Veteran Stories:
Francis Hammond

Navy

  • Francis Hammond in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, September 2011.

    Historica Canada
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"“Well,” he says, “it's either a case of you learn to kill or be killed. Take your pick.” "

Transcript

We took training in different parts along the English coast.  Some of them were in Portsmouth, some trained in South Hampton.  We went to – picked up our landing craft, a part of the 262nd Flotilla in Falmouth, on the southern, very southern tip of England, and we trained there all, from 1943 right up until June 1944, getting the landing craft in, in condition, and took commanding – commando training in Falmouth, England.  And I can – to this day I remember that training because I was reluctant to go and couldn't figure out why, as a signalman, I would need commando training.  And I remember being told by this chief gunner’s mate that, “You're going to take the training and you're going to learn to kill.”  I said, “Well, I don't know why I would have to take that training to kill anybody, when I'm only a signalman.  I don't plan on going too far ashore from the landing craft.”  “Well,” he says, “it's either a case of you learn to kill or be killed.  Take your pick.”  So I took the training.

While we were cruising under them, you could look up and you'd see all these gunners along the port side of the [HMS] Belfast, in white uniforms, firing these missiles – large guns.  And we're cruising underneath them.  And I have photos at home, showing our landing craft, that went into the beach, and the Canadian landing craft operators are not even in helmets.  Many, many were just wearing wool – the Canadian seamen wool tuques or their wool, or their hats, their naval hats.  And all the troops on board were wearing – we had life jackets, of course – though they were wearing helmets.  Now, that is strange, seamen under these guns not, not protected and yet everyone else was wearing asbestos suits and their helmets.

We took our troops in.  We were to get right back off the beach and reload.  However, we had struck a mine on the way into the beach, and had to stay on the beach until later that day, in order to get a tide to take us back off.  And we got a patch in our bow with – and closed off one section of our little landing craft, until we were able to limp across, back across the Channel in the dark of night, and it just looked like chaos.  It didn't – there didn't seem to be any order, yet everything worked according to an order and to plans.  We knew what beach we were going to.  We knew exactly where we were to land; we did.  And, yet when you, when you had to stay on the beach, and see the activity, then it just looked like, it looked like mass confusion, yet it was a well-organized landing.

There was a machine gun not too far from where we had landed.  And, to this day I can still see the – a Canadian soldier crawling from the landing craft, crawl up that beach and toss a hand grenade into that machine gun pit – that was, that stopped that.

On the day – VE Day, we had come up from New York, went in and instead of going to Halifax, we went into Lunenburg [Nova Scotia] for a refit.  And, I was ready to go – on a vacation to St. John, and, they announced the end of hostilities at noontime.  But that didn't stop me – I got on the train and went to Halifax and witnessed the VE celebrations in Halifax.  Got on the train, 4 o'clock that afternoon, and went to St. John.  Arrived the next day.  We should have arrived that night.  But instead of taking the train into St. John station, they put it in the siding.  They didn't think that the condition of the passengers was suitable to go enter the St. John harbour – St. John station, so they put us in the siding for the night.

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