Monday, March 30, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Operations

"DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs 11
by L/S Coxswain Doug Harrison

Comox is near top-centre on a painted map found in Victoria, BC


Then I went to Givenchy III, known as Cowards Cove, at Comox on Vancouver Island. It was absolute heaven there. Just normal routine; I trained a few zombies on cutters, and played ball five or six times a week under a good coach.

At Comox, in "absolute heaven": "I played ball five or six times a week"
D. H., front far left; George 'Hobie' Hobson, coach, top far left

I also looked after Captain Windyers sailboat and prepared it when he wished to go for a sail. One day quite a wind was blowing and I was called by the captain to prepare the boat for sailing.

First thing I did was drop the drop keel and it sheered its bolt stoppers and plummeted into twenty feet of ocean. Diving would not raise it because we could not dive low enough, but by means of a wire we hooked a hole and retrieved it and soon the sailboat was ready to sail. “Isn’t it a bit windy today, sir, for sailing such a small craft?” I said. “I’ll be the judge of that,” he remarked. He hadn’t gone a hundred fathoms when the sailboat tipped over and he was bottoms up. We rescued him with an LCM barge, and when he came ashore - hair flattened and really soaked - he never even glanced my way. I wouldn’t have either.

At Givenchy III I passed professionally for my Leading Seaman rating and Acting Coxswain, classed very good. 

Riverside Hotel* is at top of the hill, trees shading its porch

We used to go to the Riverside Hotel in Courtenay and rent room number 14 because it had a window that opened into an alley just about hip high. Then we proceeded to drink Riverside dry, go to a dance and return to the room and find another dozen sailors who had come in the alley window. The room was crammed, and when we left on Sunday morning the manager’s head turned to and fro, like someone watching a ping pong game. He was utterly astounded but never called a halt because we were such nice guys.

I had a fight with an OPP Constable named Carson. I was drunk and he asked me for my I.D. card. I took a punch at him, missed him by a pole length and he assisted me to the cruiser, he was very kind. He had a hammer lock on me so didn’t open the door, he just put me through the open back window. You know, that shoulder is still sore. He took me to jail, but the cell was already packed with sailors and cleaning equipment, i.e., mops, brooms, etc. They lit the equipment on fire and smoke forced us all out. He didn’t like me because our team used to beat his team at ball. Big sissy. Poor loser.

Doug Harrison (left) with Chuck ‘Rosie’ Rose 

At Givenchy L/Sea Rose and I took a job washing dishes, but we gave everyone to understand that we had to be at the beach at 1300 hours (1:00 p.m.). There were 150 ratings to start but many were shipped out. If we were going to be late we grabbed dishes half full and said, “you’re done”, because we couldn’t keep the girls waiting.

Wm. Fischer, a stoker (not of combined ops but of R.C.N.V.R.), was stationed there. He had, I believe, an unequalled experience. He was on an Atlantic convoy run, on H.M.C.S. St. Croix, and one night in rough seas the St. Croix was sunk and he was the lone survivor. His life jacket had lights on and later he was picked up by the English ship H.M.S. Itchen. It in turn was torpedoed and Fischer was one of three survivors. They took him and his wife on saving bond tours, etc., but when he was asked to go to sea again, he said he would go to cells first. With an experience like that I would have too. He was lucky to be alive.

Gordon Bell, a YMCA director, came to ‘the spit’ as it was called nearly everyday and provided piano music, sewed on crests and buttons, repaired uniforms and showed movies. One night my oppo, Frank Herring, slightly drunk, was laughing his booming laugh at a hilarious movie when he took a sudden urge and jumped right out the window, frame and all, and he didn’t even get out.

The Spit**, a piece of land thinly linked to Comox, w oyster beds

There was a government oyster breeding ground [seen in photo above] at Givenchy and at low tide we would get bags full of the largest ones and put them in the water near the barracks, so, when the tide came in no one saw them and when tide went out we had a feast. We cooked a lot, but some of the large ones we ate raw. They were hard to swallow, i.e., the large ones, and we often needed a slap on the back to be able to move it down our throat. 

It was beautiful to see the snow-capped mountains and the contours - which had various names.

Then one day, the day we had been waiting for came - V.E. day - and what a celebration. They poured beer in my hair, there was no routine, but nothing untoward happened.

“...there was no routine, everything went mad and uncontrolled...” 

The fellows were just so glad, that it gave us time to think back and count our blessings. No, I cannot recall anything unusual happening to write about. It had a sobering effect on most of us who had been in Combined Operations under the White Ensign.

Of course, I said we were very very happy, but we were also very very lucky and knew it. Soon we went to H.M.C.S. Naden, with none of us volunteering for the Japanese theatre of war, although we were all asked by a recruiting officer.

A naval photographer took a picture of six of us: L/Sea Watson, L/Sea Warrick, L/Sea Rose, L/Sea Westbrook, L/Sea Spencer and myself, L/Sea Harrison, because we all joined the same day, went through twenty-three months overseas together and were going to be discharged all on the same day too.

Back row: Donald Westbrook, Charlie Rose, Joe Spencer 
Front row: Joe Watson, Doug Harrison, Arthur Warrick

Chapter TEN to follow.

*Photo Credit - Comox Valley Record Heritage calendar, 2012

**Photo Credit - Comox Museum

Please link to more Memoirs at "DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs 10

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