Veteran Stories:
Emmerson Lavender

Navy

  • Christmas 1944. The youngest members of Emmerson Lavender's crew dress up in officer's uniforms and become "officers" for the day.

  • The tattered White Ensign at half-mast, eastbound convoy in background. The flag is tattered because of a week long gale.

  • More than fifty U-boats tied up at Lishahally on the Foyle River, Ireland. It is possible that one of these U-boats torpedoed two of the ships in Lavender's convoy, April 18, 1944.

  • Life in the mess deck, autumn 1944. Note the hammocks, the life jacket, and the "cozy" conditions.

  • April 18, 1945. Two merchant ships in an east bound convoy are torpedoed and sunk off the coast of France in broad daylight. The U-boat escaped.

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"German listening stations on the continent could easily pinpoint the location of the transmission…"

Transcript

Emmerson Lavender, Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. I joined in July of 1943 and got my wireless operator training in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. Posted overseas in June of 1944 to pick up a new Corvette called HMCS Copper Cliff. And Copper Cliff was part of the 7th Canadian Mid-Ocean Escort. Merchant ships on eastbound convoys were gathered from New York or Boston or Halifax by a group called the Western Escort. And they brought rows of merchant ships loaded with the gear of war to a point southeast of Newfoundland and handed over the convoy to us, the Mid-Ocean Escort Group. We took the convoy from that point to a point either, at the entrance to the English Channel or to the North of Ireland, handed over the convoy to a local escort group there and then proceeded up the Foyle River. The process was reversed a few days later when we brought convoys west. At sea, the 24 hours of the day were divided into watches. Usually 4 hours on, 8 hours off. To stagger the time of day or night that we served, about 22 of us, I think, were housed in what was properly called the communications mess deck. We were coders and wireless operators and signalmen. And we each were assigned a hammock, a very thin mattress, two thick white woolen blankets and no pillows, no sheets. At sea we usually didn't take our clothes off because, if it were action stations, you don't want to be spending a lot of time finding your gear and putting it on and then racing up to your action station position. My job as a wireless operator was to copy Morse Code 4 hours at a stretch. We had transmitters, but, we never, ever used transmitters at sea to transmit messages. And the reason was that German U-boats and German listening stations on the continent could easily pinpoint the location of the transmission. And that wasn't a smart thing to do. So, to get messages to us, from the Admiralty, they'd just send out a stream of coded messages to all ships at sea, and so our job was to copy all of them, have the coder decode them and whatever was relevant to our ship or our escort group, they were decoded and sent to the bridge. There was a tradition of the Royal Navy copied by the Royal Canadian Navy that, on Christmas Day at sea, the youngest man on board would assume the role of captain, the next youngest would put on officer's uniforms and prance around the deck and, theoretically, the officers were to serve the Christmas meal. It was supposed to be all very jolly and I guess it was.
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