Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Books re Combined Operations

"DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (1)

[“DAD, WELL DONE” Memoirs compiled by Gord Harrison] 

In an excerpt from the book Combined Operations by Canadian Clayton Marks, London Ontario, one reads the following related to the origin of the Combined Operations organization:

In late 1941 and early 1942, the Canadian contribution to Combined Operations was increased to fifty officers and three hundred Ratings, who had volunteered for a specially hazardous duty with the Royal Navy. The first and second Flotillas sailed from Halifax on the "Queen of Bermuda" in November of 1941, which ran aground outside Halifax Harbour. After new sailing orders had been made, they sailed once more on the "Volendam" in December of 1941.

The story of one young Canadian. Lloyd Evans (now age 93 and living in Markham Ontario), who left Canada in 1941 on the aforementioned Volendam, can be found on the fine Combined Ops website created by Geoff Slee, Scotland.

Please link to Memories of a WW2 Landing Craft

The story of another young Canadian, Doug Harrison (my father, deceased), who also left on the Volendam bound for Scotland, will be presented here in ten chapters. Though Doug and Lloyd began their journey on the same boat and visited many of the same training sites at the same time, they each tell a unique tale in their own words.


The Naval memoirs of Leading Seaman
Coxswain Gordon Douglas Harrison


Many Canadian citizens do not know about the active part taken by the Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve Navy in Combined Operations overseas during World War II. Here is a story regarding the Canadian Navy on navy barges on the operations against Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and many were at D-Day also. 

["Doug Harrison, centre, assists landing of American troops in
N. Africa, Nov. 1942": Photo credit - Imperial War Museum]

As a young boy I was crazy about ships. I used to make boats by folding paper in a certain way and then sail them on the creek. I was born September 6, 1920, 12 lbs. 10 ozs.

I was from a family of seven, three girls and four boys. My mother needed a new door sill for our home so she somehow procured a lovely board from a lumber yard. I stole the board and Sonny Bucholtz and I hollowed it out and used it for the main part of our first ship, the Bluenose.

We got old car batteries, melted the lead and molded it to fit the bottom of the boat as a keel. Built masts and yardarms, made sails and halyards and her maiden voyage at Vandenburgs swimming pool was a terrific success. She was painted blue and white. I always admired the real Nova Scotian Bluenose and have a plastic replica in my rec room today.

Yes, Mum found out about the board and I not only got the board, I got the shoe brush on my bottom.

In the navy if an officer says “well done”, it is nearly the same as getting a citation or medal. I hope that my efforts at this story may interest someone enough to say “dad, well done.”

Doug Harrison V8809


It has been said that during our lifetime one should plant a tree, have a baby and write a book. I have planted trees, can’t have a baby, but will endeavor to write a book of my naval career and experiences with Combined Operations with the RCNVR.

June 21, 1941, I went on probationary strength of HMCS Star in Hamilton, corner of McNab and McNutt streets, a building which was at one time a cider mill. By probationary I mean I went nights from 7 to 10 p.m. and took instructions on semaphore, rifle drill, marching, compass work, bends and hitches, knots and splices, etc.

I lived with my late sister Gertrude Stopps on Bay St., Hamilton. During the day I was employed at James St. North Hamilton Cotton Mills where I progressed from one job to another very rapidly. The home I stayed at was owned by a Mrs. Brown, a teacup reader of some repute, who had the upstairs and my sister and I and her daughter Joyce the lower part of the house. I also worked at Locke St. potteries before going to cotton mills.

I quit my job at potteries because of a small misdemeanor of taking a smoke. I was called to the office and reprimanded but the foreman wanted me to stay on, but when I quit, I quit, and he knew where he could stuff his clay, which was formed and molded, then enamelled and heated at high heat for use as electric fence insulators, toilet and sink bowls and for electric stove elements.

Doug’s three sisters: Gertrude (front), Myrtle (back), Jessie (right) 

One night my sister and I went upstairs to have our teacups read by Mrs. Brown who also had a flourishing tea shop uptown Hamilton. She read my cup and said I would get a job next day at the cotton mills, providing when they asked me my religion I said Roman Catholic. I went to the employment office and many men were coming away mumbling “no work there.” However, I went in and the manager asked me many questions which lead up to my religion. I said Roman Catholic. “Good. You start tomorrow.” If he’d asked me my church I would have been scuttled.

After approximately six weeks probationary, I was taken on full strength and was made an Ordinary Seaman. I always wanted to be a sailor because my dad, who passed away when I was ten, had been a sailor and my idol was Admiral Lord Nelson. I read and read about him and many other navy stories, mostly about war actions. Zeebrugge was one. My dad had been a stoker for thirteen years.

Space at H.M.C.S. Star was not large enough for all-out training as H.M.C.S. Star is now. Rifle drill, route marches, frog-hopping up hills with 60 pound sacks on our back (frog-hopping is hopping in a squat position), and gunnery under the gunnery officer who always wears black garters. Everything is done on the double. It was a madhouse. They really toughened us up. Hold a Lee Enfield rifle (approximate weight - 12 to 14 pounds) in front of you in one hand and double change to the other hand, over your head, behind your back, then watch black garters walk away and forget all about you and you are still running.

Comedy too was all part of naval life. We had to scrub and wax and polish the ward room floor, and after waxing we put a rating in a clean pair of overalls onto the floor and dragged him by his arms and ankles to polish it. Needless to say, corners were tough on his head.

We had an American called Alabama with us who had a serious drinking habit and was sentenced to a 30-day ‘number 11’ and confined to barracks plus doubling with a rifle along with forty pounds of sand strapped to his back loosely so with every step it hit him right between the shoulders. It finally broke him but not before he had his fun, the short burly son of a gun. They eased up on him and allowed him to sweep the sidewalk in front of the barracks under the watchful eye of the quarter-master.

One day while he was sweeping the quartermaster was called to the phone and Alabama kept sweeping until he was out of sight. A search party was formed and we followed the cleanly swept street two blocks to the Bodega Tavern where Alabama had left his broom outside. We found him inside as drunk as could be. He was discharged from RCNVR.

When eight weeks of training were over we were shipped to Halifax, but not before the 80 of us, led by our mascot (a huge Great Dane led by Scotty Wales who was under punishment) and headed by a band, did a route march through Hamilton in early evening. We really were proud and put on a display of marching never seen before or since in Hamilton. Shoulders square, arms swinging shoulder high, thousands watched and we were roundly cheered and applauded. This was a proud moment long remembered, but soon we were bound for Halifax after a goodbye to Mum and family.

["Shoulders square, arms swinging shoulder high": Hamilton, 1941] 

Again I say we were a proud division and our training was to stand us in good stead in Halifax. Because if Hamilton was tough, it couldn’t hold a candle to Halifax.

* * * * * 

If interested, one can purchase "DAD, WELL DONE", The Naval memoirs of Leading Seaman Coxswain Gordon Douglas Harrison for a nominal fee.

Photos by GH

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