Veteran Stories:
Wilf Henry Digby

Navy

  • Wilf Digby (right) with Chief Petty Officer Roberts (left) onboard the HMCS Arnprior in the North Atlantic, January 1945.

    Wilf Digby
  • Wilf Digby served onboard the HMCS Grou (pictured here) at the end of the war in September 1945.

    Wilf Digby
  • Wilf Digby is pictured here in Copper Cliff, Ontario at the end of the war after receiving his discharge papers in December 1945.

    Wilf Digby
  • Wilf Digby (2nd from left, front row) with fellow sailors onboard the HMCS Grou, Esquimalt, British Columbia in November 1945. In order to promote the 9th Victory Loan Drive, the HMCS Grou conducted a tour of villages along the west coast of British Columbia from Esquimalt to Prince Rupert.

    Wilf Digby
  • Pictured here is a page from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) Commandments that Wilf Digby picked up in his early days with the navy, 1943.

    Wilf Digby
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"And it was up to the captain of that ship to designate where we were going north, south, east, west, you know, and travelling at what speeds we could make. But it was basically to keep the submarines away from the convoy."

Transcript

I had requested – they were posted on the bulletin board – three drafts: one overseas, one to the west coast and one to the [United] States. And I really put in for all three of them, hoping to get one, and I got the one based or posted to Boston [Massachusetts], to pick up a new ship that was being built in the Boston Shipyards. And I went down there prior to Christmas and spent Christmas there. And the ship was built and completed by the end of January. And the crew were gathered basically from all the Canadian service and sent down and we lived in the Boston Naval Barracks. And then when the ship was completed, we were posted and drafted right to the ship and we sailed, basically, it was an American-built ship that was built for the British [Royal] Navy, and we sailed it over and turned it over to the British Navy in Bristol, England. And then I was drafted up to the Canadian naval base, [HMCS] Niobe, in Scotland and stayed there for a while, played hockey with the Canadian naval team until I was, picked up the ship because it was being built in Belfast [Northern Ireland]. So I was drafted up to Belfast and lived there with an Irish family that had two children. And lo and behold, their names were Eaton and they were related to, distant relatives to the T. Eaton Company in Canada. And I stayed there for quite some time and when the ship was built, well, we sailed it out for workups and then posted to the North Atlantic and started from Londonderry [Northern Ireland] and shipped across to Canada [St. John’s, Newfoundland, on the Newfie-Derry Run] and back and forth for the next couple of years. Started out in the engine room and the first ship was the K 494. It was not named at that time, it was just a number, the ship that was being built and posted and sent to the Royal Navy. And the next ship that I sailed on out of Londonderry was the HMCS Arnprior [a Royal Canadian Navy Castle Class Corvette]. And I stayed on it for quite some time and then when the V-E Day [the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945] was declared I was, fortunately or unfortunately, our first trip to Canada was the day that all the riots took place in Halifax [Nova Scotia]. And we were there for less than 24 hours and we were shipped back out to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and I received leave from there from my first leave to Canada since joining; I came back home in August of 1945. Well, we were basically protecting the large supply ships that were travelling from North America over to the, most of them went right into the British Isles into Bristol and into Londonderry and then shipped down. We brought them right to the shoreline and then they went in. The idea of the North Atlantic I think was to protect the ships as well as possible and keep them moving and look out for submarines. But the speed of the convoy was basically the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy. But we had reports where the submarines were and where they had been last seen and we zig-zagged and the course that was laid out, it was laid out by the head of the convoy. And it was up to the captain of that ship to designate where we were going north, south, east, west, you know, and travelling at what speeds we could make. But it was basically to keep the submarines away from the convoy. The worst place that we ran into in all the travel that we did was the Irish Sea. And it was close to the mainland, but it was shallow. And the submarines would stay and get in the middle of the convoy and wreak havoc to them and you couldn’t get in and, you know, it was very difficult for the escort ships to do much because they stayed right in the middle of the convoy and got underneath and did their work and then scooted out and got rid of the, most of the submarines could travel on surface equally as fast as some of the Castle Class corvettes that I travelled in on the surface. The speed was such that you couldn’t catch them if they got on surface and got away from you. But that was the spot that was basically the [most] dangerous. You had to go through the Irish Sea to get there and they knew that and they waited for you.
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