Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Short Story re "Early Days in Combined Ops" Part 1

Queen of Bermuda Versus Chebucto Head

By Al Kirby, Woodstock, Ontario (RCNVR, Combined Ops)

HMS Queen of Bermuda: Stationary, coastal waters, WW2
Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons

In December of 1941, I was finishing my Seaman Torpedo Course at the Torpedo School in Halifax Dockyard, when I saw on the bulletin board, a notice asking for volunteers to go to England to train with the Royal Navy for hazardous duties on small craft. I immediately thought "MTBs" (Motorized Torpedo Boats). Now that sounded very exciting to a 17 year old RCN Boy Seaman, so I reported to the R.P.O. and applied. The only qualification was that you be single and warm.

About December 20th, a hundred of us were loaded on to trucks and delivered to the ocean jetty behind the Nova Scotian Hotel and were marched aboard the Queen of Bermuda. She was a rather large liner, converted to an A.M.C. with six inch guns and she looked very impressive, sort of a big brother to Prince Robert.

That evening, just before supper, a tug pulled us out into the fairway and turned us around and we began to steam out of the harbour, all excited about our new adventure, but still not having been told what these small craft were. The buzzes ran rampant, but I still clung to my belief that we were headed for MTB training. We were assigned to a mess just below the upper deck, but right aft where the hull began to round into the stern. As we were finishing our supper, the deck began to vibrate so badly that the dishes began to fall off onto the deck, actually jumping right over the raised edges of the mess table. Some of us even fell off the benches. After about thirty seconds it stopped and we cleared up the mess and finished our supper.

Since I was not on mess duty, I went up to the upper deck to watch Halifax go over the horizon. I found the decks crowded with all kinds of sailors and what appeared to be utter confusion. Asking one of the juicer crew (British Navy) what all the excitement was, I was told that we had run aground. There was quite a blizzard coming down at the time and with the coming darkness I couldn't see a thing from the stern so I went right forward on the fo'csle to take a look. To my astonishment, there was a big cliff no more than a hundred feet ahead of us and the ship was stopped as though we had run right into it and bounced back.

Chebucto Head: The lighthouse was destroyed in about
1940 because the site was needed for a gun battery.
Photo Credit - Chebucto Head Lighthouse

I went back down to our mess to spread the news but by this time everyone knew our predicament and I was told that we were up against Chebucto Head. A couple of hours later I went on deck to see a tug pulling on our stern but we didn't seem to be moving. About ten in the evening, we were mustered on the upper deck and told off into parties, marched to stores, given buckets and marched about six decks down where we were surprised to find that the next deck was flooded.

We were spread in a line down the gangway to the level of the water and began to bail, passing the buckets, man to man, up about five or six decks, to where they could be emptied through a s'allex port. We could hardly work with all the laughing and kibitzing going on. We could not believe that, here we were, bailing out an ocean liner with buckets. We really angered the juicer P.O. who was in charge of us as we kidded him with such questions as, "Have you guys never heard of pumps?"

By two A.M. the water hadn't gone down a bit but they finally dismissed us and we turned in, going to bed tired and thinking we had just been to a Charlie Chaplin comedy. Next morning, the rising tide lifted us off and we were towed back into harbour and disembarked. Since Stadacona had no place to put us, we were all sent home for Christmas and New Years on, of all things, survivors leave. It was late in January that we re-embarked to arrive in Scotland and learn that we were destined to join Combined Operations, driving landing craft.

Chebucto Head is north of the green X, south of Halifax
Map image credit - Connected in Motion 

Chebucto Head Lighthouse. Photo credit link

The following story was published in 'The Yardarm', Vol. 5, Number 1, printed by The Royal Canadian Naval Association in 1994.

More to follow re Early Days in Combined Ops and the Queen of Bermuda.

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