Goodbye to the Combined Operations

[Recently found in some files of my Dad’s, he wrote this about the club formed by former members of the Combined Operations. They enjoyed many happy reunions over the years, but with membership declining as the old veterans “crossed the bar“, they disbanded in 2007. — sandy]

In 1941 the Royal Navy requested the loan of 60 officers and 200 ratings from Canada to volunteer and form a Combined Operation Unit. The first contingent of these men arrived in the United Kingdom in late 1941 and trained ready for action prior to the Dieppe raid. From this group, 15 officers and 56 men were selected to serve with Royal Navy flot0illas and were very much into the thick of action,2 were killed and 4 were taken prisoners.

In subsequent operations the entire complement of 260 officers and men took part in the North African campaign, landing at Arzeu and Oran in Oct. 1942. Two LCM (landing craft mechanized) and two LCA (landing craft assault) put units of the British army on the beaches of Sicily at H Hour ie the first ones in. The LCM flotillas remained in Sicily moving troops and their mechanized around Sicily, as required. They eventually took the armies across the Straits of Messina for the assault on Italy. One of the LCA flotillas returned to the UK while the other took American troops into Salerno.

The unit that returned to the UK went back to Canada to form the nucleus of 2 additional LCA flotillas to be trained for the assault on Europe. They became the LCA crews of  HMCS Henry and David.

The remaining 3 flotillas were formed into 3 LCI(L)-landing craft infantry (large) flotillas each consisting of 12 ships each with a crew of 2 officers and 22 to 25 ratings. All but one of these 5 flotillas carried units of the Canadian Army to Juno beach while the fifth flotilla carried units of the British Army to Gold Beach.

The Canadian Navy Combined Operations disbanded in late 1944 and the personnel were returned to general service with the RCN.

A few combined operations members attended a reunion held by the RCNA in London Ont. and four of them , including Bill Lee, suggested that they try to get more CO out to these reunions so Bill inserted an ad in the Legion magazine telling of a reunion to be held in Peterborough Ont. In 1979 and 9 members attended this gathering.

The following year, 1980, the RCNA reunion was to be held in Halifax NS. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the forming of the Canadian Navy so Bill put a further ad in the Legion magazine and ads in a few major newspapers and one on CFRB radio from Toronto. At this reunion, nearly 30 members of CO attended and enjoyed a real get together. Bill Tiner was Bill Lee’s right hand man and assisted him in many ways like obtaining accommodations for the group at future reunions. For a number of years the 2 Bills drove to the location of the next reunion well ahead of the time and arranged rooms, including a hospitality room , for the convenience of all the members attending.

An ad was placed again in 1981 in the Legion magazine and quite a large number of CO showed up in Sarnia Ont. where plans were laid for the “Club”, as it had become known, to attempt to get a charter with the RCNA as a member club. These plans took most of a year but came together in May of 1982 in Kitchener -Waterloo where an executive was elected at a meeting of the members present and an application was made for a charter of membership in the RCNA as the Combined Operations Section of the RCNA. The charter was granted in the fall of 1982. The original executive consisted of Pres. Don Kemsley, Sec. Clayton (Red) Marks, Treas. Laurence (Gravel) Brown and 3 Directors, Sam Agnew, William Lee and Elmer (Emmie) Wright. The charter was presented to the president in May of 1983 at the RCNA reunion in Kingston, Ont.

The club would never have been except for the untiring efforts Bill Lee and Bill Tiner before, and for many years after, the granting of the charter. Once the charter was obtained, word spread more rapidly and many more members were signed up each year. The secretary, Clayton Marks, and his wife, Jewell, never seemed to tire of doing things for the club, he kept track of everyone and managed to put out a newsletter 3 or 4 times a year to keep all the members informed of what was going on. The finances were always closely watched by tight fisted Laurence (Gravel) Brown who looked after the CO money as though it was his own and always made sure the bills were paid. The executive of the club changed very little until the untimely death of  Laurence and the resignation of Clayton Marks in 1998 after the death of his wife. Clayton was replaced by Ernie Mount but agreed to continue as newsletter editor for a while, Laurence was very ably replaced by Jack Rimmer as treasurer. Bill Lee and Sam Agnew both crossed the bar in the 90’s and Don Kemsley continued on as president and representative to the RCNA. The annual meeting  has always been held at the RCNA reunion as that is the only time the membership tried to come together. The officers were elected on a yearly basis until the early 1990’s and the term was then changed to 2 years to conform with the election of officers in the RCNA. The dues was kept at a minimum so that all members could pay it with little hardship.

In 1983 Clayton Marks put together, and had printed, a book on the history of the Canadian Combined Operations during the 2nd World  War that was well received and very informative and the first 2 printings sold out in a very few years. David Lewis had a 2 volume edition printed in 1997 that was an extension of the works of Clayton containing more pictures and stories. The mailing list was always kept up to date by Sandy Kemsley (Don’s daughter) who printed all the mailing labels as her donation to the club. Her efforts were greatly appreciated.

In 1986 a flag was designed with a light blue background, a white ensign in the top corner and a large Combined Operation emblem on the fly, it was carried on parade at the reunion in Vancouver for the first time in 1986. The other two colors carried on parade were donated from other sources. One of the members designed and had made name badges for all members containing the CO crest.

