Sunday, June 7, 2009

Another page of new novel in progress

During the first years of World War II I served in ships on convoy duty and there I found out where Hell was. I first served as a Seaman in HMCS St.Laurent. The ship had no heating system. During peacetime it had gone south every winter to avoid the cold. In the spring and fall we had a pot-bellied stove set up in the messdeck that supplied some relief from the cold while in harbour. It could not be used at sea.
When the war started the stove disappeared. From there on no respite from the freezing cold and wet was available. The misery lasted for weeks at a time.
At war's beginning the Canadian destroyers escorted the convoys part way across the North Atlantic and then were met by British warships that took them the rest of the way. This allowed the Canadians to return to Halifax to re-supply and re-fuel, before escorting the next convoy. Later on when the enemy submarines were operating in "Wolfpacks," we accompanied the convoys all the way, then went in to Greenock, Scotland for four hours to re-fuel. In addition to the misery of cold and wet, the St. Laurent had no refrigeration so after a few days at sea there was no fresh milk or bread. Powdered miklk was invented later on and it tasted like chalk. The absence of refrigeration also affected the meat and vegetable supply and stormy seas on the North Atlantic during the winters made it mpossible for the cooks to bake bread. If the cooks had been adequately trained the diet might have been suitable but hunger for real food often added to the misery of cold and wet.
At the start of war the ships were inadequately crewed. There weren't enough men for a four watch system of two port watches and two starboard watches, so we were in port and starboard watches of four hours on and four hours off. In rough weather, after four hours in a wet or damp hammock we would go on watch and get cold and soaked for four hours before doing it over again. This is where Canadian sailors learned all about the elasticity of human endurance.
After a few weeks of being constantly cold, wet, hungry and tired twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I knew where Hell was.