Sunday, December 13, 2015

Short Story re Sicily, "Monkey Mishap"

Recalling Monkey Mishap Aboard Ship

By L/S Doug Harrison, RCNVR & Combined Ops

Ephus P. Murphy, "a devil-may-care type of sailor"

Not many days slip by but that I think of my comrades in the navy. One I served with on landing craft during World War Two came to mind recently. This branch of the service was called Combined Operations because some of us navy men joined with the army and air force to invade foreign soil.

This time of year, close to Remembrance Day, memories of the war and my comrades come to mind more strongly. I have found that bonds formed in war are unbreakable. Although my comrades are scattered like leaves upon the ground, I have a mailing list of over 200 comrades and a memorial list of about equal number.

In the navy nicknames abounded. Depending on the time of day and the situation at hand, my nicknames changed. Usually in the evening aboard ship I was called Cactus because I carried a battered old guitar and it was time for a few navy ditties. At other times I was called Do-go, which when translated into navy language by my comrades meant, “Get out of our sight, move it.”

This time of year as always I thought of my comrades and one in particular came to mind because he and his pet monkey added a very strange twist to the war during the invasion of Sicily. I have thought many times of the strange scene that transpired about July 14, 1943. I don’t believe I ever knew Murphy’s correct first name but he was hung with the nickname Ephus P. He was called Prairie Dog too because he hailed from one of the prairie provinces.

 Editor: Navy hammock bearing names of men of the 80th and 81st Flotilla*

 "The hammock was aboard S.S. Silver Walnut on its way to Sicily, 1943"

"The name of E Murphy, from Saskatchewan, can be seen under D. Harrison's"

Ephus P. was a devil-may-care type of sailor, with a smile a mile wide and a very tender heart. I suppose he missed the animals of the prairies and in a weaker moment at Cape Town, South Africa Ephus P. purchased a small fawn-coloured monkey for his pet and to be our ship’s mascot.

The monkey and Ephus P. soon became inseparable; wherever the sailor went the monkey travelled on his shoulder, smiling in his own way, like his master. Since bananas were a thing of the past the monkey usually chewed on a mango, or hardtack biscuit, on which he munched away, the chips flying. The biscuit container was dated 1917. Ephus P. and the monkey became a familiar sight aboard ship and although we disapproved of the monkey at the mess-table at meal times, the two of them just smiled at us and we accepted their presence before too long, provided of course that the monkey remained on his shoulder.

The early morning darkness of July 10, 1943 found the Canadian sailors and their landing craft shuttling war materials ashore, but as daylight came the surprise was over - the news had travelled fast and the German air force appeared in numbers with bombs and some strafing. The vast gathering of ships of all types offshore answered every attack with tremendous gunfire.

The ship that I was on, along with Ephus P. and his monkey and several other Canadian sailors and officers, was an American Liberty ship named the Pio Pico, and many of the trucks in the hold were already loaded. They contained artillery shells, land mines, high octane gasoline for aircraft and, although I’m sorry I didn’t find out sooner, several cases of high octane rum.

After about four days of incessant German bombing and the terrible din of exploding anti-aircraft shells, the poor monkey, in this crazy bizarre world of man’s inhumanity to man, went berserk and no longer clung to Murphy’s shoulder but climbed screaming to the farthest parts of the ship. It had gone completely mad and out of control.

War was hell on “that very hot day off the Sicilian coast”
Photo Credit - The Liberation Trilogy

"Lloyd Evans, another Canadian in Comb. Ops" Photo - L. Evans

"Lloyd describes the action for an Ottawa newspaper"

As I recall that a well-placed bomb would have blown us all sky high, orders came down that we must destroy Ephus P.’s monkey before it bit or scratched us or a member of the American crew. How ironic. We Canadian sailors, realizing Murphy’s fondness for his pet, stalled for awhile hoping the monkey would improve, but such was not the case and the officer’s order was emphatic. We had no choice and explained this as best we could to Murphy.

With heavy gloves on their hands, the sailors placed the monkey in a bag of sand and lowered it over the side into the water. It was a very sad moment indeed, but the war had to go on, and we tried to comfort Ephus P. as his tanned face glistened with tears.

Whoever coined the phrase ‘war is hell’ would have received no argument from Murphy and his comrades that very hot day off the Sicilian coast.

*Hammock can be seen at Esquimalt Naval Museum upon request. More details here.

The above story is from the book "DAD, WELL DONE" - The Naval Memoirs of Leading Seaman Coxswain Gordon Douglas Harrison as compiled by his son G.A. Harrison

Link to Short Story re Sicily, "Safe Rooms at The Savoy"

Unattributed Photos by GH

No comments:

Post a Comment