The club attended reunions in cities across Canada from Halifax to Vancouver but because of the membership concentration of the RCNA  most reunions were held in southern Ontario. A combined operations reunion was held in Newcastle NB in 1991where there were 60 in attendance and another was organized by Luke Williams and his crew in Victoria BC in 1998 which also hosted 60 members and treated them to a short trip to sea on HMCS Winnipeg.

Over the last few years the membership decreased rather rapidly since all of our members were veterans of WW2 and it became increasingly more difficult for members to travel to the reunions so it was decided at the meeting held in Digby NS in May 2007 to surrender our charter at the Annual Meeting of the RCNA in Kitchener- Waterloo in Sept. 2007 and to disband our club. The membership of CO had dropped from well over 200 to 41 by this time so we called it quits. Don Kemsley remained as the only president and RCNA representative that the club ever had in it’s 25 year history.

Jack Rimmer crossed the bar shortly before the charter was surrendered.

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Return to Italy 60 Years Later

[Recently found in some files of my Dad’s, he wrote this based on their trip to Italy in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the Italian Campaign. This was just a few days before his 80th birthday. — sandy]

Oct. 23rd 2004.

We were up and around by 7.00am and was picked up by Cronkie’s Taxi at 8.30am and were transported to the train station in Belleville. We boarded Via and traveled to Ottawa 1st. Class, arriving at approx. 12.30pm. We were met at the station by representatives of the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs and directed to the Lord Elgin Hotel by taxi accompanied by two men from Belleville, Cyril Yarnell, delegate representing The Royal Canadian Air Force and Robert Blake his caregiver. A reception had been set up in the lobby where we surrendered our passports and were given information on the upcoming trip plus a Tilley hat, umbrella, bathmat and other numerous things including pins etc, things sure were set up well and we were most warmly welcomed by all concerned. We were directed to room 403 for the night and went back to the lobby and filled out papers for travel insurance and had lunch in the hotel dining room. I was given $114. cash to cover the cost of our medical certificates and taxi fare both ways to and from the cottage to the train. We went for a walk most of the way up to Parliament Hill and walked down Spark St. Mall and back to the hotel for a rest as neither of us had slept well last night. We watched a football game on television and went for a further walk before dinner. We purchased a few things in a grocery store and decided to have dinner in our room while we watched a ballgame on the television and headed to bed early. This ended the 1st day of what appears to be a memorable experience.

Oct 24th.

We were up at 7.30, had breakfast at the hotel and left by bus for DND Headquarters for the Canada Post unveiling of a new stamp commemorating the first Victoria Cross being bestowed during the Crimean War. “Smokey” Smith took part in the ceremony as he is the only living recipient of the Victoria Cross in Canada. There was a reception afterwards and we were all given 1st Day Covers of the event before returning to the hotel by 11.30am for lunch and to get ready to travel. We left at 3pm. by bus and traveled to the National Defence Terminal at Uplands Airport where we sat around and had coffee until 5.30pm. And then boarded the National Defence Airbus and left at 6.08 pm. for Italy. It was a very quiet but tiresome trip but the Governor General was traveling with us and she had a visit with all the Veterans on the way over. We arrived at the Military section of Rome Airport at 2.40am. Ottawa time and there was no problems with customs or immigration and they returned our passports. We moved our clocks ahead 6 hrs.

Oct. 25th.

We left the airport for Cassino at 10.30 am. Italian time with 3 busloads and a Police escort, the only way to travel.

We had lunch at the Al Bocchetto Hotel, compliments of the Dept. and went to bed about 1.45pm, dead tired. We got up around 4pm., cleaned up and went for a walk before a 7 course dinner supplied by the Dept. There was way too much to eat but we enjoyed it as we sat with some very comical people that kept us amused but we were back in our room approx. 9.15pm and to bed early to prepare for a busy day tomorrow.

Oct. 26th.

Wake up call at 6.30am, suitcases out by 7am had a full breakfast in dining room and boarded the buses for Cassino War Cemetery at 8.30 am. We had a very impressive ceremony at the cemetery attended by many dignitaries including the Governor General of Canada and the Minister and Deputy Minister of Vetrans’ Affairs. I laid a wreath for the Royal Canadian Navy along with many others. We walked around after the service and our buses picked us up at approx. 12.30pm and took us to the Grand Hotel Pavonne for lunch where we enjoyed the company of the Deputy Minister and his wife at our table. We finally boarded the buses at 2.45 pm and left for Ortona, at our second pit stop an ambulance picked up one of our party and transported him to the hospital to be checked out at the request of the doctor that was traveling with us. We arrived at the Hotel Mara at 8.45pm and had a late dinner and made it to bed sometime after 11pm- the end of a long day.

Oct. 27th.

Up at 7am and had breakfast to be ready to board the buses at 8.30am for Moro River War Cemetery for a ceremony attended by the Governor General and Minister and Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs. It was a very impressive ceremony attended by a very large crowd where I laid a wreath for the Royal Canadian Navy along with the other veterans who laid wreaths in remembrance of members of their units. It is a very large cemetery and very well kept and there are approx 1400 Canadian soldiers resting there. It was a very warm day and we had to wait until 12.30pm for our buses and then were transported to downtown Ortona to the Canadese for lunch with the Governor General. We went by bus to the Town Square and were given VIP treatment to reserved seats etc. at an unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the Battle of Ortona in 1943. We were back on the buses and arrived at the Museum for a presentation of Artifacts to the museum by the Youth of Canada followed by a reception. We arrived back at the Hotel Mara by approx. 7.00pm where we changed to our casuals and had a great dinner with many dignitaries present including the Governor General. We returned to our room shortly after 10.00pm and were soon ready for bed as we are starting to run down.

