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HMCS Snowberry, Convoy Escort

by Peter Walker

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
Peter Walker
Article ID: 
A2582570
Contributed on: 
29 April 2004

The crew of HMCS 'Snowberry', photographed from above

I served on HMCS Snowberry as a submarine detector operator from April 1941 to November 1941. I joined the ship at Greenock/Gourock on loan to the RCN.

Snowberry was one of the original flower class corvettes, and escorted several convoys from the Clyde and Londonderry to Iceland, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia often in appalling weather. Corvettes were designed for coastal convoy duty but were used for north Atlantic convoys, for which they were unsuited. As such crews received double 'hard lying money' because of the discomfort. Convoys often took weeks because they had to zig zag,also heave to or slow down in bad weather. Their speed was often that of the slowest ship, such as a whaling factory.

Snowberry had only a magnetic compass and no radar - it was nearly always too cloudy to fix a position by sextant. The only armament was a 12-pounder gun on the forecastle for surface action. For anti-aircraft (AA) defence there was a Lewis gun as well as a Tommy gun for use at the wings of the bridge. The Tommy gun was handed in by the public because of shortages; likewise, some sets of crew binoculars were actually opera glasses handed in by the public.

There was no refrigeration only a meatsafe, and vegetable locker on the welldeck at the break of the forcastle. Meat went off after 24 hours at sea. Bread went mouldy soon after (at that time 'sea bread', long-keeping bread, had not been invented). For cooking there was a coal-fired army type range in the galley on the poopdeck abaft the engine room casing. In heavy weather the fire was often swamped, so a lot of the time we lived on ships biscuits and tinned meat.

It was common to be hove to for days in hurricane force winds and 40-foot waves, rolling 45 degrees and slowed down by thick fog. Every fog signal used a bucket of precious water as steam. Apart from U-Boats there was always the threat of icebergs and being run down by ships of the convoy in fog.

