Monday, May 30, 2016

Photographs: "The Spit" at Comox, Vancouver Island, BC

HMCS Givenchy III, The Spit: From the 1930s to 2016

Aerial shot of The Spit from 1930s. Photo credit - Comox Library

I visited HMCS Quadra recently, the Canadian Navy base formerly known as HMCS Givenchy III (as well as 'The Spit' and 'Cowards Cove' in my father's naval memoirs). It was a Combined Operations training ground during WW2, and while I was there I hoped to gain a better understanding of the context and setting of some of my father's photos from 1944 - 45.

I walked twice around as well as onto The Spit (I ignored a few of many DND "No Trespassing" signs) and talked with a local woman familiar with the location of the 1940s baseball diamond where the Navy Number 1 team practised their batting and ball-handling skills, at the time not far from government oyster beds and wood booms.

I came home with the knowledge there would have been several reasons why my father thought the area was like heaven on earth.

 My plane looks toward The Spit. Comox is to the right, Courtenay beyond it.

 Buildings (some WW2 era) used by HMCS Quadra (Sea Cadets) dot The Spit

 Three mates (D. Harrison, centre) relax, 1944. Town of Comox in background.

I relax on The Spit, similar location, i.e., opposite Comox, 72 years later

 My father, centre, enjoys time off near the end of The Spit

"Batter up!" Practice field with ball screen, rudimentary benches - on the Spit.
Bill Grycan stands behind Dad. Railroad tracks appear in background

 Navy No. 1 Team, likely at Lewis Park, Courtenay

No date on card. Credit - Ian Douglas, Vancouver Island Postcards

Please view photographs related to Canadians in Combined Ops on the East Coast, i.e., Halifax, NS. Link - Presentation: Photo Gallery (1)

Unattributed Photos by GH

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (2)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

D. Harrison on sentry duty, HMS Northney. Circa January 1942

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.


Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

I - Initial Combined Ops Training in Southern England

How long the new Canadian recruits stayed at HMCS Niobe on the Clyde River is not known at this time but it sounds like for only a few days. Then they were sent packing to various Combined Ops training camps on Hayling Island on the southern coast of England.

My father Doug Harrison writes:

We spent little time at Niobe but entrained for Havant (editor - adjacent to Hayling Island) in southern England, to H.M.S. Northney 1, a barracks (formerly a summer resort) with a large building for eating and then cabins with four bedrooms. This was December, 1941 or January, 1942 and there was no heat at all in the brick cabins. The toilets all froze and split. But we made out. Our eating quarters were heated. ("DAD, WELL DONE", page 11)

Canadians (from SW Ontario) in Comb. Ops at HMS Northney, Hants, England
Circa January 1942.  From L - R: Allan Adlington (London), Joe Spencer (Toronto),
Chuck Rose (Chippawa), Doug Harrison (Norwich), Art Bradfield (Simcoe),
Don Linder (Kitchener), Joe Watson (Simcoe), J. Jacobs (unknown)
Photo - Credit - From the collection of Joe Spencer 

Lloyd Evans, another Canadian volunteer, writes:

After a few days at the Greenock base we were posted to HMS Northney III on Hayling Island near Portsmouth on the south coast of England. The purpose was training and it was there that we discovered we had 'volunteered' to operate Landing Craft for future raids and landings under the auspices of Combined Ops (Operations). (My Naval Chronicle, page 9)

The young sailors would soon learn that they would spend a good deal of time over the next two years travelling (often by train) to a cluster of Combined Operations establishments spread along the coastlines of SE England and NW Scotland. They would spend a few weeks or months here, another few weeks or months there, and in between training sessions they would participate in raids, e.g., Dieppe, and invasions, e.g., North Africa, Sicily, Italy.

45 locations are listed, 4 or 5 very familiar to Canadians in Comb. Ops

No. 29 - HMS Northney I, II, III, IV. Repair based Combined Ops
Pilotage Parties (C.O.P.P.) Depot. Combined Operations, page 7

Harrison and Evans briefly refer to duties performed while at their first camp. Unfortunately, no mention is made of landing craft exercises. But both do recall lonely nights on sentry duties.

