"It carried about four hundred and ten mines on railway tracks, and we laid mines in company with other mine layers…"
My name is Leonard M. Whiffen, born in Bonavista, Newfoundland, June the 24th, 1922, although my certificate of service reads 1921. I changed my birth certificate in order to get into the Royal Navy because you had to be eighteen in order to join.
I made application in November 1939 to enlist in the Royal Navy, and in February of 1940, I traveled by train from Bonavista to St. John's and reported to the Department of National Defence. Enlistment, medical examinations, and waiting further instructions.
We departed from St. John's on the RMS Newfoundland – that's Royal Mail Ship – with one hundred and seventy-five other volunteer Newfoundlanders of the fifth contingent to sail to the United Kingdom. That was a long and rough passage. On March the 4th, we arrived at the Royal Naval establishment, Portsmouth – HMS Victory. I remember it very well because an air raid was in progress at the time, about three o'clock in the afternoon, and bombs were coming down, etc. Anyway, we got through that and continued my basic training at HMS St. Vincent's, after being moved from the Victory to HMS St. Vincent. I was at HMS St. Vincent until May the 28th, 1940.
From there, I was drafted to HMS Excellent. That was a naval gunnery school. Thereafter, I was drafted to HMS Menestheus, which was a mine-layer, operating from Lochalsh, Scotland. It carried about four hundred and ten mines on railway tracks, and we laid mines in company with other mine layers – HMS Northern Prince, Southern Prince, Fort Quebec, the Manxman, the Agamemnon, the Welsh. We were engaged in mine-laying in the North Atlantic, into Denmark Strait area.
On May the 25th, we assisted in patrol during the sinking of HMS Hood and the German Battleship, Bismarck. May 1942, while laying mines, we were detected by a German Focke Wolfe bomber, resulting in damage to the ship, a loss of power, water going into the engine room, being towed to Belfast, Ireland, to unload mines, placed on dry dock for repairs. I enjoyed a week's leave in Bournemouth, despite the heavy bombings in that area of England.