Jim L’Esperance’s mementoes from Germany

Editor’s notes

There is a wonderful story unfolding on the French version of this blog.

The niece of another sailor has contacted me once again after she last posted comments in 2013 on that blog about her uncle Gérard Tourangeau.

I am now sharing Jim L’Esperance story with her on that blog. She has her uncle’s few mementoes. She wanted to give some away to a museum. I told her to keep them in the family as precious mementoes to her uncle’s sacrifice for his country.

Museums have enough artefacts in boxes stored in warehouses…

This being off my chest, here a reposting of something I wrote about Jim L’Esperance’s artefacts his son Jim had shared with me…

Lest We Forget

ORIGINAL POST FOLLOWS

Jim L’Esperance became a prisoner of war when HMCS Athabaskan was sunk on April 29, 1944. His son Jim has contributed many times to this blog that pays homage to the sailors who served on that ship.

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Jim sent me these mementoes yesterday with this comment after he read the post about Günther Kramer.

Pierre, I also have some mementoes my dad brought home from the prison camp he was in. I have a German arm band and several German uniform pins as well as his identity tag he wore while he was a prisoner. I also have some German money he brought home. After he escaped they found money laying in ditches which were of no value so he picked some up and brought it back with him.

Jim

Footnote

Jim added this information later.

Pierre some of the medals are from WWI.  I heard some of the guards in the prison camp were soldiers from WWI. I am not sure how he got those but he brought them home with him.

The nazi arm band [it looks like a flag in the pictures] was worn by the Germans. I am not certain how he got that  but there were many dead German soldiers along the roads when they escaped.

He did tell me the money was just lying in ditches and on roads. It was of no value so he picked some up to bring home.

I believe the metal tag was his identification when he was a prisoner of war and interned in the camp.

I do not know much about the pins or crests he had in the little metal box he brought home from the war.

Perhaps some of your readers may know more about these things.

I have all his medals including a medal he was awarded by the Russian government shortly before he passed away in 1988.

I know one of his WWII medals was stolen from him when he was at a reunion in France. He was vey upset over that. He said his name was stamped on the rim of that medal so it could be identified  if it was ever located.

Jim

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Petty Officer George Grivel: A splendid man… – Redux

I received that comment from Joanne on Remembrance Day…

Comment:

Hello, George Grivel, ( the splendid fellow) was my uncle. I have some pictures of him but I’m sorry my scanner is on the fritz. When they speak of my uncle’s commanding voice I had to smile . He had an extremely deep voice which I’m sure sang beautifully but I never heard him sing. We didn’t see a lot of my uncle growing up as the navy was his life. He died in 1996 I believe. I would have to check that date. I was at his funeral. I’m sure he was smiling when the minister passed out in the middle of the funeral and had to be bodily packed out. The funeral was cut short and we all made our way to the cemetery. It was pouring down rain so everyone was slipping and sliding up the hillside to his grave site. I’m sure he smiled even more at our mud speckled clothing.

ORIGINAL POST

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)

 

END OF THE ORIGINAL POST

Joanne send me this a few minutes ago…

uncle1 uncle

I had to post them.

 

If you want to write to me, use this contact form…

Murmansk Run – Scant info…?

A comment just made about a post I wrote a way back on this blog…

Comment:

Sir:

My dad had 3 brothers and one of them 24 year old Jack Smith who was a chief engineer sailed on one of these runs and was gone over 7 months. I never heard him talk of this, but my dad did. About how dangerous it was, etc. Jack was from Mobile, Alabama and at this time I don’t know if he was with Waterman Steamship or on a Liberty ship. My grandfather would go downtown and check the list of lost ships every day to see if Jack was okay. One day, right out of the blue, he called from NY and my mother was there to witness the joy. As I remember, many of this fleet on his run were lost and few made it home. I know this is scant info, but is there anything you can add to this.

Thank you so much,

Dianne Bryars

HMCS Athabaskan was part of the Murmansk Run.

The Murmansk Run (source)

Beginning in the late summer of 1941, a total of 41 Allied convoys sailed to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel during the war. The Arctic convoys delivered millions of tons of supplies from the United States, Great Britain and Canada, including aircraft, tanks, jeeps, locomotives, flatcars, rifles and machine guns, ammunition, fuel and even boots. From the beginning, Canadian merchant sailors served on Allied ships making the runs. These ships departed North American ports such as Halifax or New York and sailed to the northern Soviet Union, usually via Iceland or Great Britain. This route became known as the Murmansk Run. The Germans threw the full weight of their air force and navy against the convoys as they neared the coast of occupied Norway. Attacks by more than a dozen enemy submarines (known as U-boats) and hundreds of planes simultaneously were common. Indeed, more than 20 percent of all cargo on the Murmansk Run was lost and one convoy lost 24 of 33 ships at a cost of 153 lives. It was so dangerous that strict orders were given that no merchant ship was allowed to stop, even to rescue sailors who fell overboard. These unfortunate men had to be left behind.

