Monday, December 15, 2008

First Canadian Contingent

Red Ensign (pre-1965 Canadian flag) ...

It is on record that, on that fateful, terrible September day, when the world held its breath, when anxious people around the globe crowded around the nearest available radio, awaiting with dread what might come from developments in Britain, Canada’s peacetime army consisted of only 4,500 permanent troops and less than 100,000 non-permanent active militiamen. The Honourable Rodman E. Logan of St. John, New Brunswick, maintains, however, that there were only 3,000 regulars — which makes it even more remarkable that, within three months, the first contingent of 7,400 men of the 1st Division was setting sail for the United Kingdom. When interviewed in March 2002, Mr. Logan was acting Honorary Colonel of what is now known as the Royal New Brunswick Regiment, but it was still the ‘Carleton and York’ when he served with it during the war.

With them, on a number of different vessels, went the West Nova Scotia Regiment and the Royal 22e Regiment, and together they formed the 3rd Infantry Brigade of the First Canadian Division. No records are available to establish the exact number on each of the five vessels in the convoy. What has been noted, however, is that the regiment which sailed from Halifax aboard the Monarch of Bermuda under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H.N. Ganong, on 10 December 1939, took only seven days to reach Greenock in the United Kingdom. With each succeeding week, as the risk of being torpedoed mounted, sea voyages to every destination became progressively longer and also less comfortable.

In his memoirs, the Rev. George Bennett, an Anglican chaplain, tells of how, having been posted Overseas to the Middle East in June 1941, he sailed from Gourock in Britain in a ship, which, despite 'zigzagging' to avoid this, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the early hours of Saturday, July 6, 1941. Three hundred miles off the Azores and six days out from England he was rescued and taken to Sierra Leone, where he had to wait to be picked up by another vessel before he could continue his journey. “There followed,” his story continues, “a ten weeks’ voyage, round the Cape, in a commandeered luxury Cruiser, The Monarch of Bermuda.”…Perhaps it still did have something of the luxury liner about it in 1941. It is more likely that the people above deck did not know how bad conditions were down below. As more and more troops from Allied nations were transported to and from the battle-front, the Monarch — like every other troopship — would become more and more grossly overcrowded, until such a journey would be the experience of the closest thing to hell on earth!

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