadians in Combined Operations, WW2' at Stop by anytime.

Operation TORCH and Life Aboard Reina Del Pacifico

By Doug Harrison, RCNVR and Combined Operations

Operation TORCH: American troops land at Arzeu, near Oran, Nov., 1942
Photo credit - Imperial War Museum (IWM)

Reina Del Pacifico Served Well in War Years

[This newspaper column was first published in The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

This is the story of a large passenger liner converted to a troop ship called the Reina Del Pacifico which carried 200 Canadian sailors and other personnel back to Liverpool, England after the invasion of North Africa, which started November 8th, 1942.

Buryl McIntyre and I were among the 200 sailors who had worked on our landing craft ferrying troops and army supplies ashore night and day for about a week at a little town south of Oran named Arzew.

During the invasion the Reina Del had acted as a hospital ship which we Canadian sailors could go aboard when tired. We were given excellent food, excellent rum, help to tumble into a hammock where we remained horizontal for many hours. The Reina Del served as a passenger liner again for many years after the war but unfortunately burned about 1970.

Approximately Nov. 14th, 1942 the dark green, two funnel Reina Del lay at anchor at Arzew, and those two funnels were active enough to indicate steam was being brewed in the engine rooms, and she was as anxious as the sailors to head for home. Our landing craft one by one manoeuvred to the gang-plank on the port side of the Reina Del and Canadian sailors waiting for the proper swell of the wave jumped to gang-plank and hurried up the steps and went aboard through the large cargo door. Each one was checked off by name by a Canadian officer standing inside the cargo door, complete with clipboard. The landing craft were now manned by English sailors returning at a later date.

Reina Del Pacifico - Link to Photo Credit

As my turn came to jump aboard the gang-plank, my eye spotted a large unexploded shell imbedded in the side of the ship not far from the officer’s head. I was very tired but not that tired, and inquired of the officer about the unexploded shell and he replied that the Captain had the shell examined and it was a dud. “I sure hope he is right because my mother will miss me, Mr. Wedd,” I said.

Mr. Wedd was dog-tired too and in no mood for an argument. “Your mother will miss you a lot more if you’re not aboard on the next swell, Harrison, because we are leaving. Do you hear me?” He added a bit more which wouldn’t be printed and his ultimatum enabled me to time the swell of the next wave perfectly and I jumped to the gang-planks, and though tired, I found new energy at the cargo door and was soon amidships. The shell never exploded but it was sand-bagged and roped off.

It wasn’t long before the clank of the anchor cable could be heard in the hawse pipe. The anchors stowed, the gang-plank came on board and we were underway and in a few hours steaming at 27 knots (about 33 mph) we were safely inside the submarine nets at Gibraltar. In those few hours we organized bridge and crib tournaments.

The scene at Gibraltar was one of carnage, war at its worst. Nearby were destroyers which had been mauled by bomb and torpedoes, with gaping holes in their sides and deck plating, and some of the large guns were bent and pointed at bizarre angles. Miraculously they floated with pride and here and there steam came from the odd funnel. We thought of what the crews had been through and the fire and heat that had buckled the plates, how anyone could have survived. But Malta had to be fed.

Aboard the Reina Del at Gibraltar the Captain advised us to sleep up top under cover at night and those Canadian sailors who were not taking part in the tournaments became look-outs as we sailed west into the Atlantic alone. Naval tradition prevailed aboard the ship and at 11 o’clock each morning we were given a tot of navy rum which we didn’t have to drink under the watchful eye of some Chief Petty Officer. Buryl McIntyre and I were partners at bridge; we received good cards and placed second in the tournament; there being no main prize it was agreed that whichever team won the rubber of bridge also won their opponents’ tot of rum. Buryl and I slept quite well most nights, but with one eye open and one arm through our Mae West life jackets. Each ship has its own peculiar quirks and sounds; it is the unusual sound that brings sailors awake.

The Captain wished to miss the Bay of Biscay and as we skirted the western edge heading north we ran into a severe electrical storm. Standing well inboard under cover we witnessed the worst electrical display of our lives. Also, it seemed to rain so hard it pounded the sea flat. The ship retained good speed throughout and reached Liverpool safely in about four days.

Liverpool, such a friendly city, has welcomed sailors for centuries and we went ashore soon after our arrival to a seaman’s home, a large, warm, clean barrack-like building with good food, showers, and cots with white sheets and pillow cases. Heaven! Soon mail arrived and I can still see myself and my friends discarding our boots and stretching out on the cots to read the latest from home. Everything went quiet until someone shouted, “Hey guys, get a load of this!”

“Pipe down!” The old familiar phrase. “Read it to us later!”

We shared our parcels with anyone who may have missed out and showed new photos all around. Although we had shore leave, many chose to stay where we were, get some rest, and write some letters home. We did not see the Reina Del Pacifico again. One evening she slipped quietly away, but I for one have never forgotten her, our home for a few short days.

*   *   *   *   * 

The following story, from Doug Harrison's Navy memoirs, again mentions activity related to Operation TORCH and times aboard the Reina Del Pacifico.

