Veteran Stories:
John Kilpatrick

Navy

  • Lt. John Kilpatrick circa 1985.

  • Lt. John Kilpatrick R.C.N.V.R in uniform, circa 1943.

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"You've got to remember in those days, that the war was being won by youngsters. Many of whom aged very quickly."

Transcript

My name is John Kilpatrick. I'm a former Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. My entry into naval service was a little different from most. I was selected by a travelling interview board, set up by the Department of National Defence. I was interviewed in Montreal and selected as one of several English-speaking residents of that province. We certainly intended to make the most of the opportunity given to us by the Navy. We were paid and we were given what purports to be a university course in seamanship. But the value of the experience was in the camaraderie that began in that school and stayed with us for life. We were supposed to be there for two years, but in 1942 the war was going so badly, in the Atlantic, that a decision was made to cut our course short. And all of us were graduated hastily in nine months and sent immediately overseas to both British and Canadian ships. I was posted to the destroyer Restigouche. HMCS Restigouche, an old river-class destroyer. She was an experienced escort vessel by this time. We left Newcastle on Tyne in October and went around the north of Scotland to the working up base at Tobermorrey, in the western isles of Scotland. So we were there until after Christmas. I do remember the usual naval tradition on Christmas Day when the youngest sailor, garbed in a captain's borrowed uniform, took command while the captain got into round-rig and followed orders. This was always great fun. After that we were posted to an escort group operating between St. John's, Newfoundland and Londonderry in Northern Ireland. In 1943 while the war was still very vigorously being pursued by the Germans, the biggest threat apart from weather, which was our real enemy, was the fact that we had no air cover over a period of about 600 nautical miles. South of Iceland, we did not have long-range patrol vessels that could assist in the defence of convoys over that black hole in the Atlantic. We had a number of pretty dicey moments at sea. In wintertime ships were very often iced up. And that disturbed their centre of gravity and we had desperately to chip away ice from the upper works of the ship in order to ensure that she didn't roll over. I can remember in January of 1944, the captain called me up to the bridge on my 20th birthday. And he presented me with a destroyer watch-keeping certificate. The most prized present I ever got in my life. At that moment, I was the youngest naval officer in the service with a destroyer watch keeping ticket. That distinction lasted about a week or ten days until I was replaced by somebody even younger. You've got to remember in those days, that the war was being won by youngsters. Many of whom aged very quickly. Of the million Canadian personnel in the three armed services, 700,000 of them were under the age of 21.
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