From the Queen of Bermuda to the Volendam
By Doug Harrison, Norwich, Ontario (RCNVR, Combined Ops)
Volendam - Dutch Steam passenger ship
Photo - U-Boat/Allies/Merchants
In "Early Days in Combined Ops - Part 1", we read Al Kirby's short story about the first draft of Canadians who volunteered to serve in special duties overseas on small craft. They boarded the Queen of Bermuda in Halifax in December 1941, ready to set sail for Scotland and train in Combined Operations, an organization (apparently) unknown to these first Canadians. Another account follows:
"We Bailed Water all Night"
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.
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).
Seamen D. Harrison (L) and Al Kirby (author
of "Early Days Part 1", in Scotland, 1942
This short story is found in Doug Harrison's Navy memoirs, Chapter 2
More to follow re "Early Days in Combined Ops" and the Queen of Bermuda.
*John E. (Jack) Rimmer mentions the same submarine sighting, and names the four-stacker, in his story Sicily: "Miss Canada", LCM 1022
Unattributed Photo by GH