Friday, April 23, 2021

Editor's Research: Canadians in Combined Ops Return Home (17)

  The Action in Battle Continues on Several Fronts, World War II

News and Views from The Winnipeg Tribune, Feb. 18 - 19 1944

Allied production of war materials affects our standard of living to this day


About 50 clippings from The Winnipeg Tribune (digitized and ready for your perusal, University of Manitoba) remind us of critical moments during WWII and some of the lighter side as well. Newspaper stories, editorials, cartoons, timely ads and more appear below, along with a few more words about armed forces' personnel who returned to Canada during and after December 1943, including Navy members who had earned a wee break after two years aboard landing crafts overseas with Combined Operations. (Some ended up on Vancouver Island at Canada's only Combined Operations School. "It was absolute heaven there," writes my father Doug Harrison, V8809 RCNVR).

This entry begins with items from The Trib, Feb. 18 1944:

News from Truk is followed by news from Novosokolniki! Map provided;

Canadian troops are embroiled in a tough slog still in Italy (and will be for some time):

Readers can look through scores of Fox Movietone Newsreels now accessible from an online site provided by the University of South Carolina, with sample links provided below:

Fox Movietone Newsreel No. 047 includes the items numbered 3 and 4 above and shows members of RCNVR training with depth-charges in British Columbia, perhaps connected to HMCS Naden in Esquimalt, 1944.

Fox Movietone Newsreel No. 048 includes the item numbered 1 above and shows a good deal of action related to US troops and the use of landing crafts (e.g., LCMs) that are similar to those employed by Canadians in Combined Ops when active in the Mediterranean Sea in 1942 - 43.

And finally, Fox Movietone Newsreel 046 includes significant scenes related to the invasion of Anzio, Italy and the front at Cassino, mentioned in the news article above the ad for "Lost Angel" at the Metropolitan.

As I recall from the 1960s, ENO was sold in a round tin, orange-brown in colour. My dad kept a tin over the sink and I helped myself to his on a regular basis. I never bought it for myself, though to this day I go through a lot of club soda on ice. It's like ENO but without any flavour:

Allied troops would be familiar with most of the towns and cities listed below, and Canadians in Combined Ops (particularly the 80the Flotilla of Canadian Landing Crafts), would be most familiar with Reggio di Calabria (Operation Baytown):

Monty was in The Med when the invasion of mainland Italy began on September 3, 1943 (Operation Baytown) but had since returned to England to prepare for Operation Overlord and D-Day Normandy, still 4 1/2 months away:

In the article below we get a hint of the challenges that lay ahead to help and accommodate the many men and women of the armed forces who returned needing a variety of forms of assistance. I count my father and his mates in RCNVR and Combined Ops very fortunate. They returned home with few physical injuries in December 1943 after two years overseas (including for the most part participation in the Dieppe Raid and invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Italy) and either volunteered for more service or were placed at HMCS Givenchy III on Vancouver Island until discharged in the fall of 1945. (E.g., my father arrived on Vancouver Island in early January 1944 and was discharged with several others on September 5, 1945).

Coincidentally, Patrolman Richmond (last photo above) appeared in another photograph on another page of the Feb. 18, 1944 issue of The Winnipeg Tribune,  and that photo appears next:

"Thank you very much, Thelma! And here's your free pass to see 'Jack London' at The Garrick:

William Lipski was unfortunately not the only member of RCNVR to go AWOL during WWII. Please click here to connect to a story at 1,000 Men, 1,000 Stories of another navy man who became hard to find for awhile (while on the west coast, I think).

F. Benoit (V23076) went AWOL and paid the price, Navy-style.
Photo - F. Benoit's navy records

And now, onto another significant news day, with clips from the fat Saturday edition. In addition, I share photos and information about HMCS Givenchy III,  the location of many Canadians in Combined Ops who returned to Canada from their overseas' duties on December 1943:

If there was a news article in late December 1943 or early January 1944 about the return of 100 members of RCNVR and Combined Operations - similar to the one above re the RCAF - I didn't see it or haven't found it. A few news articles do exist about individual sailors or a pair or trio of sailors, and I have shared all I have found. And I will keep looking in this and other newspapers once the pandemic is over and I can gain access to microfiche again (e.g., at the University of Western Ontario, London).

Though an article similar to the one above has eluded me, I did come across an online site with valuable details about the formation of the Combined Operations School at the navy base near Comox on Vancouver Island, beginning in the early 1940s, at which my father and scores of his mates were stationed for further service from Jan. 1944 - the late summer of 1945. At least one member of RCNVR and Combined Ops - i.e., Chuck Levett - was very familiar with the navy base over a period of 3 - 4 years, so his return there in Jan. 1944 was a bit of a homecoming. For many sailors from SW Ontario the trip to the west Coast was a brand new and very memorable experience.

Details re the Combined Ops School or training camp follow:

By December the navy's establishment up the bay at Courtenay was taking definite form. It was in this month that Naden (111) became responsible for the completion and fitting out of the new combined operations camp at Courtenay. The tragedy of Dieppe had come and gone but its lessons had not gone un-heeded. There was to be much hard fighting on the beaches and rocky shores of Europe, and Courtenay was to be one of many Allied stations where men of all services were to learn the complexities of "Combined Operations".

