Page 7




Churchill called early convoys ‘the most melancholy episode of the war’

Continued from page 4 When asked if there was any danger attached to this experiment, Pratt looks blandly at the inquisitor saying only, “We served our duty aboard the Renard. We were ready to go to sea. So they sent us to Montreal where they were building a new frigate, paid for by the citizens of North Battleford. The government wanted to name it after the city, but there was already an HMCS Battleford. Another would confuse signals, so they let the people choose. Commissioned HMCS Poundmaker, she was launched on the St. Lawrence River. We had an oil painting of Chief Poundmaker in the officer’s lounge. When everything was working well, we set sail for Halifax. I said goodbye to a girl in Montreal and another in Halifax. Then we were off to Bermuda for two weeks of work-ups—depth charges, gunnery procedures, search patterns. There were two large cannons— one forward, one aft, and anti-aircraft guns… Poundmaker and crew were pronounced seaworthy. We were ready to escort convoys to Londonderry high up on the north coast of Ireland.” “We sailed out past Halifax to pick up freighters coming from New York, then accompanied them to the ‘Western Ocean’ meeting place off St. John’s. We met in daylight to assign positions in terms

of speed. There’d be three or four columns with six to 10 freighters in each. Navy ships would be on the outside: Stonetown in the lead, Poundmaker on the stern, with two Corvettes on each flank. Sometimes these escorts had 60 ships to tend.” Although Pratt did not talk about problems during the 1,250 mile trip east from St. John’s, NL, at 53 degrees north latitude, to Londonderry at 55 degrees north latitude, others have. The weather could be savage. There are also photos taken during Pratt’s years of service showing men chopping salt-sea ice from metal superstructure to avoid the risk of capsizing. A letter spoke of “. . . mountainous spray topped seas, and the sound of wind howling and screeching through the stays.” There were also log entries (from the archives of HMCS Discovery) such as: “February 2. Thick snow squalls. Ship pitching and plunging. March 4. Vessel rolling heavily. Overcast and heavy fog. March 7. Easterly gale. Sighted convoy and rejoined.” Pratt brushes aside these inconveniences during his four years of service, admitting only to the occasional “hectic journey.” Winston Churchill—known as “the man of the twentieth century”—was more to the point when considering the challenges that included the distance to travel, the

world’s worst weather to be encountered and the German battleships Tirpitz and Scheer lurking in Norwegian fjords. Years later, Churchill described the first years of convoys trying to avoid Hitler’s “wolf packs” as “the most melancholy episode of the war.” We can suppose that Pratt’s bunch well knew the importance of their work and the pragmatics of their survival rate—they just didn’t want to recall the images. “I don’t remember ever pushing the action button to have everyone below decks jumping out of their hammocks. I was mostly in the rain looking out to sea through binoculars—if I saw anything untoward, I’d call the senior officer.” Pratt avoids any mention of torpedo hits on that cold, dark ocean. There was a wistful mention of, “Sometimes freighters disappeared. We thought that some didn’t like the slow pace, and went off on their own. Sometimes we’d go after them. We might find debris…” What Pratt was clear on was the hospitality of grateful Londonderry and Belfast citizens who tried to give these visiting sailors some rest and peace before returning to their tension-filled journeys. “The people of Ireland were wonderful. Bicycles were ready for anyone who wanted a tour through the countryside.” Continued on page 6

In the fall of 1942, 18-year-old Pratt left UBC and joined the Royal Canadian Navy. photo courtesy Ted Pratt

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Vancouver Courier November 4 2011  

Vancouver Courier November 4 2011