OUR LIVING QUARTERS WERE IN THE FORECASTLE .WE SLEPT IN BUNKS ALONG THE SHIPSIDE .THERE WAS A MESS TABLE AND A COAL FIRED STOVE CALLED A " BOGEY " ,THE STOVE WAS FOR HEATING NOT COOKING IT HAD A CHIMNEY POTRUDING THROUGH THE DECKHEAD TO THE FORECASTLE DECK IT HAD A COWL AND THE WHOLE SMOKE STACK WAS CALLED A "PERCY NOBLE" I THINK THE STOVE WAS ONLY USED IN HARBOUR AND HAD IO BE EXTINGUISHED BY 9PM FOR ROUNDS . THE VENTILATION WAS NATURAL AND LED TO A COWL ON THE FORCASTLE.CALLED A MUSHROM HEAD .IN ROUGH WEATHER IT WAS COVERED BY A CANVAS COVER TO PREVENT THE INGRESS OF SEAWATER.
IN ROUGH WEATHER THERE WAS ALWAYS WATER SLOPPING AR0UND ON THE DECK SO WE KEPT OUR SEABOOTS IN OUR BUNKS READY TO STEP OUT IN WHEN WE GOT UP
THE ANCHOR CABLE LOCKER WAS FORWARD OF THE MESSDECK AND ALTHOUGH THE CABLE WAS BOWSED ACCORDING TO TH E SEAMANSHIP MANUAL THE CABLE STILL CLANGED LOUDLY IN THE HAWSPIPE. WHEN THE SHIP PITCHED ROLLED AND YAWED VIOLENTLY IN ROUGH WEATHER IT BECAME IMPOSSIBLE TO SLEEP SO THE CREW STUFFED THE HAWSEPIPE WITH THEIR KAPOCK LIFEBELTs (RCN ISSUE )
LIFELINES WERE RIGGED FOR ROUGH WEATHER FROM THE BREAK OF THE FORECASTLE TO THE STERN .WE WOULD WAIT AT THE DOOR OF THE MESSDECK..WAIT FOR THE UPROLL ON THE LEE SIDE AND THEN MOVE AFT AS FAST AS WE COULD BEFORE THE DOWNROLL .OFTEN THE SHIP WENT GUNWHALES UNDER
THE CREW WERE NEARLY ALL RCNR AND USED TO SMALL CRAFT AND BAD WEATHER. BEING LARGELY FISHERMEN FROM NOVA SCOTIA .PRINCE EDWARD ISLES AND NEWFOUNDLAND THE CAPTAIN A LIEUTENANT RCNR WAS IN PEACETIME THE MASTER OF A FREIGHTER CARRYING TIMBER ALONG THE WEST COAST. THE FIRST LIEUTENANT AND NAVIGATER WAS A SKIPPER RCNR AND WAS SKIPPER OF A NEWFOUNLAND DEEP SEA TRAWLER THE OTHER OFFICER WAS A LIEUTENANT IN THE RCNVR A SCHOOLMASTER FROM INLAND (I THINK IT WAS WININPEG )
I THINK THE ONLY REGULAR NAVY WERE MYSELF AND THE TWO OTHER ASDIC OPERATORS WHO CAME FROM HALIFAX NOVA SCOTIA .SOME OF THE CREW WERE EX RN WHO WERE DESERTERS FROM HMS CARADOC WHEN SHE VISITED CANADA PRE- WAR .THEY SAID THEY GOT AN AMMNESTY WHEN THEY JOINED THE RCNR AT THE OUTBREAK OF WAR .SOME OF THE HOSTILITIES ONLY RATINGS SUFFERED CHRONIC SEA SICKNESS SO WE WERE OFTEN SHORTHANDED .OFTEN THERE WERE NO RELIEFS AVAILABLE WHEN CREW MEMBERS WERE HOSPITALISED. THERE WAS AN ADMIRALTY PATTERN MEDICAL CHEST FOR FIRST AID
WE GOT THE VERY BEST OF PROVISIONS ON THE CANADIAN SIDE BECAUSE SUPPLIES WERE IN PLENTY .THOSE ON THE UK SIDE WERE NOT AS GOOD BECAUSE OF THE WAR AND RATIONING ,LIKEWISE THOSE RECIEVED AT LONDONDERRY NORTHERN IRELAND REJAVIK ICELAND ( I BELIEVE THE CAME FROM THE DEPOT SHIP HMS HECLA )
THE JACK DUSTY (STOREKEEPER ) ALWAYS PUT A BIG TIN OF SHIPS BISCUITS A BIG TUB OF PEANUT BUTTER AND A BIG TUB OF MAPLE SYRUP ON THE MESS TABLE AND SAW THAT WE NEVER RAN OUT . THE SHIPS BISCUITS, WERE OBLONG AND MUCH SOFTER THAN THOSE IN THE RN WHICH WERE ROUND AND VERY HARD
WE HAD ROASTS IN CALM WEATHER BUT WHEN THE SHIP ROLLED TOO MUCH WE HAD POT MESS (TINNED MEAT AND ALL SORTS OF TINNED VEGETABLES COOKED IN A LARGE DEEP POT SECURED ON TOP OF THE GALLEY RANGE.SOMETIMES THE COXWAIN ISSUED FISHING HOOKS AND LINES FOR US TO CATCH OUR SUPPER
WE WENT TO ACTION STATIONS ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS OFTEN FOR HOURS ON END BUT I DO NOT RECALL A SHOT BEING FIRED.OR DEPTH CHARGE BEING DROPPED IN ACTION .LARGE CONVOYS TAKE UP A LOT OF SEA ROOM AND IT WAS NOT UNCOMMON FOR ALL THE ACTION TO BE ON TH OTHER SIDE OF THE CONVOY
