Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dad's Navy Days: July 1943 - Sicily (5)

["Soldiers pour out of landing barges. Note ladders used to
help scale obstacles": Feb. 5, 1944, London Free Press]

On February 5, 1944 a headline in The London Free Press read as follows: Norwich Boys In Thick of Two Invasions By Allies. The sub-heading said: LS. Buryl McIntyre and LS. Douglas Harrison With "Biggest Armada of All Time"Rare it is that my hometown hits the headlines. Rarer still that my father and his good friend would be in the spotlight.

["Buryl McIntyre (left) and Doug Harrison, Norwich, Ontario"]

But the war was on - e.g., in Sicily, 70 years ago this month - and fresh news kept coming back to Canada as men returned on leave before suiting up and finding fresh assignments. The article was comprehensive and in it I find first hand details of how my father and his 'oppo' fared in Sicily after the July 10, 1943 D - Day or invasion of the island, a stepping stone to Italy. (Re 'oppo': a term used by Navy men to describe those working opposite one another, e.g., upon a landing craft. One might work the motors while the other worked the winches.)


One paragraph in the newspaper article - about some daily cooking routines - matches up very closely with stories my father tells in his naval memoirs (penned in 1975 while living in Norwich) about his time in Sicily, so I attribute many of the following details to him:

     "After the fall of Sicily the boys landed and set up house-
     keeping. They were then able to get fresh fruit such as
     grapes, lemons and limes as well as fresh tomatoes. There
     was plenty of firewood and they did their cooking in biscuit
     tins. Aboard the barges they had used these tins as stoves,
     partially filling them with sand or cotton waste, pouring
     gasoline, sometimes mixed with oil, punching holes in the
     sides of the can around the top to provide air while cooking
     and stirring well before lighting. Such a fire would burn for
     a long time and could be given new life by adding a little
     fuel and stirring. They had been given rations aboard
     the barges but had to do their own cooking and make
     their own tea." [The London Free Press, 1944]

For those wishing to know what the rations were like, you won't find the answer anywhere within the full Free Press interview with Buryl and Doug. By early 1944 both men would likely admit they did not want to see another tin of rations for as long as they lived. The following old photo and details may help explain why.  

["Soldiers in Tripoli share a tin of bully beef":']

     Corned beef production and its canned form remained
     important as a food source during World War II
     Much of the canned corned beef came from Fray
     Bentos in Uruguay, with over 16 million cans
     exported in 1943.

Bully beef (i.e., corned beef) made up a significant part of Navy rations. Of the 16 million tins exported from Uruguay in 1943, my father would likely say he unloaded almost all of them. In his memoirs (1975) he says the following:

     "I had 27 days at Sicily living on tomatoes and Bully Beef.
     I swore I would kick the first bull I saw in Canada right
     in the posterior if I got back." [Page 33, "DAD, WELL DONE"]

["Bully Beef, tin opener:"]

Later still he recalls the following episode shortly after he'd left the shelter of his landing craft and moved into a nearby limestone cave:

     "The cook's duties were to find food and cook it in a huge
     metal cauldron, which we had procured in the same way
     as the rum and barrage balloon (i.e., by skillful light-
     handedness). The cauldron was raised on stones and heated
     by pouring gasoline on the limestone underneath. This
     worked out quite well. The cook scrounged tomatoes
     (pomadori) which were plentiful and we managed some
     bully beef (the same way as rum, barrage balloon and cauldron).
     This was all stirred up together and one night we had tomatoes
     and bully beef, and the next night we had bully beef and
     tomatoes. Once in a while we threw in a sea boot to add
     a little flavour." [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

Even while in the lap of friendly hospitality - father visited Canadian airmen who were landing and taking off in Hurricane fighters a short distance away from his Sicilian cave, and was invited to sit down to a supper of tomatoes and bully beef - he couldn't say anything better than, "Not that again!"

["Canadian men found no mention of bully beef in their handbook"]

After enduring 27 days of 'beef pomadori', father reports he actually did find one good thing to do with the ever-present tomatoes:

     "Everywhere I looked there were anti-personal (sic)
     hand-sized grenades that needed only to be touched
     to go off. They were built to maim and not kill because
     it takes men to look after the wounded, but if you're dead,
     you're dead. We threw tomatoes at a lot and exploded
     them in that manner." ["DAD, WELL DONE"]

Seventy years ago this month, Allied forces were settled into routines in Sicily. Some were mundane, many others were not, and a few were a touch of both.

More to follow. 

Three unattributed photos by GH


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: July 1943 - Sicily (4)

the shop: yet another batch o' cabins

I know, I gotta get a life, and I will, as soon as I tidy up the shop, say by September. And the dusty job may take even longer because I keep finding useful lumber (often rescued from the local landfill) in the workshop and The Annex.

