"And we were the escort and we went to about the worst place there could be in the North Atlantic, called the black hole."
My name is Jack Smallwood. I was born in the year, 21st November, 1919.
Well, as you know, Bedford basin is just off Halifax. It’s a huge basin, you’ll see it coming into Halifax. And at one time, there was 156 ships in there. It was loaded. And that’s the time I was on the [HMCS] Skeena, that would be in November of 1940. We started out, we came into Halifax harbour and then we started from there. And we were the escort and we went to about the worst place there could be in the North Atlantic, called the black hole. It was the worst place that could ever be. I saw 17 ships go up in 36 hours. We never hit our hammock or ever had a sleep on. And it was quite thrilling.
But anyway, we escaped and came back… to Halifax, before we went to [the] Avalon [Peninsula]. And every time we went back from Avalon, we would pretty well go through that danger zone. The German submarines were there, they were very brilliant. They would be about 50 feet below us, 100 feet and huge. If you didn’t know, if you put your depth charge off at 50 feet, you wouldn’t blow the stern of your own ship. And they would probably be, stay underneath it until we pretty near got into Halifax.
We would try to interrupt some of the signals from the other German ships and submarines mostly but then it went on like that for some time. It was very successful. In the morning, there’d be rum issued, which was the old black rum that I could buy for $18 a gallon. And I’d pump that up into wicker jars and service the ship’s company. The mess deck would get two parts water and one part rum. Some captains said three parts water and one part rum. The Chief P.O’s [Petty Officers] got it neat, got it straight. And they’d take it back to their mess and probably…they drank it. At 11:00, the piper would pipe ‘Up Spirits’. All hands onboard for ‘Up Spirits’. And some of the boys coming off watch and that, it certainly went down right, it warmed their stomach.
Well, I’d get the rum when I was Newfoundland and if we hit Halifax, I’d get the rum from the dockyard there. It was out of stock, rum, out of taxes. That’s why we got it so cheap. It was up around 68, 70 cents a gallon around the end of the, perhaps a little bit more in the end of the war. It was mostly Demerara rum, real black stuff. You could light a match and you’d see a lovely blue flame hit.
If it was a bad night and a lot of the signalmen and the coders and the seamen, if it was a rough night, sometimes the Captain would issue another issue of rum. It was up to his discretion.