Harsh weather and the Arctic ice pack took a toll as well. Many of the runs took place in the winter to take advantage of the almost constant darkness in the northern seas. The temperatures were frigid, the winds strong and the waves sometimes 25 metres high. Sea spray would often freeze immediately on the ships’ upper surfaces, creating a heavy coating of ice which could cause a ship to capsize if not quickly chipped away. Using onboard equipment and even walking on deck in such conditions was a great challenge.

Beginning in October 1943, Royal Canadian Navy destroyers and frigates also became involved in the Murmansk Run as convoy escorts. They participated in about 75 percent of the subsequent convoys until the end of the war a year and a half later. Remarkably, no Royal Canadian Navy ships were lost.

This is the medal awarded by the Russian government to sailors who took part in the Murmansk Run.

It belongs to a sailor.

SONY DSC

Tom McCulloch’s Murmansk Run Medal, issued by the Russian government to sailors who ferried war supplies from Allied ports to Northern Russia during the Second World War.

Tom McCulloch

His story is here.

This is also a very interesting story about a sailor aboard the Athabaskan who was also made a prisoner like Jim L’Esperance.

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Disaster as US ‘D-Day rehearsal’ is ambushed

Click here.

Excerpt

As Operation Overlord approached the Allies were embarking on the final exercises for troops involved in the invasion. The aim was to rehearse the movement of troops by sea in as realistic manner as possible, with the men making an equivalent length of journey to familiarise them with sea going conditions. It was not always a comfortable experience.

The last of the rehearsal exercises now began on the south coast of England, beginning with Exercise Tiger for the men destined for Utah beach. On the 28th April the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower was amongst the senior officers watching the manoeuvres at Slapton Sands. His aide Captain H. C. Butcher was accompanying him and recorded the day in his diary:

Casualty list of the sinking of HMCS St. Croix

The sequel to the forgotten post about HMCS St. Croix…

The reason I forgot was because I had posted the same story on the French version of this blog. There was a French-Canadian sailor who also died.

He was in the engine room.

Here are the first in the list of casualties of HMCS St. Croix.


In memory of
Leading Coder
SELWYN ARTHUR  ADAMSON

who died on September 20, 1943

Military Service:

Service Number: V/36276
Age: 30
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. St. Croix

Additional Information:

Son of Arthur M. and Gladys Adamson, of Port Credit, Ontario.

In memory of
Leading Stoker
HUGH  ARMSTRONG

who died on September 20, 1943

Military Service:

Service Number: A/2547
Age: 40
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Navy Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. St. Croix

Additional Information:

Husband of Jean Elizabeth Armstrong, of Toronto, Ontario.

In memory of
Engine Room Artificer
WILLIAM MORRISON  ARMSTRONG

who died on September 20, 1943

Military Service:

Service Number: 21375
Age: 29
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Navy
Division: H.M.C.S. St. Croix

Additional Information:

Son of William J. and Lillian A. Armstrong, of Victoria, British Columbia. Husband of Thelma Annie Armstrong, of Esquimalt, British Columbia.

In memory of
Able Seaman
WILLIAM RUFUS  BADOUR

who died on September 20, 1943

Military Service:

Service Number: V/30991
Age: 19
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. St. Croix

Additional Information:

Son of Augusta Badour, of Kingston, Ontario.

2557394_1

WILLIAM RUFUS  BADOUR

2557394_2

2557394_3

WILLIAM RUFUS  BADOUR

In memory of
Able Seaman
NORRIS BENJAMIN  BAILEY

who died on September 20, 1943

Military Service:

Service Number: V/31265
Age: 25
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. St. Croix.

Additional Information:

Son of Maria J. Taitinger, of Claresholm, Alberta.

2557399_1

NORRIS BENJAMIN  BAILEY


In memory of
Leading Stoker
GORDON FRANKLIN  BARNHART

who died on September 20, 1943

Military Service:

Service Number: V/8916
Age: 23
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. St. Croix

Additional Information:

Son of Reuben W. and Malvienna Barnhart, of Fort Erie, Ontario.

HMCS St. Croix – Survivor’s Account

I wrote this draft post in September 2009, but I never got around to post it before today.

