Photograph of Mr. Gautreu in civilian clothing.Joseph Charles Edward Gautreau
Mr. Gautreau and two friends enjoying a cigar on shore.Joseph Charles Edward Gautreau
"The petty officer said, we’ve been torpedoed. And of course, he knew that’s what happened and we went on our wireless radio and put out the word, the Hamstrong torpedoed, Hamstrong torpedoed."
To tell you the truth, I had only casually mentioned it to her [Mr. Gautreau’s Mother], that I was coming up of age and no doubt, I would be called up in the army and the last place I wanted to go was in the army. When I saw the army, the first thing that came to mind was trenches. And I would have rather joined the navy.
Most, well, I could say maybe all of the instructors were British, they were all from England. Most of them were up in rank, they were maybe equivalent to maybe a corporal or a sergeant [Able Seaman]. And they taught telegraphy. And the course lasted nine months. And they had it well thought out. Of course, they had trained so many that they knew just how long it would take to reach the 22 words a minute. And sure enough, it took nine months and I left there and went to Halifax, was where the dispatching of crews was done.
Then we went on trials again, on sea trials, and finally the Captain accepted the ship as it was. We set sail in I think it was in the month of May of 1944. And we set sail along the west coast of the United States and went through the Panama Canal. and come out and through Cuba and Dominican Republic, we come up through the Caribbean Sea and the Captain was curious. The name of the ship by the way was HMCS Chebogue, from Halifax. Being a green ship, a new ship, with a new crew, some of the sailors that were aboard, some of the crew had been to sea before but very few. I’d say that at least maybe 80 percent of the crew were as green as I was. They had never been to sea and what they did, they sent us down to Bermuda. Bermuda was a place that ships like ours were sent to on trials. We used to go on trials during the daytime, go out to sea and try to find mock submarines. They had submarines there, friendly submarines of course, and they would be underwater and it was up to us to try to detect them with radar.
There was a war on between the German submarines, they used to travel in packs of four, six and eight of them in groups, we called them packs. And they’d wait until it was fairly dark or starting to get dark before they’d attack the convoys. And the day that we were torpedoed [4 October 1944 near the Azores] , we were the senior ship, we had the highest ranking naval officer aboard and that’s how you were classified.
Being at action stations at the time, a lot of the crew were on the rear end of the ship getting ready to drop depth charges and that’s where most of the crew were killed, were on the rear end of the ship. At the time, I was one of the fortunate ones. I was in what they called the wireless cabin. When the torpedo hit the ass end of the ship [stern], it didn’t sound like, of course, I had never experienced a torpedo hitting the ship before, I had no idea what it sounded like but it certainly didn’t sound as if we had been torpedoed. The ship rocked from side to side, to a certain extent. But it didn’t create a noise like I thought it would create.
But I knew that something was wrong so the petty officer said, we’ve been torpedoed. And of course, he knew that’s what happened and we went on our wireless radio and put out the word, the Hamstrong torpedoed, Hamstrong torpedoed.