Evans writes:

Some nights I stood guard duty at the end of a long pier as lookout for German raiding parties. In the lonely darkness of the night this inexperienced 18 year old discovered the power of the imagination! It seemed that the end of the watch would never come; I was gaining a sense of the terrible nature of modern warfare as I realized in my imaginings how easily they could be turned into brutal and bloody reality. (Ibid)

Harrison says:

I had the misfortune to break the toe next to my big toe on my left foot. I went to sick bay and someone applied mercurochrome, told me to carry out my usual duties and sent me away. Running, guard duty, anything, I toughed it out.... We were issued brooms for guard duty in some cases at Northney, sometimes a rifle with no ammunition, and they were expecting a German invasion. Rounds were made every night outside by officers to see if we were alert and we would holler like Hell, “Who goes there? Advance and be recognized.” When you hollered loud enough you woke everyone in camp, so sentry duty was not so lonesome for a few minutes. (Ibid)

I'm pretty sure my father was trying out a bit of a joke on the last line. My family calls it 'Harrison humour' and it takes some listeners a while to get the hang of it. Good luck.

Though my father goes on to say "there was no training here (at Hayling Island)", I have found a few lines elsewhere that suggest otherwise, from a young Canadian officer, Kendall 'Happy' Kidder. His story - Small Landing Craft Training - is available online thanks to work done by Geoff Slee, creator of 'Combined Operations Command' (website, Scotland), and various contributors, including the officer's wife, Jill Kidder.

I read:

Training bases for 'small' landing craft were set up at Hayling Island on the south coast of England and at Inveraray in Scotland. The first Canadian flotillas joined the RN in January of 1942. Kendall was posted to HMCS Niobe in Scotland on March 1, 1942. It was the main manning and pay depot for the Canadian Navy in the UK.... a gloomy brick building which had been a mental hospital and was locally known as the 'loony bin.'

As well I read:

The initial drafts from Canada arrived in Scotland and soon were shipped to Hayling Island east of Portsmouth for initial training in the smaller 'landing craft assault', LCA's, for about three weeks. Hayling Island had somewhat the same shape as Portsmouth so on occasions lights in the fields were dimly lit to appear much like Portsmouth to the German bomber pilots. This ruse gave Portsmouth some relief from the daily bombing the civilians suffered. Didn't please the farmers of Hayling Island much to become the target. [contributor Bob Crothers, RCNVR, Combined Ops].

Whether the Canadians participated in duties ("running, guard duty, anything," said my father) or small landing craft training, most agree that after a few weeks they heard an "all aboard" and north to Scotland they did go.

My father writes:

This was to be one of the more memorable camps, with our first actual work and introduction to landing barges.

More to follow.

More information about early training at Hayling Island can be found at an earlier post on this website - Training re Combined Operations, "Havant and Hayling Island"

As well, please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (1)

Unattributed Photo - G. Harrison

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (1)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

HMCS Niobe, a Canadian base in Scotland during WW2, was named after
the above ship*. Photo credit - Silver Hawk author

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.


Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

In January, 1942 the first Canadians to volunteer for Combined Operations once again left Canada, this time aboard the Dutch liner Volendam - in a blizzard of blinding snow, not in resounding cheers - to eventually arrive at barracks called HMCS Niobe in Scotland. 

Al Kirby (RCNVR and Combined Ops) writes:

"It was late in January that we re-embarked (aboard Volendam) to arrive in Scotland and learn that we were destined to join Combined Operations, driving landing craft." (Early Days in Combined Ops)

It appears that although lessons aboard landing craft would begin shortly after their arrival, the first drafts of Canadians learned valuable lessons while being transported across the Atlantic Ocean as well.

The Atlantic Crossing and Safe Landing in Scotland

About what my father describes as "an eventful trip", he writes the following:

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 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 (4.7 gauge). 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). (from "DAD, WELL DONE", pages 8 - 9)

HMS Firedrake. Photo Credit - Firedrake Assoc.

So, before even setting foot in a classroom or on a beach to practice handling a landing craft, the Canadian sailors learned much concerning the dangers of going to sea during wartime, for example, not everyone would survive, and cries for help would not immediately be answered. 

