Nene K270 - Life Aboard
Follow this link to read some of these stories as they were retold at the 1995 Reunion
Introduction to Life Aboard - Officer's Viewpoint
The Bridge
The Watches
Signal Watch
The Hammock
Daily Tot of Rum
Kye - Our Chocolate Treat
Position Means All
Tall Tales
Aircraft Reckon-Nishun
The Engine Room
Rough Seas
The Storm
The Mess Deck
Special Talents
The Dog Watch
The Galley and Canteen
Demon Rum
Sick Bay
The Midshipman
Shore Leave
Chicken Dinner
Xmas Celebrations
War Brides

Introduction to Life Aboard - Officers' View

The sounds associated with daily life aboard ship were quite unique. On the bridge could be heard a continuous sound not familiar to many; that strange hypnotic "ping-pok" cacophony of the ASDIC (echo sounding equipment) in it's relentless search below the surface detecting the presence of submarines and the call to action stations. Even in the dying days of the war the Nazi's fanaticism was unrelenting and no ship was safe while they remained undefeated. Many depth charges were thrown or dropped overboard and hedge hogs fired at suspected submarine contacts. The toll of dead fish was astronomical.

Lts. Taylor, Coombs, and Hunt

Amongst the crew, while all fulfilled their jobs with skill, there were a select few that provided the leadership, and the knowledge to carry out these combat operations with the precision required in these kind of situations. The success of the combat role was the result of well coordinated action by all of the crew members under the guidance and leadership of the Captain and his officers.

It was a constant battle, between watch and hammock, interspersed with action stations, when all crew members were ready for action. Al Ring, feeling that the Captain, Eric Shaw, might like a better view of things, built him a stool to stand on.

Capt. Shaw on the Bridge

The Bridge - by Gordon (Jamie) Jamieson

The Bridge was the focal point of all activity, directing manoeuvres, signals, attacks, gunfire. It was the nervous system that kept the organization functioning. As such, there was a constant stream of personnel, Officers-of-the-Watch, gunners, signalmen, seamen, lookouts standing watch.

The coxswain at the helm steers the ship according to instructions from the bridge. With Jamie Jamieson at the wheel the ship had a mind of its own. Jamie relates that we had been at sea a few days when the gyro warning bell rang. A report was made to the bridge and the Captain ordered him to give the course magnetic. Jamie asked the Bosun's mate to remove the cover from the magnetic compass and turn up the indicator light, but he still couldn't see the lubbers line. It was still impossible to determine the heading of the ship.

The Skipper came down from the bridge, looked over Jamie's shoulder at the compass, then promptly walked around the backside of the compass and exclaimed " quartermaster, who has tampered with the compass?" The skipper lifted the compass from its gimbal ring, turned it 180 degrees and reset it in the gimbals. Someone had tampered with the compass as a prank, much to the chagrin of Jamie, who suffered the wrath of the Captain.

The Watches

Life aboard the NENE was far from a luxury cruise. One hundred and fifty men crowded aboard a 1350 ton ship, under constant vibration from its engines, sleeping in hammocks. Each seaman stood his watch (the watch organization is the working organization of the ship). At any given time there was a certain proportion of the crew on duty in each part of the ship.

There were seven watches:
  the middle watch   0000 to 0400   Midnight to 4:00 a.m.  
  the morning watch   0400 to 0800   4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.  
  the forenoon watch   0800 to 1200   8:00 a.m. to Noon  
  the afternoon watch   1200 to 1600   Noon to 4:00 p.m.  
  the first dog watch   1600 to 1800   4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.  
  the last dog watch   1800 to 2000   6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  
  the first watch   2000 to 0000   8:00 p.m. to Midnight  


Signal Watch - by Howard Elliott

Passing signals on the signal yard was easy at signal training school - no heaving deck, no gales force winds, all nice and easy but quite a different thing at sea. It was another day at sea in the north Atlantic, a cold fierce howling wind and thirty foot waves crashing down on the ship. The ships in the EG 9 group were in "line ahead" and the signalmen on the bridge were numb from the bitter cold hanging on to anything to stay upright. Suddenly Yeoman of Signals Bunny Roberts, his voice trying to compete with the howling wind, barked " Forsythe, Elliott, get down to the flag deck and hoist a signal to the other ships in line". Sam and Howie thought they couldn't possibly hoist a signal in the gale but dutifully they followed instructions. The ship was rolling starboard to port side at alarming degrees and it took much effort just to hang on without being swept overboard.

