Angus MacGillivray

Tags:  histories written 
Author: Don Wilson
Published: May 1st 2017
Updated: 4 years ago

Major (Ret’d} Angus J. “Gus” MacGillivray.

Written History

Preamble: This history was submitted by Peter and is a work extracted from the memoirs of his father, Major (Ret’d) Angus J. “Gus” MacGillivray, CD. Born in Nova Scotia in 1923, he served in the RCNVR as a Leading Stoker during WW2, after which he took a degree in Engineering and re-mustered into the Army RCEME Corps, where he served through the Korean war and the subsequent Cold War, retiring in 1969 to a second career as a high school teacher. He currently lives in Kingston Ontario, and boasts seven children, 29 grandchildren, and, so far, 11 great-grandchildren.

The original document has been reformatted for this website posting and every effort has been made to faithfully record the original text.

WWII - A Stoker’s View


Gus was still in high-school when WWII started in 1939. A hot topic that was discussed frequently in class was the War and the duty of young men to go to war and fight for their country. The students would listen to the speeches over the radio of the ruthless, fiendish Adolf Hitler and his barbarous buddy Benito Mussolini. Movie theatres presented ‘News of the World’ before each movie, which featured news about the War. Gus and the other high-school students put on skits about the war, for the school assembly.

When he was 18, the Government introduced conscription, which meant that all young men at the age 18 could be placed into the Army. Names were picked at random; the number of 18 year olds conscripted was dictated by army requirements. When he was 18, Gus feared that his name would be picked and he would wind up in the Army. He had no desire to be in the Army but he did have an affinity for the Navy. Prior to Christmas in 1941 he made application to join the Royal Canadian Navy. Early in 1942 he was ordered to report to the recruiting office in His Majesty’s Canadian (HMC) Dockyard, Halifax, N.S., where we was interviewed and underwent a medical examination. Several weeks later he was advised that he had passed his interview and medical examination and was ordered to report to the recruiting office the next week. He was elated and immediately resigned from his stocking job at Simpson’s, where he was congratulated and told that his name would be engraved on the honor roll which was mounted at the front door. He was also informed that as long as he was in the service the company would pay him a monthly stipend that would make up the difference between his Simpson’s pay and the Navy pay (which was less). Gus allotted that money to his parents, and they received it until he was released from the service after the war.

Gus reported to the recruiting office on 21st Jun 1942, thus began his service in the Royal Canadian Navy Voluntary Reserve. He joined 30 other recruits undergoing administrative procedures, which included taking an oath swearing to faithfully serve in the Royal Canadian Navy under His Majesty, King George VI. The recruits then mustered in the Naval Stores, where they lined up along the counter to be given their supplies. The first item given was a sea bag, which was approximately 4.5 Ft high and had a diameter of 24 inches. As they moved along the counter, Navy store-men passed them strange looking clothing which they placed into their sea bag. The final items were a canvas hammock, a mattress, a blanket and the rope clues that were required to mount the hammock. The store-men estimated the size of the clothing by the height of the men.

Following the clothing parade, the recruits paraded in the mess deck, where they were required to lay out their kit on tables, in accordance with a list given to them. Naval Able Seamen (seasoned sailors) identified each piece of clothing for the recruits and how it was to be worn. The uniform was completely different from civilian clothing. The recruits were then required to dress in their uniform, placing their civilian clothing in the bottom of their sea bag. They were now in the Navy and were required to follow orders given to them by their seniors. The seniors who most often issued the orders to the recruits were Petty Officers, who only had one tone and that was to yell. Freedom was a thing of the past; their every move was now dictated by a Petty Officer. To the lowly recruit the Commissioned Officers seemed to be gods and were untouchable. A recruit could never speak to an Officer unless the Officer spoke first. Life was different now and the recruits must learn fast or they were headed for trouble.

The recruits were advised that they would travel by an overnight train, that evening, to Sydney N.S. to start their basic training. There was no opportunity for them to advise their family of the fate that had befallen them. They arrived in Sydney the next morning and were ordered to form a parade on the station platform. A Regulating Petty officer advised them that they would be transported to HMCS Protector I, which was the Naval Training Base in Sydney. The Training Base was considered to be a ship and beyond the main gate was ashore.

On arrival at the Base they were ushered to a building, which appeared to be a drill-hall. There were a number of 6ft folding tables, where the recruits were ordered to lay out their kit for a kit muster. The Regulating Chief Petty Officer told the recruits that if they were missing any items of their kit, they were in deep, deep trouble. He followed that by saying that if they had too much kit they were in even deeper trouble. This precipitated a flurry of activity by street seasoned kids, who having pilfered items from their unsuspecting neighbors, were now returning the stolen items. This was a welcome exercise of psychology, which resulted in all recruits having a full kit.

The Basic Training consisted of a series of parade square drills, classroom lectures and associated naval activities designed to acquaint recruits with naval life and to build strong bodies. Parade square drill was particularly difficult for some of the uncoordinated kids. However persistence was rewarded and the individuals became a coordinated well-trained group, which moved with precision.

One of the more exhausting exercises was whaler drill. The whaler was a large heavy row-boat which seated six men in pairs on thwarts (boat seats), each one holding a heavy oar; three to starboard (right) the other three to port (left). A coxswain (cox’n) in the stern (back) gave the orders 1–2--3–4. The order 1-- meant that the heavy oar (weighing about 20 lbs) was held in position horizontal to the water. On order 2-- the oar was pushed forward (f’ord). On order 3-- the oar was dropped into the water and pulled to the stern and out of the water, ending with the oarsman lying horizontal in the boat. On order 4-- the oar was brought back to the horizontal position. Frequently the coxswain would give the orders in sequence 1–2--3–, delaying the number 4 order–. Remember, at this point the position of the oarsmen was horizontal. He would delay giving order 4-- until one or more oarsman collapsed. Those who collapsed would be required to do 50 pushups when the whaler returned to the dock. Most of the oarsmen would accumulate 200 or more pushups during a single whaler training drill. Oddly enough, over time as the physical conditioning of the recruits improved, this grueling drill became fun, a contest to see who would get the fewest number of pushups.

There were a number of extra-curricular activities but the one that Gus became most interested in was boxing. A boxing instructor taught the art of boxing and Gus became quite proficient at this self-defense skill. The Navy organized a boxing tournament in Sydney in which Gus was matched against an amateur but experienced boxer from Montreal. At 5 foot 6.5 inches, 123-pound muscular stature, Gus was a worthy opponent. Gus was informed at the end of the second round he was easily ahead on points. About half way through the third and last round, Gus dropped his left arm, leaving an opening. His opponent leveled a ’haymaker’, which left Gus senseless. He dropped both arms and was at the mercy of his opponent. The referee stopped the bout and awarded his opponent a technical knock-out. When he came back to his senses, Gus decided that boxing was only fun until someone knocked you out and any aspirations he may have had to continue boxing were quickly forgotten.

The classroom instruction taught the recruits about the navy, the history, the structure, the purpose, the rules and regulations and the conduct expected of a sailor. In detail they were taught to tie knots and splice rope, an important skill to have onboard ship. The watch system and the duties of a sailor, both at sea and on shore, were important lessons. The recruits were told where to go and what to do. And there was never an idle moment during the whole day. Usually they were exhausted by the end of the day. The grueling training schedules left the recruits dog-tired at the end of the day however they were frequently awakened at 3 o’clock in the morning to participate in a fire drill.

After the first week they were granted shore leave at the end of the day provided they were not on duty. In order to be permitted to go ashore they had to take a liberty boat, which meant that they lined up at an appointed time for inspection by the duty officer. If their dress was up to standard, they would be permitted to leave the Base, but must return no later than 11 pm. Being denied leave was devastating for the recruits who had been looking forward to finally being on their own away from the ever watchful eye of the petty officers.

The system was designed to break the recruits. Serving on a ship at war was far worse than any training program and it was felt that any man who could not stand up to the consistent abuse was not fit to be a member of the RCN. Most of the recruits suffered through to graduation and were proud of their achievement. They were ready to take on the world.


