"It just shook the whole building. You think it’s right out in your backyard but they’re telling us the next morning, they could have been two or three miles away, but we didn’t think so."
The navy were looking for volunteers to be gunners on merchant ships and they called them Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships and the short form was DEMS, D-E-M-S. So some of us down in [HMCS] Cornwallis, we decided that maybe we’d like to try that, I guess if for, so that’s what we did. So you volunteered for it and then, and at that time after your training was finished, then they sent us to a gunnery school. We went to the gunnery school until we completed that course, like in [HMCS] Stadacona here in Halifax, and then we were assigned to a merchant ship.
Now I’m laughing now but we must have been fairly dense. After we completed our gunnery training, then we were transferred to a merchant ship and my first one was the [SS] Rosedale Park and it was up in Montreal in the Vickers Shipyard. When we got there, there was eight of us going aboard it. The paint was just a little more than dry, so it was a brand new ship. So everything was nice and new and clean as a whip and so that was the first one I was on. And then we sailed down the St. Lawrence River and out in a convoy and our first trip was to England.
Well, we were carrying like bombs, 500 pound bombs and that type of stuff. We worked a four hour shift on and an eight hour shift off. So that took like to make the 24 hour circle. That took six people and then like we had the petty officer, he was our commander. He didn’t stand a watch, so we had one extra. And the one extra person, we used to switch around every week, like you were in charge then of keeping the place clean and you’d go up to the main galley and get all the meals for the other six of us who were working a shift. And keep everything neat and tidy and clean up after. And you did that for a week, then a week some, it would be my turn to take it on for a week and then he would take my place. And that’s the way we did our watches.
It was a trip of interest, no question about it. But, but as we get, we’ll just say you get closer to, you know, to England, we’d never been exposed to anything, you know what I mean, like I’d never. And, for instance, if you were down in your bunk sleeping - and this happened a few times - the depth charges would be, I can always remember this, periodically depth charges would be, you know, the corvettes, they would be letting off depth charges; a little scary. Because it just shook the daylights out of you. But after a while, you got used to it a bit, that type of thing. That’s as much action I suppose as I saw.
One morning, they rang the bell for action stations, it might have been about 3:00 in the morning or 3:30, whenever it was, it was still dark anyway. And we had a couple of merchant seamen in our ship who had been torpedoed before. Well, if you’ve ever seen anyone move quick, they move quick. But I’m saying, putting their clothes on, getting out on deck in case there’s something serious happened, they weren’t lagging.
When we were up in Manchester, one of my cohorts, we thought we would like to go down to London, to see London. So we were able to get the weekend off so away we went. We got on the train and went to London. Now, we didn’t know where we were going to stay but we stayed at a Canadian YMCA facility that was there. And so at that particular time, that was like in the latter part of 1944, have you ever heard of what they called buzz bombs, the V1s and the V2s? Used to call them buzz bombs. Well, the first night we were there, say like tonight now, the Friday night, about the middle of the night, everything shakes and this hostel around. And that’s like the German people were sending over to London these buzz bombs. Now, that was scary because it just shook the whole building. You think it’s right out in your backyard but they’re telling us the next morning, they could have been two or three miles away, but we didn’t think so.
When they would leave we’ll say Europe, and I’m not sure whether they, probably were taking off from France [the Germans had launch sites throughout Germany and the territories they occupied], they could hear them in the air, then all of a sudden, wherever little motor they had on, that go, it go dead, and then that was the danger time because then they were falling down. And they never really knew where they were going to land really.
We brought back seven or eight survivors. Like if a merchant ship had been torpedoed, and they just, they eat in our mess because we had room where we ate and they had been torpedoed. They were out in the water for, well, you know, maybe for eight or nine days. And they told us it was hard going, just out in the elements. That’s as much as maybe I ever heard firsthand from someone who had been in trouble.
In 1944, we were crawling on to Christmastime, so I got a leave to come home to Owen Sound, [Ontario] Christmas. And then I had to go back to, it would just be just about New Year’s, I had to go back to Saint John, New Brunswick. And then I got on the [SS] Chippewa Park. And it was going to, we were going to India on the Chippewa Park.
We travelled all over India, from Bombay, that’s on one side, right around and then we were there until into May and we were like in the island of Ceylon. And we were city of Colombo. Now, that’s called Sri Lanka now, they changed the name, Sri Lanka. And we were there like when the war ended with Europe, like it ended in May [May 8, 1945]. So when the war ended, we basically, I shouldn’t say this, you know, had basically had nothing to do. Because the war with Europe was over and so all, what we had to do, we had to clean up all our guns, clean them all up, then you’d, we’d grease them down and everything and just sort of seal them up. Because we weren’t going to use them anymore. So we were like passengers then, people like me.