Veteran Stories:
Al Swance

Navy

  • Commissioned in 1944, the HMCS St. Thomas is the ship on which Al Swance served.

    Al Swance
  • Portrait of Al Swance when he first enlisted in 1943.

    Al Swance
  • Pages from Al Swance's diary that he kept during his time in the service, 1944.

    Al Swance
  • Pages from Al Swance's diary that he kept during his time in the service, 1944.

    Al Swance
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"You could see the German sailors getting off the submarine and we picked them up. We had about 30 German sailors onboard the ship for about a two week period."

Transcript

Eventually we were part of a convoy group that brought convoys from St. John’s, Newfoundland over to England. Each crossing would take anywheres from eight to ten days, sometimes longer than that. You could only go as fast as the slowest ship in the convoy and sometimes 80, 90 ships, sometimes more than that. Of course, as the seas got rougher and trying to keep the ships altogether, none of the ships were allowed to make smoke [release soot] or show any lights at nighttime. In Christmas 1944, we were scheduled to leave port on Christmas day, so we had Christmas onboard on 23 December, and left port on the 25, picked up on the convoy that day of about 90 ships, I think. We were two days out of St. John’s, Newfoundland when the convoy was attacked by a submarine. We stayed behind, dropping depth charges [anti-submarine weapons] while the convoy went on for maybe five, six hours. Kept dropping depth charges and we finally thought, well, we’d either done damage to it, and it couldn’t service or maybe it got away. But, anyway, as we turned to catch up with the convoy, the submarine surfaced behind us. And we quickly turned around and started firing at it, but the submarine was damaged. You could see the German sailors getting off the submarine and we picked them up. We had about 30 German sailors onboard the ship for about a two week period, until we got to England. And being a small ship, you had 30 people to the ship where you’re crowded to begin with. They cleared out the stokers, that’s the people that run the engines on the ship, and they cleared out their quarters and double bunked them with us and put the German prisoners in there; and we had them with us for that length of time until we got them to, got the convoy to England and then we dropped them off. I can remember the German survivors from the submarine. They were floating in the water and we put nets over the side and they were trying to climb up the nets. They all had leather suits on and lifejackets, of course. But the captain of the submarine, I had a picture of him. I don’t know if I still have it or not, but he was laying on the wardroom table, which is where the officers eat, and the ship’s, he wasn’t really a doctor, but he was a first aid specialist, was trying to treat this captain. You could see the split on the top of his head from shrapnel from the gun. And he responded to the first aid that he got and I guess he lived to tell his tales. [laughs]
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