Thursday, January 14, 2016

Short Story re "Early Days in Combined Ops" Part 3

From HMCS Stadacona in Canada to HMCS Niobe in Scotland

By Lloyd Evans, Markham, Ontario (RCNVR, Combined Operations

Lloyd Evans, home on leave in Ottawa

In "Early Days in Combined Ops - Part 2", we read Doug Harrison'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. As things went, Doug and his mates bailed water all night with pails. Another account follows:

Training in Halifax at HMCS Stadacona

I spent a few months in training there and then I was posted to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The new entry training there was at the ex-army Wellington Barracks (then C Block of HMCS Stadacona). The training consisted of knots and splices, rifle drill, semaphore, Morse code, ship and aircraft recognition, gunnery drill and parade drill. The highlight of the training was a one-day trip to sea on a Minesweeper for gunnery practice. The whole ship rattled and shook when the 4-inch gun went off....

At the end of the training period the Navy asked for volunteers for a secret mission overseas. Most of our division volunteered along with several navy motor mechanics and two leading PT instructors...

 Journey to the UK

In January 1942, a few days after returning to Halifax, we were inspected by an Admiral as the band played Maria Laina. He wondered why some of the boys had volunteered and was somewhat taken aback when told that they didn’t know what they had volunteered for! After the inspection we were bussed to the jetty and boarded HMS Queen of Bermuda....

We sailed at noon in a heavy snowstorm, missed the starboard buoy, which marked the channel to follow, and grounded on a rock! The result was a 30 foot hole in the bottom.... A bucket brigade was organized stretching up several decks and after a restless night sleeping on deck I joined the happy band.... Later that day a minesweeper failed to pull our ship free so we threw our kit bags over the side and into a tug, disembarked and returned to the base....

"A blizzard makes headlines in Halifax on December 22, 1941" 
Photo credit - The Halifax Herald

"On roads and on seas the driving is treacherous"
Photo credit - The Halifax Herald, Dec. 22 1941

A few days after returning from leave we embarked on the Dutch troopship Volendam along with thousands of RCAF aircrew. We sailed the next day with another troopship and an escort of two R.N. destroyers. This was considered a good escort in those early days as escort ships were very scarce. That evening, while on lookout duty on the bridge, I was surprised to see one of the destroyers, HMS Belmont, go full speed ahead followed shortly by two huge explosions. She had been hit by two torpedoes..... For obvious reasons we didn’t slow down to look for survivors but, since we were only a short distance from Halifax, a rescue ship came out to look for them....

The rest of the trip was reasonably quiet with the remaining destroyer doing double duty. In effect she proceeded at high speed most of the time to cover all the distance normally undertaken by two ships. In appreciation of their great efforts we passed the hat around for the benefit of the crew. About ten days later we sailed up the River Clyde to Gourock in Scotland. The final stage of our journey was by bus to the Canadian Base HMCS Niobe a few miles away in Greenock.

"Standing easy"

 More about Lloyd Evan's' Journey to the UK and Arrival in Scotland and Posting to Combined Operations can be read at Combined Operations Command.
Photos used with the permission of Lloyd Evans, now of Markham, Ontario

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