Monday, December 26, 2016

Research: In Comox and Courtenay, BC (6).

Lovely Old Newspapers at Courtenay Museum.

Papers, microfiche, and books make trip to BC worthwhile.

In May, 2015 I flew toVancouver Island for research purposes. I first stayed in Comox for a few days in order to have easy access to The Spit, home to many Canadians in Combined Operations during WW2. Next I moved to a lovely AirBnB accommodation near downtown Courtenay to have easy access to the local library (and its many rolls of microfiche). I was very close as well to the Courtenay Museum, home to historic books, photographs and hard copies of WW2 newspapers (easier to negotiate than microfiche).

A book entitled The Land of Plenty revealed that Bing Crosby fished in local waters after WW2.

Photos as found in The Land of Plenty

An easy walk around Courtenay's main corners revealed WW2 'back alleys', familiar to Comb. Ops sailors who wanted free lodging at the Riverside Hotel. (One would rent a room, and dozens more would climb in through a back window). Though the Riverside is gone, some local history related to Canadian sailors remains in memoirs and news clips, available at the Museum, one block from where the old Riverside Hotel once stood.

Across the street (behind me) would have been the 'Riverside Alley'

The following is from a short email I sent home while in Courtenay:

Date: Saturday, 23 May 2015
Subject: Lunch time at The Riverside

I am now in Courtenay, almost noon BC time, and have ordered lunch at Zocalo Cafe which is kitty corner from the Sid Williams Theatre, a large building that sits where The Riverside Hotel once stood. Sorry it burned down in 1968. Earlier I took photos of a back alley, opposite from a former back alley dad would have been very familiar with, i.e., he and his buddies would sneak in a back window of the hotel off the alley. Sweet times for the Navy boys, I bet. Over and out from The Riverside (view) : )

Below are several clippings from The Comox Argus, 1944. They provide details about the Navy boys, the settings they enjoyed, and events familiar to them, and more: 

 The Argus was a weekly paper, cost $1.50 per year, or 3 pennies per week!

Native Sons' Hall still stands, steps away from Courtenay Museum.
But prices have gone up a bit.

In early 1944, many observers - no doubt including Canadian sailors at Givenchy III on The Spit - sensed the direction of the war had changed. Articles and cartoons reveal the change. Examples below:

 The Comox Argus - January 13, 1944

 The Comox Argus - January 13, 1944

The Comox Argus - January 20, 1944

The feature (above), WHEN THE BOYS COME HOME, reported on the following letter from PO Keith Roberts, RCN, of London, Ontario in early 1944. Somebody sensed the war would end someday - perhaps soon? - and Canadian hometowns, schools, industries, etc., should be prepared for that day.

A newspaper intro and letter from Roberts follows:

Petty Officer Roberts has been in the Canadian Navy now for five years joining up in 1938 and he has seen a lot of service in the North Atlantic. He has just received his 1939 - 43 star for service in the North Atlantic.

(And he writes) Dear Sirs:

In regard to your letter which I received a while back, I am going to give you my opinion of what I'd like to do. I have written to Ottawa regarding the education needed to qualify as a game warden as I've always liked outdoor life and the study of game. I haven't received any answer as yet so would appreciate it very much if you could help me in this line of work. I don't expect that I shall stay in the RCN when my time is up and would like to follow the type of work I have mentioned. I remain yours faithfully, Keith M. Roberts, L/Sea. RCN

The next article reveals that both Courtenay and Comox were home to Combined Operations personnel in 1943 - 44. However, as the Combined Operations School grew to include more sailors (and as the Navy base at The Spit became known as Givenchy III) it was Comox that say great growth in numbers, and more sports teams were connected to The Spit, not Courtenay.

 The Comox Argus - February 17, 1944

Memorial at site of barracks for ALC crews is beside the
Rotary Club pool adjacent to Lewis Park in Courtenay

A Red Cross nurse's report (below) includes a story about her son, a commando who was involved in a raid upon the Lofoten Islands in Norway, during early days of Combined Operations.

The Comox Argus - February 24, 1944

Following is a news clipping with direct reference to a Hamilton, Ontario native who volunteered for Combined Operations in 1941, the same time as my father. Art Warwick appears in several photos, with my father and others in Combined Operations, and I have included three to accompany the story.

The Comox Argus - March 23, 1944 

The newspaper account continues:

A number of army personnel, led by Lieut. Col. Cook of the Combined Operations School had come over for the ceremony. During the ceremony the men were formed up in a hollow square....

Veterans of Dieppe

Both of the men honored are veterans of Dieppe, and the invasions of North Africa and Sicily but the incidents for which they were mentioned in despatches occurred when Canadian troops first landed in Sicily. Henshaw and Warwick were on invasion barges lying off shore. After the first surprise (of attack) the Germans organized their air force for the attack and made regular raids on the convoys lying off shore coming from airfields on Sicily.

The barge which Warwick was steering was within a few feet of a munition ship when a bomb from a dive bomber struck it square and blew it up. Three inch shells fell on the deck of the barge. In spite of the danger to himself and the continued attacks from the air Warwick picked up the live shells and threw them overboard thereby saving the lives of many men in the vicinity and further damage.

Canadians in Combined Ops on ferry to Vancouver Island, January 1944
Rear, L - R: Art Warwick (Hamilton), Ed Chambers (Montreal) , Don Westbrook (Hamilton)
Front, L - R: Joe Watson (Simcoe), Don Linder (Kitchener), Doug Harrison (Norwich), NA

Henshaw had just taken a man to a Canadian hospital ship and was rowing back to his barge when a squadron of bombers came over and began to drop their eggs. Although the hospital ship was fully lighted and marked with the red cross the bombs fell on the hospital ship and sank it, killing many doctors and nurses and patients on board....

At Sicilian Landing

In spite of the continued bombardment from the air Henshaw went ahead picking up survivors from the hospital ship and was undoubtedly the means of saving many lives.

Canadians in Combined Operations at Givenchy III, Comox, 1944-45
Back, L - R: Don Linder, NA, Buryl McIntyre, Art Warwick
Middle, L - R: Joe Spencer, Joe Watson
Front, L - R: Doug Harrison, Chuck Rose, Ed Chambers

Both men were at Dieppe and were lucky enough to get away without hurt.The Jerries, they said, had the beaches enfiladed with gun and machine gun fire and snipers were posted in every vantage point along the cliffs. The expedition ran into a German convoy when they were going over and from that time they were under hot attack. They were also at Algiers when the United Nations made their landings there. The Sicilian invasion was easy for the infantry. The whole coastline had been protected like a fortress with concrete pillboxes at strong points but there was no one in them. Very soon after the first landings the Germans came down with their planes and attacked the landing barges and ships of the convoy regularly every day.

Leading Seman Warwick was a miner at Britannia Beach mines near Vancouver before he enlisted, while Leading Stoker Henshaw worked for the Canadian Westinghouse at Hamilton, Ontario.

Some of the same lads, near end of WW2 (perhaps at Naden III, Esquimalt)
Back, L - R: Don Westbrook, Chuck Rose, Joe Spencer
Front, L - R: Joe Watson, Doug Harrison, Art Warwick

More to follow.

Photos GH

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