Veteran Stories:
Maurice Aikins “Migs” Turner

Navy

  • "Migs" Turner, soon after he was called up in 1943.

    Maurice Turner
  • A Cocker Spaniel named "Rags" was presented to the crew by the city of Guelph, Ontario, when the HMCS Guelph was commissioned.

    Maurice Turner
  • On commissioning, the city of Guelph presented HMCS Guelph with the ships mascot, a Cocker Spaniel called “Rags” who lived mainly in the Captain’s cabin and later became the centre of the unofficial ship’s crest.

    Maurice Turner
  • A painting of the HMCS Guelph. Maurice "Migs" Turner served on this Flower Class Corvette during the war.

    Maurice Turner
  • Migs Turner's father (left), was serving in the Army during the Second World War and is pictured here during a visit to HMCS Guelph.

    Maurice Turner
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"“Officers always look after their sailors.” And I don’t know what happened, but I remember him making the comment at the time and it struck home."

Transcript

My older brother and I lived with my family in a large married quarter on the oceanfront in Esquimalt [British Columbia], right by the naval dockyard [Canadian Forces Base, CFB Esquimalt]. And out my bedroom window, I could see the ships coming and going. And that’s where I guess I got interested in the navy. 60 of us gathered up and we arrived at HMCS Cornwallis, the new, new entry training establishment, under construction in Nova Scotia, and started our initial training.

We learned the ways of the navy very quickly there. Cornwallis had a training ship, HMCS Hamilton, which was a four stacker U.S. Navy destroyer from the First World War. It was one of the 50 destroyers which had been traded to the Allies or for Britain, for bases, if you may remember [Naval Station] Argentia [Newfoundland and Labrador] and Bermuda and so on. Anyway, it was a pretty tired old ship, certainly not designed for the Atlantic. And to go out in her, into the Bay of Fundy, was quite a challenge.

Anyway, we had a week’s training onboard Hamilton. I was in the lower forward seaman’s mess deck. The ship was so narrow that I could reach out of my bunk and just about touch each side of the ship. My first watch in the ship was in the crow’s nest. The word had been passed that Turner didn’t like heights, and so some of the, they were full of pranks, and some of my classmates decided to make sure the petty officer was aware of that, and so my first watch was climbing up to the crow’s nest in this rolling ship after some heavy weather in the Bay of Fundy. Needless to say, I arrived in the crow’s nest, relieved the chap that was there who had already been seasick. Before going to sea, we had been advised to eat lots of raisins, and this would prevent seasickness. So I had eaten lots of raisins before I joined the ship. Anyway, climbed into the crow’s nest, took over my watch in the crow’s nest, looked out, started to get seasick. Well, there was a mess already in the crow’s nest from my predecessor, so I decided to lean over the crow’s nest and be seasick. Well, they had a wide open bridge down below, wide open, as I say, and they described it as buckshot on the bridge. Anyway, needless to say, I was relieved rather quickly.

Well, at this time, Canadian shipyards were churning out ships at a great rate. And there was a real shortage of personnel. As I say, we were turning out lots of ordinary seaman, but we also needed officers. And we were just about to finish our eight week training course, and those of us who had the high school matriculation or above were given an interview and made officer candidates. So with some reluctance, because I thoroughly enjoyed my ordinary seaman time, I did an Officer Candidate Course of three weeks and then went to join HMCS Renard (S13), which was a converted yacht. The fastest ship in the navy, 46 knots, based in Halifax. There we learned how to be sailors. By this time, I was getting over my seasickness, which was great. And that was very good training. There were no destroyers or anything like that sophisticated available.

They decided to send me to an RCN [Royal Canadian Navy] officer who had just taken command of a corvette called HMCS Guelph. And a chap by the name of Godfrey H. Hayes, ‘Skinny’ Hayes as his name was, lieutenant. In fact, he had been a [HMS] Conway boy [a British wooden battle ship used for naval training], [Royal] Merchant Training School boy from the UK, and at the beginning of the war, because of his merchant training background, excellent background, had become, in the reserve navy, which was the merchant I suppose; that was the RCNR [Royal Canadian Naval Reserve] as opposed to the RCNVR [Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve], which for those of us who didn’t know anything initially. Anyway, he was in command of Guelph. She had commissioned in the summer of 1944. I joined her in December.

We had an interesting experience off Iceland in March of 1945, with a convoy. There had been quite a storm, the ship was rolling heavily and we got a message from one of the other ships to say that there was a light, it was dusk, and there was a light astern to us. So the officer of the watch called the aft lookout to see if he could see the light. We were directed to go back and investigate. There was no answer from the aft lookout. So I went back. I guess I was still a second officer of the watch at that point.

Anyway, we went back and discovered that the aft lookout wasn’t there. We went back and here was Able Seaman Robert Stewart, our aft lookout, in the water beside a light. What had happened, he had been in the heavily rolling sea, he had been flung over the side. He stood up for some reason or other, been flung over the side of the ship. As he went over, he grabbed the light off a Carley float [a type of liferaft], which was dangling at the side just below his aft look out position. Because of the soot from the funnel, the line was deteriorated and it broke and came over with him. It was the type of light that had C cell batteries, and when it hit the water, it sloped upright, the light came on and he stayed by the light and that was the light that we had seen, the ship in the convoy had seen.

Anyway, we came back to him, the captain brought us to about 30 feet from him and we looked down at him and at that point, he was sinking. He came to the surface again and then he was sinking. And the next thing I knew, I was in the water. I remember my training, a leading seaman giving his training, when we were doing the Officer Candidate Course, said, “Officers always look after their sailors.” And I don’t know what happened, but I remember him making the comment at the time and it struck home. Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was in the water beside him and got him, managed to pull him back up to the surface. He was in a duffle coat. I’d taken off my coat and was more maneuverable.

Anyway, then they threw a line for us and I grabbed the line and we hung on the side of the ship rolling as we did, banging against the bilge keel on the port side of the ship, which didn’t hurt. He took quite a beating and I got hit too. They lowered a Carley float, eventually got us back onboard the ship. He was put into sick bay, and eventually when we got to port, he was taken off to the hospital and spent a number of weeks in hospital getting better. I was better off than he was, although I gather I did pass out when I got back onboard the ship because I came to in the officer’s bathtub with my captain, ‘Skinny’ Hayes, pouring black rum down my throat. I was a teetotaler prior to that, but I soon became a drinker from that time on.

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