The logs were already cut so this batch of three didn't take long.

 ["Every birdhouse comes with another birdhouse"]

["Cool. I should look for more yellow pots"]

["I should put a cedar roof on my own house!"]

No sooner had I taken these photos than an acquaintance dropped off old fence boards destined for his 'burn pile'. See you in October!

Photos by GH


Please click here to read another batch o' cabins

'learn to fly' day

Concerning Mr. and Mrs. C's nest and twins -

yesterday's photo: "I'm thinking about leaving the nest"

today's photo: "nobody's home"

I awoke this morning at 7 a.m. to the sounds of persistent chipping from a male cardinal, much as I'd seen and heard for the last two days. I recalled twin birds were born recently and were climbing in branches near their nest in a tree on my front yard.

After seeing the empty nest I concluded that today may be a very important day. I think it's 'learn to fly' day. I'll keep an eye open for them.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read Mr. and Mrs. C are back w a surprise!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mr. and Mrs. C are back w a surprise!

Not only are cardinals nesting in my apricot tree but they are very very busy today. One fledgling was spotted moments ago sitting on a wee branch beside its nest. And it's hungry.

Mrs. C has been back and forth for quite a while with breakfast treats for the young one.

Watching her at work was surprise enough but then another surprise appeared.

A twin popped onto a wee branch as well. Shortly thereafter my eyes almost popped out.


Photos by GH


Please click here to read Mr. and Mrs. C are back

hop to it again

local hops, 10 meters from my backyard, are busting out with flavour. their vigorous vines, slightly prickly to the touch, grow about a foot per day in hot weather.

["Hundreds of cones are taking in the sun"]

Photo by GH


Hops are spreading about town.

Please click here to read hop to it 1 2 3

Mr. and Mrs. C are back

Last year a pair of cardinals nested in the apricot tree in my front yard and, according to certain evidence, i.e., bits of nesting material scattered upon my front walk, family matters did not end well.

But, they're back for a second try!

["Buddy, I'm talkin' to you"]

Yesterday, while I worked and busted a few moves in the shop accompanied by blues music, a bright red male cardinal railed at me from the safety of a nearby fence rail. He stood tall and let me know in no uncertain terms he was the cock of the walk.

["This is my turf!"]

While under a trumpet vine, he trumpeted that other males in the 'hood should mind their own business. I realized a viable nest was nearby and checked out the apricot tree.

Voila! They're back. Awesome.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read slowly I turned

art in the shop 10

while stacking logs yesterday
(log cabin birdhouses are underway)
I zoomed in for a closeup.

to me, this looks right on target.

some wood finds the mark.

photos by gah


Please click here to see art in the shop 9

the shop: another batch o' cabins

For some reason ("You can't walk past lumber without picking some up," says my wife), scrap and purchased lumber have been piling up in my shop and The Annex. So, busy times are ahead.

["Golf tees will come in handy with three cabins"]

["Perches, with golf tees, are next on the menu"]

As my family knows, I'm a happy man (and very dusty) when I'm busy in the workshop, even using up bits and pieces that clutter the shelves.

["Materials for wee bench seats are at the ready"]

Thot: I may be the only person in town that can say, "I made three benches yesterday in under 15 minutes."

Photos by GH   


Please click here to read log cabins with a tale to tell

Monday, July 29, 2013

cross it off the list 3

With some fear and trepidation I delivered a wee boat to a friend yesterday. Fear, not because it looked a bit like a wooden shoe (I could just say, "Actually it's the other way 'round. Wooden shoes look like my boat.") but because it was several months late.

Not to fear. My friend guessed what was in my backpack before I unwrapped the prize and loved it. Loved it and held it to his chest, reminding me of a young boy who still lived inside.

I bicycled home 50 pounds lighter, minus a few ounces for the boat.

This morning I happily crossed one more item off my list.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read boat ready for delivery

Dad's Navy Days: July 1943 - Sicily (4)

Seventy years ago during World War 2, from July 10 to August 6, 1943, Allied forces invaded and gradually occupied Sicily as part of the growing effort to uproot and ultimately defeat German forces in Europe.

["A map of Sicily; 80th Flotilla landed at Avola, July 1943"]

Men of the Canadian Forces were on hand, including my father, a Leading Seaman (attached to the 80th Flotilla of warships and landing crafts) with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve and Combined Operations. In a book of his memoirs he recalls many of his experiences vividly.

