For Posterity's Sake         

A Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project


Photos and Documents

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MILLS, Ernest G., CERA, 21508, RCN, MPK - 29 Apr 1944


Ernie Mills had been relieved as CERA by Vic Brighten. Ernie had stayed on board ship an couple of extra days to completed the turn-over as it was taking longer than anticipated.

YEADON, Robert Lawrence, AB, V-272, RCNVR, killed - 29 Apr 1944


Courtesy of Cynthia (Yeadon) Tompkins

Chief Petty Officer Ira Freeman Johnson


Ira was serving on HMCS Athabaskan (dubbed the "Unlucky Lady") when it was sunk in the English Channel on April 29, 1944. He was not one of the lucky ones who were picked up by HMCS Haida, but he was taken aboard a German ship and then to a prisoner-of-war camp. It was June, 1944, before I learned he was not MIA but was alive and in the German camp. Luck was with him also when the Athabaskan prisoners were to begin the "Long March" to Germany. He and some others managed to escape in a Jeep and headed towards where they hoped the Allies would be. Fortunately, they did meet American units heading in their direction. They had to pull off of the road in a hurry into the ditch. Ira hurt his thumb, the only injury he got during all of his years serving on HMCS ships, doing convoy runs on the Atlantic and elsewhere. He came home in May, 1945. Words can never describe how it felt to have him home again.


Courtesy of Marie Paulowich

HMCS Athabaskan G07

From the collection of Raymond Rolls

Courtesy of Kevin Gaines

Newspaper article on HMCS Athabaskan G07

From the collection of James A. Senior, RCN

Courtesy of Bob Senior

Newspaper article of the battle in which HMCS Athabaskan G07 was lost


H.M.C.S. Athabaskan Was Sunk In Battle With German Destroyers. About 130 Of Her 200-Man Crew Are Accounted For. One Of the Geman Destroyers Was Driven Ashore in Flames

From the World War II collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Joseph A. Bell


Born:  June 20, 1922   Crossed the Bar:  1990


RCN 1940-1965


HMCS Columbia, HMCS Athabaskan G07, HMCS Nootka, HMCS Uganda, HMCS Warrior, HMCS Sioux, HMCS Cayuga, HMCS Miramichi, HMCS Qu'Appelle


Remembering Joe Bell

by Capt (Merchant Marine) Dave Tyre. Ret'd CPO1


Joe Bell was my next door neighbour, twice. As you can see from the article (Man of the Month, Crowsnest August 1952) Joe was made a prisoner of war after being rescued by German E-Boats when HMCS Athabaskan was sunk during an action with German destroyers in the Bay of Biscay.

What isn't in the article was the fact that Joe was badly burned in the water that night and his recovery in a POW camp was slow and painful. Nevertheless, as the article states, Joe was always a positive person, even though he fought personal demons that today we would call PTSD. I don't know why he told me stories of his captivity when he wouldn't tell anybody else but tell me he did. He had been a cooper before the war and his German captors discovered this during interrogations. He was assigned to making barrels. He would snicker when he told me they wouldn't have been able to hold straw and he had made sure they would leak.

As I arrived home in the late afternoon each day he would call over and have me join him watching his favourite TV program: "Hogan's Heroes". When I asked why, of all people, he would be so taken with a comedy based on a farcical POW camp he told me it was what he had wished his captivity had been ... then go back to laughing at the program.

Joe served 25 years in the RCN and went on to become the executive housekeeper at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. He passed away at age 68. He served in HMC ships Columbia (1), Athabaskan (1), Nootka, Uganda, Warrior, Sioux, Cayuga, Qu'Appelle, various Bay class minesweepers and HMCS Naden, Stadacona and Cornwallis (instructor). I miss him to this day and I can never watch an episode of "Hogan's Heroes" without thinking of him.

Robert Yeadon and shipmate, HMCS Athabaskan G07

Courtesy of Cynthia Tompkins

Graves of Robert Yeadon and Robert Henry, both were killed when HMCS Athabaskan G07 was sunk on 29 Apr 1944. Their bodies washed ashore on Ile de Batz, France.