Once on the flag deck they busily began to hook the signal flags, protruding from the pigeon holes of the flag locker onto the halyards. When they began to hoist the very colourful flags the wind took over and Howie and Sam found themselves in an almost horizontal position hanging onto the halyards and themselves at the same time. The flags billowed out over the side like a very fat letter "D". With exhaustive efforts they finally got the signal (to what they thought was) "Close up" to the yardarm and secured the halyards. Glancing up to the bridge with smiles of satisfaction on their faces they looked into the steely eyes of "Captain Bligh" Roberts. He said "Close up" you two. To which the twosome responded "they are Close up Yeo". Struggle as they would they could not get the signals up nice and tight as per the Yeo's orders and suggested that if he could do better to try it himself.

Taking the challenge Bunny Roberts stomped down the ladder in his mouldy old zoot suit. Sam and Howie stood by as Yeo undid the ropes and then watched as Roberts sailed out over the North Atlantic hanging on for dear life until the ship righted itself and began to roll to the other side. He came thundering back inboard and plopped down on the flag deck like a paratrooper hauling in the shrouds of a parachute. Now there were some who thought that Bunny Roberts was going in for training as one of the "Flying Wallendas" as his post war job. Needless to say Roberts got the signal close up and made his way back to the bridge with the admonition, "I'll deal with you two later". He never did deal with them. Bunny (George) Roberts was the much respected Yeoman of signals aboard the Nene.

The Hammock or Mick

The hammocks were remarkably comfortable and swayed with the roll of the ship. The hammocks were slung above the mess tables and care had to be exercised in jumping down to make sure you didn't step on someone's breakfast.

Daily Tot of Rum

A tradition amongst ships of the British navy was the "tot" of rum (2 ounces of rum). Each day the seaman were provided with a tot of rum which had to be consumed in the presence of the officer when doled out. Some took the opportunity to conserve the tot and have a good "toot" ashore. Many ingenious devices were rigged up to save the rum. A flattened can might be tucked into your pants into which you poured the rum and saved for another day. Unfortunately the devices didn't always work or through malicious intent someone might have punched holes in the can to have the rum pour down your leg much to the hilarity of all present.

V.E. Day - Crew of the Nene Slicing the Main Brace

Kye - Our Chocolate Treat

Each watch could be long and tiring and especially on cold-weather watches a hot cup of chocolate, "kye" would hit the spot. It came in various consistencies: thick, thicker and thickest. During one trip the kye was not particularly good and the recipients, surreptitiously disposed of it over the side. On arrival at dockside in Londonderry, the Captain left the ship on his bike and at the bottom of the gangplank suddenly slammed on his brakes. The side of his beloved ship was streaked with a brown coating. Following the order: "All hands muster on the jetty", to review the sight the "Jimmy" had the crew paint the ship before the Captain reached the Commander D's office. Fortunately the kye sloshers were never brought up to trial, but the quality of the kye doled out on subsequent frosty night watches improved considerably.

Position Means All

Paul Coombs was the officer of the watch on the bridge while the Nene was escorting four or five large troopships from Portsmouth to Le Havre. There was a great amount of traffic in the Channel and the night was pitch black. The Nene was steaming at 15 knots straight ahead at a position 400 yards off the port of the leading troopship and Coombs instructions were to maintain that position at all costs. Paul was senior officer of the watch. A blip was picked up on the radar to starboard and it indicated the Nene was on a collision course - the blip had the right of way. Paul was not one to disobey instructions and continued to maintain position with the troopship, just neatly passing astern of a French frigate. The comments from the French bridge were, to say the least not complementary!

HMS Forester H30, an English destroyer, passing the Nene

Confidentiality - by Robert Munnings

There were all kinds of jobs to be done on board. Some were paperwork, it wasn't all guns and ammunition. Our intrepid Lieutenant, Bob Munnings took over the responsibility of Confidential Books Officer. Unfortunately a top secret document was missing and Captain Shaw had to report the matter to Admiralty. At war's end when he cleared out the ship's safe, the missing document was found. Discretion proved to be the better part of valour and no further mention was made of the document. The document was called WI. - it was the outline of plans of action, if the Germans invaded Britain. Pipes full of gasoline ran out from the south shores of Britain. If the Germans attacked, the navy was to set fire to the gasoline around invasion ships. A Polish engineer had thought up the idea and was awarded the George Medal for his ingenuity.

Tall Tales - by Sam Forsythe

This tale was related forty years after the fact at NENE's Reunion in Belleville, Ontario. Telegrapher Bob Watson claims it is the gospel truth but the Captain and Sam (Sig. Forsythe) will not confirm nor deny.

It seems Howie (Sig. Elliott) was forever late relieving Sam on the bridge when the watches changed. Sam apparently got a trifle fed-up with five minutes here, ten minutes there, so decided the next time it happened he would show his displeasure.