     "We were never hit but six ships were hit in a sneak attack
     out of the sun by German fighters carrying a bomb apiece.
     At night they would drop chandelier flares with their engine
     motors cut off. Everything would be dark and then suddenly
     it was like daylight. The flares were on parachutes and took
     forever to come down. After the flares lighted us up in came
     the bombers. Fortunately our gunners got so expert they
     could shoot out the flares." Page 32, "DAD, WELL DONE"
     by Gord Harrison

["Combined Ops insignia on Gord's workshop door"]

Hot times in Sicily continued but not as intensely as the first four or five days. Easier work routines were adopted and men had a bit of free time during which they explored local villages. Reminiscences of a Canadian LCM Flotilla Engineer Officer offer the following:

     "An account of this period of our existence (on hard-tack
     and bully beef) wouldn't be complete without some mention
     of the escapades of the lads to nearby villages before they
     were put out of bounds. We had sufficient hands that after
     the big rush of the first week or so, we were able to put them
     into two watches and allow each watch every other twenty-four
     hours off. Curiosity is a dominant characteristic in C.O. Ratings
     (Combined Operation sailors) and it is made even more vigorous
     by the chance of souvenirs or 'rabbits'. If one returns from a
     village without something to show for the trip (no that isn't
     what I was thinking about!), one's prestige takes a great flop.
     I will admit that Vino was amongst the articles most highly
     prized at first and often we were drugged to sleep to the
     tunes of 'Vino vorblings'.
     Vino, the native wine, wasn't the only local product available
     to us in Sicily. We arrived just in time to cash in on ripe grapes,
     almonds and lemons in abundance." Page 96 - 97,
     COMBINED OPERATIONS by Clayton Marks, London

My father's first note (recorded in 1975) about finding a souvenir in Sicily is revealing. He didn't even have to step ashore to find his first treasure:  

     "Our LCM was fortunate enough to pick up rum destined for
     the officers' mess; but it never arrived there - we stowed it
     in the engine room. From then on we went six or seven miles
     up the beach at night, had a swim, slung our hammocks and
     drank ourselves to sleep, to awake in the morning covered
     with shrapnel, but never heard a sound." Pg., 33

["The Dancing Sailor, circa 1970, by Gord H."]

My father recalls more details about the rum in an article he wrote in 1992 for his hometown newspaper, THE NORWICH GAZETTE:

     "One day, about day three, a large net full of wooden cases
     landed on my landing craft. Stencilled on the side of each
     case were the words NAVY RUM; destination Officers' Mess.
     I decided that the Officers' Mess was in the engine room of
     our LCM. I never worked so hard and enjoyed it so much in
     my life... (later) a few miles up the beach we anchored our
     craft, took out our saltwater soap and went for a swim while
     all Hell broke loose down the beach. The word got around
     somehow that I had rum and before long I had more friends
     than you could shake a stick at. A fool and his rum are soon
     parted, but for a few nights we slept in the lap of the gods...
     we all slept well and although my head was splitting, I took
     it in good part. In the early morning it was back to the
     firing line...
     Since we remained on good terms with our officers and never
     heard anything about the rum, I concluded they didn't know
     where it went and I didn't enlighten them. On the next invasion,
     I was hopeful they would send food."

When I think of my father's time in Sicily (a period of four weeks) I usually recall three episodes: The NAVY RUM story; meals of bully beef, bully beef and bully beef; and days at The Lizardly Savoy.

More to follow.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: July 1943 - Sicily (3)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

trumpets keep on playing

Various vines on a shared fence in the backyard are as healthy as all get out. I predict that next year, or the year after, trumpet and hop vines will tangle to see who will reign supreme.

["Trumpets are front and center"]

["Hops are hiding in the background. Not for long"]

Today the trumpets are putting on quite a show.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read trumpet vines toot toot 5

boat ready for delivery

the linseed oil finish is
pretty well dry.
time to deliver.

Photo by GH


Please click here to read cross it off the list 2

log cabins with a tale to tell

Each birdhouse from rescued lumber
has a tale to tell.

["Why is there a birdhouse on the bench?"]

Photo by GH


Please click here to read log cabins: ready for chickadees

log cabins ready for chickadees

Hopefully soon a pair of chickadees or finches will appreciate the following:

     the roof of their house is rugged spruce from
     a Home Depot cull pile

     the logs were, in a former life, a set of shelves used 
     o store merchandise in the basement of Mr. Lamont's
     Antiques in Wortley Village

     the base was formerly a dresser drawer
     belonging to my neighbour

     the small birdhouse on the bench is a 'tip of the hat' to
     my father, a former member of the Royal Canadian Navy
     Volunteer Reserve (1941 - 1945) who took part
     in three D-Days and survived to make
     many birdhouses in Oxford County

     the wee flower pot outside the door is free
     and I'll drop a few sunflower seeds into it
     every now and again

Birdhouses from rescued lumber always have a story to tell.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read step by step: two more log cabins

step by step: two more log cabins

Yesterday I made log cabin birdhouses from the following parts: a 5 inch sq. base, 7 tiers of logs, two triangles, spruce slats for the roof, bits and pieces for the full-on trim package, e.g., windows, bench seat, flower pot. Today I'll do the same again.