Courtesy of Cynthia Tompkins

Newspaper article listing missing men from Prince Edward Island when HMCS Athabaskan G07 was sunk

LS John James Acorn, RR5, Cardigan; AB John Agnew, East Royalty;  AB Paul George Gallant, RR3 Tignish; AB Lloyd M. Gordon, Clyde River; AB George Chester Howard, Kennington; Lester Brehaut McKeenman, Gaspereau; AB Earl Henry Sanderson, Midgrell; John Lorne Stewart, Charlottetown

From the World War II collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Newspaper article from La Presse listing those missing and some survivors after the loss of HMCS Athabaskan G07

Source: "Lest We Forget" blog by Pierre Lagacé

Newspaper article on the missing, survivors and POWs from HMCS Athabaskan G07

From the World War II collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Athabaskan Survivor - OS Joseph Raymond P.P.H. Miller

The Montreal Gazette 03 May 1944

Lindsay Boy went down on Athabaskan - May 10, 1944

Source: City of Kawartha Lakes Archives


Note: it was later found that Allen (Alan) Thrasher was a POW

Lindsay Native Believed on Athabaskan - May 2, 1944

Source: City of Kawartha Lakes Archives

Signalman Allen Thasher (Thrasher) reported lost at sea

Source: City of Kawartha Lakes Archives

Damage to HMCS Athabaskan G07 caused by a glider bomb attack on August 27, 1943

Source: CROWSNEST Magazine Vol. 1, No. 6, April 1949

During their captivity, some 70 members of HMCS Athabaskan's crew captured by German forces signed this mimeographed - or copied - document. Printed on the reverse side of a commemorative image of Athabaskan, the document provides space for survivors from each of the nine provinces in wartime Canada. More than 80 members of Athabaskan's crew were rescued and captured by German forces. Most of them wound up in prisoner of war camps, while a few seriously injured sailors were sent to a hospital where they were later liberated by American troops. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19870005-001

Part of the "X" turret crew on HMCS Athabaskan G07

Back row, 2nd from left - John W. Fairchild. 4th from left - Louis Ledoux

Source: Web blog by Pierre Lagacé

Painting of HMCS Athabaskan G07

Source: Web blog by Pierre Lagacé

Crew members of HMCS Athabaskan G07

The 3 men on the left in front of the turret are (left to right) Raymond Leslie Roberts, Herm Sulkers, and Jim L'Esperance. In the turret window is John Gordon. On the turret, rear row, left to right are - Bob Moore, Bill Pickett and Ernest Anderson.  Eugene Fuller is on the gun barrel on the right, in front, behind him is Gerry Milot. On the left gun barrel - front to back - Maurice Watson, Vince Myette and Art Barrett

Source: Web blog by Pierre Lagacé

Article from the Vancouver Sun on HMCS Athabaskan G07

Courtesy of Dave Clarke

HMCS Athabaskan G07 Gun crew

Front row (L-R) Vince Myette, Bill Pickett, Gerry Milot, Art Barrett, Eugene Fuller

Rear row (L-R) Herm Sulkers, Maurice Watson, Bob Moore, John Gordon, Ernest Anderson, Ray Roberts, Jim L'Esperance

Source: Web blog of Pierre Lagacé


Update: The unknown gunner in this photo has been identified as Ernest Raymond Anderson

Ernest Raymond Anderson has been identified by his wife and daughter as being the unknown gunner in the gun crew photo above

Jim L'Esperance

Jim survived the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan G07. He was captured by the Germans and was a POW for the remainder of the war

Source: Web blog of Pierre Lagacé

AB Eugene Milton Fuller, V/8808

Killed - 29 April 1944

Source: Web blog of Pierre Lagacé 

John W. Fairchild

When the Athabaskan was sunk, John went overboard on the opposite side of the ship from the Haida which was under orders NOT to stop and pick up survivors; the captain did anyway but only picked up men they could see…and then went to high revolutions to get away from the patrolling German P-T boats. The RCN had just introduced a new flotation device which had a lamp attached that was activated when in contact with water; my dad was wearing one of these.  At around the time of the sinking, John’s sister in Quebec City woke with a start seeing my father floating in the water with a big light over his head.  She was the only one in the entire family that was convinced he was alive as his paperwork was lost for some time and the family had received a telegram indicating “missing and presumed drowned at sea”.


