Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Research: In Comox and Courtenay, BC (2).

Givenchy III on The Spit 

The Spit, formerly called Givenchy III Canadian Navy base, offshore of
Comox, BC, a designated Combined Operations training centre, 1943 - 46. 
Photo Credit - Comox Museum, circa 1930s (Looking south) 

The Goose Spit, currently home to HMCS Quadra (Sea Cadets)
A paved road now connects The Spit (front centre) to Comox (right)
Courtenay is on far shore, far right. Photo by GH - Looking north

The Spit is one documented location in Canada where training occurred (e.g., aboard landing craft) related to Combined Operations during WW2. Several Canadians in Combined Ops, including my father Doug Harrison, arrived on the scene to perform various services - from menial dining room activities to serious D-Day landing exercises or rehearsals (aboard Canadian-built landing crafts) - after serving two years overseas aboard crafts that participated in well-known raids (e.g., Dieppe) and full-scale invasions, i.e., in North Africa, Sicily and Italy (1942 - 43).

I was motivated to visit The Spit and other sites (on three occasions thus far (between 2012 and 2016) after stumbling upon a news article my father wrote in the early 1990s. It began with the following intriguing lines:

In 1944 I was stationed in barracks on a piece of land called "The Spit" at Comox on Vancouver Island, BC. About a half mile of water separated the spit from Comox and to get ashore we had to be inspected and travel to Comox on a real Liberty ship.

Before visiting I combed through my father's memoirs and realized he had written a good deal not only about being stationed at The Spit but about his duties there as well. A few lines tell the beginning of the tale:

(After the invasion of Italy, Sept. 1943, and arriving back in Canada in December of the same year) Then I went to Givenchy III, known as Cowards Cove, at Comox on Vancouver Island. It was absolute heaven there. Just normal routine; I trained a few zombies on cutters and played ball five or six times a week under a good coach.... I also looked after Captain Windyer's sailboat and prepared it when he wished to go for a sail.... At Givenchy III I passed professionally for my Leading Seaman - Acting Coxswain rating, classed Very Good.

I have walked completely around and criss-crossed The Spit a few times and explored 1940s newspapers (hard copies and microfiche) and books at both the Courtenay Library and hospitable Courtenay Museum and Archive. Though most remnants of Combined Ops' past is gone, several details remain and give one the sense that hard work and good leaves were the norm. Significant ships and crews visited "The Spit" during WW2 and significant training took place in the waterways round and about the area, a taste of which can be easily enjoyed while enjoying scenic walk-abouts or scanning old newspapers.

On Friday, 20 May 2016, I sent the following email home from Comox:

Subject: The Spit

All is well. The day was very good for hiking around the spit, with temperatures between fifteen and twenty with some clouds. Many photos will be clear and bright.... I am thinking of repeating the trek on another suitable day. I enjoy walking on the spit and the bus to and from Comox is easy to use, just ten minutes away from the house (AirBnB in Courtenay).

Photographs tell part of the story:

 Buses get within a mile or so, but do not run out to the DND property.
I walked to The Spit (30 min.), then around it (1 hr. plus) and onto DND land.
Evidence remains of old Navy buildings, barracks, but not of ball diamonds.

 Canadians in Combined Operations heading west to Vancouver Island.
(L-R) Don Linder (Kitchener), Chuck Rose (Chippewa), Buryl McIntyre (Norwich)
Joe Watson in foreground (Simcoe), Don Westbrook (Hamilton) 

Combined Training Operation in Canada. Assault training at
the Combined Operations School, Courtenay, B.C., January 1944.
Photograph - National Film Board. Six Years of War, Page 114

 Navy Ball Team. Possibly taken in Campbell River, 1944 or 1945
(L-R) Back row, starting third from left: Chuck Rose, Doug Harrison, 
Jim Malone, Bill Grycan, Doug Arney. The rest - unknown.

 Much can be learned about Givenchy III at Book: Land of Plenty

Ball diamond on The Spit may have been near rail line associated
with the Government oyster beds, as seen in top photo.

"Zombies on Navy cutters": A few more excellent 1940s photos about The
Spit can be found in the book entitled Sailor Remember by W. Pugsley

 The 'cutter basin' (i.e., the above photo) at low tide reveals a much
different profile, but the mountains in background remain the same.

A totem now stands where once stood the Navy team's ball screen
(As told me by a Comox resident and regular walker at The Spit)  

Practice swings by Doug Harrison. Bill Grycan in background.
Rail track can be seen behind them (linked to oyster beds?)

Bill Grycan (centre) and his bride. Bridesmaid and Groomsman, unknown
Purchased at Courtenay Museum by GH. 

More to follow.

Please link to Research: In Comox and Courtenay, BC (1).

Photos GH

No comments: