For Posterity's Sake         

A Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project

 

In memory of those who have Crossed the Bar

 

Joseph Wilbert (Jim) L'Esperance

 

Leading Seaman, V9580, RCNVR

 

Born: 03 Oct 1917          Died: 18 May 1988

 

Twenty-seven year old Jim L'Esperance had good cause to fight for his own survival in the cold North Atlantic ocean. Waiting for his safe return home was his wife and two young children, one of whom he had yet to meet. His son was two years old and his baby daughter had been born after he went to sea.

In the cold and dark of the early morning hours, L'Esperance managed to swim to Haida's side. A sailor on the scramble net tried desperately to pull him in but it was not to be. Haida was drifting further and further away from him.  He managed to touch fingers to the helping hand extended to pull him onboard, but the rescuer was unable to grab his hand. With a sinking heart he could only watch with despair as the ship picked up speed and left him behind.

L'Esperance managed to pull himself onto a floatation device. He could hear someone yelling but in the blackness of the night was unable to see where his mate was. He ventured back into the water to pull someone to the safety of his float. The man was so burned, L'Esperance noted that the man's skin was falling off his hands and face.

The crew of the German ship that plucked L'Esperance from the water offered their ship-full of Athabaskans soap to wash with. The cold sailors had stripped their filthy, wet clothes off but try as they may, the soap was unable to wash the oil from their bodies. This particular German vessel had no clothes or blankets to wrap around their captives, so the Athabaskans had to disembark the ship and march into the port town of L'Aberwrach naked. L'Esperance recalled being threatened with being shot if they tried to escape.

As a prisoner-of-war, he recalled being issued adequate clothing however, there was no heat or hot water in his part of the compound. The sailors slept in their clothes. Hunger was part of their daily lives as there was never enough food to eat.

L'Esperance was on of three brave Athabaskans who escaped the prison camp as the remainder were preparing for their long march to their new destination at another camp. With his freedom he remembered walking down a road and seeing Germany's now useless currency laying in the ditches and littering the roads. It was of no use to anyone now.

Jim L'Esperance's wife, three year old son and two year old daughter were at the station to greet their husband and daddy. Sharon L'Esperance, Jim's daughter remembers it being cold and crowded at the station that day waiting for the train to stop and see the father she had never met. (written by Sherry Pringle)

 

Ships served in:

HMCS ATHABASKAN

 

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(1) Jim L'Esperance (left), Halifax, 1940  (3) Jim's POW dog-tags   (4) Poem - HMCS ATHABASKAN by Stuart Kettles, L/Writer, RCNVR (pdf file) (5) Jim traded the cigarettes that came in his Red Cross packages for medals, pins and patches from the guards at the POW camp.  Jim said most of the guards were WW1 veterans. The two medals are from WW1.  (6) SS arm band that Jim picked up

 

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(6) Jim L'Esperance, Halifax 1940  (7) Telegram informing Jim's wife that he has been released from a German POW camp  (8) Newspaper article on Jim's release from the POW Camp  (9) 30th Anniversary booklet of the survivors of the sinking of HMCS ATHABASKAN G07

 

Below - Sketchbook of Jim L'Esperance, P.O.W. 1310, Marlag (M), Germany

The sketches were made by various members of the POW camp.

 

Crossed the Bar Index

 

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