Veteran Stories:
Ralph Kimmerly


  • Dr. Ralph Kimmerly with the No.1 Canadian Mobile Hygiene Laboratory.

  • Tally of correspondence between Dr. Ralph Kimmerly to his parents, showing how long the mail took to travel.

  • Program from the Strand Theatre in London, 1945.

  • Ken Lazenby, medical laboratory technician for the No.1 Canadian General Hospital at the Badajos Barracks, Aldershot.

  • Earl and Ralph Kimmerly in O.T.C. battledress, 1939.

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"It was at dusk and we could see one single airplane, whether it was Italian or German, they didn't tell us."


Ralph Kimmerly. I was in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps No. 1 Canadian Mobile Hygiene Laboratory. Served three-and-a-half years in England, a year-and-a-half in Italy. I was finishing my third year of premedical at McGill University. And I'd been in the COTC, which is Canadian Officers Training Corps which is, sort of, Saturday night soldiers who are fellows going to university. I finished my third year and it so happened in May, 1940, in Montreal, they were forming two hospitals. Number 1 General and Number 14 General. Number 1, the doctors were from Montreal General Hospital. And Number 14, the doctors were from The Royal Victoria Hospital. And we went overseas first. And we landed in Glasgow on the 1st of August. From Glasgow we took the train to Aldershot. The Battle of Britain was going on then, bombs flying all over right outside our barracks. People must remember that there was a black out, eh? There were no streetlights in England. There were no place names and all the houses at night would have black tarpaulin type of thing over their windows so as not to show any light outside. And our boat, the Santa Elena, was torpedoed on the way to Italy. It was at dusk and we could see one single airplane, whether it was Italian or German, they didn't tell us. (laughter) But we could see it coming towards us and it lit off a torpedo and hit the Santa Elena below the waterline. Then eventually they said, "We're taking too much water, abandon ship." So we went down rope ladders into rafts. Now these rafts were about eight feet square and we paddled over to the SS Monterrey. We stayed around that area, whereas the convoy went on. And 24 hours later, they had taken our ship on the tow and they were towing it towards the north African coast. And all of a sudden it took so much water in that it sank. When we landed in Naples, the harbour was filled with ships that were overturned from being bombed. And we were very happy to see our Mobile Hygiene Lab on the dock. For the laboratory, you entered the back. You went up a couple of steps. And on each side were laboratory tables. And in the front there was a little compartment with a water bath, sterilizer. And, in England, they hadn't had need for a mobile laboratory so they gave us the job of doing a nutrition survey. Our unit would set up a table and as the fellows got their meal, I would tap six of them on the shoulder and say, "Bring your meal over here. Dump it out on our table." And we'd weigh the potatoes and the Spam and the brussel sprouts and we'd work out how much carbohydrate, fat and protein they were getting. And these were always adequate. Then we would analyze the amount of vitamin C. Now, why were we interested in vitamin C? Well, you might remember from your history, that the early settlers in Canada would get scurvy. Their teeth would fall out and they'd bleed all over, until they found out from the Indians that you took some cedar bark and boiled it and got vitamin C that way. But we didn't have scurvy in the World Wars.
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