We were well on the way to Murmansk, all watches were being served in the darkness of the Arctic winter, all members of the ship's company were dressed in the northern clothing issues. It was the midnight watch, Howie was half-an-hour late, Sam was cold, having been on watch for four hours in 40 degrees below zero. His usually good nature strained to the breaking point, when a heavily clothed creature appeared on the bridge. He intended to carry on as usual and explain to Howie any pertinent facts about the previous watch, with any special instructions but the winter-clothed relief didn't say anything, just walked by!
A well-placed boot got the attention of the newly arrived matelot.
The Captain turned and "gently" asked why he was the recipient of a kick. Sam explained his reasons and sincerely apologized. The Captain, understanding man that he was, said that he would be pleased to convey the message to Howie. Which he did! There was one surprised Signalman, arriving three-quarters of an hour late, who was greeted with a swift kick and the words: "Sam told me to give you that, next watch be on time!"


Aircraft Reckon-Nishun - by Sam Forsythe

An ordinary seaman, newly drafted to the NENE, drew for his watch THE BRIDGE! Recently acquired seamanship training was fresh in his mind. THE CAPTAIN was the Officer of the Watch! This being his first watch at sea, he wanted to make a good impression. The combination of all this emotion built up and resulted in this excited report to the Captain: "Sir! Unindenti ... unandidifi ... unadent ... unindentifted ... Dammit! There's a plane coming from this side and I don't know whose it is!"

The Engine Room - by Bruce Booth

Bruce Booth reminisces a little about life aboard the Nene in the Engine Room. The approach to the Engine Room was via a gangway that was well lighted and warm. As you entered, it gave a feeling of comradeship and warmth and well being. The crew of the Nene had worked hard to make the Engine Room spotless.

All engines have their own character, tempers and pleasant sounds and the Nene was no exception. The ship was two shafted with two large triple expansion engines. The engines ran quite smoothly brought about by the diligent efforts of the ERAs running and maintaining everything in the Engine Room. The crew was constantly on the alert for strange noises or sounds, signalling some problem and consequently whistling was not allowed in the Engine Room or the Boiler Room. Some skippers were very superstitious and forbid whistling anywhere on board, believing it would encourage high winds. It was the heart of the ship and the crew worked hard to maintain the engines in good running order.

Under attack the Engine Room crew were so busy they had little time to think about the action taking place. The Engine room was a refuge from the cold, rain, sleet, snow and ice especially on the run to Murmansk.

On one occasion the ship nearly ran out of water. The coils had been changed in St. John's , Newfoundland. Bruce Booth (the Engineering Officer), the Chief ERA Stoker and Dusty Miller worked at the problem and they were at the point of shutting off the water to the showers.The problem was the water column outside the evaporator was not registering. By a simple correction they opened the petcock at the bottom of the column inserted a wire through the orifice into the evaporator and water was made like mad.

Grapevine - by Sam Forsythe

What's the latest Buzz, SIG? Signalmen were blessed with a rather unique honour, being in charge of the latest "buzzes" aboard ship. Howie (Elliott) and Sam (Forsythe) were a mischievous pair and were always willing to oblige with their tongue-in-cheek versions of sailing orders, draft notices, next port of call, or even what we were having for supper (again). For example: crates being loaded for the next trip could be labelled "Winter Clothing" and those sigs would insist that they were so marked to confuse any dockyard matey who may be a spy; spreading the "buzz" that they contained white shorts for a trip to Bermuda for further WUPS. It was fantastic how quickly a "buzz" would travel throughout the ship and be returned as gospel truth direct from the Admiralty. It would be suggested that Iceland was the next stop and, before going off watch, one would hear that real Ice Cream would be available at our next port of call!

Forty-five years later, at each of NENE's Reunions, Howie and Sam were dispensing the latest "buzz" and their credibility was never questioned!

Rough Seas

During a rough weather, the deck of the NENE was washed from stem to stern with water as the ship ploughed through the seas. On one occasion Fred Rodway, a Stoker on board the ship ventured out on the quarter deck and was washed over the side by the breaking sea but managed to get a grip on the guardrail as he went over. Hearing the cry for help Ralph Patterson dashed across the deck, without regard for personal safety and hauled Rodway inboard, saving his life.

The Storm - by Ron Graham

Ron Graham remembers a storm and the effect it had on him as an individual.

We make our way southward now, out of the raging maelstrom that has battered us for the last two days, and that now is carrying its fury away to the northeast. We limp along at half speed through the long sweep of the Stanton Banks ground swell, the gentle pitch and roll of the quartering seas, finally rounding into the lee of Inishowen Head, past Magilligan Point and finding there the calm of Lough (Loc) Foyle. We look about the gentle rolling hills as though for the first time and find them beautiful and draw from their beauty a restoration of strength and purpose that only now we have come to realize has been drained from us. It is an awakening, an awareness, even as we feel the total weariness of exhaustion.

