2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Petty Officer George Grivel: A splendid man…

I just wanted to learn more about George.

This must be the same person William Abbruzzese was refering to in his message he sent me.

Hi Pierre,

Enjoyed the info on Charles and the Athabaskan very much. My Uncle Lcdr George Grivel  RCN (ret) sent me a copy of the book Haida years back and told me the torpedo electrician mentioned as saving another of the survivors was in fact Charles

Please do approve the comment.

Bill

This is the source of this excerpt.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” The loss of HMCS Ottawa, September 1942

Late in the evening of 13 September 1942, while escorting Convoy ON 127, the destroyer Ottawa was sunk by U-91. Lieutenant L.B. Jenson, RCN, was on the bridge when the first torpedo hit:

An amazing geranium-colour flash forward was followed by a great pillar of water which went straight up! All of us took shelter under the overhang at the front of the bridge as the water and all sorts of solid objects tumbled down from the sky. When the downpour stopped, I went back to the compass and we stopped engines. The ship lay still in the water, rocking gently. The forecastle with anchors and cables together with A Gun had vanished, and the forward canopy with B Gun drooped down towards the water. This was visible because the interior lights were all on and shining out all over the ocean. We obviously were a lovely target so the engines were ordered slow astern. …… Mr. Jones left the bridge and hurried at once to the quarterdeck, where he set all the depth charges to “safe” so that if the ship sank survivors would not be blown up by our own charges.

I asked the captain if I could do a quick inspection and report back. He agreed and I went down the ladders to the starboard passage into the mess-decks. The forward mess-decks, upper and lower, were gone, and the ocean splashed outside the great open hole, illuminated by the mess-deck lights and a calcium flare from a lifebuoy burning in the tossing waters. In the after upper mess-deck a group of about 20 men were clustered by a hammock netting. A number were terribly wounded. Men with grotesquely twisted limbs were lying there; it was like a scene from hell. ……

Back on the bridge I found the captain and the first lieutenant engaged in firing a rocket, a signal that we had been torpedoed. At almost that very moment a second torpedo hit us, this time in number 2 boiler room, a huge flash then water deluging downwards on us. It was obvious that the ship was doomed.

She started to settle in the water and the captain called out to “abandon ship!” Men were trapped in the Asdic compartment in the bottom of the ship and called up the voice pipe. I cannot bear to think of it. Others were trapped in the seamen’s wash place, where a sliding steel door had jammed shut. If one thinks of war as a policy, also think for a moment what I heard that night and cannot bring myself to describe. …… Strong men become little children crying for their mothers, not like John Wayne the motion picture hero.

Able Seaman C.R. Skillen was at his action station at one of the destroyer’s anti-aircraft guns when he was ordered forward to assist the wounded. As he recalls, he never got there:

As I stepped onto the first rung of the ladder to the upper deck, the second torpedo hit us amidships and split Ottawa in two. It hit directly below me, and when I came to, I was lying on the upper deck, aft of the stern-most funnel, with my legs, somehow pinned by the guard rail. I struggle to free myself, but to no avail, As I lay there, I knew that the bow of the ship had already sunk and that it was only a matter of time before the stern would follow suit. That is when the thought entered my mind that I was going to die.

However, I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I said a little prayer to my Maker, asking him to forgive me, and then I gave it another try. My leg came free and I rolled myself into position and slipped into the cold waters of the North Atlantic.

Lieutenant Jenson, also in the ocean hanging onto a spar, watched his ship sink and then,

Oil started spreading out from where the ship had been. It was all over my face, my head and hands. The smell filled the air and the taste was in my mouth. Gradually it lessened and the waves were now fresh and clean. Three or four Carley floats bobbed around hundreds of yards away. They were crowded with men, some of whom were sitting inside the floats, and the floats kept turning over. Each time there would be fewer men on the float.

Now to my astonishment the ships of the convoy passed through us – the huge ships’ sides (how could they be so big?) and small people at the top calling down to us. One voice told us they dare not stop and I hoped they wouldn’t because we would still be in the water when they were fished (torpedoed). ……

The night was getting darker, the waves were steeper, the breeze stronger and it seemed to be raining. The men on one of the rafts [floats] were singing. I recognized the cheerfully commanding voice of the gunner’s mate, Petty Officer George Grivel, a splendid man. The songs were “Pack up Your Troubles,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “There’s a Long Long Trail Awinding to the Land of My Dreams.” These were the hit songs of the First World War, sung by our fathers and uncles as they had faced death in the hideous mud and trenches of the Western Front.