At the start of WWII the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) consisted of six destroyers, five minesweepers and two small training vessels, a handful of RCN Officers trained in British ships or shore establishments and a naval base on both coasts. The British and French declared war on Nazi Germany on September 3, 1939, two days after the Nazi invasion of Poland. The Canadian Government, as a member of the British Commonwealth declared war on Germany seven days later. They embarked on a massive warship building program across Canada and by the end of World War II the Canadian Navy was the third largest navy in the world. Manning these new ships was a huge undertaking and thousands of young men were recruited and trained as a volunteer force called the Royal Canadian Navy Voluntary Reserve (RCNVR). Hitler reportedly said, “Leave the Canadian Navy alone, they will sink themselves.” He lived to see the day when the Canadian Navy, in conjunction with the Royal Navy, had destroyed the major part of the German U-Boat fleet, making it ineffective.

Basic training was completed after six weeks and the recruits, now trained sailors, returned to Halifax. Gus was informed that he was now a 2nd Class Stoker and was required to sew the appropriate insignia on his uniform. He was required to take a two week course in Steam Training prior to his posting to a ship. The Steam Training course introduced Gus to the technical equipment which propelled the ship. The boilers, the engines, the propellers, the pumps and the ancillary equipment were skimmed over quickly. The more detailed instruction would occur on board ship.

Since Gus’s home was Halifax, he was able to visit his family while ashore taking his course. On his first visit home his mother was surprised that he was wearing a sailor’s uniform instead of an officer’s uniform. In a letter he had told her that he had been appointed Captain of the Heads. Her disappointment was obvious when she was told that in Navy terms the toilet was called the head and the sailor who was assigned to clean the heads was called the Captain. Gus’ mother insisted that she be told of other terminology used by the Navy, so that she would not be embarrassed in the future. Gus listed the following most commonly used terms: the floor is the deck, the wall the bulkhead, the ceiling the deck head the stairway the ladder, the garbage is gash, meals are chow, any place off the ship is ashore, miles per hour is knots, remain where you are is stand fast. Gus’ mother had also observed some sailors carrying an attaché case and wondered what the important papers they were carrying. She found out when she opened Gus’s case, it was his dirty laundry.

On completion of his steam training, Gus was posted to a Bangor minesweeper, the MILLTOWN. She was built in Port Arthur, Ontario in 1942 docked in Montreal and was on her way to the East Coast. Gus joined the ship in Montreal and was welcomed by the Engineer Officer. This was the first time Gus was able to speak to a Commissioned Officer. It became obvious that he was a ‘VR’ Officer and not a British trained RCN officer. The engineer related that previously he was an engineer on ocean going ships before he joined the RCNVR. He briefly explained the steam boiler system which drove the twin reciprocating engines to propel the ship. He said that when he went on watchkeeping, he would be working with a Petty Officer who would teach him his duties.

The MILLTOWN left Montreal, proceeded down the St. Lawrence River, through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Northumberland Strait to Pictou, Nova Scotia, where she was to do working up trials. Following her trials, she would join the fleet of escort vessels performing escort duty on the triangle run out of Halifax.

The MILLTOWN was a sleek looking ship with trim lines. She had an extended fo’c’sle (forecastle - the top covering of the main deck), which enabled the crew to walk the main deck from the bow to the quarterdeck, protected from the breaking waves of the wild North Atlantic. This was an advantage over the corvette, which was a tub, according to Gus’ ship mates who served on Corvettes. The Corvette had been designed by the British Admiralty at the start of WWII. It was cheap and easy to build. It had a short fo’c’sle, which allowed the breaking waves to seep water into the mess decks below and swamped crew members proceeding along the main deck with seawater. This made it miserable for the crew, except the officers,who had a dry cabin under the quarter deck. Meals being carried from the galley, which was mid-ship, were swamped with sea water. The short draft of the Corvette made it behave like a cork on the sea. The MILLTOWN, like all Bangor minesweepers, had a deep draft, making it more sea worthy.

Although the MILLTOWN was a minesweeper she did not carry her minesweeping gear. She was about two hundred feet (61m) in length, a thirty foot (9m) beam (width) and was manned by a crew of approximately six officers and forty chiefs, petty officers and men. She had a four-inch (10cm.) gun in an open turret on her foredeck and two Oerlikons (AA Machine Guns) on her port and starboard middecks, but her main armaments were depth charges. The depth charge was a steel cylinder approximately two and a half feet (76 cm.) long and a diameter of eighteen inches (46cm.). A primer was fitted to one end, which could be set to explode at fifty, one hundred, one hundred and fifty or two-hundred-foot depth. Her task was to protect convoys, which were sailing the North Atlantic with supplies for Europe, from prowling German U-Boats.

From fifty to a hundred merchant ships were arranged in rows forming a convoy group. Escort vessels traveled a zigzag pattern on each side of the group, sweeping out, using asdic gear in an attempt to locate German U-Boats. The asdic gear sent out sound waves from the bottom of the ship and received back the reflected waves enabling escort vessels to calculate the range and direction of any U-Boats encountered. It was an effective device, responsible for the detection and subsequent destruction of hundreds of U-Boats. However, the inability to distinguish whales, schools of fish, sunken wrecks or any solid object from U-Boats wasted precious amounts of ammunition.

MILLTOWN had two boiler rooms with a Yarrow boiler in each. The boilers had a steam drum and two mud drums, which formed a triangle with the mud drums on the bottom. The mud drums were connected to the steam drum by steel tubes, forming a firebox. The front of the boiler had four sprayers, which were connected to a heater and an oil pump and extended into the firebox. The mud drums, the tubes and half the steam drum were filled with feed water. Oil, which passed through the sprayers was ignited and heated the water, forming steam. The steam at 250 lbs. pressure was collected from the top of the steam drum and passed through super-heater coils and heated to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The height of the water in the steam drum was critical and was shown by a water gauge. Too much water could cause priming, which meant that water could pass over to the pistons causing damage to the engines while too little water could damage the boiler, either one would cripple the ship. Gus’ job was to control the amount of oil and water to make sufficient steam to run the engines, which continually varied in speed, when in action.

The two main engines were reciprocating engines, each having three cylinders. Dry steam was passed into the small high pressure cylinder of each engine, expanding and driving the pistons down. The expanded steam was then passed into the larger intermediate cylinders, driving those pistons down and then into the still larger low pressure cylinders. The spent steam was passed through a condenser that turned the steam back into water and returned it to the feed water tanks. When Gus was on duty in the engine-room he was required to oil the main engines, make up fresh water using the evaporator, and go aft and oil the steering engine and pump out the seawater that had gathered in the engine-room bilge. A particularly “exciting” task was to “feel the bottom end bearings” on the main engine, to check the oil was clean and flowing, by slapping the shaft journal as the big end bearing whisked around!

Watchkeeping is standard in all ships. There are eight watches every twenty-four hours, six four hour watches and two dog watches. The two-hour dog watches served two purposes, it ensured all crew members has a watch off during the supper hour and it varied the watch rotation so that the same crew members were not always on watch through the night hours. Under normal conditions, each crew member did one steaming watch on and two watches off. In addition, each member had an action station watch and a damage control watch, which they served during their two watches off, when the ship went into action. One often hears of eight bells when referring to a ship. This means that a ship’s bell rings every half hour of a four-hour watch. The midnight watch is from midnight to four in the morning, the back watch from four to eight, the forenoon watch from eight to noon, the afternoon watch from noon to four, the first dog from four to six, the second dog from six the eight and the night watch from eight to midnight.

When preparing to go into action there are four stages of readiness. The crew is in stage four while steaming, searching for U-boats. Stage three is called when the ship is preparing to go into action. In stage three after completing their steaming watch the crew go immediately to their damage control watch, and have only one watch off. Stage two is called just before the ship goes into action. The crew go in succession, from their steaming watch, to their damage control watch and then to their action station watch, with no time off. Stage one is called when action commenced. Bulk-head doors and hatches are closed and there is no movement between watches until the action is over. (In some ships the numbering may be reversed).

