A veteran of the Second World War said he considered himself lucky to have survived one of the longest continuous military campaigns during the war.
Thunder Bay’s naval reserve division the HMCS Griffon held the 67 annual commemoration of the Battle of the Atlantic at the Anchorage at Marina Park on Sunday. The day coincided with the hundredth anniversary of the Canadian Naval Centennial, a day meant to encourage Canadian appreciation of the navy.
Bob Hughes, 88, from Thunder Bay, retired from the navy as a petty officer. He first joined the army in 1937 but three years later, when he turned 18 years old, he changed his military career because he had a brother in the navy as well as a few friends.
Hughes said the day gave him a chance to see his old sailing mates and people he served with when he fought in the Second World War.
"I was one of the lucky ones," he said. "I lost two very good friends that I grew up with. It was early on in the war too."
The battle of the Atlantic took place between September 1939 and May 1945. Considered one of the longest continuous military campaigns of the war, the battles spread across two oceans from the Atlantic to the Arctic. At the time, the Royal Canadian Navy played a role in supplying convoys and transporting troops to Europe. More than 1,300 Canadians lost their lives.
Hughes said the merchant navy drafted him as a gunner on supply boats. At the beginning of the war, the merchant ships didn’t have any weapons. He said the ships were primarily defenseless before being armed.
"I was on six different merchant ships and one oil tanker," he said. "I spent the first year of the war in Africa. I was on a small passenger ship that was shipping troops and nurses and guns up and down the coast."
Hughes said he saw a lot of action in Africa but not much while he served with the merchant ships. While traveling on the Atlantic, he said he saw sunken ships while with the convoy but seldom saw any enemy ships. He said he only saw one submarine during the war and it had already been sunk.
Helen Pierce, honourary colonel with the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment, said she came to support the Griffin and those who died during the war.
"We support our brothers and sisters in the navy and they support us," Pierce said. "Whenever we lose a soldier it is a loss to all Canadians. So it is important to all of us even though this is the navy…we’re all Canadians."
More than 60 spectators attended the commemoration. Ed Swayze, padre with HMCS Griffon, unveiled a sundial to honour the hundredth anniversary of Canadian Naval Centennial.
"The sundial is there to help mark time," Swayze said. "You need to remember things from the past so they can inform the present. History and tradition are important because they teach us a why we do things. That helps us to meet the challenges that are ahead."
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