I could see lights in the distance, and explosions. Hundreds of bombers were flying over us.
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Our first experience at sea was in January 1944. We escorted a ship from Halifax to Saint John’s, Newfoundland. I was told that the ship was called the Fort Thompson. It was a relatively fast ship. On board the ship were what we called ‘Wrens’ [members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service], the girls of the Navy. The sea was very rough and it was extremely cold. Once we arrived in Saint John’s, there were five or six inches of ice the length of the corvette. We must have spent an entire day de-icing the corvette in Halifax.
From Halifax, we escorted a major convoy. There were several destroyers and corvettes; I can’t remember the exact number of war ships. But it was a major convoy. It took us 14 days to get from Halifax to Londonderry, Ireland. Once we got there, the corvette underwent some repairs and they increased the armament. It took about a month. From there, we crossed the Irish Sea to the south of England. I can’t remember the number of ports we stopped at in the south of England. We stayed there until the evening of June 5, 1944. On the evening of June 5th, 1944, a Catholic chaplain and a Protestant chaplain came aboard the ship to absolve us. We knew that the invasion [of Normandy] was close, but they hadn’t told us anything. It was strictly confidential.
They gave us the order to cast off during the night. We escorted an old French battleship called the Courbet. It was a ship from the First World War. It was an old French battleship that had been towed all the way to Ouistreham, France to be sunk and used as a breakwater. It was our first trip to France. It took two days to get to Ouistreham. We arrived in France on June 8th. During the trip, in the night of the 5th or 6th, I went outside to lean against the smokestack for warmth, since it was cold outside. I could see lights in the distance, and explosions. Hundreds of bombers were flying over us. They were towing gliders. Aboard the gliders were paratroopers headed for France.
The other thing that I remember quite well is, when we arrived in France we were leading a small convoy of seven or eight ships. Because we were close to the coast, the ship behind us thought there was no more danger. It edged out to our right, starboard. I was in the middle of eating supper; it was 5:20 in the evening. The English Channel was as slick as oil. Suddenly there was a terrible bang! The plates flew a foot up into the air. The lights were extinguished, since we were in the mess. I think it took me ten seconds to get out. When I got outside, the tip of the mast was descending. There was only debris. I was told there were 28 people on board. They all died. I will never forget that. That was pretty much the worst experience. Naturally, the Germans tried. We launched depth charges several times. Some debris floated up to the surface. Did we sink the submarine? Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know.