The MILLTOWN left Montreal, proceeded down the St. Lawrence River, through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Northumberland Strait to Pictou, Nova Scotia, where she was to do working up trials. Following her trials, she would join the fleet of escort vessels performing escort duty on the triangle run out of Halifax. After working up trials the MILLTOWN was assigned to convoy duty. The two major dangers confronting her were the weather and the German U-boats. First and foremost was the weather on the North Atlantic; it was unpredictable and during the winter at the best could be described as unsettled but could often be violent. Secondly there was the danger of German U-Boats, which operated in ’wolf packs’ and were intent on torpedoing the ship and its charges. In order to confront these dangers, it was necessary to have complete co-operation among the boiler-room, the engine-room and the bridge. The crew on the bridge had to be experienced in seamanship and able to handle the ship in adverse conditions. In the boiler-room it was necessary to have a watch who could provide steam for the engines during rapid changes in the speed of the vessel. Only experienced crew in the engine-room where able to answer the call for a change in speed from the bridge and yet not draw enough steam from the boiler-room to cause the boilers to prime.

How does one gain the necessary experience in these matters? Only by being subjected to those conditions when in action. Fortunately, much of this training is available during working up trials. However, the best training occurs when the member is subjected to action stations during his first real battle. He learns very quickly when he is in the real thing because the stakes are so high.

After workings up trials were completed, MILLTOWN joined the convoy fleet operating out of Halifax in the Triangle Run. Ships carrying supplies for the European forces were gathered in Eastern ports of Canada and the USA and formed into columns called convoy groups. The convoy group would move out of the port and four or five escort vessels would take up their position on each side of the convoy. As the convoys proceeded into the North Atlantic the escort ships would run a zigzag pattern on each side of the convoy, ever watching for U-Boats. The group would travel approximately 500 miles out into the North Atlantic where they would turn the convoy over to the Newfoundland - Londonderry run. (Mid-ocean escort) The escort ships would then return to either St. John’s Newfoundland or Halifax, NS. This was called the Triangle Run. Gus spent the next eight months doing convoy duty.

On one occasion MILLTOWN was advised that her next run would be 15 days instead of the normal 6 to 8 days and that the victualing officer, who was responsible for ensuring that there was sufficient food on board for the crew, should lay in extra provisions for the extended trip. Extra meat beyond the capacity of the fridge was hung in the tiller flat (the space below the quarter deck) which was as cold as a fridge during the winter. Officers rarely communicated with the lower deck ratings and as usual they were not informed of why there was a change from normal duty. Although this could cause anxiety among those crew members, they were told to suck it up and get on with their duties. Gus often wondered why the lower deck ratings were not kept informed and thought that it was possibly because of the danger of vital information passing to the enemy. This was not the case in the British Royal Navy. Gus discovered from his experience in the Royal Navy, that as soon as the ship left port the ship’s company was informed of the ensuing action.

The convoy proceeded beyond the point where the normal turnover usually occurred and continued steaming into the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream brings warm water from Florida northward and has a moderating effect on the cold temperatures. It flows to the east of the Labrador Current which brings cold arctic water southward along the coast of North America. When sailing east from Halifax through the Labrador Current and then entering the Gulf Stream the change in weather can seem magical, bitter cold winter changing into warm summer. The ice that had formed on the upper deck of the MILLTOWN from the spray, which was two feet thick in some places, melted and fell off. It was a new experience for the novice sailors who enjoyed being taken from the bitter cold into a subtropical climate in a matter of hours. However, the temperature in the tiller flats also turned from fridge cold to hot, the meat stored there began to turn and much of it became inedible. As a result, they ran out of fresh food two days before arriving in Newfoundland. They had to break out the emergency rations, which consisted of bully beef and hard tack, a bitter experience for a novice crew. During these last few days Gus was hungrier than he had ever been before. He was standing at the deck railing staring off into the sky when one of his buddies asked him what he was doing. Gus told him, “When I was a kid and didn’t like to eat the crusts off my bread my Mother would always tell me that someday I would be hungry enough to chase a crow a mile for that crust of bread. I’m just looking for that crow.”

During convoy duty the MILLTOWN would run a zigzag course, at cruising speed, on the port or starboard side of the convoy, always searching for German U-Boats. When the ASDIC operator received a “ping” which calculated the range and direction of the suspected sub, the bridge erupted into action. The officer of the watch would order the helmsman to change course in direction of the target, telegraph the engine room for Full Speed Ahead and dispatch a runner to alert the Captain. When the Captain was briefed, he would ring action stations and dispatch the LTO (the crew member in charge of the depth charges), to his station on the quarter deck, to man the depth charges. The engine room would advise the boiler-room of the order for ‘Full Speed Ahead’ and open the steam valve slowly, ensuring that the steam pressure was not dropped too much. Meanwhile the boiler-room increased the fire in the boilers and added feed water to the steam drum, being careful not to prime the boilers.

When the ship reached the target, the order was given to drop the depth charges, which were set to detonate at various depths. The sound waves of the exploding depth charges were transmitted through the water and would strike the ship’s side. The effect for those in the boiler-room and engine-room was similar to being in a steel barrel that someone slammed with a sledge hammer. Sometimes the boiler water gauge would break and the lights would go out, requiring the stokers to work in the dark using flashlights. Under these conditions providing steam to keep the engines running at Full Speed became very difficult.

Intelligence reports revealed the tactics used by U-Boat commanders. Sub commanders used various tricks to avoid destruction during attacks. They would lie on the bottom of the ocean, attempting to minimize the effect of the depth charges. The success of the attack was often very difficult to determine. The German U-boat Fleet was commanded by Admiral Dönitz, a respected German officer who had established an excellent reputation. He was not happy with the rate at which new subs were being built and convinced Hitler that the success of the war depended upon the U-Boat fleet, which could cut off the supply route of the Allies. He felt that sending out single subs would be ineffective in such a large ocean and established a system of sending out Wolf packs. Wolf pack operations were controlled through coded radio communications, using the Enigma, a device which produced a code that was unbreakable by the Allies. The commander of each Wolf pack would send out a scout U-boat to search for a convoy. When the convoy was spotted the scout would advise the commander of the location, course and speed of the convoy. The commander would then give the Wolf pack directions to intercept and engage the convoy. The attacks were usually very successful, sinking up to half of the convoy and usually one or two escort vessels.

During 1942, German U-Boats sunk 1006 Allied merchant ships while the Allies sank only 35 U-Boats. The capture of the code books from several U-Boats and an Enigma Machine from one U-Boat by the Allies was kept secret in order to prevent Dönitz from changing his strategy. The British coders reproduced the machine which enabled them to intercept Dönitz’ orders to the Wolf Packs. This gave the Allies information about the locations and movements of the U-boats and convoys could be instructed to alter course to avoid detection. Wolf packs would arrive at the position where they expected to intercept the convoy but would be greeted by Allied destroyers that played havoc with the Wolf Packs using depth charges. As a result, in 1943 only 285 Allied ships sunk by the Germans and 150 U-Boats sunk by the Allies. This huge turn around in favor of the Allies, which was directly attributable to the breaking of the Enigma, was reported to be the turning point of the War.

Gus’s home was Halifax, NS. Whenever MILLTOWN put into Halifax, she would usually be in port for two to three days before starting out on another run. Gus would take this opportunity to go ashore and visit his family. He would normally sleep at home and return to his ship before morning parade at 0800hrs in the morning. On one occasion she came in after finishing a run and Gus as usual went ashore to visit his family. On the first day in port MILLTOWN received an order to “set sail” the next morning at 08:00 hrs. This was unusual and that evening all the theatres and radio stations in Halifax issued a bulletin stating that all crew members of MILLTOWN should return to the ship immediately. Gus was unaware of that dispatch. The next morning Gus was late on his return to ship. He arrived at Jetty 5 at 08:05hrs to see his ship out in midstream. The special duty men on top deck of the MILLTOWN were hooting with glee seeing this forlorn crewmember standing on the jetty.

Gus immediately reported to the office of the Dockyard Commanding Officer.

“I have missed my ship,” He said to the duty officer.

“You’re adrift from what ship?” the officer asked.

“The MILLTOWN, there she is in mid-stream,” Gus replied. The officer got on the radio, “MILLTOWN, we have one of your wayward crew members here, we will dispatch him by harbour craft, to meet you at the harbour gate.” He then called Jetty 3 to have a harbour craft stand by to deliver a crewmember to MILLTOWN at the gate.

