Veteran Stories:
Barney Roberge

Navy

  • Barney Roberge with some of his crew, 1944.

    Barney Roberge
  • Barney Roberge's Signalmen Class. Mr. Roberge is pictured on the bottom row to the left, 1941.

    Barney Roberge
  • Barney Roberge in uniform.

    Barney Roberge
  • Barney Roberge on board the HMCS Kelowna as a Signalman, 1941.

    Barney Roberge
  • A photo of Mr. Roberge's invention, a maneuvering board to solve relative velocity problems, 1951.

    Barney Roberge
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"We got an urgent signal saying that a big Japanese fleet had been observed traveling up the west coast"

Transcript

We had to destroy any wastepaper that happened in the communication department, like the radio office or from signals, from the bridge and so on. And the only place we could burn them was in the galley bogie, sort of a little stove that heated water. And I was burning waste one day and the valves had been shut off on the stove; and when the thing got good and hot, the front exploded and I got second degree burns on my hands and face, and stomach; and I was standing in four feet of boiling water at one point and trying to keep my sweater off my stomach because it was so hot. And it was about four days before we got into Prince Rupert from there. We didn’t have any sick bay attendant or first aid onboard. And when we got into Prince Rupert, my blisters and stuff was starting to turn funny colours and this, and that. So I went up to the hospital in Prince Rupert and the doctor skinned off the rubbish and wrapped me up in bandages, and sent me back to the ship to get my kit. And, of course, when I got back to the ship, everybody finds out I’m leaving the ship so they all give me a little sip of their rum and before too long, I’d had a few too many [laughs] and arrived at the hospital that evening some time with, all my burns exposed and yards of bandage dragging on me behind and a bottle of rum in my hand. [laughs] The doctor just about had a fit but they, I ran down the hall in the hospital, into a bathroom, locked the door; and it was at ground level, so I jumped out of the window with my bottle of rum and hid it under the building, climbed back in the window, rattled the toilet lid and then let them in, innocent as could be. And they couldn’t figure out where that bottle of rum had gone. [laughs] They knew I had it and it was quite a while later that, at Christmas time, I guess, and I dug out the bottle, I think it was Christmas Eve and passed it around to all the guys in beds and stuff that couldn’t get up and poured the bottle, a sip of rum. [laughs] I thought that was kind of funny. A fellow, Pat Martin, had let me round with the shore patrol. He was a coder, part of the communication department. And he had his arm in a cast where the shore patrol had broken his arm arresting him. He was a big, hefty fellow. And anyway, he’s got his arm in a cast and I’ve got my arm in a cast and we’re both in the hospital. And there was some sort of a little service thing going on at the [Royal Canadian] Legion in Prince Rupert; and we talked the doctor into letting us go to it if we promised to behave ourselves. And this Legion, it’s a very small place with upper balconies, and Pat and I were sitting on this upper balcony and just sort of minding our business. There was a big to-do developed down below, the three services all got in a fight with each other and we were up there sitting sort of left out of it all, arms in a cast. [laughs] And so we threw a few chairs over to help our buddies that were down below and then we ran out of chairs, we went down, started using our casts for clubs, [laughs] back to the hospital and the doctor was all upset again. [laughs] So I don’t know if that’s good news or bad news, but we were pretty tough in those days, I think. I begged [CFB] Borden on bent knees and stuff to get on the ship to get out of Prince Rupert because I didn’t like it there very good. So they let me go aboard the ship with my cast and everything else; and we arrived in [CFB] Esquimalt on Sunday and I went up to the sort of sick bay hospital, whatever, in the dockyard and there were no doctors there. It was Sunday, they were all out golfing or whatever. And so went back to the ship and out to sea again, still no attention on this hand. And when the captain found out about them, no doctor there for the ship, we just went in, fueled up and went right back out again. And they figured out there should have been a doctor on duty, so he raised a stink about it. Well, the next thing I know, I’m wolfed off the ship by the doctors and my name’s mud for getting them in trouble. The ship sailed for Christmas again and I helped them load all the stuff. And there was a taxi on the dock beside where the ship was, I let the lines for the ship go and then threw my ditty [kit] bag in the backseat of the taxi and crawled underneath it, since you had to have a permit to go out of the dockyard. So I got in there and told the taxi driver to take me downtown anywhere. I spent Christmas wandering around Victoria and when I went to [HMCS] Givenchy to the dockyard barracks, they had me charged with desertion for not being around. And I said, well, it was Christmastime, nobody would see me here, everywhere I went, people were off on holidays or whatever. So I got away with that one [laughs] and eventually I got my arm fixed up. [laughs] We were in Prince Rupert again after all these other capers and we were going to do a bit of a refit. And we took off all the ammunition and groceries; and most of the crew was to go home on leave while the ship was there. There was a few of us that were elected to stay and look after the ship, keep it clean or whatever. And while this was all going on, we got an urgent signal saying that a big Japanese fleet had been observed traveling up the west coast and we were to take on our ammunition, take on our fuel, recall the crew who were actually on the train in Prince Rupert, waiting for it to go to Andimaul. And we loaded everything up. We were told to, the signal read, proceed with all dispatch to a position that’s 200 miles off the coast of Prince Rupert; and if superior forces are met with, report them to Flag Officer, Pacific Coast, and then retire up the Skeena River, which was 200 miles away. [laughs] Forget it. That was communications.
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