NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99


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Page 13 of 97

F rom the pleasant office in Haymarket I had seen more of the faces of war. After a year in that office I asked for a posting to sea. Captain Agnew approved my application, and I went off to take courses in such things as gunnery and navigation at HMCS King's, the training establishment on the campus of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A corvette could turn on a dime, in the manner of speaking. For that facility I am uncommonly grateful. Most of us in my class at HMCS King's were destined for corvette serv- ice. Our instructors were veterans of the North Atlantic campaign. While warning us of the discomforts ahead, those young old salts of the wavy navy emphasized the corvette's two outstanding characteristics. One, she could perform her tasks in atrocious weather and mountainous seas that played havoc with merchants vessels and bigger warships, including the much-tout- ed destroyers. (However, we were also constantly reminded that "a corvette will roll in wet grass.") Two, she could turn on a dime. We were required to write in our class notebooks that the corvette was the only ocean-going war- ship in the Allied navies with a tighter turning circle than that of a U-boat operating on the surface. That was an important point to the corvette's advantage in convoy warfare because it meant she could out-manoeuver a surfaced submarine in a close-quarters gunnery duel. That insistence about turning on a dime must have worked into my subconscious during the worst moments of my time at sea. Moments when disaster loomed in the treacherous fog and demon visions flashed through my skull of two corvettes being blown sky-high. U-boats had nothing to do with it. Four corvettes, line ahead, moving at fair speed down the narrow channel through the great mine field off St. John's, Newfoundland, shortly after midnight, January 1944. Dense fog. We are heading for a convoy rendezvous. The mine-field guarded the approaches to St. John's harbour and the channel was marked with buoys. I am standing watch on the open bridge of HMCS Brantford, rear ship in the group. Ahead of us, Shawinigan. Muffled in long-johns, two sweaters, a duffel coat, balaclava, and mittens, I stomp my fur-lined flying boots for warmth, thinking longingly of the next cup of hot cocoa due up from the galley in twenty minutes. A signalman leans against the Oerlikon cannon on the bridge's starboard wing. No navigation problems while in the channel, just watch the station- keeping speed, check that we are observing the rule of the road and holding to the starboard, or right hand, lane of the channel, leaving the port, or left hand, lane clear for inward-bound traffic. The heavy fog that sullenly envelopes us smells like seaweed, plays tricks with vision and perception Forget-me-not Remembrance Vol.4 9 By L/Cdr Eric Downton RCNVR retired

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