"We had a real rough time with it, got into a lot of action; we had more survivors when we landed in Liverpool, we had more survivors than we had crew."
I went up to pick up a corvette [convoy escort vessel] in Montreal, and picked up a Canadian corvette in Montreal and commissioned it, and brought it around to Halifax. And then we went on the, that Newfie Run from Newfoundland to Iceland with a convoy. We opened up Newfoundland as a base [HMCS Avalon] and ran from Newfoundland to Iceland all that summer and fall and into November .
It was a corvette, the [HMCS] Pictou, one of the first corvettes, HMCS Pictou. We were on convoy duty to Iceland. And that was at a bad time, more ships were sunk on convoys we travelled on. I don’t know how many convoys or how many trips we made, half a dozen or more to Iceland, I guess. But every one of them, that was when the “wolf packs” [German submarines moving and attacking in groups] had started in the Atlantic. We picked up a lot of survivors; and we were in action nearly every night once we got, you know, out a few days.
Conditions were terrible. It was so crowded; and they put extra, well, we had ASDIC and gunners, and a torpedo man, and they had signalmen and all the seamen. But there was a big, you know, a fairly big crew, normally it wasn’t built for a crew that large. And then as we got more equipment and more devices on, we got more crew and it just got that much more crowded.
We slept in hammocks and it was rough. We were in our, we sailed mostly in our, we never really undressed. We just took off our duffel coat and our sea boots, and climbed into our hammocks, and that was it. But, anyway, I got on the [HMCS] Alberni and it was fabulous after I got on it because we went to Halifax, and we got ready to go overseas. We didn’t know where we were going, but we took a convoy over. We had a real rough time with it, got into a lot of action; we had more survivors when we landed in Liverpool, we had more survivors than we had crew. We went into Liverpool and stayed there for I would say about four or five weeks anyway, maybe longer.
And they outfitted us with more anti-aircraft guns, Oerlikon [20 mm cannon] guns, and they painted us all different camouflage. They gave us kind of a minor refit and we were supposed to go on the Murmansk Run to Russia. That’s what they were. They gave us sheepskin coats and we were all ready to go; and we didn’t know what was happening really, but we thought that’s where we were going, the way they were outfitting us. But when we finally went to sea, we went out and picked up a convoy and they opened the orders; and we turned south and went down into the Mediterranean. And we went down there, there was a whole flotilla of Canadian corvettes, went into the Mediterranean. I was on the Alberni then and we convoyed from Gibraltar, Oran, Algiers, Bône, Philippeville, all on the north shore [of Africa]. We brought convoys up for the [British] 8th Army because the 8th Army were fighting in North Africa. And that was quite an experience.
The big thing was that it was just short runs and it was so calm, you know, compared to the North Atlantic, and warmer. And we went into all those North African ports that were all new to us and we were right up to the front lines. We were only a few miles, we got into air raids, a couple of our escorts sunk submarines, and we saw lots of action there.
I fired hundreds of depth charges [anti-submarine weapons] in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Depth charges was the main thing, but we were actually electricians. We looked after the electrical work on the ship. Not only high power, but low power: batteries, telephones, searchlights, all that was all under being an ST [seaman, torpedo operator]. Yeah, I loved it, loved to be an electrician; and as far as the depth charges, it was fabulous because you know, you were in action and firing those things off. And I had a crew with me that loaded them back up and we saw lots of action.
And when we were in an air raid, I was a loader on one of the Oerlikon guns on the bridge. And that was a different experience altogether. But the worst part was the early part of the war, when the ships weren’t outfitted as good and we were green [new], didn’t know one thing from the other in the navy. Farthest I’d been on the water was across Lake Ontario on one of the ferries.