Seaman Skillen, badly wounded, jumped off the sinking destroyer and remembered that,

When I surfaced, I could hear my shipmates yelling and moaning in the distance. I made my way towards the noise, but all the while I watched the stern of Ottawa slowly disappear beneath the surface. I was pretty certain that there would not be an explosion from the depth charges, since these had been rendered safe. Soon I came across a carley float, and this would be my lifeline for the next five hours. Although the seas became rougher as time passed and more and more of my shipmates succumbed, one by one, to the cold, slipping silently away, I clung to that float, knowing that one wrong move would spell the end. I wanted to sleep so bad, with the sea lulling me into a false sense of warmth, but I knew that if I shut my eyes, I would suffer the same fate as my shipmates. Therefore I hung on with grim determination. The sea tossed the carley float about like an old inner tube. I think that there had been originally twenty-two of us clinging to it, but there was only about six of us left, when suddenly out of the dark loomed the outline of a ship. I soon recognized it as one of the escort group and they had found us!

The rescue vessel was the British corvette HMS Celandine, and when Lieutenant Jenson was identified as an officer, he was directed to the wardroom where he encountered a shipmate from Ottawa:,

Immediately I entered, Barriault, our leading steward, came over and said, as if nothing unusual had happened, “Good evening, sir. Would you like a cup of tea?”

So I replied, “Good evening, Barriault. That would be very nice, thank you,” and had a cup of delicious, wonderful hot tea.

Of the Ottawa’s crew of 213 officers and men, 69 survived

In Peril on the Sea — HMCS Ottawa Sinks, September 1942

HMCS Ottawa

On 13 September 1942 the River Class destroyer, HMCS Ottawa, was torpedoed by U-91 while escorting Convoy ON-127. She was hit twice and many of her crew perished before the ship sank while those who abandoned ship had to wait many hours before they were rescued. Of a total complement of 213 men, only 71 survived. One of the findings of the subsequent board of inquiry was that if Ottawa had been equipped with the more modern Type 271 radar, she probably would have located her attacker before the U-boat fired. Unfortunately, it would not be until nearly a year after her demise that the RCN would begin to receive such equipment. (Drawing by L.B. Jenson who served as an officer on HMCS Ottawa)

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The kind of comment I like to receive…

Looking for information about his grandfather who was a flight engineer with 425 Alouette

RCAF 425 Les Alouettes

Hi there, I have recently found out that my grandad was part of bomber command and have been told that he (Ronald Bailey) was a flight engineer based with 425 Sqn in Tholthorpe. I cannot find much information on him but for his 90th birthday this year I would like to make a little presentation and maybe some contact addresses and so on from this part of his life. All I have been able to extract is all the above information and that he lied about his age to join up.

I’d like to mention he is British and not Canadian. Any info would be great. Regards Gary.

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Please do approve the comment

Thank you for posting this blog. My father was Charles Burgess pictured in the reunion. I never met him and I was adopted . My name was changed to Abbruzzese. I have very few images of my father and know little about him.

Bill told me I could approve the comment he made earlier this week.

Charles Burgess

Hi Pierre,

Enjoyed the info on Charles and the Athabaskan very much. My Uncle Lcdr George Grivel  RCN (ret) sent me a copy of the book Haida years back and told me the torpedo electrician mentioned as saving another of the survivors was in fact Charles.

Please do approve the comment.

Bill

Charles Burgess CPO, Victoria, B.C. Redux

This is the only picture I could find of Charles Burgess.

Athabaskan crew 1971This picture was sent in 2009 by Yves Dufeil.

This is the original.

Athabaskan 1971 with numbersCharles Burgess was one of the lucky one who survived the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan. I am trying to contact someone who wrote this message on a genealogy forum…

Looking for any information on Charles Thomas Burgess, believed to have been born 1913 in Silton, SK, Canada, died about 1981, possibly in NS. Survived the sinking of the Athabaskan.

Thanks!
Kathy

 Charles Burgess

Charles Burgess 2

Charles Burgess 3

Charles Burgess
1913?-1981?

You can contact me via a comment left on the blog, or by using this contact form.

Charles Burgess CPO, Victoria, B.C.

That’s what is on the list of sailors who were on board April 29, 1944.

Burgess Charles T. 2438 CPO 31 Victoria, B.C. Haida C

CPO is Chief Petty Officer. Charles Burgess’ name is mentioned here.

I remember in 1950 as an RCNR cadet when I was serving in HMCS Antigonish, there was a Chief on board named Charlie Burgess, who I discovered was probably the only man to get off the stern of the Athabaskan alive. He told me the first hit, was right below the after flag deck, it had blown him into the water, and that he thought my dad was on the after flag deck during the action.

This is the article.

A story about the Athabaskan… A service is held on the last weekend of April in Hamilton yearly

Sixty-nine years ago tonight, Mom and I went to Ottawa’s Mayfair Theatre to celebrate dad’s safe arrival overseas. It was a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, with the two of them leaping from lily pad to lily pad. Suddenly Mom tensed up and shuddered. “We’ve to go home, she said. “Something terrible has happened.”