“Report to Jetty 3, post haste,” ordered the officer. Gus arrived at MILLTOWN and scrambled up onto the quarterdeck, to face the ‘Jimmy’ (the executive officer), standing with his arms folded and tapping his foot. He barked, “MacGillivray get your ass down to your mess ASAP, change into working dress and report back here for Captain’s Orders.”

A few minutes later, dressed in his work uniform, Gus stood before the ’skipper’ a two and a half ring VR officer.

“You are charged with being adrift MacGillivray, what do you have to say?”

“Well sir, it was only temporally, I’m aboard now.” Gus replied. The skipper had to repress a smile and put on a stern face.

“Nonetheless, you are guilty of a misdemeanor, four days stoppage of leave. Dismissed!” he said. Gus was in no way inconvenienced, since the ship was at sea for eight days and he couldn’t have taken shore leave anyway. On his way back to his mess deck he passed through the seamen’s mess. He said to the seamen gathered there, “You guys think it was funny, me standing on the jetty, having missed my ship. Don’t worry I’ll get back at you; I owe you one.”

In early 1943 Admiral Dönitz set his sights on merchant ships coming down the St. Lawrence River to join the convoys forming in Halifax for the Triangle Run. The RCN established a flotilla of twelve Bangor Sweepers to escort ships from Quebec City, to Sidney Nova Scotia. The Flotilla was based in Rimouski, a town on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River in the Gaspé Peninsula. Shortly after that run was established, HMCS MILLTOWN was taken out of service for a refit and Gus was posted to HMCS CARAQUET a Bangor minesweeper doing the Rimouski to Sydney run. He spent four months on that run before being posted ashore to attend a three-month Mechanical Engineering Course in Halifax. The course was a prerequisite for promotion to Leading Stoker. At the completion of the course he was promoted to Leading Stoker and posted to a new frigate, the HMCS OUTREMONT. Gus spent four months on OUTREMONT doing convoy duty on the Triangle run, before the ship was reassigned to the Newfoundland Londonderry run. At that time Gus was posted ashore in Halifax to wait for a new assignment.

In the summer of 1943 Gus was selected to join a draft of 200 personnel for big ship training with the British Royal Navy. The draft was to form the nucleus of big ship trained personal required to crew the new cruiser ONTARIO, which was being built in Belfast, Ireland for the RCN and now had to wait for a ship to transfer him to the Royal Navy.


The Nieuw Amsterdam was a luxury cruise ship built in Holland in 1937. When Hitler invaded The Netherlands the British seized the ship, which had been docked in the USA. They stripped her of all her grandeur placing the rich expensive furniture and trimmings in storage and converted her into a troop ship. While cruising as a luxury ship she carried 1185 passengers in lavish comfort. When converted to a troop ship, bunks six high in every available part of the ship enabled her to carry 83,000 troops in somewhat questionable conditions.

Gus boarded her, with a draft of Canadian Troops, for transport to Greenock, Scotland. Gus, being a navy Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) was treated royally, and was assigned to an upper deck cabin with three double bunks compared to the troops below who were jammed six high in every available space in the lower decks. The ship served two meals per day, with five sittings at each meal. The serving was cafeteria style and the troops used their mess tins. Gus and his sailor companions were issued plates, bowls, cups and cutlery.

The conditions below deck were intolerable, compared to navy standards. Many of the men were seasick and the odor was unbearable. Latrines overflowed adding to the stench. Periodically the men below, in small groups, were allowed to go on the upper deck for fifteen minutes. This confirmed in Gus’ mind that his original decision to go Navy was indeed the correct one. When the ship sailed from Halifax the weather was the usual, North Atlantic bad, which was not unusual for Navy types. However, after three days a blow came in. Those below deck who had tolerated the normal weather caved in, everyone was sick. After nine days, to everyone’s relief the ship arrived in Greenock, Scotland.

Gus disembarked the Nieuw Amsterdam and was transported to the Canadian naval base to await his posting to a British battleship. After several days of anxiously awaiting word, his posting came in. He drew the battleship DUKE OF YORK, which was at anchor in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland. He was issued a warrant (a pre-paid ticket) for passage by train to Thurso, Scotland, where he was met by the operator of a tender (a vessel used to transport goods and personnel to and from the ship) from the DUKE OF YORK. As they entered Scapa Flow, Gus was excited to see that wonderful battleship, the DUKE OF YORK, Flagship of the British Home Fleet.

She was longer than two football fields, had two turrets for’d, one with four 14 inch guns the other with two. She had another turret at the stern also with four 14 inch guns. Each gun could fire a 14-inch diameter projectile, packed with explosives, twenty miles; that’s six miles farther than the horizon. She had sixteen 5.25 inch guns, eight on each side, six eight barrel 2 pounder machine guns and twenty 20mm machine guns on the upper deck. With this fearsome firepower she was a match for any enemy warship. Her hull was made with steel plates fourteen inches thick and the deck had steel plates six inches thick. The magazines were shielded by fourteen-inch steel plates to protect the stored ammunition. Adding all of the internal gear she topped 42,000 tons. One could question how such a mass could float. Archimedes Principle gave the answer, although Gus did not need Archimedes to tell him, there she was, floating in all her glory, ready to take on the enemy.

Gus boarded the ship and was greeted by the chief ERA (Engine Room Artificer) and became one member of a crew of 1800 men. As a Leading Stoker he was assigned to be a killick (junior non-commissioned officer) in charge of a stokers’ mess of twelve stokers. In addition to his regular duties in the engine room, his part-time job was to look after the welfare of the twelve stokers. The mess consisted of a long table and benches, surrounded by a series of lockers, in an area that housed a number of stokers’ messes. During that era war ships did not provide cabins for the noncommissioned crew, due to limited space. The crew slept in hammocks slung on hooks provided in the messes. Billeting space to hang hammocks in the masses was at a premium. He joined twenty other Canadian personnel who had claimed space to hang their hammocks in the machine shop. This area became known as the Canadian Legion.

Gus was assigned a steaming watch as well as an action station and a damage control station in accordance with the normal watch system. As with the Canadian ships he has served on he would perform his steaming watch and have two watches off when the ship was steaming. The other watches would come into play during action stations. On his steaming watch he performed duties in one of the boiler-rooms or in the engine room. The DUKE had eight boiler-rooms with a Yarrow three-drum boiler in each. The boilers produced superheated steam at 250lbs and a temperature of 575 degrees F, which drove four steam turbine engines, producing a top speed of 28 knots.

Messing was interesting. Gus made a roster assigning two off duty stokers as ‘cooks’ for the day. Their duty was to peel any vegetables, place them in a net bag with the mess talley attached and deliver them to the galley. At meal time they would draw the meals from the galley and serve them in the mess and then wash and dry the dishes and scrub the deck, daily. On the first day, the potatoes came back black. Gus discovered that the cooks had pealed the potatoes but had not washed them. The end result was that the potatoes went into the cooking vat covered with mud. Gus confronted the culprits.

“But mate, we don’t have running water in the mess, it means that we would have to go to the upper deck to wash the potatoes,” cried the boys.

“Do I look sad,” replied Gus. “I’m not sad, I’m mad, you people get your ass up top and wash vegetables in future, or I will have your n–s for book ends. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” They understood, Gus had no trouble with them in the future.

On the first Sunday that Gus was aboard, the cooks brought down a jar of pickles, a block of cheese and an extra loaf of bread at suppertime. Gus thought that this was a nice touch before supper. They sat around munching on the cheese and pickles. Gus said, “OK cooks time to draw the supper. The cooks replied,”Supper mate? You’ve ‘ad it.”

That was the Sunday supper. This was an indication of the extremely poor rations on a British ship. For breakfast the sailors might get kippers and bacon cooked in stewed tomatoes (commonly referred to as red lead and hat tallies.) The main meal was usually some form of mutton. Dessert was usually suet pudding, a block of it would pin you to your seat. One hardboiled egg was served on Sunday. Each mess of 12 men was rationed one loaf of bread, a half-pound of tea, a half a pound of butter and one cup of sugar daily. You could double that ration but the mess was charged for the extra ration, which would usually cost each member of the mess about 2 shillings & 6 pence a week.

