Veteran Stories:
Earle Wagner

Merchant Navy

  • Captain Earle Wagner circa mid 1990's.

    Earle Wagner
  • Earle Wagner's Certification of Awards, which include the 1939-1945 Star, Atlantic Star, Pacific Star, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and clasp, War Medal 1939-1945, and the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Medal 2002.

    Earle Wagner
  • Earle Wagner's Certificate of Competency as Master of a foreign going steamship in the Merchant Service, 1951.

    Earle Wagner
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"[...] sailing alone along the Atlantic east coast, in one day, I counted 14 Allied ships sunk and resting on the ocean floor, with parts of their superstructure above water."


In 1939, I completed school, but learning continued. In 1940 my application to join the navy as a boy seaman was rejected. But 12 February, 1941, I joined the Merchant Navy as a seaman aboard the motor vessel [SS] Reginolite, carrying oil between North and South America. In the spring of 1942, as able bodied seaman aboard the Reginolite, sailing alone along the Atlantic east coast, in one day, I counted 14 Allied ships sunk and resting on the ocean floor, with parts of their superstructure [area above the main deck] above water. I am sure I missed other sunken ships. This terrible experience of viewing so many ships worth millions of dollars and the death of so many seafarers was my most vivid experience of Nazi U-boat [submarine] warfare, and left a lasting impression upon me. I lost relatives and friends during this period of submarine warfare. Later that spring on passage in the Caribbean area, we sailed through an oil slick covering about 10 miles ̶ the result of a tanker being torpedoed. In the spring of 1942, while on passage from Halifax to South America and return, via the American east coast, the Reginolite was involved in seven incidents causing damage. The whole convoy of nine ships grounded off the coast of Cape Ann, U.S.A. Later that day, it struck bottom while transiting the Cape Cod Canal and the East River in New York, and it drifted ashore in New York Harbor. While transiting the Delaware [and] Chesapeake Canal, it collided with a navigation buoy and later collided with another ship in Curaçao, NWI [Netherlands West Indies]. Finally, on the return voyage, fully loaded with oil, it grounded and holed hull in the Cape Cod Canal. It required two and a half months to complete the round voyage, which in peace time, only required three weeks. In 1944-45, I served as chief officer on the [SS] Royalite operating in the South Pacific. In the post-war period, I was kept on ships up to 570 feet long and 18,000 dead weight tonnes and marine superintendent of government ships for nearly a quarter of a century. Now, 86 years, retired 21 years, I’m still very active assisting the Merchant Navy cause and recognition, and benefits. I was directly responsible for the National Merchant Navy Memorial on the Halifax waterfront in 1993. Over 60 Merchant Navy bronze plaques donated to seaports, cities and towns across Canada. I conducted over 30 memorial services at our memorial on the Halifax waterfront; the last one, September the third, commemorating Canadian Merchant Navy Veteran’s Day. I’ve been talking to school children about my World War II experiences for nearly 15 years.
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