Newfoundland National Registration Identity Card used by Gus Cossitt during the war years.Gus Cossitt
Interior of Newfoundland National Registration Identity Card used by Gus Cossitt during the war years.Gus Cossitt
United States Coast Guard Merchant Mariner's Document issued to Gus Cossitt, 1943.Gus Cossitt
Gus Cossitt (centre) and crewmates aboard a merchant ship, 1947.Gus Cossitt
American Non-Resident Alien's Border Crossing Identification Card issued to Gus Cossitt, September 11, 1943.Gus Cossitt
"The Corner Brook was known as the lucky ship. She did 70 crossings across the western ocean to the UK, and other spots over there, too."
The first ship it was a Greek, and I joined her on a pierhead jump, and went with that, and stayed just a few months and I got off and I wound up, I got to the UK. I joined one of Bowater [Steamship Company’s] ships in England, the [SS] Corner Brook, named after the city here or the town at that time. And I stayed on her for then, actually, I was on her twice. The first time I was on, I was on her 11 months; and the next time, I think, was eight months I stayed on her. In between, I was on other ships then too. So you know, there was several convoy crossings to the UK and then to West Africa.
See, she was built as a paper carrier in 1925. She was built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There was two of them built at that time for the [Bowater] paper company here in Corner Brook [Newfoundland]. One was the [SS] Humber Arm and the other was the Corner Brook. The Corner Brook was known as the lucky ship. She did 70 crossings across the western ocean to the UK, and other spots over there too. Her captain, at that time, was C. K. Homer. And she was 12 times, she was the Commodore Ship, that means she was the lead ship in the convoy. She carried the commodore [senior captain] and one of the reasons the commodores loved the Corner Brook: she was fast; she was clean; and she was a good feeder. And she had good accommodation for those people. A little different for crews, of course, but nevertheless, that’s what I …
She did 68 or 70 crossings, I forget now. There was half of that because she had to go over and come back again obviously, that’s where you get the 70 there. But see, she was a darned good ship. She was under the flag, under the funnel [smokestack] colours of Furness Withy, who were the agents for Bowater and this was it then.
When I joined, there was what was known as a junior ordinary seaman, a JOS. And I come up through then to the senior ordinary seaman, SOS. Then there was another, because of shortage of ABs, able seamen, they got a new rating which you took an examination for it; and if you knew your seamanship good enough, you got what was known as an EDH, which is an efficient deck hand. And you got able seaman’s pay, less a pound ̶ they were British wages, by the way, less a pound. And after your four years before the mast [as a common sailor], you finally became a full-fledged able seaman. And in those days, that was four years before the mast. If you were on a ship for six months, you got off for a month. The month you were off didn’t count in your four years, it had to be four years sea time and that was it then.
And if you were unfortunate enough, this was most unfair, if you were unfortunate enough to be torpedoed or mined, or shipwrecked and lose your ship, the minute that ship was lost, your pay stopped. You went into a lifeboat, you didn’t get a nickel for that, whether you were there five minutes or five days, or five months, you didn’t get paid. And then your pay, the stoppage of pay right off the bat.
Years later, some of the companies would reimburse you for clothes lost. That’s your gear that you lost, and everything else. And most seamen didn’t have a lot of clothes anyways, so back in those days when a suit only cost $18 or $19, you know, you didn’t wind up with very much.
But the worst I remember, like I say, I loved every minute, but [the worst] was in the wintertime in the North Atlantic. It was the coldest bloody place in the world. And the ice, the ice, you cut and chopped it; and we always seemed to be cold; we always seemed to be wet. And we served on a lot of British ships and being a Newfoundlander, their cooking’s a little bit different than ours. And we had fresh food for the first two days and after that, we ran out of it. And, of course, we got more curry and rice, and mutton, mutton, mutton, Good Lord, I can’t even wear wool socks now. However, like I said, I enjoyed every minute. It still was good and I had good shipmates; and I served in good ships, good companies. Some, of course, were better than others, but I was very, very fortunate, my choice of ships, the ones I wound up on. As again, I said, I wanted to do it and because I wanted to do it, I got by all the time.