"I was over in England just before the invasion and because of that, I was sent down to a little place where they were assembling all the landing craft. And I got down there to help them break guys in for handling. "
I did my last year of high school in Moose Jaw [Saskatchewan]. My father and my mother had split up when I was just a little nipper. I’d grown up on the coast in the floating logging camps. I crossed over, as I said, to Vancouver Island. So the last two years of schooling, my dad decided he wanted me to go back and spend the time with him. He was an executive on the CPR [Canada Pacific Railway]. So I went back and I finished my school, but then because I did so well in the mechanics training in technical school, the army said that they were going to invite me in as equivalent to a boy seaman or whatever the heck they have in the army. And my father had served in the First World War in the REME [Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] and some of his stories, I said, “No, thank you, I don’t like mud.” So having grown up on the ‘saltchuck’ [local terminology for salt water off the B.C. coast] and spent my life on it and boats and everything, I said, that’s it, so I managed to get out early, I got out about three weeks early out of school and I came to get the train and I headed back to Vancouver and I wheeled in and joined the navy.
Well, from joining up, because of my background, because I’d been helping train guys or prepare guys to sit and write their small craft masters certificate and whatnot, like my grandfather, he was quite a navigator, a very good seaman, and as a little nipper, I used to follow him around and he taught me pretty well everything I needed to know about handling boats. I was running boats before I even saw my first car. So consequently, I used to help the guys that came up to work at camp and while there was nothing to do on the weekends, they’d go out on the boat and study and I used to help them. And then they’d sit and write their exam for their small craft masters certificate. And as a result of all this, I kind of skipped an awful lot of the basic training in the navy and after [HMCS] Discovery [naval reserve based in Vancouver], I wound up in Cornwallis [Nova Scotia] for a couple of months and then from there, I just got into Halifax and I got drafted to a couple of minesweepers and for the formation of convoys off the East Coast.
Well, it was basically because of my background, it was on my records that I was running a small craft masters certificate. I got that when I was 14 years old. Didn’t really mean anything, it just, you know, that I could take a boat, a small tugboat out, and I could run around with it and do it legally. Well I grew up with it, I was doing it when I was six or seven years old. So by the time they were holding a class and one of the classes, they said that I’d helped to write for their ticket. They said, “Here, let the kid write it and see how he does.” So I wrote it and I did it. I passed it with flying colours, but I was too young to officially get the pay. You had to be 18. I was only 14.
I was over in England just before the invasion and because of that, I was sent down to a little place where they were assembling all the, the landing craft. And I got down there to help them break guys in for handling. As I say, I could take the regular landing craft, little twin engine landing craft, and I could make those things do anything I wanted. I grew up in boats with single engine and rudders, and to be able to maneuver those things, you had to basically know how to handle a boat. But with twin engines, hell, you put one ahead and one in reverse and you got end for end in nothing flat. So I ended up basically helping them orient people in how to handle these things. So I used to tell them, I said, “Now look, when you’re heading in and generally the artillery that’s getting to, taking shots at you, they will watch the trajectory, the path that you’re coming in and they will start lobbing shells in short. And as long as they’re dead on, they’ll time their shots so that you’ll run into one of the shots.”
So I said, “What you do is,” I said, “if you’re going in, depending on which way the wind’s blowing and the current’s going, whatever way that’s going, you increase the speed on the opposite engine and decrease the speed on that engine. And you’ll end up going straight in, but you’ll go sideways. So by the time you go ahead 100 feet, you’ll be five feet to the right. So the shell will land where, where you would have been, in the water.” So that was just basically how to handle those boats, you know, the landing craft.