Oct.28th

We were wakened at 7.00am. shaved, showered and put our bags out in the hall ready for pickup and then had a leisurely breakfast.

We walked on the beach which, is on the shore of the Adriatic, and then enjoyed a stroll through their tropical garden and sat on the verandah and visited with our fellow travelers and enjoyed a box lunch in lovely sunny weather  with a temperature well up in the 70’s F. We boarded the buses at 12.30pm and started for Ancona but had a few stops and didn’t arrive at Ancona War Cemetery until near 5.00pm. We walked through the cemetery which was much smaller than others and placed small Canadian flags on Canadian graves that numbered about thirty. We reboarded the buses and arrived at the La Meridien Hotel in Rimini at approx 7.00pm. Everything was in our room when we arrived and the rooms are beautiful with all the whistles. We had dinner in their restaurant which was very expensive but good and were back in our room by 9.15pm and in bed early. We have had a police escort on every trip in the buses since we started.

Oct.29th.

Wakeup call was at 6.00am. And we boarded buses at 8.00am. For the trip to Cesena. There was a ceremony attended by the Governor General of the unveiling of a plaque to honor “Smokey” Smith which is to be suitably mounted on the cite where his bravery earned him the Victoria Cross in 1943. The ceremony was held in the Town Square and we were royally treated with front row reserved seats and our companions were treated the same. There was a reception with lots to eat and plenty of  champagne in a large covered area bordering the Square. We boarded the buses again at 12.30pm and had a box lunch and some of us visited Villa Nova War Cemetery but it was too wet to visit Ravenna War Cemetery in the same area. The buses had to make a pit stop at a police station due to lack of facilities on the road. We were back to the hotel by 4.00pm and left shortly after for Uncle Monti’s Country Restaurant which was a long trip up in the mountains but well worth it. We had a great dinner with lots of wine and about 5 courses followed by entertainment supplied by a group of young dancers. We were back at the hotel about 11.20pm.

Oct. 30th.

We were up at 6.30am, had breakfast and caught the bus at 8.15am.to visit Grave cites.We went to Coriano Ridge Cemetery and found one section mostly Canadian where there were about 14 or 15 “Hasty P’s” We stopped for a rest stop on the way and arrived at Gradara War Cemetery, the graves are in tiered rows rising well up a slope and we located  some Canadian graves including a few “Hasty P’s” and also located the grave of Ron Cable’s cousin who was buried in 1 F 23. We put Canadian flags on most of the Canadian graves and had box lunches delivered to the buses before we left the cemetery and visited Montecchio War Cemetery which contained 289 Canadian graves including numerous “Hasty P’s”. We were back to the hotel by 2.15pm, changed to our dress clothes and left at 3.15pm for Rimini Town Square for a Plaque Unveiling Ceremony commemorating the Breaching of the Gothic Line which was a very impressive ceremony with the Minister of Veterans Affairs speaking.

We had a group picture taken on the steps of the Town Hall with all the Veterans and Officials and had a reception across the Square after and left at 6.15pm. by bus to go back to the hotel, they sure move you through town in a hurry with a police escort. We walked about ½ km. for dinner and were back to the hotel by 8.45pm. The list was up for morning and we have to leave at 7.00am. tomorrow by bus to catch the plane for Catania Sicily there should be a much quieter day tomorrow after we arrive. We packed our suitcases and to bed early as our wakeup in the morning is 5.30am. It has been a beautiful day with lots of sun. The time changes back one hour at 2.00am.to slow time.

Oct.31st.

We set the alarm for 5.00am slow time and was up and had our bags in the hall by 6.00am. We had breakfast and were ready to leave for the airport by bus at 7.00am. but true to form we didn’t get away until 8.00am and were at the airport by 8.30 am and had to unload at the main terminal because they weren’t ready for us until 9.15am. We had a walk up and down then boarded the buses and were transported out on to the tarmac and boarded along with quite a number of Canadian Service Personnel but only a few over ½ of our group. We took off at 9.40am and arrived at Catania at 10.55am but were served a full luncheon on the way and the Service personnel were most helpful when at all possible. We boarded the buses and were in the Sheraton Catania at about 12 noon. We found our room (#447) and had a rest while we were waiting for our luggage. This is a nice hotel but not as luxurious as the one in Rimini with smaller rooms but equipped with everything. We walked over to Baia Verde Hotel (approx. ½ km.)to a reception and dinner hosted by Canadian Ambassador Fowler on a covered patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and then walked back and were in our room by 10.30pm and were in bed early.

Nov. 1st.

Wakeup call at 6.00am and left at 8.20am for Agira War Cemetery. We drove through the mountains and some very rough dry country towards the interior of Sicily. We arrived at Algira War Cemetery by shortly after 10.30am , the cite is located on top of a knoll with very little parking but the bus managed to get us to the gate with the assistance of the police and we climbed to the top of the knoll where they had a covered seating area for the Veterans and their Caregivers. We had another very impressive ceremony conducted by the 2 Canadian Senators that were traveling with us. I read the Act of Remembrance and each Veteran laid a wreath at the cenotaph in turn when called. We left the cemetery about 12.30pm on buses for the Town of Agira which is located at the top of one of the local mountains and to the Algira Rangers Hall for a luncheon hosted by the Mayor of Algira. There was music and singing and lots of wine and large bottles of beer for E2.50. We left on the buses at 3.30pm and arrived back at the hotel in Catania by 5.00pm where we had a bit of a rest as we were both tired. Algira War Cemetery has 490 graves, all Canadian, and I counted 25 or 30 “Hasty P’s”.

