"The big time was down the Mediterranean, that was very, very scary and exciting at the same time."
My name is John W. Potter. I was born in Toronto on Bellhaven Road, 1922. Well, the [HMCS] Regina was my first ship and I developed a love for it I think. The skipper of the Regina was a marvelous, marvelous man, Lieutenant-Commander Freeland. And he was, oh, the fellows would have gone anywhere with him. You more or less learnt on the job. None of the officers were, they were just brand spanking new, they never seen the ocean before in their life and maybe we had, I think we had two officers that were, had been to sea before and that was the skipper and a navigator. And that was it. All the rest were brand new, out of the officer’s school. And the same with the, all those recruits. You know, we were just green as grass.
Not everybody was brand new. I’m sorry about that but fellows that had been moved from other ships to help train us and so on. And also, there were some RCN [Royal Canadian Navy] people. The coxswain was RCN and so on. And there was a few RCN people that were aboard with us. And they were more or less to help train us as we went. But you can imagine our first trip out, darned near everybody and his brother was all seasick, a terrible terrible trip going to Saint Margaret Bay. And we were starting out on what we called the Triangle Run. And that was Newfoundland. We’d go down to New York, Fall River, Boston, etc. But we never went in. At first, we never went into port. We lost one ship off Boston, the [USS] Alexander Macomb. And that was the first ship we ever saw sunk. And that was torpedoed. All of a sudden, boom, up she went. So we, we got alongside and took a whole bunch of survivors off her. That was very, stuck in my mind, I’ll tell you.
The big time was down the Mediterranean, that was very, very scary and exciting at the same time. The [Italian submarine] Avorio, yeah, we brought her to the surface. So we had a boarding party and I was on the boarding party with about two other fellows and I was sent down into the submarine to get all the books that came. Didn’t even give me a suitcase or anything to, or a bag to put the stuff in. And I remember … Anyway, to make a long story short, I don’t know whether I got hydrophobia or whatever they call it [claustrophobia], you know, being in a chamber alone. And anyway, I grabbed what I could. There was I would say eight or ten guys, 12 guys on the boarding party, I don’t know. Well, there was fellas wounded and so on but. Anyway, and it was taking on water, you know, it was sinking. And anyway, I wanted to get the hell out of there in a hurry. So I did. I put all the stuff I had into the boat
The officers told me, get the hell out of there and go back to the ship and, which I did. And then the ship, the submarine went down and a lot of our fellows were still aboard her and they had to go for a swim, so.