A Naval Adventure

In 1962, when I was seventeen my high school suggested that I not bother coming back in the fall. They weren't teaching me a hell of a lot and I was fed up with the whole process so by some sort of mutual agreement, I moved on and joined the Royal Canadian Navy.
Three Frigates alongside in Halifax
After several months of ritual humiliation the armed forces calls basic training I was sent to serve on a Prestonian Class frigate, HMCS La Hulloise.
I remember turning up carrying  my two kit bags across the quarterdecks of other frigates. My ship was the third one in.  The La Hulloise looked well past its prime. In fact they all were. I had been hoping for a new destroyer escort  and I wasn’t all that impressed. As it turned out the old bucket of bolts had quite a history.
During the second world war it saw service pounding back and forth across the Atlantic, protecting convoys and on July 7, 1945  the La Hulloise along with two other Canadian warships, managed to sink German U-Boat 1302 in a depth charge attack in Georges Channel between Ireland and England. No mean feat considering how primitive the sonar was in those days.
Decommissioned after the war these old ships were eventually upgraded a bit and renamed Prestonian Class frigates in the 1950’s at put back into service.
So there I was, 18 years old, an Ordinary Seaman, un-trained and clearly at the bottom of the pecking order. We slept in the forward mess deck. Right above the sonar dome with its reeking smell of hydraulic fluid and the only thing between us and the pointy end was the paint locker which stunk of varsol and paint.
Not the most comfortable
We spend that first winter pounding around the North Atlantic, most of the time in anti-submarine exercises.  So I spend hour upon hour in the small sonar room with old bakalite headphones on listening to the reverberations echoing back to us, hearing the odd whale and to my memory never ever hearing the echo of a submarine contact despite the restrictions we put on the old Royal Navy Submarines that were acting as targets.
The rest of the time we did other meaningful things, like gunnery practice which didn’t really involve me and of course we scrubbed floors, polished brass, painted and took part in other navel activities.
The officers did other important things like learning how to sail the ships in a straight line. Sometimes one after another and sometimes in a straight parallel line.
I remember one afternoon we were in the Gulf Stream north of Bermuda and our squadron commander was putting the junior officers through these important drills choreographing things from one of the other ships. The seas were really rough and the ships were pitching heavily. When the bow of the ship next to us would come through a wave and pitch up, we could see right under the bow, back as far as the sonar dome. No wonder it was tough to sleep at night. Our messdeck was above that dome.
I was on watch as the lookout, standing on the upper bridge, exposed to the elements. The officers were all in the lower bridge, inside keeping warm and drinking coffee.
From where I was I could see that the constant pounding was beginning to tear away at some of the metal shielding which protected the gearing on the mechanism which was used to haul up the anchor chain. I dutifully reported all this to those in charge below. The deck officer was summoned and he came up to where I was and surveyed the damage.  He figured it had better be fixed quickly or even more damage would be done so, he summoned a few  able seamen, the ship was turned so the waves were not coming head on and once we had stabilized, the crew along with the deck officer went up to the fosc’le to repair the damage as best they could and lash everything down.
Meanwhile the squadron commander, a pompous old begger, looked over and saw that our ship was no longer sailing parallel to the others. He immediately got on the ship to ship radio and tore a strip off the officer of the watch who panicked and immediately turned the ship back into the wind and told the engine room to put on a bit more speed to get us back in line as soon as possible.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The revs on the prop cranked up and the ship turned to starboard. The bow rose high into the air and the fo'c'sle plunged down deep into the next wave.
When the spray cleared, there was no one on the forward end.  I ran over and started yelling into the tube of brass that was our intercom system and we quickly turned back to port and a more stable course.
Incredibly no one went over the side. The deck officer was picked up and slammed into a bulkhead hurting his back and a couple of others were washed down the deck scrambling and grasping for anything to hold on to. That is the most frightening feeling. I know how they felt,  it has happened to me a few years later. But, they were ok.
The last guy was slammed into and the force of the wave pushed him across the heavy gearing on the capstan. He was cut up, quite badly.
La Hulloise at Sea
There were no doctors on those ships, just a medical assistant, a leading seaman with basic medical training and a knowledge of first aid. His advice to the captain was that we head for the nearest post and get our guy stitched up properly. The squadron commander said “No.”  We were on important exercises.
That night in sickbay the injured and delirious seaman tore off his bandages and ripped out stitches. By mid day were turned south and steamed toward St Georges, Bermuda where our buddy was taken off by helicopter and rushed to the hospital in the American air base there.
I ran into him months later. He still was in quite a bit of pain and more than a little bitter. He left the navy after his first term was up.
There was no inquiry. I guess it was all put down to unpredictable seas. No one ever asked for my version of events and I am the only one who saw it all happen.
So don’t bother asking why I don’t have any faith in military leadership, why I seldom believe what they say and why I don’t trust them much at all.
Been there, Did that. Wasn’t impressed

1 comment:

  1. Good story!

    (commenting from the second floor...)


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