Mr. Thrussell's Royal Canadian Navy enlistment photo, 1940.Sydney Thrussell
Sydney and others from his ship, while crossing the Indian Ocean, 1940.Sydney Thrussell
Sydney (left) and his father (right) in front of the Bessborough Armouries in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1940.Sydney Thrussell
Sydney and some of his naval mates in Cairo, Egypt, 1940.Sydney Thrussell
Seaman's allotment document, 1940.Sydney Thrussell
"They gave us a good shellacking and our ship was leaking and the speed was knocked down from about 25 knots to about ten."
I joined the Merchant Navy [of Canada] in 1938 on RMS [Royal Mail Ship] Empress of Asia as a boy seaman. And I stayed there right up until 1940. And 1939 when the war broke out, I was on the [RMS] Empress of Asia, we were in Shanghai, [China]. And we did one more trip back to Vancouver, [British Columbia] and back out to the Middle East again to Hong Kong, [China] and they put the ship in dry dock and at that time, the [RMS] Empress of Japan, one of her sister ships, was in Hong Kong too. And by that time, they had commandeered the [RMS] Empress of Japan and made her into a troop ship.
I put in for a draft to join the [RMS] Empress of Japan and I was turned down because of my age, I was only 15 and the skipper on the [RMS] Empress of Asia said he couldn’t let me go because I’d have to have my father’s consent. And I couldn’t get my father’s consent because at that time, he was a regimental quartermaster in the 15th Field Brigade [Regiment, RCA] of Bessborough Armoury in Vancouver and he had left for somewhere.
So in about three days time, while we were in dry dock, he called me down and they traced my dad down and he said it was okay for me to go. So I transferred from the [RMS] Empress of Asia to the [RMS] Empress of Japan as a boy seaman. But we had some time to kill, as you say, in Hong Kong while the ship was being repaired, so they sent us to signalling school at HMS Tamar, which was an old battle-line sailing ship that they used in Hong Kong. It was tied up at the dock there for years.
Having completed the schooling on HMS Tamar, we were put back aboard the [RMS] Empress of Japan and the first job we had was to evacuate all the women and children out of Hong Kong and take them down to Sydney, Australia.
We couldn’t go into the Mediterranean [Sea] to discharge the troops because the German and Italian forces had complete control of the Mediterranean, so none of our ships were allowed in there. We went down to the Indian Ocean, around to Cape Town, [South Africa] and from Cape Town, we went to Sierra Leone and from Sierra Leone, Freetown, we headed for the old country. Everything went well until we were off the [northwest] coast of Ireland, I think it was November the 10th, [November 9, 1940] somewhere around there, and we were attacked by the Germans with Focke-Wulf aircraft. They were four-engine long-distance bombers. They gave us a good shellacking and our ship was leaking and the speed was knocked down from about 25 knots to about ten.
Taking on water all the time, Captain Thomas was our captain who was a Newfie, [Newfoundlander] a very good man, he was strict but he was fair. And he got the ship to the tail of the [River] Clyde at Gourock, [Scotland] and he maneuvered the ship so she was right over a sandbar. And she settled on the sandbar. Then the Navy came out and put collision mats around us where our plates were split, they pumped her out and then the Navy escorted us over to Belfast, [Ireland].