The dept. decided to treat us to dinner at the hotel so we went down about 7.30pm to see if we wanted anything to eat and had an enjoyable time with a small amount of food and lots of wine and champagne and as it was someone’s birthday one of the members played his pipes and one of Canada’s Youth did a step dance. We had a visit with Cy Yarnell and Bob Blake and were back in the room by 9.30pm.

Nov. 2nd.

Wakeup call at 7.00am but I was already up as I had trouble with both shoulders during the night so didn’t sleep too well. We had breakfast and boarded the buses at 8.30am but didn’t leave until 9.00am for Ispica where we were supposed to be at a Plaque Unveiling Ceremony by 11.30am to commemorate the landing of Canadian troops in Sicily in 1943 but didn’t get there until 12.15pm but the whole town waited for us and we were all given reserved seats directly in front of the podium. There were speeches by our 2 Senators and a lady MP from Canada and we were back on the buses by 1.15pm and left for a luncheon hosted by the Mayor of Ispica. It was very nice with too much good food to eat and there was lots of red wine. We (Mom and I) were taken by mini bus to view the beach near Noto where I landed in 1943, it was difficult to find because the area has all been built up over the past 60 years but the van driver enquired and found it with assistance from a 1943 map that I had taken with me. We left about 5.40pm in the mini bus and were back in the hotel in Catania (Sheraton) by 6.55 where we had a bit of a rest and changed clothes for a farewell dinner tonight at 8.00pm, our trip is coming to an end and we have a full day off tomorrow. The buses were late coming in from Pacano so we didn’t start dinner until after 8.00pm. In between courses we had speeches by the Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs ( Jack Stagg) and our 2 Senators. It was a good meal with lots of red wine and bottled water and one of the young people (Stephanie) read her write up of the trip. Plaques were presented to the Canadian Ambassador and 3 pipers played a few pieces and the Veterans all had their pictures taken with yhe young people and didn’t finish until after midnite – a long tiring day.

Nov.3rd.

We were up and around before 8.00am, had breakfast at 8.30am and caught a shuttle bus in to the Catania Centre at 10.00am. We didn.t get too far before a thunderstorm blew in and it poured rain for a good share of the day. One of our group lent us an umbrella so we wouldn’t get soaked getting back to the bus for 12 noon so we only bought a couple of souvenirs before returning to the hotel. We found lots of time for a nap in the afternoon. We went down to the bar and had a couple of beers with Cy and Bob and came back to the room and listened to Pres. Bush being declared  President of The United States for a second term. We went out for dinner and were with a couple that we hadn’t talked to before and found them most interesting, dinner for 2 with 1 glass of wine was E36.30 plus gratuities. We were back in our room by 9.20pm and to bed early as we are being called at 5.30am tomorrow morning for our trip to Canada.

Nov.4th.

Up at 5.30am, had luggage out by 6.00am, had breakfast and left the hotel by bus at 8.40am but got hung up at the airport and didn’t board until 11.30am and took off at 11.55am. We arrived in Shannon Airport in Ireland at 3.30pm and had 2 or more hours in the terminal there was a large duty free shopping area so we did a bit of shopping. We left Shannon at 6.20pm and arrived in Ottawa at 12.55am (Sicily Time) and changed our watches back 6 hours and were in the hotel by 8.10pm (Ottawa time) as things were well organized. We were both dead tired but had to wait for our baggage to come to the room before we could settle down. Helen ended up going down to the lobby and bringing ours up so we could get to bed. We had 3 full meals served on our trip today and flew for 9 hours and 50 min. In bed early as we have to attend the Senate tomorrow.

Nov.5th.

Up at 7.00am, had breakfast at the Lord Elgin Hotel and left by 9,30am by bus to go to the Senate Chamber. The Veterans were seated on chairs in the center of the chamber and the caregivers in the gallery. There was a very impressive ceremony for the opening of Veterans Week in Canada with speeches by The Minister of Veterans Affairs and other dignitaries with some music. There was a reception in the lobby at 11.15am and we left by 12.15pm to bus back to the hotel. We changed clothes and packed suitcases and then walked down street against a very strong wind to purchase some ribbon  We went up to our room until 2.45pm and brought baggage down and checked out then sat in the lobby until 3.30 and left by taxi for the train station. We sat in the 1st class lounge with Cy and Bob and boarded the train with them at 5.35pm and left at 5.55pm for Belleville. We were picked up by taxi and were at the cottage by 9.15pm and were glad to be home from a great trip that was very tiring but certainly worthwhile.

From the Picton Gazette:

Italy trip 1 Italy trip 2

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Return to Normandy 60 Years Later: A Trip to Remember

[Recently found in some files of my Dad’s, he wrote this based on their trip to Normandy in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the invasion. He was 79 at the time of the trip. — sandy]

Tues. June 1st 2004.