Lloyd Evans, another early member of RCNVR and Combined Operations adds this to the story re the trip across the Atlantic:

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 (HMS Firedrake) 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.
(Memoirs, Lloyd Evans).

About HMCS Niobe one can find the following at The Memory Project:

During the Second World War, HMCS Niobe was a shore establishment near Greenock, Scotland that served as the Royal Canadian Navy’s overseas headquarters and a transit point for personnel for their overseas appointments. (Robert Sutherland

According to my reading material, the men disembarked safely at HMCS Niobe, likely filled with anticipation about what would happen next, but had little time to even look around before they were given orders to board a train destined to take them from the southern shores of the River Clyde to the southern coast of England.

All aboard!

More to follow concerning the Combined Ops training in England and Scotland.

*HMCS Niobe ca. 1898 - 1915, Royal Canadian Navy. HMS Niobe was a ship of the Diadem-class of protected cruiser in the Royal Navy. She served in the Boer War and was then given to Canada as the first ship of the then newly created Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Niobe. After patrol duties at the beginning of the First World War, she became a depot ship in Halifax. Damaged in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, she was scrapped in the 1920s. Two of HMCS Niobe's 6-inch guns are preserved in the City of Saint John, New Brunswick. (RCN Photo, as found at Silver Hawk author)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Audio: Lysle Sweeting, Coxswain on an LCM

Lysle Sweeting, Coxswain on an LCM

Lysle Sweeting, front and centre. Photo credit - The Memory Project

Introduction: One will find hundreds of audio files related to the experiences of men and women associated with many branches of Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian organizations (e.g., Red Cross, CWAC, etc.) at The Memory Project. Most audio files are accompanied by authentic WW2 photos and a written transcript.

Please link to the audio file at The Memory Project related to the activities of Lysle Sweeting, a likely member of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve and Combined Operations. His story touches on his experiences on landing crafts during the invasion of North Africa (at Arzew) in 1942 and Sicily in 1943.

A landing craft at an undisclosed location in Africa, 1942. 
Photo credit Lysle Sweeting at The Memory Project

A short segment of Lysle Sweeting's transcript follows:

I was a coxswain on the LCM which is a Landing Craft Mechanized. You would take tanks and trucks. And then there was the LCAs, which was Landing Craft [Assault], just small ones. And the actual first troops that hit the beach would have been on them and for bigger ships, it was the LCTs, Landing Craft Tanks, to put the big tanks on and whatnot; they could take 10 or 12 of those on a landing craft. There was two ships that we were on, on merchant ships; they put the boats over the side and then they put the contents in. There was supposed to have been an officer on my ship and one on the other one, but the other boat was ready before I was, so they took off with, Lieutenant Barclay was the officer in charge, which left me with just… I was in charge by myself. And on the way in, there was a lot of shooting and what it was was the French Foreign Legion, they pretty well owned Algiers [Algeria]. And we were about 20 miles east of Algiers City, at Arzew, was where we landed. But we were being shot at, at the time. I had, I had one shot where a bullet came down. I was in this square box, as the coxswain steering the ship and we had pads on the outside, anti-shrapnel pads and had one bullet land right in, about that far from me, that’s the closest I ever came to what could have been death.

Please link to Audio: George McLean - RCNVR, Combined Operations

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Audio: George McLean - RCNVR, Combined Operations

George McLean - RCN, Combined Operations

George H.F. McLean enlisted in the Canadian Navy in 1941 and
was placed on Naval reserve. This photo was taken in May, 1942, when
he was called up for active duty. Photo credit - The Memory Project 

Introduction: One will find hundreds of audio files related to the experiences of men and women associated with many branches of Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian organizations (e.g., Red Cross, CWAC, etc.) at The Memory Project. Most audio files are accompanied by authentic WW2 photos and a written transcript.

Please link to the first of two audio files at The Memory Project, page 89 related to the activities of George McLean, a member of the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve and Combined Operations. His story touches on the invasion of Sicily and Salerno, Italy in 1943.

