Veteran Stories:
Fred Sygrove

Navy

  • The HMCS Uganda (pictured here), the second ship which Fred Sygrove served in during the war.

    Fred Sygrove
  • In the summer of 1944, Fred Sygrove (pictured here) was made Chief Petty Officer at the age of twenty.

    Fred Sygrove
  • Fred Sygrove served onboard the HMCS Kentville (pictured here) for two years during the war before being transferred to the HMCS Uganda for six months at the end of the war.

    Fred Sygrove
  • Onboard the HMCS Kentville, seamen chip off ice formed on deck while crossing the North Atlantic in the winter of 1943.

    Fred Sygrove
  • Fred Sygrove is pictured here holding a bucket in the Engine Room of the HMCS Kentville where his first job was to learn how and when to lubricate the engine. January 1943.

    Fred Sygrove
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"When they started with depth charges, the explosions just about lifted the ship out of the water. This went on for hours. Finally, sometime in the evening, it stopped. We had run out of depth charges, all 75 of them."

Transcript

The day the war began, September the 3rd, 1939, it was two months and one day until my 15th birthday. [I was] about to begin my last year in high school. It had long been arranged that when I finished high school, my mother and I would come to Canada to join my dad and my older brother. My dad was captain of the SS Grayburn and my brother was the cook on the same ship. The Grayburn hauled iron ore from Bell Island and Newfoundland to the steel mill in Sydney, Cape Breton. Our old neighbourhood was South Shields [England], located on the south side at the mouth of the River Tyne. The night we left, there were many tears, teary goodbyes at the train station, where we would leave to go to Newcastle to catch the train to Liverpool and board our ship, the RMS Newfoundland. However, we only got as far as Tyne Dock, which is about like Sarnia [Ontario] to Point Edward, when the air raids started.

They were after Walker’s navy yard and any other ships on the river. We were told to lie on the floor and I could watch the tracer bullets in the beam of the searchlights. Soon it was over and we went to Newcastle where we ran into another air raid before we could board the train to Liverpool.

These delays made us very late arriving at Liverpool, where we got a cab and just made it onboard the ship before she sailed. And in a few days, we pulled into St. John’s Harbour in St. John’s, Newfoundland. My mother quickly found out that that dad’s ship was in Bell Island loading ore. So we were soon packed and on our way for a happy reunion. And so we finished our trip to Canada on my dad’s ship.

That first Christmas, 1940, my family was together. I remember I received a new flat bottomed mandolin. Because Sydney Harbour froze over in winter, they had to leave. Little did I know, that would be the last time that I saw my father.

Some time in late May or early June, 1941, my mother went to Baltimore [Maryland] to see my dad and my brother, who had been put in hospital for an appendicitis operation. So my dad had to sail, Jack was left behind. Thank God, because the next thing we had was a telegram telling us dad’s ship had been sunk and he was killed. There were 12 survivors out of a crew of 52. The first mate he came to see us and said he saw dad on the bridge, just before she blew up. My dad was in the army in the First World War and was gassed in 1917, and now he was killed at age 49.

I tacked a year on my age and signed up anyway; and eventually, I was called to Halifax [Nova Scotia] to be sworn in and take my training. The chief who was interviewing me suggested I take a trades test, which I did and passed. So I was sworn in as a fifth class ERA, Engine Room Artificer. After basic training, I was assigned to the machine shop and I was told to find a boarding house in town. It all sounded very nice, but it’s not what I had joined up for and I wasn’t sorry about letting my boss know. So in the first week of January [1943], he called me that week of January 1943, he called me to the office and told me I had two hours to pack my stuff at the boarding house and report onboard HMCS Kentville.

In May, we were given the job of escorting the ferry [SS Caribou] from North Sydney to Port aux Basques in Newfoundland. But this trip, the fog was so bad, the ferry couldn’t leave Port aux Basques, so we just patrolled around, waiting outside. I came off watch at 8:00 in the morning; and after breakfast, I climbed into my bunk for a nap, when all of a sudden, there was a terrific crash that almost threw me out of my bunk, and action stations sounded. I heard someone yell, "we hit a sub!" I quickly made my way to the engine room, which was my action stations. With our bow blown in, we could only go half our top speed. And when they started with depth charges [anti-submarine weapons], the explosions just about lifted the ship out of the water. This went on for hours. Finally, sometime in the evening, it stopped. We had run out of depth charges, all 75 of them. And we slowly made our way back to Sydney, Nova Scotia, to the Sydney Foundry and Machine Works where I had left just about one year ago.

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