Mr. Stewart is pictured top 3rd from the left, 1944.Don Stewart
Mr. Stewart (1st from the left) on leave after VE day, waiting to be sent over to the Pacific theatre.Don Stewart
Mr. Stewart's Service Medals (L-R): 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; Italy Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; Victory Medal.Don Stewart
"So I went home to see mom. She grabbed a hold of me, I thought she was never going to let loose. And I can still feel this today."
I was just 17 and there was a, naval personnel from the [HMCS] Discovery in Vancouver [recruiting] in Penticton at the time, at the old Incola hotel. And I said to my friend, Alan Moore, I says, let’s go. He said, we’re not old enough. I says, there’s no problem, we’ll be able to get in. So we went down there, we got the application and they got it filled out and I said, well, I have to take it up to my mother to sign. My mother was a nurse at the time at the hospital in Penticton. So I told her I was buying an old car, so she signed.
Well, she didn’t find out until I made sure that I was down at Discovery in Vancouver and I knew I was in the Navy for sure, then I told her. She kind of blew her top but I says, there’s nothing you can do. I says, this is what the younger generation is doing now, they’re volunteering, so I’ll be okay, don’t worry.
We were naval gunners on merchant ships and we had a 4.7 [inch] gun fore and aft, and we had Oerlikons [naval guns] on mid-ship, which are a 20-millimetre cannon, and then we had .50 [calibre] machine guns on the wings and that was our armament. Not much armament against a submarine, I can tell you that.
We went to Montreal, got a ship, then it was, that was the [SS] Chippewa Park, which was a 10,000-ton merchant ship. And it was one of the original ones; it was still a coal burner. And we took off from there, went to Quebec City, put on the mine nets and torpedo nets, went to Bedford Basin in Halifax, picked up our convoy there, went down the East River to New York; we anchored right off the Statue of Liberty until things were ready, we were probably there three or four days. Then went to Norfolk, Virginia, picked up the remainder of the convoy and we were escorted to the Mediterranean.
But we left with 64 ships and when we got to Port Said in Egypt, where you’ll see on the photo, there was only six of us; six ships. And I went from Port Said in Egypt and that’s when we took supplies over from there to Italy and then we came back to Port Said, went down the Suez Canal, crossed the Indian Ocean to Bombay [now Mumbai], India. And then I caught malaria and I was off the ship, missed my ship and that’s when I took the additional gunnery course. And then the next ship that came in was the [SS] Dunlop Park, I caught it and went from there to Dar Es Salaam [Tanzania] in East Africa, which was Portuguese Africa in those days, down to Durban in South Africa, Cape Town in South Africa, then across the Atlantic, up the coast through the Panama [Canal], down to Santiago, Chile, then to Lima, Peru. And then we were told that we were going to Pearl Harbour, but the war was over [by the time we got to] Pearl Harbour. So we went to Pearl Harbour and when we got to Pearl Harbour, we were told that the Germans had surrendered.
The biggest memory of all was when I was taken off the ship sick in Bombay - there’s no place to mail letters, there’s no, you know what I mean. So apparently, some fellow with the same name as mine, his ship was torpedoed, and so my parents were notified that I was lost at sea. So consequently when I got home, in 1946, I didn’t tell them I was coming home because my dad had been transferred from Penticton then to Copper Mountain, which is just outside of Princeton, B.C. So I took the train to Princeton, caught the bus in Princeton and went to Copper Mountain. My father being the policeman there, he had to meet the buses, because it was a company town. And the old man looked at me and he said, you’re dead. I said, what the hell do you mean, I’m dead? He says, we were notified, we’ve had your memorial service for you and all. So I said, well, how is mom taking it? Well, go home right away. So I went home to see mom. She grabbed a hold of me, I thought she was never going to let loose. And I can still feel this today.