Troops training on Navy landing crafts in preparation for the D-Day
landings at the Isle of Wight. April 1944. At The Memory Project

A small portion of the first audio's transcript follows:

I served with the Navy – V34075. I joined the Navy in early 1941. I served on the male reserve until May of '42, and then I signed up with the Royal Navy to go on Combined Operations. We left Norfolk in February of 1943. Proceeded to our base in North Africa, and from there, we trained all the different regiments that were in Africa. About the 1st of July, our whole flotilla of invasion craft proceeded to Malta. We sat there until I guess about July 10th, when we picked up the 8th British Army and took them into Sicily. After the invasion of Sicily, we moved back to Africa, and numerous times we were heavily bombed.

Please link to the second of two audio files at The Memory Project.

A small portion of the second audio's transcript follows:

When I joined up, I was 16. I went to HMCS Discovery, which is in Stanley Park [in Vancouver]. After about three weeks of basic training, they shipped us over to Esquimalt [British Columbia]. It was HMCS Naden. And they were on a course there and it was a day like today, the sun was shining and we were in a classroom learning all about engines. It was rather dull. And this commander walked into our classroom and said that they needed five volunteers to go with the British Navy in the Mediterranean [Sea] to work on combined operations, which is sort of a commando unit. So I put my hand up and next thing I know, I’m in Toronto on a course.

Pictured here is the only Canadian L.C.I to land on Omaha Beach,
Normandy, France. George McLean and the ship's crew transported the U.S
field hospital from England to France, 1944. Photo Credit - G. McLean

Please link to Audio: W. K. Newell, Canadian Beach Commando Unit

Friday, May 6, 2016

Audio: W. K. Newell, Canadian Beach Commando Unit

W. K. Newell, Canadian Beach Commando Unit

Canadian Navy commandos at Scottish training course in April 1944.
The "death slide" was maneuvered by a rope toggle or "trolley" rigged by
the commando himself. Photo credit - R.C.N. Lieut. G. Milne. GM 1611.

Introduction: One will find hundreds of audio files related to the experiences of men and women associated with many branches of Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian organizations (e.g., Red Cross, CWAC, etc.) at The Memory Project. Most audio files are accompanied by authentic WW2 photos and a written transcript.

Please link to audio files at The Memory Project (Page 91) related to the activities of W. K. Newell, a member of the Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando Unit. His story touches on the purpose and responsibilities of the Beach Commandos under Lord Louis Mountbatten and the tough training program in Scotland.

Combined Commando Operations Dress Patch for the Canadian
Naval Uniform. Photo credit - The Memory Project

A small part of Mr. Newell's transcript follows:

The Beach Commando Unit, we were identified alphabetically, whereas the Marine and Army Commando Units were identified numerically. We had 3 units in our Commando of 28 men each. And we trained purposely for Operation Overlord which was the Normandy invasion. The three units worked independently but in coordination with each other. The Beach Commandos were part of combined operations commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten. The basic responsibility of a Beach Commando was to go into a landing site, under cover of darkness, ahead of the assault troops, for purposes of securing the beach area and signalling out to sea to inform the landing craft and the other landing troops of the conditions for landing various elements of the assault....

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Video: The Invasion of Sicily

The Invasion of Sicily, July 1943

Planning and Preparations January - July 1943: View of the dockside of
Sousse Harbour, Tunisia. Landing craft are loaded with vehicles and equipped
in preparation for the invasion. Photo credit - Histomil History

Introduction: Thanks to YouTube and other sources there are many videos and still images of various theatres of war, and many concern significant events during WW2 in which Canadians in Combined Operations were involved. Here I provide links to two videos related to the 1943 invasion of Sicily.

Please note: The above photo and the videos presented may not be concerned with the same troops at the same location.

Link to 'The Invasion of Sicily' (8:38 minutes)

(Campaign in Sicily: Invasion of Sicily by the 15th Army Group, consisting of the American 7th Army and the British 8th Army.Published 1948)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days 3 (3)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Mess A, Sailors' Quarters at Wellington Barracks Complex, HMCS Stadacona
Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.