OUR BIGGEST "ENEMY" WAS HURRICANES.,FOG,.ICEBURGS,AND BEING RUN DOWN BY THE CONVOY IN FOG. IN FOG WE USED THE ASDIC TO KEEP STATION ON THE CONVOY. IN ADVERSE WEATHER THE CONVOYS OFTEN SCATTERED AND WHEN THE FOG LIFTED THEY WERE NOWHERE TO BE SEEN .WE USED THE ASDIC AS A HYDROPHONE TO LOCATE THEM OR LOOK FOR SMOKE ON THE HORIZEN
WE OFTEN SAW SCHOOLS OF WHALES BLOWING AND I USED TO LISTEN TO THEIR MATING CALLS ON THE ASDIC ( SONAR )
WHEN OFF WATCH WE PLAYED CARDS AND BOARD GAMES ,WROTE LETTERS AND RECOUNTED STORIES AND EXPERIENCES ETC I MUGGED UP ON THE SEAMANSHIP MANUALS
THE SHIP WAS DRIVEN BY A SINGLE SCREW POWERED BY A RECIPROATING STEAM ENGINE I THINK THE TOP SPEED WITH A CLEAN BOTTOM WAS ABOUT 14 KNOTS .WE USED TO DO OUR DHOBYING (WASHING CLOTHES ) IN GALVANISED IRON BUCKETS .THEN HUNG THEM UP IN THE BOILER ROOM TO DRY .THE BOILER WAS SECURED WITH METAL BANDS AND WHEN THE SHIP ROLLED THE BOILER STRAINED AT THE STRAPS AND SEEMED TO ROLL A LITTLE FURTHER
WHEN AT GREENOCK A FRIGHTENED LITTLE CAIRN TERRIER TAGGED ON BEHIND RETURNING LIBERTYMEN AND MADE THE SHIP HIS HOME WE THOUGHT THAT HE WAS FRIGHTENED BY THE AIR RAIDS OR HIS HOUSE HAD BEEN DESTROYED .HE BECAME ATTACHED TO ME SO I FED AND CLEARED UP AFTER HIM ..AS SOON AS I WAS ASLEEP HE WOULD JUMP UP ON MY BUNK WITH ME AND WAS ALWAYS THERE WHEN I WOKE
WHENEVER WE WENT ALONGSIDE HE WOULD TROT OFF ASHORE .SOMEHOW HE ALWAYS SEEMED TO KNOW WHEN WE WERE ABOUT TO SAIL AND RETURNED ON BOARD .BUT ONE TIME WHEN AT St JOHNS NEWFOUND LAND HE MISSED THE BOAT
I REMEMBER VISITING HALIFAX .THERE WAS NO BLACKOUT OR RATIONING BUT PROHIBITION WAS IN FORCE ...TO BUY LIQUOR WE HAD TO GET A 4 DOLLAR LIQUOR LICENCE WHICH ALLOWED LIQUOR TO BE BOUGHT FOR CONSUMPTION ON OWN PREMISES .WE WOULD BUY A BOTTLE BETWEEN US THEN GO TO A CAFE BUY A BOTTLE OF MINERAL WATER AND HAVE "A SLY GROG " BEHIND THE MENU CARD .WE HAD TO BE CAREFUL NOT TO LET THE NAVAL SHORE PATROL SEE US .I USUALLY HAD A LOBSTER SALAD OR T-BONE STEAK
SOMETIMES WE WENT TO THE ARMY GARRISON IT WAS CALLED THE CITADEL AND WAS QUITE A DISTANCE AWAY .WE COULD GET MOLSONS BEER IN THE CANTEEN. THE CANADIANS WANTED TO SHOW ME THE BOOTLEGERS WHICH WERE SITUATED IN SIDE STREETS .WHEN GIVEN THE APPROPRIATE KNOCK A HATCH LIKE A TICKET BOOTH WOULD OPEN AND THEY WOULD DISPENSE A SHOT OF GROG.HALIFAX NEVER SEEMED TO SLEEP AND WE OFTEN LOST TRACK OF TIME ,SOMETIMES IT WAS 2 OR 3 IN THE MORNING BEFORE WE REALISED IT WAS TIME TO RETURN ON BOARD
ONCE WHEN WE WE THERE A FLEET SEAMANSHIP BOARD WAS CONVENED AT HMCS STADACONA THE NAVAL BASE .I PASSED FOR LEADING SEAMAN.
ANOTHER TIME WE WERE IN FOR ABOUT 7 DAYS FOR BOILER CLEANING AND A FEW DAYS LONG LEAVE WAS GIVEN TO EACH WATCH . ONE OF MY PALS A TORPEDOMAN (WHO LOOKED AFTER THE DEPTH CHARGES AND SHIPS ELECTICS ) INSISTED THAT I GO ON LEAVE WITH HIM TO PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND TO MEET HIS SISTERS
THERE WERE TWO OTHER PRINCE EDWARD ISLANDERS ,I THINK THEY WERE STOKERS .THE FOUR OF US TOOK A TRAIN FROM HALIFAX TO THE FERRY PORT WHERE WE LEARNT THAT THE REGULAR FERRY HAD BEEN TORPEDOED AND HAD BEEN REPLACED BY A FERRY FROM THE GREAT LAKES IT HAD BEEN HURRIEDLY PUT IN TO SERVICE AND WORK TO ADAPT HER WAS STILL GOING ON .
APART FROM US, MOST OF THE PASSENGERS WERE SCHOOLGIRLS ON A SCHOOL OUTING WITH TWO NUNS
