Portrait of Jack Aldred.Jack Aldred
Jack Aldred (back row, far right) and the rest of the guns crew of Y Gun, aboard ship in the Atlantic. They stand before on of the twin 4", high-angle anti-aircraft guns.Jack Aldred
Jack Aldred's Statement of Service.Jack Aldred
Jack Aldred aboard ship.Jack Aldred
Jack Aldred (right) and his older brother Frank, also in the Navy, both home on leave, Winter, 1943.Jack Aldred
"You know, we all had to depend on each other in time of war. And here we learned to live together. At that time, I don’t see why the feeling can’t carry on to when we come back to civilian life."
My father was in World War I, both he and my mother are from London, England. All our relatives were over there, we felt close ties with Britain itself. I had planned to join the Air Force. I thought, if I can get four years […], I might qualify for air crew in the Air Force. But then my brother was on HMCS Prince Henry and they went to Bermuda and Jamaica and he come home on leave and he’s telling me all this, he’s well tanned and they were down around South America and they took part in the scuttling of two German ships, they were trying to capture. So right away, I had to join the navy. I followed him everywhere else. I followed him at school and the subjects we took. He was my idol, I had to go along with him. I was hoping to be with him. But it just didn’t work out that eventually.
When we eventually left Vancouver [British Columbia], we went down the west coast in the [United] States and through the Panama Canal, we stopped at Cologne [Germany]. That’s where, you know, we were 18, 19, 20 year old kids and I was fresh out of Toronto [Ontario], I used to be the treasurer of our bible class at St. John’s […] Norway. My dad never drank. So anyway, when we got down to Cologne, here’s all these cocktail bars, we’d never seen cocktail bars. And we learned that a zombie is made up of seven different brands of rum and they were potent.
Anyway, we finally got through the Panama Canal under the watchful eyes of the American guards there, nobody was allowed to have a camera onboard. Anyway, from there, we did stop at Bermuda briefly, we didn’t get any shore leave, then we took a convoy across to Greennock, Scotland, and they had some repairs made to the ship, additional radar units installed. And from there, we went down to Plymouth [England] and took a regular convoy route from Plymouth down to Gibraltar and into Naples, Italy. We being an anti-aircraft cruiser, we were in the middle of the convoy, whereas the destroyers and corvettes were around the outskirts to chase subs or look for subs.
But when you’re 18 years old, 19 years old, and we’re on this big ship and it’s dark black at night, and you’re cruising along, and you had to be on watch all night, someone had to be on watch, we would take it in turns. My cruising station was Q gun [the designation for a gun position]. As a lookout, you’d be staring out, staring and trying to look for, you’d imagine you saw a wave, could that be a periscope. It was more a war of nerves, luckily, we didn’t see any submarines. As a matter of fact, we had a, actually, we had pleasant Mediterranean cruises when all the time I’m thinking, my brother’s on destroyers up in the North Atlantic, fighting off submarines, chipping ice off the upper deck and here we are, sprawled out on the deck when we had “make and mend” which is time off, we’d get suntans and I had a very lucky life in my naval time.
After one convoy in November 1943, we had taken a convoy to Naples and returned to Plymouth, when our ship was called out, a convoy was being attacked in the Bay of Biscay. So we went steaming out there and when we got within sight, we could see the ships on the horizon, I was, as I say, Y guns on the very stern of the ship and we were all of course anxious to find something to see. And we saw these ships on the horizon, there was one or two in flames and there were black specks up in the sky, that was the German aircraft.
So we got the order from the bridge to open fire. So all the guns opened fire. We fired the gun for two hours steady. And it was just the same as we’d done when we practiced, it’s boom, boom, boom, it was went like clockwork and after two hours, and we packed it up and we came back to Plymouth. And that’s, that was, as far as I knew, that was the only bit of the war that I saw. A month later, we hit the papers come sent over from Toronto evening telegram says, [HMCS] Prince Robert in giant air/sea battle. When all we’d done was just fired the gun the way we used to.
We did have a lieutenant commander onboard who was formerly with the Globe & Mail [newspaper]. And when we were in the middle of all this action, he’s broadcasting throughout the ship, just like Foster Hewitt used to do the hockey game. And he, at one time, he said, one of the Junkers 88 [a German twin-engine bomber] had dropped a glider bomb. This was a new invention they had, a bomb that would, had a motor on it and it would glide towards the target. And he said they dropped the glider bomb and it looks like it’s heading straight for us. Now, I don’t know what the guy’s down below decks thought but we’re out, as I say, we’re on the quarter deck looking out and it was, as far as we could see, there was nothing anywhere near us. So that was a little propaganda I guess and then as I say, we got back to Plymouth and got the newspapers sent from Toronto all about the big air/sea with our pictures in the paper and these Toronto boys were on the ship.
But as I say, I felt sort of inferior. When I was plucked out of my little group of old English people and we were largely brought […], we had these petty little, my mom and dad, being English, I don’t know, I think English are more, or at that time, Catholics were no good, Yankees were no good. This is the way we were brought up. But then when you’re in the navy, we’re altogether, it doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, protestant or whatever. And you’re all living the same life, you find out everybody’s the same. Religion makes no difference, it’s the person inside. You know, we all had to depend on each other in time of war. And here we learned to live together. At that time, I don’t see why the feeling can’t carry on to when we come back to civilian life.