George Bell in Royal Canadian Navy uniform, 1944.George Bell
Launching life boat in South Pacific, returning home after the war, 1946.George Bell
Pictured here is a sailor with a lifeboat that was damaged by a storm in the Atlantic, 1945.George Bell
Group portrait of the ship's crew on the HMCS Beacon Hill, 1945.George Bell
"That’s when they had the riot in Halifax, so it’s probably a good job we weren’t there, we’d have been in trouble!"
I got put in the engineer’s office as a clerk in the office there and I was there for a while. It was a good job, sitting in an office, every weekend off and everything, but no watches, just stand. But being young and dumb, I wanted to go to sea, so I requested a draft and after a while, I got drafted onto the [HMCS] Strathadam that was a frigate.
On that, we went down through the Pacific to the Panama Canal and it was during wartime. So going through the canal, you couldn’t take pictures or you couldn’t do anything up on deck that… You could watch but very little could you see.
Then we went up the East Coast and we went to Halifax and there I got drafted off. I’d left my good job in Victoria and I had about a month’s sea time and back off again into Halifax, into [HMCS] Peregrine there [a naval holding and training camp]. And from there, I got drafted onto the HMCS Charny. And she was an old coal burning ship that had been built in 1914. It was a coal burner, had two boilers and each boiler had two fires. So there was two of us worked each watch and the guy I worked with, he weighed exactly 100 pounds more than I did. I think I was about 120 and he was 220.
But it was hard, dirty work. The fires every watch, you had to clean the fire, which meant you had to break up the clinkers [incombustible residue of burned coal] and clean out the ashes and dump them on the floor at your feet, and then pour water on them to cool them off and all the steam and the ashes would come up around your face. And then if you were at sea, we had a machine on there that pumped them overboard. But that worked fine if it wasn’t too rough. And if you were in harbour, you couldn’t use that because the engine melded the stuff on the ashes and stuff on the harbour floor, so that you’d have to pile them on deck and throw them overboard next time you got to sea.
And while I was on it, VE-Day [Victory in Europe] came along and we were in Halifax harbour, the morning it was declared, but the captain, he wouldn’t stay ashore anyway, he took us out and anchored outside Halifax someplace. And we spliced the main brace, which is the extra tot of rum for everybody. Even us little ones that were underage at the time.
After we got back, that’s when they had the riot in Halifax, so it’s probably a good job we weren’t there, we’d have been in trouble I guess. But when we got back, we did see some of the damage and everything that had been done downtown, but sailors weren’t very popular in Halifax after that.
And after that, got off the [HMCS] Medicine Hat, went back to Halifax and got drafted off of the [HMCS] Beacon Hill and she was from Victoria [British Columbia], named after the park in Victoria. She was a frigate and she was going back and departed Halifax just before Christmas, so we were at sea for Christmas. We could actually see Jamaica in the distance, but they wouldn’t pull in for Christmas, we still had to stay at sea. But then we hit a big storm south of that and it was really rough and it smashed the one lifeboat, put a great big hole in the side of it, so we were down one lifeboat.
And in the Pacific, we ran into all kinds of odd things. We had a school of flying fish we went around or went through, and these things are about eight to ten inches long and they have wings and they glide. And they glide right up and land on the deck, which is six to eight feet above the waterline, so they could get fairly high. While we were there, somebody decided we needed fresh fish for a meal, so they decided they could throw a depth charge over and the concussion kills a lot of fish, so they put a longboat out and rode around and picked up the best fish and we had fresh fish for supper then.
Went up to Victoria and into Naden and that’s where I was discharged on February the 11th, 1946.