64 Athabaskan Survivors Home

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…


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