We were delivered to Terminal #1 at Toronto Airport at approximately 7.30pm, the new terminal is very nice but expansive so one could get lost very easily. We checked through by 8.30pm and were bused to the International Section, (gate 528) and waited for scheduled 10.25 departure. We met Eileen Harris from Calgary and her daughter Pat Armstrong from Kingston, Bill and Shirley Gunter from Ottawa and Bob and Joyce Strachan from Medicine Hat Alberta but were delayed, for no explained reason, for takeoff until 12 mid. We had a rather rough ride at times and arrived at Heathrow (London) airport at approx. 12 noon, their time, Wed and met up with Jack and May Rimmer and Jack’s brother Art from Montreal and Charlie and Lorraine Robinson and their son Glenn from Montreal plus some other X Navy personnel, that at that time were unknown to us, and left by Macpherson’s bus line for Portsmouth. We had a great bus driver, Harry Macpherson, who had arranged to stop at Greenwich to tour the Maritime Museum and to view the location of the Meridian but by this time we were starting to tire even though the places were most interesting so proceeded to Portsmouth and arrived at Sandringham Hotel at 8.10pm on June 2nd. Checked into room #109, had dinner in their dining room and were in bed by shortly before midnite.

We had a call the next morning at 6.30am, showered, and had breakfast and were ready to go to Yeovilton (the Fleet Air Arm Museum) by 7.45 am , 21 of us went but most of the ladies stayed at the hotel. We arrived at the Museum at 10am and had a guided tour by a very knowledgeable volunteer, the whole setup was most interesting to see and they had many realistic movies about aircraft carrier landings and takeoffs as well as planes , from the sopwith camel down to modern day aircraft which even included a Concorde that we could board and examine. We had a short lunch and were back at the hotel by shortly after 2 pm where we had a few minutes to get dressed in our blazers, medals and berets and were bused to Caslefield (green) on Southsea (Portsmouth) where we were entertained by The Edmonton Pipe and Drum Band and Her Majesty’s Royal Marine Band as well as a group of Navy Personnel doing marching and rifle drill. Prince Charles arrived approx. 4.30pm. The veterans had front row seats and our companions had good seats at the edge of the field with a good view and the Vets were invited to a Reception for the Prince where we were able to have a short visit with him and shake his hand and enjoy lots of free drinks supplied to us as well as a special bottle to take home with us in commemoration of that day. Our ladies met us at the reception for a few minutes and then returned to the hotel where we caught up with them around 8pm for dinner and were back in our rooms by 11pm after a most interesting and enjoyable day.

On Friday we were up to the sound of the fire alarm at 6.30 and after breakfast we left by bus for the Portsmouth Memorial Naval Dockyard where we visited Nelson’s ship (The Victory) and browsed for a while at his Museum and then had lunch and boarded The Warrior, an 1860 sailing ship which also had a steam engine driving a disappearing propeller, it was over 400ft long and has been very beautifully restored. While we were in the dockyard the group was invited to board the Canadian Frigate “HMCS Charlottetown” by it’s Skipper and were given a tour of the ship by a “very able”  Able Seaman. We left the Dockyard at 1.30pm and attended a Reception put on for 2 Canadian groups by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth and his wife at the City Hall where we were served biscuits and tea and enjoyed a very interesting visit. We left the City Hall and visited the D-Day Museum near the Hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon visiting that, they have a very remarkable presentation depicting D-Day completely embroidered by a group of dedicated women. We met Tiny Clarkson from Troy NY and some of his buddies from the States and some of them were supposed to come over to our hotel that night for some entertainment. We returned at 5pm, cleaned up and had a bit of a rest so that we could enjoy a 40’s musical presentation at 8.30pm as we have to get up at 5am in the morning to leave for France. Tiny Clarkson and one of his buddies came over for a while and after they left we all turned in around 11pm.

On Sat. we were up at 5am and left for the ferry docks at 7am and left at 8.10am for Le Havre. We had a short nap and lunch on board the ferry and stood on deck 10 and watched the departure and arrival on a very calm English Channel. We arrived in France at 2pm and immediately lost 1hour as their time is 1 hour ahead of British time.We boarded our bus and left for Juno Beach Centre to get clearance passes for the beaches but found out that we didn’t need them and after a short look around we left at 6pm and arrived in Rouen at 8pm. The bus driver and tour guide had difficulty finding our hotel, thank goodness for Glenn Robinson as he is fluent in French and English, for being able to converse with people on the street. We put our things in our rooms and went down for dinner and, after much frigging around, we had a very good meal at the Comfort Inn and were back in our room (312) by 10.30pm where we unpacked and went to bed because we were to have a wakeup call at 5am in the morning.

On Sun.we didn’t remember the time change and didn’t get a wakeup call so most people were on the bus ready to leave when we showed up but we bummed a bit of breakfast from some who had brought breakfast with them, thanks Pat.We arrived in Caen at approx. 8.30 am and reported to Central Commercial Ct. and were informed that our own bus would be allowed to take us right in to the Juno Beach Centre. It was a beautiful sunny day in the mid 20’sC when we arrived at 9am and reported in at the Centre where the Veterans and their Companions were seated in the front rows (3) of many rows of bleecher seats. We met Woodrow and Virginia Blakely and had a short visit before the ceremonies started at 9.50am with greetings to the Vets and then the entrance of Paul Martin followed by Adrienne Clarkson who in turn was followed by the Queen and Prince Phillip. We were addressed by all of the above and they then circulated through our midst and chatted with a lot of us. The Vets then paraded loosely down onto Juno Beach and had a rather sentimental gathering there.We proceeded to a reception of sorts where they served champagne and we had an opportunity to purchase lunch. We departed at 2.30 pm for Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military Cemetery and were met by the Mayors of 2 local localities and were individually called up and presented with a beautiful chest medal honoring us for what we did 60 years before and for returning for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. We returned to Juno Centre and looked at the displays there and took the bus to Berniers-sur- Mer and walked the remainder of Juno Beach. We sat and enjoyed a cold beer and were treated by the Municipality to a cold buffet including lots of red wine, this was a free dinner for the vets and their companions in honor of the 60th anniversary and we were given some keepsakes constructed by the school children to take home with us. We left at approx. 9pm and were in the hotel in Roen just before 11pm after a long, tiring but rewarding day.

