Photo of Don Bellamy, date unknown.Don Bellamy
Photo taken at sea in January 1945.Don Bellamy
Photo taken at sea.Don Bellamy
Postcard written from Don Bellamy to his mother while aboard ship, January 1945.Don Bellamy
Portrait of Don Bellamy.Don Bellamy
"We had more than one enemy. We had the submarines; we had the conditions of our ship and we tried to keep it as reasonable as possible; and the cruel sea. The sea itself, it could be hell."
The strangest thing that happened to me was Christmas in 1945. I was asked to play at a church in an area of Sydney [Nova Scotia] which is called Whitney Pier. There was a lot of tough characters up there. They worked in the mill, DOSCO [Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation], the steel mills; and they liked to drink and they were very loud and robust, and so on, and so forth. But they wanted me to play at a church for a bunch of little kids. So I decided to do it and I went at the appointed time; and I wasn’t’ too familiar with the Whitney Pier area, but I went to the church. There was a Christmas party going on with little kids there, gosh, about three and four years old right up to about 12, 13, 14. I went in and introduced myself to the leaders there; and said, I’ve come to play the piano for you. And [they said] oh, that’s very nice, come in; and away we went, so on and so forth.
Then when I left, I went back to the naval base and I was called into the CO’s [commanding officer’s] office and given a bad time because I had failed in my duty. There were two churches and they were kitty corner, one from the other. I went to the wrong one. I never showed up; and the officer in charge of that assignment wasn’t too pleased. But they got over it. But I felt kind of bad about that, even though it was… I heard about that darned story years after I was there.
The days were more or less alike, you always had an assignment of some kind, no matter what the weather was like and believe me, the Christmas of 1945 was when the Atlantic Sea gave us the worst time in our lives when it came to the weather. Believe me, I was on constant duty watch, that is to say, that’s what I did when I was at sea. My post was on the starboard side of the bridge. And up there, oh, open bridges by the way, when you got green seas [nautical term for a large amount of water taken aboard a vessel] over the forecastle, that’s the nose, they come right over the top of the bridge and you got soaked, but we had proper weather gear, so that wasn’t too bad.
But one of the real, when you got that feeling of impending doom, was at night. And when the water was rough, really rough, we were reasonably safe because the subs can’t get their heads down. But you’re looking, and we had quarters [a specific area], that is to say, to watch. I was from the nose of the ship to the starboard side, 90 degrees. Of course, we had officers also up on the bridge and of course, there were the watches on the stern; and there were watches on the other three quarters of the bridge. We were looking for any sign of anything out there and when the water was flat, which wasn’t very often, that’s when we used to have to be very careful and if you saw anything or thought you saw anything, you reported it immediately to the officer and he sort of went to have a look see. Sometimes I wondered if we were seeing ghosts half the night because if there was anything moving at all, even a whitecap, it had to be the wash of a sub. And yet, of course, there wasn’t probably a sub within a thousand miles of us.
Also, that sounds great, but when the subs were moved over the Canadian coast, then we were a little bit uptight about how many were out there and where were they, and were they watching us; and we couldn’t see them. Those were the tough times; and they were deadly, they were quiet except for the roar of the sea. That was the feeling that we got that was really rough on us because we never got much sleep when we were at sea and if you had a call from the watchman up on the bridge and they think it was something, action stations [prepare for action]. So you may have been in bed, and when I say bed, I’m talking about hammocks because we didn’t have bunks. You were on your feet and up on your action station as quickly as possible. You spend three or four hours doing nothing but watching and looking for something that might be out there. You had to go on duty, your next duty watch so sometimes sleep, sleep. Any time that we had that chance, we were absolutely out on our feet. We were unconscious almost and that was the kind of stuff that was very, at sea, it was 99 percent nothing, one percent hell on earth.
We had more than one enemy. We had the submarines; we had the conditions of our ship and we tried to keep it as reasonable as possible; and the cruel sea. The sea itself, it could be hell.