At the end of the first week Gus received the mess bill for the extra rations for his mess. He calculated each member’s share, collected the share from each of his men, but neglected to include his share. He was ordered to report to the administration office. A Royal Navy Lieutenant said, “Killick, your mess bill is short three shillings.”

Gus replied, ”yes sir, that’s my share, which I do not intend to pay.”

The Officer said, ”Its regulation, you must pay.”

“I’m from the Canadian Navy. They pay for me to be on this ship, I don’t feel that I should have to pay for my rations.”

The officer replied, “That payment is for extra rations, for which the crew must pay. You are part of the crew and must pay for extra rations, its regulations.”

Gus continued, “Sorry Sir, I’m not paying.”

The Lieutenant placed Gus on Captain’s Orders. On the way up to the Captain’s Table, his messmates chimed in with words of encouragement such as “You’re a goner now, mate! It’ll be the Chokey for you for sure!”

Gus appeared before the Captain, a four ring Royal Navy Officer.

“Killick, you have refused to pay your mess bill.”

Gus replied, “Yes sir, the rations on this ship are barely enough to keep me alive. I need the extra rations to survive. I’m from the Canadian Navy, which pays for me to be aboard this ship. I don’t feel that I should have to pay for part of my rations.”

The Captain said, “I can understand your position Killick, but you must understand my position. I have 1800 officers, NCOs and men on this ship and I cannot make exceptions to regulations for one individual. I suggest that you pay your mess bill and when you get back to the Canadian Navy, put in a claim against me for the return of your money.”

Gus respected the Captain for his honesty and felt he had made his point about being billed for the extra rations. More importantly, as he told his mates, he figured that he couldn’t tempt Fate any longer! The Navy had only so much patience.

He said,” Sir, it’s not so much the money involved but the principle. I will pay my bill now and as long as I am on this ship.”

The Captain replied, “Good decision Killick, you may return to your duties.”

After the sinking the of the pride of the British Fleet, the HOOD, by the German super battleship BISMARCK and the ensuing battle in which the BISMARCK was sunk, the sister ship of the BISMARCK, the TIRPITZ, had escaped. TIRPITZ holed up in Altafjorden, Norway but could become a threat to the convoys headed to Murmansk, Russia, should she break out. The duty of the DUKE OF YORK was to protect the convoys bound for Murmansk and to prevent TIRPITZ from breaking out. If the TIRPITZ did break out, she was to be engaged.

Gus had joined the ship just after she had returned from action where she was involved with the sinking of the German battle cruiser SCHARNHORST. The daily routine of the DUKE OF YORK was to weigh anchor at 0800 hrs, move out to the North Sea and conduct a practice shoot, returning to Scapa at 1600 hrs. After several days practice, the DUKE moved out as usual in the morning, however, once at sea, the Captain came on the blower and announced that the ship was headed for action. The KING GEORGE V Battle ship, two Cruisers and 10 destroyers joined the DUKE. The fleet rendezvoused with a Russian bound convoy, south of Iceland, relieved the Mid-Ocean escort and led the convoy uninterrupted, to Murmansk.

On the return trip to Scapa Flow, DUKE OF YORK fired her 14-inch guns at the TIRPITZ, which was still anchored in Altafjorden. She appeared to have made several hits, but the extent of the damage was unknown. As the DUKE proceeded south along the Norwegian Coast, at 0300 hrs, she encountered a German convoy of twelve merchant ships escorted by four destroyers, moving southwards. The DUKE went into first state of readiness and engaged. Shore battery searchlights and guns came into play, but were no match for the massive firepower of the Fleet. Within two hours, the shore batteries were taken out and all the German ships, including the destroyers, were sunk.

Although discussion of past actions was not generally a topic of conversation there seemed to be a sense of confidence among the crew. Perhaps it was the communication between the officers and the lower deck in the Royal Navy during battles that is responsible for this. The system employed on British ships is as follows. When a British Ship is about to go into action, the Captain or his Executive Officer comes on the blower and advises the crew that the ship is preparing to engage the enemy. A description of the enemy position and the intended method of engagement are given. Maps are installed in the office flats on the upper deck showing the position of the enemy relative to the British ship’s position. These maps are continually updated. When the ship goes into action and the hatches and the bulkhead doors are closed, an officer is delegated to describe the action from the bridge, so those below decks know how the battle is proceeding. This will assure that those below will quickly and accurately perform their duties.

There is no doubt that there is a general nervousness among the crew when the ship is headed for the ensuing action. Prior to this action, one of Gus’s young stokers wrote a letter to his family, placed it in an envelope along with some personal items and addressed it to his family. He gave the envelope to Gus and said, “If I do not survive this action and you do, will you see that this envelope gets to my family.”

Gus assured him that if that happens he would honor his request. He assured him, however, that it probably would not be required. He said, “The awesome fire power of this ship, with its 14 and 5.25 inch guns, its torpedoes and hedgehogs, its thick plates on the sides and decks which can repel shells and torpedoes, makes this ship almost invincible. The intelligence and skill of the officers assure them that we will end up in victory. There really is no need to worry. I suggest that whether you are on steaming, action station or damage control watch, you do your job quickly and to the best of your ability and we will be OK.” The little talk instilled confidence in the lad and he seemed to go away happy. Gus returned his envelope to him, with a wink, after the successful action.

After successfully sinking the German convoy the Fleet steamed toward Scapa Flow. At dawn an aircraft carrier came out to meet them. Meanwhile a number of German Messerschmitt aircraft appeared on the horizon. British Barracudas took off from the aircraft carrier and after an encounter the Germans scurried to their base. Later that day the fleet arrived in Scapa Flow, another action having been successfully completed.

Gus remained with the DUKE of YORK for four months until she went into Liverpool, England for refit. Gus was given two weeks shore leave and then was posted to the Royal Navy Cruiser NORFOLK in Hepburn on Tyne. Gus spent his leave visiting his uncle George McNeil in Dundee, Scotland. It was enjoyable for Gus to meet George’s new wife Evelyn and their new baby, whom they called Wee George. Gus attended an afternoon tea with Evelyn and the ladies of the town putting on his best behavior, which was difficult for a sailor. Gus however, was able to put on a first class demeanor, and impressed the ladies. Uncle George took Gus to the Dundee ice rink, which he managed, where they put on a pair of skates and played a bit of one-on-one hockey. Uncle George skated rings around Gus, proving he still had his professional-level ability. At home they each discussed their livelihood, George indicating that he missed Canada and that he hoped to return there after the war. After an enjoyable two weeks off Gus joined NORFOLK which had just completed refit and had been ordered to join the home fleet in Scapa Flow. Gus was once again to see action with the home fleet out of Scapa Flow.

The luxury liner Queen Mary was converted to a troop ship during WWII and was commissioned to transport Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, to the Quebec Conference. The conference, held in Quebec City, was a meeting of Churchill, USA President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and The Prime Minister of Canada W.L. Mackenzie King to discuss Allied Strategy for the war including the D-day invasion. The British Cruiser KENT was assigned escort duty for the transatlantic crossings of Churchill on the Queen Mary. A story reached Scapa that the KENT had signaled the Queen Mary, “Can you maintain 28 knots.” The Queen Mary replied, “We will try to keep her under 35 knots.” As a result, the KENT burned out several boilers trying to keep up and she returned to Scapa for repairs.

Gus was selected as a Killick to head a bricking party, a group of stokers that had been selected from various ships. The bricking party was to board the KENT and undertake repairs upon her return. Gus and his party were received aboard KENT by the Chief ERA, assigned a space to set up a mess and get on with repairing the boilers. The job required removing the damaged firebricks from the firebox and replacing them with new bricks. Scale which had accumulated in the drums had to be removed using steel brushes and chipping hammers. The heater tubes, which ran from the steam drum to the mud drums, had to be checked for blockages. To do this a rack of numbered steel balls was used. Each ball represented a tube and was dropped into that tube in the steam drum. If the ball was not caught in the mud drum it indicated a blocked tube, which must be replaced. The job took two weeks, after which Gus and the stokers returned to their ships.

