Veteran Stories:
Terence “Terry” Elworthy

Merchant Navy

  • Terence Elworthy's Service Medals: 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Pacific Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45); Canadian Forces Decoration.

    Terence Elworthy
  • Medal from Russia received by Terence Elworthy 10 years after the war, in recognition of his action during the Spitzbergen Raid in 1941.

    Terence Elworthy
  • Medal from France received by Terence Elworthy in recognition of his action during the Spitzbergen Raid in 1941.

    Terence Elworthy
  • Medal from Norway received by Terence Elworthy in recognition of his action during the Spitzbergen Raid in 1941.

    Terence Elworthy
  • Map of the world with the different itineraries of Mr. Elworthy.

    Terence Elworthy
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"We had to fight an E-Boat or two. It was foggy and very dark on top of that, so we were firing at the noise of their engines, we couldn’t see each other."


I was serving my time in the merchant marine as a cadet in the Canadian Pacific liner, [RMS] Empress of Canada, one of the four crack ships in the North Pacific Ocean. Well, in October 1939, we were taken over by the British Admiralty in Hong Kong and we had one choice and one choice only: either sign the new articles for a troop carrying ship or return to Canada. So nobody returned to Canada, we all signed back up. So we were all due for three years of trooping, some for various reasons left to join navy, army, air force or just to get off the ship.

We began the war by proceeding down to Wellington, New Zealand where the first convoy was being formed up, mostly British ships, but there was some Polish and French and a British battleship, HMS Ramillies, one of Britain’s top battleships. She was the main defense and then there were Australian warships and New Zealand warships providing protection for approximately 50 000 soldiers bound for the Middle East at Suez and Alexandria [Egypt].

Then we went back to New Zealand, pardon me, we went back to Australia, to Sydney, and did a dry docking at Cockatoo Island dry dock. And then we loaded up with Australian troops and one day from Colombo [Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka] on the way north, they didn’t know what Italy, Italy appeared to be about to enter the war and they had a very, very fine modern submarine fleet in their colonies in Somalia. And at midnight one night, we turned around and went all the way back to South Africa. And rounded Africa and rounded, arrived in Britain the week of [the evacuation of] Dunkirk, right in the middle of it. So the troops that we were brought in were some of the only armed troops left in Britain.

And we got through that alright and got all our troops, 365 000 troops almost to the day that, to the number of days of the year. And then we settled in for a hammering we couldn’t do much about because the army had lost all its equipment at Dunkirk. Some of them had their guns, but it’s awkward to wade out in the water holding a rifle over your head so a lot of them wound up swimming to the ship.

Then they set about building up the 8th Army in Egypt. So we loaded the first British troops to bolster the force they already had in Egypt. And over the next year or two, we did seven trips right around Africa to the south of Britain of course, all the way up to the Middle East. Then we did the Spitsbergen raid [in Norway] in the Arctic and that took approximately two weeks, and was highly successful. When we were coming back to Britain, after the invasion, we could hear the German radio, Tromso Radio, in Tromso, Norway, calling Spitsbergen, and there was nobody home.

So then we, one of our last major troop carrying, we took troops out to Singapore and we landed them and we took civilians, some of the last civilians, including quite a number of children. We took them aboard and went all through the Dutch East Indies and seemed to the northeastern tip of Australia, which is Cape York, and then come down the east coast inside the Great Barrier Reef to Brisbane. And then down to Sydney where all our passengers were safely landed.

We then proceeded across the Pacific. The ship had been running at high speed for over three years, trooping all over the world, we rounded the world a couple of times in that one ship alone. And I made arrangements to go to the navigation school which was successful, and I became an officer, and then I went into the transports, carrying ammunition of all kinds and also food stuffs, and the people had to go on living as well as fighting the war, so no space was wasted. And I spent the remainder of the war in three of the Park Class ships, 10 000 ton ships with a crew of about 90 with the naval detachment onboard.

The Japanese were coming down the Malay Peninsula, they already started bombing and we just got out of Singapore in time, and my brother was in the [RMS] Empress of Asia, which was in the last convoy of British troops going out there, and he was killed when they bombed and sunk the Empress of Asia, right near Singapore. And he’s buried there. And I found his grave after the war and did the honours and so forth.

There were many adventures in the other transports that I mentioned. We took war supplies to Australia and New Zealand, Tasmania, a number of Pacific islands and a number of trips to the UK, where we had a lively time being bombed in Liverpool [England] and bombed in Hull, England. And we had mixtures with E-Boats [a Schnellboot or S-boot, German motor torpedo boat], we had to fight an E-Boat or two. It was foggy and very dark on top of that, so we were firing at the noise of their engines, we couldn’t see each other.

Well, the war was pretty outstanding at any time, particularly after Japan came into the war. We had our work cut out for us very highly in the Atlantic, but the Southwest Pacific became almost as bad, if not worse. Following Pearl Harbor, where they put half of the U.S. Navy out of action and sank a number of their battleships right in the harbour, and killed a lot of people. And of course, that’s what prompted the United States to make war on Japan. Now, that took a lot of weight off us because we then had the American Navy behind us as well as the British and our own navy.

Follow us