"My true account of this was completely different than what appeared in the Star…"
My name is Bill Tom. I was an Able Seaman on the minesweeper [HMCS] Lockeport, that served in World War II.
One of my experiences was involved with a headline that appeared in the Toronto Daily Star on Wednesday, May 3rd, 1944. The headline was "Hammocks for Sails: Canadians Bring Sweeper Home." And then there was a sub-headline, "Engines are dead but Canadian sails sweep her in."
My true account of this was completely different than what appeared in the Star. We actually sailed from Halifax in the spring of '44 under normal seas for that time of year. And about 250 miles off New York, our fan engines broke down and, as a result, we were unable to operate the main engines, and so our ship lost power and so there was considerable apprehension, of course, because we had no power and we wouldn't be able to defend ourselves against any enemy submarines that were in that area. So, the weather started to get a bit rough and to compensate for this, we tied together some canvas and some wood and bits of odds and ends, bound them together with rope and threw them over the stern of the ship and tied them to the stern. This acted as, what they call, a sea anchor to keep the bow of the ship heading into the wind. We also took the sail out of the lifeboat and attached it to the rear mast of the ship. And, again, the function of this was to keep the bow into the wind.
Another problem that we did have was that, when we sailed for Philadelphia and we were actually going to Philadelphia and then up into the Port of Baltimore for a refit, which is like a major overhaul of a car, generally with a ship it took about two months. So it was a three-day trip and, because we were going to be stationed in a foreign port, the orders were to take all the food off the ship, leaving us enough for the three-day trip. Unfortunately, when our engines broke down, it was obvious that we were going to be at sea for longer than a three-day trip. So, rather quickly, we ran out of food. This created a bit of a problem. And also because we couldn't operate the fan engines, we were unable to make fresh water from sea water. And so there was a... a lack of water, also, on the ship.
It took us to the tenth day into the trip before we were picked up by a Coast Guard tugboat. Again, this was a bit of a problem because the sea was getting a bit heavy and it took us three attempts to get the towrope fixed to the tug.
One of the things that we did have, and it was sort of a celebration, was that they did bring us in a very large container of stewed tomatoes. Ordinarily this would not be excellent fare, but when we hadn't had too much to eat, only hardtack and water, this was almost like having a Christmas dinner. Hardtack is about a three-inch diameter hard biscuit. And when I say hard, it's... it is quite hard. So, when we got towed into Philadelphia there was a tender that came out from shore and brought us out some crates of fresh bread and some pounds of butter. So we all sat around the mess eating fresh bread and butter.
When we got back to Halifax, they asked us one day to take our hammocks up to the foc'sle of the ship on the deck and to sew them together and then we hoisted them up onto the yardarm of the main mast and steamed out into the harbour of Halifax. None of us knew, really, what was going on. We noticed that there was a couple of tenders cruising alongside us and people taking pictures of us as we were going along with this rather large sail attached to our yardarm. A few weeks later I got a letter from my dad admonishing me for not informing him of this horrendous experience we had. He sent me a copy of the... The Star describing how we had sewn our hammocks together and sailed the ship into port. The next time I was home on leave I was able to inform my dad that this was all a PR stunt on the part of the Navy. That the only time we ever sewed the hammocks together was when we were in the Port Halifax.