There are very few records of 19th century people in Canada. For this reason I have not been able to discover much about the family.
My father, a fifth generation Canadian, was born in Sutton, Ontario on June 19, 1877. He served in the Canadian Railway Troops as a Sergeant through the worst battles of the First World War and had married a British girl.
Hilda Brown, my father's bride, was born in London, England, November 27, 1889, and came to Toronto in 1919 following his demobilization.
This is my life story.
I was born, at home, in Toronto in the early morning of September 13, 1921. My parents were destined to have only one child, so that I grew up with the social and psychological advantages and disadvantages of being an only child. Whatever may be the balance of advantages of having no siblings, it was, for a number of other reasons, not a particularly happy home life.
My father was a handsome and popular man with a good circle of friends from his years in Toronto and Chicago before the War, and introduced by his three sisters and three brothers who lived in Southern Ontario. My mother, a dark haired beauty, found difficulty in making friends in Canada, and disliked several of her in-laws intensely. Mother was certainly neurotic and basically regretted her marriage, which she felt had deprived her of a much more interesting life in England, though in fact when, after my father's death, she had the opportunity to return to England, she became very unhappy in a few months, and returned to Canada. She remained there, rather more contentedly, for the balance of her life.
The condition of my parents' marriage became apparent to me as I became older. My father was a carpenter who specialized in heavy construction, and enjoyed lots of work in my earlier years. At that time, we were adequately well off economically. I know that Dad worked on the Hogg's Hollow Bridge - at that time one of the largest and highest bridges in Canada and on the construction of the system of breakwaters along the Toronto Lakefront.
By 1930 or so, the depression was in full swing, certainly as far as the construction industry was concerned. From that point on, jobs were very scarce and my father spent most of his time walking enormous distances about Toronto looking for work. He did manage to get work for a few months in the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens, thanks to the fact that the founder of that building and first owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe, had been an officer in my father's battalion during the War.
Inevitably, our life became increasingly poverty stricken. Along with many others we were for long periods "On Relief," the welfare system of the time. It consisted of a weekly allowance of groceries, which filled about two brown paper bags at the grocery. The food provided by Relief, while monotonous and dull, and in some cases, unusable, did keep one from outright starvation.
Housing was another matter. We gradually declined in the world from owning our own simple house to rented accommodation at lower and lower rents. I remember once at this period that we had just two cents in our possession and were wondering on what to spend it. We decided after considerable debate to use it to buy a newspaper, which I always thought was a tribute to our rating of the needs of the mind above those of the body.
My father began to find work in the mining industry, which, because of a sharp rise in the price of gold brought about by Roosevelt in Washington in an effort to devalue the U.S. dollar, was beginning to expand. Our life began to improve a little.
By this time, I was beginning to show some evidence of being a reasonably good scholar and my teachers wanted me to go to University. There was no practicable possibility of this, instead I aimed for a vocational type school, which would give me the quickest possibilities of employment.
I enrolled in the Western High School of Commerce in the four year Accountancy course. It was a good school and prepared me extraordinarily well for a career in business. I graduated from Western in 1936 at the top of my class and having won the top oratorical prize in Toronto high schools for three years running.
For a couple of years before graduating from Western I had worked in the summer for Canada Packers Limited - Canada's largest meat packing and food manufacturer. I carried orders out through the great reaches of the noisome packing plant, over killing floors, coolers, cellars, refineries, etc. I then became an order clerk taking orders over the telephone from chain stores and butchers in the west end.
After graduation I was appointed to the head office. My first job was on the mail desk on the first floor - into which poured all the communications coming to the company from all over the world. Apart from distributing the incoming mail we were also required to clear the Out slots and redistribute their contents to other departments or to the outgoing mail points. We also had to man the reception desk and maintain the log of employees arriving late.
After three months on the mail desk, I was appointed to the night invoice staff. The invoice staff was housed in a section of the second floor and consisted of rows of typewriters in front of each sat a young man who had ear phones and a chest microphone. These individuals were in constant telephone contact with salesmen all over the country who were calling in their orders. Working nights had some advantages once you learned to sleep during the day. About this time, I remember we used to listen during our lunch break to Hitler speaking in what was becoming an annual German scare.
In 1937, I joined the Sea Cadets. When the War came in September 1939, my father who had become ill with cancer of the bladder, died on the same day the Germans, invaded Poland and Britain, and Canada, declared war. I loved him very much though sadly I had little time with him because he was in the mines for so much of the period I was growing up. It took a few months to sort things out after his death and get my mother established in new quarters, but then I volunteered for the Navy.
