- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Major Maurice Albert Parker
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 August 2005
The following story appears courtesy of and with thanks to Ronald Parker and Father
Major Maurice Albert Parker:
If indeed the men of the Royal Rifles were so poorly trained as some have said, it is a testament to their courage that they fought so long, so hard, and inflicted such devastating damage on the battle-hardened Japanese Troops. For eighteen long days, they fought some of the fiercest battles in WWII.
From Newfoundland the Royal Rifles were sent to St. John, New Brunswick for three weeks. From there they returned to Quebec City for 48 hours' leave.
In October of 1941, the Royal Rifles of Canada said their good-byes to loved ones and friends on the platform of the Gare du Palais, the railroad station in Quebec City, and boarded a train for the long journey West to Vancouver. There they joined up with the Winnipeg Grenadiers, many of whom were suffering the effects of dengue fever and malaria picked up while in the tropics. On October 27, they boarded the Awatea, a converted cruise ship, and accompanied by the H.M.C.S. Prince Robert set sail for destinations unknown.
The Awatea carried 90 officers, a Headquarters staff and 2 nursing sisters and 1,877 other ranks. The ship was so overcrowded that 49 Grenadiers and 1 Rifleman jumped ship in protest the night before she sailed and had to be "persuaded" to re-board and make the ill-fated journey. "C" Company of the Royal Rifles made the trip aboard the Prince Robert under the command of Major W.A. Bishop.
Rifleman Sydney Skelton was a short, slim 19 year-old man, married for 10 months, with a baby on the way. He had volunteered for service in Europe and had served a year in the army when he found himself on the way to Asia with "D" Company of the Royal Rifles of Canada. He remembered the first night aboard the Awatea, "Things began to look pretty bad (the first night). Supper time came and the lads waited hours for it and it turned out to be tripe and onions." Even Brigadier W.J. Home commented about things on board that night, "..things were in a hopeless muddle.", he said.
Both ships sailed under sealed orders for security reasons. Their final destination was unknown, even to the ship's captain. Some of the men put two and two together and guessed that their destination was somewhere tropical. They had been issued tropical uniforms, were sailing from Vancouver...they were going someplace warm. They did not know, or even guess, that it was to get deadly hot.
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