Veteran Stories:
Robert Hugh Gilmore

Navy

  • Christmas Card, HMCS Timmins, 1943.
    It shows a photo of a corvette, the one Robert Gilmore served on.

    Robert Gilmore
  • Photo of the minesweeper HMCS Comox Robert Gilmore served on, October 1944.

    Robert Gilmore
  • Photo showing salt water frozen to the ship and ice on the 4 inch gun, January 1944 .

    Robert Gilmore
  • Robert Gilmore, May 1, 1944.

    Robert Gilmore
  • German U Boat U-889, in Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia, after VE day in 1945.
    The Captain of this Sub surrendered outside Halifax.

    Robert Gilmore
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"we were not allowed to stop while we were at action stations, many, many faces would go floating by lost the sea. But when we get an all clear and we could see people around in little sea boats or anything, we’d pick them up"

Transcript

I’d never seen my father. He had died before I was born by two months and the only big picture I had of him was that he was in the Royal Navy and he was in his uniform. So I always, I wanted to go to sea too. My one cousin joined up just before me and they made him an engine room artificer. And my other cousin and myself went together and they said, “You’re going to be stokers.” That simple, it was. We weren’t going to be upper-deck men or anything, we were going to be stokers.

After getting out and seeing the Atlantic in the winter, I was glad to be a stoker. I was down below deck where it was warm and I thought, if we get torpedoed by a submarine, I want to be gone quick because my abandon ship station was a Carley float and it wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes in the North Atlantic, you would have frozen to death.

My first lesson I learnt was not to play poker. When I got on the [HMCS] Timmins there and we got paid and somebody from the petty officer’s mess come down and says, “Any of you guys want to play poker in our mess? We’re having a poker game.” I’m a dumb little bum so I say, “Yeah, I’ll play poker.” I go down there and about less than an hour, I’d lost all my pay. I got a whole month to go before I’m going to see a nickel. And we had a little canteen onboard ship, so then when I wanted anything out of there, I had to charge it and every time we hit port, there was no sense of going ashore because I didn’t have a penny. I never played poker again in my life.

My action station was on the depth charge store. If you happened to be down on watch, if I was in the stoke hold, and you were down there all alone because you had two different stoke holds to look after, an action station bell went, well, I’d be there until the all clear went. If I wasn’t on watch, then everybody had a place they had to go and mine was on the starboard side depth charge store. And I’d be there until we got the all clear. We’d be throwing charges.

Every time you were at action stations in a sense you were in danger, and the most dangerous times at sea was on moonlight clear nights because a submarine could be on a horizon and still see you. So the best nights we had was when it was real stormy and dark, you felt the safest. And you worried about somebody going on deck and lighting a cigarette because that could be seen for miles.

When we would pick up survivors, sometimes off a trawler or anything that got sunk in the convoy, and bring them onboard, when we could do that safely, like, we were not allowed to stop while we were at action stations, many, many faces would go floating by lost the sea. But when we get an all clear and we could see people around in little sea boats or anything, we’d pick them up and when we brought them back to harbour, they wouldn’t go below deck until they got back on land. They had enough of it.

Ice, when you were off watch, you were on deck chipping ice because we’d be top heavy if we didn’t. It was survival. Everybody had their turn too. Once you seen the ice, you had to start chipping, get it off because it would make you top heavy. The corvettes didn’t cut through the water, they went up and over it and down it. If you went on the toilets, we called it the can, if the ship went up in the air, all the water, little bit of water that was in there would be sucked out. Now the ship sinks down and you get a bath because the water pops up and floods you. It wasn’t funny.

The [Royal] Canadian Navy has a lot to be proud of with what went on during the war because in the end, they were getting all the convoys across and wound up being the third largest navy in the world at that time. We took over the British Navy, they quit the convoy business and so did the Americans. So we were doing it all.

Follow us