Veteran Stories:
James Edward “Jim” Brown

Navy

  • A boarding party from the HMCS Monnow aboard a German U-boat following Germany's surrender in May 1945. Note that the Canadian White Ensign has been raised on the U-boat.

    James E. Brown
  • Striking Force EG-9 was on convoy escort duty, headed for Murmansk, when Germany surrendered. The Force was ordered to intercept a group of fifteen German U-boats off the coast of Norway and escort them to Scotland. Photo taken from HMCS Monnow.

    James E. Brown
  • Cloth crest of the HMCS Monnow.

    James E. Brown
  • Dog tag issued to Jim Brown in July 1943. Inscribed with owner's name, number, branch of service, religious affiliation, and blood group.

    James E. Brown
  • Soviet medal, in red box, bearing inscription in Russian on back, awarded in 1988 to Canadian Second World War naval veterans who served on the Murmansk Run.

    James E. Brown
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"And that was kind of scary because you didn’t know whether these people knew war was over or not."

Transcript

My name is James Edward Brown. When we finished our training in Cornwallis they took us aboard what they called the Beaver, HMCS Beaver they called it, it was a little training ship they had in Cornwallis. And they took us across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John and it was rough, I’m tellin’ ya, it was rough. And a lot of people were sick, but anyway we stayed overnight in Saint John and then the next day we boarded again and went back to Cornwallis. That was our sea time, eh, other than a whaler here and there. (laughs)

I was on a gunner’s party so I had to clean guns. My ordnance artificer who was the head of the gunnery thing onboard our ship, he would come to me and say Jim where did you get that piece? He said I’ve never seen it before. And these were 20 millimetres we’d take apart you see, cause they were up in the air where the seawater might get splashed on them and you had to take them apart and grease them and clean them, eh.

Our food, far as I’m concerned, was perfect. I’ve heard the army guys talk about no they didn’t have this they didn’t have that, but we had everything. As far as I’m concerned none of us went hungry, and when we’d come into port there’d be these great big wicker baskets full of fresh bread, cream cans full of fresh milk. And I’m telling you that was sure a treat when you’d come into port.

If it was really rough at sea they’d put on a great big square tin on top of the stove, I don’t know about twelve inches high I suppose and I don’t know about two and a half, three inches square. And they’d fill that full of canned tomatoes and bacon. We’d call it red lead and bacon, ya, that’s what we called it. Anyway that’s what they’d have when the sea was rough cause it could just stay in this big thing and just lay there and cook on top of the stove, eh.

We were the first convoy to make it through without losing a ship. It was quite a run we had a big convoy. I don’t recall the exact number now, but it seems to me there was 45 naval ships, and something like 85 merchant ships. We carried all them navy ships ordinarily I think, well we did anyway. We had 50 tons of medical supplies in our gangways down below and that went to Russia. All these medical supplies, and I suppose that’s the reason I got a medal from Russia was because of this I don’t know.

We started to stay away from the Norwegian coast as far as we could because that’s where the Germans were. Yeah I got one of them, I shot one down coming back. Yeah a JU88, I shot one down. On the Murmansk run you don’t get much daylight. Especially in the wintertime. When we were coming back they were coming at us a little bit, they hit empty ships I suppose coming back from Russia. We just happened to be in a spot where I was on watch at the time, and we were at action stations we closed up because they were hitting the ships behind us. Like I said we were EG 9 striking force and we were out ahead of the convoys. And it just happened I looked in the sky and I seen a plane coming. A silhouette in the sky, and I said wow there’s one coming in now and I waited and waited and waited until he got in within range and I opened fire with my 20 millimetre and he just disappeared, went down into the sea. But I looked on the other side and there was another one coming, and I hollered to the fellow on the other side of the ship. I said wait wait let him get in range because your 20 millimetre is not good enough for that distance, you know. But he started firing and the plane went off, he didn’t get him.

As far as convoy duty and that we really only made one. The second one was to go up and pick up the submarines: the war was over. And that was kind of scary because you didn’t know whether these people knew war was over or not. . We went up there and picked up fifteen submarines, five merchant ships which were the mother ships that supplied food or whatever or oil or whatever these submarines required. So we went up to pick them up and we come onto them early one morning, and oh, it’s scary, it was scary.

You go through all this stuff and you’re drilled into it day after day after day you know, and then all of a sudden you’re out of it. And there’s nobody hollering at you, or doing this, and you don’t have to run, and you don’t have to salute and you don’t have to do this. God I remember when we first started out we were saluting streetcar conductors in Saint John. (laughs) This is all gone then, after three years it’s all gone. And it takes you a bit of getting used to again, it’s just like starting to live over again.

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