Re­mem­ber­ing the Bat­tle of the At­lantic

Crowd gath­ers on Parrs­boro pier for an­nual ser­vice

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW WAGSTAFF an­drew.wagstaff@amher­st­ Twit­ter: @ADNan­drew

It was the long­est bat­tle of the Sec­ond World War, and it took place on the war’s largest bat­tle­field.

In hon­our of those who served and in re­mem­brance of those who made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice, peo­ple of Parrs­boro gath­ered at the lo­cal pier for what has be­come an an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­mony of the Bat­tle of the At­lantic.

“It was a sus­tained and bloody strug­gle, not just against an im­pla­ca­ble hu­man en­emy, but also against an im­per­sonal nat­u­ral en­emy,” said le­gion mem­ber Martin Lang­ford, re­fer­ring to the “cruel sea.”

Lang­ford pro­vided open­ing re­marks at the cer­e­mony, which fea­tured lo­cal air cadets sound­ing a bell for each of the 24 Cana­dian ships lost in the bat­tle, which raged from Sept. 3, 1939 to May 7, 1945.

Sun­shine and warmth greeted the mod­est crowd in at­ten­dance at the cer­e­mony on Sun­day morn­ing. Fish­er­men worked on their gear and gulls flew by as “The Last Post” and “Reveille” sounded along the beach, and le­gion Branch No. 45 pres­i­dent Arthur Yorke tossed a wreath from the pier to the wa­ters below.

Canada was in­volved right from the start of the bat­tle, as four Cana­di­ans were aboard the Mon­treal-bound pas­sen­ger ship SS Athe­nia when it was sunk by a Ger­man U-boat west of Ire­land on the first day of the war, Lang­ford said. The first con­voy sailed from Halifax only two weeks later.

“It is unique in other as­pects also, in that it was the only cam­paign that di­rectly in­volved Cana­dian civil­ians,” he said.

When the war be­gan, the Royal Cana­dian Navy had 13 ves­sels and 3,500 per­son­nel, and had grown to 373 fight­ing ships and more than 110,000 mem­bers by war’s end.

“Canada had pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for all At­lantic con­voy es­cort du­ties, an as­ton­ish­ing and hard-won achieve­ment that cost the loss of 24 ships and 2,000 men,” he said.

Canada’s mer­chant marine started the war with only 38 ocean­go­ing ves­sels. Dur­ing the course of the war, 400 mer­chant ships were built in Canada, and 12,000 sailors served on the mer­chant marine, 1,600 of which lost their lives on 15 Cana­dian ves­sels and al­lied mer­chant ships.

“To put it in per­spec­tive, the heroic con­tri­bu­tion of mer­chant sea­men in one month alone, June 1941, saw over 500,000 tonnes of al­lied shipping lost to U-boats,” said Lang­ford, who also noted the con­tri­bu­tion of the Royal Cana­dian Air Force, which sank 55 U-boats.

One of those ships was the British ves­sel SS Western Head, tor­pe­doed by U-107 off Cuba dur­ing an un­escorted voy­age from Kingston, Ja­maica to Syd­ney, N.S. with a cargo of sugar. The crew of 30 in­cluded 12 Nova Sco­tians, eight of which were from the Parrs­boro area, in­clud­ing four sur­vivors.

“In its own way, the Bat­tle of the At­lantic should per­haps be con­sid­ered al­most as im­por­tant as a na­tional event as Vimy Ridge, the 100th an­niver­sary of which we cel­e­brated last year,” he said.

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