Unable to attend remembrance ceremonies
Before long, Mercer found himself serving aboard a minesweeper, small vessels tasked with the dangerous job of detecting and removing sea mines.
Mercer and Harris were assigned to different vessel s , b u t both were posted to Portsmouth, England. Mercer recalls releasing the lines for several minesweepers and watching them sail out to sea.
Not long after, he felt a strong concussion. The wooden minesweeper that Harris was serving aboard had struck a mine and practically disintegrated. Mercer still recalls the thousands of dead fish floating on the surface when his vessel arrived at the chaotic scene. “I broke down,” Mercer says. After six months on minesweeping duty, Mercer was assigned to the HMS Rodney, a Royal Navy battleship.
He recalls steaming toward Halifax in the spring of 1941 when the ship was ordered to sail with great haste for the Denmark Strait. The German battleship Bismarck had been spotted, and she was to be sunk at all costs.
The Bismarck had already sunk the HMS Hood, the pride of the British navy, killing all but three of her more than 1,400 crewmembers.
It wasn’t long before Mercer and his shipmates helped make history. The Rodney played a major role in the sinking of the Bismarck.
Mercer served in the ship’s magazine, feeding ammunition to the big guns. He remembers an overwhelming feeling of shock at the loss of the Hood.
“She was the pride of the navy,” Mercer recalls, adding, “We were very lucky.”
Mercer remembers seeing the Bismarck, far on the horizon.
He remembers that many of his shipmates were crying, and many sailors “lost it.”
“I was too young to know the difference,” he says.
Mercer was later transferred to a submarine supply ship, but his wartime service was coming to an end. The chaos and death was taking a toll, and Mercer was deemed medically unfit for service. “My nerves broke down,” he says. He came back to Bay Roberts with nothing, but he was far from defeated.
He started driving a truck for a local company, and later purchased his own, using it to deliver logs, lumber and other things to St. John’s.
He was married to Phyllis (French) in March of 1944, and the couple built a house on land once owned by Phyllis’s father.
He later opened an auto repair garage next to his house, and started selling vehicles for Royal Garage. The business, which also had two gas pumps, operated until he retired, after which his son Neil took over.
“I made it on my own,” he says with obvious pride.
Along the way, Mercer gave back to his community. He was a leader in both the Royal Canadian Legion and the Bay Roberts Lions Club, and also entered municipal politics in the 1970s, serving as mayor from ‘73 to ‘81.
There was a significant amount of investment made into infrastructure and equipment during his time as mayor, including water and sewer and vehicles such as snowplows and other heavy equipment.
He remembers meeting with then premier Joey Smallwood and laying out a list of needs for the town.
“I was never in a place like that before,” he says of his time as mayor. “I managed to get some things done. We had a fine council.” Veterans getting fewer Mercer is one of a dwindling number of Second World War veterans, and is thought to be the only one residing in Bay Roberts.
About a year ago, there were roughly 175,000 veterans still alive in Canada, but some reports say up to 500 are dying each week, so that number is now much lower.
Mercer is feeling his age, and is no longer able to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies.
But Nov. 11 will not pass like any other day.
“I’ll be thinking of the poor fellows that were killed,” he says. “So many perished. I think of that.”
George Mercer (left) and his childhood friend John Harris, both of Bay Roberts, are pictured in their Royal Navy uniforms. Harris was killed during the war.
George Mercer is pictured with Phyllis ( French), his wife of 67 years.