In December 1944, their training complete, the draft of 50 RCN trainees deployed to the British ships was recalled to HMCS NIOBE, the Canadian Naval Base in Scotland. They were to return to Canada, have two months leave and return to Belfast in April 1945, joining the crew of newly commissioned RCN Cruiser, HMCS ONTARIO. The euphoria of the trainees was evident during the party they enjoyed when news of their return to Canada was announced. During the party the Executive Officer (Ex) singled out Gus and told him to report to his office in the morning.

“What did I do now?” Questioned Gus.

“Oh no, nothing like that, I just want to discuss something with you, now is not the proper time, I will see you in the morning.” Said the Ex.

Gus reported to the Ex in the morning where some unwelcomed news awaited him. The Ex told him that he was off the draft to Canada because he had been selected to go to Belfast as advance party to the ONTARIO. His job would be to meet with an engineer from John Brown (the ship’s builder), Scottie MacFarlane, who was installing the compressors on the ONTARIO. Gus was to take over the compressor system from the contractor upon Commissioning. A despondent Gus withdrew himself to the mess to brood.

After the draft departed for Canada, Gus was given a warrant to take a train to the coast and board a ferry to Belfast. He was met by personnel from the Dockyard, who delivered him to the Kensington Hotel. The hotel had been taken over by the Royal Canadian Legion as a leave club and became his residence until he joined the ship upon commissioning. His duty was to report to the ship daily, meet Scotty and follow him as his crew installed the compressors. Gus got along very well with Scottie, who taught him the construction of the compressors, their use and their maintenance and repair. He traced the piping to the turrets, the machine shop and other parts of the ship where compressed air was required and produced drawings of the system. Gus was to operate the system when the ship became active.

Life became more enjoyable in Belfast; it was like having a civilian job. Gus would report to the ship in the morning, spend the day on the ship and return to the hotel at the end of the day. He was his own boss and set his own schedule. Although the external lights in town were off because of the blackout regulations and that it was difficult to travel at night, Gus still managed to enjoy entertainment in the town during his evenings off. He was also off on weekends, so he could visit places of interest. He made friends with local residents and was invited to visit their homes. A young man from a family in town had a girlfriend in Dublin, in the Irish Free State. He invited Gus to travel with him to Dublin for a weekend visit. Since the Irish Free State was not at war, Gus had to get special permission from the authorities to cross the border. He was not permitted to wear his uniform but his friend loaned him a civilian suit, fortunately they were of similar stature. They spent a wonderful weekend in Dublin, visiting many sites including the famous Guinness Brewery (St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin 1759 – 1974).

The Brewery visit was particularly interesting. The plant was laid out over 64 acres with the buildings linked by an internal railway system. A small engine was used to transport the visitors around the plant. The first stop was at a building which was so large that one could not see the opposite end. This building was used to germinate barley, which was laid out four inches thick over tens of acres. The staff said that by the time the workers, who were laying out the barley, reached the other end; the barley at the front end was ready to be used in the brewery. The tour continued to all of the productive parts of the plant, ending at a Pub, where visitors were able to draw pints of brew into a pewter stein for consumption. The plant was moved to another section outside Dublin in 1974 and the original plant became a museum.

In April 1945 the ONTARIO was commissioned, Gus moved aboard the ship and was joined by the crew from Canada. She started working up trials out of Belfast, in the North Sea. Meanwhile, the Allied Forces were advancing through Germany and they captured and occupied Berlin. The Germans capitulated and the European War was over.

Victory in Europe (VE) Day was declared on 08 May 1945. Euphoria exploded in Belfast. The lights, which had been off since the start of the war, came on. People celebrated in the brightly lighted streets, the bars were overcrowded and the celebrations continued unabated. ONTARIO had completed her working up trials and moved to Glasgow on Clyde to await her first assignment. With the war in Europe over she was to ordered to sail through the Mediterranean Sea and join the Pacific Fleet. The sinking of the British battleships REPULSE and PRINCE of WALES (sister ship of the Duke Of York) in the Far East, by Japanese aircraft in December 1941 was fresh on Gus‘s mind. This of course colored Gus’s thoughts about staying on the ONTARIO.

An important political decision was made by the Canadian Government, which affected the crew of HMCS ONTARIO. They declared that any members of the Canadian Voluntary Reserve who had signed up for the war in Europe, and who were selected to serve in the Pacific, would be required to volunteer for the Far East before being sent to the Pacific War. This provided Gus with an escape clause. During the signing up procedure of the ONTARIO’s crew, Gus declared, “I’m not signing.”

The Executive Officer said, “You must sign up, we have trained you for a job on ONTARIO and we need you to perform that job.”

Gus replied, “I’ve been away from Canada for two years. You guys screwed me by taking me off the draft last December, which was for two months leave in Canada. I’m going back to Canada.”

The Ex replied, “At that point we needed six trained killicks to go immediately to ONTARIO to prepare to take over parts of the ship from the contractor on Commissioning, you were one of them.”

Nonetheless Gus was adamant; he stood by his decision.

The Ex said, “I’ve got news for you MacGillivray. You are not going back to Canada. If you don’t sign you will be going to a minesweeper and spend the next six months sweeping mines off the coast of England.”

Gus was firm in his decision and refused to volunteer for the Pacific Theatre – as you will see it did not turn out to be one of Gus’ better decisions. He was posted from the ONTARIO to a familiar ship, a Bangor Sweeper HMCS CARAQUET, which was sweeping mines off the South Coast of England. Meanwhile HMCS ONTARIO proceeded through the ‘Med’ to the Pacific Theatre. Shortly after her arrival, the Americans dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, the Japanese capitulated and the Pacific War was over. ONTARIO spent several days in the harbors of the Pacific Theatre and then sailed across the Pacific to Vancouver. By August 1945 the crew was released to ’civy street’ with a Pacific Medal and went home. Meanwhile Gus was to spend the next six months sweeping mines off the coast of England not arriving home in Halifax until late November. It seems that luck did not always favor Gus.

After leaving the ONTARIO, Gus was given a warrant to take a train from Glasgow to Plymouth where CARAQUET was based. He was picked up at the station in Plymouth and transported to the ship.

Once aboard he was met by the ship’s cook. “I suppose you have not had lunch?”The cook asked.

“I had a sardine sandwich on the train.” Gus replied.

“What would you like to eat?” The Cook asked.

“What have you got to offer?” Gus asked.

“Anything you would like,” replied the cook.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Gus said.

“No, not really,” replied the cook.

Gus asked for 6 slices of bacon, half a dozen eggs over lightly, a plate of buttered toast and coffee. The cook complied. After months on a ship where his ration was one hardboiled egg a week Gus was in heaven.

To prepare the CARAQUET for minesweeping duty the depth charges used during convoy duty were removed and her minesweeping gear was reinstalled. The minesweeping gear consisted of a kite, which had vanes similar to a venetian blind, connected by a cable to a float that, in turn, was attached to a winch cable from the ship. When the float and kite were lowered into the water, the kite sunk below the float. As the ship traveled forward the kite would pull the winch cable out at a 60-degree angle from the side of the ship. The winch operator controlled the length of the sweep. As this sweep traveled through the mine field the winch cable would catch the anchor cable of the mines and drag them out to the end of the sweep, where a cutter would cut the cable. This would release the mine and it would float to the surface. Gunners manning the machine guns would fire at the mines, sinking them. When the tension of the anchor cable on the mine was released the mine was then safe, it would not explode. The lead ship would cruise just outside the edge of the minefield, with her sweep extended into the mine field. A second ship would cruise inside the sweep created by the lead ship. Additional ships would cruise inside the sweep of the ship ahead of them. In this way the total sweep could be a number of ships.

Gus was happy to be back aboard a small Canadian ship where the crew behaved like a family. Minesweeping was not without some danger; however, the war was over. Gone was the insidious danger of Wolf packs of German submarines, the action against German surface ships and day after day at sea in the violent North Atlantic Ocean. The daily routine aboard ship was to sweep from 0800Hrs until 1600Hrs, then return to port and remain at anchor until the next day. They had the weekends off, which enabled them to visit the picturesque English countryside of Devon and Cornwall. At anchor in the evenings they could enjoy the pleasant summer evenings, sometimes diving and swimming off the ship. They formed a softball team and would go ashore and play against teams from other ships.

