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Jim L’Esperance’s son sent me this newspaper article…

His father tells how he managed to hide and avoid transfer…

jim-1 newspaper

Winnipeg Sailor One of “Underground Navy” Who Hid Out to Avoid Transfer

NEW YORK, May 29—(CP)—

Sixty-four men of the Canadian navy, all but one of whom were captured when the Canadian destroyer Athabaskan was sunk in the England Channel in April, 1944, arrived here Monday en route back to Canada with varied tales of life in Germans prison camps.

The other man—AB. Sydney Bell, of Britannia Bay, Ont., was taken prisoner March 25, 1941, when a Royal Navy ship was sunk by a German surface raider 480 miles off Freetown, West Africa.

The men crossed the Atlantic in the liner Aquitania.

The party left for Montreal by train Monday night, where they will receive a medical examination and back pay before proceeding to their homes on leave.

Fourteen of the sailors hid out in their camp near Bremen in April when the Germans ordered everybody to move and become known as members of the “underground navy.”

One member of the “underground navy” was LS. Joseph (Jim) L’Esperance, 433 Talbot ave., Winnipeg. About 500 men hid out at the camp, including 60 Canadians.

When word of the forthcoming transfer got around, said Lesperance, four of them—himself, John Fairchild, of Quebec, and two Norwegians—decided to hide out.

“We picked the attic of the shower room; lay down under the eaves and pulled up some insulating material to conceal us. Then the guards came out searching for hidden men. They fired a few bullets through the roof and the Norwegians jumped up and gave themselves up.

“The guards jabbed into the insulation with bayonets but when one guard got near us he stepped onto a cardboard covering on the attic’s floor and fell through, landing on his face on the floor below. That ended the search.” He said he and Fairchild lived under the floor of a hut for nearly three weeks, until they were rescued April 28 by the Scots Guards. Merchant navy men, who had not been moved by the Germans, supplied them with food.


Ordnance Artificer Steve Dunnell, Victoria, described the march. It began April 10 and they reached Luebeck April 23, traveling on foot all the way and using devious routes which made it difficult to judge the distance. They covered as much as 20 miles one day, he said, and the normal distance was from 10 to 15 miles.

“The column was strafed once by our own planes, three Royal Navy men were killed, two badly injured. We used to describe the planes that flew over as ‘friendly or English.’ Frequently we scattered into ditches to escape…

Jim L’Esperance

I had to start a new blog when I wanted to talk about the sinking of the Athabaskan. It is called Souvenirs de guerre.

The story was too vast for Nos Ancêtres, my blog on genealogy.

Since August 17, my research brought me to Manitoba.

This is where Jim L’Esperance lived.

His son Jim wrote me several times.

Today, his daughter Sharon just wrote me.

Jim and Sharon will send me by mail photocopies of the documentation they have concerning their father.

This is a picture of the reunion of the Athabaskan crew taken in 1971.

Athabaskan 1971 with numbers

My friend Yves Dufeil, who lives in France, sent it to me.

This is a close-up…

Jim Lesperance 1

Jim L’Esperance

I wrote to Sharon…

Hi Sharon,

Thanks a million for all the info you can provide.

On another note, I am also an amateur genealogist.
I write a blog on genealogy and in this blog I wrote about a family, the Bohemiers, who moved from Ste-Anne-des-Plaines to Manitoba in the 1880’s.

I was always fascinated by history and now genealogy is my passion. I was an history teacher for only two years in a 34-year career.

Can you provide me with some info on your father’s parents and grandparents so I can trace back his ancestors ? They surely come from Québec.

This is the link to my first two articles I wrote in January 2008.


I talked about my great-grandfather Édouard Métayer. As a child, I remembered his picture on my grandmother’s dresser.
Édouard Métayer died following injuries he sustained while responding to a fire in 1928. I never knew him of course (I was born in 1948), but now after all my research I know him well and I traced back his ancestors.

As for your father’s ancestors, I will use the Canadian census to help me and parish registers if I know where his ancestors were married.

Thanks again,


I think you know what I want to do with that information… but that’s between me, Sharon and Jim.