Veteran Stories:
Warren George “Red” Urquhart

Navy

  • Portrait of Warren Urquhart taken in Calgary when he was 18 or 19 and at home on leave. This photograph was taken when Mr. Urquhart was still a Mechanic Stoker.

    Warren George Urquhart
  • Mr. Urquhart took this photograph of his friend Tommy aboard the HMCS Chebucto in the spring of 1942. The ammunition is for the ship's machine gun.

    Warren George Urquhart
  • Picture of ship crew taken aboard the HMCS Port Arthur as it sailed around Halifax, Nova Scotia, on May 23, 1944. Mr. Urquart is at the bottom left corner, third sailor in.

    Warren George Urquhart
  • Warren Urquhart (left), a telephone lineman, and friend Hank Coleman (right), working on a line in 1952, after his return from the navy.

    Warren George Urquhart
  • Certificate of Service of Warren George Urquhart in the Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve.

    Warren George Urquhart
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"People were standing on the shore along Pier 21, watching the star shells going off in the air and the explosions before she was sunk."

Transcript

Yeah, well, I was born in Cereal, Alberta, the 23rd of July, 1923. We lived there, I just don’t know how long, two or three years, and then the big drought hit on the prairies, and all those people in Cereal moved to Olds [Alberta], kind of as a, not an organized group, but a lot of them, that’s where they ended up. So I was raised in Olds primarily. In each place, there’s a little, there’s a little story you could tell, you know, like in Jamaica. We went to shore in Whites, lined up on the quarter deck, was inspected and sent to shore. When we come back, all our other clothes were gone. They used to go in canoes underneath the bridges, like stanchions of the piers that went out. And with a long pole, they’d reach through the porthole and then pull all the clothes out. So they were glad to see the navy come in. We left there in, it’d be the first part of December I guess, and went up the coast, stopped in Bermuda, to miss a night hurricane. We put the hurricane hazards on. They were about that big around. That’d be about ten inches around I guess. The hurricane missed us and we followed it up to Halifax, arrived in Halifax about December the 12th. I can be corrected on the exact date, but there’s 12 feet of snow stacked up on either side of Barrington Street. And I had some mail waiting for me, and there’s a big square box there. Opened it up and it was a box of Moyer’s chocolates from my mother. I looked out of the porthole across the street and you could see the Moyer’s factory, just a coincidence. And then we were sent up to the St. Lawrence Gaspé to pick up convoys in Quebec City and escort them to Sydney, New Brunswick I guess. And we did that for a couple of years, had lots of submarine action up there. They used to love to wait until we passed with a convoy, there was a special place in the St. Lawrence where it starts to turn like this, and there’s a big rock face there. And they loved to sit and wait for you on the inside of that rock face. One morning at 7:00, they sunk three ships in about three minutes, (shooting sound). And the ASDIC [Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee], now known as sonar] couldn’t pick the subs up, but this guy, he was so proud of himself, he surfaced and sailed right up the centre of the convoy and all the DEMS [Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships] riding the tankers, they’re the gunners that they put on towards the middle of the war, opened fire, and they were firing this way and this way and the shells were going back and forth. I’m down behind the depth charges praying for God’s sake that none of them hit us. The sinking of an English freighter full of TNT and a deckload of 303 shells had caught on fire off of, I think it was pier 22 in Halifax. So they tried to put drivers or guys aboard to blow the hatches, but they couldn’t get down because of the fire. So they put a recall up, string a recall of flags in all the movie theatres in Halifax and restaurants. If you saw it, you returned to ship. So by the time I got to the ship, there was about one third of the crew. And then they ordered us to put a line on the ship and tow it out off of the islands in the harbour of Halifax, and we put 19 shots right on the water line and sunk her there. But there was more TNT on that ship than there was on the one that Haligonians aroused by explosion, of the first one in 1917 [the Halifax Explosion]. But as soon as the job was done, they sent us out to sea and kept us out for three weeks, so we wouldn’t say anything. And by the time we got back in, things were all blown over. People were standing on the shore along Pier 21, watching the star shells going off in the air and the explosions before she was sunk.
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