"So we moved in and I managed to get my Oerlikon going and the shells were bouncing off the conning tower of this submarine, just as it was going down."
But on June 6th, I commissioned the [HMCS] Kokanee, which is a nice new frigate. And we brought the frigate around from the west coast and stopped off in Hawaii and did our gunnery exercise and sonar like that. So then we brought the frigate around and we joined up for ocean escort. I got involved in a cross from Newfoundland to Londonderry and Ireland type of thing. The first trip was very good in that when I got to Londonderry, I managed to get some leave and get a ferry over to Scotland and go to where my parents were from. And meet some relatives, cousins that were there and uncles and so on in Bridgeness (Bo’ness) and Lincolnshire, which is right across from Falkirk, in between Edinburg and Glasgow.
[The Battle of the Atlantic. Chasing German U-boats.]
But we came back, on our way back [to Canada], the interesting thing was, we had been chasing submarines on the way over and it was when they would scatter the flotilla, all the ships, all the submarines didn’t have targets, you’d have to go chase them. But I can remember at night coming out on deck and we were really moving full stream. I came out, I swear I could have just about touched this huge great freighter alongside going the other way. I don’t know how he got away without hitting the thing.
But on our way back, the interesting thing that did happen, one of the more interesting things I guess, was that we got to Halifax and we were the junior ship, because we just joined the escort. So we were detailed off to take some of the coal barges from Halifax down to Sydney, Nova Scotia, where they would get loaded up again type of thing. So that’s a very slow trip but the barges are just going a few knots at a time.
Anyway, we got down to Sydney and dropped them off just at dusk and turned around and lo and behold, there’s a submarine on the surface just off Sydney Harbour and he’s charging his batteries up at night. So we went at him and […], then the first round in our four inch [naval gun] jammed. So there was nothing we could do there. But I was running my Oerlikon guns [a 20mm autocannon], I had two Oerlikon alongside in a cockpit with a joystick control, like you’d have with your games these days. So we moved in and I managed to get my Oerlikon going and the shells were bouncing off the conning tower of this submarine, just as it was going down. But that’s because there was so much metal there to protect it, the shells weren’t going through there, just bouncing off. We chased it for about 24 hours and never did find anymore about it. So that was my outstanding little bit in World War II that I’ll always remember because you don’t normally get that close to them, unless they’re being nasty and you’re going to get lost. So. Yeah, we did pick them up by ASDIC [sonar], naturally, we were right there. But we weren’t close enough to ram him, which would have been the answer. But it was quite an interesting exercise.
[Joining up the Permanent Force.]
So after that, we came back and I made four or five more trips across the Atlantic and then after that time, I had signed on Royal Canadian Navy on permanent force. I decided that I liked it and I didn’t know what I was going to do after. My academics were down because I had joined at such a young age. That was one point that the rest of my time in the service, I spent an awful lot of time bringing myself up to metric levels and getting ready for other things.
[The daily life in the Royal Canadian Navy.]
Daily life was you’re in a very crowded mess deck. And you’d have about 30 to 40 people crowded in […] with hammocks flying. You had space for your own equipment. It was a square foot of locker space, and just about everything you had to own was there except there was a rack for shoes and hats and things like that. And then there was other places for coats, etc., around. But there just wasn’t too much space to go around.
Your meals would come in a great big tray thing and you’d get plunked down and people would take turns from the tray and make sure they didn’t take too much. You didn’t dare take anything and leave it because, you know, after you were three, four days at sea, the bread would go moldy and you’d just cut the mould off and eat the bread and so on. It was a very interesting life. Of course, I stayed in the navy for 23 years, so I got to see a lot better stuff after, naturally.