Last of the ‘First 200’ reflects on the war
Bay de Verde native served for six-and-a-half years
It is with profound clarity and perspective that 94-year-old Second World War veteran Donald Blundon recalls his years fighting on the water.
The Bay de Verde native was part of the group known as the “First 200” - the first people of this province to sign up for the war (see related story on Page A1). He and others from here went over as small boatmen and joined the convoys of merchant cruisers that were often the target of enemy submarines.
Blundon was on an armed merchant cruiser - the Asturias - when an Italian sub fired its torpedos. The ship was orignally a passenger vessel that had been refitted with weaponry for the war. Along with the weapons, somebody had put empty steel drums in all the cargo spaces of the second- and thirdclass accommodations, Blundon remembers, although the exact reason for doing that is unclear.
Whatever the reason for the decision, it would prove a most fortuitous move.
“She got torpedoed off west Africa and she never sank. She filled in the engine room and the hull filled up, but the bow kept her afloat,” says Blundon.
The empty steel drums helped keep the ship buoyant despite the beating she had taken from the torpedo hit.
“She was a afloat anyhow. And we were still living. That was the main thing,” says Blundon.
That’s the kind of positive realism Blundon seems to have about the entire war. It would serve him well throughout the rest of his time serving and when he returned home.
The Asturias was towed into Freetown, Africa, and brought up onto a beach. The Asturias crew went back to England, and Blundon was sent to the United States to join a minesweeper convoy. As the name suggests, the ships went in to clear waters of marine mines. They left Seattle and went south, crossing through the Panama Canal and eventually making their way to Argentia, where Blundon got to come to St. John’s for a brief visit.
The Convoy was soon off to Scotland, but worked around France when it became obvious the Allied and Axis forces were going to engage in serious battle there. They would sweep in through the waters at night and get out again before daylight.
On D-Day, it was the minesweepers that went in first. There were 10 sweepers in Blundon’s group - eight sweeping and two laying markers for the following battleships.
“They were firing overhead of us with 16-inch guns,” Blundon says, chuckling. “When them God darn things let go, you’d duck ya know. We lost three or four ships. There was three sunk and one got damaged by a mine.”
Blundon again unharmed.
He next found himself on a destroyer escort travelling throughout the Mediterranean until the end of the war. After 6 1/2 years, he was going home. He spent only one year in the province, though, before going to work on ships on the Great Lakes. He’s been living in Montreal for years.
Blundon has had some communication with other members of the First 200 over the years, but he now believes he is the last of the group. He has no real health problems and still drives himself around Montreal. Perhaps part of his health can be attributed to his take on life, one that meant he didn’t harbour the demons with him that many people who return from war do.
“No, it didn’t seem to bother me. I understood there was a war on and the way I took it was just one day at a time. I didn’t worry about tomorrow. I just took it one day at a time. And it’s the same way now,” he says. “It was exciting, exciting. But it was a war. You had to put up with it.”
Donald Blundon meets a cousin for the first time while in the United States as part of the navy during the Second World War. It was the only time he ever met the relative and doesn’t recall her name.