John was sent to a prison camp with the other survivors; he and one of his mates escaped by hiding for three days in an asbestos filled attic when the Germans evacuated the prison (the Russians were approaching). They wandered west for a few days before being picked p by American troops who promptly arrested by Dad as they were convinced that he was a German posing as an escapee (blonde hair and blue eyes and all)! That took some time to sort out but, eventually, all the paperwork caught up to him and he came back to Canada.

Written by Peter Fairchild, son of John W. Fairchild

Source: Web blog of Pierre Lagacé

 John James Acorn, V/1589


Born: 10 Jul 1923   Crossed the Bar: 23 Jun 1953

RCNVR 1941 - 1945

HMCS Athabaskan G07

 From the collection of John James Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn


Click here to view the letter from RCNVR Division, Charlottetown, PEI to John J. Acorn to attend an interview and medical exam

Trade badges and medals of John Acorn

From the collection of John James Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

L/Sto John J. Acorn V/1589, HMCS Athabaskan G07, passed his course for Stoker PO

From the collection of John James Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Crossing the Line certificate (Arctic Circle) for John James Acorn while onboard HMCS Athabaskan G07, 17 December 1943

From the collection of John James Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

POW dog tag for John James Acorn # 1321

Marlage & Milag Nord

From the World War II collection of John James Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

John James Acorn, former crew member of HMCS Athabaskan G07, died from injuries received in accident at his mill

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Newspaper article on Ldg Sto. John J. Acorn

From the collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Newspaper article on the liberation of HMCS Athabaskan's POWs

From the collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Newspaper article on the return home of Prince Edward Island sailors who were POWs after the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan G07

From the collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Athabaskan's POWs tell their survivors stories

From the collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

All But Two Canadian Navy Prisoners Freed

Newspaper article on the liberation of POWs. Some of HMCS Athabaskan's crew the were released are listed in this article

From the World War II collection of John Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

IN MEMORY OF: John James Acorn, former crew member of HMCS Athabaskan G07, died from injuries received in accident at his mill.

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Letter to John Acorn's mother informing her that her letter and parcel to John could not be delivered as he had been liberated.

From the collection of John James Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

A letter from John Acorn to his mother while he was a POW

From the collection of John James Acorn

Courtesy of Barry Acorn

Headstones for Leading Stoker William McGregor and Lt. Commander John H. Stubbs who were lost when HMCS Athabaskan G07 was sunk

Headstones are located at the PLOUESCAT COMMUNAL CEMETERY; Finistere, France

Source: Web blog by Pierre Lagacé

Ernest Raymond Anderson


RCN - HMCS Athabaskan G07


Ernest R. Anderson - Atlantic Star with clasp France and Germany, War Medal 1939-45, 1939-45 Star and Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with clasp.

Ernest Anderson's HMCS Athabaskan cap tally


Ernest R. Anderson joined the Royal Canadian Navy on 14 December 1939.  He served on HMCS Athabaskan and survived her sinking, being picked up by HMCS Haida. The following is from his daughter, Karen Anderson.  "My dad really never talked about his days in the war, he was just never the boastful kind of person. My mom does remember his brother telling her a story about my dad, on the Athabaskan on the night it sank. He mentioned how he was with one of the guns that exploded, he was thrown into the water and a lot of the men he was with were killed. He was a very strong swimmer and was able to swim to be rescued. He was covered in oil and had bad burns on his hands. He told me he remembers coming out being covered in oil and being filmed on a camera. I do know these burns on his hands gave him pain and limitations for his whole life."


