Veteran Stories:
Clifford Harvey “Hammer” Wunder

Merchant Navy

  • Programs and picture of presentation of the Commemorative Medal for the Queens Jubilee, November 16, 2002.

    Clifford Wunder
  • Program of presentation of the Commemorative Medal for the Queen Jubilee, November 16, 2002.

    Clifford Wunder
  • Rededication of the cenotaph and dedication of new wall of honor, August 8, 2009. Clifford Wunder is 3rd from right.

    Clifford Wunder
  • Clifford Wunder's Merchant Marine identity card.

    Clifford Wunder
  • Clifford Wunder's Discharge Certificate, May 2, 1945.

    Clifford Wunder
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"And I was terribly seasick for that first 24 hours. I was ready to jump overboard and start walking home."

Transcript

I joined the merchant navy and was shipped to Prescott, Ontario [for] engineering training and stokehold training for steamships. I know we were shipped from Prescott to Saint John, New Brunswick. We had to enter into what they called the Manning Pool there, until we were assigned to a ship. And I think there was ten of us that were shipped at that one time from Prescott.

We were split up and we were assigned different ships. I was on the SS Rideau [Park]. It wasn’t too long, maybe two or three days and they had assembled so many ships ready to go from New Brunswick, from Saint John to Sydney [Nova Scotia]. We went to Sydney for more coal and on the way to Sydney, it was about a 24-hour trip. And I was terribly seasick for that first 24 hours. I was ready to jump overboard and start walking home.

Anyway, got to Sydney, loaded up with coal and then we formed up a convoy. I can’t recall now just how many ships was in that first convoy I traveled in but it was quite a number. And we traveled then across to England. And I guess it was about two weeks after we left Sydney, one of the firemen got sick, he couldn’t stand the heat. And I was a trimmer, a trimmer was [a person who distributes coal on a steamship], I had to work harder but he was at least out of the heat quite a bit of the time. So they transferred me to a fireman and him back to a trimmer. So from that day on, I was a fireman and a fireman with a real hard, hot working job. You didn’t work full, like all the time - you had a break every so often - but you still had to be in the heat all the time.

Our tools consisted of D-handle No. 10 shovel, about a nine or ten-foot slice bar and a nine or ten-foot long, we called it a hoe but it was actually an iron rake. And the slice bar was used for breaking up the clinkers in the fire box and the hoe was used for pulling out, or the rake was used for pulling out clinkers and all the ashes and stuff, every so often.

We were hauling supplies. Not just war equipment but a lot of food. And building material. We used to have loads and loads and loads of lumber on top of our decks, strapped down. The holds would be full of either ammunition and grain or flour or some type of food, canned milk. Canned milk was one of the things that we took cases, thousands and thousands of cases of canned milk over there [to Europe]. And wheat, a lot of wheat. They used the wheat for packing. They’d drop a great big truck or a tank in the bottom of the ship and then dump a bunch of wheat on top for packing, keep it from rolling around down there. It worked good.

And trucks of all kinds, Jeeps, you name it, guns of all kinds. Oh, and another thing we had onboard was, like I was on what they called the ‘black gang’ of firemen, we had four and I can’t for the life of me remember the proper wording for, for this group [‘black gang’ refers to a coal-fired ship’s engine crew, because of the soot and coal dust in which they work]. But we all called them DEMS, D-E-M-S [Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships]. They were genuine navy gunners. And all our guns were equipped with one cannon and a couple Oerlikons [20mm naval cannons] and a few other odds and ends and they were expected to keep the guns in shape all time we were out at sea. And if needed, they would use them.

They could call on any one of us to assist them if need be. And we were under the, what they called the DOT, Department of Transport. I don’t know, maybe that’s why they said we were, had nothing to do with the Armed Forces after the war was over but before the war was over, they were only too welcome to have somebody join them because as soon as you got into the merchant navy, they never bothered you anymore to join into the, or to get called up into the Army or the Air Force. You got into the merchant navy, you were there for life if you wanted to be.

We had to sign up for two years or the duration of the war, whichever came soonest. And if you tried to jump ship or whatever, it was mandatory jail. There were no ifs, buts or maybes. All in all, I don’t know, I think I done what, I done what I could and tried to serve the country and enjoyed it as much as I possibly could. We had a few good close calls but we survived that, so. Every once in a while, you’d run into a scare from U-boats, submarines, and they’d be dropping these damn depth charges every so often, and sometimes all night. And every so often, there’d be one or two ships disappear and that’s where they were, at the bottom of the ocean. But the convoys kept going. And that’s what we were all about was hauling the supplies over there for the forces.

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