Pictured right: Tom pictured with his medals on Remembrance Day.
Tom remembers: I was a naive 17 year old when an item in the local paper said the Canadian Navy was looking for recruits. With my mother’s approval, I enlisted and found a life of excitement, discovery and companionship.
At first I was sent to the base at Naden near Victoria. The mild sunny weather itself was a wonder after years of freezing cold and snow in Regina. There was lots of physical training, running, boxing, wrestling and of course plenty of marching. I easily made friends with other seamen and was impressed with the knowledge of the training officers.
There was much to learn. Before you went to sea, you had to know how to run the ship, how to steer the ship, how to set courses and prepare charts. To me, the most interesting and longest courses dealt with communications.
In order to send and receive radio messages we had to learn Morse code and turn the dots and dashes into letters. When it was not possible to use the radio because an enemy might pick up the radio signals, we used flashing lights to communicate with nearby ships. The length of the flashes of light were equivalent to the dots and dashes of Morse code. After month so of training and practicing to make the codes second hand, most of us had worked up to 12 -14 words a minute.
Then there were flags which had their own alphabet of meanings. It became second nature to see a red or yellow flag hoisted up the yard arm and know to change course by so many degrees.
All this training stood me in good stead when, after three years, I was assigned to HMC Athabascan as a leading seaman and experienced signal man.
Life became even more interesting as we sailed to distant parts of the world. We were in England for the coronation and sailed south to Hawaii where we trained with the USA and Australia navies. Because the flags were international, as a trained signal man I could communicate with all other NATO countries and I was proud enough to think I was the best.
Life was great. I had an interesting career with lots of new stuff to learn and existing skills to improve. The other men were great companions and I admired the officers who taught us well and were fair and friendly, not like the Captain Blighs you read about in novels. It was a life of travelling and seeing new places. My biggest concern was occasional sea sickness when we hit bad weather but even I learned to control that.
The seriousness of being in the Navy struck me, when Canada joined other NATO forces during the war in Korea. I had been reassigned to the destroyer Sioux and with two other Canadian destroyers we were responsible for bombarding facilities on the coast and for chasing enemy ships in the Yellow sea and preventing them from landing. They of course fought back but we were lucky enough to never take a direct hit. It was certainly was scary when a bomb or shell fell alongside our ship or we had to dodge shrapnel…but not scary enough to make me feel less keen about being in the Canadian Navy. I loved it. I had been there for 25 years when I finally retired.
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