"I worked in a foundry in a Cupola, I used to have to get in there and I used to break up cast iron."
In March of 1943, I turned 18. And in April, I went down to HMCS York in Toronto, living in Toronto at the time. And I went to York to join up. I was working at Dunlop Tire at the time. And they said, “No, we don’t need you, we don’t have enough ships for the people we have.” So then I said, “Well, my father was in the navy,” and I said, “well, I’d like to join the navy.” “Well, okay, you wait until you get your army call-up. Take your medical and then if you pass, come back and we’ll accept you.”
Well, that was November, 1943. And I went in, I passed, of course, and I went back and they said, “Okay, sign here.” I was at home for Christmas 1943. New Year’s Eve I had to phone home because I was standing duty watch with a rifle on my shoulder at HMCS York, which is in the [National] Exhibition Grounds in Toronto at that time, the old automotive building. So then I was in the navy.
After two months basic training, in March we went down to Digby, Nova Scotia and from there, over to HMCS Cornwallis for mechanical training, what they called the MTE, Mechanical Training Establishment. There they told us all about boilers, evaporators, all this type of thing for getting rid of the salt out of the water. Then I got a strep throat and they put me into the hospital. My gang that I was with from Toronto, and everything else, all got shipped out and I was in the hospital. They all went coastal patrol on Fairmiles. So they put me back in another class so then a month later, I got shipped to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Now, when you went to St. John’s, Newfoundland, you were there for a year. You were there to replace people like the sailors out on duty, the ships come in, you relieve them of their duties and we went aboard, we cleaned boilers, cleaned, swept down the stacks, squeegeed oil tanks, a lousy job, but they all had to be done. But then I got into the sports office. And the [SS] Lady Rodney was a cargo ship and this is what they sent us from Halifax to St. John’s on. We were only out four or five hours and I wandered up to the bow and I’m watching us break the water and there was a corvette off to our port bow, escorting us, and I’m looking down at us parting the water and all of a sudden, this torpedo shoots by the bow. Boy, my heart went up in my throat. I was going to yell out and it jumped. It was a big porpoise, you should have seen the size of this fish. When it’s just below the water, of course, it’s magnified, right, so this thing looked about ten feet long, maybe about, I guess, but it was a big porpoise. But that was the only scare I had the whole time in the navy. But I thought that’s what it was really because I’m looking for periscopes all over the place.
They gave me jobs to do. Squeegeeing down oil tanks, you could put rubber boots on and a sou’wester [oilskin slicker worn by seamen], you know, boy, and stink. Well, I was engineering captain’s messenger for a while and that was very interesting. I had a chauffeur. Well, we weren’t allowed to drive in Newfoundland because they drove on the opposite side of the street. In fact, the first day there, I almost got killed because I stepped off and I looked left and the guy was coming from the right, you know. I found out in a hurry and I… That was interesting.
I worked in a foundry in a Cupola [furnace for melting iron], I used to have to get in there and I used to break up cast iron. We used to make flame rings for ships, like when a burner comes on and it spreads the heat out and, and then it went up. We had Yarrow boilers, you had a steam room on top and two what they called mud drums or water drums in the bottom. And then there was 1050 tubes that joined in, and the heat went through and up through those tubes and up and out the stack. And that’s the way those boilers worked. And you could get steam up in two hours easy at that time. I did a little bit of everything, yeah.