Veteran Stories:
Ray Phillips

Navy

  • A photograph of HMS Southampton, on which Ray Phillips served as a midshipman from 1939 to 1941 when it was sunk in the Mediterranean.

    Ray Phillips
  • A photograph of Lieutenant Ray Phillips taken in Ottawa in 1944.

    Ray Phillips
  • A photograph of HMCS St. Laurent taken in 1942.

    Ray Phillips
  • HMCS Haida, a Tribal-class destroyer serving in the Royal Canadian Navy. This photograph was taken in 1945.

    Ray Phillips
  • Ray Phillips attending the Memory Project event at the Perley Rideau Veteran Health Centre in Ottawa on June 9th, 2011.

    Historica Canada
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"There was a second day in the Mediterranean, they were operating from Sicily [Italy], they were deadly and they were tiresome and they were unfriendly. And they put four bombs down the centre line of the ship and killed about 22 of 44 officers and some couple of hundred sailors out of about 600 total."

Transcript

My father was a Chief Engineer of the Royal Canadian Navy between I guess 1921 or 1922 and 1933. His appointment was commanding the dockyard in Esquimalt, British Columbia and I was a teenager. I decided then, at about age 12, that I wanted to join the navy and I acted accordingly. And on the first of January [1939], sailed for Britain as a naval cadet.

The first three months in Britain was in a ship which was anchored, both ends, and didn’t go very far, very fast. The second three months, traveled around the United Kingdom and the [English] Channel as a cadet trainer. The third three months was supposed to be up the Baltic but the war came instead, so we were mobilized into the fleet on the first of September of 1939 [to HMS Southampton].

I guess a couple of days later, the voice, what the British called the Tannoy, which was a loudspeaker system, recorded for the ship’s company the fact that Mr. Hitler had not replied to the ultimatum [demanding the withdrawal of German troops from Poland] and therefore, at 11:00, a state of war existed between Britain and Germany.

Up until that time, from September 1939 to January 1941, we had been the first to go into Norway where we had taken the Scotts Guards [a British regiment] into Tromsø or the Lofoten Islands just north of Narvik. We were in the second or third battle at Narvik and as you know, we got kicked out of Norway in April of 1940. And it was decided that we, [the British light cruiser] HMS Southampton, should go to the Far East and defend Singapore. I’m glad we didn’t as a matter of fact. But we were on our way there in December of 1940 when we got diverted to Mombasa [Kenya] and picked up some diplomats to return them to Britain. We got back into the Mediterranean to go onto Singapore and we got diverted into a Malta convoy. And on returning from that, to Alexandria [Egypt], which was our base, the ship was sunk by JU 87 bombers, which were the dive bombers Hitler used at the beginning of the war. There was a second day in the Mediterranean, they were operating from Sicily [Italy]. They were deadly and they were tiresome and they were unfriendly. And they put four bombs down the centre line of the ship and killed about 22 of 44 officers and some couple of hundred sailors out of about 600 total.

They didn’t penetrate the hull because of the armoured deck I think but they started fires throughout and the fires got out of control, there was no way the fires could be extinguished and the ship was torpedoed by friendly forces [to prevent its capture] and sank between Malta and Crete on January the 11th [1941].

And it is November [1941], I joined HMCS St. Laurent, which was working the Londonderry/Newfoundland convoy system. The highlight of that particular year and a half was ONS154 and its disasters. ONS, standing for outward, that’s outward from UK, outward northerly and slow, ONS, outward north slow 154, left Derry in late December of 1942 and was picked up by the wolf pack [a group of German submarines operating together] and the [British] admiralty which knew that we were short one destroyer, but couldn’t do anything about it presumably, they kept moving the convoy south, south all the time, which took it further and further and further from land base air. And in effect, the convoy got beaten up seriously and after that, times were changed, aircraft carriers or others joined the convoys, submarines were put down and that was the bottom of the Battle of the Atlantic.

We commissioned HMCS Haida in August of 1943 and did a run to Murmansk [Russia], actually did two I think, and on the second one, the [German battleship] Scharnhorst was sunk by the battleships of the Home Fleet. We were with that convoy and could see the flashes, could hear the banging and we were all set to get on with it but nobody put us to it.

On one of our Russian convoys with [Commander Harry] DeWolf, either first or second one, we had been asked by some zookeeper in the Orkneys [the Orkney Islands are a series of islands off the north coast of Scotland] to get a mate for his deer, so we found somebody came and produced a deer and handed it to us. It didn’t survive, it got to the Orkneys but it didn’t like the change of the environment. Carrying one back from Murmansk was really something different.

But by this time, the war is running out and we didn’t really do much except on VE Day [May 8th, 1945], the day after, we went over to Trondheim [Norway] and we were welcomed by the Norwegians. And we came back to Canada and everybody went on holiday and that was my war.

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