A life de­fined by the mil­i­tary

Re­tired Royal Cana­dian Navy mem­ber re­flects on his ser­vice

Valley Journal Advertiser - - COVER STORY - BY COLIN CHISHOLM WWW.HANTSJOURNAL.CA

Rick Craw­ford lives in a cozy, quiet home by the Mi­nas Basin with his wife, and a clear view of the wa­ter. Look­ing across the cerulean blue waves he can see Econ­omy, on a clear day.

His play­ful dog Mor­gan, who’s still got a bit of puppy in her, jumps around ex­cit­edly as he re­flects back on his days in the Royal Cana­dian Navy, an or­ga­ni­za­tion he served with for 35 years.

His ca­reer was book­ended by the Cold War and the be­gin­nings of the War on Ter­ror - but it’s still re­ferred to as peace time.

Craw­ford joined the navy in 1971.

His fa­ther was in the army and his grand­fa­ther fought in both World Wars.

“I’ve pretty much been in the mil­i­tary for my whole life,” Craw­ford said.

He’s orig­i­nally from B.C., but trav­elled all over Canada and the world while grow­ing up.

He signed up in Que­bec City, do­ing his ba­sic train­ing out of Corn­wal­lis. He then moved to Hal­i­fax for his sea­man­ship train­ing be­fore even­tu­ally mak­ing it on to his first ship, the HMCS Pre­server.

The Pre­server

The Pre­server was a fleet sup­port ship, or as Craw­ford de­scribed it “we car­ried gas and gro­ceries for the rest.”

Built in 1970, she was al­most brand new when he came aboard.

“We were out quite a bit be­cause at that time we had two de­stroyer squadrons and aux­il­iary ships,” he said. “When a squadron sailed for the Mediter­ranean or down south, you’d have to take a gas ship with you.”

It also meant that the Pre­server would make stops at lots of ports to re­fuel.

Dur­ing one of those re­fu­elling stops, in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal, Craw­ford found him­self in the mid­dle of a mil­i­tary coup purely by ac­ci­dent.

“We were there when the (Car­na­tion) Rev­o­lu­tion hap­pened back in the 1970s,” Craw­ford said. “Por­tu­gal was kind of a po­lice state and the army wanted to take it over and make it more demo­cratic.”

The Car­na­tion Rev­o­lu­tion, which took place on April 25, over­threw the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime of Es­tado Novo.

The rev­o­lu­tion also led to Por­tu­gal’s with­drawal from its African colonies.

It gets its name, Car­na­tion Rev­o­lu­tion, be­cause nearly no shots were fired dur­ing the coup.

The day is now cel­e­brated as Free­dom Day and is a na­tional hol­i­day.

And Craw­ford and his ship­mates found them­selves, un­ex­pect­edly, in the mid­dle of it.

“There was a whole bunch of us down­town,” he said. “There was a Cana­dian, Dutch and British squadron in port. Some Amer­i­can ships too. When the prover­bial ‘fit hit the shan,’ we were try­ing to get back to the dock­yard.”

“We were hav­ing a beer, just en­joy­ing the evening and then a mem­ber of the po­lice came in the bar and they had these trun­cheons and they just started wail­ing on ev­ery­body,” he said. “I jumped over the bar, the bar­maid was a British gal and once the po­lice left we headed back to the boats.”

“Ev­ery­body was beat­ing a hasty re­treat, try­ing to avoid the po­lice and stay­ing away from tanks.”

They sailed away once ev­ery­one was aboard.

“That was a pretty ex­cit­ing time for a brand new young fella like my­self.”

Navy life

He met his wife while he was serv­ing on that ship, spend­ing most of his ca­reer on the East Coast.

“I was out at sea quite of­ten, usu­ally you’d be home for two years and you could be out at sea for two years, up to four years,” he said. “It was fine as a sin­gle per­son, but once you get mar­ried and start hav­ing kids, that gets a lit­tle harder.”

He jumped around to a lot of dif­fer­ent ships over his 35-year ca­reer in the navy, in­clud­ing the HMCS Pre­server, the HMCS Cor­morant, the HMCS Fraser and HMCS Iro­quois to name a few.

