New­found­land sailor at war

Char­lie Em­ber­ley lucky to es­cape Tor­pedo’s path

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Saltwire Homes - BY GLEN WHIFFEN

With news of the Sec­ond World War break­ing out in 1939, word spread through­out the out­ports of New­found­land and Labrador like the wind swirling along the bar­ren, rocky coast­line.

In Baie de Verde, as was the case in other com­mu­ni­ties, young men gath­ered by the fish­ing stages to dis­cuss en­list­ing. A young Char­lie Em­ber­ley de­cided to join the Royal Navy. He and other young men from Baie de Verde — in­clud­ing two of his broth­ers — soon be­gan the 64-kilo­me­tre walk along the coast of Con­cep­tion Bay North to the re­cruit­ing of­fice in Car­bon­ear.

“He told me once, ‘I was the hap­pi­est per­son who ever walked over Baie de Verde hill,’” his son, David Em­ber­ley said. “I guess it was just a big ad­ven­ture, you know. Back in those days in out­port New­found­land there was no tele­vi­sion, I don’t think they had ra­dio, and he was em­bark­ing on this huge ad­ven­ture. I can only imag­ine how ex­cited he must have been.” Ac­cepted for mil­i­tary

Char­lie was ac­cepted at the re­cruit­ing of­fice in Car­bon­ear, his broth­ers and the oth­ers in the group were not.

Char­lie would go to serve on a num­ber of ships dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, in­clud­ing minesweep­ers and an air­craft car­rier. One of his most mem­o­rable would be the HMS Au­ra­nia, a large pas­sen­ger steamer con­verted to an armed mer­chant cruiser.

He joined that ship in Ber­muda.

“He joined the Royal Navy in June 1940,” David Em­ber­ley said. “He spent the ma­jor­ity of the Sec­ond World War in the Bat­tle of the At­lantic, on con­voy duty, es­cort­ing ships across the At­lantic. He wit­nessed many ves­sels sunk and lives lost. One time his ship, the HMS Au­ra­nia, was tor­pe­doed by a Ger­man Uboat. The ship did not sink and limped its way into Rothe­say Bay, Scot­land.

“The hold in the ship was full of empty bar­rels, and that was done for buoy­ancy. When the ship was tor­pe­doed it kept go­ing, and I re­mem­ber Dad telling me they were low­er­ing life boats down in the wa­ter. One of the lifeboats had the front lower than the back of it and they thought there was go­ing to be a tragedy. They man­aged to get the lifeboat straight­ened up again. A few peo­ple did drown. They were peo­ple who had aban­doned the ship.”

Char­lie Em­ber­ley was trained as a tor­pedo man, partly be­cause of his skill and in­ter­est as an elec­tri­cian. First when elec­tric­ity came to Baie de Verde Char­lie had taken an in­ter­est in it and be­gan to learn about it, of­ten re­pair­ing blown fuses and do­ing other small elec­tri­cal jobs in the com­mu­nity.

Tor­pedo man

As a tor­pedo man, Char­lie was re­spon­si­ble for set­ting off the depth charges tar­get­ing Ger­man U-boats.

The HMS Au­ra­nia was hit on the night of Oct. 21, 1941, when the ship was es­cort­ing a con­voy from Halifax to the United King­dom. Re­ports show there were a num­ber of Ger­man Uboats at­tack­ing the con­voy and a num­ber of ships were sunk.

Char­lie’s ac­count of the at­tack was his ship was hit by a tor­pedo in the area of the for­ward mag­a­zine — that was his sta­tion. The tor­pedo ripped the for­ward mag­a­zine apart. If the ship had been at ac­tion sta­tions at the time, it is quite likely Char­lie would not have sur­vived the at­tack.

Dur­ing his years in the Royal Navy, Char­lie Em­ber­ley had fur­thered his knowl­edge of elec­tric­ity. Fol­low­ing the war he would go on to be­come a jour­ney­man elec­tri­cian and even­tu­ally start his own busi­ness in St. John’s.

Char­lie died in June 2012 at age 94. His sons con­tinue on in the busi­ness he started.

David said his fa­ther didn’t talk a lot about his years in the Sec­ond World War, but he did have an al­bum that con­tained pic­tures and news­pa­per clip­pings from those years that gave brief glimpses of the hap­pier times of his ser­vice.

David’s brother Ge­off has since re­searched more in­for­ma­tion about their fa­ther’s ser­vice and put it to­gether in book­let form for fam­ily and friends. The book­let con­tains more de­tails of the some of the dan­ger­ous mo­ments of his wartime sail­ings.

SUB­MIT­TED PHO­TOS

A photo of Char­lie Em­ber­ley at work on a ship dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Char­lie Em­ber­ley, a young fish­er­man from Baie de Verde, joined the Royal Navy in June 1940.

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