Veteran Stories:
Bill Ronald Benjamin Courage

Navy

  • A photo of some the crew of HMCS Thorlock, taken in Ireland in May, 1945. Chief Petty Officer William (Bill) Courage is bottom right corner. The photo belonged to J.B. Watson (top left ) and is published here, with the permission of his granddaughter Brandi Campisi.

    JB Watson c/o Calgary Museums
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"Are there going to be fanatics? Do they still hate us? And are they going to torpedo us, now, even though the war is over?"

Transcript

My name is William Ronald Benjamin Courage. When I was a 16-year old sea cadet with bell-bottomed trousers, the girls used to call me Sweet William. Now at 88-plus years of age, the girls call me Old Bill. I was recommended for a trade test to be an engine room artificer. Eventually, I got the test and I became an engine room artificer, passed my test with some sea training and I remained in the Navy until 1945. My corvette, HMCS Thorlock, named after the town of Thorold [in Ontario]. A couple days or a day or so after Germany surrendered, we were ordered to intercept the German Unterseeboot-190. Which just two weeks previously, had sunk one of our Canadian Bangor minesweepers, HMCS Esquimalt. In that catastrophe, half the crew were killed in the explosions or laid in the water and became incapacitated with the icy North Atlantic and died, especially the wounded ones, because no Canadian ship was sent out to rescue the survivors.

Admiralty in Halifax didn’t even know the ship was sunk and then when they did, there was a big fluster but by that time, especially the wounded sailors, our sailors, just a mile or so off of Halifax, they died from the cold and wounds. Sad. That German U-boat 190 that had sunk that ship when the war was so close to being over and then two days after the war was over or one day, we intercepted it, put a boarding party on of thirteen of our people, fought off a dozen Germans, most of who could speak English and most of whom were young. War is hell. Most of them could speak good English, unlike us; we couldn’t speak German.

One young man showed me - a German - a picture or a photograph of his mother, girlfriend and sister, all killed by an Allied bombing raid on Hamburg, the home port of the German submarine and where his kin were when they were bombed and killed. Not deliberately but that’s the hell about war, civilians that don’t hurt anybody except make war goods, were killed like that. It happened on both sides, especially the Blitz [terror bombing] on England, the Battle of Britain.

I didn’t know what to feel when I saw those Germans because my best friend, Warrant Officer/Pilot James Martin, sea cadet, everything, acquaintance of mine, he was a fighter pilot shot down twice, went up in Lancasters. Then when he got trained on Lancasters, he volunteered for one of the most dangerous missions. The Pathfinder bombers had to arrive exactly on target for the bombers to follow the flare. Jimmy has no known grave. I didn’t know what to think about these young Germans. I didn’t even know when our ship swung around so that the submarine bow with four torpedo tubes was pointing at the middle of our ship. Are there going to be fanatics? Do they still hate us? And are they going to torpedo us, now, even though the war is over? Some submarines didn’t surrender; went up the Amazon River and so forth.

So at any rate, we boarded the U-boat and our twelve crewmen from our ship and some Germans that were left onboard, because they were experienced submariners, we took the U-190 into Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. Two hours after the U-boat surrendered to my ship, a senior ship, the [HMCS] Victoriaville came up but meanwhile, we had physical possession of the submarine but they always claimed the U-boat surrendered to them because they had a piece of paper from the German captain, signed it. We also had a piece of paper too but the larger senior ship tried to horn in on what could have been a remarkable event and was. But at any rate, it’s all sorted out.

The powers that be allowed a horrible loss of life. That was the tragedy of it all. What did it solve when we go back at each other’s national throats as soon as one war is over, we get involved in another? Who lets it happen? That’s the tragedy of war, is the horrible death that so many of all countries suffered in agony, blown almost in half and then pieces. People don’t know, the army people in the trenches knew or when our ships blew up in convoy, both navy and merchant ships; they were brave sailors. And the tragedy of this horrible loss of life and material goods, the people killed in the war would circle the globe if they held hands. Why can’t we do that before a war starts? We have to be alert. Have a police, navy, military, army and air force presence and a Peace Corps, like they’re doing and helping at Haiti and places like that. We have a responsibility, Canada does, and us veterans got to speak out.

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