Leslie WardLieutenant Leslie Ward

Allowing for time differences that was the exact moment that Athabaskan was hit. We had no idea he was on board. We’d received a cablegram that morning saying he had arrived safely. Dad crossed the Atlantic on a corvette in a convoy, landed in Londonderry, immediately took a ferry across the Irish Sea, then the train to London. We found out later he had been told he was to take over Canadian Naval Information in London while the senior man, Commander Peter McRichie, went off to cover D-Day.

Dad pleaded for the chance to see some action before then. McRichie told him that Haida and Athabaskan were sailing that evening from Plymouth at 2200, and if he could make it, he could go. He made the ship in a scramble, with five minutes to spare.

One of the few benefits of losing your father when you’re 13 is that he stays perfect for ever. When you’re 18 or 20, you start to think, perhaps, that the old man isn’t with it all the way.

Loss of HMCS Athabaskan affected the families of each of those 128 who died early that morning off the coast of France, just as the war affected the families of all who were killed  and the families of many that survived. I’d like to offer a brief catalogue of how the Athabaskan’s loss affected us.

Losing dad was terrible for our small family. Mom was left with me, and a four year old brother, and of course we didn’t know what had happened to Dad. He was missing, presumed dead. We moved back to Toronto but  we could not get into our old house in the Beach, because we’d swapped for the duration of the war with an Ottawa family. I kept wishing I was old enough to join the navy, but I had to settle for sea cadets. In 1945 I got a bursary to go to Lakefield College near Peterboro. They had a Navy cadet corps, which reinforced my pro Navy feelings.

I remember in 1950 as an RCNR cadet when I was serving in HMCS Antigonish, there was a Chief on board named Charlie Burgess, who I discovered was probably the only man to get off the stern of the Athabaskan alive. He told me the first hit, was right below the after flag deck, it had blown him into the water, and that he thought my dad was on the after flag deck during the action.

I badly wanted to be a naval officer. Turned out I was red/green colour blind and the navy didn’t want me, so I wound up as a reporter for the old Toronto Telegram, eventually covering military affairs.

In 1962 Haida came to the Great Lakes on a farewell tour. Because of Haida’s connection with the Athabaskan, I was keen to visit the ship. I got a ride in Haida and that’s where I met Neil Bruce, an Air Canada pilot who also felt strongly about the Navy, tribal class destroyers in particular. There were a couple of other guys around, too — former naval officer Norm Simpson, enthusiast Dave Kidd, and Allan Howard, who was head of the Ontario maritime Museum. I became involved because of Haida’s connection to Athabaskan.

With Neil’s prodding, we formed Haida Inc, an organization intended to save Haida from the scrap yards. Norm Simpson did our legal work pro bono, Dave Kidd was a superb money raiser, and Allan Howard had all manner of Toronto contacts, because of military writing I had contacts in the defence department. Neil Bruce was our driving force.

In the event, Paul Hellyer, who was defence minister at the time, agreed to sell Haida to us for $20,000 to paid over ten years with the first payment deferred a year. We were to pick up the ship in Sorel. It was our responsibility to have Haida towed from Sorel to Toronto. We took out loans, with our houses as security. I’ll never forget my wife’s face when I told her I’d just mortgaged the house for one fifth ownership in a destroyer.

I was an information officer at HMCS York while all this was going on. We cobbled together about 18 guys to crew Haida through the seaway under tow to Toronto, and we went to Sorel with half a dozen Coleman stoves, some rations, and a 120 volt generator, which we persuaded the railway conductor was hand baggage.

Jack MacQuarrie was one of the York officers on that trip. After I signed for the ship in Sorel, Jack strung the emergency wiring, and we lashed down the generator behind B gun mounting. We bought 120 volt light bulbs from a local store, and voila, we had the ship powered and lit.

We were being towed by two tugs, hired from MacAllister Towing in Montreal. We had a remarkably trouble free passage through the St. Lawrence locks, and figure we’d get to Toronto in record time.

Instead, at one stage we were stopped by fog near Brockville, tethered to a tug which also anchored. We didn’t have the faintest idea where we were, and small motor boats kept appearing out of the fog, much surprised to find a destroyer tethered in their river. Imagine if you can, our CO, Commander Bill Wilson, leaning over the rail with an Esso road map to hand, asking the motor boats where are we?”

Eventually we arrived safely in Toronto to be met with a huge armada of boats, including Toronto’s fire boat shooting jets of water everywhere, and sirens wailing. On the jetty to meet us was Admiral Harry Dewolfe, who commanded Haida in her prime days.

