Veteran Stories:
James William Smitherman

Navy

  • James Smitherman's medals: 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45).

    James William Smitherman
  • Jumper Flap of Royal Canadian Navy's Dress Uniform, 1940s.

    James William Smitherman
  • James William Smitherman, 1940s

    James William Smitherman
  • HMCS Bittersweet, the ship on which James Smitherman rode for the majority of his service during World War II. It had to be refuelled twice when crossing the Atlantic. In 1944 it was part of a large convoy which was 12 miles wide, and had approximately 120 ships. It took two weeks for the convoy to cross from St. John to Iceland as they had to go the speed of the slowest ship.

    James William Smitherman
  • Depth Charge on HMCS Bittersweet, 1940s.

    James William Smitherman
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"So that would be around 3,000 pounds of TNT that would go off, just about at the same time. And I had to set the depth."

Transcript

And then I finally got drafted onto HMCS Bittersweet. There was 10 of these boats [corvettes] built and they were all named after flowers. And they were all built in Canada and they were built for the British. And when they went across, they just went across with a scout and crew. And then they found out the British didn’t have men to put on them, so then they manned them with Canadians. So that’s how I come to get on the Bittersweet and I really liked it, it was a good ship. And we ran from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to, we’d take the convoys down through the Irish Sea and they’d go into England - Bristol mostly, and then we would come back to Londonderry and we would tie up there for three or four days and then we would bring another convoy back. And sometimes, we would have to wait. When we pulled out, we’d be ready to pick them up because they would be escorted down maybe from Russia or wherever. And we would pick those freighters up and then take them as far as Newfoundland and then they were picked up with another escort, what they called a Triangle Run. And they would take them maybe to New York or Boston or Halifax and then they’d be loaded up again and then the triangle run would bring them out to Newfoundland and then we would pick them up. There were several escorts. The one that we were with was called C-3. We had three maple leafs on our funnels. And practically every trip, we would have come to a point where we’d have to, we’d pick up what we thought was maybe a submarine; we’d have to drop depth charges. We had to refuel twice going across. We’d have to pull in to the convoy and pull up alongside our supply ship and we just kept going and we’d pick up the hose and fill our tanks up with fuel. And then away we’d go. So I was the stoker. I looked after the boilers and there was one on each boiler. We had three furnaces on each boiler and if I was on watch, I had to stay there. When action stations came, if I was off-watch, I was on depth charges. I was on the port forward thrower, which was the heavy depth charge. They weighed 350 pounds. And when we went in to drop them, we dropped ten in a pattern. The rails would let you go, forward throwers would be next, the after throwers and then the rails would let four more go. So that would be around 3,000 pounds of TNT that would go off, just about at the same time. And I had to set the depth. They would give us a signal of what depth they wanted, so that’s what I had to do. And then I would pull the key out and the depth charges were set on safety so that they wouldn’t go off; that key had to be pulled out first to make them so that they were safe. And then I was on the Bittersweet for pretty near a year and I got hurt. And I had to go in the hospital; I had broken my left leg. And when I came out, I was in a drafting office where they were drafting navy sailors to different ships. And at the same time, a lot of them were volunteering to go to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. And they were having trouble getting some stokers and that for some minesweepers. So I volunteered and I went on HMCS Fort William. And we went overseas, we went by way of St. John’s, Newfoundland, down to the Azores, up from the Azores to Plymouth and then to Portsmouth. We worked out of Portsmouth. Now, the mines that we were to sweep had been put down to keep the submarines from getting in harbours and coming into the channel. There was two big minefields at the beginning of the channel. And I’m pretty sure that’s the ones we swept because I never seen any land or anything. They didn’t broadcast too much about it, it was kind of kept secret. These same ships that I was serving on, they were the first ones in on D-Day, Canadian Minesweeping Flotilla, they went in on D-Day. I wasn’t on them then but so that’s why we got asked to come back and sweep these here mines. And what we would do is we would go through the minefield and we would lower a thing down in the water with a cable on it and cutters. And that would come along to where the mine was, that it would catch the cable. And we would cut that cable off and the mine would float to the surface. And there was a trawler following behind us and they would turn a 20-millimetre cannon on those mines. Most of them just sunk. The odd one would go off. The worst was, sometimes they got caught in the cable and I was on watch three times with a chap that had been on HMS Nabob. She was a small aircraft carrier. And she’d got torpedoed. And they were going to abandon ship and the captain came up with the idea of moving everything over to the one side of the ship to keep it afloat. And they managed to get it into harbor. And whenever one of these mines would go off, he was just terrified. He’d been through so much on that there aircraft carrier. You could just see that he was just, and these mines were quite big, had quite an explosion. And the odd one would be right close to the ship when this would happen because they’d be caught in the cable. The men running the big wheel for bringing in the cable, they had to be very careful. And they were, they were excellent at what they did. I’m quite proud of what the Canadians did. I’m glad that I served in the navy and that and then I came home and we did that right up to about October and I came home, I was discharged November the 15th, 1945. And I feel we have the best country in the world.
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