Veteran Stories:
James Alexander “Jim” Hamilton

Navy

  • The cramped messdeck of the HMCS Iroquois, Plymouth, England, October 1944. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-180509

    Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-180509
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"I remember I was up on an Oerlikon because we had to stay at battle stations all the time. You know, you ate, drink and slept and everything there. And there was an explosion off our tail end"

Transcript

Was put on Divisional Strength in Kingston, November 1941. But as they lacked accommodation on land to bunk us in and didn't even have ships, they told us to go on home and wait for a call. So the call came in in March and I joined up in March 1942 in Kingston, Ontario.

I think we spent ten days there, marching up and down Princess Street. From there, we moved up to HMCS York [Naval Reserve Division], the old automotive building in Toronto and I think we were there until maybe about July, the end of July. I’m just guessing now, too. We moved down into Halifax and into old Cornwallis, that was right in Halifax, that was the old Cornwallis. And did about six or seven weeks training there. And from there, they sent us down to Stadacona, which was the barracks right down on the dockyard. And we no sooner got down there and they put us on draft to HMCS Niobe in Greenock in Scotland. We were going to be there for a couple of months, and then we were an advanced crew for the new Canadian tribal, HMCS Iroquois (G89), which was built down in South Shields, next to Newcastle in England. She was commissioned on November the 30th, 1942.

We took part in many things, convoying and I guess submarine hunting and fighting force, whatever the Royal Navy did we were along with them. In 1942, alright, this is 1943, they sent us down to Plymouth [England] to become part of escorting the troop ships down to Gibraltar for the invasion of Italy. On one of the trips down, on July the 11th, 1943, off the coast of Portugal, we were attacked by German Condors, which came out of France and we lost two troop ships, SS Duchess of York, which was a Canadian Pacific liner and the SS California, home or owners I’m not aware of. And another old passenger ship called the [MV] Port Fairy. We lost the two troop ships and the Port Fairy survived. The battle went on or the bombing went on until it was completely dark, and then we started to pick up the survivors. Iroquois picked up 660 survivors and we proceeded to Casablanca [Morocco].

Iroquois wasn’t a happy ship because we had a Skipper or Captain: He was efficient, but he was a mean man. So anyway, they said that’s it, and we mutinied, it was a work stoppage they called it. Everybody above Leading Seaman and above tried to work. Everybody below locked themselves in the mess deck, we took gas masks and all that. I guess it’s around 10:00, everybody comes down from the Royal Naval Barracks there to see the trouble, and they made I would say a deal with the Senior Seaman and Senior Stoker and talked. And the Captain at that time I guess took a heart attack, he was taken ashore, and the First Lieutenant became our Captain, a really good man. And he sent us back out to sea.

Now, maybe about the 15th or something, we were in ice, of December, and we headed back to Russia with a convoy and this time, there was of course, there was [HMCS] Huron and the [HMCS] Haida of the Canadian Tribals with us then, and some English destroyers. And things were going pretty good on up there until, I guess this was all well planned. Actually, we were a decoy more or less. Because the Scharnhorst [German battleship] was up in Trondheim or one of the Norwegian ports, they weren’t sure. So anyway, we go up there and we were just up between Bear Island and North Cape and a plane started to come in, just observing. He didn’t attack us at all.

On the 23rd, I guess things were starting to get a little more lively. And on the 24th, it was really going. They were just going in and out and out and in on the tactical table I guess. And Scharnhorst is out there with her escorts, and the [HMS] Duke of York is coming up and now this is the time the battle starts. And I guess there are British submarines up there too, doing spotting. We got called in to go into the attack too because the idea was we send the destroyers in and try to repeal these, especially the battleship, to slow her down. But anyway, we got called in, and I guess we got well maybe ten miles from our guests and they sent us back to the convoy, because I guess there was other ones coming, destroyers and such and such generally coming out of Norway to attack the convoy anyway. But anyway, I guess it, I think it was [HMS] Saumarez (G12) was the one I think, went in and put torpedoes into the Scharnhorst. Well, it didn’t slow her down too much. But anyway, enough there where actually the battle started. And so then the Duke of York and the [HMS] Sheffield (C24), [HMS] Norfolk (78) were firing the big guns and Scharnhorst is firing back.

And, in the meantime, I remember I was up on an Oerlikon because we had to stay at battle stations all the time. You know, you ate, drink and slept and everything there. And there was an explosion off our tail end there, goes through the water, just like a depth charge would throw up and you know, it hit something, something, a shell, what was it? And I guess it eventually turned out, there was a mine we hit but it rolled along the whole side of the ship and exploded off our quarter deck. The fellows that were down magazines and also the stokers and the south engine room thought we scraped something, they weren’t sure.

I’ve got many stories. I mean, none of them are lies either, they’re all, I talked to a lot of guys, I don’t know if they’ve got short memories or something or they like to brag about it, but it was good and I always stayed with different things in Navy: I belong to the Naval Association, that I helped to form 60 some odd years ago, and the Legion and I’ve enjoyed being part of the military system.

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