The storm: As I begin to prepare for the first watch I'm only too aware of the ship's motion. She has been rolling sharply for some hours now. It will be wet, wet and cold, and I bundle up, wrap a towel around my neck to slow the inevitable creep of sea water from the flying spray, shrug into my slicker and sou'wester. Out on the main deck I stop briefly to adjust to the darkness, but only briefly, for the seas are flooding across and I climb to the flag deck to shelter for awhile before going to the bridge. Spray is flying constantly in the gusting wind and my winger is glad to be out of it, disappearing quickly down the inside companionway. I join the lookout on the port wing, trying to scan for a horizon within the flying spume of a force eight gale.

We reduce speed at this point, to about seven knots, as the wind, settling in out of the southwest, continues to strengthen. Another hour into the watch and we are into a full gale, the wind now backing to east northeast, conditions that warrant the Captain's arrival on the bridge. The deck watch checks all the lashings, the torpedomen set the depth charges to safe and all watertight doors and hatches are secured.

The pitching, rolling, twisting struggle is an abuse the ship cannot withstand for long, and the Captain decides to heave to. The exercise is a hazardous one, dependent on experience to ensure a successful completion of the turn. One is aware of the timing for the ship as it surges forward and heels into the sea, struggling momentarily and plunges off a passing wave to settle into the oncoming flow. The change is apparent at once. Now we will try to ride it out, keeping her head into the wind and adjusting the revs to maintain steerage and minimize the strain on the shafts. (Note: Don Delong recalled the sound of the spinning propellers when they lifted out of the water - a scream of sorts.)

The winds and seas intensify to where one is unable to distinguish between the sea and the sky. Fifty foot waves surge past, lifting her bow up, up up and then dropping her with a breathtaking plunge into the trough, forcing you to your knees even as you try to anticipate what is to come. Her bows surge into the oncoming wave, the seas roll across the foc'sle to thunder in a jolting stop against the superstructure; the fearsome struggle, the weaving from side to side to unload the burden forcing her down. Painfully she surfaces repeating this wracking, terrifying assault on her being.

We cannot see this happening, only sensing it, but it is terribly real. We cannot see it through the flying spray, through the flying sheets of water torn from the wave crests and flung against us in great slabs, forcing us away from our positions against the bridgewing dodgers and flinging us down repeatedly and momentarily smothering us 'til we climb up, painfully, to regain our position. To yield, to stay down would mean almost constant submersion and the subsequent state of disorientation would be fatal. At this point all of us struggle to maintain our watch positions.

The wind tears at us with a force that threatens to fling us into the sea; it howls and screams through the rigging like some demented being, and combines with the tormented screeching of steel under stress to assail our ears and minds with a cacophony of sound that brings a desire to have it all done with.

Time becomes irrelevant. Even if our watch ends we cannot be relieved, nor can we leave the bridge. It becomes a matter of going on. Under normal conditions the watch is never overly long, nor tiring. But now time is lost in this vast malevolence that holds us, that bruises us, body and soul, until the will to go on must come from an effort of total concentration.

To breathe means an agony of salt laden moisture that burns the throat and fills the head with a throbbing ache. The lungs seem to demand more and more even as the wind tears our breath away and distorts our faces with its alternating pressures and vacuums. To breathe at all becomes an agony and our bodies become a mass of bruises further tormented by the abrasive chafing of our wet, salt laden clothing.

In the midst of this, those of us positioned on the wings of the bridge make the decision, ease toward the inner bridge to take what little extra shelter might be available, and to seek the comfort of others suffering this hell. Making this brief journey is one of timing. And there they are, other lumps of humanity wrapped in their individual bundles of misery. They acknowledge your being there with a brief touch.

It becomes apparent that all five people of the watch are there and well, though one lookout keeps falling and we take turns keeping his head up to ensure he is clear of the water constantly swirling about our legs. An awareness of feeling returns and pain and cold, very, very cold. In other times you can, with an effort, drive it from you; now it seems to penetrate to the innermost parts of your being.

The Captain moves from one to another, giving encouragement with his quiet strength. You wonder how as this must be such a great responsibility for him. Everyone is praying a bit, right now, not loud, perhaps only subconsciously, a plea out of the confusion that reigns in our minds.

In our lethargy, we slowly become aware of a tentative change, something that begins to seep into our consciousness, tapping against our minds, trying to gain attention. A hand rests on my shoulder and I turn toward the Captain, and he looks up to the sky and there is a brief suggestion of a smile. I, too, look up and realize that I can see more clearly for the blackness is less so, dawn is nearing, reassuring us a bit. Even as we welcome this change other changes take place confusing us with their rapidity. The wind backs suddenly, then veers again; it comes in great gusts, and falls nearly calm, the sea is no longer running, but leaping in wild disarray; the ship plunges and wheels and seems out of control. Then in the sky we can see fast scudding stratus all shedded into streamers and flashes of sunlight through breaks in the huge vertical cloud banks all around. We are in the eye of the storm and the wind will come at us soon from the north-west!

