Friday, October 30, 2020

The Arts of War: From "The Crow's Nest" (3)

Timely Poetry, Skilful Cartoons, Good Stories and More

A Navy course re Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) may have lured some young
Canadians into volunteering for the Combined Operations organization, 1941.
Photo Credit - As found in the February 1945 issue of "The Crow's Nest"


I admit that I have not found more than a small handful of articles or photographs in "The Crow's Nest" directly related to the 950 - 1,000 Canadians who volunteered for RCNVR and then Combined Operations during World War II. But indirect references are found, items I can hang my hat on and thereby share more references to my father and about 100 of his mates who were among the first to join Comb. Ops from Canada in 1941. 

The above photo is once such item, and more will follow with collaborating material, e.g., that will link young men to MTBs and then to Combined Operations. 

Please visit the CFB Esquimalt Naval Military Museum site at your leisure to explore several informative issues of "The Crow's Nest - News of Canada's Navy" and much more.

The following materials (articles, poems, artful cartoons, etc.) are from the December 1944, January 1945, and February 1945 issues.

From December 1944:

"The Tall and the Short of it is... these fellas are good friends"
Borderline art tells a bit of a tale as well! Christmas leaves?

The story re the two sailors follows. I notice that Stoker Campbell (right) was in Halifax at the same time as my father, but he does not appear in the group photo of Dad's Effingham Division, nor did he volunteer at that time for Combined Operations, as did my father and most of his division:

The meaning attached to the following cartoon may be lost in time, but I reckon some of the WRCNS were doing a pretty fine job and deserved to do what the fellas were doing. Any ideas? You can contact the editor of this site at

Sailors loved their ships - they were home, with many mates - and poetry re particular vessels are not in short supply. And sometimes a sailor had his eye on some other destination:

I couldn't resist a good quiz. 

I scored two of nine. How about you?

The next photograph was taken "in old Rome" by RCN Photographer Gilbert A. Milne. No date is attached but I would suggest late summer or in the fall of 1944. I am certain 1944 was a very busy year for Lt. Milne because he was one of many Allied photographers on hand to capture iconic pictures of the invasion of Europe at Normandy, June 1944.

Front cover photo of H.M.C.S. by RCN Photog. G. A. Milne.
Writing credit is given to Scott Young.

HMCS Uganda* supported "landings at Salerno" (Italy; beginning Sept. 9 1943)
A number of Canadians in the 55th Landing Craft Flotilla* were present also.

*Both the HMS Uganda and 55th Flotilla are mentioned near the conclusion of the same post (presented earlier this month), and readers can link to the information here - Operation Baytown (Italy WWII), Part 11a

Dangers at sea affected loved ones on dry land:

Then there are "dangers at sea" from the most-immediate point of view:

Several Canadians in Combined Operations came from Hamilton and surrounding area (including my father Doug Harrison). In 1941 their home base was called Hamilton Division 1 and when they returned to Canada from two-years-duty overseas the name of the base had been changed to HMCS Star.

My father's Navy records reveal the change at time of discharge in September 1945, one day before his 25th birthday:

The December 1944 issue of "The Crow's Nest" reveals the change in name at an earlier date - and if memory serves - the change in name took place more than a year earlier still. That being said, I share the following article (in part) because it mentions a lot of beneficial sporting activities including a notable road race called, to this day, the Hamilton Around the Bay 30 KM Road Race (not a marathon), North America's longest, continuously run road race - until this year!! 

[The editor of this site had been training for the 30K race this year but it was officially cancelled in late September or early October. He is now walking, running and biking regularly without any specific target in mind - except to burn extra calories attributed to Hallowe'en candy! Yes, I've been into it for two weeks : ) ]  

My eyes lit up at the sight of this next photograph.

Here are Canadian sailors, "the crack combined operations boys... whipping through their drill," at HMCS Cornwallis in Nova Scotia. It is possible the young members of RCNVR were attracted or lured to volunteer for the Combined Operations organization (aka 'Combined Ops') in the same way as my father and mates in the fall of 1941, i.e., with the promise of "dangerous duties overseas, on small crafts, with nine days leave thrown in."

The young recruits may also have volunteered for commando duties, since that designation comes up in my father's memoirs when he returned to Canada in December 1943. 

"We met a lot of sailors who were shortly to go through what we went through already (i.e., commando training in Scotland), and they called themselves commandos," he writes in memoirs. 

"They sure were in for a rude awakening. We were never called commandos, only combined operations ratings, and we were the first from Canada to go overseas." 

("Dad, Well Done" Page 6)

If there were as my father says, "a lot of sailors" who "called themselves commandos," I assume the volunteers were training to become beach commandos (W Commandos?) and help with the forming of secure beachheads during the D-Day Normandy landings. (More details later re RN Beach Commandos on a separate post).

FYI - I call this photo "And That's Why They Practice, Practice, Practice":

The photo is intriguing because it looks like it could have been taken at
HMS Quebec, No 1. Combined Ops Training Camp, Inveraray Scotland

And before we see items from the next issue of "The Crow's Nest" we head back to Rome with RCN Photog. Gilbert A. Milne:

From January 1945:

This poem falls under the heading "There Were No Small Roles in WWII."

