And he says, there’s not a chance that we’ll make it (this was in December); this water is so cold that we wouldn’t last five minutes ̶ it’ll be an easy death. That was a very comforting thought.
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The [HMCS] Saguenay was torpedoed 200 miles off the coast of Ireland, and 19 killed and 21 injured. I was a radio operator; and I was in the remote control office, and not too far away from where the torpedo struck, about 80 feet, I think.
I had the door of the office ajar about four inches for ventilation. And when the torpedo struck, there was blue flame oscillating back and forth. It just filled the whole entire doorway. Also the smell of cordite. And later there were other smells from the fire.
Got permission to close down the watch I was on; and I went out on the upper deck to check the antennas. And I looked up and the mast was broken. And the antennas were just dangling about. So I went and reported that to the head telegrapher; and he was trying to send out a distress message. When I told him this, he said, well, we’d better switch on another transmitter, which he did and the only other one we had was a spark [gap] transmitter, which was a very, something I guess they had gotten during the First World War. It was a shaky proposition. We didn’t know if that message would get out or not.
We were lucky that the message did get out and the captain, the fire was getting bad, so the captain gave the order to us to standby to abandon ship. And we put down the guardrails and, of course, [we had] the Carley float [life raft], which was my abandon ship station, halfway over the side and sat on the inboard side; and I and a chum of mine were sitting there; and [I] took his hand, and said, well, I hope you make it. And he says, there’s not a chance that we’ll make it (this was in December); this water is so cold that we wouldn’t last five minutes ̶ it’ll be an easy death. That was a very comforting thought.
About dawn, HMS Highlander, a British destroyer, appeared on the scene. And there was a great shout of joy from the entire ship. Apparently our distress message had gotten through.
Later on, I was in the hospital and [Royal Naval] Stonehouse Military Hospital in Plymouth and the chap in the next bed to me had been on an oil tanker that got blown up. He had his eyelids were grafted; he had a broken pelvis, broken legs, broken arms. It was hard to imagine why he had stayed alive. As I say, they grafted, he had been blown into the water and there was oil in the water and the oil was on fire. It had burned his eyelids off; and he had grafted eyelids.
He used to cheer me up when I got depressed. He was a Newfoundlander. He was a religious person. I can’t remember. And he was always, always had a positive outlook; and I just couldn’t understand him. All he could do. At that time, I was very depressed as a result of the killings of my shipmates. It had very great mental affect on me. At that time, they didn’t have any facilities that they have today for shellshock [post-traumatic stress], or whatever they want to call it. And so I suspect that’s why it still bothers me. I don’t think it will ever leave me.
Shortly after this, I and 24 other Canadians were put onboard the HMS Rodney, which was in the [HM Naval Base] Clyde in Scotland. And it left port just in time to, for the Bismarck, to chase down the Bismarck. I think that probably most people know that the Bismarck’s steering was damaged from a torpedo, which enabled the Rodney and the [HMS] King George V, another battleship, to catch up to [it]. And King George V was on one side of the Bismarck and Rodney was on the other side; and we were steaming back and forth, and firing at the Bismarck. And unfortunately, the Bismarck fired back.
After the Bismarck started to sink, there were large, you could see large groups of men in the water. And the captain went on the loudspeaker and said that we were leaving because of the danger of submarines in the area. Apparently, the ship’s captain and he [the ship’s chaplain] had quite a dustup because the captain felt that, the ship’s padre [chaplain] felt that he should stay and rescue some of these men. And the captain quite rightly said that his duty was to his ship, and so we left.
Young people today can have no idea of the threat of losing freedom; how great an effect that could have on a young man. And, of course, I had enough ego to think that I could have some small influence on guarding freedom. And this is my reason for being in the navy in the first place; and it was my reason for staying in the navy all those years.