Veteran Stories:
Ken Raymond “Fritz; Curly” Luttrell

Merchant Navy

  • Record of Service in Merchant Navy, 1995.
    Merchant Navy worked under Department of Transport Canada.

    Ken Luttrell
  • Ken Luttrell's medals, from left to right: Atlantic Star, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal 1939-1945, Special Service Medal (NATO), Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, United Nations Forces in Cyprus Medal, Canadian Centennial Medal, Canadian Forces Decoration

    Ken Luttrell
  • Ken Luttrell, November 2009.

    Historica Canada
  • Certificate of Ken Luttrell who crossed the Arctic Circle.

    Ken Luttrell
  • Ken Luttrell, 16 years old 1/2, on the ship SS Hastings.

    Ken Luttrell
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"And our gun malfunctioned and it went off its elevating wheel, or off its elevating cogs. And the gun was stuck in an upright position with a live round up the breech."

Transcript

I had left school when I was 14 years of age and was working in a steel company, Canada Steelworks, as a welder making defensive guards for Bren gun carriers. And I kept watching the news and pining to get into action and kept waiting until I could get a little older and a little more training in the Sea Cadets and then I decided to leave home and join the merchant navy because I got a little bit disturbed with not being able to get into the excitement of being in the service. As well as one of my duties - even though I was working - was to clean up the backyard on Saturdays and this was at my parents’ home.

I had ambitions to join the regular navy but I was underage and I was told if I got myself approximately six months of sea time, I could possibly be taken on as a young sailor in the navy. Which turned out to be untrue because they still said that I was too young. And so I did my time on a merchant ship, I spent a year on the [SS] Hastings. I mustered out off the Hastings after the surrender of Japan and back to civilian life.

Yeah, the live fire gun drills with the deck gun that we had was - it was an open shield deck gun - and in firing that gun, I was employed as a layer. You had to get a sense of the rise and fall of the ship as it was going through the water. And when you lay the sights on the target, you had to calculate the, the actual downward turn and the upward turn as you fired. And what we did was we fired at old fish barrels that were tied together and we would drop the fish barrels off the ship and let them float away for maybe an eighth of a mile or a quarter of a mile and then fire on it. And see whether our aim was effective. And so that was a bit of interesting excitement on the gun drills.

The only thing that is humorous about this is the fact that our ship traveled so slow that when you went to fire the gun, you had to undo all the lightbulbs on the stern of the ship or in any area around where the vibration of a gun going off would be. And that’s to save the lightbulbs from blowing out. But also, I swear to God that the ship would almost stop as the gun fired because of the recoil. But it was rather interesting and at that young age, it was quite an experience for me.

The ammunition we had, HE [High Explosive] and armour piercing, and this was as I say, 3.7 rounds and they had to be handled very very carefully, as with any ammunition such as that. The only problem we had one time is we, we loaded the gun and went up to high elevation with the gun to increase the range. And our gun malfunctioned and it went off its elevating wheel, or off its elevating cogs. And the gun was stuck in an upright position with a live round up the breech. And that’s the way we sailed into St. John’s harbour, with our gun sitting up in the air with a live round in the breech. If it went off, the round would go straight up in the air but you couldn’t get a recoil back because it would hit the deck, the way this gun was situated.

But the only unfortunate thing is that we were unable to put what they call a muzzle guard overtop of the muzzle to stop rainwater and seawater from getting in, so when we got into harbour, the round that was in the barrel, it was all sort of corroded with the green corrosion from sitting in saltwater.

In the area of St. Pierre and Miquelon island, three American Canso flying boats came across our ship. We traveled unescorted. We were a lone ship traveling in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. And the reason why they were curious as to our intent is the fact that we had just had our “Red Duster” they call it, the Red Duster [Red Ensign] on the stern of the ship, it had been washed by one of our deck hands and he used caustic soda to wash it. And it turned it into just a red rag and no identification on the flag.

So we were going along un-flagged with no identification. And the other fact is that when the flying boats came in to investigate us, they asked us to give an international code as to our identity and we were unable to do that because we had been painting the code locker and the code flags were all laid out on the deck. And in the scramble, they got all mixed up and so this alerted the, the aircraft to come in closer and the blisters on the side of the ship opened up the aircraft and they were armed with 50 calibre machine guns and we thought we were going to be blasted out of the water. But the Captain managed to get an identifying signal onto a halyard and up it went and the aircraft waved their wings and flew away.

I was up on a boson’s chair on a No. 1 mast, chipping paint. And I had no choice but to stay up there while they came in close and just hope and pray that we didn’t get sprayed with machine gun fire. The other challenge was a challenge by coming in off the coast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Again, because of our difficulty in signaling, we had a wireless operator who was not conversant with what they call the Aldis lamp. That’s the lamp that flashes and gives signals to the shore. And since we didn’t respond to that signal, they sent out a navy Corvette and put a boarding party aboard us to escort us into the harbour.

And so that again was scary also because we were suspected to be what they call a Q ship. A Q ship was a supply ship that the Germans had operating in the area sometimes and so we were sort of a, a ship under suspect. And so the navy came out to escort us in.

I stayed on the ship until after Japan had surrendered. And then we moved into, back up into upper lake area. First off, we removed our Carley floats off, that’s the life floats that were on the ship, and we dropped those at Sorel, Quebec, because the war had ended and now all of the armaments were being taken off the ships and the ammunition. And so we unloaded our ammunition and the gun was dismounted off the ship in Sorel and the ammunition was recovered and we then moved into the upper lake area and did other duties such as Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes in the grain business, moving grain. And that was a big issue at that time because a lot of grain was being moved back down to Montreal to send over to Europe for the starving people in Europe.

VE-Day was a great celebration. You know, the, the war had ended in Europe and there were celebration in the streets of St. John’s, Newfoundland at the time and as of course, a lot of carousing and heavy drinking and [re]joice. And the only thing that happened to me on that ship that day is that we were getting prepared to go out of port and it was my job to ensure that the ship was ready and my deck hands unfortunately got all excited and started throwing the debris that we normally took out of the cargo holds up onto the deck of the ship. And usually when you got out to sea, you jettisoned that at sea. But they dumped it all over the side, right in the harbour and it all floated around in the harbour. And it clogged up some of the navy water systems.

I, of course, went and had a drink and with the men and the Captain of the ship, brought down a grog of rum that was issued to the ship in the event that the war ended. And everyone had a round of rum and sort of a pat on the back and it, the war was now over. And the only thing I was thinking then at that time, my brother, who was overseas at the time, that he would be returning back to Canada. He returned in time to get reorganized and ready to go to the war in the Pacific. There was a special force being formed to go for Pacific duties but the war ended in August before he managed to get out to the West Coast to go.

I saw him after he- he was home I guess about six months before I got home. And so I saw him six months after. I can always remember though that they used to have, when the troops came home, they would have a big sign up in front of the homes, welcome home Joe or welcome home Bill. Those signs were still on a lot of homes when I came home.

There was I guess a little bit of strangeness because they figured, oh, you think you’re all grown up now, you’ve been away at war. But no, they were quite amiable and quite happy.

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