Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Story: 'A Good Life' by Eldred (Ed) Whelan

 A Canadian in Combined Ops Looks Back on His WWII Service

"I was one of 28 who volunteered under Cmdr. Mountbatten..."

Navy vets, WWII. L - R: Doug Harrison, Norwich; Ed Whelan, Guelph;
Arthur 'Gash' Bailey, London ONT. June 1988, Guelph
Photo from the collection of Doug Harrison


In earlier entries pertaining to photographs of WWII Navy veterans while attending Navy reunions I shared the above picture, and the ones that follow. Some information about some of the veterans of RCNVR and Combined Operations has been provided in the earlier entries and readers can click here to link to Photographs: Aging Navy Vets Reconnect at Reunions (2).

As well, recently, an important link to three rare and significant books full of veterans stories (re RCNVR and Canadians in Combined Operations) was provided and within readers will find submissions provided by the three veterans above and many, many more.

Excerpts of stories by/about Combined Operations veterans Harrison, Whelan and Bailey follow:

A Good Life by Ed Whelan, LT(E) i.e., Engineer, RCNVR

Preface: Honour is due to the oldest responder to the Questionnaire now entering his tenth decade. It is an honour to be able to print his letter which accompanied his Questionnaire. Since this letter Ed has suffered a slight stroke, and now lives at Oxford Lodge, 135 Oxford St., Guelph, Ontario.

The preface was written by David Lewis (above), seen here with
other veterans of Combined Ops in London ONT, mid-1990s

Back, L - R: Art ('Gash'), Clayton*, and David Lewis (David wrote and
collected stories for St. Nazaire to Singapore (two lengthy volumes)
Front L - R: Doug and Al (full names are w top photo)

(*Clayton Marks wrote Combined Operations which inspired Mr. Lewis to do some writing/collecting of his own).

The following is by Ed Whelan:

I will try to recall as much of my Combined Operation's experience as possible but you should know something of life previous.

Came to Canada at age ten years, an orphan of Dr. Barnardo Homes**, raised on a farm until seventeen years of age and became employed with a textile firm.

(**Doug Harrison's mother entered Canada as a child in the same manner).

During the depression of 1929/30 I worked four days a week, I was advised to take a course in Diesel engineering which I did by correspondence and attained an 80%-plus on this. I attended Hempill Diesel in Chicago for their practical course, concluding with a permit to operate Diesels up to 750 H.P.

It was with this permit that I applied to the Naval Branch at HMCS York, Toronto. There they said I had no place for my qualifications but would advise me later. I was informed to apply in May, 1941 to HMCS York and was taken in for basic training for a few weeks. On completion I was forwarded to HMCS Esquimalt, BC, to work on the boats which had been taken over by the navy.

(Editor's Note: The first drafts of sailors from HMCS Stadacona, Halifax, followed much the same path after volunteering for Combined Operations in late 1941. Once overseas in January, 1942, they were sent to Havant and Hayling Island on England's south coast, and soon thereafter to Inveraray and Irvine in Scotland for more training aboard various landing crafts, some commando training included. Their first action was the Dieppe raid, i.e. Operation Jubilee, August 19, 1942, followed soon there after by Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, beginning in November, 1942. The invasions of Sicily and Italy followed in 1943.)

Ed Whelan continues:

I received my first Mention in Dispatches in May 1943 and the other one in August 1943. They were for recognition of the performance of our boats.

On returning to Halifax after leave, I was told by the naval authorities I would not be returning to England but that there was a mine sweeper down at the dock and they wanted an engineer. I was a Sub-Lieutenant in charge of machinery of HMCS Transcona (details re ship at Wikipedia) and stayed with her until I received word from my wife's doctor that I should resign my position which Captain G. put through, and was passed out June 20, 1945. I returned to my hometown in Orangeville. But on 9 July, 1945 my wife passed away.

I have wondered why you wished this information or is it just curiosity? I am now in my 91st year with degrading hearing and eyesight, living alone and not the best of health, living in a rented building for the past twenty-five years.

As found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 45, Vol. 1, page 17 (click here for access to Volume 1)
Art 'Gash' Bailey (left) and Ed Whelan, Oxford Lodge, Guelph, 1988

In Volume 2 of St. Nazaire to Singapore we find a few words from Art Bailey (aka 'Gash', a navy term for leftovers) another Canadian in Combined Ops. 

Mr. Bailey shares the following, as part of a response to the Canadian Combined Ops Questionnaire:

The above excerpt appears as found at St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 2, page 391. Click here for access to the online book. And click here to read a passage by Bob McRae re Dieppe and circumstances related to the death of Richard Cavanagh.

Photo as found at page 65, St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1

'Gash' finishes his brief recollection with the following:

Stop me if I am wrong, but when you (David Lewis, writer/editor re St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1 and 2were in Roseneath did you not have me out in front of a work party to show them how to swing a sledge hammer? We were irrigating the land for the prospective camp and damn the rock was hard. Would you believe that a couple of the guys accused me of showing off? And here I was trying to work off a hang over. 

Though David Lewis, in his preface to Ed Whelan's letter above, makes mention of Ed's Questionnaire, it does not appear along with Art Bailey's and those belonging to several others. If other excerpts belonging to Ed can be found, I will add them to this post.

Please link to an earlier entry, Story: Normandy - Operation NEPTUNE Part 2

Unattributed Photos GH

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