Veteran Stories:
Frederick Lawrence Gray

Navy

  • Frederick Gray's Certificate of Service, 1943-45.

    Frederick Gray
  • Mr. Gray posing in the yard, when he enlisted and was home on first leave, 1943.

    Frederick Gray
  • Mr. Gray performing as a gunner and posing with his weapon, 1944.

    Frederick Gray
  • Mr. Gray in his bunk at Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, 1943 or 1944.

    Frederick Gray
  • Mr. Gray and friends sitting on gun barrell, 1944.

    Frederick Gray
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"But finally, we got the submarines. And now we know the number they had, it was a miracle we destroyed that many. But we paid a big price."

Transcript

We left Halifax and of course you always were in convoys and we didn’t have communications like we know it today. We weren’t allowed to have a radio and we weren’t allowed to keep even a camera. But apparently, we went out of Halifax and waited for ships coming out of New York and Norfolk, Virginia. And you made up a convoy of ten deep and ten wide. And we sail and they sailed to Gibraltar and, of course, you broke up there, but you made up another convoy to go through the Mediterranean. And then through the Suez Canal and up through India, Bombay and around to Calcutta. Our sister ship, and ships, you always call her your sister ship for another ship, they’re always, a ship is always a female, but our sister ship was ahead of us and it got sabotaged in the harbour area, and it’s very similar to what you’re seeing in Haiti these days. It blew up the whole harbour area and there was just bodies all over.

But these people, their religion was to be buried, their burial service was to be burned on the hearth sort of up in the mountains. And when we arrived there, it was the stench, the smell was something terrible. We finally found out, but it was like a cloud over the city. But Calcutta’s a huge city, it’s one of the largest populated places in the world. But we were able to rent a rickshaw, which is a little taxi on two wheels, like a wheelbarrow for I guess ten cents a half a day. He’d run you all around Calcutta and yelling out the different sites of the town. But it was something to see all the, the damage of that explosion. They wouldn’t let us into the harbour, we had to anchor two miles out in the bay area because they knew we had munitions going into Burma the next night.

But coming out of Burma of course, when you’re in a war area, you have an identification number, it could be W5 for Friday at PM or whatever. But when we were coming out of Burma, I guess we had an old retired Sea Captain, he’d been pulled out of retirement to sail during the war. And I guess he was a little, not too quick to answer. And it was a British marine going in there with a landing craft, so they thought we were the enemy, we weren’t answering. So they rammed us. And of course, their front end is built to drive a tank off into the ground. So it made a hole in us like you could drive a streetcar through. And we had to stop dead in the ocean, in the Indian Ocean. And come daylight, somebody figured out the best way to go back to India would go backwards, it would make more less, because between the second and third hole in the ship, it was bowled out with the, when you tried to go forward. So by going backwards…

But for a ship, it can go as fast backwards as it could go forward, so we went into Madras, India there [now known as Chennai]. We were over a month there. Fortunately, we were, like I say, we had an Air Force base there and they were patrolling that Indian Ocean. Because don’t forget, Japan was just next door. Yeah. They were using these small suicide submarines [Kaiten torpedoes]. They were a torpedo manned by kamikaze. But just these last few days, few weeks, it came back to me this India thing and Calcutta and the dead bodies was just terrible, to see them carting them out. And they were just, these people are so small, they could put three or four of them on a wheelbarrow sort of thing and take them up to the mountains and burn them. And this was their religion. Yeah. That and their cows. Their sacred cows in India, yeah, we never got over that. They walk around and roam all around like they own the place.

We found it funny that India was not too hospitable to us people. And we didn’t know it, but they were trying to get their separation from Great Britain. And Gandhi was running the country at that time. But these people, the minute they saw any military, they were sort of aggressive towards you, they weren’t very friendly to you. But we didn’t know why. But we heard several things that happened, sabotaged several ships. And later on when my brother-in-law came back from India, he’d been in the Air Force, and he said that it was the same way, the, they sabotaged the railways and everything. Anything to make their point.

We didn’t see too much of Burma because we, when we got in there, they put big camouflage nets over our ship. If you know, they’re huge camouflage net with pieces of green and yellow bunting or cloth on them. They’re huge. But they had to unload us in a hurry and mostly at night. We didn’t see too much. I don’t think we ever got off. As a young, 18, 19 year old, beautiful women, the Burmese women were beautiful. And I heard it years after. But that country is, was terrible, it still is today. It’s, they have a dictator there and it’s terrible. But yes, I had a doctor here in town, a surgeon, and his wife is Burmese and she, it always struck me that they were beautiful little, they were awful small people too. They’re all five foot two and yeah.

We didn’t have it in Europe, we had it in Madras, India, on the east coast of India. And we celebrated it with, well, it wasn’t really, it was VE-Day, yes, with the Air Force and the sad thing, one of the pilots there was ready to come home, he’d done enough missions. But he got pretty drunk and he got in the second floor and he said, “I can still fly.” And he dove off the second floor balcony and that broke up the, the party pretty bad. It’s sad but it… When we got home and the war was over, like I say, I was sent on 30 days leave out of Halifax and back to St. John’s here or St. Jean [sur-Richelieu, Quebec]. And then I got an additional 30 days leave because I’d sign to go, I’d been in the Pacific [Ocean] and I’d signed to go to the Pacific. But then the war ended and I was in Halifax with an awful riot there. Oh, because Navy were never accepted in Halifax. They were second class people. I don’t know why. I think there were too many of them in Halifax, it was just a mess. And most of the people, they’d just come off ships and they wanted to celebrate. The Navy had a bad reputation there. You try to get a coca-cola, they didn’t have one, but you’d see an Air Force guy go in and come out with two, or Army. But Navy was, had a bad reputation in Halifax.

In fact, one of my buddies ended up in the store window after the riots. Anyway, he ended up and the next morning, they woke up and they were in the showroom in a furniture store. And that was on the front page of the Halifax News. Riots, Navy riots.

But it had been an awful long war and especially the Navy, they’d been in the war in the North Atlantic, that had lasted six years. And it didn’t seem to … But we finally, we think we got the submarines. And now we know the number they had, it was a miracle we destroyed that many. But we paid a big price.

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