"They passed me for entry and said they would call me, which they did, but I was halfway across the Pacific on a Merchant Navy ship bound for Australia."
I was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, 1919. I grew up duringthe Depression years. But I’m at the age of 90 now and they said, you must have had good genes to survive, but I never had a pair in my life. So, anyhow, I applied for the Royal Canadian Air Force in [RCAF Station] Moncton. They passed me for entry and said they would call me, which they did, but I was halfway across the Pacific on a Merchant Navy ship bound for Australia, which I wanted to see. And I did. That first voyage took four months, did all the ports in Australia. Some of them were pretty dangerous; there were raiders there [that] were dropping mines at some of the entrances. They had long entrances to some of their ports.
But the main thing is we escaped; and it’s pretty humbling to remember that some of our mates were rescued from their ships, especially the [oil] tankers; and not only rescued, but were taken by another ship that was sunk too. And many of them did not survive the second one, but some have had as many as five sinkings and survived.
But they asked about the Merchant Navy aim or what did they do; and one fellow was saying he was in the army. Well, the question was, how did you get to Europe? Merchant Navy. How was your war machine supplied? By the tankers ̶ the Merchant Navy. I imagine in some of these battles there, well, a tanker is something like a cigarette lighter, doesn’t take much to get it set afire. But that was the first two years of the war and the ship was taken by the Admiralty [Royal Navy]; and I landed in Bristol or Avonmouth, England. It was either then to join the British Merchant Navy and go on their list or we saw the High Commissioner [of Canada] in London, and he said we could be transported back to Canada, and join the Canadian Merchant Navy.
Well, there was a year wait for a ship and I joined the hospital ship, the [SS] Lady Nelson. It was what you’d call a pretty safe berth, but there were dangers. One incident concerned a ship blowing up next to the hospital ship in Algiers [French North Africa]. It’s well recorded by a story in the Canadian nurse’s book, nursing sisters, in the explosion of the ship and their efforts to get out of the ship because everybody was ashore it seemed. But they finally got out to the ship and came back in, and started proceedings for the loading of patients the next day. But all in all, it’s been a great thing to be recognized in the later years.
Well, I joined the New Zealand Shipping Company… New Zealand names [my ship] was named the [SS] Kaikoura. The sister ships [SS] Kaimata, [SS] Kaipaki, [SS] Kaituna, and the passenger ships, the [SS] Rangitoto and the [SS] Rangitane, real lovely first class passenger ships for England to New Zealand. My duties, to get it to the point, I joined as an officer steward. And in conversation with some chaps in Australia, they said, oh, you were a spud barber, a potato peeler in other words. Yes, I was a spud barber, but I became chief steward, but through promotion. And when the hospital ship came, we joined as their waiters and stewards; and my job was especially concerned with the night duties, where it was a 24 hour a day - with patients aboard, 500, you were kept quite busy at night.
Melbourne [Australia] was one of the first ports, I think. They were very good to the Canadian Merchant Navy people there. I always tell this story about a young lady. I asked her if she’d like to go to the dance, and in her good Australian accent, she says, "I’ll go if you’ll take me." And then she asked me if I knew what a bison was. I said, "yes, it’s a buffalo." No, a bison is what the Australian people wash their faces in; a basin.
Well then in the hospital ship, most of the 23 voyages were just to, well, Southampton, Liverpool or Avonmouth [all English ports], and then to North Africa, as far as over as Phillipeville [now known as Skikda, Algeria]. That’s beyond Algiers. There’s Phillipeville and Gibraltar, of course, and Sierra Leone and back to England where the ship was taken over by the Admiralty.
I had a pretty easy and lucky time, but there were some dangers. So we took them as they came. I was very fortunate; more fortunate than most.