Last of the ‘First 200’ re­flects on the war

Bay de Verde na­tive served for six-and-a-half years

The Compass - - NEWS - BY JOSH PEN­NELL The Tele­gram

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.”

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Sub­mit­ted photo

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.

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