Veteran Stories:
Howard Laatsch

Navy

  • Howard Laatsch, October 2009.

    Historica Canada
  • Howard Laatsch in Uniform.

    Howard Laatsch
  • HMCS Athabaskan.

    Howard Laatsch
  • This medal was awarded by the Russians to those Navy and Merchant sailors who endured the perilous convoy run to Murmansk, Russia. Awarded in 1945 and 2004 in Russia.

    Howard Laatsch
  • This sword was awarded by the Royal Canadian Navy to Howard Laatsch, 25 years ago in appreciation of his service.

    Howard Laatsch
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"When we were in the D-Day invasion, nobody has any imagination how many ships that were on that water going across ... We were protecting the submarines coming in to the English Channel. That was our job. We didn’t know whether we were going to get bombed or not, but we just did our job."

Transcript

I joined the navy on a fluke really. Three of us from the school went to join the army and the army recruiting office was closed; and the security officer said, well, the navy office is opened down the hallway. We went over to join the navy and, of the three of us, I’m the only one that passed the medical. So it was a fluke that even I got in. It was so new that it was interesting. I had never got on anything bigger than a slew in Saskatchewan. First big water I ever seen was a small little lake. And then when I got on the ocean, it became huge.

Our ship’s base was in Halifax and we were doing the Atlantic patrol. Each convoy was a little bit different. It was either bigger or smaller or faster or run slower. Sometimes, they were only as fast as you could walk, was the convoy, trying to go across the Atlantic Ocean. It took us days and days and days. We would run out of food and we’d have to go and borrow it from different ships to get some food. Many times, we had nothing but bread and onion sandwiches to eat because we’d run out of food and because we’re out there too long. But we made it. And you often wondered, what the devil am I doing here? But you were in the navy and there was nothing you could do about it. You were in it and you were going to serve in it.

This first ship I was on, the [HMCS] St. Croix, came into harbour in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and I was down with the flu and just about had pneumonia. They took me off the ship and put me in the hospital. Three days later, one of the people from the hospital came in and said, you won’t have to worry about going back to your ship, it’s been sunk. So I felt like I had a piece of luck there that I wasn’t on that ship and there was only one survivor out of the whole crew. It came out to the west coast and picked up a small destroyer. We went out that round to the Panama Canal, went up to the east coast and then we joined the same old crew again, same old thing.

Then we got into the convoys because we were one of the ships that was supplied with good heating systems and because it was fairly new and so, we went to the Murmansk Run to Russia. The first part of it had to go across the northern part of Norway and the Germans were in Norway; and they could bomb us from there. But once we got past their range, then we had to put up with the icing. It took months to do a trip because it went so slow. The ships were only going about five knots. So you can imagine the distance we had to go. And then one trip, when we got to the harbour, there were very few people left there because it had been bombed. They left the place and a lot of us were recruited to go and help unload the freighters. And that meant staying there again, so we spent Christmas there and you wouldn’t believe how much work we really did to go and help unload.

When we were in the D-Day invasion, nobody has any imagination how many ships that were on that water going across ... We were protecting the submarines coming in to the English Channel. That was our job. We didn’t know whether we were going to get bombed or not, but we just did our job. That’s all there was to it.

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