The tempest returns, though the motion seems easier as we move off to the southeast, running in a stern sea. It would be easy to broach in this; there could be no room for error in the revs and heading. Once more we are enveloped in our pocket of sound and fury, though now we can see a bit and are able to anticipate. But the pressing weariness is still there, total, punishing, seemingly forever.

With the passing hours, dully we begin to know a slow, almost grudging, lifting of the travail. Slowly the wind continues to back through the west to the south-west and eases to force seven. The watch is relieved and the crew turns to with a will, for now we must return to the reason for our being here, and there is much to be done to clear the ravages of the storm.

Storm Damage to quarterdeck - Liberty boat gone

There is much damage. We've lost our boats and the davits swing free, with their falls and strops flying about like wringing hands in the despair of loss. All around the railings are twisted and here and there flattened to the deck. Canvas covers are missing, halyards and antennae broken, ready lockers dented, and some of their covers swing loose on bent hinges. But there is an enduring strength to this ship.

We rest in the calm of the Lough and await the pilot boat busily bustling toward us from Moville on the lee shore. It arrives, finally, coming up from astern to nudge alongside only long enough for the pilot to step nimbly aboard on the upsurge, then dashes away home to await another call. Our pilot looks about briefly before coming to the bridge, and there is a smile passed briefly among us as we recognize him from a previous run, this little gnome of a man in his tweed jacket, long since formed saggingly to his spare frame, his salt-'n-pepper cap resting on his ears, in his mouth the ever-present clay pipe titled upward by his forward thrust jaw. If the pipe were lit it would probably burn the tip of his nose.

He goes directly to the Captain, gives him a perfunctory handshake, mutters something like "been in a bit of a blow so you were, and all..." and turns to the voicepipe with "slow ahead ... starboard twenty ...midships...and we enter the Foyle to find our berth in 'Derry.

This brief passage up the river, in the final light of the sunset, the shadow patterns streaming down the hillsides, a balm soothing to our minds. With this soothing peace there enters my thoughts a dreaming... of a day's leave maybe, of a walk in the countryside ... down these rock-walled lanes I see...past these thatched cottage farms ... and a chat, perhaps, with a passer-by...and hear the laughter of children, all uncaring ... and happiness prevailing....

For a personal account of another storm see: ALGONQUIN'S STORM: A PERSONAL VIEW
By Donald Dunn - C2WR4 (1958-59)

The Mess Deck

The NENE went on patrol for periods up to one month at a time, constantly on the alert for submarine contacts. For the crew it could be long boring days, eating, sleeping and going on watch. There were lots of card games to pass the time, cribbage, bridge and letters to be written home to loved ones. The great joy was the receipt of mail with news of home.

While others wrote home, talked, or read, Telegrapher Al Nyman would trot out his briefcase full of his collections. Some people collect stamps, some people collect matchbook covers, but our Al had the largest collection of beer bottle labels ever assembled!


Due to the limited space in our messes, we were all aware of the necessity to "dhobey" on a regular basis, ( Dhobey is a word acquired in India, meaning - to wash clothes). One rating left his smelly socks around for longer periods than others thought prudent. While he was on watch his messmates cured him once and for all by depositing all of his socks in the wall locker (commonly called a porthole).

Lashing your hammock could require a major effort especially if the sea was rough. One seasick rating was trying to tie up his 'mick' with the proper Seven Seas wrapping. He was so sick, he couldn't hold his head up and rested it on the 'mick' as he was keeping balance as best he could. John Inglis, the coder, said it was the first time he had ever seen anyone sleeping and lashing at the same time.

Special Talents

The Communications Mess had the ship's barber, Telegrapher Harry Willer. Harry was from London, Ontario, and was quite old (middle twenties).

The resident mimic aboard NENE was Signalman Howie Elliott from Hamilton, Ontario. He could produce beautiful music when he simulated the piccolo, trumpet, etc. Yet this same signalman when seen in the dance hall in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, was a wallflower. When asked why he was not dancing he replied that he couldn't dance! With his natural rhythm that was difficult to understand.

The Dog Watch - by Dewey Barwis

Our Executive Officer, The Jimmy, known officially as Lt. James Taylor, gave strict orders. One of the strictest orders he ever issued was one that must never be disobeyed: No dogs aboard! Dewey (Dick) Barwis as we all knew had brought a pup aboard and kept its presence a secret for as long as possible. This pup sailed to Murmansk with us and The Jimmy told Dewey in no uncertain terms to get rid of "that animal". A tugboat skipper convinced Dewey to sell the pup for a huge pile of Russian banknotes (probably worth all of about 50 cents Canadian). Barwis had trained the pup to respond to his whistle and just as we were pulling away from the jetty, gave a whistle. The pup leaped the necessary footage to get aboard, leaving the tugboat skipper fuming and yelling obscenities at the NENE. Admittedly, Dewey did pass some of ill-gotten Russian bills around to crewmates as souvenirs.

