Veteran Stories:
Bruce Wetherall

Merchant Navy

  • SS Point Pleasant Park

Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"I didn’t go back the third trip, which is very lucky for me and I was taking a wireless operator’s course in Toronto [Ontario], at the Radio College of Canada. Six weeks later, the ship on the way back was torpedoed off the west coast of Africa with a loss of 10."

Transcript

Frank, my buddy, his dad was a very good friend of a man by the name of Lloyd Spalding, who was the head of the Board of Education of Hamilton. So he said maybe he can help you out. So we made an appointment and we went to see him and he said, “I’m sorry boys, I can’t do a thing for you for the navy but I can get you in the Merchant Navy.” Well, at that time, nobody knew what Merchant Navy was.

From then November of 1942, I was assigned to the Point Pleasant Park and Frank, my buddy, he was assigned to I believe, I’m not positive, the Glacier Park. We didn’t, we got separated right there and then. So he was on, to Great Britain, yeah, that’s where he was going. And I went on the ship that was going to South Africa. Unbeknownst to me or anybody else, because you didn’t know where you were going until you finally set sail and then they let you know where you going.

So we left Montreal [Quebec], went down the St. Lawrence and the only storm that I, what I really call a storm I was ever in was in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and it was just, we went backwards eight miles overnight, that’s how bad it was and the ship was not loaded, it was partially. And it got too late and they were worried about the ice and they sent us to Halifax [Nova Scotia] to finish up the cargo. So we got through that storm and we got to Halifax and we loaded up there. And from there on, we went to South Africa.

And we went down to the Caribbean and this time when we got to Port of Spain, Trinidad, there was a mission to seaman [a Christian mission located in ports around the world for merchant sailors]. There wasn’t hardly any sailors in there. And apparently the convoy ahead of us had just been cut to pieces by the German submarines and they had all gone back apparently to reload. And we come through there a few days after and we never saw nothing, never saw a thing. So we bunkered up there and I guess we stayed a couple of weeks and then headed for Cape Ttown [South Africa] again. Then we went back to Cape Town and basically the same route that we had done the first time, only on the way back, we went to Takoradi on the Gold Coast [presently called Ghana] and brought back manganese ore. Which we went to Trinidad and bunkered up there and then went up to Philadelphia and that’s where we took off all the manganese ore. It was apparently made for gun barrels, very strong steel.

It was December [1944], just a couple of days short of Christmas Day and somebody from the Canadian government and I have been lost through the years to figure out who it was, I should have known, and said any of us fellows that were interested in taking a wireless operator’s course, could do so, at your own expense. But they would get us a deferment from the army, which in the Merchant Navy, you could, when you made a complete trip, you could get off the ship and for all intents and purpose and just stay off. But then the authorities would know that you were off and you would eventually get an army call.

So they got the deferment and I thought, well, that sounds pretty good so I didn’t go back the third trip, which is very lucky for me and I was taking a wireless operator’s course in Toronto [Ontario], at the Radio College of Canada. Six weeks later, the ship on the way back was torpedoed off the west coast of Africa with a loss of 10. And the 10 that were lost were mainly in the sailor’s quarters on the stern of the ship, there was nine killed in the initial explosion and one died later in the lifeboats.

Right to this day, you talk to somebody, “Well, what were you doing during the war?” “I was in the Merchant Navy.” “What? Merchant Navy, what’s that?” You know. And a lot of people to this day don’t know. And our losses percentage-wise during the war was the heaviest of any service there was.

Follow us