["Another bundle of logs is ready for the chop saw"]

["A lovely piece of cedar will become the roof slats"]

["The master plan or recipe is easy to follow. See?"]

["A bench seat and flower pot are on hand"]

The first five or six cabins I made earlier in the year followed a step by step process. I had paper and pen (and lots of suitable wood) handy at the time and devised the master plan. Today the cabins will fall together quickly and easily because of that plan.

One of the reasons I say "everybody needs a workshop" is because many of the lessons learned in the shop (e.g., this too will get easier with practice; slow down and enjoy each small step; it's five o'clock - time for a break) are applicable to life outside the shop. Don't you think so?

Photos by GH


Please click here to read from dresser drawers to birdhouses

Saturday, July 27, 2013

the shop: a small tune up

a large birdhouse in the backyard needed a small tune up. a few pieces of trim needed an extra nail here and there. the roof needed a shine up.


["Mix up some paint, Gordie"]

after I gave 'er a shine:

["Light green paint on the roof looks AOK, in my opinion"]

I gave 'er a new fence too. Come on, birds. Sit on down.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read the shop: easy kap-easy

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dad's Navy Days: July 1943 - Sicily (3)

[Map: "Landings in Sicily and Italy, 1943", pg. 76
 COMBINED OPERATIONSby Clayton Marks, London]

This month, as part of the 70th anniversary of D - Day Sicily WWII, I share some of the memories of men who served in Combined Operations, including my father, Doug Harrison (deceased), a member of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve.

     "Once, with our LCM (landing craft) loaded with
     high octane gas and a Lorrie, we were heading for the
     beach when we saw machine gun bullets stitching the water
     right towards us. Fortunately, an LST (landing ship for tanks)
     loaded with bofors (guns) opened up and scared off the planes,
     or we were gone if the bullets had hit the gas cans. I was hiding
     behind a truck tire, so was Joe Watson (Simcoe). What good would
     that have done?" Page 32, "DAD, WELL DONE": The Naval Memoirs 
     of Leading Seaman Coxswain Gordon Douglas Harrison
     by Gord Harrison 

["Junkers 87 Stuka over Trapani, Sicily": from]

As I read through my father's memoirs I realize he and other members of Combined Operations did not spend all of July 10 - August 6, 1943 in Sicily dodging bullets from Stukas as they loaded and unloaded landing crafts filled with troops and various parts of the machinery of war. But good times were rare since men in charge of landing crafts often had to scrounge their own lodgings and most supplies even though surrounded by various ships and tonnes of war materials, including soldiers' rations. Some slept in holes on the beach, others in caves. Some cooked their own meals when scant time allowed after scouring the countryside for something edible. Almost a full month past - seventy years ago -  filled with regular German air raids and mean survival tactics on the part of the Allies in Sicily, including many Canadian members of Combined Ops.

["Landing crafts bring troops and all supplies of war":
Photo @]

About those times father writes the following:

     "Our beach had machine gun nests carved out of the 
     ever-present limestone, with slots cut in them to cover
     our beaches. A few hand grenades tossed in during the night
     silenced them forever."
     Slowly we took control and enemy raids were only sporadic,
     but usually at dawn or dusk when we couldn't see them and
     they could see us... during one raid I was caught on the open
     deck of the Pio Pico, so I laid down - right on a boiling hot
     water pipe. I got up quickly."

Fortunately, there was some escape from the hot action at times.

["Combined Operations insignia on my shop door, circa 1975": Photo by GH]

More to follow.


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: July 1943 - Sicily (2)

the shop: it strikes me funny

One vote is in. I'll make a million dollars from seven pieces of old, precious pine if I stick to boat building.

["The precious pine is worth more than five smackers"]

["The boat caught someone's fancy. More to follow?"]

Hey, it's not inconceivable you know.

Photos by GH


Please click here for more re it strikes me funny

slowly I turned

A butterfly startled me at 5 p.m. as it skittered past my nose.

"It landed near my feet. My camera was in my back pocket"]

I had just finished taking a picture of a decent perch on a recently-made birdhouse. I reached again toward my back pocket.

Photo by GH


Please click here to read bees knees

from dresser drawers to birdhouses 3

Problem solved. In other words, my goof up is erased from the tape.

["Decent perches were found under the work bench"]

So, in conclusion, the old dresser and a few old cupboard hinges went together to produce a pleasing set of birdhouses. 

Photo by GH


Please click here to read from dresser drawers to birdhouses 2

trumpet vines toot toot 5

The trumpets are drawing more ants and looking a bit bedraggled.

["Sounds aren't as fresh as on Monday"]

However, music from Harris Park is filling the front porch so I don't mind if the toots from the back yard die down.

Photo by GH


Please click here to read trumpet vines toot toot 4