As they swept from Land’s End and moved along the coast they were based at Plymouth. When they approached Portsmouth the base was moved to the Isle of White during the weekdays and Portsmouth on the weekends. This enabled the crew to take the short train trip into London to enjoy the night life. They did what all sailors do when ashore in foreign ports, visit pubs and chase girls. Some of the more sophisticated members took in theatre, usually musicals rather than Shakespeare.

Relieved from the pressure of wartime Gus felt like a tourist, working during the day to pay for his meals, and enjoying the sights and activities of a peaceful England during the evenings and weekends. His attitude toward the Navy began to change. He began to accept his duty, but looked forward to the near future, when he would be released and could get on with civilian life. Time seemed to pass quickly and by September ’45 they were working near the Thames and based in Sheerness, near London. The job was completed by October ’45 and they prepared to decommission the ship and turn it over to the ’Brits’. In November ’45 the ship was decommissioned and arrangements were made to ship the crew back to Canada. The crew was posted to HMS PUNCHER, a British escort aircraft carrier, for transport back to Canada. She arrived in Halifax in late November ’45, and was met by family, friends and a naval band on the dock.


It was an exciting time when Gus disembarked from PUNCHER. He was met by his Mom and Dad, who had hundreds of questions about his four and a half years at sea during WWII. During his time overseas, Gus had kept in contact with his family as much as was possible through letters sent to and from home. Gus missed his family, and was worried that his younger siblings might start to forget him. In one of his first letters home he drew a nickel at the bottom and wrote “Here’s a nickel to buy Anne an ice-cream”. Anne was his youngest sister, who was only five when Gus joined the Navy. His parents thought it was cute and showed it to Anne. She insisted that she get her ice cream since her big brother had sent the money. Gus’ Mom bought her one and every letter that arrived from Gus after that was inspected by Anne for her nickel. Gus’ mother figured he owed her a lot of ‘ice cream money’.

A family reunion was arranged and Gus was introduced Gordon Brown to a new member of the family. Gord was a young cabinet maker, working for a local woodworking firm, who had married Gus’s sister Lee when Gus was oversees. Gus’ younger brother Tony completed high school and took a vocational training course to become a machinist. He was employed by HMC Dockyard and was considered to be one of the best machinists in the trade. He joined the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve, continued part time training, becoming a Petty Officer.

Gus’ brothers Frank and Johnnie were still in elementary school. Frank followed in Gus’s shoes. He did not like school and tended to skip classes. Johnnie on the other hand, was a bright student. He was accelerated twice and although he was two years younger than Frank, he caught up to Frank’s grade. When Gus’ Mother suspected that Frank was skipping classes she would ask Johnnie if Frank was in school that day.

Johnnie not wanting to finger Frank would say, “I don’t know.”

Gus’ Mother would say, “What do you mean, you don’t know, you are in the same class.”

Johnnie would reply, “What do you think? I’m busy doing my work I don’t look around to see who is in class”. Mother would give up, but she would suspect the worse.

Gus’s favorite sister Anne was now five. Gus said, “You’ve grown like a weed, probably because of all the ice-cream I ordered for you while I was overseas.”

His Mother asked him “What was the thing you missed most while you were away?”

Gus replied, “I missed a lot of things, but the thing I missed most was your chocolate cake with thick icing.” Magically a nine by nine-inch chocolate cake appeared. Gus ate almost the whole thing leaving a small piece in the corner.

Gus stated, “I can’t believe that I ate the whole thing.” Mother replied, “I can. But why did you leave that small piece – surely you’re not too full to finish it off?”

Gus replied “I don’t want to give you the satisfaction of saying I ate an entire cake.”

Gus reported to the Naval Depot in December 1945 in order to commence his administrative procedure for release from the Navy. He discovered that Canada had authorized a re-establishment credit system for veterans returning from overseas. The credit included cash payment for the purchase of clothing or furniture or payment of tuition for advanced courses for those who qualified. What caught Gus’s eye was the Veterans Undergraduate Program where the government would pay for university courses for those who qualified. The credit would include payment of tuition, books, supplies and a monthly allowance of $60.00.

Unfortunately, at that time Gus did not qualify. He had graduated from high school at a grade 10 level. Since he had not returned to school for grade 11 he did not have the provincial Junior Matriculation since had not taken nor passed the Nova Scotia provincial exams. But what if he got his Junior Matriculation, would he qualify? That was the question he posed to the Administrative Officer.

The Officer replied, “Absolutely, but how do you plan to do that?”

Gus replied, “I would go back to school in order to write the Provincial examinations. Is there a time limit on the tuition program?”

The Officer replied, “No there is no time limit for application.”

The administrative procedure for release from the Navy included a medical exam to determine his medical condition on release, interviews to discuss his service during the war and a review of his administrative and medical files. He was also required to return his kit. Gus received his record of service which indicated that on release he was medically fit, 150 lbs and 5ft 6in tall.

It also stated that he would be issued the following medals:

  • 1939-45 Star,
  • Atlantic Star,
  • Canadian Volunteer service medal and Clasp, and
  • The War Medal 1939-45.
    All were issued by a grateful Nation, Canada.

During the interview by the Administrative Officer when the re-establishment credit for veterans returning from overseas was explained, he was asked, “What are your plans?”

Gus replied, “I plan on going back to school in order to get my Junior Matriculation and then apply for the Veteran Undergraduate Program. However, it will probably take me a year to do that.”

The Officer said, “Sounds like an excellent plan, I wish you luck and when you qualify we will be happy to register you in the University Plan.

In December 1945 Gus made an appointment to see the Principal of his local high school. He explained that he was a returning veteran of WWII and that he wished to write the provincial examinations for his Junior Matriculation, so that he would qualify to receive the university training offered by the government.

The Principal said, “I’m amazed at your decision to embark on most difficult program, which is fraught with extreme danger of failure. You would have to join a grade 11 class which is already half over. You would have to study, on your own, the first half of the grade 11 curriculum, not to mention that you are seven years out of school and your basic study habits are probably rusty. Would you not be better to embark on a technical study course for which you are already qualified?”

Gus replied, “I appreciate your concern sir, but I can do it if you give me a chance.”

The Principal had no other choice, but to register this determined young man in the grade 11 class, starting in the New Year. Gus joined the grade 11 class, and worked with them on the second semester curriculum during the day. At night, sometimes until 3 o’clock in the morning, he worked on a program of study of the first semester curriculum, given to him by the teacher. He wrote the Provincial examinations, and passed all, except one. The mark he received in English was two marks below the passing grade. This presented him with a new problem – he would not have the necessary credits for entry into university that fall. In opposition to his mother’s desire that he follow the Principal’s suggestion that he take a technical course, Gus was determined to continue his quest to enter university.

He made an appointment to see the Bursar of The University of St. Mary’s College, in Halifax. The Bursar told Gus that he did qualify for entrance, except for his failure of the Provincial Exam, English. However, all was not lost. He said that the University could set an English Entrance Exam for Gus in the fall and should he pass that Exam he would be accepted into a University Program. Gus accepted the challenge.

Gus wrote the entrance exam at St. Mary’s in Sept.1946, passed and was registered into the Engineering Program. At that time, most of the universities in Nova Scotia did not provide a Degree in Engineering. They did however provide a 3-year engineering course for a Diploma in Engineering. The Diploma was the prerequisite for entrance into a 2-year course at Nova Scotia Technical College for a Degree in Engineering. Prospective employers favored the 5-year Engineering Degree over the normal 4-year degree given by other universities. This proved to be an advantage when seeking employment.

Gus enjoyed his time at St. Mary’s. The Roman Catholic Jesuit Society ran the University and many of the professors were Jesuit Priests, although a number of civilian professors were also employed. It was a relatively small university, the staff and students behaved like a family, and the teaching was of the highest quality.