Mon. was a beautiful day in the mid to high 20’sC. Ken Wood took sick yesterday at the Juno Centre and was taken to Caen by ambulance where the kept him in and did Angioplasty. We were told that he might be able to continue but it could be treacherous but he was visited by Adrienne Clarkson and her entourage this afternoon and they contacted the insurance co. and are going to fly he and his wife home to Canada on a Sanitary Flight (medical help available) as soon as possible.We left this morning at 9am and left Ken’s wife and Glenn Robinson for the day and picked them up on our return in the evening. We visited the Abbaye de Ardenne where Kurt Meyer had Canadian prisoners of war executed in 1944 and held a short service in their remembrance and each laid a poppy at a bronze memorial tablet containing their twenty names by the wall containing most of their pictures. We visited the Memorial of Caen where we had lunch and looked through the exhibits of D-Day. The veterans were presented with Commemorative Certificates bearing their names for the 60th anniversary and we were given a special showing of 2 films done on and after D-Day. We left at 5pm to go to Arromanches-les- Bains which is where I landed on D-Day on Gold Beach. Helen and I walked down the beach while I reminisced. They have an excellent museum on D-Day and the building of the Mulberry Harbour. The Americans also landed near there on Omaha Beach so the place was alive with them and their reconstructed vehicles, a very large crowd so we had a cold beer at a sidewalk café and left for Roen at 7.45pm. We were at the hotel by 10 and walked down for a bit of supper and then packed ready to leave tomorrow morning for Vimy Ridge at 8.00am.

Tues. We left the hotel in Roen at 8am and arrived at the  Canadian Section of Vimy Ridge at 11am. We looked through the information centre and walked over to look at the beautiful monument they have to honor the Canadians that fell at Vimy Ridge on Apr. 9th 1917 and some others that have no known burial place that were killed during WW1. We ran short of time but were most grateful to one of the Guides who gave us a 20min. Tour of one of the underground (9meters) tunnels that were used by the Canadian soldiers at that time,(glad I was in the navy). We left Vimy at 11.45 and arrived at the ferry at Calais in time to leave shortly after 1pm (noon British time) had lunch on board and reached Dover, went through immigration and were up town in Rochester, Kent by 4.45pm where we had a walk about and left at 5.30 and were in Dartford by 6.30pm. We checked in at the Hotel Campanile, Dartford Bridge and had dinner there at 7.30. To bed early as we are getting up at 6am. To leave early for Inverary, Scotland.

Wed.  We left the hotel in Dartford and headed north on the London by-pass (what a line-up of traffic) and arrived at the National Memorial Arboretum at Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire around 10am. We looked around and attended a Memorial Service in the chapel at 10.55 and left at 11.30 after all the vets were presented with a beautiful War Veterans pin from the British Government. We stopped at a rest stop, attended to things, had a drink and left for Scotland. We stopped in a tourist trap place and went to the washroom about 4.30pm and arrived in Inverary by way of Glasgow and Loch Lomond at 7.30pm. Inverary is a beautiful place and we had a large room with a 4 poster canopy bed in the Inverary Best Western. We were served a great dinner and all were tired so we retreated to our room at 10.30pm because it is away again in the morning but not quite so early.

Thurs.  We had breakfast at 8.00am and took a walk around town, we visited a tourist centre but couldn’t get the e-mail to operate even with help from a local girl. We left on the bus at 9.45am and took a very informative guided tour of Inverary Castle, the home of the 17th Duke of Argyle. We returned to the hotel and changed into our # 1’s and left at 12.30pm for a reception at the Loch Fyne Hotel put on by the local Council where we were treated to a 2 course luncheon with a drink before and coffee after.The bus dropped some off at our hotel and the remainder (17) took a tour across country on the bus, passing through Ardentinny and many other small picturesque villages that dot the countryside. We stopped for afternoon tea at Dunoon and were back at the hotel by 5.30pm. in time for a rest, change of clothes and to dinner at 7.00pm. An excellent singer and accordian player started to play during dinner and continued until 10.30. We even enjoyed a dance or two while he played.

