Veteran Stories:
John Hendrie

Navy

  • Mr. John Hendrie, April 2012.

    The Memory Project
  • Mr. Hendrie during the war working as a signalman.

    John Hendrie
  • Mr. John Hendrie, April 2012.

    The Memory Project
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"Because we were scared. […] you don’t go out there, it’s not a Coney Island ferry trip. We know that there are ships that have been blown up. We torpedo. And we didn't want to be torpedoed, and we wanted to prevent any of our convoy, our precious convey merchantmen, being blown up either. "

Transcript

I went to sea... When we were finished the course, the communications course, out of St. […], we were shipped down to Slackers, which was the Navy base in Halifax. And it was called Slackers; I’ve never heard it called anything else but Slackers. I didn’t spend much time there-, it was just-, for me it was a manning. We were in perhaps on Monday and out Friday. That kind of speed. And my first... I don’t remember the actual day... the draft came-, we had some preliminary courses. But the draft lists were hanging on or posted on a wall, and we’d all run down like a bunch of school kids to see if we passed exams, to see where we were posted, you see? And we looked for our name and then we’d see HMCS St. Thomas or HMCS Stellarton or whatever corvette was being manned at the time. So that was... if that happened at one o’clock, you were on board your assignment for... well, at the time it took to get across Bedford basin [Halifax] into where the ship was... was tied up. And this-, my case, a ship was not tied up, it was on dry dock. And that posed a problem in itself when you’re loaded down with a kit bag and your hammocks over your shoulder. We went across the Bedford Basin in a Navy little boat, service boat. And they brought us over to the French Cable Wharf [on the Dartmouth waterfront], and pointed that’s it, it’s up there. No, that was fine, you know. I was in the navy, I was a sailor, there’s my ship. So off I went with this tote bag, this kit that weighed a ton. And of course your hammock slung across your shoulder and you’re trying to look like an old salt that had, you know, not a kid just out of school. Anyway, the difference being there that they had to go up a ladder to get up to the quarterdeck on the corvette, because a corvette, as I said, was hoisted up. And the reason for it being hoisted up was it just came out of Clyde section in England, and they wanted to make sure that the dome […], the bottom of the ship was okay. And that the sonar dome was well-secured. So anyway, while that was going on I finally got up to the quarter-, to the Quarter Master’s stores there. And the impression I got, my God, everything is so beautiful. The Captain came out; you could tell by he had three stripes. Commander Denny. He was an old salt if you ever wanted to see one. And he was white tie, black-, white shirt, black tie, and his uniform must’ve just come from the cleaners, I swear. Anyway, and what struck me is I noticed a couple of ladies in there. I didn’t expect to see any ladies on board the ship. But then again, I said maybe it’s the officers’ wives and things. But the occasion... Oh yes, in the wardroom there was the bell, the ship’s bell. Of course I was accustomed to seeing ships’ bells. Upside down on the table, they’re on the wardroom table. The Captain looked at me and he says, boy, we’re having a Christening this afternoon before going to sea. It’s my niece’s... my niece has had a baby and we’re going to Christen her, you see? I said that’s a marvellous idea, sir. So I took off, saluted and took off down to the lower parts of the ship. Because I-, you know, you don’t feel like you’re going to stick around and make a fool of yourself. But that was my first experience on board that ship. Our point was Newfoundland, St. John, Newfoundland. Of course St. John belonged-, was-, belonged to the England at that time; it wasn’t a Canadian... It wasn’t part of Canada. It was considered overseas. So-, in fact that was our trip; from St. John’s we’d pick up the convoy, maybe about ten miles out of the harbour. And we would check them over and make sure that the 96 boats or 36 boats or whatever’s in the count, were all there, and that they... Of course one of the main things at night, you darken ship; we had to make sure that every one of those merchant ships had their curtains, heavy curtains, were over the portholes and the doorways so that they had no light shining whatsoever. If there were some that were oblivious of that sort of thing, well we had to bring it to their attention. And that took time and talking to. And at night, well, we couldn’t use radio, so it was hand-, not hand signalling, but it was signalling-, communication, either through small lights or... We had to make very sure that they didn’t have any light showing. This was perhaps the beginning of the convoy. Once they were out into the convoy they sort of had their routine. Because merchant ship were manned by ordinary people with not too, too much navy training. So whether darken ship meant not too much to them, but it was vital, because a light could be seen 50 miles away over a flat surface. The German Navy, German submarines were trained, of course, to all these details. Lights, […] flickering lights here and there. So that is pretty well the routine during the evening. And was the toughest part, because the light-, the sun was disappearing and it was getting dark, and we adjusted our eyes. Of course we all... Communication guys had field glasses strapped around their neck and that’s what we were continuously looking over the side of the ship, to see what we could see. Because we were scared. […] you don’t go out there, it’s not a Coney Island ferry trip. We know that there are ships that have been blown up. We torpedo. And we didn't want to be torpedoed, and we wanted to prevent any of our convoy, our precious convey merchantmen, being blown up either.
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