Part 3 - Halifax Training is Tough, Combined Operations Even Tougher

Before I share information about early landing craft training undertaken in the UK by the first Canadians in Combined Ops, I would like to touch on information regarding Canadian Commandos in Combined Operations, and report a bit more information I've learned about early training facilities in Canada linked to the origins of Combined Operations.

Firstly, in his memoirs my father wrote about his early training in Halifax, from October - December, 1941, but in his opening remarks he refers to returning to Canada (after two years in wartime Europe) and discovering there were Canadians about to leave Halifax for Europe as Commandos.

He writes:

It would be fitting here to say, to whatever camp or ship we went - and we were at many (i.e., from Jan 1942 - Dec. 1943) we were called new entries. Even after two years overseas, when we arrived back at Halifax (aboard the HMS Aquitania in Dec. 1943) and fell in, the first words we heard were "for the benefits of you new entries." How humiliating can they get? Then you got the rules.

We met a lot of sailors (upon our return) who were shortly to go through what we went through already, and they called themselves commandos. They sure were in for a rude awakening.

I take his words to mean that while he was overseas he had not met any Canadian Commandos there. From my own readings I am pretty sure he did some of the same training as British Commandos, perhaps trained with them while in the UK, and transported American Rangers (similar in ways to British Commandos) on landing craft, e.g., upon LCMs in North Africa. When Canadian Commandos appeared on the scene and where they first served in Europe is not clear to me at this time. Perhaps my father mentions the "rude awakening" because the real battlefield was much different than training back at home, e.g. in Halifax.

He goes on to say:

We were never called commandos, only combined operations ratings, and we were the first from Canada to go overseas.

Though my father's shoulder patch bore the same insignia as the Commandos he trained with, perhaps served with, he makes clear that when he left Halifax for Europe two years earlier he was RCNVR and Combined Ops only. Those learning more about Comb. Ops, as I am, can now look for Canadians with three designations, i.e., RCNVR ('sailors', as Dad says above), Combined Ops, and Commandos (likely W Commandos).

Please start here: The memoirs of Peter Neuman, Canadian Commando, graciously supplied by his son William, on this website.

And secondly, about early training facilities in Canada linked to Combined Operations - there may be twists and turns encountered as people search for details.

That there was a Combined Operation training ground on Vancouver Island, on The Spit" at Comox, 1943 - 1946 is clear and documented. More details will be supplied later about that establishment. However, because so little documentation exists that links the first Canadian Combined Ops volunteers to HMCS Stadacona and Wellington Barracks, I will add a photo or two that will establish that link more firmly. (This is in the wake of being told that RCNVR did not train at HMCS Stadacona, but at HMCS Cornwallis*, by a staff member of the Admiralty House Museum, housed on Stadacona's grounds).

Written confirmation is supplied in an earlier part of the presentation. Two RCNVR recruits speak of their time at Stadacona and Wellington barracks in late 1941. See Presentation: My Dad's Navy Days Part 1

Pictorial confirmation:

Top half of diagram shows 'Soldiers Quarters' (aka Mess A, left) facing 'Officers
Quarters' (Mess B, across Parade ground). From 'A Brief History of Wellington
Barracks', distributed by Admiralty House Museum, south of barracks

'Soldiers' Quarters. Stately, with rounded brickwork at front of first level

The men's quarters were known as Nelson Barracks as late as 1940.
Photo - Sailor Remember by W. H. Pugsley, page 8

 From photo files at Admiralty House Museum

 Effingham Division, 1941. Surroundings do not reveal their location

Some of the same group before full assembly. Wellington Barracks in background.
Caption reads: Taken at Halifax of the First Draft (some missing, picked up later)
of Canadian Combined Operations before they left for the Canadian base,
HMCS Niobe, Scotland. From St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, pg. 25

 "Doug and Mac at Halifax, 1941" Note background left.

 Unnamed recruits. Note background left.
Photo - The Memory Project

 "In 1948 the decision was made to demolish 'A' Mess" (Soldiers Quarters)

Though Wellington Barracks Mess A is gone, it is not forgotten

"In 1941, negotiations were completed for the transfer of Wellington Barracks to the Royal Canadian Navy. With the acquisition of Wellington barracks, Nelson Barracks now became HMCS Stadacona, the base depot."

