HMCS Naden, April 1938. Archie Byatt in the front row, second in from the left. Archie Byatt held the rank of Boy Seaman at the age of 17 years oldArchie Byatt
HMCS Napanee's ship crestArchie Byatt
Archie Byatt's war medalsArchie Byatt
Times Colonist newspaper on Archie Byatt's recollection of convoy ONS 154Archie Byatt
Archie Byatt's Paybook.
"I joined because my father said it would be good for you and I began to realize that I couldn’t stay at home, eating the food off my father and mother’s table forever."
Well, when I first joined up, I was terrified. I was really terrified that I had to be away from my home, my sheets on my bed, a tablecloth on the table and thrust into a barracks with wooden benches and lockers and hard floors and I was terrified, I was. And it took me a long time to get over that. But I did. That’s what made me grow up, the Navy made me go from a boy into a man, even though I was a Boy Seaman. But I learned the facts of life in there, I tell you.
I joined because my father said it would be good for you and I began to realize that I couldn’t stay at home, eating the food off my father and mother’s table forever. So I said, something’s got to happen, so I took the chance and went.
Oiling at sea, we had to take oil at sea, pick up survivors. Oh God, it was only a life for a young guy. An older person couldn’t deal with it. And I was lucky I joined during the peace time so I could get used to the sea and get over, although I was seasick for two years, every day, and that was hard on me.
[While in England] We lived in Anderson shelters, underground shelters. I remember going from Portsmouth to London and down in the underground, people had their bedding. They lived down there every night. And it was just, well, you just lived, you went to work and worked with the bombs falling around you and that was the way it was. And you had to do it.
And we always carried a gas mask and tin helmet, because you know, the anti-aircraft guns would be firing and you know, these bits and pieces of shells was coming down, raining all over the road. And every morning you got up and you went out and picked all the bits and pieces up in a paper bag and took them down to the city hall, we called it the Guild Hall. And that was sent back to the factory to be melted down to be made into shells.
So I laid down there for three days until I got out and asked permission to go ashore to see if my relatives who lived in Portsmouth were still alive. And the place was all big piles of rubble and rubbish and I walked down the street where my relative lives and the paint factory was blown up. My barbershop, the chair was hanging on part of the floor because it had been bombed and the scissors was still on the wall. I always remember that. And where my auntie and my cousins live, their house was okay until 1941, it got blown up with a land mine they dropped on the house and blew it all up. And I had gone by then.
Oh, we picked survivors up out of that water. Oh gosh, we got picked up some Laskers from India on one occasion and we had to oil at sea and the poor old Laskers were holding onto the rope that was holding the hose. And of course, the ships would yaw apart and then they’d have to let go and they’d get their hands burnt, oh God, those guys, it was awful. I felt sorry for them.
And then when we got into that battle out in the Atlantic, we had two Dutch officers in our mess and we used to play them bridge on the way back after the battle. And we never won a game against those guys, they were real good bridge players. And when we got into Newfoundland with them, they brought two bottles of liquor to thank us for what we had done for them.
The one that stands out the most was a battle of the convoys and the awful hell on the North Atlantic. The rude awakening I guess going down that coast and around to Halifax and going out in the North Atlantic, that was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had. Because I was homesick and away from my Mom and Dad and boy, did I ever miss them, I tell you.
After that, I got hardened to it, I got over my seasickness and wherever I was, that turned out to be my home, wherever I was. I would write to my Mom and Dad but we couldn’t write much because we were censored. And all your envelopes were opened up and censored. So if you sent anything, they threw it away.
The [H.M.C.S.] Napanee was my favourite ship, because I met my wife when I was a crew member on the Napanee and that sort of thing. And some of the battles we got into.