Veteran Stories:
Raymond “Burnie” Forbes

Navy

  • Burnie Forbes standing next to his finished painting of the Wet Ass Queen - an irreverent interpretation of the ship's name, HMCS Wetaskiwin. "A painting of the Wet Ass Queen once hung in the wardroom of the Wetaskiwin, but had mysteriously disappeared. In 1942, I was asked to paint my version of the Queen on ship's gunshield. Until war's end, I kept her looking fresh and perky." Today the Wet Ass Queen hangs in the historic Crow's Nest Officers' Club in St. John's, Newfoundland.

    Burnie Forbes
  • HMCS Wetaskiwin, 1942, before having her forecastle extended.

    Burnie Forbes
  • A thick coating of North Atlantic ice, seen from the wheelhouse of HMCS Wetaskiwin.

    Burnie Forbes
  • Burnie Forbes as he begins to paint the Wet Ass Queen - an irreverent interpretation of the ship's name, HMCS Wetaskiwin. "A painting of the Wet Ass Queen once hung in the wardroom of the Wetaskiwin, but had mysteriously disappeared. In 1942, I was asked to paint my version of the Queen on ship's gunshield. Until war's end, I kept her looking fresh and perky." Today the Wet Ass Queen hangs in the historic Crow's Nest Officers' Club in St. John's, Newfoundland.

    Burnie Forbes
  • The ships' company of HMCS Wetaskiwin, 1944. Burnie Forbes is on the extreme right of the front row.

    Burnie Forbes
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"One of the most vivid memories was sailing up the lock Foyle towards Londonderry at sunrise. The sight of the green Irish hills sloping down to meet the calm blue waters of the Foyle, it was just like arriving in heaven..."

Transcript

This is a 90 year old, trying to recall what happened 60 years ago. Please be patient and understanding. My name is Burnie Forbes. I joined the navy in June 1940 in Montreal [Quebec] at the HMCS Donnacona. When I first boarded the [HMCS] Wetaskiwin in Newfie John [St. John’s, Newfoundland], she had recently been completely repainted to the newly required corvette camouflage look. Most of the crew had been replaced but there still remained a few old hands who, vaguely recalled, a weather beaten gunshield, image of a Queen of Hearts. From their description and being artistically inclined, I was able to come up with a close replica of the painting that once hung in the officer’s wardroom. With the CO’s approval [Commanding Officer], I painted the five by seven foot playing card logo of a shapely looking queen of hearts sitting in a puddle of water. The Wetaskiwin became well known on both sides of the Atlantic as the Wet Ass Queen. Until the end of the war [in May, 1945], I was responsible for keeping her perky and with every repaint or retouch-up, I couldn’t resist lifting her skirt a little and increasing her bust one size larger. Today, the original painting of the queen, which went missing from the ship’s wardroom, hangs in the Crow’s Nest, Officer’s Club in St. John’s, Newfoundland. One of the most vivid memories was sailing up the lock Foyle [the River Foyle in Northern Ireland] towards Londonderry at sunrise. The sight of the green Irish hills sloping down to meet the calm blue waters of the Foyle, it was just like arriving in heaven from hell. It was while sailing up the Florida coast that we were returning to Newfoundland, and over our loud hailer, (our PA system) [Public Address System], announced that our troops had landed in Normandy [on June 6, 1944]. A great cheer went up from the crew but moments later, there was complete silence, as our thoughts turned to those who were in the thick of battle at that very moment. We all gathered on the quarterdeck and the captain conducted a short service with prayers. The navy tended to move people frequently but I managed to stay on the [HMCS] Wetaskiwin from September 1942 until June 1945, only because I was able to arrange with the rest of my communications department to remove my name if it appeared on any transfer orders. In 1945 during my long leave in Montreal, VJ Day was declared [Victory over Japan Day, August 15, 1945]] and I reported to Montreal headquarters expecting my discharge to be ordered but I was ordered to return to my ship in Halifax [Nova Scotia]. Upon arrival, I was informed that the [HMCS] Wetaskiwin was no longer in service and was to be decommissioned. This news was heartbreaking to me, it was like returning home without a house, family or friends and gone were all my personal treasures along with my share of canteen profits that were to be divided amongst the crew according to the length of time served onboard, not according to the rank. I learned later that my share would have been fairly substantial Within days, I reported to the minesweeper, HMCS Mahone and spent a short time sweeping the east coast waters. August the 5th, 1945, I stepped ashore with a slip in my hand ordering me to report to headquarters where I received my discharge and train ticket home.
Follow us