When he re­tired from the navy, he worked with the Nova Sco­tia High­landers in Truro for an­other few years, re­tir­ing when he turned 60.

Now 66, Craw­ford has been en­joy­ing his re­tire­ment on the Hants Shore – spoil­ing his grand­kids, work­ing on his home, hunt­ing and re­lax­ing.

He was pres­i­dent of the Hants North Le­gion for about two years and is still ac­tively in­volved with the branch.

Craw­ford said the navy was al­ways an in­ter­est­ing time – not just for trav­el­ing around the world – but for con­stantly learn­ing new things and train­ing.

“The navy is one of those groups where peo­ple I knew when I first joined and didn’t see for 10 years were still friends af­ter all that time,” he said. “You might run into them on an­other ship, or see them on shore, but you’re the best of friends even af­ter all of those years.”

“I don’t miss the navy as such, I miss the peo­ple,” he said. “You do make good friends.”

“When you’re liv­ing in quar­ters that small, you get to know each other pretty gosh darn good,” he said. “You could be liv­ing with those peo­ple for years at a time.”

Na­ture of the beast

“Ships are very dan­ger­ous places,” he said. “You make them as safe as you can, but at the end of the day, you’ve got ex­plo­sives, you’ve got weapons, you’ve got fuel, any­thing could hap­pen at any time.”

“You have to trust the guy be­side you, the guy be­hind you, the guy in front of you, that they’re go­ing to do their job,” he said. “If you trust them, then you sleep tight at night.”

He said ev­ery ship had to be a well-oiled ma­chine – the weapon sys­tem op­er­a­tors had to be­lieve that the re­pair crews were up to snuff.

“If the cooks weren’t do­ing their job and weren’t feed­ing the guys right, well that would be one of the big­gest morale things right off the top. If you’re tak­ing care of the bel­lies of the troops, then ev­ery­thing else falls into place.”

Craw­ford said he didn’t lose much sleep as he al­ways had to­tal con­fi­dence in his ship­mates.

“There was drudgery work, the ship had to get cleaned,” he said. “We did clean­ing sta­tions twice a day and once a week, from stem to stern, we turned ev­ery­thing out. It was all cleaned, right down to the brass tax, and you had to do that.”

On Craw­ford’s last ship, the HMCS Iro­quois, he was present when a Sea King he­li­copter crashed on the flight deck on Feb. 27, 2003.

His of­fice was right un­der­neath the flight deck when it hap­pened.

For him it was a scary in­ci­dent, but he re­mained re­solved and im­pressed by how ef­fec­tive the crew’s re­sponse was.

Re­mem­brance

What sticks with Craw­ford now is how im­por­tant it is to re­flect and re­mem­ber those who have served, es­pe­cially when it comes to both World Wars, even as more and more vet­er­ans pass away.

When he was younger and trav­el­ing through Europe, he vis­ited many of the grave sites of sol­diers who gave their lives dur­ing those ma­jor con­flicts that de­fined a cen­tury and halted the rise of fas­cism on the con­ti­nent.

It’s some­thing that he says had a pro­found im­pact on him, sug­gest­ing that ev­ery Cana­dian that can should take the same jour­ney at some point.

“The supreme sac­ri­fice was paid by all of those men and women that are in those ceme­ter­ies over there, so that we can have the free­doms we have to­day” he said.

PHOTO BY COLIN CHISHOLM

Thirty-five years, sev­eral ships and a ca­reer book­ended by the Cold War and the War on Ter­ror. At the end of the day Rick Craw­ford said he doesn’t miss the navy, but he does miss the ca­ma­raderie that came with it.

PHOTO BY COLIN CHISHOLM

A fam­ily tra­di­tion - Craw­ford’s fa­ther and grand­fa­ther both served in the Cana­dian Armed Forces.

PHOTO BY COLIN CHISHOLM

Medals and plaques from Rick Craw­ford’s 35-year naval ca­reer, re­tired Chief Petty Of­fi­cer 2nd Class.

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