Veteran Stories:
Leonard “Bookie” Bookbinder

Navy

  • Photo taken at HMCS Cornwallis N.S., May 1945, and photo of Leonard Bookbinder and his Wife.

    Leonard Bookbinder
  • Leonard Bookbinder's Pennant of HMCS St. Pierre, November-December,1944.

    Leonard Bookbinder
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"Every morning, a guy would run through our back block, blowing his bugle to wake us up. I say ran because everyone threw their boots at him as soon as he blew his trumpet."

Transcript

As part of my training, I learned how to wash pots and pans in the kitchen. Never went to town very much, could not speak French and don’t think there was too much to do. We had movies, etc. and probably even dances in the drill hall. The kitchen staff were all local ladies who dished up the food and I hated mutton stew. Every morning, a guy would run through our back block, blowing his bugle to wake us up. His name was Alan Rouse from Winnipeg. I say ran because everyone threw their boots at him as soon as he blew his trumpet.

Our back block was next to the dining hall and the pretty WRCNS paraded by our windows three times a day. Poor things. They were whistled at three times a day.

We had Morse code every day and you have even heard it in your sleep. You had to pass exams quite often. The culmination was when you pass out of the Morse pool and you were sent out with the rating of ‘ordinary telegraphist.’

Passed out of St. Hyacinthe [Quebec] as a telegraphist special operator, we were trained to listen to the U-boat transmission from their bases in Europe and sub-transmissions to base. We were then supposed to get a distance and bearing to the sub. Two ships would get an exact fix. I never did hear a U-boat until just before the war ended, and then there were all kinds of U-boat transmissions.

Montreal to an 18 year old is like Sodom and Gomorra. Cigarettes, booze and girls. Some organization would hold dances on the weekend and it’s a good thing I was 18 and keep up for two days. Really though, we were not that bad and there were many other things to do.

At sea, after a life of frivolity, they sent me to Halifax. Many people complained that there was nothing to do because the mothers locked up their daughters on weekends. I found a ship and went to sea in December 1944. She was an Algerine class and her number was [HMCS New Liskeard] J397. I got seasick, but fortunately after a day or two, was okay. Some poor people had chronic seasickness and were usually posted to shore jobs. On the ship, we lived together, in the communications mess were signalmen, coders and tells [telegraphists] lived in the confined space at the bow of ship. There were about 18 of us. At sea, the ship’s company was divided into two watches – four on, eight off.

Our space had benches on both sides which were padded by cushions and the benches were lockers where each guy kept all his possessions. There was a table mess where we ate all the food. All the food was prepared in the galley and carried to the various messes and a duty all shared when it was your turn. We slept in hammocks and at sea, with the ship rolling and bucking, they were very comfortable, like sleeping in your mother’s arms when you were a baby. The hammock basically enfolded you, and you could only fall out on entering or leaving it. You had to be a fairly good athlete to get in and out because there were bars welded to the ceiling, which you could hang onto.

All hammocks were then taken down and stowed when not in use. Everything had to be clean and tidy because they had inspections regularly. We used to have to keep our hammocks clean, and you did this by taking it to the showers, take off all your clothes, put it on the deck and scrub it with your scrubbing brush and soap. As you can see, we were very close.

What can I tell you, other than being on a ship with your mates, was one of the greatest experiences that I will know. War is horrible, I was spared the horror and the only thing we ever killed were the fish when we dropped depth charges.

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