Veteran Stories:
Ernest Hayward Winter

Navy

  • Aftermath of the Bedford Magazine Explosion on 18-19 July 1945, initiated when an ammunition barge blew up at the naval magazine jetty on Bedford Basin, Halifax harbour, Nova Scotia.

    Ernest Winter
  • Bedford Magazine Explosion on 18-19 July 1945, initiated when an ammunition barge blew up at the naval magazine jetty on Bedford Basin, Halifax harbour, Nova Scotia.

    Ernest Winter
  • Ernest Winter stands with his sisters on the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center while on leave in New York City on November 12, 1944.

    Ernest Winter
  • Ernest Winter (centre above gun) with the crew HMCS Fort Frances.

    Ernest Winter
  • Ernest Winter (back row on right) with his division training at HMCS Montcalm in Quebec City, Quebec February 1944.

    Ernest Winter
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"We knew the war was over, but you wouldn’t take any chances of lifting a security because there might be some diehard idiot in the German navy that would torpedo you."

Transcript

I went to Halifax and joined the Canadian navy. Most Newfoundlanders joined the RN [Royal Navy]. The RN only got 48 cents a day and the Canadian navy paid $1.25 a day, so it was a big incentive, you know, to go to join that navy. When we went to [HMCS] Montcalm in Quebec City, this was basic training. This would show you how to march and run and handle guns, and a few things like that. That took about six to eight weeks maybe; and then we were finished there, we were drafted to [HMCS] Cornwallis for advanced training, which brought you into gunnery and all the bigger stuff. When you’d finish that, you went up towards a selection officer to find out what branch you would like to go into.

I chose the radar branch; and then we were drafted to [HMCS] St. Hyacinthe in Quebec; and we did a three week radar course. From there on, I drafted aboard the [HMCS] Galt for one trip only and that, we completed our radar course. Then I drafted the [HMCS] Fort Frances two days later; and I never saw dry land afterwards. You know, we were quite new and we had the latest radar equipment that we knew of in those days which was 20271 [Type 271: air-surface warning system], which had 35, 40 miles capacity, so we could pick up an echo, depending on the size of the echo, of course. We were sure we had some secret parts of the radar set; we didn’t even know what it was, but nobody was allowed in the radar shack, only the operators, ourselves and there were only six of us aboard ship. Our total crew was about 125.

Working on the radar, you worked four [hours] on and eight off was the shift. Then we worked a half hour on the set and a half hour off the set. When your half hour is off, you crawled underneath, because the radar shack was only about six by six, mostly, it wasn’t that big, four by four; and there was enough room to lie down under the chair and have a nap. Because half hour on was the way we had to do it because of your eyes.

As senior ship in the convoy, we would zig-zag, and back and forth. Most times, our convoys, we were taking were eight knots, and there could be anywhere from 50 to 80 ships in it. But our zig-zagging, well, to use our words, taking a right and left cut on facing the convoy. We would zig-zag back and forth and sometimes they’d use us for station keeping [maintaining position in relation to other vessels] and you know, the nearest ship and all, any reports we had to give them.

But simply, you sort of got used to doing a lot of navigation with your radar as well, because they would, as I said, take a right and left cut on; and mostly it would be about 18,000 yards and then we’d alter course and go back on the other side again until we got on the left cut on, which would be another 18,000 yards and zig-zag back and forth. They’d know exactly what position was in because there was station keeping by the radar. We knew the war was over, but you wouldn’t take any chances of lifting a security because there might be some diehard idiot in the German navy that would torpedo you, so, but we got to New York 11 days afterwards and we had a few days of celebration; and we refueled and went back to Halifax.

But during that stay, the Halifax explosion, which many people never refer to at all, which you have some pictures of there, but of that 50,000 tons of TNT which was supposed to be in, which is mostly depth charges [anti-submarine weapons], there wouldn’t be much left of any of us today. I don’t want to get it muddled up with the First World War, which was known as the Halifax Explosion. This was the ammunition dump [Bedford Magazine] in Dartmouth and, well, the explosion that, the pictures I have there, I was below deck and it knocked me flat over on my back; and I was underwater. It gave us quite a bang. We had to move out to the mouth of the Halifax Harbour to get away from it as much as we could. But we were that far away, and not that much. But had it gone up, God help us all.

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