Fri.  Up at 7.00am, had breakfast and were in the bus leaving for Oban by 9.15 over a back road known by the driver that was most picturesque with many cattle and sheep in the fields. We arrived at 10.15 and visited the Oban Distillery, we were shown and had it thoroughly explained the whole process of distilling their 14 year, single malt scotch whiskey which proved so interesting that I bought a bottle on the way out. I visited the Oban Service and Wartime Museum and was interviewed by the local press. I had lunch and boarded the bus at 2.00pm and left at 2.30pm by a different route back to Inverary and were at the hotel by shortly after 4.00pm.We visited a nearby store and made a few purchases and were back to our room by 5.00pm and cleaned up and changed clothes for dinner at 7.00pm. This was our last meal as a group that we had come to know over 10 days so we signed cards for some that would be celebrating their wedding anniversary and his birthday (Jack Rimmer) this week and next. After a great dinner some gave speeches and readings that were most enjoyed by all and we were back to our room by 10.00pm to prepare for our journey back to Canada tomorrow

Sat.   Up at 6.00am, had breakfast and left at 7.30 for Glasgow airport where we boarded Air Canada and left for Toronto at 10.00am. We had a very quiet flight on the way back and arrived at the International terminal at #1 terminal of the Toronto airport at approx. 2pm but were well over an hour getting our luggage so had ample time to say our last goodbys to friends that we had met and traveled with for the last 12 days. Deb and Doug picked us up and took us to their place but we left at 4.30pm and were back at the cottage at 7.00pm

This whole trip was a very memorable experience and I’m sure that it will be remembered by all for many years to come.

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Combined Operations in the Canadian Navy, 1943

[Note: I recently found this narrative about the Combined Operations that my dad had written, and I’m posting it as background on his early days in the service. — sandy]

The group that I traveled to Halifax with in the early fall of 1942 were completing our ABQ’s in the class room in HMCS Cornwallis when someone came in looking for volunteers for an overseas assignment, the requirement stated that a person had to volunteer, had to be physically fit, had to be young and willing to go overseas and the only name they had for the group was Naval Commandos but after we went over we were labeled Combined Operations. We were soon sent home on 14 days leave and came back and prepared to embark on the Queen Elizabeth for the roughest crossing they had made in the past 18 months. On board this ship the navy got 3 meals a day while the army only had 2 and we could use the drinking fountains at any time while the army had certain times each day when they could fill their canteens but the navy was also expected to stand gun watches and patrol decks wherever required. The food was very good but very few were eating it as the sea was so rough and many were seasick of the approx. 17000 aboard.

We arrived in the Clyde and were transferred ashore and taken by small lorries to the Canadian Naval barracks in Greenock, Scotland named HMCS Niobe and nearly all Canadian naval personnel that were serving in the British Isles were routed through here at least once and some of us many times for placement. We arrived here in Dec. of 1942 and were treated as well as could be expected under the circumstances and were treated to a turkey dinner and a couple of quarts of Canadian beer on Christmas day. It was an odd Christmas for a group of 18year olds who had no idea what we were going to be required to do or when or where. After Christmas we were moved to Southern England and started training in earnest at many bases that had been established for this purpose around the southern and southeastern coasts of England. We only remained at each base for 2 or 3 weeks as each one was equipped with different types of landing craft and we were expected to become quite proficient in the operation of all types available. We were gradually divided in to flotillas, the 55th and 61st were LCA (assault) crews and the 80th and 81st were LCM (mechanized) crews and we eventually found ourselves in Roseneath ready to ship out for somewhere.

The group I was with were put on board HMS Keren at Gouroch, this was a Royal Navy trooper and was crowded but had passable food and the officers attempted to keep us busy with Phys. Ed, Boxing and Deck Hockey. We had been issued some tropical gear so assumed that we would be heading in that direction and our group had been assigned to the 81st LCM flotilla which were outfitted with Mark 1, British Built craft with twin engines. The crew consisted of a leading seaman as coxswain, a leading stoker (m) and 4 seamen. Our next touch with land was made at Freetown, West Africa, a very pretty place from what we were able to see as the ratings were not allowed ashore. We crossed the equator going down this continent and were all properly initiated. We proceeded south with our next stop in Durban, South Africa where nearly all the city closed up when the fleet arrived, it was a picturesque place with very white buildings and most of the personal transportation up town was by rickshaws drawn by very muscular and decorated black natives. We left Durban and headed east for some hours and then swung north and west and passed Madagascar on our way to the Red Sea. We traveled the length of the Red Sea and tied up in Suez where we disembarked and picked up our Landing Craft from the Empire Charmian, which was outfitted with large booms as it had been designed to hoist and carry railway locomotives, we then proceeded up the Suez Canal as far as the great Bitter Lakes which is midway between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea where we put in at HMS Saunders, a British camp, for further training. We were issued a 2 man tent, 2 folding cots and a mosquito net and for the next few weeks , worked and slept in sand. Scorpions were very prevalent and a person always made sure to dump their boots in the morning before putting them on to avoid painful stings. The food was quite good in this camp and the canteen always served ice cold Montreal, Black Horse beer. We trained on the lakes but started early in the morning as the heat was almost unbearable by midday and dysentery was rampant throughout all the camps. A short walk across the desert there was an American Airforce base where a movie was available most evenings and you could often get chocolate bars, if you were fortunate you might be able to hitch a ride into Cairo on one of their DC3’s for the day. We stood some guard duty in this camp but the British Marines were in the next camp to us and were much better guards so we gave them lots of leeway.

Before we left HMS Saunders we were required to repack our kitbags and leave any gear that we weren’t going to need and only take the essentials, the gear we left was supposed to be shipped to the UK but about 99% of it never made it but when I arrived back in HMCS Niobe my gear was there but I have no idea how or when it got there. We left HMS Saunders with our LCM’s and proceeded up the Suez Canal to Port Said where we were hoisted aboard the SS EMPIRE Charmian for the remainder of our journey. We proceeded to Alexandria to make our arrangements and look after all the final details leading to the invasion. We arrived in Alex on June 30th 1943.

