Paul Heller: Travelling by Ship to Canada during WWII
Date:Saturday, October 21, 1995
ID:Digital audio recording #: 19.95-08
PH: We left at night and woke up next morning, we were going in a convoy of 20 or 30 other boats and on our boat itself we had a very important load of about 50 Air Force officers who completed tours of duty in the Battle of Britain and they were going to Canada to open aviation schools for the members of the Commonwealth. In addition there were about 900 enlisted men, Air Force as well as Navy, going to Canada to take over certain boats, liberty ships and so on. We had about 30 or 40 civilians, some diplomats, two gentlemen from Vancouver—a sales manager from H.R. McMillan and a sales manager for the Seaboard Lumber Sales, who were just returning from England [after] negotiating business with British timber companies,that was our first introduction to the lumber industry in Vancouver.
Also on the boat was a Canadian lady married to a British commodore with two small girls returning to Montreal to spend the duration of the war with her parents. On the boat we noticed the atmosphere was very pleasant, however we left on Friday night from Liverpool but on Monday when we woke up we found that we were outside the convoy already on our own going through but at the same time we felt there was some tension developing, notwithstanding of the blackout—the crew were doubling the blackout, putting lights out and getting ready for extreme conditions—and that night we have seen explosions and battle going in, on the horizon. It turned out later as we found out we were escorted by a plane from the Scharnhorst battleship and this is why there was such tension, also the boat was going at the highest speed ever obtained from that boat, over 23 knots, and it was rolling from one side to another like crazy so many people got sick.
On the boat also the Canadian lady, wife of the commodore, found out that my wife is a concert pianist and requested if she would give a concert for all the enlisted men who had left their families and so on and needed some moral and cultural support. My wife agreed provided that she could practice and she was allowed to practice in the dining room in the off hours and she performed a concert first for the enlisted men and the second night she performed for the officers and other people in first class. I mention that because it was the first time my wife was faced with the reaction of people whistling, whistling in Europe is usually like throwing tomatoes [laughs] and she was terribly upset, it took a long time before some of the people managed to convince her that it was appreciation and not bad ones [laughter] I think of that sometimes.
RS: Do you remember what she played?
PH: No I don’t. [Inaudible chatter]. There was some Chopin as well, Debussy‘s ‘Clair de Lune’, and some other stuff I don’t remember now. By the way, when we arrived to Canada we discovered that the attack we watched on the horizon on that Monday night was an attack by Scharnhorst which attacked a convoy going in the opposite direction to England and a small boat with one gun, Jervis Bay, sacrificed themselves by attacking Scharnhorst and giving time for the other boats to disperse and run away. Naturally the Jervis Bay was sunk very quickly.