Veteran Stories:
George Malcolm “Red” MacNair

Navy

  • Able Seaman George MacNair (second from right) poses with his comrades from the HMCS Prince Rupert Hedgehog party after sinking the German submarine U-575 on patrol off the Azores in March 1944.

    George MacNair
  • After sinking the German submarine U-575 in March 1944, three New Brunswickers from the ship's company of HMCS Prince Rupert pose for a newspaper photo in St John's, Newfoundland. From left to right: Alan Butcher, Melville DeMerchant, and George MacNair.

    George MacNair
  • George MacNair (right), with his brother Doug MacNair (wounded in 1945 while serving with the army in the Netherlands) after both had returned home to New Brunswick after the war.

    George MacNair
  • The ship's company of HMCS Prince Rupert poses following her commissioning in Esquimalt, British Columbia in August 1943. Ordinary Seaman George MacNair is third from the right in the uppermost row.

    George MacNair
  • A Red Ensign which flew from HMCS Prince Rupert. This flag was damaged and needed to be replaced on March 12, 1944.

    George MacNair
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"I grew up in the country; and I butchered beef and pigs, and chickens, but I wasn’t really prepared for something like that."

Transcript

After my training, I got drafted, the whole crew of a new ship about to be launched in BC, at Esquimalt; and we were shipped out seven days and eight nights by train. I’ve since been back by air. But the ship was delayed, so instead of being the second frigate [anti-submarine escort vessel] launched, we ended up being the third. We spent May, June and July and part of August [1943] on the west coast. Dropped into Prince Rupert for a kind of a dedication ceremony. One guy composed a song about “they gave us cigarettes, a washing machine and guitar, but that’s all they gave to the ‘Fighting PR’ [HMCS Prince Rupert].”

From there, we came through the [Panama] Canal, up to Halilfax, some more training off of Pictou, and then onto Newfoundland and Escort Group C3, mid-Atlantic, Newfie [Newfoundland]-to-Derry [Run]. Four days in, turn around, and back. In March of 1944, we got assigned to go help the Yankee [United States Navy] escort group; and we took part in the sinking of a German sub [U-575; destroyed on March 13, 1944]. We picked up 14 survivors: two officers, 12 men. I was a sentry looking after [them for] a few days. Most of them could speak English, and we got quite friendly. You know, they had the common enemy, the sea, the same as us. So we had lots in common to talk about. I found a very intriguing thing that I never forgot. Two of them were Lutherans. I’m a Presbyterian by birth, and they had praying mothers at home just like I had.

I got a rude awakening. We used to do supposedly 30 days out and four days in. But this time, we had gone 42 and we were due in that night in Londonderry [Northern Ireland]. We were coming up the Irish Sea, picked up a sub on the ASDIC [underwater sound detection system, now known as sonar], and carried out two or three attacks, when all of a sudden, one of our Hedgehogs [anti-submarine mortar], turned out in the inquiry that it was sabotaged. It exploded when it left the mount, put the paint locker [flammable liquid storage room] and the forward mess [where meals are eaten] on fire; killed six guys and wounded 12.

We went into Belfast [Northern Ireland], but they wouldn’t let us unload the dead and the wounded. They wouldn’t allow us to have permanent berth on account of the dripping explosives. Some of the bombs had shrapnel all through them. I got involved with going into clean up the mess. I grew up in the country; and I butchered beef and pigs, and chickens, but I wasn’t really prepared for something like that.

I was gathering up body parts in a dustpan and spewing in the other one. Could hardly stand up on that linoleum-covered deck for blood. I still wake up with nightmares; and smell that horrible stench of death and dismembered bodies. It leaves an awful imprint on you.

Interview date: 27 September 2010

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