Veteran Stories:
Ralph John Kennedy

Navy

  • Ralph Kennedy poses with two Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers at the entrance to the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, Holten, The Netherlands, 2005.

    Ralph Kennedy
  • Ralph Kennedy (aged 17), shortly after his enlistment in the Royal Canadian Navy, Spring 1941.

    Ralph Kennedy
  • Ralph Kennedy and his grandson, Adam, photographed on a veterans' pilgrimage to The Netherlands, 2005.

    Ralph Kennedy
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"There were two enemies out there, the submarines and the weather."

Transcript

A friend of mine and myself, we were 17 and we wanted to join the [Royal Canadian] Air Force. So we went down to the air force and they told us to come back in two years. But we were anxious to get into the service and win the war for Canada, so we walked a couple of blocks away where the navy barracks [HMCS Chippawa in Winnipeg, Manitoba] were. And we went in there and they said: "Well, you’re very lucky because the MO [Medical Officer] from Fort Osborne Barracks, is here, they can check you. Now, either the Fort Osborne Barrackshad a lot of sick people or they had a lot of people. So the MO, we called them, medical officer, took us into a room and he checked us all over. It only took him five minutes. And then he went out. And the navy officer heard him ask how they were. And he said: "These two are almost breathing. And he said: "Well that’s the best we’ve had this week, so we’ll take them". I was drafted to the [HMCS] St. Laurent, a[destroyer]. It was called; they all had nicknames. That was the Sally Rand [a noted American burlesque dancer]. And that’s where the war really started for me. Our courses still hadn’t opened up so we simply went onboard. And I was doing a lot of my training as a sonar operator or ASDIC as we called them in those days, on the St. Laurent. And it was a destroyer, it was a fast ship and it was always at the head: where the problems were. She made a name for herself all over. We got into a convoy in, I think it was the latter part of 1942. And they said they’re going to send us south with a convoy from England and because of the bad weather in the mid-Atlantic. I don’t think they ever worried about the bad weather for us. We came down and we were involved in one of the largest submarine battles of the war [as part of convoy ONS154 on December 31, 1942]. We lost 14 ships and we sank one submarine. The Americans weren’t involved at that time, when we brought the convoy, we got it close to Newfoundland, the American fleet [commander]came out and said :"We’ll take over your convoy. We’d been trying to get ships all the time for a week and we couldn’t; we got hammered." And so our captain, [Acting Commander] Guy Windeyer,who was quite a nice old man, [was told ] by the American: "I am Lieutenant Commander so and so, [I have spent] so many years of duty in the United States Navy, I’ll take over your convoy." And Guy Windeyer said: "I am Lieutenant Commander Windeyer, [I have spent] so many years of service in the [Royal] Canadian Navy, kiss my foot." And he was in the station for that. And I got off the ship at that time but we came into port. There were two enemies out there, the submarines and the weather. Absolutely terrible weather. I found out what it was all about. It was just like hurricanes at all times. At one time, I can remember, we were hit by a north storm and we had to face into the north or be carried away by the storm. We had to keep the engines going and facing the storm, because we’d have been pushed south. And there were waves, I swear they were three stories high. And you’d go up one wave and down into the other. Just like going down into a tunnel or whatever it had, there was always water around you. The winter was very bad. Ships would get iced up and all the guns would get iced up, they’d have to get everybody out there chipping paint. So after that battle, I got off and the ASDIC courses opened; I took the ASDIC course and then I was sent out to the West Coast. One thing about it, we were ill prepared for the war. We weren’t, they thought marching was more important than knowing what the ship was all about. I thought that was bad. We had to learn the hard way.
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