There were many ships in Alex , all taking on supplies and troops prior to the action that was to come. We left Alex in a large convoy about the 3rd of July and were told the next day that we would be making a landing on Sicily on the 10th of July and were shown pictures of the beaches taken from submarines and small surface craft to give the crews an idea of what we were to look for. On the night of July 9th the planes passed over the convoys carrying paratroopers to the beaches and inland about 10.30 pm. We lowered our boats over the side before daylight into very rough water and hit Noto Beach about 8am carrying a load of British troops who were really pleased to get in there just to get off the rough water as they were nearly all sick, one soldier said that he wouldn’t trade places with me if we were going back out on the water but I told him we knew what was back there but they didn’t know what was ahead of them on the beach. The beaches were small and very shallow so we had difficulty getting up far enough on them to make a dry landing. The anti-aircraft guns on the beaches and on the ships at anchor kept the aircraft up high but there was constant bombing and straffing of the beaches for many days. We were harassed by German and Italian planes and the second night we were there they bombed and sunk a hospital ship that was anchored and brightly lighted some distance from our beach. A few of the freighters were sunk by Stuka bombers which traveled much slower but were also more accurate when they broke over the hills. The raids came fast and furious for about 5 or 6 days and then slackened off but we continued to unload ships for long hours each day and attempted to find a quiet place to anchor after dark to grab some much needed sleep. We drew vehicles of all sorts, fuel in cans, supplies including ammunition and load after load of ratios which were the mainstay of the troops that were doing the fighting. The Italian prisoners were used to unload our boats wherever possible on the beaches and this sure reduced our manual labor. We had Battle Lines posted on the beaches so we could watch the progress of the Army and were always pleased to see that the Canadian front was usually well ahead of the others. By the 16th or 17th they had captured Syracusa but had many repairs to do to the docks before they could unload there so we continued to unload on the beaches. We worked all kind of ships from many countries and were sometimes able to bum some fresh bread which by this time was like cake to us as we were living on M&V boxed rations the same as the army. We continued to have air raids but they became less frequent every day and after while they were confined mostly to the dark hours but this didn’t help any with our sleep. We lost one craft that wasn’t loaded properly and upset and sank off the beach but the crew all managed to get off safely and we were having problems with a few of the boats that had pounded on the beaches and had plates leaking so had to be pumped out every few hours. Once or twice we had all the ships unloaded and had a day of rest waiting for another convoy to come in and then back to the long hours. Some days we would have a wind and rather heavy seas so this made the beaches all that more treacherous and was hard on the boats as well as the crews.

On the 5th or 6th of Aug. our flotilla sailed for Malta but our boat and one other was left behind because of leaking plates so we were told that we were on our own in Syracusa until we could find a means of getting our plates repaired to get back into service again. We were never short of rations as the army had barge loads of them anchored in the harbour at Syracusa and we were at liberty to use what we needed, there was also loads of gasoline in cans so we could always get fuel for the boats. Our two crews were very fortunate because some of the others were suffering from malaria (which was very prevalent) as well as dysentery and infections of different kinds because of lack of sanitary facilities. While we were in Syracusa harbour we found out that there was a temporary naval postal station there and they allowed us to sort through our flotilla mail and to take our own out, this was very welcome because we hadn’t had mail for many weeks and there was also cartons of cigarettes sent from Canada. There was also a Navy dentist there and some of us had fillings put in our teeth that he had to drill out with a foot power drill as there was no electricity available as yet.

Sometime during Aug. we met up with an English flotilla that had a Canadian Flotilla Officer who told us that they had the facilities to weld our plates and to put the boats back into working shape. They proceeded to do this and then informed us that since our flotilla wasn’t there that we would join their flotilla and that they were preparing to do the invasion of Italy very shortly as the fighting was nearing an end in Sicily. On the 2nd of Sept. we went north along the coast and loaded with British troops again and crossed the Strait of Messina and laid off the coast until it was very heavily shelled by all types of ships and we then ran into the beach against very little opposition because of the bombardment. We continued with this flotilla for approx. 2 weeks and were on a fairly long run across to draw supplies and ammunition but it eventually started to take its toll on our boats so we cannibalized one boat to keep the other in service but it soon gave up so we presented them to the British flotilla and took off up the road in an army lorry.

We knew that the 80th Canadian Flotilla was in Messina so we found them and helped supplement their crews drawing supplies etc. across to Italy. Things were a bit better here as they had commandeered a couple of empty houses on the coast and we were able to sleep under cover and prepare our food with a bit more regularity. Once in a while we could cross over to Italy and hitch a ride up the coast with the army to see what was going on there. When the 80th went into Italy they were carrying Canadian troops which was the first time that the Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army worked together on any beach, unfortunately I never had the privilege of working with them even on a later invasion. We continued with the ferry service until sometime in Oct. and were then taken on board an LCA carrier and were ferried ourselves back to Bone in North Africa, we remained in a makeshift camp there for a few days and then went to Gibraltar where we boarded the Queen Emma that had been damaged in Sicily and Italy but was on it’s way to the UK and on the 27th of Oct. we arrived back in Scotland and were sent back to the 81st flotilla in Loewstoft, England and our adventure in the Mediterranean came to an end.

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Demobilization, August 1945

   

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Gunnery History, 5 January 1945

   

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Various Memories

Interview with Don Kemsley in 2004:

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