The Galley and Canteen -by Russ Cameron

Preparing meals at sea was an arduous task with the ship bouncing around like a cork. It took great ingenuity and skill as Bill Hampson and Floyd Fancy would testify. The ship would suddenly lurch hard to port or starboard for a minute or so and Bill and Floyd would run back and forth trying to keep the pots and pans on the range. Many expletives were expressed toward the Bridge and it was suggested that it was a deliberate attempt to scuttle the meal. Now with all the tasty meals being cooked, who would ever conceive such a devilish scheme!

Bob Rotenberg recalls an incident aboard ship. The flag deck was directly above the galley and during a trip the signalmen dropped the flags to execute a signal through the open galley skylight directly into the soup. What a soupy signal disaster! Cookie was brought up on a charge of destroying Crown property!

Talking about tasty meals Gordie (Jamie) Jamieson relates a little story with a humorous side. Jamie was a member of the "Blue Watch". One evening four seaman including Jamie, drew their supper, shortly after the "Dog Watch". Supper was a large tray of shepherds pie ( bully beef, topped with a brown crust of dehydrated potatoes). They helped themselves to the tray, tucked in, and a moment later the Killick, Freddie Levesque stood up with his plate in hand and exclaimed " We're not eating this! Jamie bring your plate and come with me". They all proceeded up to the Wardroom where Levesque, plate in hand, banged on the door. The Pay Bob, Lieutenant Hunt, came and Levesque shoved the plate under his nose and said, "See, would you eat this?" Lo and behold it was full of cockroaches, legs and heads peeking out (but well cooked).

Jamie had eaten half of his plate. Well the Pay Bob took the plate in and showed it to the Jimmy (Lt. Taylor). Jamie and his friends ended up having two eggs - where they found them nobody knows, because the fare was mostly powdered eggs.

When the NENE went into refit in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Lieutenant Jim Brandy was Canteen Officer and Russ Cameron the Canteen Manager. Several days were spent cleaning up the Canteen, getting the shelves set etc., before the Canteen was ready for operation. Unfortunately there was no money available to purchase stock, so Mr. Brandy came up with with an ingenious idea to purchase chocolate from a local chocolate company on credit, as the ship would be in refit for several weeks. They purchased $300.00 worth of boxed chocolates and sold the chocolates to dockyard mateys at three times the value of their purchase, realizing a neat profit. Needless to say the profit was used to "set-up" the Canteen and it flourished thereafter. A genius that Brandy!

Demon Rum - by Gord Jamieson

Orders were clear: no rum, even though it was dirt cheap, to be brought aboard when we were in Bermuda. Who could forget the humour of the ABs unloading their keg of rum astern on the offside for the seamen's mess, keeping a sharp lookout for "trouble". At the same time, certain officers floating around the bow with their kegs of rum, neither squealing on the other!

On board there was an older Able Seaman, a seasoned seaman mostly from his love of rum. One tot would send him aft. One beautiful evening, while anchored at Grassy Bay, this seaman donned his life jacket and padded a quarter mile away to a neighbouring anchored ship, where he broke into their rum store and proceeded to get paralytic drunk. Sometime around midnight the Nene received a signal to come and retrieve the wayward seaman. Needless to say upon our return to Halifax this seasoned seaman didn't sail with us.

Sick Bay - by Robert Munnings

Sickness could be brought on by a variety of things, demon rum, food, the sea, work related injuries and the body succumbing to fatigue and contagious diseases that passed from crew member to crew member in such close quarters. Serge Breard was our Leading Sick Bay Attendant. His responsibility was to attend sick seaman even during Action Stations - hardly the place you'd want to be when depth charges were being dropped and in imminent danger of being blow up.

The roll of the ship in heavy seas was the source of potential dangers especially if you lost your sea legs. During the middle watch 12:00-4:00 AM Bob Munnings had an emergency reported on the Quarterdeck. Bob along with Don McGee, Andy Bogle and Gibson were trying to control a loose depth charge. Gibson broke his leg and was in considerable pain. He was carried to the funnel area and tied down until medical attention could be given as the seas were very heavy. Bob Munnings and Don McGee continued their efforts to secure the depth charge, finally disarming it by removing the pistol mechanism. The depth charge had been rolling and smashing equipment on deck.

(Sam Forsythe relates a similar (perhaps the same) story. He recalls Don McGee kicking a loose, or hanging, depth charge overboard before the timer caused it to explode. He was the only man on deck who took action.)


