Veteran Stories:
John Harold “Hutch” Hutchinson

Navy

  • John Harold Hutchinson at Lougheed House, Calgary, Alberta, June 28, 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • About half the stoker crew from HMS Moyola. Mr. Hutchinson is in the last row, far right

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"And sure enough, about quarter to one, the order came down to 'standby to ram'."

Transcript

We [HMS Escapade, a Royal Navy destroyer] had picked up a convoy, ONS18 [Outbound North Slow convoy], and joined up with another convoy and made our way across the ocean going west. Somewhere south of Iceland, I had the watch from eight o’clock [p.m.] until midnight. I had a civvy [civilian] watch that I had bought when I was working at an ammonia plant, so my time was civilian time. I never did learn military time properly. About quarter after nine, we had action stations [prepare for battle] and we chased after some submarines, or something. I never heard any explosion of dropping depth charges [anti-submarine weapon]. Usually in a boiler room like that, it sounds like a drum. But around quarter past eleven, I glance at the watch, because they said full speed ahead; the order came down through a voice pipe, full speed ahead. The petty officer put on more burners, and that meant more burners for me to clean, since I was a junior stoker. Then about five to twelve, or about that time, the fellow that was supposed to take my place came down; and he says, you’re supposed to stay down there because I’ve had more experience, they need me up on top. And I said, fine, I’ll stay down here, and so I stayed down below. So I stood two watches that night, better than standing around up top anyway. The petty officer that took the other fellow’s place said that they had sighted a ship on the surface about 30 miles away. This is with ASDIC [underwater radar detection] or huff-duff [HF/DF: high frequency direction finding] or whatever devices they were using. Huff-duff triangulates it, and ASDIC will pick it up. Anyway, we were going full speed ahead there, and I looked at my watch; and I figured, well, that should be, you know, from a quarter past eleven to quarter to one, about an hour and a half at 20 knots, should be about that time. And sure enough, about quarter to one, the order came down to "standby to ram" [prepare for impact]. Petty officer put his shoulder against one ladder that went to the deck and I put my shoulder against the other one, copying him, and all of a sudden, within a minute, bam! We thought we had hit the submarine. I looked behind me, and the bulkhead behind me had buckled. We lost all steam pressure. It took us quite a while, I have no idea how long it was, but it seemed like quite a while to get that steam pressure back up because we thought we must have broken some pipes. So it wasn’t until four o’clock I come off and found out that the one on the big gun deck, the starboard, because the submarine had seen us on the surface and it was a moonlit night, full moon, and it had spotted us on the surface and was crash diving, supposedly about 500 yards ahead. So they fired off this hedgehog [anti-submarine mortar], and I suspect, since it was the first time these two boys up there had fired one of these things, because they’d have two in the prow one, two on the right hand side one and two on the left hand side one, and plus a gunnery crew, the fellows that were pulling the pins were probably pulling the closest ones and then reached his arm in and pull the second roll and reach in again to pull the third roll and at the same time, turning the forward propeller, so that it probably broke the vial of fulminated mercury [an explosive highly susceptible to friction] because when they fired it off, it exploded on the deck, all 24 of them. That had made two quite large holes below them; two smaller holes in the next deck about eight inches across into where they store the shells down below that. So it was fortunate the whole ship didn’t go up. We come off watch at four o’clock, like I said, and the first thing we were told to start the pumping and there was two of us stokers pumping this thing for two hours. There was one man on each side of the hand pump and sucking bilge water out. So we were relieved at 0600. I went down below and laid back on the lockers and went sound asleep until nine o’clock.
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