Remembrance Day is upon us, bringing with it unity in remembering our fallen soldiers, honouring those still among us, and being thankful for the freedom they fought for. As time goes by the veterans are getting older, and each year more pass, taking a piece of history with them.
Many of our veterans don’t speak of some of the things they encountered in the war, wanting to leave it behind them.
Ray Harris, 86, fought in World War II with the Royal Canadian Navy, and still remembers some of the things he went through almost as clear as if it were only yesterday.
Harris joined when he was 17-years-old, wanting to pick where he would enlist rather than be conscripted and being told where to go when he turned 18.
Harris was born and raised in Inglewood in Calgary.
“I always did love the water, and used to sneak down to St. Georges Island and swim there all the time, nobody could catch me,” said Harris.
“I didn’t like the idea of getting shot and dropped in a mud puddle and sucking up that mud, that’s one thing I didn’t want to do. I preferred the navy; it was a nice clean battle. You hit the (water) whether your dead or not.
“I spent about two and half months in Calgary and then we shipped to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia and spent the rest of our training there. Then I volunteered for a gun crew. I was shipped out real fast, I was the only one that got out of that bunch, and that’s because I could handle a gun. There was a lot of equipment that was just passed to you, it wasn’t allotted to you or anything, it was just given to you, you had to know how to use it.”
Harris spent a few months in Cornwallis training. His training consisted of learning the heavy weapons with four inch, six inch and twenty millimeter ammunition. All of the training was with live ammunition. After his training Harris became a gunner on the HCMS Magog, which was a river class frigate that served in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1944.
“(We) picked up our crew and that was the crew we stayed with as long as the ship was held together, but it didn’t stay together too long. Then we broke up and I never seen any of the boys on that ship again,” said Harris.
In 1944 the Magog was hit with torpedo, and is an event that Harris will never forget.
“10:30 in the morning, Sunday morning October 14, 1944. That time I was heading for the gun deck, and it went right over my head, the whole works,” said Harris.
“She blew (and) knocked me up against the funnel, and I was just staggering around and then I started to see what the hell was going on and I managed to get one guy. I seen a hand stick up through the junk in the upper deck, I just give it a yank and started hollering for a couple of seaman.”
The Magog had been ordered from Sydney, Nova Scotia to help protect a dozen ships returning from the United Kingdom, and was westbound into the St. Lawrence River.
U-boat German Captain Albert Kneip fired the torpedo at the Magog, which took two and a half minutes to reach its target.
The attack killed three men, seriously injured three others and approximately a dozen men sustained minor wounds.
“Two of them just disappeared, couldn’t find them. They were on the stern when she blew up and they were gone, there was nothing we could find,” said Harris.
The torpedo took off 65 feet of the stern, and the Magog was towed into Quebec City by the HMCS Shawinigan. While the Magog was being towed to safety, a life jacket, commonly known as a Mae West, came up to the surface with only a torso in it. The Magog was later declared a total loss, was sold for scrap
Between 1942 and 1944, 15 German U-boats sailed into the St. Lawrence and torpedoed 28 ships, sinking 24 of them. The attacks killed almost 300 men, women, and children.
The men on Magog were ordered at the time by Prime Minister Mackenzie King not to talk about the attack. Harris doesn’t know what happened to the other men on his crew. He was sent to Prince Rupert, B.C. where he drove truck until the war ended.
Harris’s three brothers also fought in the war, two heading to the Army and one other also joining the Navy. All four boys made it home, which was lucky, and mostly unheard of.
“I seen my one brother once in Bermuda, the rest of them I didn’t see them. They were all halfway around the world, up here and down there, and I never did see them. But I did see Bud,” said Harris.
World War II ended in 1945. Harris was in Ocean Falls at the time.
“We knew it was coming, we all knew it was coming after that second bomb dropped. We all knew it was coming, it was just timing ourselves to see how fast we could get down…to go home,” said Harris.
“I was going to walk home, I figured the whistles were blowing and all the rest of that and I thought oh good the wars over. I’m going to walk home and then I find out there’s no road.”
The second bomb was the Nagasaki city bombing, which happened only days after the city of Hiroshima had been hit with an atomic bomb. The two events were the only time nuclear weapons have been used in war to date.
A few years after returning to Calgary Harris married Margaret, whom he’d always been sweet on but hadn’t courted before the war. In 1965 Margaret and Ray Harris moved to Standard, and have been married for 66 years.
Harris is a wealth of information about a piece of history that is quickly becoming lost. David Dyck, a friend of the Harris family, is looking for anyone else who is, or may know of, a survivor of the Magog, and encourages people with information to contact him at