From February 1945:

Able Seaman Ross Cameron, like many another sailor, waxes eloquent about his home upon the sea, even while "at anchor":

I know that sports are likely not in the same category as a good poem, drawing or other "arts of war" but the following two pieces link to places that many Canadian members of Combined Operations would remember fondly:

The "nifty modern swimming pool" was located at Esquimalt, Vancouver Island, and two hours north by train or car one would reach Comox (on the eastern shore), home of HMCS Givenchy III, Canada's only Combined Operations Training camp during WWII. Though the Givenchy squad dropped a "close decision" at the pool's opening match, the Navy No. 1 baseball team at Givenchy III made a lot of headlines between 1944 - 45.

The following four photographs are from my own collection:

As found in Comox District Free Press, May 3, 1945 

Doug Harrison (left), Norwich ONT; Chuck Rose, Chippewa, ONT
RCNVR, Combined Ops, and Navy No. 1 Baseball Team 1944-45

Now, back to the last few items found in The Crow's Nest, February 1945:

Again, a sports item is not very art-like, but it does mention "Effingham's stout hockey squad," and back in 1941 the Effingham Division of new RCNVR recruits volunteered "almost to the man" for Combined Operations and were the first draft (although a second draft also volunteered shortly thereafter, and together the two drafts - about 100 sailors - boarded the Queen of Bermuda in Halifax, Jan. 1942 - to go overseas for training related to handling landing crafts for raids and invasions.

The Effingham Division. Doug Harrison (front row) third from left.
Chuck Rose (fourth row, first on left. Circa the fall of 1941. 

Al Kirby of Woodstock was also a new RCNVR recruit in Halifax in the fall of 1941 and after leaving his torpedo course he spotted a "Volunteers Wanted" bulletin, about which he grew excited ("dangerous duties overseas, manning small craft, nine days leave once signed").

Kirby thought, "Motor Torpedo Boats! (MTBs) Yes!!" 

My father writes:

One day we heard a mess deck buzz or rumour that the navy was looking for volunteers for special duties overseas, with nine days leave thrown in. Many from the Effingham Division, including myself, once again volunteered. (Will I ever quit volunteering?)

The buzz turned out to be true and (after signing up for Combined Ops) we came home on leave, which involved three days coming home on a train, three days at home and three days on the train going back.

After returning from leave we were put aboard a large passenger liner, Queen of Bermuda...

"Dad, Well Done" page 7 

Al Kirby never got to man an MTB but as an under-ager he certainly got to see more of the world than a lot of other people!

The last sentence in this last photo for this entry takes us to Salerno, where the HMS Uganda (an RN ship) was severely damaged, and after repair it was transferred into Canadian hands. 

As well, after the invasion of Italy at Salerno, members of the 55th Canadian Flotilla of Landing Crafts returned to England, and were followed by the 80th Flotilla (including Doug Harrison) in October. After Christmas leave in Canada, many Canadian sailors were stationed at Givenchy III on Vancouver Island.

For more information from "The Crow's Nest" please visit The Arts of War: From "The Crow's Nest" (2)

Unattributed Photos GH

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Editor's Research: Invasion of Italy - The Montreal Star, Parts 1 - 33

The Longest Search Comes to an End (Almost)

Photo as found in The Montreal Star, Nov. 6 1943


My search for particular news items from a particular "Star" reporter was lengthy, informative, interesting, seemingly endless, exciting ("I think I'm getting closer!"), down-heartening ("This isn't going where I thought it would go."), and more... and more.
I could link many news items to the Canadians in Combined Operations that are my chief focus re research and writing. But I couldn't link a specific article to the specific trail I was following at the time.

That being said, I'm not done yet. Oh, I've got other fish to fry. And I am always hopeful because new information re (approx.) 1,000 Canadian sailors - who not only volunteered for RCNVR but the Combined Operations organization as well - comes to the surface with each passing year. 

While I continue my search please enjoy the seemingly countless details related to the role of men (navy and otherwise) serving in the Mediterranean Theatre of War during the invasion of Italy in September 1943, as found in The Montreal Star (on microfilm at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada). 

Editor's Research: Parts 1 - 33 (from September 1, 1943 - December 11, 1943)

Excerpt from the Sept. 29, 1943 issue of The Montreal Star

Dad wrote 'Rosie, Westy' to indicate Chuck Rose (front left) and Don Westbrook
(front centre) in the centre knot of five Canadian sailors. Al Kirby is on the right
of that same group, with a big laugh starting, his Mae West over his shoulder.
Straightening his collar is Joe Watson (to the right of the group of five, and 
behind Joe is Doug H. (Dad), with his cap hiding his wavy red-blond hair.

The back of the same photo. Dad names the ship, and I provide
other details. From the collection of Doug Harrison.

For more research from another fine Canadian newspaper please link to Editor's Research: Operation Baytown (Italy WWII) Parts 1 - 11

Unattributed Photos GH