Veteran Stories:
James Fairnie

Navy

  • Crew of the HMCS Haida, 1946.

    James Fairnie
  • James Fairnie in Uniform, 1944.

    James Fairnie
  • James Fairnie (on Left) with his sister Francis and his brother Robert, in 1945.

    James Fairnie
  • HMCS Prince David, 1942.

    James Fairnie
  • James Fairnie, Honolulu, Hawaï, December 5, 1941.

    James Fairnie
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"And two of the other destroyers that were with us circled us and laid down a smokescreen until we could steam back up and get the hell out of the area."

Transcript

My full name is James Fairnie, FAIRNIE. At first, I tell you, what you should know is the Canadian navy, at the outbreak of war, bought three passenger liners from the Canadian National Steamship and converted them into armed merchant cruisers. These are ships running around 6,000, 7,000 tons and they were armed with four six-inch guns and four-inch guns and smaller guns. And three of them were out looking for enemies.

Now one of them, the Prince Henry, in early 1940, caught two German freighters at night trying to escape out of South American ports. She couldn’t capture them and the Germans set fire to them, so the two were scuttled and shot out by the Canadian ship Prince Henry and sunk.

Then a little later on, the Prince Robert caught the ship called the Weser, in 1940 in the fall. And she captured it, brought it back to Victoria and it went into service on the Atlantic, taking supplies to Europe.

No, I finished my training around the first of April in 1941 and the Prince Robert came back in, she was only in a week and I was posted to it. And we sailed to Honolulu. This was in April of 1941. Now what happened was, we only stayed in Honolulu about four hours to refuel, headed back towards Canada, stopped a big merchant ship — passenger liner — and took off four German aeronautical experts who were trying to get back to Germany. So we took them off the ship — this American passenger liner — and took them to Esquimalt and turned them over to the authorities.

We were doing an attack on a — we had sunk a submarine one day and two days later we picked up the second submarine or we thought it was a submarine and we were starting the attack and what happened was, it was a sunken freighter. And all the garbage came up. And I asked the captain to go back to cruising stations, normal routine. He said, granted. I walked out of the cabin, started to go back; 300 feet behind the ship, dead in our wake, were three shells from a German shore battery. And I yelled to the captain, “Three shells, get astern!” He yelled into the voice pipes to the engine room, “Full ahead, both engines!” And all of a sudden they overpowered, the engines stopped and we were standing dead in the water. We’d already gone through all the garbage, tore out the sonar dome underneath the ship around it. And two of the other destroyers that were with us circled us and laid down a smokescreen until we could steam back up and get the hell out of the area.

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