Veteran Stories:
Frederick George McGuinness


  • Pictured here are the McGuinness siblings, taken in Brandon, Manitoba on Frederick McGuinness' first leave home in the spring of 1940. Frederick McGuinness poses with his sisters, from left to right, Mary, Dorreene, Ruth, Orma and Carol.

    Frederick McGuiness
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"And our boat wouldn’t move and what they didn’t know and we didn’t know was that we were impaled, the rocks were sticking through the bottom"


In peacetime, I was a Morse operator. And so it was natural that I would go right into radio. And so that’s where I spent three months, getting training in radio. I didn’t need the training in the Morse Code, that’s for sure, but I had to learn how to code and decode and things of that type. And then in probably February, our class graduated and I heard something and I’ve written about it several times, I heard the greatest graduation speech I have ever heard in my life, or anyone ever gave in my life. One of the instructors said, your training is over, now go in the f---ing war. And that was it. And I thought that was a remarkable economy of words.

Anyway, and then he gave me a note and the note said, you have been transferred; you have been assigned to a shore station in Bermuda. You will be given a radio frequency and on a shift basis of eight-hour shifts, you will copy everything that’s on that frequency. So I said, oh, I can handle that. So at three o’clock in the afternoon, that afternoon, I was down going through the dockyard, carrying my belongings in my seabag and, but I got a terrible headache. And I got to, opposite the sick bay, and I went in and said, I’ve got a headache, could you give me a couple of aspirins please and the petty officer said, take off your tunic. And I said, I don’t want to stop, I just want a couple of aspirins but he said it again with force. So I took off my tunic and I was cherry red with measles. And so that started my career in the Navy. So I didn’t go to Bermuda, somebody else did. I went into isolation for two weeks with a bunch of people terribly unhappy with the measles. And I came out of there and I was assigned to HMCS Alachasse.

We had a troublesome captain and troublesome had to do with liquor. Because he was frequently drunk and I’m talking about falling down drunk. And there was nothing we could do about it but do our jobs the best we could. So on the day that we got into trouble, it was the 22nd day of September, 1940. Captain Cyril William Gillingwater-Brown was on the bridge, along with my closest buddy, his name was James Moorman from Ottawa. And Moorman twice told Captain Brown that there were rocks ahead and the captain got very angry with Moorman and sent him down below. About four o’clock in the afternoon, we hit something but we slid over it and then we got into water again but in the meantime, there was nobody watching this vessel because the captain was too drunk to know what he was doing. And so we sailed maybe for another 20 minutes and then we hit with a real solid bang.

We slept there overnight because we couldn’t go anywhere and the next day, one of our sister ships sent over a rowboat, or a lifeboat with a huge coil of cable. And they made it fast to the bollards on the back of our vessel then took it back to the [HMCS] Adversus, who started to apply some pressure. And our boat wouldn’t move and what they didn’t know and we didn’t know was that we were impaled, the rocks were sticking through the bottom. And so after a while, the tension got greater on the cable and it snapped at the far end and it went way up in the air and I can see it still, and it came back and it took off the mast, search light, railings, it took off everything and then it hit five of us. And my friend, Moorman, lost a leg, I had a broken thigh and a bunch of cuts and bruises. And an Army group appeared from the nearby detachment, tied us up to stretchers and got us to St. Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish [Nova Scotia]. And they kept us there one day and the next day, they took us to Halifax for surgery.

So anyway, I went in to Camp Hill Hospital [Halifax] in September of 1940 and I was there until June of 1941. And in that period, I had diphtheria, scarlet fever, what’s the bone disease? Osteomyelitis, you mention it, and I had it. And I kept losing the battle anyway. And then one day they said, you can go home now.

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