What a Sight to Behold

My group went through much more training at H.M.S. Quebec and then we entrained for Liverpool. Prominent pub was The Crown in Wallasey. We left Greenock in October, 1942 with our LCMs aboard a ship called Derwentdale, sister ship to Ennerdale. She was an oil tanker and the food was short and the mess decks where we ate were full of eighteen inch oil pipes. The 80th and 81st flotillas, as we are now called, were split between the Derwentdale and Ennerdale in convoy, and little did we know we were bound for North Africa.

I became an A/B Seaman (Able-bodied) on this trip and passed my exams classed very good. The food aboard was porridge and kippers for break-fast, portioned out with a scale. We would plead for just one more kipper from the English Chief Petty Officer, and when he gave it to us we chucked it all over the side because the kippers were unfit to eat.

We had American soldiers aboard and an Italian in our mess who had been a cook before the war. He drew our daily rations and prepared the meal (dinner) and had it cooked in the ship’s galley. He had the ability to make a little food go a long way and saved us from starvation. Supper I can’t remember, but I know the bread was moldy and if the ship’s crew hadn’t handed us out bread we would have been worse off. We used to semaphore with flags to the Ennerdale to see how they were eating; they were eating steak. One of the crew cheered us up and said, “Never mind, boys. There will be more food going back. There won’t be as many of us left after the invasion.” Cheerful fellow. However, we returned aboard another ship to England, the Reina Del Pacifico, a passenger liner, and we nicknamed the Derwentdale the H.M.S. Starvation.

In the convoy close to us was a converted merchant ship which was now an air craft carrier. They had a relatively short deck for taking off, and one day when they were practicing taking off and landing a Swordfish aircraft failed to get up enough speed and rolled off the stern and, along with the pilot, disappeared immediately. No effort was made to search, we just kept on.

One November morning the huge convoy, perhaps 500 ships, entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a nice sun-shiny day... what a sight to behold.

Troops climb into landing craft, manned by Canadians, from Reina Del 
Pacifico during landings in North Africa, Nov. 1942. Photo credit - IWM 

On November 11, 1942 the Derwentdale dropped anchor off Arzew in North Africa and different ships were distributed at different intervals along the vast coast. My LCM had the leading officer aboard, another seaman besides me, along with a stoker and Coxswain. At around midnight over the sides went the LCMs, ours with a bulldozer and heavy mesh wire, and about 500 feet from shore we ran aground. When morning came we were still there, as big as life and all alone, while everyone else was working like bees.

There was little or no resistance, only snipers, and I kept behind the bulldozer blade when they opened up at us. We were towed off eventually and landed in another spot, and once the bulldozer was unloaded the shuttle service began. For ‘ship to shore’ service we were loaded with five gallon jerry cans of gasoline. I worked 92 hours straight and I ate nothing except for some grapefruit juice I stole. 

Doug Harrison (centre) watches as troops and ammunition come ashore on LCAs at
Arzeu in Algeria during Operation 'Torch', November 1942. Photo credit - IWM 

Our Coxswain was L/S Jack Dean of Toronto and our officer was Lt. McDonald RNR. After the 92 hours my officer said, “Well done. An excellent job, Harrison. Go to Reina Del Pacifico and rest.” But first the Americans brought in a half track (they found out snipers were in a train station) and shelled the building to the ground level. No more snipers. I then had to climb hand over hand up a large hawser (braided rope) to reach the hand rail of Reina Del Pacifico and here my weakness showed itself.

I got to the hand rail completely exhausted and couldn’t let one hand go to grab the rail or I would have fallen forty feet into an LCM bobbing below. I managed to nod my head at a cook in a Petty Officer’s uniform and he hauled me in. My throat was so dry I only managed to say, “Thanks, you saved my life.”

The Reina was a ship purposely for fellows like me who were tired out, and I was fed everything good, given a big tot of rum and placed in a hammock. I slept the clock around twice - 24 hours - then went back to work. In seven days I went back aboard the Reina Del and headed for Gibraltar to regroup for the trip back to England. During the trip I noticed the ship carried an unexploded three inch shell in her side all the way back to England.

Just outside Gibraltar, Ettrick was torpedoed in her side and sank, and one rating from Ingersoll, Ontario was among those killed. She took four hours to sink and many were saved. We arrived in England without trouble. Our ship was fast, could do about 22 knots per hour, a knot being one mile and a fifth per hour. (I am going to leave my memories about hilarious occasions during leaves I enjoyed until last.)

Please link to Short Story re "North Africa, S. S. Clan MacTaggart"

Carry On Gang 2, "My Favourite Colour is Plaid"

On the Road Again and Again

I think the 'Carry On' theme for my next walking/fun-and-fitness routine is fitting because I'm going to have to make a good effort for a long time while making The GREAT Canadian Comeback. I should be carrying on until the first week of April at the rate I'm going. Beyond that... we'll just wait and see.

Old sayings like 'nothing comes easy', 'if you want cheap you can have cheap', 'go slow and enjoy the view' and 'I look pretty good in plaid, eh' all spring to mind while I'm out there walking my way to better fitness.

"I do look pretty good in plaid, eh?"

