FAINT FOOTSTEPS, WORLD WAR II
D. Harrison (front row, 3rd from left); Effingham Division, in Halifax, 1941
Canadian Sailors Volunteer for the Unknown, 1941
In June 1941 my father started training with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) in Hamilton at age twenty. According to him, it was no piece of cake.
In navy memoirs he says, “Rifle drill, route marches, frog-hopping up hills with 60-pound sacks on our back, and gunnery skills. Everything done on the double.... they really toughened us up.”
An American, “Alabama,” couldn’t handle it well, was discharged, but Dad and Buryl McIntyre (both from Norwich) and many of their new mates persevered and were shipped to Halifax in October.
“But not before the 80 of us, led by our mascot (a Great Dane) and headed by a band, did a march through Hamilton,” Dad writes. “We really were proud and put on a display of marching... shoulders square, arms swinging shoulder high, thousands watched and we were roundly cheered and applauded. This was a proud moment long-remembered.”
"Shoulders square, arms swinging shoulder high, thousands watched." Hamilton, 1941
Training was “very severe” in Halifax, and he recalls “running outside in temperatures in the low twenties in T-shirts and shorts, morning after morning.” The reception from some Haligonians was just as chilly. “One restaurant had a sign in its window - Dogs and sailors not allowed.”
Lloyd Evans of Markham recalls the trainees enjoyed one significant bit of adventure, at least most did. In memoirs he says, “The highlight of the training was a one-day trip to sea on a Minesweeper for gunnery practice. The whole ship rattled and shook when the 4-inch gun went off. It wasn't all fun - one of our boys was so seasick he pleaded to be thrown over the side!”
An RCNVR recruitment post. $1.10 per day! (More for Stokers)
Most of the sailors made life-long friends while there, and together they volunteered for an organization in December ’41 that was to direct their training activities and participation in significant events (operations, i.e, raids and invasions) during World War II.
These men were already ‘signed and sealed’ members of the RCNVR. Why volunteer for another organization? Higher pay? Not likely. More money is seldom mentioned in veterans’ tales.
My father writes, “One day we heard a mess deck buzz or rumour that the navy was looking for volunteers for special duties overseas, nine days leave thrown in.”
Because Christmas was near, nine days off would turn many heads, surely.
Al Kirby of Woodstock recalls something else enticing about overseas duties. In a story he says, “I was finishing my Torpedo Course in Halifax when I saw a notice asking for volunteers to go to England to train with the Royal Navy for hazardous duties on small craft. I immediately thought “Motor Torpedo Boats”. That sounded very exciting to a 17-year-old boy seaman, so I applied. The only qualification was that you be single and warm.”
Youthful enthusiasm and easy qualifications perhaps helped lure a few volunteers.
Dad also recalls the following:
We had, over a period of six months, got to know each other very well, and were swayed greatly in our decision by the fact that it seemed an excellent way to stay together. So, come what may, we informed our Petty Officer. Almost to a man, (we) volunteered for the unknown. (“Recalling A Wartime Christmas”, Norwich Gazette, December 1994)
Doug on nine days leave, December 1941. Where next?
Doug's Navy file. He is signed off by HMCS Stadacona (Halifax), 25 Jan. '42.
Next entry: H.M.S. Quebec (Combined Operations No. 1 Training Camp),
located in Inveraray, Scotland*
*Editor's note re above photo of Doug's file: Once the file was located ("8 Feb '42"), it was sent on to his first training camp in the U.K., located on England's south coast.
Please link to Editor's Column: As Published in the Norwich Gazette (1)