"And all of a sudden, I was on watch at 11:00 and I heard, bang, bang. And I saw the flame from the first ship."
I started sailing two years before the war. I had an uncle who was a chief engineer working for Pattison Steamship Company. And every summer from high school, we were able to go there for two months, which I’d done for the two years. And it was a way that I saw Canada, the five great lakes and all the way down the St. Lawrence River and all the way down there, down to the Gulf. It was impressive.
And the war came along and I’ve always been interested in that type of industry, especially ships. And I worked on them and it was during that time, we went around and we decided that we were’re going to go to sea. And my good friend and I, we decided to find out what was going on and we went down, down to the harbour, and then we went up to the CSL office, which was down that way, and they had a ship called the Norfolk, which was sailing from Montreal in November of 1940 to go down to the islands. Went We went all the way down, they finally got down into the Gulf and from the Gulf, we had to go in and replenish the fuel to keep us going. We’d done that, loaded up and carried all the way along the coast and all the way down past New York, down that way, and we finally landed in Barbados. And we anchored because we had some cargo to go ashore and that was the beginning.
From there, we went all the way along to different islands and our main base was Trinidad. We were there as the home base and that was in the Gulf of Baria and at that time, there was one, two, three large ships ahead of us, anchored. And we were in this little small ship here from Canada, it was a laker [lake freighter]. And all of a sudden, I was on watch at 11:00 and I heard, bang, bang. And I saw the flame from the first ship. The second ship about maybe five, 10 minutes after, and about 30 minutes, the three of them were all torpedoed. And I decided, — I got to the very end of my ship at the stern, so that I could get off of there, just in case we got hit. But I said to myself, I wouldn’t take any chances of it happening, I could dive off and swim ashore. But they must have looked at us and said, we’re too small to waste a torpedo on. But I was quite fortunate though.
In Dutch Guyana, we went all the way up the Suriname, all the way up, and we finally docked our bow into the bank. A and a tug come around and towed us all the way up about five miles. And that way, it was during that night going up there. And you could hear the wild animals and you could hear them. And you said, God, we’re really in the jungle. And it was quite impressive. And you’d be going along and there would be foliage of different types of trees, and. A nd it would be breaking and landing on the ship. And my worst fear on there—, if there was a snake that fell on the boat. That was one thing I was always worried about.
We finally got up then, we’d docked alongside, and the most impressive thing was the natives, which they never seen us, you know, members of a ship. They were there and they were looking, begging for different things. Well, I knew I had a winter jacket, a beautiful jacket. I traded it for something that I wanted and they had. And that worked out well. And they were looking for something to drink. And I had some ice and they didn’t know what ice was. I gave it to them and they got it and they went, and they thought it was fire. And I showed them what I was doing, eating it. And then once they got to know what it was and it tasted good, they were asking for more. But that was an impressive service. I really enjoyed that. And I learnt something there. It was beautiful cruising down there.
I never worry about submarines.
There was a lot of them in the Caribbean in that time of war. A lot of ships, especially down there, for oil, then were torpedoed. They used to go into Curacao, that’s a Dutch island down there, and there’s a big place where you could take a ship in there, dry dock, and they would repair those that could be repaired and get them back to sea. We haved a great trip back home and we were dropping in at all the different islands all the way down to go into New Orleans, going up into the Mississippi. Just before that, a day before we got into that area, we stopped dead. Everyone said, no smoking, nothing, no lights or anything outside, making sure we watch what we’re doing because they had a guard on there and. I if anyone had lit up a cigarette, they would have been shot dead right away. Because it was so dangerous around there. They were sinking ships because they were going in there to get cargo to take over to Europe. The submarines being out there in the big bay, it was good for them, and they didn’t have the navy in there taking care of it like they could be, because they were so stressed for ships.
I eventually got back to Montreal and after that, that’s when I joined the navy. And the navy was something I really enjoyed because I had a great position. I knew where we were going and what we were doing before anybody else, because I used to get the information from the navigator and he said, this is what it is, and he says, I want the charts and everything all up to date. And this is what I used to do, check the charts because we used to get information about what has changed on each chart. And I used to do all the corrections, bring it all up to date.
Off the Bay of Biscay, we’re going along and all of a sudden that evening, we got in a signal that the war was over. And we had eight big troop ships. And what we did, we put on the lights, they lit up all the ship and the lights and everything else and we went up there with the siren, (makes noise). And they were blowing their horns and everything. Because they had women, men and everything on there. And it was the greatest sight and they said, the war is over. And that was the greatest thing.