AS WE LEFT THE SHELTER OF LAND AND ENTERED THE NORTHUMBERLAND STRAITS WE MET VERY ROUGH WEATHER ,THE PASSENGERS WERE ALL SEASICK AND THEIR BELONGINGS WERE STREWN ALL OVER THE DECK OFTHE PASSENGER LOUNGE.TO ADD TO THIS SOME RADIATORS WHICH WERE LYING ON THE DECK WAITING TO BE FITTED ALSO SLITHERED ALONG THE DECK AND A PIANO STARTED TO BREAK LOOSE .WE STILL HAD OUR SEA LEGS HAVING JUST RETURNED FROM A ROUGH ATLANTIC CROSSING SO WE SECURED THE PIANO AND RADIATORS AND WITH THE AID OF SOME DECK CHAIRS MADE AN ENCLOSURE IN ONE CORNER OF THE LOUNGE.WE THEN COLLECTED UP ALL THE BELONGINGS AND PUT THEM IN THE ENCLOSURE .WHILST DOING THIS I NOTICED ONE OF THE NUNS WAS QUITE ELDERLY SHE WAS SITTING ON THE DECK AMONGST A LOT OF THE THINGS .I WENT TO HELP HER TO HER FEET BUT SHE SAID JUST LEAVE ME HERE.
THERE WAS A LIITTLE SHOP AT THE END OF THE LOUNGE.I WENT TO THE COUNTER AND SAW THE STEWARDESS SITTING ON THE DECK COVERED IN HER STOCK WHICH HAD FALLEN FROM THE SHELVES SHE TOO SAID JUST LEAVE ME HERE .
THAT DONE THE MATE CAME UP FROM THE CAR DECK AND SAID THE CARS ON THE CAR DECK WERE WORKING LOOSE AND ASKED US TO HELP HIM TIGHTEN UP THE FASTENINGS WHICH WE DID
I MET HIS SISTERS AND WENT COUNTRY DANCING .THERE WAS STRICT PROHIBITION ON THE ISLAND BUT THE SISTERS USED THEIR GRANDADS PRESCRIPTION TO GET A BOTTLE OF THE LOCAL LIQUOR CALLED "MOONSHINE ".HE WAS ALLOWED IT FOR MEDICINAL PURPOSES
ON THE RETURN TRIP WE LEARNED THAT THE FERRY MADE NO FURTHER CROSSINGS THAT DAY AND THAT THE GIRLS SPENT THE NIGHT IN A LOCAL SCHOOL
St JOHNS NEWFOUNDLAND WAS MUCH THE SAME AS HALIFAX BUT MUCH SMALLER .WE ALL HAD TO GO TO HOSPITAL TO HAVE OUR GUMS PAINTED BECAUSE OF TRENCH MOUTH .WE WERE TOLD IT WAS BECAUSE OF CONTAMINATED WATER .
AT ICELAND WE ANCHORED IN VALFJORD ,IT WAS VERY DESOLATE THE CAPTAIN WOULD TAKE THE DINGHY TO GO TO A CONVOY CONFERENCE SO THOSE OF THE CREW WHO WANTED TO GO ASHORE USED THE CARLEY FLOAT (LIFE RAFT) TO PADDLE ASHORE TO THE NEAREST POINT .ONE OF THE CREW CAUGHT SOME WILD DUCKS BUT WAS APPREHENDED BY AN ICELANDER WITH A SHOT GUN WHO CONFISCATED TH DUCKS ..THEY WERE EIDER DUCKS AND UNDER ICELANDIC LAW IT WAS FORBIDDEN TO CATCH THEM .
ON ANOTHER VISIT WE PADDLED ASHORE IN THE LIFERAFT AND MADE CONTACT WITH A BRITISH ARMY AA BATTERY WHICH HAD BEEN SET UP TO PROTECT THE SHIPS IN THE FJORD .THEY GAVE US SOME OF THEIR RATIONS AND BEER AND WE GAVE THEM "SWEET CAPPORAL" CIGARETTES
THE NEXT TIME WE CAME TO ICELAND THE SOLDIERS CAME OUT TO MEET US THEY HAD MADE THEMSELVES A RAFT MADE WITH EMPTY OIL DRUMS .THEY HAD SEEN OUR PENNANT NUMBERS ON THE SHIPS SIDE
ON ONE OCASION THE DEPOT SHIP HECLA RAN A LIBERTY BOAT TO REJAVIK FOR THE SMALL SHIPS.REJAVIK LOOKED LITTLE MORE THAN A SHANTY TOWN .IT WAS A SUNDAY.NOTHING WAS OPEN AND NOTHING SEEMED TO BE HAPPENING ..WE SAW A FEW GIRLS .THEY WERE BLONDE AND VERY PRETTY BUT WE WERE STRICTLY FORBIDDEN NOT TO FRATERNISE
SOMETIMES WE WENT TO LONDONDERRY NORTHERN IRELAND. AS WE APPROACHED LAND IT LOOKED VERY GREEN ,WE COULD SMELL THE LAND IT WAS LIKE FRESHLY MOWN GRASS AND PLOUGHED FIELDS .WE WOULD ANCHOR IN THE RIVER FOYLE ESTUARY OFF MOVILLE IN THE IRISH FREE STATE ,REMOVE THE ASDIC DOME AT SLACK WATER , AND WAIT FOR THE RIVER PILOT
IT WAS VERY PICTURESQUE ,SAIL BOATS WOULD COME OUT WITH FRESH PROVISIONS AND POTEEN WHICH THEY TRADED FOR SWEET CAPORAL CIGARETTES .THE RIVER PILOT ALSO CAME OUT IN A SAIL BOAT . .WE ENJOYED STEAMING UP THE FOYLE

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