Newfoundland sailor at war
Charlie Emberley lucky to escape Torpedo’s path
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.
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.
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.