Remembering the Battle of the Atlantic
Crowd gathers on Parrsboro pier for annual service
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.