Full speed ahead…
Elizabeth took a chance to write to Jim L’Esperance whose father was Jim L’Esperance a sailor on board HMCS Athabaskan that faithful night of April 29, 1944…
I have taken your email address from an email that I received from Sherry Pringle. My uncle John Roberts was lost at sea on the Athabaskan.
John’s brother-in law passed away this year and I was going through family memorabilia and found a copy of a postcard that had been sent from John, dated Sept. 23, 1943: John said the picture in uniform showing his new hair cut was taken while on leave: he mentions that an Eddie Bieber and Jimmy L’Esperance (from Winnipeg ) toured the whole island together.
I have no idea which island perhaps Greenland ?
I have a picture of the Athabaskan anchored off the coast of Greenland .
Anyway, I guess I wanted to ask if you are the son of Jimmy or a relative of his by the same name and/or if you had heard mention of my uncle at all in your Dad’s stories? I so wish we could have met him before he passed.
I was taught to be proud of my uncle and grateful to all those that lost their lives and to never forget. I have followed the history of the ship through books like the Unlucky Lady and now Sherry’s wonderful personal stories in All the Ship’s Men, including the unique story of your father.
I will appreciate your response at anytime, and certainly understand if you have no information forthcoming …just long shot!
Jim knows how much I know about the Unlucky Lady.
I wrote Elizabeth… and she wrote back.
I am so pleased that Jim has given me your contact information.
I would appreciate any information that you might have about my Uncle: anything that I was able to glean from family members was always so sketchy. They could never talk about it. John’s father was sure that if he had survived the blast, that because he was a strong long distance swimmer, he could have been either picked up by a German ship or actually made it to shore on his own. It took him till the end of the war to finally accept that was not the case.
I have done some investigation and believe that John was on duty at the time the ship was torpedoed and therefore would not have had a chance.
I do know one story, that we have not been able to follow up. Apparantly, a buddie of John’s was on leave (I do not know if he was on the same ship or not ) and had a “hot date” with one of the commander’s daughters. John’s overcoat was new issue and so he loaned it to this fella to wear in place of his well worn one.
His nickname was “Blackie”.
After the war, he came to John’s home in Stratford and returned the coat: he had along talk with my grandfather, who would never talk to anyone about it! John’s mother died from a terrible accident falling from a second floor porch not long before the ship went down: the Captain was given the task of informing John while at sea. When word was heard of John’s death, the family of course said it was best that she never knew that her son was killed. Everyone handles sorrow and death differently.
I had an opportunity at a recent family funeral to find some pictures of John in uniform that I had not seen before; I will attempt to get them scanned through our office and forward them to you. Of particular interest is a copy of a postcard he sent with a very brief message.
My mother remembers reading letters that came home with big black strokes throughout as they were all screened to remove any information sensitive to the war. We have no idea what happened to the letters. We think that my grandfather burned them.
I sincerely thank you for any info forthcoming. I so wish that I had had the interest earlier in life to investigate while family members were still living, but I never remember my grandfather mentioning his name as I was growing up. When he lost his wife and then his son, he just became quiet. His first born grandson was named after John: said to be the spiten image of his uncle with the same outgoing easy personality. He was killed outright on a motorcycle at the same age as his uncle. My Mom is now 94 and what little she seemed to know is now forgotten.
I am putting together a family tree for my children, who have been taught the same as I was… to be proud of those that served and gave their lives, particularly as we lost a family member. But I have been thrilled to see the attention paid to the service of those on the Athabaskan through the books like the Unlucky Lady and Sherry’s wonderful All the Ship’s Men.
John was an excellent artist and I was hoping that some of his work might have appeared: as a young boy he loved to draw ships and instead of continuing his education at university, he voluntarily joined the Navy as so many young men did.
Thank you for your offer of assistance and I will get what few pictures I have off to you.
Next Monday, I will be going out to sea and see what I can find out on John Roberts ERA 4.
Full speed ahead.