Veteran Stories:
Gilbert Kenny

Merchant Navy

  • Gilbert Kenny in uniform during the wartime years.

    Gilbert Kenny
  • Gilbert Kenny (left) poses with fellow seamen onboard ship in the North Atlantic, 1944.

    Gilbert Kenny
  • Gilbert Kenny (centre) with fellow seamen Albert Comeau (left) and Alcide Gionet (right) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1943.

    Gilbert Kenny
  • Gilbert Kenny's ship at Alexander Dock, Liverpool, England, loaded with ammunition. Ship ordered to move to other side of wharf just prior to dropping of bomb in location where ship was originally docked. 1943.

    Gilbert Kenny
  • Gilbert Kenny poses on a dismantled gun deck after the war in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1945.

    Gilbert Kenny
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"He said, identify yourself. I said, I’m a Canadian and my ship was sunk, hit yesterday. And what’s the name of the ship? I said, SS Jasper Park. He said, that’s three days ago."

Transcript

I left home when I was 16. So I went to Bathurst [New Brunswick], tried to join the army. No, they said, you’re too young, come back in two years. So from there, I went to [RCAF Station] Moncton and I tried the air force. I was accepted in the air force. I lied a little bit. Then they sent me to [RCAF Station] Fredericton. In about two weeks in Fredericton, they were ready to give me my uniform. I feel pretty good about it. So then they called me in the office. They said, I’ve got bad news. What bad news? They said, your mother squealed on you, you’re only 16. [laughs] So anyway, they want to give me a ticket, go back home. I said, no, I don’t want to go back home, I want to go to war.

Well, you’re young. I said, give me a ticket for Halifax. They got all kind of ships in Halifax. I want to take one of them ships. Well, okay. So they give me a ticket to Halifax. It was 4:00 in the morning and then we were to be, from the time we leave Halifax, we called it the second gate, was nine miles from Halifax Harbour. And then from there on, we were in the Atlantic Ocean. Before that, Bay of Fundy, and then they was waiting for us, maybe two or three submarines. There was over 200, 250 ships on a convoy like this. And then they pick up the one they want. They have two, three submarines; and they stick their stack out and look which one they’re going to get. And they know that ship. When we load it in Halifax, because they was there at night, they used to come up at night. And then the way they came in, we didn’t know. It’s a place there, just before we get to the harbour, the ship was coming in and then the submarine was right under the ship. And the signals show on what ship. But all the time was a submarine right underneath, we didn’t know. They were sneaky.

That one, we have some explosives on board. Every ship [that] went over, there was explosives on board. But that one hit the stern and didn’t hit the magazine [ammunition and weapons storage]. So it didn’t take long, it went down. So anyway, it was about 4:00 in the morning, the worst time at sea is 4:00 in the morning because it was when the day breaked and if you ever been at sea, and then you see, around 4:00, you see a white strip around, the glow. And then you could see the water, and then they could spot the ship there, 10 miles. So in a way what happened, they hit and then I was sleeping. When you go to bed, your boots, your clothes, lifejacket, everything is on it, you don’t take that off. I don’t know how long I was there, I was sleeping and I was knocked out, I guess, from what I’m getting. I don’t remember too much about that part, but I know what to do because we do that two or three times a day ̶ what lifeboat we’re going to take if anything happened. But anyway, the ship was sinking. It was pretty heavy and was smoking. It was smoking. So my training was to jump in the water and then haul yourself on the raft. But I jumped, and that’s the time I damaged my leg and my back, that’s no good. I’ve still got the scar for it.

Then at that time, I just let the cord go and the waves take me away. Because there was another ship burning and that other ship had been hit at the same time. So I drifted and then maybe an hour later, there was no more ship; there was fog. There was fog. It was June the sixth. And then it was very, very foggy. I drift, drift, drift. It got dark. And then next day, the sun come out and then I didn’t see the sun very much because it was foggy. The sun come out with daylight, then again, I don’t know, I mean, the days didn’t seem to be too long. A matter of no time, it started to get dark again. It was two dark nights and one day. And then I could hear the boat coming. And then I couldn’t see anything, so when I hear some noise, I used to holler, (noise), never heard anything, the boat has gone by. But one come up there and they were very close. I don’t think they were more than 25, 30 feet from me. If they happened to hit me, well, I wouldn’t be here today.

So I holler and all of a sudden, I heard the engine stop. Oh, I could feel the goose pimple all over. He said, identify yourself. I said, I’m a Canadian and my ship was sunk, hit yesterday. And what’s the name of the ship? I said, [SS] Jasper Park. He said, that’s three days ago. I said, yes. He said, you’re drifting. He said, where are you? I said, I’m right here. I could hear they dropped the lifeboat, (noise), the block and cable; and then 10 minutes, he said, keep talking. I say, okay, yap, yap, yap. You want me to sing? [laughs] I was happy, I could do anything. But anyway, they come up and put me onboard. It was an American liberty [cargo] ship. Oh, they have hospital bay and everything. They served me the best. Then I was there for about a week and then put me back on the train; and I went back to Halifax, and shipped again on another one.

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