Thursday, March 5, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Operations

"DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (2)
by L/S Coxswain Doug Harrison


["Navy boys received a warm welcome from Haligonians!"] 


I arrived in Halifax at the very end of October, 1941 and was officially classed as an O/D - ordinary seaman.

It would be fitting here to say, to wherever camp or ship we went - and we were at many - we were called ‘new entries.’ Even after two years overseas, when we arrived back at Halifax and fell in, the first words we heard were “for the benefit of you new entries.” How humiliating can they get? Then you got the rules.

We met a lot of sailors, who were shortly to go through what we went through already, and they called themselves commandos. 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.

[Wellington Barracks, later known as Stadacona: 
Photo credit -]

Can you imagine running outside in temperatures in the low twenties in T-shirts and shorts? We did, morning after morning. O/D Seaman Ward of Niagara Falls was very heavy so he jumped on the street car and then met us at Stadacona’s gate and fell in at the rear. Never ran a step, still no one ever squealed on him.

Training was very severe in Halifax. We were now known as Effingham Division under the good old White Ensign. Names for divisions were taken from old battleships of the Royal Navy. We went six weeks before being allowed to go ashore and that also was ruined by a seaman known only as Thibodeau. The division was really angry, Thibodeau dropped a pint of milk out of a window nearly hitting the Officer of the day making his evening rounds to see if everything was clean. Our leave was cancelled indefinitely. We went to our Leading Seaman Instructor, L/Seaman Rose but he said he couldn’t help us, but we probably wouldn’t be seen if we ourselves took a course of action. Into the cold showers went O/D Thibodeau, clothes and all, as if the barracks weren’t cold enough for him already. He was on good behaviour from then on and we soon got permission for a few hours leave every other night.

["A note from Ma (my mother) is attached to Dad's memoirs"] 

My girlfriend and my mother sent me a Rolex oyster wrist watch for Christmas. I put it on and went to the washroom for a shave and wash, took off the watch, forgot it, and never saw it again. I probably had the watch for about half an hour. I told my mother I smashed it during rifle drill. (“And it took us weeks to pay for it!!” - Ma).

I met Omar Bucholtz of Norwich in Halifax and one icy evening we went to Capital Hill to an army canteen. We proceeded to get loaded and coming home we slipped at the top of Citadel Hill and slid to the very bottom and onto street car tracks. A street car barely had time to stop to avoid running over us. We sobered up very quickly.

One restaurant had a sign in its window - Dogs and sailors not allowed.

Time passed quickly at Stadacona in Halifax and by this time nearly everyone had paired off in threes, buddies, or in naval language, ‘oppo.’

["Navy language is explained in Combined Operations by C. Marks"]

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 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, which went aground going astern as we left harbour and couldn’t be moved. We bailed water all night with pails - on a huge ship like that - like emptying a pail of sand one grain at a time. However, we were transferred to a Dutch ship called the Volendam, with a large number of Air Force men. This was to be an eventful trip.

[Volendam - Dutch Steam passenger ship: Photo
credit -]

The convoy consisted of a destroyer H.M.S. Firedrake, armed merchant ship Jervis Bay (sister ship of the famed Burgess Bay who held off a large German man o’ war until the remainder of its convoy could escape, costing her her life and all aboard) and an American four-stacker loaned by the USA to England.

The Dutch captain lined us all up and assured us we would arrive safely because the Volendam had already taken three torpedoes and lived to sail. This was very heartening news for those of us who had never been to sea except for a few hours in Halifax upon a mine-sweeper. Our first meal was sausage with lots of grease. Naturally, many were sick as it was very rough.

Late at night I was on watch at our stern (4.7 gauge) and saw a red plume of an explosion on our starboard quarter. In the morning the four-stacker was not to be seen. The next evening I heard cries for help, presumably from a life-raft or life-boat. Although I informed the officer of the watch, we were unable to stop and place ourselves in jeopardy as we only had the Firedrake with ASDIC (sonar) to get us through safely.

After some days we spotted a light on our port stern quarter one night. It was the light of the conning tower of a German submarine. How she failed to detect us, or the Firedrake detect it, I will never know. I was gun layer and nearly fell off the gun. I informed the Bridge and the Captain said, “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. It could be one of ours.” But as it quickly submerged we did fire one round to buck up our courage.

Some days later we spotted a friendly flying Sunderland and shortly after sailed up the Firth of Clyde to disembark at the Canadian barracks called Niobe. Before we disembarked, however, we took up a good-sized collection for the crew of the Firedrake for bringing us through. It was soon confirmed that the American four-stacker had taken a fish (torpedo).

[HMS Firedrake: Photo credit -] 

*special duties overseas - two years of ‘Hostilities Only’ (HO) in the relatively new Combined Operations organization

More to follow.

Link to Books re Combined Operations "DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (1)

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