Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Research: In Comox and Courtenay, BC (10).

Canada's Landing Craft Burned, Tossed Out!

We Build 'Em. We Burn 'Em. (News clip below).

In the above WW2 ad (as found in Canada's War At Sea) we see a Canadian-built landing craft and U.S.-built Gray engine. The caption tells us "the Ramped Cargo Lighter, designed and built in Canada, is a good example of Canadian resourcefulness. Built of plywood to save critical metals, it is designed to carry ordnance and men, as well as to do general lighterage work where docks are available..."

The landing craft look very much like those seen in photos that come from The Spit or HMCS Givenchy III from 1943 - 45. In my opinion, such craft - used in training exercises, as in the advertisement - are worthy of display in modern-day museums, especially the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. However, none likely exist to this day. A few more details about such landing craft are presented here, along with other items that relate in some small way to Canadians in Combined Operations.

Chuck Rose, member of RCNVR and Combined Ops, was a good fastballer and bowler during his days on The Spit:

 The Comox Argus, February 1, 1945

We learn the Canadian Red Cross sent millions of food parcels to POWs:

 The Comox Argus, March 1, 1945

The Comox Argus, March 8, 1945

 The above Argus story (Editor: Hinting at a love affair?) continued:

Carefully removing his overcoat and scarf, Ordinary Seaman Garfield Joh Strey, RCNVR, jumped from the deck of the West-Vancouver bound ferry, Hollyburn, into the waters of First Narrows at 12:20 a.m. and disappeared. He is still missing.

The ferry was 100 feet from the shore. Only a moment before he had been talking to Grace Wright, 1445 Bellevue, West Vancouver. She had known him about three months.

Capt. J. Brayshaw of the Hollyburn flashed a "man overboard" signal to Lions Gate signalman, Sid Carnell, and began to circle the spot. A navy patrol boat was despatched to the area. According to Capt. Bradshaw, Strey could have reached the shore, although a tide was running out at the time. The ferry was about 200 feet east of First narrows when he made the plunge.

Miss Wright told police she had no idea why Strey jumped overboard.

I snipped the clipping below because a 'tar' from London, Ontario is mentioned;

 The Comox Argus, March 29, 1945

Though victory in Europe had not yet been officially proclaimed, V-E Day was imminent, i.e., about 3 weeks away:

 Big Dance at Native Sons' Hall: The Comox Argus, April 19, 1945

 Big Dance at Native Sons' Hall (see interior below, 2016)

Victory Bond campaigns continued: The Comox Argus, April 19, 1945

Now. About those Canadian barges!

 The Comox Argus, April 26, 1945

The article continued:

It is explained that everything of any value is taken out of the barges before they are scuttled, the powerful engines and all other fittings that are of any value. The wood work is being burnt because it is laminated and would be of little or no value as firewood. After the barges have been looted and the wood work burnt they are taken out to sea and sunk.

These are the barges that were for so many months in the Slough at Courtenay. On them many thousands of men were trained for combined operations who used their training received here on 'D' day in Normandy, at the Leopold Canal, and now in the flooded lands of Holland. For years the school at Courtenay was the only one of its kind in Canada.

It is contended that these barges have served their purpose and are no longer of any value so they are being got rid of. They were in very hard use for 29 months.

About three months later, these same barges made the local news once again:

The Comox Argus, July 12, 1945

The article continued:

....At Courtenay he was told of the destruction of some of the landing barges at Comox Spit. He is taking this matter up with the department responsible at Ottawa as he is convinced that they would be useful in many ways if offered for sale.

It will be remembered that some time ago some of the landing craft were stripped and the woodwork burnt and the shell then taken out and sunk. Mr. Gibson is going to see why.

The new member is amazed at the amount of mail he is receiving. It began to come in a steady stream ever since the election was over and it has continued ever since until today, as Mr. Gibson laughingly says, "I have received more letters than there are people who voted for me."

Editor: Surely, some of the letters asked, "Why were some of the barges not saved for posterity's sake?" : (

The Comox Argus, April 19, 1945

The above article, which appeared adjacent to the first article about the burnt landing craft, continued:

Yesterday he got a letter from Mrs. Alexander, the mother of Mrs. Lapp, that a survivor had seen P.O. Lapp clinging to a raft and that he was then in the last stages of exhaustion.

