Veteran Stories:
Bill Hembroff

Navy

  • HMCS Haida, 1944.

    W.J. Hembroff
  • Ships Crest, 1944.

    W.J. Hembroff
  • Service Record of Bill Hembroff.

    W.J. Hembroff
  • Bill Hembroff age of 20, 1944.

    W.J. Hembroff
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"The sound underwater travels for miles I guess. So if you’re down below, you can hear these depth charges going off, you don’t know where."

Transcript

We belonged to the 10th destroyer squadron. Seems every day or every night, we were also close to France. So in the boiler room (they were Yarrow-32 boilers [which produced steam to power the ship] as they called them, you know, two in the side and one at the top joined by several tubes)—eight fires. So your oil comes through eight different buoys into the boiler.

We only used all eight fires once. The thing is, if you’re on convoy duty, which we were say on the trip to Russia, Murmansk, probably three fires was enough because the convoy speed was only about nine or ten knots. So there was eight torpedo boats bound for Murmansk and they had untrained crews that they put on. They actually had to motor these torpedo boats to Murmansk and you know, you go through some pretty rough water. Just the average swell didn’t bother us but they were enough that these things were bobbing up and down and disappearing.

So the first night out we’ve got to go back to Scotland because one of them got lost and he went into Loch Ewe. So we had to go there in the morning and pick him up and rejoin the convoy. So the next day, there’s one, another guy stopped at the Faroe Islands, with all that speed and what, they’d gotten tired of convoy speeds and we were farting around. But so we got him out of there.

And the other thing that was interesting, Faroe Islands, just moss-covered rock, no trees or anything. And we got an hour shore leave or something and we had a guy from—Bill Baker, who used to do some photography for Maclean’s magazine—so he had his camera and stuff with him, which was a no-no. But anyway, when we go in there, we step into this drugstore, the first thing he sees is a rack of Kodak film. So we had to empty our pockets of all change so he could buy some more film. And I’ll tell you the rest of that story about Baker. Our cook was maybe the best cook in the navy and he got his training in the penitentiary at Kingston. Had the best bread I think in the Canadian Navy, made his own.

But there was a little side room off the galley and that’s where he used to put his bread to rest and rise. So at night the engineer officer, you know, they’ve got to check all the compartments. The cook stayed there and he wouldn’t let him in. He says, no, you’ll ruin my bread if you disturb it. So he didn’t. But inside, Baker was developing film. Who says you can’t have fun.

Our next stop was not Reykjavik but Iceland. Then that was it till Polyarnyy [naval base], which was the oiling, refueling station for us at Murmansk. So we refueled and then take off from there. And eventually, we head back. And on the way out of the— well, I’d call it a fjord— here there was an English, …next size up from the corvette, was torpedoed and burning. So we were the closest, so we got a signal to give them five minutes to disembark, and sink it with our guns, which happened pretty promptly. So we got the fire out and proceeded without incident back to Scotland.

But on the way, going around the north coast of Norway— like you’re in the Arctic Circle, north of 66 [degrees latitude]— there was about three days there where somewhere along the convoy, somebody was dropping depth charges. The sound underwater travels for miles I guess. That’s where sonar comes in. So if you’re down below, you can hear these depth charges going off, you don’t know where. Germans also had a little air force base near the northern tip. They had reconnaissance planes going out. They didn’t come out too often because we fired at them. It was 30 days from when we left Glasgow until we got back. And the other funny part of it was we had picked up a merchant ship in Liverpool to join the convoy, and one of our fellows had a pass that expired at midnight; he didn’t make it back until about 7:30 in the morning. So he got 30 days confined to ship. Well, when we got back, he said, boy, I got a lovely crew. Here I am, confined to ship for 30 days and everybody stayed with me.

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