Actually the combined operations organization was a navy-army arrangement for the defence of the Pacific Coast in the event that the Japanese gained toe-holds on Canadian shores. The idea was that 100 Landing Craft Mechanized (Wooden) were to be built by the army, manned by the navy and distributed in certain key positions between the American and Alaskan boundaries.

The Spit, Comox, 1930s. During WWII, many of Canada's landing craft
were stationed at HMCS Givenchy III, on Vancouver Island

Basic naval training for men recruited into the Fishermen's Reserve for landing craft duties, was begun at William's Head, near Esquimalt, in July 1942. Training in conjunction with the army began late that fall when the navy was required to vacate William's Head and so established its own camp at Courtenay. But by mid-1943 it was recognized that the Japanese threat to British Columbia no longer existed and policy therefore shifted in the direction of combined operations training for future service in Europe.

As the assault craft began to concentrate in Comox Harbour the rather primitive facilities of the camp at Courtenay were soon overtaxed. That summer "combined ops" moved to what was now a very well established naval base, Naden (111), on Goose Spit. In fact on the spit, "combined ops" became the primary activity, and the base was commissioned HMCS Givenchy (III) on October 1, 1943.

Reprinted from Land of Plenty

Landing craft plied the waters around Courtenay and Comox during WWII
Canadians in Combined Ops were often at the helm, incl. D. Harrison

Another event of 1943 was a representation made by local Comox Indians seeking cash compensation from the navy for using Goose Spit. An old Indian burial ground of some 13 acres was located out towards the western end of the spit, extending right across the spit between the 1,000-yard firing point and the light beacon. It had been designated an Indian Reserve in 1876 and from the beginning of naval activities on the spit in the 1890s, naval authorities, both RN and RCN, had been very much alive to the necessity of permitting no desecration in the burial area and allowing Indian entry at all times.

The Indians asked for $150 yearly compensation retroactive to 1940 and offered to trade the reserve for the Seal Islands where the clam beds were the attraction. Settlement came in 1944 when the Indians signed a lease for 21 years permitting the use of the burial area by the navy.

A 140-foot drill shed, completed by Turley Bros. of Nanaimo in August 1943, was a great improvement to training facilities at Goose Spit, particularly in wet weather. Typical of the training carried out at Comox was that of September 1944, when the Midland Regiment received training in Givenchy (III). These are excerpts from the Report of Proceedings: Three assault craft exercised "C" Company in boat drill; six craft exercised Support and Headquarters Companies as well as "A" Company in boat drill and landing net procedure; three craft drilled "D" Company in landings on Goose Spit; four companies in nine craft practised landings on Sandy Isle; five cutters were employed teaching soldiers boat pulling.

Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke followed in October.

Roadway leads to HMCS Quadra (i.e., Naden, Givenchy) on The Spit

The Spit hooks right and pedestrians can walk the shoreline 'round it

I walked to the end of The Spit and stood opposite Comox, far right

Barracks Beach (west side of The Spit), 2015

Barracks Beach, 1941, as found in Sailor Remember, by W. Pugsley

My father Doug Harrison (centre, near barracks?), his back to Comox,
opposite side of the bay. Photo from collection of D. Harrison

D. Harrison and others trained  raw recruits and Zombies on navy cutters

Some large, vintage buildings still remain on The Spit. GH 2015

The excerpt from For Posterity's Sake continues:

As the war progressed into 1945, the army's camp at Courtenay was soon closed down and the navy no longer was required to train army personnel in combined operations. However, Givenchy (III) continued to provide training on the assault course for the men of HMC Ships. During April and May, the entire ship's company of the anti-aircraft cruiser Prince Robert was accommodated on the spit for specialized training while the ship was refitting for duty in the Pacific.

More details can be found at For Posterity's Sake, a Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project, re HMCS NADEN III / HMCS GIVENCHY III (The history of HMCS Naden III / Givenchy III from the Crowsnest Magazine - March 1958.)

Though the photos at the above link are small and low resolution, one reveals some details that may have been noticed by Canadians in Combined Ops once they settled into their routines in early 1944:

Duty Quartermaster at HMCS Naden III (1941)
From the collection of Jim Silvester

Note the firefighting axes below the window, brass bell in the shadows above and to the right of the window, and two circular dials with shiny (brass?) frames. Those items also appear in a 1942 photo below (new location, new buildings?), courtesy of Rob Levett, son of Chuck Levett, RCNVR and Combined Operations:

More about Comox will be shared in later posts as well.

My father got off easy in comparison, perhaps because an order he did not care to follow was delivered by a sailor of close or similar rank. Details at My Dad's Navy Duffle Bag.

Scott Young (father of Neil Young, Canadian singer-song writer) went overseas as a war correspondent  for several months in 1943 and wrote an article about army vs navy slang when he was covering the war in Sicily, I believe. He later joined the navy! Liked the way the sailors talked? Your guess is as good as mine.

Please click here to view more news items from The Winnipeg Tribune, e.g., Canadians in Combined Ops Return Home (16)

Unattributed Photos GH