Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Passages: Heaven and Hell

Comox and HMCS St. Croix

 Scene from The Spit, near HMCS Quadra and Comox, 2015

Similar view at Givenchy III behind 1940s Navy cutters:
Photo from Sailor Remember by W. Pugsley

During the Second World War, to some members of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR), many of whom were also members of Combined Operations, Comox (home to a Canadian Combined Operations training camp) was Heaven.

"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," says Doug Harrison (RCNVR, Comb. Ops) in his Navy memoirs about his experience there in 1944 and '45. ("DAD, WELL DONE", page 45)

That being said, some of the stories Harrison heard while there related to the opposite spiritual sphere - Hell.

Harrison writes:

   Wm. Fischer (sic), 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. (Pg. 46)

More information about William Fisher's hellish experiences are found in The Corvette Navy, a distinctive and informative book by James B. Lamb. The following excerpt is from page 123:

 Photo of excerpt from The Corvette Navy

Photo through German submarine periscope:
From U-BOAT WAR by Lothar G. Buchheim

As well, Fisher's own account survives to this day in more than one form. Please link to his own story at The Naval Museum of Manitoba.

That Fisher ended up in Comox - a bit of heaven - after his nightmare at sea seems like a fair shake.

*As it turns out Fisher was initially one of many survivors of the fatally damaged HMCS St. Croix rescued by HMS Itchen. But he was later 'the lone survivor' of the St. Croix rescued from the Itchen disaster.

** D. Harrison's story may be the only one which tells of Fisher's adamant refusal to return to sea and his placement closer to Heaven than Hell.

 'View from barracks beach' on The Spit, Comox:
Photo - Sailor Remember, pg. 92

Modern day photographs taken near barracks beach, on The Spit

Please link to Passages: Canadians and the Maple Leaf

Unattributed Photos by GH

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