"The air force went on a raid, they looked at the watch. When the navy left harbour on a convoy duty, they looked at the calendar."
After training, I was drafted to the HMCS Ettrick, E-T-T-R-I-C-K which is a frigate, originally RN ship, Royal Navy, and it was transferred to the Canadian navy in January 1944; I joined it then. The ship was only six months old. It was a wreck - it hadn’t been taken care of and we spent about three months repairing and cleaning it up. It was just a mess. As a matter of fact, they were debating whether to even keep it, turn it back or sink it.
But anyway, we got it all fixed up and we went to sea, and we were the only ship in the navy, only frigate with turbine engines. Now, we originally joined [Escort Group] C3, which was taking a convoy across to Londonderry. We took three across and we joined and they formed EG27, which is an Escort Group or a hunting group with striking force. And we became part of that with four other frigates. And we patrolled the North Atlantic and we provided assistance to convoys going across who were under attack. And then went out looking for U-boats. Unsuccessful, because we never found any.
The only one we found was in October 1944, we got caught in the tail end of a hurricane off of Newfoundland and we came back in, it would get, we had to get repairs. Then we, we went out with the, I think it was four other frigates on assisting convoys and escort group and we finally ended in January 1945, we were in harbour, we left out and we joined up with a convoy coming up from Boston to Halifax, the BX141, and coming into Halifax, they were attacked by the U1232 and three ships were sunk. One torpedo was aimed at us. We had a very sharp ASDIC [Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee device] operator who warned us, warned the captain who returned. And we turned, we ran over the submarine right outside Halifax. And we took off his, all the equipment on his conning tower, his periscopes, gun mounts, radio equipment, antennas. We didn’t sink him; he got away and into the shallow waters outside of Halifax. And he took about three weeks to get back to Germany and they found out later on that, a friend of ours who was also, a former German naval officer, that this submarine had a full captain aboard, which was unusual. And he was very disappointed that he was, usually when a U-boat comes back in, it’s met by a destroyer and a band. And he was unhappy because he got met by a tug.
Living aboard ship was not the easiest thing. They were crowded. The first thing you did when we left harbour was you turned the water off. There was no water to wash or drink or anything else, or wash your clothes. So you slept in the same clothes for the two or three weeks you were out. As you wash, you may get a chance once every two or three days, to wash your face.
Food, I think the homeless shelter got better food. I know a guy I met many years ago skiing, he was a German POW [prisoner of war], and they, he was picked up in the Atlantic and he went to a POW camp in western Canada. And he told us, he got roast beef on Sundays, pork on Wednesdays, movies and everything else. And he, the food we got was, I think it was leftover somewhere. The government wasn’t that great in providing good food for us. I wouldn’t want anybody else to have the same experience.
Joining the navy is fine, as long as it’s not wartime. Because it’s a hard life. And most people didn’t know what the navy did. Like I used to say, no difference between the navy and the air force. I mean, the air force went on a raid, they looked at the watch. When the navy left harbour on a convoy duty, they looked at the calendar. I think a trip across the Atlantic was two, three weeks. Nowadays, you can go across in six or eight hours.