Veteran Stories:
Peter Godwin Chance

Navy

  • HMCS Cayuga leaving for Korea from Esquimalt, British Columbia, June 1951.

    Peter Chance
  • HMCS Cayuga, ship's company. Peter Chance is seated in the front row, fifth from the left.

    Peter Chance
  • After Joseph Cyr's impersonation attempt was discovered, this picture was taken as a joke and sent to Naval Service Headquarters in Canada. The bearded man is pretending to be the new ship's doctor (he is actually a stoker), and is reporting to Lt. John Waters. The photo was taken in February 1952.

    Peter Chance
  • HMCS Cayuga ship's badge from the 1979 Reunion in Esquimalt, British Columbia.

    Peter Chance
  • A photo taken from Peter Chance's autobiography, A Sailor's Life, 1920-2001.

    Peter Chance
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"Everything went fine to start with and then as these people came off, they were not doing too well some of them, they were wounded and a couple DOAs but our doctor, Joe Cyr, was the hero."

Transcript

I had a badly infected left toe, main, number one. And which I had, I regret to say, had gone bad. And he [friend Charles Dylan] said, “Oh no no, don’t you do that. Why don’t you go down to your ship [HMCS Cayuga], your doctor’s [Joseph Cyr] arrived, he’s an American, you know.” And I said, “Oh well, okay.” So down we went and he [Dr. Cyr] was very affable, nice guy and he said, “Well, look, it’s 5:00, what the hell, why bother now, why don’t you come down at 8:00 tomorrow morning and we’ll do it.” And which I did. And it was a success. And great success and complete with a scalpel and all the rest of those things. And by the time the ship got to Hawaii, I was able to throw away the crutches. So there was a bond between the doctor and yours truly straightaway.

The old man [HMCS Cayuga’s commander, J. Plomer] developed a tremendously inflamed molar. And we were miles from a dentist, so something had to be done. And so Joe was sent for and I was there. Joe said, “Well, let’s have a look,” so he did and he said, “I have to tell you, doctor, captain, we didn’t get much dentistry in med school but I’ve got the books. And we’re going to do it.” And he [the captain] says, “Okay.” So a few hours later, Joe emerged in the captain’s day cabin which also could be rigged as a hospital with the ring of lights above and all that sort of good stuff. And there he was with the table and he had spanners, tiny ones to huge ones. He went in with his hypodermic needle and he did it and he got the right tooth and there was no septicemia and the swelling went down and everything was just great. And of course, there was huge praise for our doctor again.

On one occasion, we had quite a show off the Haeju Estuary [large estuary on the west side of the peninsula, close to the 38th parallel], which was a little south of where we normally operated. And this was in support of a guerilla operation mounted by what we call the ROK, the Republic of Korea troops. It was our duty to lay in enfilading fire ahead of them as they landed and again, in support to them as they came off a few hours later. Our ship just lay in the tidal stream and kept our head you know, that’s the ship pointing in the right direction. Just generally waited our time.

Everything went fine to start with and then as these people [Republic of Korea soldiers] came off, they were not doing too well some of them, they were wounded and a couple DOAs but our doctor, Joe Cyr, was the hero. And he was parading up and down the upper deck with his whites and his hat and doing this patchwork and so on and for which we were all highly impressed.

Because after that Haeju Estuary process, action, we in the wardroom were so impressed with Joe, we got a hold of our PR guy by the name of Jenkins to say, “Look, we’ve got to get Joe a medal, this is terrific.” Out on the wires of AP [Associated Press], CP [Canadian Press] and every other mother son, Reuters included, the citation proposal for Joe Cyr. We were up on this night bombardment when from the communications office and our communicator, Johnnie Waters, came to me and said, “Hey, we’ve got a really hot one here.” He said, “Oh yeah, well, you’d better show the captain.” So we did. And [the message said], “The captain’s eyes only, have reason to believe your medical officer is an imposter. Investigate and report.” Well, we said, “Those crazy armchair buggers back in Ottawa, they haven’t got a bloody clue.”

And of course, the real doctor Joseph Cyr in New Brunswick stood up to say, “Hey, that’s me.” And then he reported this to Ottawa and hence, the message to the ship saying, “Your doctor, we figured out is an imposter.” Well, Joe was sent for and he blew up. He said, “Oh, nobody trusts me,” and so on and so on. Well, we said, “Don’t be ridiculous, of course we trust you, Joe.” Anyway, he went off in a sulk and he locked himself in his cabin and he tried to write himself off with barbiturates. And that didn’t work. And eventually, we managed to get him up on deck and we had called our chummy ship, the Ceylon over, she was an RN [Royal Navy] cruiser. He [Joseph Cyr] said to us, a guy named Don Saxon and myself, “You know fellows, I just had hoped that we could have gone back to Esquimalt [HMCS Cayuga’s home port] and then I just would have left and that would be it.” Well, he was escorted back by the father of a guy who’s name was Little. At Christmastime, we had a Life magazine, a huge tabloid thing, and there was a great article in there, complete with our Christmas card with all the signatures of the officers of the wardroom.

In 1979, we had a reunion here in Esquimalt and guess who appeared? The Reverend Joseph Ferdinand Joseph Demara [Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr.], his real name. Resident chaplain of the Anaheim Hospital, Anaheim, California. And he blew in and we accepted him of course; “Joe Cyr, geez, this is beautiful.” Anyway, he only lasted another year, he died [Demara died 7 June 1982].

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