Veteran re­calls Christ­mas at sea

Bay de Verde na­tive Don­ald Blun­don served Royal Navy dur­ing Sec­ond World War


Bay de Verde na­tive Don­ald Blun­don’s first Christ­mas at sea was spent in the Den­mark Strait be­tween Green­land and Ice­land.

It was 1939 and the then 19-year-old had just joined the Bri­tish Royal Navy at the start of the Sec­ond World War (see re­lated story on Page B6). Sta­tioned aboard the HMS As­turias be­fore the ship was moved to the South At­lantic, Blun­don re­mem­bers this Christ­mas be­ing dif­fer­ent from the ones he en­joyed back home.

There was no Christ­mas tree dec­o­rated in the cor­ner of the mess hall, nor was there much in the way of sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tions along the walls.

How­ever, there was one thing that was sim­i­lar — the food.

The 94-year-old res­i­dent of Sym­phonie Res­i­dence West Is­land old-age home in Pointe Claire, Que., fondly re­mem­bers sit­ting down with 25 of his fel­low sea­man and en­joy­ing turkey with all of the trim­mings.

“We al­ways used to have good food,” said Blun­don.

That Christ­mas in the Den­mark Strait was just one of sev­eral he ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing wartime.

It was a stark con­trast to the hol­i­day sea­son he ex­pe­ri­enced in New­found­land.

Part of a big fam­ily back home — he was one of eight chil­dren — Blun­don was used to “hav­ing a time” dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son.

At that time, Bay de Verde, like most other ru­ral set­tings, was di­vided by re­li­gion.

“There were Catholic times and Protes­tant times,” said Blun­don. “There was a lot of mum­mer­ing.”

Had to be ready

While the First World War fea­tured a se­ries of un­of­fi­cial Christ­mas truces at the on­set of the con­flict in 1914, the Sec­ond World War had no such com­pro­mise.

There were no ex­changes of sou­venirs or small talk in the trenches be­tween Ger­man and Bri­tish forces. There was only the con­stant threat of a U-boat at­tack. “You had to be ready,” said Blun­don. That meant the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing pre­cious lit­tle time to en­joy your Christ­mas meal be­fore man­ning your posts in light of an at­tack.

“Ev­ery day was the same,” said Blun­don. “You had to be pre­pared.”

The first one away

The first Christ­mas weighed heav­ily on the mind of the teenaged Blun­don. It was his first way from his sib­lings, par­ents and the good times in his home­town.

“That was the worst part,” he said. “It was a big change.”

How­ever, he had a job to do and there was no way of get­ting him home.

“You had to for­get about it,” Blun­don noted.

South­ern hos­pi­tal­ity

Blun­don lost the sight of snow when his ship moved south. More specif­i­cally, his sta­tion was changed to South Amer­ica where his ship would pa­trol the wa­ters of Rio de Janeiro and other Brazil­ian ports of call. “It was not the same,” said Blun­don. He was re­fer­ring to the cli­mate and cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­days be­low the equa­tor.

De­spite only be­ing al­lowed to pa­trol three miles out­side port, Blun­don did man­age to get into town and pick up some sou­venirs to send home.

Never on land

In his seven-year naval ca­reer, Blun­don never ex­pe­ri­enced a Christ­mas on dry land. He was al­ways at sea.

Whether it was aboard the As­turias or the HMS Chance to clear mines away in ad­vance of Nor­mandy, Blun­don was never hav­ing turkey din­ner in a bar­racks at a naval base. “I was at sea as long as 72 days,” he said. And, that’s just how he pre­ferred it. “I was never one for the bar­racks.” In many ways, the first Christ­mas he spent home after the war was sim­i­lar to the last one he spent be­fore en­list­ing.

A Lead­ing Sea­man at the time, Blun­don re­turned to a Bay de Verde in 1946 where Christ­mas tra­di­tions re­mained sim­i­lar to those of 1938.

“Christ­mas was one big party,” he said. “There was al­ways a time.”

Sub­mit­ted photo

Lead­ing Sea­man Don­ald Blun­don spent all of his Christ­mas at sea dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

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