Un­able to at­tend re­mem­brance cer­e­monies

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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