Re­porter talks to grandpa about war ex­pe­ri­ence at sea

Regina Leader-Post - - REGINA LEADER-POST - D.C. FRASER dfraser@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/dcfraser

When Clin­ton White was a 17-year-old Prairie boy, he en­listed in the Royal Cana­dian Navy and served in the North At­lantic. His grand­son, Leader-post re­porter D.C. Fraser, sees him as a hero. But like so many vet­er­ans, White sees it dif­fer­ently.

He doesn’t speak much or of­ten about it, but my grandpa was one of those young men who put his life on the line so I could en­joy free­dom.

Rec­og­niz­ing that he, like all of those who fought in the Sec­ond World War, was get­ting older, I wanted to know what, if any­thing, he would say — be­cause like ev­ery­one else who risked their lives to pro­tect our free­dom to­day, his story is one worth re­mem­ber­ing.

On June 22, 1942 in Regina, Clin­ton White joined the Royal Cana­dian Navy as an Or­di­nary Sea­man. He was soon sent to Van­cou­ver Is­land, near Co­mox, to train at what is now known as HMCS Quadra. He was 17 years old.

It was the first time he had ever left the Prairies, and he knew he was go­ing to war.

Af­ter be­ing qual­i­fied on mu­ni­tions as a trained Able Sea­man, Third Class, he was placed on HMCS Mi­ramichi — a mine sweeper sta­tioned on Canada’s West Coast. He trans­ferred to an­other minesweep­ing ship — HMCS Canso. This ship car­ried him, now at the age of 18, from Vic­to­ria, B.C. through the Panama Canal and up to Hal­i­fax, N.S.

My grandpa was soon sail­ing to­ward the Sec­ond World War, now aboard the frigate HMCS Prince Ru­pert.

He tells me he was on call 24 hours a day as the Prince Ru­pert trav­elled across the At­lantic Ocean guard­ing con­voys.

“You were a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive, be­cause you had to be ap­pre­hen­sive. Let’s face it, we were at war and the en­emy was out there,” he said, when I ask him what it was like trav­el­ling across the ocean.

The en­emy ended up chang­ing from “out there” to “right there” for my grandpa on March 13, 1944, when the Prince Ru­pert was a key par­tic­i­pant in the sink­ing of Ger­man U-boat 574, in the mid­dle of the At­lantic Ocean, about 1,100 kilo­me­tres away from land.

Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle that ap­peared in Cana­dian news­pa­pers about this sink­ing, “six sec­onds af­ter the sub­ma­rine broke sur­face, Prince Ru­pert’s gun crews were plas­ter­ing it with high ex­plo­sive and Oer­likon shells.”

Two United States ships aided the Prince Ru­pert, and 14 Ger­man sailors were taken pris­oner aboard my grandpa’s ship. The Amer­i­cans took an­other 24 prison­ers. Six­teen Ger­mans died dur­ing the event.

While all that was go­ing on, my grandpa was “at the bot­tom of the ship,” mov­ing am­mu­ni­tion up to those gunners.

“You’ve got guns go­ing off, pop­ping. You don’t know if they’re yours or the other guys’, or what’s go­ing on. You’re a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive, un­til you start mov­ing am­mu­ni­tion,” he said, “The ap­pre­hen­sion all leaves right away.”

“You don’t think any­thing. You don’t re­ally know what to think. It must go through your mind, ‘Am I go­ing to be here or not?’ But I’ll tell you, the man who says he wasn’t scared is a liar.”

Over the years, mostly through re­search done by my dad, I’ve read bits and pieces about this mo­ment. In my mind it was al­ways this triumphant mo­ment — the peak of my grandpa’s hero­ism. That isn’t how he sees it, though. “We were happy about it, but we weren’t re­ally cel­e­brat­ing. Af­ter all, guys were get­ting killed. Whether the en­emy or not, it’s still guys get­ting killed. So you’re not re­ally jump­ing up for joy,” he says.

It’s for this rea­son, I sus­pect, that when I ask my grandpa why it is im­por­tant to wear a poppy, to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of Re­mem­brance Day, that he’s never filled me full of glo­ri­ous tales of sink­ing a Ger­man sub­ma­rine.

“You should know about the war, for sure. I don’t think it should ever be for­got­ten, in any shape or form,” he says. “If we hadn’t … fought, you might be liv­ing un­der Hitler to­day. It’s as sim­ple as that.”

When I ask him what he re­mem­bers most about the Sec­ond World War, he gives two an­swers.

“You think about the guys you serve with,” he says, be­fore adding, “the most im­por­tant thing I re­mem­ber is when I met Dorothy in Saint John.”

Dorothy is my grandma — we call her nanny — and she has been mar­ried to my grandpa for 73 years.

They met at a dance near the end of the war, when my grandpa’s ship was be­ing re­paired in New Brunswick.

My grandpa was, and for his age still is, a very good dancer. He caught the eye of my grandma, who is also a great dancer, and they have been to­gether ever since.

Grow­ing up, and to this day, grandpa will only speak in short sen­tences about fight­ing in a war that re­sulted in 60 mil­lion peo­ple dead, more than 45,000 of them Cana­di­ans.

But the signs of my grandpa be­ing a sailor have al­ways been ev­i­dent.

On both of his arms he has sailor tat­toos — both done by an Ir­ish sea cap­tain in Lon­don­derry, Ire­land. Both are in­dis­tin­guish­able now, as the skin on his arms has wrin­kled over his 94 years, but one is of the old Cana­dian flag with the words “Canada For­ever” above it. The other is of a ship and the words, “Home­ward Bound.”

An­other tell­tale sign of my grandpa’s for­mer sea­far­ing life is his abil­ity to put back a bot­tle of rum. He doesn’t drink much th­ese days, but I’m pretty sure my grandpa could still drink me un­der the ta­ble.

But my ear­li­est mem­ory of rec­og­niz­ing that my grandpa fought in the war comes from my mom, who when I was maybe six or seven, came into my bed­room on Nov. 11 and in­structed me to be silent for one minute, to think about grandpa.

I re­mem­ber ask­ing her why. This is when she told me her dad fought in a war so that I could be free, and that many of his friends died dur­ing it.

This was also the mo­ment when war be­came more than just a make-be­lieve idea in my head, and my grandpa be­came even more of a hero in my mind than he al­ready was.

He didn’t need to talk about it for me to know that, so I had never re­ally asked — un­til now.

“You’ve got to think about what the past is. You wouldn’t be hu­man if you didn’t, be­cause I mean af­ter all, I did lose a lot of bud­dies in the war,” he says. “You al­ways think about it.”


Clin­ton White joined the Royal Cana­dian Navy in 1942 and did his part to de­feat Hitler’s Nazi forces.


Clin­ton and Dorothy White met in Saint John, New Brunswick near the end of the Sec­ond World War and have been mar­ried 73 years.


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