More photos from along the way:

Link here to Keep Going 60, "I Hit My Target"

Photos GH

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Short Story re St. Nazaire, "Code name CHARIOT, 1942"

My blog about 'Canadians in Combined Operations, WW2' continues with a short story about an Allied attack on St. Nazaire. Objective: To knock out a dry dock that was large enough to service and repair Germany's largest battleship, Tirpitz.

Mission accomplished, but not without cost.

St. Nazaire - Code name CHARIOT, March 28, 1942

By John O'Rourke, LT, RCNVR

Combined Operations Memorial Plaque, HMS Quebec, Inveraray Scotland

The list of battle honours

St. Nazaire - CHARIOT

March 27 - 28, 1942: St. Nazaire was hailed as "The Greatest Raid of All" by G. E. Lucas Phillips... The death toll amounted to 169... five Victoria Crosses (were awarded), two of them posthumous... the aims were achieved completely by the loss to the Germans of the only Atlantic dock that could accommodate their largest and most powerful battleship, the Tirpitz, and a number of submarine facilities. At least four Canadians participated...

The British fleet consisted of three destroyers... the third was HMS Campbeltown... her funnels were cut down to give her the appearance of a German subchaser. She would ram the gates of the super dock built for the super passenger liner Normandie. Operational Headquarters was to be MGB 314 and to this were added one MTB and 17 MLs... This flotilla sailed from Falmouth, Cornwall, with the Hunts towing the MLs for the 500 mile journey. They were not detected as they rounded the Brest promontory and entered the Bay of Biscay and then the estuary of the Loire River...

Caption (in part): MGB 314, which lead the attack into St. Nazaire harbour.
The foc'sle Pom Pom is where AB Savage (was killed and ) won his VC. Only three
of the 18 craft made it back to England. Photo - St. Nazaire to Singapore, Pg. 36

MGB 314 lead the little armada. It was followed by the Campbelton. The MLs formed up in two lines ahead flanking them... The MLs (wooden) were laden with Commandos and extra gasoline tanks. An RAF raid provided some sky-borne distraction and the naval force was not recognized by the shore batteries of the Germans. Then a challenge rang out. A fake reply was answered back by a German speaking RN signaller. It was five minutes after that that the ruse was seen through and a hellish din lit up the night to which all the vessels of the invading force responded by hauling down a german flag and hoisting the White Ensign and firing at every light point in the night... 

The Captain of the Campbelton pressed on at full speed and rammed the gates of the great dry dock at twenty knots... The Campbelton had been filled forward with four and a quarter tons of depth charge explosives. The fuses were lit which would explode the charge the following afternoon...

Photo and caption as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol 1 Pg. 35

David J. Lewis, the Editor of St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol 1, adds the following note (in part) at the end of O'Rourke's story: To continue the story in St. Nazaire, it became obvious that Campbelton evoked a great interest amongst the Germans of high and low rank. Hundreds visited and many were on board when she blew up the following afternoon...

Please read the full account and final thoughts by Canadians John O'Rourke and David Lewis at St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1, pages 37 - 38.

Unattributed photos by GH

KEEP GOING 60 "I Hit My Target"

Steady Eddie Wins the Day!

 "Don'tcha love them blue shwade shoes?"

On Tuesday of this week I walked part way to UWWO (University of Wild Western Ontario) and all of the way home, recording a time of about 1HR 25 MIN on the hoof.

"Big Star for Steady Eddie"

And yesterday friend Don and I walked downtown (discovered there are no London Knights' tickets available for Friday's game vs Erie Otters!), then back via a meandering route, total time 1HR 20 MIN.

Don keeps a different type of tally, but in my book I recorded KG60, "YES", with a big star. Not because I wore my lovely red runners and matching pork pie hat, but because I set a goal back on November 26 to KEEP ON GOING out the door regularly for 60 more walks, and yesterday I crossed Number 60 off the list.

By the numbers: That's 60 walks in 63 days, for a Get Out the Door Score of 95.2%. Why, if I'd scored 95.2% when I attended UWWO back in the '60s I'd be a rocket scientist right now, eating canapes and flying my private Concorde to Havana to pick up a big fat cigar.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

"Another goal is to hit 27/31, or 27 walks in 31 days
in January. Easy-kapeasy. I hit that goal today."

So, what's next? All I can say is, the GREAT Canadian Comeback continues.

Stay tuned.

Link to Keep Going 58, "Colour Co-ordination"

Photos GH

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Keep Going 58, "Colour-Co-ordination!"

"Walking is as Easy as..."

"Slapping on a colour-co-ordinated outfit"

My goal for January was to walk 27 days out of 31. At the moment I am on course to hit 30 out of 31. I don't like taking days off, even in cold weather (at a minimum this winter), and getting out the door is as easy as slipping into a high-tech, colourful outfit, i.e., blue jeans and a warm coat.

Yesterday Don and I walked under bright skies. You wouldn't know it because I switched photos to black and white in order to promote artsy-fartsiness and show off my long legs.

Some time this week I will reach the end of the line for Goal 2 - Keep Going for 60 more walks. A new goal and outfit are definitely coming up.

Valu Village, here I come!

Link to Keep Going 54

Photos GH