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Well, the activity around St. John’s [Newfoundland], I lived on the outskirts of St. Johns and the activity around and everywhere you went in St. John’s, you were bumping into uniforms. And the military, the army were parading back and forth. In the daytime, during the days, you’d see especially the Canadian armed forces or the Canadian army and they’d be parading around. And the harbour was full of ships, blocked with ships. And of course, I had never seen so many ships in the harbour before. And so I decided I wanted to do something.
Doing convoy duty alone, it’s pretty hazardous work, especially on the northwest Atlantic. We have had one of the worst climates in the world I suppose and year-round, the environmental conditions can be hazardous, even in the summer when you have black thick fog and you operate in a convoy with probably sometimes, if you’re on an ocean convoy, 30 or 40 ships and trying to keep them apart and not having collisions was quite a problem. Especially in restricted visibility or foggy weather, when sometimes probably you can only see a couple hundred feet. And that happens quite often in the summer, on the coast of Newfoundland and the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
We did come across a lifeboat one time and we put a crew out in the lifeboat to go aboard there and they were dead, three or four men in the lifeboat dead. So we couldn’t stop too long, you wouldn’t stop long anyway in case there was a sub around, so we didn’t stop, we just went on to make sure they were dead. We never took no bodies.
I remember one time in particular, there was three or four ships torpedoed one time right off Halifax Harbour and we came in. But they were torpedoed the day before I think and we came in and went through the wreckage, seven or eight miles off Halifax Harbour. And seeing that wreckage there, that stands out in my memory too.
I remember the night that the HMSC Valleyfield got torpedoed. We came in that same night, I remember distinctly, and it was a beautiful night, a full moon. And there were icebergs around and we came in that night and it was certainly cold, but a beautiful, clear night. And the ship was off Cape Race [Newfoundland] and she got torpedoed that night. And several other vessels.
I know one time, one vessel narrowly escaped and we had, believe it or not, it was up in Long Island, New York in Long Island Sound. We were going in to Cape Cod Canal, because there was warnings there was U-boats outside, the captain was notified that there was U-boats in the area outside so he thought he’d take a shortcut in through Cape Cod Canal. And so we all relaxed and we were up for a week then, we had seven or eight ships we brought into Boston and so we came down through the canal and when we went out through the canals, about 10:00 in the morning now, so we decided to get in our bunks, anyone who was not on watch decided to get in the bunk. And the alarm went, the claxton alarm. Now, we were on the guns crew. Besides the gunnery crew we had onboard, the British navy, we also served to assist them and the different guns we had onboard.
So we had everything stowed away that morning and coming up through the canal, about 10:00 in the morning and the claxton alarms went and I heard the third mate on watch say “periscope”. The captain came on the bridge and told everyone to stand down because there was American naval base just off of where we were in the position we were in and he said, that’s the American submarine out training, you know, which he should have known better. So about 20 minutes after that, we heard an explosion astern of us and this was American collier [coal carrying cargo ship] got torpedoed. This is a German submarine right in Long Island Sound. And anyway, just after that, the two American destroyers passed as they were at flank speed and they got the submarine sunk already, and then at 6:00 the next day, the war was over.