Vincent Wise -


Story is from http://www.duffpublishing.ca

On the trip from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, Waskesiu passed through the Panama Canal. This sailor remembers the accident when she hit a pier. Following the completion of repairs, the frigate sailed north along the west coast of Mexico. Here, a full-scale hurricane blasted her. He had been asleep in his hammock when the roar of the storm rudely awakened him. The deck below him was covered with water.

Cables screwed to the deck began to give way. Then came the thunder of crashing dishes. It was time to examine the deck above his place of rest. The steel buffles along the bow of the ship, which were supposed to deflect the waves, were bent. What force the wind and the waves were exerting!

Suddenly, a monstrous wave lashed against the ship. For a moment, Waskesiu teetered as if she would capsize. However, she remained upright. She managed to wend her way into the harbour at Acapulco, Mexico, where she picked up some needed supplies. From there, the ship continued to San Diego, California, and finally, to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Vince was born in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto, Ontario. He was in the Canadian Navy from November 1942 to November 1945. His work was that of a leading steward in the officers’ mess. He took his basic training at HMCS York, in Toronto.

For a time, he worked at NOIC (Naval Office in Charge), also in Toronto. Vince operated the mess here—the largest mess in Canada, except for the ones at Esquimalt and Halifax. This branch checked all new ships that were built in the yards in the Great Lakes area—such centres as Toronto, Kingston, Owen Sound, and Collingwood.

After ships were constructed, they would go to Toronto, where experienced officers of every department would test the ships in Lake Ontario. On occasion, Vince went with them. When the officers approved of the structures of ships, they handed them over to crews from France, Holland, Great Britain, Canada, and other allies, after which they entered into service. This base was unique in Canada.

He also served at CORD (Command and Officers’ Reserve Divisions), in Toronto. This base exercised command of all reserve divisions in Canada. There were thousands of reserve sailors, more men than in the regular Navy. Here, he also operated the mess.

Vince was a person who had difficulty in working with management. An example of this occurred when he worked under a commodore when he was at CORD.

They had known each other when Vince was working at the Royal York prior to his enlistment. The commodore had a donated house in the upscale Rosedale area of Toronto for his office and another one as a residence for him and his family. The officer felt that he also should have a personal steward and selected Vince for the role.

It was a posh job for the young man who professed being a socialist. There were several other men on the premises who were responsible to him. The structure did not seem to be right. Was not this type of society against which our country was fighting? Why should that officer be allowed to have this personal service when others could not have it?

The matter came to a climax when the commodore took a holiday. He gave Vince and his staff time off as well, telling them when to return. The young men followed the directions and were back on time. However, the officer was not present at the prescribed hour. After a long wait, Vince decided to leave and gave his staff the right to choose what they would do. Thus, all went home.

The next day, Vince was ordered to report to headquarters. The young man was asked why he had taken the action that he did. His reply was a question as to why he should have waited when his superior did not return. His interrogator responded that this was grounds for a dishonourable discharge. Vince retorted that he would take it and immediately go to the newspapers with his story. The authorities did not want that publicity and thus took the easy way out by transferring their rebellious steward to a ship at sea. The young man had proved his point.

HMCS Magog worked out of Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Gaspe, Quebec. The latter base was mainly for Fairmiles and the Air Force seaplanes. Magog was a single task force for outgoing convoys from St. Lawrence ports. The river and the gulf were known for torpedoing by German submarines, resulting in much loss of merchant ships.

One time when Vince was in Sydney with friends, one of them asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was on a ship running up and down the St. Lawrence. He had heard reports that there were submarines, but he had not known of any himself and thus he did not believe that there were actually any. How wrong he was! When he returned to Gaspe, his ship embarked on a directive to cover an outgoing convoy.

October 14, 1944, was a beautiful morning on the St. Lawrence River. He could see both banks of the river with their canopies of trees exhibiting their array of fall colours. What a marvellous sight this was. Since it was Saturday morning, the crew was engaged in the usual clean-up in preparation for officer inspection.

Vince had carried a pail of garbage and had dumped the contents over the stern, and then stopped to talk briefly with some young seamen. He had just started to return to his area when, without warning, a thunderous boom stopped him on the spot.

What had happened? No one knew. Several young sailors rushed up from below, having been greatly frightened. Immediately, Vince calmed them. As everyone looked toward the stern, they saw that it was a tangled, curled mass of steel.

On espying some sailors overboard, Vince reached down and helped one sailor covered with oil back aboard. He was a P.O. machinist—a neighbour in Toronto and a chum of his younger brother. He had been in the area where the torpedo had hit and was thankful that he was still alive. However, that was not the fate of a sailor from Scarborough, who had been stationed at a gun just above and was killed.

Four ships assembled nearby to offer assistance, but one received a signal to leave to escort the ferry from Sydney to Newfoundland. She did not fulfill her mission as, two days later, she was hit by an enemy torpedo and sank with all on board.

Vince could not understand how it was possible for crew members to shore up the damaged stern of Magog so that she could be towed to a nearby port.

When he served on Magog, Vince had a crew of French-Canadians from Montreal, a crew that concerned him at the best of times. He was not prepared for what happened one day when he had gone ashore.

On his return, he was informed of the activities of his motley crew. That evening when the officers entered the ward room for their dinner, a group of drunken stewards confronted them, chased them out, and took over the room. An officer asked Vince what he was going to do in regard to the situation. His reply was that he would do nothing because he was not on board at the time of the incident and that the officer could charge them. No one was fearless to do so. Thus, the crew escaped punishment.

After leaving Magog, Vince transferred to Waskesiu, where he hoped to be free from those sailors. What do you supposed happened? All transferred back to him, but one AWOL arrived late after Waskesiu had set sail. Another ship pulled up along side and set out a line to transport him aboard. There was no justice for the leading steward.

He reports that, when he served on Waskesiu, the food was basically good. He had the responsibility for handling the supply of food for officers and the miscellaneous division mess. The latter consisted of half a dozen leading hands and petty officers. He always made certain that his mess had the best available food.

After his discharge from the Navy, Vince returned to the Royal York Hotel, in Toronto, where he had been before enlistment, and completed thirty-two years of service. During that time, he was involved in a year-long strike in the late 1950s. Eventually, he decided to go into business for himself and purchased a pub in the southern Ontario community of Springfield, near Aylmer, where he stayed until his retirement in 1978.

He was awarded some medals, mainly general service ones. His son arranged them and placed them into a frame. Vince presented them to his great-grandson some time ago.

He has spent his retirement years in London, Ontario. It was here, at the age of ninety-six years, he provided the interview for this story.