Gus excelled in Physics, which was taught by a world renowned Astronomer, Father Burke-Gaffney SJ. Two weeks before the first mid-term exams, Father Burke announced that he had completed his formal lectures. He said that he would be in his room each day before the exam to answer any last questions. On the first day Father Burke’s room was fuller than any time during the term. After he fielded a number of questions, he said to the class, “I’m amazed to see such a tremendous thirst for knowledge at this time.”

As he received questions from the class he would answer the question and write the solution on the board. He had completed writing the solution to one question on the board when Gus asked a question about the solution.

He said, “I can understand the algebra and the principal of physics involved in the solution, that’s no problem, however, I cannot understand how you arrived at the solution of the fractions involved.”

Fr. Burke did not flip his lid at being asked such a rudimentary question; he maintained his composure and answered the question.

“When you were in grade 3 you were taught how to solve fractions.” He then proceeded to give a lesson on fractions. Although he had the opportunity to embarrass Gus in front of his peers, he did not do so. He recognized Gus’ potential and the fact that he had been out of school for so many years. The lesson on fractions seamed to unlock the knowledge from Gus’s subconscious mind and he could now solve fractions without any difficulty.

At the end of the session Father Burke said, “My friends, some of your questions are two months too late.”

He then looked at Gus and humorously said, “And some are 7 years too late”. This exchange indicated the quality of an excellent teacher, a skill not too prevalent among a number of university professors.

Gus gave a thumbs-up and said, “Touché, Father.”

Gus completed the Physics Mid Term Exam and received an A+. He continued his studies at St. Mary’s and after three years graduated with his Diploma of Engineering. He was proud of the fact that he had also won the English Gold Medal Award, which was presented to the student with the highest aggregate of the graduating class.


During his second year at St. Mary’s, Gus applied and was accepted into the University Naval Training Division (UNTD). He was required to report for training at HMC Dockyard one night per week and on weekends. During his summer break he was posted to a destroyer, the HMCS HAIDA, for two months sea training. At the end of his second year of university he reported to Haida at the Halifax Dockyard. He was received aboard by the ’Jimmy’ (Executive Officer) and was assigned to the stokers’ mess. When he arrived in the mess he was thrilled to meet a number of stokers with whom he sailed during WWII. Although the boys were surprised to see Gus as a Cadet, it was a pleasant reunion and they were thrilled that they could go ashore together just like old times.

The ship was to cruise the Atlantic seaboard for the next two months. The first port of call was Charlottetown, PEI. Gus and his stoker buddies went ashore and headed for the ’wetts’, a naval term used to describe the local tavern. After a night of carousing the boys returned to the ship. Gus was informed that he was on ’Skipper’s report’. The following morning, he was brought before the Captain. He was charged with a misdemeanor, associating with the lower ranks while ashore.

The Captain said, “You have heard the charge Cadet MacGillivray, what have you got to say.”

Gus replied, “Yes sir, I went ashore with my buddy stokers.”

The Captain said, “MacGillivray if you expect to be an officer in this man’s navy, you cannot socialize with the lower deck ratings.”

Gus replied, “Captain, I spent months at sea risking my neck during WWII with those men. They are my friends and I will not ignore them.”

The Captain said, “I understand that you are in an awkward position, it is not normal to have a seasoned veteran with younger cadets, Naval tradition however, is that officers must not mingle with lower deck ratings. You are wearing an officer’s cap badge therefore you are considered to be an officer.”

Gus replied, “That tradition is stupid, I don’t agree with it.”

The Captain replied, “MacGillivray you are being insubordinate, so long as you are on my ship you will abide by tradition, you will not go ashore with the ratings, do you understand?”

Gus had to swallow his pride and agree. He felt that this was an isolated incident and that, in this case, the Captain should have ignored Gus’s friendship with his buddies instead of going by the book. At the end of the training cruise Gus left the ship with an adverse report.

After completion [of] his third year in St. Mary’s and obtaining his Diploma in Engineering, Gus continued his studies, registering for first year Mechanical Engineering at Nova Scotia Technical College in September 1950, under the Veterans Undergraduate Program. His studies of scientific and engineering concepts made his work with boilers and engines on naval ships during WWII more meaningful.

Gus continued to train with UNTD, but became more and more dissatisfied. There seemed to be a breakdown of discipline between the officers and the men. The Navy, in Gus’s mind, had two types of officers. There was the uncaring British trained RCN officer, who tended to harbor aristocratic British attitudes, which were inappropriate in Canadian society. Putting on false airs and demanding privileges to which they were not entitled did not go over well with the crew on the lower deck. Many of these officers treated the lower deck ratings with distain and in turn they were greatly disliked. The RCNVR officers who had joined the Navy during WWII, coming from various walks of life, epitomized the other type of officer. Most of them seemed to appreciate the value of the lower deck ratings and tended to co-operate with them to achieve the task at hand. Unfortunately, at the end of the war most of the RCNVR officers left the Navy and returned to ‘civy’ life. Gus felt that the tension between the Officers and the lower deck was ripe for disobedience and he did not want to be part of that. His fears were realized when, in 1949, the Navy was shaken by three cases of mass insubordination which occurred on three Canadian ships.

The Mutinies occurred almost simultaneously on three ships, the destroyer HMCS ATHABASKAN, HMCS CRESCENT and aircraft carrier HMCS MAGNIFICENT, although there appears to have been no collusion among them. In each case a number of ratings were dissatisfied with their routine and the way they were treated by the officers. They locked themselves in their mess decks and refused to perform their duties. It was reported that the Captains in all three cases entered the messes with great sensitivity, avoided using the term ‘mutinies’, which could have had severe legal consequences for the men involved and instead referred to them as ‘incidents’. They pointed out the danger of the insubordination to the ratings, said they would not discuss their collective grievances, but would accept individual redress of grievances in accordance with regulations. The Captains left the messes and ordered the crew to be ‘Piped’ to their duties. The insubordinate ratings complied.

No further action was taken against the insubordinate ratings, nor was any punishment leveled against them. However, the incidents became public and the Minister of National Defense, Brooke Claxton, ordered an inquiry. Rear Admiral E.R. Mainguy was appointed chairman of the inquiry. He was a highly respected Senior Officer who was considered to be the best man for the job.

The committee held extensive interviews with all those involved and compiled a 57-page report entitled The Mainguy Report. The Report detailed their opinion of the causes of the incidents and gave detailed recommendations for improvements required by the Navy to rectify the situation. The committee felt that the main cause of the insubordination was the breakdown of the Divisional System. Under the Divisional System the petty officers formed the link between the officers and the lower deck. Their duty was to report to the officers any ill feeling of the men in the lower deck, which in these cases they failed to do. Regulations required that both shore establishments and ships establish a Welfare Committee. MAGNIFICENT did not have a Welfare Committee and the committees on the other ships did not function well. The report recommended that officer training be changed and that although British Tradition suited the Royal Navy, the Canadian Navy needed to be ‘Canadianized‘.

Gus’ dissatisfaction with the Canadian Navy became evident to the Resident Staff Officer associated with Nova Scotia Technical College (NSTC), Major Cram. Major Cram was an army officer whose duty was to recruit graduate engineers into the Canadian Army. Realizing that Gus was unhappy with the Navy during Gus’s first year at ‘Tech’ he discussed the possibility of Gus considering a career with the Canadian Army. He said that if Gus joined he would be promoted to 2nd Lieutenant the army would continue to pay for his tuition and books, and his pay would increase from $60.00 a month to $120.00.

Major Cram invited Gus to lunch at the Army Officers Mess where Gus was introduced to a number of senior officers. He was impressed with their informality and noticed a tremendous difference from the officers in the navy. As he became more familiar with the duties of an engineer in the army he began to think seriously about switching from the navy to the army. Eventually he made his decision and signed up for the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

In his excitement to join the army Gus made one mistake, he forgot to resign from the Navy. This prompted a call from the Commander of HMCS SCOTIAN. He said, “I understand you joined the Army.”

Gus replied, “That is correct.”

The Commander replied “Obviously you cannot belong to two services; I take it that this is your resignation from the Navy.”

Gus replied, “That is correct,” and hung up. Thus began Gus’s service in the Army.