I was posted almost immediately to Halifax, where things were almost totally chaotic. I was a Victualling Assistant, a quaint eighteenth century title, to which the Navy assigned me on the grounds that I had experience in the food business. I worked in various parts of the considerable activity of supplying 1nen and ships, and was quite quickly promoted to Leading Victualling Assistant. I had not joined the Navy to spend my time on land and was pressing to get to sea when I was drafted to HMCS Spikenard, a corvette. My services were required in a great hurry because their Leading Victualling Assistant had not returned from leave. I was driven in a truck with my duffel bag and dumped on the jetty beside the ship but when I attempted to board was told I could go away again, because the missing LVA had turned up, drunk, and was now slumbering below awaiting the disciplinary action, which would surely be visited upon him. I stayed on the jetty for an hour or so and watched Spikenard put to sea. She was never seen again and it was not until after the war it was learned that a U-boat had intercepted her a couple of days after leaving Halifax, and blown her to pieces with one torpedo. Unaware, of course, of my lucky escape, and much disappointed, I returned to the Halifax barracks.
A little while later, I got another sea posting, and a much more important one. I was put in charge of Victualling in HMCS Restigouche, at that time one of the largest and fastest ships in the RCN, a post, which properly required someone at least two ranks above mine.
In Restigouche I was involved in the worst years of the Battle of the Atlantic. This was when the sea war was going very badly for the Allies and I saw a lot of action. We got very little sleep and fresh food never lasted more than three or four days into a three or four-week voyage. The hardest part of the life was the appalling weather - destroyers and corvettes were totally unsuited for the North Atlantic in winter and the rolling, pitching and buffeting, the continuous noise, and the general strain of life were very hard on the health of body and mind.
A surprising number of men just cracked up mentally and many of them never recovered. We very nearly lost the ship in a five day hurricane - that particular storm reduced the effective convoy escort forces available to the Allies by nearly fifty percent for more than a month.
The HMS Nabob
I was then called before a Board in Newfoundland, and promoted to commissioned rank as a Sub-Lieutenant. After the officer's course, and a year or so of shore appointments, I was promoted Lieutenant and sent in charge of Stores to a newly commissioned Aircraft Carrier, HMS Nabob in Vancouver.
After sailing through the Panama to the Atlantic we were despatched to Scapa Flow and joined the Horne Fleet in the Murmansk convoys. On August 22, 1944, we were torpedoed off the North Cape of Norway, following an attack on the battleship Tirpitz. We lost a number of men, but were able to get most of the crew off to other ships, and then sailed the crippled ship, without escort, under attack from submarines following us every day, to Scotland. It was not worth all this effort because the surveyors decided after a short inspection in dry dock that the ship was so badly damaged as not to be worth repairing. The torpedo, as a matter of interest, left a hole in Nabob's side of forty by fifty feet.
I was then transferred to Ottawa to participate in a group preparing for the Navy to have its own carrier force after the end of the War. I was asked, after a couple of months of this, whether I would be staying in the Navy after the War. I said
I would not. The authorities then said that since the European war was drawing to a close, and I was due some rest they would try to transfer me wherever I would like to go. I said "the West Coast," having in mind the naval base in Victoria. However, I did not specify that location, and the Navy, in a typical joke, sent me to Prince Rupert, near the boundary with Alaska.
I was demobilized very quickly after the end of the Pacific War and ended my active naval service, though I continued in the Toronto reserve, HMCS York, for a couple of years. The Navy was probably the most important formative experience of my life. I enjoyed it and still love the institution, as I find most Navy men do.
I returned to Toronto and to Canada Packers. On my discharge from the Navy, I was given a coupon entitling me to purchase a suit, then in very short supply, and was invited to choose between various forms of gratuities. I could have chosen a University education, and I pondered doing a Law degree, which would take six years. But my mother needed support, and while I perhaps could have worked my way through University I couldn't do so while helping her. So I chose a cash gratuity, and purchased an automobile, a 1946 Mercury.
By this time, I had become a Lieutenant Commander and was treated rather more respectfully in Canada Packers than before the war. I was appointed to the third floor of the head office as secretary to the general personnel manager, Jack Willis.
Male secretaries were quite common in those days, and my duties included taking dictation, typing letters, and maintaining records of many aspects of the human resources of the whole company.
I saw a lot of Bill Carroll and his staff, however, who were all engineers, because they were concerned primarily with the efficient use of labour, and so were very interested in employment conditions and labour negotiations, which were the primary concern of Jack Willis.
Bill Carroll was perhaps the most brilliant executive I ever met. He prided himself that he could find at least one fault in every single sheet of paper that crossed his desk, and whether that was true or not he certainly found more than one in a sufficient number of pages to achieve an average of one per page quite comfortably.
He was very calm, very analytical, and superbly concentrated on the matter at hand. I learned a great deal from him.
About this time I learned that Vera Lithgow, an army nurse I had dated while stationed in Prince Rupert, was in Toronto, attending the Public Health course in the U of T. I got in touch with her and we began going together again. This time I was more serious, and proposed to her quickly, was accepted, and we arranged our wedding for November 16th, 1946.