Some shipmates had great skills, like swimming and diving. While in Bermuda on trials Freddie Levesque demonstrated his great daring by diving off the yardarm into the ocean barely missing the side of the ship. The challenge was too great for others, fearful for their lives. Tony Dore (Muscle Man), spent his spare time in the flats, working out and building up his muscles. Others spent their time in more leisurely pursuits, bending their arms.

Don Delong recalls winning the swim relay race around the ship, with his mate, Art Desjardin, while in Bermuda. The prize - a chocolate bar. Don had no fear of high diving, having done so many times from the Mcfarlane Street Bridge in Peterborough, during his youth.

The Midshipman -The Theta Group

Many convoys were destined for northern Russian. The convoys were harassed by attacks from submarines and planes located in the Norwegian fiords. Our Midshipman Bjarne Thorsen played a part in the surveillance of German activities in Norway.

In the summer of 1940 rumours were rife in Norway, that the Germans were about to invade England and that considerable numbers of the invasion forces would embark from the West of Norway. According to the same rumours, the invasion would take place by means of fishing vessels and coastal ships which would be confiscated by the German Occupation Forces. A young student at Bergen Technical High School, Jan Dahm felt it was essential to report this to Britain and to send such reports by means of radio transmitters, even though the reports might have to be sent uncoded. He discussed this with his closest friends and they agreed to build a radio transmitter powerful enough to reach England.

Despite constant surveillance by German authorities Jan continued to work with friends. Bjarne Thorsen who was 19 years old at the time was chosen to go to England and try to establish proper contacts with Norwegian and British authorities and return to Norway with radio transmitters.In October 1941 he was selected by his group to go by fishing smack to the Shetland Islands and obtain a transmitter, codebooks and crystals for a radio transmitter. It wasn't easy for a young boy, but he spent fourteen days in a MI-5 camp and another fourteen days training in London and he was back in Bergen. Bjarne made several trips back and forth to England obtaining radio transmission equipment and codes. The group known as the Theta group watched for the German warships, the Bismark and the Tirpitz and also movement of shipping from Bergen. The Tirpitz was paralyzing many British ships and two new American battleships that were being held back from the Atlantic, held on constant alert should the Tirpitz attempt to make a break for the open waters. The Tirpitz was subsequently destroyed by Allied bombing in the Spring of 1944.

The Germans eventually discovered the secret transmission room but the Theta group escaped and went underground. At various points in time members of the group were arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated but no disclosure was made of the identity of the group.

Bjarne qualified for the Naval Academy in October 1943 and was sent as a Midshipman to HMCS Stormont and on December 19, 1944, joined HMCS Nene.

Shore Leave

There was always the attraction of shore leave, to put one's foot back on solid earth, to leave behind the heaving deck of the ship after weeks of escort duty. Even more exciting was the opportunity to set foot on the shore once held by the enemy even though it wasn't an authorized visit. Such, was the case of those stalwart seaman, who appropriated the ship's whaler and made for shore at Le Havre, France. The shore was strewn with the relics of war, a gun, spent shells, a shoe and live ammunition. John O'Connor was the leading protagonist in this adventure. A photo depicts some of the crew members at the oars of the whaler, off the coast of Le Havre. Pictured are Bond, Roberts, Desjardins, Donaldson, Breard and two unidentified seamen.

Freddie Levesque also appropriated the whaler and with his crew set sail, like Columbus, for the trip ashore to Le Havre. With a full wind astern, sailing to the shore was a breeze. The return trip was more arduous however, there was no wind. Like the pirates of old Freddie at the tiller, gave the signal to row, row, row your boat. They were greeted on arrival by the "Jimmy", hardly pleased with their excursion. Fred's explanation was that he wanted to dry the whaler's sails!

Bond, Roberts, Desjardins, Donaldson, Breard and two unknowns
take the whaler for an unauthorized visit to France.

Don Delong said that one of these men (F.L.) found a live Orlikan shell on the stony beach, whereupon he tossed it aside, causing it to fire. The shell (or more likely its casing) passed through his trousers near crotch level. Luckily, all remained intact! Children and grandchildren be thankful.

Expecting to receive shore leave with the others, Don was surprised and angry when denied leave. He was told the reason - the radar housing looked rather shabby and needed a coat of paint before he could leave. Within the hour he reported his work done to an officer who could not believe that a man could work so fast.