Stoker Petty Officer Denis Walker.... who was in Courtenay yesterday, was one of the survivors of the Guysboro. He is now on leave in Victoria. He is one of six survivors of 42 who hung on a Carley raft, the remainder dropping off as they reached the stage of exhaustion before the royal navy vessel picked up the six. They were nineteen hours in the water before they were picked up.

The Comox Argus, May 10, 1945 - Two days after V-E Day

The above article continued:

Jack was on duty in the engine room when the torpedo struck at about twenty minutes past six in the morning. Something struck him, he did not know quite what but he believes now that it was some deck plates. When the torpedo struck Jack escaped through the hatch under the stack and went up to the boat deck. He found the starboard side under water. He got on a Carley float with two others and later they picked up ten more.

The water was smooth and the sun was just rising. Two of his buddies in the engine room got out but neither of them survived the ordeal on the float. They picked up a damaged Carley float and transferred four to it to lighten their own. They then started to paddle for the light ship but the cold of the water was so intense that there were only six survivors on the float when they were picked up.

The ship went down in two minutes after being struck on the starboard side and she went down stern first. The rapid list of the ship carried away the life boat before it could be released and all the survivors had to hold on to were Carley floats. Jack found himself clinging to one of these just as he was when he came out of the engine room. The water was intensely cold, 34 degrees. Jack says they had their first certain hope rescue was coming when a plane came over them and made signs that they would send a ship out for their rescue.

It came in the form of a sister sweeper, the Sarnia, commanded by Lieut. R.P. Douty of New York. Jack was the only one that was able to walk up the ladder when the ship came alongside, all the others had to be carried off. They were taken to Halifax, where they went to hospital for a few days.

Seven and Half Hours on Raft

They were seven and a half hours on the raft before they were rescued. Jack is now home on survivor's leave. Except for some bruises he received when the ship was torpedoed he is none the worse for his narrow escape from death....

Jack enlisted in the Canadian navy last May and after training on HMCS Discovery at Vancouver and HMCS Cornwallis in Nova Scotia, was posted to the Esquimalt on which he has been since. For reasons of security the news of the sinking of the Esquimalt was kept secret until hostilities ceased. HMCS Esquimalt was a Bangor class mine sweeper with a crew of 44 men.

The Argus reports that V-E Day was 'Soberly Observed':

The Comox Argus, May 10, 1945

The article says:

V-E Day - the first - was observed very soberly in Courtenay. There were no parades, no kissing on the streets, little noise. The first hint that citizens received was the shrilling of the air-raid siren with Constable Figueiredo pressing the button at twelve minutes past seven. He had heard the siren go at Comox and then asked for authority.

The Comox loggers had gone to work but came back later in the morning. Otherwise people heard the thrilling news in their bedrooms for the most part. The stores opened for two hours and then closed (or most of them) for three days. The first event of the days was the thanksgiving service in St. George's United Church hurriedly called at 9:30. In spite of the short notice the building was filled when the choir (and two Reverends and two pastors) filed in.

Meanwhile, back at the Navy base, i.e., HMCS Givenchy III..... My father's memoirs indicate celebrations did not necessarily proceed soberly out on The Spit. He tried to censor his response but didn't do a very good job:

"Nothing untoward happened" vs "everything went mad and uncontrolled"
(Editor: I'll let you decide) From "DAD, WELL DONE"

Some first-of-season fastball games continued as scheduled, and the classy Navy team from Givenchy III, anchored by Chuck Rose on the mound and Joe Spencer behind the plate, held their ground:

The Comox Argus, May 10, 1945

Some Canadians in Combined Ops may remember the day they heard - or read in the paper - that they were finally going to get to lock up the last of the landing crafts, hang up their ball gloves.... and start thinking about packing their bags for home.

The Comox Argus, May 17, 1945

 The article says:

The Combined Operations Army School at Sandwick has already been reduced to "care and maintenance" status, and Givenchy III will soon be in the same position.

After acting as O/C of Givenchy III for a year and a half, Commander Windeyer left for his home in Duncan on Tuesday turning over the care of the station to Lieut. J. Calland who is living at Comox with his wife and two children....

Though my father came home in one piece, from training, from two years of hostilities in Europe and about one and a half years of service at Givenchy III, memories of WW2 never left his mind.

My last entry of the feature 'With The Forces' ends with a poignant line:

The Comox Argus, June 14, 1945

"The soldiers have seen too much." We may be able to say the same for all who returned home in 1945.

More research discoveries will follow.

Photos GH

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