Veteran Stories:
Arthur James Gillan


  • Arthur Gillan in Kelowna, British Columbia, October 2009.

    Historica Canada
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"I was in charge of the engine room of course and that included the deck work and the rigging and everything. And I enjoyed it because I had been on the West Coast, oh, on and off for three years. And I knew the West Coast like I knew what street I lived on."


My name is Arthur James Gillan. I was born October the 27th, 1911 in Victoria, B.C. I’ve just turned 98 a day or two ago. Soon after I reported to Esquimalt, after my time on the William J. Stewart, I got a draft at Vancouver with Fenner & Hood boat builders, Coal Harbour, in Vancouver, B.C. And I was there about seven months. I was there shortly after the keel was laid, so I saw the whole ship built. One of the reasons, and I guess maybe the only reason that I got this standby draft was because I could understand and read blueprints. The ship builders could do anything they wished on the ship as far as construction was concerned but they had to get my okay to make sure it was done and done right. So I had to check my blueprints and check the work they had done, never found any fault with it whatsoever. All I had, it’s okay, it’s on the blueprints, as according to the plan. That’s fine, button it up, so they’d cover it up, like wiring and tubing and all that kind of thing. I stayed with that ship throughout its time trials and when I, when they brought it to Victoria, being as I was on it when it was built from day one, I was drafted to it. I was the chief, CPO [Chief Petty Officer] on the ship and I had four, as they called them, ratings [enlisted navy personnel]. They were like engine room helpers, men like you know, they were actually called stokers in those days. There was no stoking at all but that’s the name for them. But I had a crew of four. I was in charge of the engine room of course and that included the deck work and the rigging and everything. And I enjoyed it because I had been on the West Coast, oh, on and off for three years. And I knew the West Coast like I knew what street I lived on. I was NR - naval reserve. I wasn’t VR [volunteer reserve]. Only two others on the ship that were naval reserve. The skipper was the naval reserve. He had been on fish packers and seiners, for three or years on the West Coast. And he actually had his 21st birthday aboard the ship. This ship was christened the QO67. That was the ship I was on. And I was on that one for about 11 months. Being a junior officer, I shared a cabin with the coxswain. The three commanding officers on the ship, that they had quarters over the stern of the ship and it was one of the worst places. It was noisy. We were about mid-ship and it was quite quiet. All the time I was in the navy, I was required to take my hammock everywhere I went but I never slept it in once. Never slept in the hammock once. The 18 crew members slept in hammocks, swung above the tables in the, call it the dining room I guess but it was just a big kitchen. They jumped out of their hammocks and dropped onto the table and jumped onto the floor. We were on patrol, three Fairmiles on patrol at a time. And we went to the, right up to the Cape Flattery, the end of the peninsula there. We were in quite a bit of rough water. When we were at Cape Flattery, we opened to the Atlantic, clean from there, right to Japan. I don’t remember his name at all but a fellow came from Ottawa to interview our ship and he picked our ship, I don’t know why, but he was on our ship all the time we were out. And he couldn’t believe the type of weather we were in. The weather was so bad that all three ships had what’s called ASDIC [Anti Submarine Detection Investigation Committee] gear on them. It was a gear for contacting submarines and it looked like a small torpedo. And it was fastened underneath all the Fairmiles. It would be about four feet long and torpedo shape. And the Fairmile itself is 119 feet long and 18 feet wide, double diagonal planking, copper fastened, fastened with copper. No nails in it at all, it was all copper riveted. They were exceptionally well built and as strong as could be. It would last a lifetime because they were double diagonal planking. The outside planking was on an angle, facing the bow, from the bow to the stern on an angle about 45 degrees the planking was. And the inside planking was the same. It was opposite. It faced the stern. It was copper fastened of course along with the outside skin. I don’t remember much inside the ship for way of supporting beams or anything. It was self-supporting. It was so strong, you couldn’t bend it or break it or anything. They were beautifully built. Cost a fortune to build. I was looking forward to it finishing because I wanted to get on with my life. I got married in uniform, living in Victoria, while the ship was stationed there in Esquimalt, which is just part of the Victoria, it’s just, just a few blocks of it was Esquimalt. I went home every night from the ship to my house, where my wife was. And the others of course had to stay aboard ship. I quite often brought some of them home, there was always good and bad in a crew like that and some of them, I wouldn’t want them in the house. But there were some of the others that were quite nice and I would bring them home and they’d get a different meal from navy meals. I never thought the war would last nearly as long as it did.
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