V34087 John Thompson (age 24), a cook aboard HMCS Regina and the son of Robert Parker and Helena Thompson of Prince Albert was one of the seamen honoured on Sunday 22 September 2013 at an unveiling ceremony held on Navy Way in Regina in front of the HMCS Queen naval reserve unit.
The Friends of the Navy have honoured Royal Canadian Navy sailors who hail from Saskatchewan, particularly those who fell in World War II. The new Saskatchewan Naval monument honours the naval ships, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Weyburn and HMCS Regina which were both lost during World War II. HMCS Weyburn was commemorated earlier during the centennial year of the Royal Canadian Navy in 2010 on the 67th anniversary of its sinking. (One other naval vessel paid tribute to a Saskatchewan community, HMCS Waskesiu survived the war and was sold to the Indian navy in 1950.)
HMCS Weyburn (K 173) was a flower class corvette mainly serving in the Battle of the Atlantic. This smaller ship was needed as an escort ship and equipped by minesweeping gear. However, on 22 February 1943 at 11:17AM the Weyburn struck a large SSMA (Sonder Mine A) magnetic mine laid by German submarine U-118 three weeks earlier. The mine, new technology for the time, could be laid as deep as 350 meters, and the Weyburn was one of its first victims. Of the 83 officers and men aboard the Weyburn 12 died and there were 71 survivors.
HMCS Regina (K 234) was another Saskatchewan namesake for the province’s capital city. HMCS Regina was also a flower class corvette engaged in escort duties in the Second World War. The American liberty ship the Ezra Weston was a cargo vessel carrying war material to the theatre of war when she took a torpedo from U-667. Her only escort was the HMCS Regina which was under the impression that the merchant ship had fallen victim to a mine. When the Regina turned to assist the flailing ship and pick up survivors, the U-boat then also fired on the corvette. Within 30 seconds on 8 August 1944 at 9:27PM one officer and 27 men were killed.
Robert Watkins, a prairie sailor out of Winnipeg, sums it up this way: “During the war the one thing I was scared of was the submarines, if the supply lines from Canada and the US had dried up on account of the U-boats Britain would have gone under.”
Alongside John Thompson, V11460 Douglas Peter Robertson RCNVR , son of Robert Angus and Elizabeth Jane Robertson of Saskatoon, fell 8 August 1944 in his capacity as Petty Officer Stoker aboard HMCS Regina. As well, V34478 John Charles Henry Rathbone RCNVR , son of John and Florence Rathbone of Regina, who took on the duties of supply assistant, did not survive his wounds incurred that fatal evening. These three Saskatchewan prairie naval reservists lost their lives along with their crew mates, British and Canadian sailors.
The Fall Action Stations magazine reports that “exactly how many Saskatchewanians served in the RCN during the war is hard to estimate as many volunteered at recruiting offices outside the province. And due to wartime staffing pressures, sailors from a particular city or town rarely served on the ship bearing its name.”
For instance, V11616 Joseph McGrath, son of Margaret McGrath of Saskatoon, served aboard HMCS Athabaskan and was one of those honoured in the commemorative naming program of the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board with the naming of McGrath Lake. Natural geographic features across Saskatchewan honour armed forces personnel and merchant sailors from the Second World War and the Korean War, and also those who fell during peacekeeping missions or in Afghanistan.
The Naval Memorial erected at a cost of about $3,000 was spearheaded by Doug Archer, chairman of the Friends of the Navy, and Steve Smedley. There are over 6,000 war memorials in Canada remembering those who fought with courage. Saskatoon’s Next of Kin Memorial Avenue at Woodlawn cemetery is a national historic site. Both the Regina cemetery and the North Battleford cemetery are homes to two of the 28 Crosses of Sacrifice. Alongside these memorials, the Royal Canadian Legion branches and towns across Saskatchewan have erected monuments and cenotaphs honouring those who fell in military service from their community.
Quoting Lieutenant James Balfour, himself a prairie seaman, serving in the naval reserve stemmed from “the belief that there are things that are more important than just you as an individual, it’s about serving your country and doing something for the good of others.”
Terrence McEachern of the Leader Post quoted Doug Archer, former mayor of Regina: “We are so truly blessed that others have gone before us to preserve our freedom and our democracy. We need to honour them and never forget the contribution they’ve made.”
Article written by Julia Adamson
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