Veteran Stories:
Philip Etter

Merchant Navy

  • The HMCS Lady Nelson at Halifax Harbour, just prior to her first voyage as a hospital ship, April 21, 1943.

    Phillip Etter
  • Philip Etter kneels beside a dedication of Canadian Merchant Navy Plaque and Sugar Maple Tree, Coronation Park, Toronto, December 2, 1995.

    Philip Etter
  • Philip A. Etter's certificate of discharge and identity certificate. The displayed page shows consecutive entries of "Very Good" in both ability and personal conduct.

    Philip Etter
  • Philip Etter pictured in an article that discusses the compensation awarded to Canadian Merchant Navy veterans by the Federal Government.

    Philip Etter
  • Philip A. Etter's Medals. Left to Right; Canadian Merchant Navy Service Medal; Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal; 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Italy Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal 1939-1945.

    Philip Etter
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"Truth is the first casualty of war. I guess it was an education…"


My name is Philip Herbert Etter. I'm a native of Halifax. I joined Her Majesty's Number One Canadian hospital ship, Lady Nelson, on April 21, 1943, and made several Atlantic crossings, a total of 160,000 sea miles. The route was out of Halifax to the Mediterranean, touching Gibraltar, Algiers, Ohran, and Naples. At those ports we would pick up the boys from the battlefields and transport them to an English port, Southampton, London or Liverpool, and then pick up a load of convalescents for transportation back to Halifax or Montreal.

It just so happened we were in the Bay of Naples on March the 17th and March 18, 1944. And just as we were leaving on the 18th, Vesuvius started to erupt. And the ash from the fiery eruption covered our beautiful white ship. The event prompted me to offer a poem. It's entitled "On the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius".

"Mountain of fire, peaked crystal high, into the dark surrounding sky, send forth your livid tongues of flame, and then be still again.

What wrath within your bosom lies, when lurid rivers down your sides can earn for you a world of fame in dark destruction, death and shame?

Gaze from your height with rightful pride on petty man who vainly strived to match those flaming rivers on your sides with his own path of blood and gore.

Laugh at his quest for fame in war and watch him tremble when you roar."

Well, that was written hours after it actually happened, the worst eruption since 79 BC at Pompeii.

What you expect of war I think perhaps our minds are heavily influenced by the media, and the media unfortunately does not always tell the truth. Truth is the first casualty of war. I guess it was an education. I never did get to go to university but learned more probably during those years about human frailties, about greed, about the quest for glory and a whole lot of other things. War - nobody wants war, but to my mind, I firmly believe that war is necessary to help to preserve the lifestyle that we enjoy.

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