Crew of HMCS Quatsino, 1944.
HMCS Quatsino patrolling the west coast out of Esquimalt and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. April 28, 1944.
"I drew the short straw, and the chap mentioned it would only be for a trip, maybe ten days or so."
My name is George Ferguson, and I live in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, where I was born and raised. I left school during war time to start my career with Canadian Pacific. I started as a telegraph messenger boy when I was fifteen years old. My job, which wasn't a very pleasant one at that time, was to a lot of telegrams, or people who were missing in action, or killed, or had become prisoners of war, and so on.
In Portage la Prairie, we were right in the awareness that there was a war on because we had an Army training centre here – 100th Canadian Army Basic Training Centre – so we were quite aware that there was a war on. As a matter of fact, on the 3rd of September 1939, at about eight thirty in the morning there was a knock that came to our door, and my mother said, "Good heavens! Who's that at this time of day?" And here it was the agent for the Winnipeg Tribune, at that time, to tell me that war had been declared and that they were putting out an extra paper, and wanted me to come down to sell papers.
Anyway, I was a messenger for about a year, and then I went up to work in the station. During this time, I also joined, about the age of fourteen – at fourteen you could join with your parents consent, and I joined the Militia – the Second 37th Battery of the Royal Canadian Field Artillery. So one night in 1943, we'd been talking about trying to join up and so on, so I falsified my birth certificate, and went into Winnipeg and enlisted in the Navy. We were called to report on the 14th of February 1944.
I took my basic training at Chippewa, and when that was completed they ranked me as a Seaman, which was an upper deck rating, or a Stoker, which of course was down in the boiler room and engine room duties. We went down to Cornwallis, and it was there that Seamen went to their area, and we went to what was called Mechanical Training Establishment, and we took our Stoker's course.
When we finished there, the majority of the fellows went to Halifax, but there were six of us who were drafted out to HMCS Naden, at Esquimault, BC. We had just got there and got our gear unpacked when three of us were piped to the drafting office, and they required a Stoker to go on a minesweeper that was going to be sailing the following morning. So anyway, I drew the short straw, and the chap mentioned it would only be for a trip, maybe ten days or so. That ten days turned out to be about fourteen months at sea on the Quatsino.
I made some great friends. I still keep in touch with a few of them, and unfortunately a lot of them are no longer with us. But it was an experience that I don't regret, and one that I will never forget.