Veteran Stories:
Peter “Pete” Thomas

Navy

  • Naval Message sent to all ships companies before men go on leave, May 7, 1945.

    Peter Thomas
  • Naval Message sent to all ships companies for V-E Day, to warn men that enemy submarines may still be at sea, May 7th, 1945.

    Peter Thomas
  • Crew of HMCS Lanark which Mr. Thomas served with, August 28, 1945.

    Royal Canadian Navy Photograph
  • Peter Thomas's Service Medals: 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45); Queen Jubilee's Medal.

    Peter Thomas
  • View of a torpedoed boat.

    Peter Thomas
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"“Sir, there’s water in bilge.” “Much of it?” “Yes, practically to the top.” So this, we became alert and put the pumps on and, and found where the problem was."

Transcript

November 1940, about November the 15th, a young fellow from Tecumseh [Ontario] came into the drugstore and said, “We’ve had a plague on the East Coast and all the sick bay people who work in the dispensary have gone to Halifax. And Esquimalt [British Columbia] needs a person to do this job at this time, how about joining the navy?” So I said, “I’ll think about it.” Didn’t think about it very long, asked my boss, who was the druggist, I said, “If I join the navy,” I said, “I was supposed to go to the air force and they’re obviously keeping me waiting too long,” and I said, “I think I’ll do this because I’ve been doing a job that I’m doing here now, I’m doing it for the country.” Well, I enlisted in Calgary then, I had my medical and enlisted in Calgary and I left Calgary I suppose on the longest train trip I’d ever taken since we came to Canada in 1921. And I said, I came to Victoria. And I was in ‘Civvy’ clothes because medical branch people wore a different uniform than the bellbottom people [navy personnel] did. So my uniform was going to have to be made here. So I was really a civilian on the train and enjoying all the niceties that all the civilians enjoyed. After I arrived here, I stayed here, I was the navy here until July of 1942. After that, I appeared before a board and it was decided I could have my commission, the executive branch in the navy, for the wartime, and I was released from the lower deck and in the next hour, as an acting sub-lieutenant in the navy, and literally on my way to Halifax. I went to King’s College where the JOEP, Junior Officer Education Program, was being held. I was in the second lower deck class. Prior to this, all the officer training people had been direct entries from shore and we were the second class and our class name was BB, Baker Baker. And so I was there for three months doing seamanship training, navigation training, all the other things that a young officer should know. I believe March or April of 1945, we had just taken a convoy into Gibraltar and we were altered for the English Channel and with the convoy we had left and we were, had crossed the Bay of Biscay, very close to the coast, we were about 20 miles off the coast of Brest [France]. I had just been relieved of my morning watch, had gone down for my lunch and the cold macaroni and cheese was interrupted by a boomp, wump, wump. And the pictures there were taken at that time, as we had that little bit of action, very close to the coast of France. At that time, all the submarines were working in the shallower waters and very close to the home German ports, that’s why they were working there. It was quite a surprise to us because it was a magnificent day, much like today is here. Beautiful sunshine and it was nice to feel the spring warmth again in the sun and we’re heading for England, and Londonderry [Northern Ireland] I guess eventually. Well, our ship was fine. I guess it must have been March 1943. And those two MLs [Motor Launch boat] were heading back to Halifax for a refit. One was ML77 and I was in ML77. I was a supernumerary officer there because I was just being borne for passage to Halifax from St. John’s [Newfoundland]. And I was quite dismayed when this happened. We headed south from St. John’s and I’d altered course just off Sable Island for Halifax and this northwester came on. And we had heavy seas and of course, the seas were blowing all this into our, into our rigging. And we found that we had a leak onboard from, the anti-submarine dome had been removed and the cap had not been placed right on the top of the stem for the, when the sea was sending the boat, a little swash would come into the bilge. We used coal onboard for cooking in those days, with those MLs. And the cook said, “Sir, there’s water in bilge.” “Much of it?” “Yes, practically to the top.” So this, we became alert and put the pumps on and, and found where the problem was. The problem had been caused by the people traveling onboard putting their baggage on top of this area, where this standpipe came up. And that’s why it wasn’t seen. So we discovered that in the, it was quickly, quickly corrected. But it may have been, maybe have been a good thing that we did have water in the bilge because I think with all that top weight, we might have capsized. We don’t know that though. Just lucky. We arrived in Halifax at the signal station there. And I think I was the only person who was standing as a supernumerary officer. I called, we were asked to identify ourselves. I had the identity thing there, so I had an Aldis lamp, I signaled it into the station there. And they gave us permission to proceed into harbour. And of course, we arrived in harbour at the station where all the MLs were located and they could hardly believe this. We were glad to be there. During the war, I arrived in Esquimalt [British Columbia] and I was put in the pharmacy in the dispensary in Naden and I was quite surprised because the broad number of drugs we had on ‘Civvy’ Street was not there in this pharmacy. We had the expectorants and a couple of antibiotics and that was it. I used to get called to do watch with a doctor and write down what he was saying when he had observed what a patient was doing. And I became very good at that and we used to have a pre-parade and we’d put the people coming into sick bay through and we’d see who were the sick ones and pass them to the doctor and attend the others using the pharmacy materials we had.
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