And in 1941, I say it was inhabited by a number of raw but ready recruits, low on landing craft skills but ready to volunteer for hazardous overseas duties - as long as their mates signed up as well!

More to follow.

*Though HMCS Cornwallis became a major training ground during WW2, officially as an establishment "at Halifax's HMC Dockyard on May 1, 1942" and later as an official base in mid-April the following year**, Canada's first volunteers for Combined Operations had not only experienced much practice in landing craft skills (e.g., in Scotland) but had survived the Dieppe raid and invasion of North Africa by those dates.

**"the training establishment officially moved to the new base from HMC Dockyard on April 14, 1943". Link to CFB Cornwallis, wikipedia

Please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days 3 (2)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Presentation: Photo Gallery (1)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Introduction: I will be making a presentation in November, 2016 regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization, including information about raids and invasions at Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy. Some of the following photographs may be displayed to provide context for the stories presented.

Photo Gallery (1) - MY DAD'S NAVY DAYS

Volendam carried the first Canadians for Combined Ops to Scotland, Jan. 1942

 Canadians trained on landing crafts in S. England, Irvine and Inveraray

 Part of Combined Ops memorial in Inveraray

 Battle honours displayed at HMS Quebec in Inveraray

 Early design of C.O. rest with rifle pointing to right 

 This sailor (in part) inspired D. Harrison to be buried at sea

 Canadians in C.O. were familiar with HMCS Niobe (base) in Scotland

 Wellington Barracks, HMCS Stadacona, home to RCNVR ratings in 1941

 This block of Wellington Barracks faced the parade square and Officers Block

Officers pose in front of door to Officers Mess, Wellington Barracks

Block of Officers Quarters still remains at HMS Halifax. Photo, 2014 by GH

More related photographs to follow.

Please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days 3 (2)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days 3 (2)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

The RCNVR Effingham Division, Halifax, November 1941, joined Comb. Ops
Photo credit - Doug Harrison (front, third from left)

Introduction: I will be making a presentation in November, 2016 regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization, including information about raids and invasions at Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy. Some of the following posts will link to books, stories and photographs already displayed on the '1000 Men, 1000 Stories' website.


Part 3 - Halifax Training is Tough, Combined Operations Even Tougher

When Canada entered the Second World War in September, 1939 tall headlines appeared in newspapers across the nation. Canada's entry into the Combined Operations - the organization that eventually planned and paved the way for numerous significant raids and pivotal invasions, including Dieppe and D-Day Normandy - was ever so humble. A piece of paper with a request for volunteers was tacked onto a bulletin board at HMCS Stadacona, Halifax in late 1941 and a few fellows 'got to talking' in the dining hall about what that might entail.

Welcome to HMCS Stadacona, 2725 Gottingen St. at CFB Halifax
Photo credit - G. Harrison

Al Kirby, a young recruit from Woodstock, Ontario (in Oxford County) recalls seeing the bulletin:

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.

My father, Doug Harrison, a young recruit from Norwich, Ontario (also in Oxford County; 16 miles south of Kirby's home in Woodstock) recalls the dining hall discussion about the bulletin:

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....

A third young recruit, Lloyd Evans from Ottawa, recalls Canada's entry into Combined Ops as well in his memoirs:

At the end of the (Halifax) 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....

The young volunteers only fully learned what they had signed on for once they were stationed overseas, and that took place only after their nine days of enticing leave, a wintry Halifax-style blizzard, bailing out the first ship assigned to take them to Scotland, then a long wait for a replacement ship.

Inauspicious beginnings, I would say, for Canadian volunteers who would soon prove to be reliable eyewitnesses to some of the chaos and carnage of World War II in Europe.

Important WW2 history books recall the topic of Canada's entry into the war through the door of Combined Operations in various ways and we will examine a few here. The Combined Operations organization was not a guarded secret during WW2 but it might seem so as one looks for information about its birth, growth and accomplishments.

Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1961

In The Watery Maze we read of the humble early beginnings of Combined Operations and how it gradually grew - chiefly from 1940 to 1945 -  to be the planning force behind significant offensive raids (e.g., at Lofoten Islands, St. Nazaire, Dieppe), the subsequent, historic invasions onto North African, Sicilian, and Italian shores (1942 and 1943), and ultimately D-Day Normandy, June 1944. We read of its three commanders (Keyes, Mountbatten and Laycock, "all famous fighting men"), their struggles and successes, and how the organization could not have grown to be a dominant force without the support of its allies, like the United States and Canada, who supplied "indispensable" landing crafts, landing ships and crews for the duration of amphibious or maritime operations.

On page 93 we read the following first mention of Canada's participation in the Combined Operations organization:

Obviously two of the most urgent problems (related to "the ultimate invasion of the Continent")  were the provision of landing ships and craft, and the crews to man them.... as an illustration of the magnitude of the crew problem, the Joint Planners, in the very month of Mountbatten's Appointment (October 1941) had persuaded the Chiefs of Staff that our requirements in LCTs alone (Landing Craft, Tank) for the eventual invasion would be 2,250 - a figure to daunt almost anybody.

And where were the crews to come from? Canada made an offer, which was gratefully accepted, of 50 officers and 300 ratings, but this was a drop in the bucket.... And there was no wild rush to join Combined Ops: it was regarded as rather a backwater."

Apparently, Canada's entry into Combined Ops was not only inauspicious, it lacked glamor as well. That being said, many years after the war ended, Canadian members of landing ship and landing craft crews began to tell and write their stories, record their history for themselves, family members and the general public, and their eyewitness accounts in many cases are detailed, thorough, stirring and timely.

Combined Operations by Clayton Marks, London Ontario

One Canadian member of RCNVR and Combined Operations, Clayton Marks of London, Ontario, sat down at his kitchen table in the early 1990s and produced a book entitled Combined Operations, which stands today as a fine description of the C.O. organization, its use of various landing craft in numerous raids and invasions, and the part played by several hundred Canadians, veterans' own stories included. The brief introduction to the book follows:

This record contains some of the accounts and experiences of Royal Canadian Navy Personnel who served in Combined Operations during World War II. The growth of Combined Operations was considerable, from a small unit in 1941 to the utmost by D-Day, 1944. Here are stories and data from the Officers and ratings who served in this Organization. Whether these operations failed or succeeded has not been taken into account, but are presented as they happened.

In it we also read about the early activities of the fledgling organization and the origins of Canada's role in C.O. For example, Clayton Marks describes some of Britain's early offensive measures to keep German forces on edge, i.e., small commando parties would descend at night on German-held ports, take prisoners, gain information and "do what damage they could". By late 1941 these early efforts worked more smoothly as seamen and soldiers used well-practiced landing techniques together.

Marks writes:

This nucleus was at first entirely British; but it soon began to absorb a few of the first Canadians trained in England. In late 1941 and early 1942, the Canadian contribution to Combined Operations was increased to fifty Officers and three hundred Ratings, who had volunteered for a specially hazardous duty with the Royal Navy.

He adds that the first two drafts left Halifax "on the "Queen of Bermuda" in November of 1941" and after the ship ran aground (the inauspicious start) at Chebucto Head, new sailing orders had to be made. Two more drafts followed in February, 1942 and more three months later. And so began the slow build up of Canadians at Combined Ops training bases in England and Scotland  and their participation in significant raids and invasions during WW2.

The Queen of Bermuda met its match upon leaving Halifax, 1941

I have found three stories, written by Canadian Combined Ops.' veterans, that tell the tale of the grounding of the Queen of Bermuda off Chebucto Head (a few miles out of Halifax) during a wintry Atlantic blizzard, and eventual trip to Scotland upon the Dutch liner Volendam.

Chebucto Head is north of the green X (and south of Halifax)
Photo credit - Connected in Motion

The three stories can be found together at the following link - Story: Canada's Early Days in Combined Ops

For more information about the origin of Combined Operations and Canada's role in it, please click on the heading 'origin of Combined Operations' in the right hand margin.

Part 4 of Presentation: Dad's Navy Days soon to follow.

A well, please link to Presentation: My Dad's Navy Days 3 (1)