Veteran Stories:
Jack Stapleton

Merchant Navy

  • Jack Stapleton's Medals (L-R): 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45); Queen's Jubilee Medal.

    Jill Paterson
  • Jack Stapleton, Ottawa, 2009.

    Jill Paterson
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"It was spontaneous combustion and it rained all day when we were loadin’ her. And the wet coal, you know, and we put the hatch covers on it. That night about 1:00 o’clock in the morning, she blew up"

Transcript

When you’re firing them coal jobs, they’re, it was pretty tough. A lot of coal to shovel. I couldn’t say very much more about it, it’s just a real tough job. It’s altogether different nowadays. They burn oil. There was two guys on a shift and four hour shifts; there was two guys on each shift. And it was a Canadian vessel but it was a war prize from the First World War, from the German merchant navy [his first ship, the merchant ship SS Philip T. Dodge]. Boy, she was a tough one. Dirty, dirty and everything was bad on her, washrooms and everything. It was just a terrible ship. And we blew up in Louisbourg Harbour, scared the heck out of everybody there. It was spontaneous combustion and it rained all day when we were loadin’ her. And the wet coal, you know, and we put the hatch covers on it. That night about 1:00 o’clock in the morning, she blew up. My ears have been ringing ever since and I finally got some money from the government just the last two years ago to fix my ears. But they’ve been ringing ever since. They’re still ringing. 1944, Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. It was a bad thing, that explosion scared the hell out of everybody. No casualties. No, they kept her [the ship that exploded, the SS Philip T. Dodge] going. In fact, they sold her, after the war, they sold her to China. While we were in India, we went to Karachi, which was in India then. And Bombay and Cochin and around to Calcutta. And then back again and then stopped off in the Suez Canal, we stopped off and unloaded some stuff there, unloaded some stuff in Malta. It was just picking up and unloading all, all the time. I know we took a lot of rugs. We brought a lot of booze over, I know that, and a bunch of stuff for the Americans over there. We took a heck of a lot of stuff over for them. I don’t know, it wasn’t very good then [India]. I hear it’s a lot better now. I was over pretty close to it a couple years ago, this was after the war, I sailed on a bunch of the offshore tugs running on the oil rigs. And I had a chance to go in there. We never went there, some reason or other, we never went, we turned around and come home. But I heard it’s cleaned up quite a bit but boy, during the war, whoo. Calcutta, that was a bad spot, it was really bad. Yeah, we weren’t supposed to go ashore at night because that’s just when they were looking for their independence. And they told us to, best to stay aboard at nighttime when it’s dark. We went ashore in Calcutta, I met a bunch of American guys that used to fly the Hump and met them and we used to drink and party with them every once in a while. We were there for quite a while. That’s an awful dirty spot too, that Hooghly River, whoo. They don’t bury their bodies, they burn them. And they haven’t got enough money to buy enough wood to really burn them, there’s still most of the person is left and then they just dump them in the river. Bad sitting over the side and looking to see corpses going by. Dirty, dirty spot.
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