Seamen relaxing in their sleeping and eating quarters onboard ship, 1944.John Bilyk
HMCS Sea Cliff (K344) on rough seas taken from Mr. Bilyk's ship, HMCS Eastview (K665), 1944.John Bilyk
Photograph being taken of crew of HMCS Eastview (K665), 1944.John Bilyk
Depth charges exploding in North Atlantic.John Bilyk
John Bilyk at cenotaph in Vanier (Ottawa) on November 11, 2007.John Bilyk
"But we were never in contact with them, we were always on the outskirts of the convoy. We kind of kept them like an old mother hen, keep their kids, her chicks under her wings."
I had an older brother that was a POW [Prisoner of War] in Japan or at least we didn’t know whether he was dead or alive for four years. And the Japs would not cooperate with the Red Cross. So we didn’t know whether he was killed in Hong Kong or what. So anyways, that was one. But I had another brother, my older brother, that was in Italy with the 1st Canadian Division. He knew that I was getting of age for military service, so he used to tell me, “Don’t go into the army,” he says, “there’s hell there.” He said, “Either get into the navy or get into the air force, but, or go to jail,” he says, “but don’t go into the army.”
Then I met a lad that was quite a bit older than me and he was in the navy since the start of the war. He was an RCN [Royal Canadian Navy] man. And he, I asked him about it and he, well, he told me, “Look,” he said he joined the navy, he said, “if you run into trouble,” he says, “and it’s your time, you’re only going to have two or three minutes. And then it’ll be all over. Because,” he says, “in the North Atlantic, the water is so cold that hypothermia, whatever they call it, sets in.” He says, “You’re not going to last.” So I thought, well hey, if it’s going to be my time, I might as well join the navy.
Well, the first trip, I honestly, I guess they were all the same. To me, it was something new and it was, I would say they were boring because we really didn’t have a hell of a lot to do. Just stand and look out, you wash the floors, you wash your clothes, you wash your hammocks and that’s, you stand your watch, like ever four hours, eight hours off, four hours on and then there’s a break, what they called the dog watch, you would stand two hours. And then, so that everybody does not stay from say 12:00 midnight until 4:00 in the morning. We were split up into three watches, like a red, white and blue. The red would go on let’s say at 12:00 to 4:00, the white would go on from 4:00 to 8:00 and then the blue would go on from 8:00 to 12:00. And then the red would start from 12:00 to 4:00. But when you got to 4:00, that’s when, what they called the dog watch, used to split in two hours. So you, you’d only go for two hours, then the people behind you, the watch behind you would also go for two hours. So this way, there would be a four hour break for every time we went around the 24 hours.
The ordinary seaman, he didn’t know what was going on. All we knew, if the alarm bells rang, we had to get to our stations. But we didn’t know what the heck for. It’s, everybody was prepared for whatever. And well, we dropped many of depth charges. Like our ship, the [HMCS] Eastview [K665], was a command ship. We had the highest officer that was in charge of the convoy. He was onboard our ship. So we would never stay to see what we dropped the depth charges for. We kept on with the convoy, where they, I understood, that they always would leave another corvette or a frigate because there was, oh, I think we had about six escorts, five or six escorts. They would drop one behind to see what, if any damage was done down there.
A gun layer is a person that raises and lowers the barrel of the gun. They had like a crank. And you have the trigger, to fire the gun, when you have it on the target. Then on the opposite side is what they called a gun trainer. He is the one that brings it from left to right and keeps it in the middle of the target. We had tankers, and mostly freighters, we had a lot of tankers hauling like gasoline and aircraft fuel and oil and so on. But most of them were freight carrying military equipment and food I guess and whatever. But we were never in contact with them, we were always on the outskirts of the convoy. We kind of kept them like an old mother hen, keep their kids, her chicks under her wings. That’s the way we did it. We would circle or just go alongside, about a mile, half a mile away from them, just to make sure that they were safe.
People in North America never really felt the war unless you lost somebody. You know, it was kind of strange because when we all came home, we were as though we were a bunch of, how do you say, a bunch of hobos that were away somewhere and they all came home now. But anyways, that’s the way I think that the people felt. It was no big deal, in other words.