We ran Haida as a museum for almost 10 years in Toronto. It was risky during that first winter because of all the ship’s openings to the outside water, so necessary for an operating ship, but extremely dangerous in ship without engines in fresh water. If the openings freeze, they crack open and the ship would be flooded. We had to keep a trickle of water running through each opening, and have pumps working 24-7 to keep Haida afloat. Eventually we had her towed to Port Weller, where the openings were all welded shot.

In 1971 we turned Haida over to the Ontario provincial government to be moored at Ontario Place. Government changed, the new provincial rulers didn’t keep up the ship. She was in grave danger when Sheila Copps, the minister for Parks Canada, said Parks Canada would take her over, and foot a bill for major repairs, provided the ship would be moved to Hamilton.

I can’t look at Haida without thinking of Athabaskan.

For me the Athabaskan story came full circle 10 years ago. A French underwater explorer, Jacques Ouchecoff, discovered Athabaskan’s wreckage about six miles northeast of the small port of Aberwrach. Toronto film maker Wayne Abbott had already made one film on the Athabaskan. Now he intended to do another, with divers visiting the wreckage.

I went to France with the film crew, and my younger son Mark, an experience diver, was to be one of those to visit the sunken ship,in almost 300 feet of water. Now that’s a serious dive, even without the massive tidal currents that sweep around Ushant into the Channel. At the wreck site, spring tides can run at up to 10 knots, which explains why so many Athabaskan bodies wound up 30 miles down the coast.

With us were two Athabaskan survivors  Herm Sulkers and Wilf Hendrickon. Both went out with the dive boats, and stayed on the surface.

Our dive crew stayed in a rented Breton house near Ile de Verge. The walls of the main room downstairs were covered with huge schematic blueprints of Athabaskan, detailing all her features. There were five divers in the crew, two from France, my son Mark, a British dive expert, and the man who trained Mark for the dive, ex US Navy Seal Terrence Tysall.

For this dive, the men would all be on mixed gas, required because of the extreme depth. They would carry helium, nitrogen, and oxygen, and breathe specific gases at specific depths. Each dove with an impressive array of tanks strapped to his back.

It was such a thrill on our first dive day, to see the wreckage of the Athabaskan show up on our sonar. We buoyed the spot for divers, who went down with video cameras to film the wreck. All told, the divers were down almost an hour and a half with only 10-15 minutes of that time on the wreck. It took each man more than an hour to come up, gradually decompressing with a stop every 10 feet or so.

Back at dive headquarters, the divers, Wayne Abbot, with Herm and Wilf, reviewed the film taken of the hull. Sometimes they’d go to a schematic on the wall to point out a particular feature. One thing showed strongly. The Port side of the ship was intact, and she was lying on her starboard side, quite severely smashed around. The stern has nowhere to be seen.

Next day was Marks time to dive. The Canadian Navy had prepared a brass memorial plaque for ship, and Mark was to leave this memento on the ship where is grandfather had died. He actually placed the plaque on the bilge keel of the Port side, just about at the break of the foc’sle.

The ship was badly knocked about, perhaps because RN ships had orders to depth charge any wrecks in the Channel, because German U Boats were using them as camouflage.

It was quite an experience waiting on the surface while my son was deep down, exploring the ship where dad died. Time went fairly quickly, because the Breton captain of the dive boat shared a bottle of local wine with me. I can’t tell you how glad I was to see Mark surface. Mark wanted to be here today, but he’s currently finishing up a job in Mexico.

Mark and I visited grave sites of Athabaskans at three places, including Plouescat, were most those lost are buried. The entire dive crew held a small service there, and expressed our gratitude to the people of Plouescat, who maintain those Athabaskan graves so well.

That’s a bit of the story of the way the sinking of the Athabaskan and the loss of my father affected me. It’s true that each of the 128 men lost on that night 69 years ago left families and loved ones behind, and those families led lives deeply affected by their loss. Just as in our family, the consequences of loss influenced generations which were unborn 69 years ago. You can think of those consequences of wartime loss as ripples of war in lives ripples that perhaps grow fainter generation after generation. If the lives of the relatives of those lost on Athabaskan were affected, so were the countless families or all who were killed or badly wounded during that war, the Korean War, peacekeeping missions, and of course, Afghanistan.

I’m grateful for my association with G-O7 society, and for the friendships created. I’m grateful, too, for the regular newsletter those of us in the G-07 association receive regularly from today’s Athabaskan, third RCN ship to carry that name.

I’d like to close by thanking those who served in this wonderful destroyer, and for all Canadians who serve and have served their country.

Contributed by Peter Ward

Someone sent me a personal message about Charles Burgess wanting to know more.

We will try to do just that.

You can contact me via a comment left on the blog, or by using this contact form.