Veteran Stories:
C. James Alward

Navy

  • C. James Alward aboard HMCS Sackville, standing in front of a depth-charge thrower. The ship was returning from Londonderry. Winter 1943-1944.

    C. James Alward
  • C. James Alward
  • Mr. Alward's "Round-rig" jumper Navy uniform. He wore this on HMCS Sackville during the battle of the Atlantic. 1941.

    C. James Alward
  • C. James Alward
  • Telegraphist rating patch worn on the right shoulder of Mr. Alward's uniform.

    C. James Alward
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"As we went into harbour, some of the men were so relieved that they had survived that they sang hymns."

Transcript

I joined the navy in the fall of 1941. Because I was colourblind, they decided that I couldn't be a signalman and I had to become a telegraphist. That was fine with me. So they sent me to St. Hyacinth, Quebec, where I eventually graduated as a 'Tel', and was drafted in the fall of 1942 to Sackville, which is now a museum in Halifax. Sackville was a Corvette in, I think it was, C-3, and my fist trip was a fairly long one – a fourteen day trip. It was a very stormy period, too. Interesting that we had not only the U-boats to counter, but also the weather.

After having recovered from three or four days of being sick – but that didn't matter; a bucket between the knees took care of that – we arrived in Greenock, Scotland a bit worse for wear. We had a magnetic compass that needed replacing. The degaussing was broken. After we had been looked after in Greenock, we returned. The weather was just terrible. We had one problem on the way out – a ship was hit by a torpedo in September of 1943. We were reassigned to Escort Group 9, and we were in the Bay of Biscay. We had been based in Plymouth [England]. There, we were to block U-boats from coming out.

We were redirected to a Slow Convoy [SC] 202 in September of 1943. Within a day, we were attacked by the acoustic torpedo, which honed in on the sound of the propellers. The result of that was, for approximately four days, we lost [HMCS] St. Croix, the [HMS] Itchen, and only two men survived from Itchen. There were a lot of ships that were torpedoed. It was a very, very intense battle that went on day after day until the 23rd, and we ran out of [depth] charges. We didn't have anything but Coke bottles, they told me. I was able to follow them because I was a wireless operator and a ‘Tel’, and we knew what was going on. I had to call the bridge every half hour or so to get our position so that if we were torpedoed, we would send out a message. At any rate, we ran out of charges and we had to have some extras swung over to us, and the guy who caught them should have been given a medal. As we went into harbour, some of the men were so relieved that they had survived that they sang hymns.

[Note: the following is an addendum that Mr. Alward wished to add]

I joined the navy in the fall of ’41, trained as a telegraphist in St. Hyacinth, P.Q., and was drafted eventually to HMCS Sackville (K181), a corvette in the Barber Pole Escort, in Nov ’42.

I shall relate two dramatic experiences drawn from my time on the Sackville; first, during my first trip to Greenock and the second, our participation as an escort in Escort Group 9 in the battle against the acoustic torpedo in Sept ’43.

Within a few days our slow convoy was attacked at midnight. Our escort commander ordered a firing of star shells – thus enabling us to spot U-boats attempting to sneak into the middle of the convoy.

During this action a ship was set on fire by a torpedo. At dawn the vessel’s chief engineer reported that he was the only surviving officer, that the crew had to put out the fire and it was his plan to return to Bay of Bulls. Our captain, Lt. Alan Easton gave him his course. It was the merchant seaman who took the real onslaught at sea. In Nov ’42, 119 ships had been sunk by U-boats.

On our return journey the weather was extremely foul. The wind was sometimes up to 100 m.p.h. with waves 30 feet high.

If it hadn’t been for Lt. Easton’s skill and courage, the Sackville would have foundered.

Throughout the spring and summer of ’43, Admiral Donitz pulled out his U-boats and during this period equipped them with acoustic torpedoes – designed to move into the sound of the propellers.

In Aug ’43 our ship was assigned to Escort Group 9 comprising HMS Itchen (Senior Officer), St. Croix, Morden and Chambly to Bay of Biscay Patrol.

Shortly after moving into the bay we were ordered to assist two convoys, ONS18 and ON202 being attacked by 20 U-boats equipped with acoustic torpedoes.

We had no defence against this weapon. Within four days, our EG9 lost HMCS St. Croix whose 81 survivors spent 24 hours in carley floats before being rescued by HMS Itchen (in an attempt to aid Itchen, HMS Polyanthus form another group C3 was torpedoed and only one survivor was rescued by Itchen).

At midnight Sept 22 HMS Itchen blew up and only three men survived: two from the Itchen and one from the St. Croix, Ldg. Seaman William Fisher.

In the meantime the W/T/ office was a busy place with reports of escorts fending off numerous U-boat attacks – reminding us of the grim possibility of becoming a casualty.

By the fourth day all our depth charges had been dropped.

Replacements were swung over from a merchant ship – all caught by a brave petty officer.

We were surprised we ever had survived. In fact some men in our mess sang hymns.

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