Chicken Dinner - by Stan Zatylny

Stan Zatylny relates this story. It was late Fall, 1944, and the principle people involved included Joe Gaglardi, Ron Graham, Bob Watson, Sam Forsythe, Bob Rotenberg, Stan Zatylny and one able seaman. We were at Rest Camp for approximately seven days. Most times we were out visiting places such as Belfast, Balleymena, and as well, the seashore. The seashore included the peacetime resorts of Portrush, Portstewart, the Giant's Causeway, etc. There were miles of sandy beaches for us to explore and the cliffs at the Giant's Causeway were awesome. Coleraine was the location of the railway station where we boarded to get to Belfast and where the "chicken episode" took place.

In Belfast Bob Watson and I were looking into a store window where licorice allsorts were displayed in a large jar. While we were admiring the allsorts a woman came along and asked us if we would like to have some. She offered us her ration coupons! We thanked her but did not want to accept. She insisted, at which point we gladly accepted. The group of us, realizing we were hungry, looked for a place to eat. When we found a restaurant, it could only serve us tea due a shortage of foods. It was approximately 4:00 p.m. We left the cafe and met the able seaman from the NENE who told us he was having supper with an Irish colleen. It is not clear how the six of us invited ourselves along but we landed at the colleen's house with him. Well, when the lady saw the whole gang, she was obviously shocked and uncertain. She finally welcomed us but said it was an impossibility to feed the whole gang.

Joe Gaglardi asked her if we provided the chickens, could she cook them for us? She replied she could. Gaglardi then got us together and broke the news as to where we could find some chickens. Apparently on the way he had spotted some chickens on a farm not too far away. Well, it wasn't long before the whole gang were chasing chickens all over the place. By the time we stopped chasing, I am not sure where the most feathers were; on us, or on the chickens! Gaglardi, being the expert, wrung their necks and showed us how to clean them. If memory serves me right, two chickens were captured by six sailors.

The lady of the house was surprised when she saw the chickens and also a trifle apprehensive, but she cooked them for us. She supplied vegetables from her larder and we had a terrific dinner. That was a memorable meal, one none of us will ever forget.

Xmas Celebrations

Christmas 1944 was spent in port at Londonderry. The Nene had just returned from Russian convoy duty and all hands were ready for a good rest. This was the only Xmas holiday spent by the entire crew together. In keeping with the navy tradition, Myles Cook, the youngest crew member became Captain for the day.

Special Nene Christmas cards were made available to the crew. [1944 Nene Christmas Card]

War Brides

While serving aboard the Nene, correspondence with friends, wives and parents were important morale boosters. Although all letters and correspondence were censored, to ensure ship movement and locations were not disclosed, receiving news from home and letting loved ones at home hear from you were reassuring messages. Some crew members married during the war and it was especially important to them to reassure their wives of their continued safety.

The Nene crew had its share of "War Brides". At least two served in the navy themselves. Edna Roberts was a WREN coder and met George at the signal school at St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. They were married in the RCN Chapel at St. Hyacinthe in 1945. Jean Dubroy was also a member of the WRENS from 1942 to 1946 and served in the Postal Group in Canada and the United Kingdom. She and Lou were married following the end of the war.

The conflict with Germany and Japan was a long and difficult period to live through. For those who left brides at home, it was a worrisome time knowing that their husbands were in the war zones. Mary Honora Shaw and Eric were married in September 1939 and Gretchen Booth and Bruce were married in 1941 in St. Pauls Anglican Church, Halifax. Bruce was then off to Mombasa Africa, while Eric Shaw was off to sea as a gunnery officer.

Returning from the Mediterranean in March 1943, Ross met a young Scottish lass, Marion, at the Paisley ice rink and in September 1943, she and Ross were married. Ella Kay and John were married in the Dockyard Chapel, Halifax in 1943.

One of those married the earliest was Anne and Jim O'Rourke. They were married on Jim's birthday May 10, 1939. Russ and Thelma Cameron were married in September 1939. Anne and Bob Munnings were married in 1942 and Bob became an officer candidate in June 1943.

Rita Poirier and Fern were married in August 1943, Lois Coombs and Paul 1944, Stella Levesque and Fred 1942, Jean Donaldson and Sandy in November 1943 while Sandy was doing convoy duty. Bob Watson and Joyce were married in Prince Rupert, B.C., in a naval wedding conducted by Rev. Ian Edwards, later to become Deputy Chaplin of the Fleet, Protestant.

Mary Hunter and Warren married in 1943, Ruth and Al MacDonald while Al was on leave, Barbara and Tony Dore in 1942 in Belleville, Eileen and Norman Cummings, November 1942, Betty and Tom Whitefield in 1944, Elsbeth and Bob Jaeger, January 1942 and Dorothy and Fred Miller in the spring of 1944. Julius (Caesar) Mahalek asked for marriage leave while aboard the Nene in November 1944 and married Irene McMahan.

(Source: Nene Lives: ed. Kenneth Riley; 1993, ppg. 41- 57)


Webmaster: Dan Delong - Updated: November 30, 2002