Full speed ahead!

hmcs-st-croix

The sole survivor of the St. Croix, Stoker W. A. Fisher, told his story in a newspaper account:

(Winnipeg Free Press 1 October 1943)

Survivor Of St. Croix Tells Of Destruction

By LLEWELLYN McKENZIE

New York, Oct. 1 (Special) The sole survivor of a torpedo attack in the Atlantic, which claimed the lives of 146 Canadian seamen in the sinking of the Canadian destroyer St. Croix during a 10-day running fight with a pack of enemy U-boats, told his story today. He is William Allan Fisher, 23, former Turner Valley, Alberta, oil driller.

Able Seaman Fisher told his story from a British naval receiving station in Brooklyn. He was brought there in a merchant ship which rescued him after his first first rescue ship was sent to the bottom. Fisher is waiting a 30-day leave which will him back to his 20-year old wife, Marie Louise, in Black Diamond, Alberta. His left foot was hurt during the sea battle.

“We were part of an escort detailed to a large convoy,” Stoker W. A. Fisher related. “We received a signal that submarines were about. We stayed astern of the convoy, but on September 20, we had to come up and take on oil from a tanker in the convoy. On our way back to our position we saw a Canadian four-motored Liberator signalling us. We were told that they had spotted a submarine and dropped depth charges. We flashed two boilers and made for the spot at 24 knots. As we neared, we had to reduce speed. As we slowed up we were hit in the screws.” Fisher said there was no panic and no one thought of abandoning ship. “But in two minutes another torpedo struck, this time near the mess deck, and water began to pour in,” he went on. “The captain, Lieutenant Commander Dobson, then issued orders to abandon ship.” That was just before 8 o’clock and dusk was gathering and a slight wind blew even though the sea was calm.

Some men were injured by the explosions which followed the torpedoes, some were burned and cut. They were put in the motor launch before it was lowered over the side. The motor boat pulled away. Meanwhile attempts were made to lower a 60-passenger oar-driven whaler. Two attempts resulted in two large holes being gouged into the bottom of the whaler. Carley floats were dumped over the side and the men began jumping into the water. “No one seemed worried then,” Fisher related. “Many of the crew laughed that they would be due for 29 day survivors’ leave.” The rowboat pulled away from the sinking destroyer, and picked men out of the water. “Even then I thought the ship would be saved,” Fisher said. “Then I saw the captain dive off the boat. I knew everyone was off then and that the captain had given up hope.”

As Lieutenant Commander Dobson headed for the motor boat, he saw two men struggling in the water. He towed them to Carley floats and then made for the rowboat. Fisher was in charge of the motor boat. “No one in the boats died during the night,” the survivor went on. “It was morning that everything happened. Men on the Carley floats insisted on getting into the rowboat. As the men got in. it settled lower in the water. Just before the rescue ship came along, it sank. The whaler did not have any injured men aboard. They were oil-grimed and cold. I saw men who were tough, big men. They hung out all night in the hope a boat would pick them up. Then when the boat did not come into view they died. I guess they couldn’t hang out any longer. We dropped them into the sea.”

Sixty men were still alive on the whaler. The ship which headed to their rescue was the Royal Navy frigate ITCHEN, completed last September. As the frigate steamed through the lifting morning mist, the men in the whaler received the signal that the ITCHEN would come directly to their rescue. As the ITCHEN neared, a torpedo was seen to explode 30 yards to her stern. A message was flashed to the Polyanthus, a corvette of the Flower class, to come out of the convoy escort and circle the ITCHEN while the men were taken aboard. “The Polyanthus was just coming in and she was struck,” Fisher said. “I guess she went down in about 10 minutes. We rescued 10 men in our whaler. The ITCHEN headed for the convoy,” Fisher went on. “Some of us were given jobs to do. I did watch. On September 2, two days after we were rescued, we were ordered to our action stations because submarines were around. We had three orders. The first started at 6 at night. There was another one at 7 and again at 9. At 9 o’clock I was standing beside the funnel when a torpedo struck. I was knocked 30 feet and landed against a gun platform. As I crawled toward the rail I kept yelling for my pal, Stoker Rod MacKenzie, of Sydney. MacKenzie had been torpedoed six times before. He didn’t answer and I jumped over the side. As I hit the water there was another explosion and I felt that my stomach was being squeezed through my ears. The water just cracked,” said Fisher. When he reached down to tug off his boots, his left boot was missing. It had been blown off. Fisher grabbed a board and looked to see other men jumping from the ship. Most of them drowned. A Carley float drifted by and Fisher jumped on. During the night others jumped on, but most of them died.

©1996-2004 – The Naval Museum of Manitoba – 1 Navy Way – Winnipeg Manitoba – R3C 4J7