"I went up and then washed and sitting on this deck and I was just lighting up a smoke and boom, he was gone."
After training in Windsor [Nova Scotia], I was moved to Halifax and went to training schooling. And after I completed the schooling, I was picked with quite a few other fellows of the navy, to be sent over for loan and training to the Royal Navy. So I took passage with a bunch of army personnel on a troop ship, SS Bergensfjord, from Halifax to Scotland.
From Scotland, I trained to Chatham, England, which was to be my depot there and from Chatham, a weekend leave, went down to London, had a look at that, come back and I was on leave or on draft to a ship and they shipped me up to the northern part of Scotland. I missed the ship there and traveled by train across to Wales where I joined the ship about 2:00 in the afternoon. By 4:00 we were at sea, laying mines off the coast of France, Brest, France.
At that time, there was three German capital ships [alternatively known as battlecruisers or battleships] were there and we were laying mines off one night. The following night, by another mine layer, the air force was bombing every night and three ships sailed out unscathed and that was the end of our operation there.
Then December the 1st of 1942, we left Algiers [Algeria], 8:00 in the morning, we were to arrive 8:00 the next morning in Gibraltar. And at a few minute past 4:00 in the afternoon, we were torpedoed. The fellow that relieved me at 4:00 was killed. And we managed to, with two destroyers, one towing and the other protecting us, we got into the port of Oran [Algeria]. I lost a real good friend, this English lad was the same age as myself, and he was on the opposite shift as myself. And when we were in port and I went ashore, he knew I come back, maybe a little … So he had my hammock up, ready for me to get into it. I did the same for him. And we relieved each other on watch.
So the buzz on the ship was that we were heading back to England for a refit because it needed it, it was a lot of steaming miles. And he said, “Robby, we’re going to be back in England for Christmas. You’re going to come home and spend Christmas with my family.” This was supposed to be it. So he really meant 4:00. I went up and then washed and sitting on this deck and I was just lighting up a smoke and boom, he was gone.
So that’s, and then you know, they asked for, after we got into a port, the volunteers pulled dead bodies out, I looked down, I couldn’t stomach it. One guy I knew real well, he had red hair and you could see the hair, and he was pinned between the ladder and the throttles, and well, I didn’t do it. The only thing I did was we put the captain said, “Being as they’re all from Europe area, on the ship, where do you think they should be buried, asea or at sea or ashore?” And most of them said, “Ashore.” And he come back and he said, “There’s only Catholic burying grounds and they’re all Protestants, I won’t bury them out there.” So we buried them at sea.
We put them in a sail, in sail cloth, and with some weights. And it’s sewn up. And put them on, they had outfit slide, the chute affair. And the body is put on there and each one had a flag on the body. My job was pull that flag off before it hit the water. And I did that. And that’s the last I saw of my buddy’s body float, go down the chute. Other than that, I lost the best ship I had. My first ship was my pride and joy because it was so disciplined clean, spotless clean. Skipper would go around Sunday division, pair of white gloves on, never say a word, coming behind, it was spotless.