"He hit the edge of the desk and off it went. And the room filled instantly with smoke."
My father fought in World War I. It was almost a family necessity. Seriously, it was. My father would have been disappointed if I hadn’t have [enlisted]; and I think my mother would have too, despite the fact she didn’t exactly relish it.
We were well aware of it. We were well aware of the Holocaust. People say we didn’t know; we did know. We may not have known the full extent, no we didn’t, but we sure knew that there were concentration camps; we knew that Jews were being abused and killed. So I went in from two angles. I went in partially from that and partially from the fact, as I say, family tradition almost.
I was accepted [into the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve] primarily because I had trade experience. I had worked as an apprentice, as a tool and die maker. I had gone to Central Technical School [in Toronto, Ontario] instead of high school; and they were desperate for tradesmen. It got me a stoker one [First Class] rating instead of stoker two [Second Class]. And second of all, it got me into a course for an ERA, Engine Room Artificer.
We were in a classroom and at the front of the classroom here, the exit right there, and we’re all down there. And what happened was, this chap was demonstrating how to set depth charges [anti-submarine weapons] and he had the, I forget what you call it, the thing that starts it off, but it’s a small explosion that sets the bigger one off, okay? And he had this thing up and he’s demonstrating it; and he swung like this and when you want to set it off, you go like this. He hit the edge of the desk and off it went. And the room filled instantly with smoke. I happened to be sitting in the front row there. I got out the door. Other people couldn’t. They were breaking windows and climbing out the windows; and breaking windows to let fresh air in, of course, but also to climb out of. In Halifax [Nova Scotia]… that instructor was demoted on the spot, needless to say.
While in Calgary [Alberta], I had developed a rash on my legs and when I reported to the medical officer, they treated it as athlete’s foot. It was the ankles and foot; and it never really got better. I got down to Halifax after I graduated and as I said, they had found out I was underage, that was when that came up, and it started to go up, all up my leg and up here, and my leg was swollen pretty bad. The doctor put me in the hospital in Halifax. And maybe it’s different to the other services in that you’re allowed to, you have to buy your own uniforms. I don’t know if you know, they give you your first issue. They give you a clothing allowance and you buy your own uniforms. And most of us went out and bought ourselves a beautiful officer’s serge version of a uniform for dress, where you couldn’t wear it on barracks, but they permitted it for dress wear.
I had been wearing that because the other bothered me, the regular issue bothered me, and I got picked up on inspection one day: what are you doing wearing that, needless to say. And the doctor, oh, first, before that, I had been in the hospital a short while and the doctor said that if I wore that uniform, I was okay. If I wore the regular issue, that was the problem. I was allergic to it, okay? So I’m on inspection and out. And when I showed the officer my letter from the MO [medical officer], giving me permission, he made the statement to me: nobody can, how was he putting that? Let me think about it. Nobody can tell me that you can wear that material and not the other material, you’re going down. So I immediately headed for the doctor and he put me back in the hospital where they couldn’t touch me. And the two argued over me for a couple months, while I sat in the hospital. And finally the doctor said, well, if you won’t relent, I’m discharging him medically and I was discharged.
I was really angry because I didn’t want out. I really wanted … And I was just at the stage where I was ready to go to be assigned to a ship, which was my ambition. So obviously I was very disappointed.
In the service, you run across a wide variety of people, some of whom you would never dream of associating with in normal life and it was real education, it taught me a lot. It helped me in my whole future in dealing with people because, you know, I’d be supervising a couple hundred people on a production line as an engineer. I went back to school after, the government paid for my, the DVA [Department of Veterans Affairs] paid for me to go back to school. And you know, it came in handy. It was a real eye opener experience and I got a lot done.
Sure, we had a lot of fun. I’ll say this about the navy, the guys stick together, more than any other service. There’s a comradeship that is just unbelievable.