Wednesday, October 30, 2013

time, like a silent river (5)

Remembering a World at War

Remembrance Day 2013 is less than two weeks away. Though November 11 is still a day off in most provinces (according to Wikipedia), the expectation to attend a public service seems to be declining. I would like to see expectations go the other way.

* * * * * 

Today's quote -

"The theory behind convoys was that there was at least some safety
in numbers. Huge armadas of merchant and navy ships would depart
together and head across the Atlantic for Britain, with the knowledge
that while many would be sunk on the way across, at least
some of their numbers would make it through."
[pg. 270, Voices of a War Remembered]

Today's story -

Early Days of Training in Hamilton

In the spring of 1941, news coming out of Europe related to World War 2 would have mentioned the following: The blitz continued in London; Malta was being ground into dust by The Luftwaffe; German U-boats played havoc with Allied shipping in the Atlantic; the British battle cruiser Hood and German battleship Bismarck were sunk at 6:00 a.m., May 24 and 10:40 a.m., May 27, 1941, respectively. Three sailors survived the sinking of the Hood (of 1,400); less than 200 survived the destruction of the Bismarck (of 2,000).

It was during this time my father left home in Norwich, moved into his sister Gertie's apartment on Bay Street, Hamilton and got down to his first helping of serious business related to training for his future role with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. In later years members of the armed forces could easily recall training experiences, the associated hard work and free-spirited humour, likely because the work and military setting were brand new to just about all of them. My father wrote about those days and while doing so created, in my opinion, the most-illuminating and funniest run-on sentence in our family's history.

["Father's girlfriend - later my mother -
visits him in Hamilton; circa 1941"]

     June 21, 1941, I went on probationary strength at HMCS Star in
     Hamilton, corner of McNab and McNutt streets... and took
     instructions on semaphore, rifle drill, marching, compass work,
     bends and hitches, knots and splices etc... During the day I was
     employed at James St. North Hamilton Cotton Mills... (and) at
     Locke St. potteries before going to cotton mills.
     [pg. 3, "DAD, WELL DONE", Naval memoirs]

Father was chewed out at the potteries and quit, almost in the same instant one day. I think one of his sentences, however, lasted a bit longer than the whole affair. See for yourself:

     I quit my job at potteries because of a small misdemeanor of
     taking a smoke. I was called to the office and reprimanded but
     the foreman wanted me to stay on, but when I quit, I quit, and
     he knew where he could stuff his clay, (wait for it... GH) which
     was formed and molded, then enamelled and heated at high
     heat for use as electric fence insulators, toilet and sink bowls
     and for electric stove elements.

Ouch. Lesson learned - things can get pretty hot sometimes when my father is involved. But he knew how to work; details concerning his training follow:  

     Space at H.M.C.S. Star was not large enough for all-out training
     as (it) is now. Rifle drill, route marches, frog-hopping up hills with
     60 pound sacks on our back (frog-hopping is hopping in a squat
     position), and gunnery under the gunnery officer who always wears
     black garters. Everything is done on the double. It was a madhouse.
     They really toughened us up. Hold a Lee Enfield rifle (approximate
     weight - 12 to 14 pounds) in front of you in one hand and double
     change to the other hand, over your head, behind your back, then
     watch black garters walk away and forget all about you and you are
     still running. 

["Lee Enfield rifle found at"]

Fortunately, new recruits had a bit of fun along the way to make the hard work go down a little easier. Father writes:

     Comedy too was all part of naval life. We had to scrub and wax
     and polish the ward room floor, and after waxing we put a rating
     in a clean pair of overalls onto the floor and dragged him by his
     arms and ankles to polish it. Needless to say, corners were tough
     on his head.

Again, ouch. After his time in Hamilton father moved to Halifax where he reports the training was even more demanding. It was in Halifax, I believe, he first heard about Combined Operations, an organization (directly under British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Lord Louis Mountbatten) that would play an integral part in training him still further and then transport him to significant battle fronts. Before that though, he describes one last proud moment related to his early training:   

     When eight weeks of training were over we were shipped to Halifax,
     but not before the 80 of us, led by our mascot (a huge Great Dane
     led by Scotty Wales who was under punishment) and headed by a
     band, did a route march through Hamilton in early evening. We really
     were proud and put on a display of marching never seen before or
     since in Hamilton. Shoulders square, arms swinging shoulder high,
     thousands watched and we were roundly cheered and applauded.
     This was a proud moment long remembered, but soon we were bound
     for Halifax after a goodbye to Mum and family.

["...the class of '41 (march) across the C.N.R. bridge on
McNab St." Photo attributed to D. Harrison,
H.M.C.S. Star, 50th Anniversary Edition"]

More to follow.


Please click here to read time, like a silent river (4)

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