Click here to view Ernest Anderson's Certificate of Service


Courtesy of Karen Anderson


Newspaper article on the repatriation of 64 POWs from HMCS Athabaskan G07

From the World War 2 collection of Jim L'Esperance

Source: Lest We Forget blog of Pierre Lagacé

Lieutenant Douglas McKenzie Brown 0-9383 RCNVR


Date of photo of A/Slt Brown (top) is unknown.  Second photo of Lt Brown is from the ship's company photo of HMCS Athabaskan G07.


The tunic belonged to Lt Brown and is in the collection of Kevin Joynt. Lt. Brown lost all his uniforms when HMCS Saguenay had her stern blown off, this was his replacement tunic.  He had this tunic when he was onboard HMCS Athabaskan G07. He was transferred off Athabaskan, on request, one month before she was sunk. Note the tag inside the tunic pocked with his name, D.M. Brown and the date it was made.


Courtesy of Kevin Joynt

Raymond Burton Rolls (Centre) - other crew member's names unknown

From the collection of Raymond Rolls

Courtesy of Kevin Gaines

Raymond Burton Rolls

Raymond was killed when the Athabaskan was sunk on 29 Apr 1944

From the collection of Raymond Rolls

Courtesy of Kevin Gaines

Remembrance Day: The captain yelled out, "Abandon ship!"

Newspaper article from "The Senior Times" - by Irwin Block


On November 11, we remember those who served our country, but for Harry Hurwitz the day he can’t forget is April 29, 1944.


That was the day Hurwitz and other victims of a German torpedo attack on his Canadian ship ended up in the English Channel, struggling to survive.


At 92, and a resident of the B’Nai Brith House in Côte St. Luc, Hurwitz recalled his remarkable story in preparation for Remembrance Day ceremonies. He is to lay a wreath at the cenotaph in Montreal West.


The Lachine-born son of trucker Chaim and Bella, with seven brothers and five sisters, enlisted in 1939 at age 18. He switched from the army to the navy and in 1942 shipped out to Greenock, just west of Glasgow, Scotland.


As an able-bodied seaman, Hurwitz was assigned to H.M.C.S. Athabaskan and in August 1943, while patrolling the channel, the ship was attacked by six Messerschmitt fighter-bombers.


“We opened fire, we drove five away, but one came out of the sky and dropped a bomb right near me. I was one of the lucky ones. The guy next to me was killed instantly and seven others died as well.”


He later sailed to Murmansk, Russia, as part of a convoy of 57 ships delivering materials and supplies to assist the Soviet Union in resisting and counter-attacking the German assault.


“Only about 20 made it. The rest were torpedoed and sunk. I was up in the masthead when it was 40 below zero, watching for enemy ships. They gave me a cup of coffee every 10 minutes, it was so cold.”


From its base in Plymouth, U.K., the Athabaskan continued to patrol the English Channel where the Allies were expected to launch the long-awaited second front by invading France.


On April 29, the ship left Plymouth at 6 pm and after three hours was at the French coast not far from Brest.


“For some reason, we went a little too close to the French coast. I’m on my gun at our action station, and all of a sudden a torpedo hit our ship near the stern. It was cut off completely, about 2,000 shells exploded and everyone was killed instantly.


“We got the order from Commander John Stubbs—who gave the order to man the hoses—to see if we could put out the fire. Guys were dying, they were screaming. Me and four other guys grabbed the hose, and just then a second torpedo hit. There was no pressure, everything was dead, the whole ship was ablaze. I got a piece of shrapnel right above my nose.


“Then the captain yelled out, ‘Abandon ship!’ Me and my friend Raymond Meloche (who lives at Ste. Anne’s veterans’ hospital) jumped. I threw off my big rubber boots and my heavy coat. We sunk at 4:28 am. How do I know? My mother bought me a cheap watch on my bar mitzvah and I had it all these years. She paid $4 for it!


“We were in the water for six or seven hours.


“First I was holding on to the masthead, with Meloche. I couldn’t see.


“I was covered with oil from head to toe. Then I held on to an empty barrel.


“One guy had his leg blown off and he kept yelling, ‘I don’t want to die.’ Another had a big hole in his stomach and the salt water was getting in and he was yelling. We couldn’t do anything. They all died in the water.”


A lifeboat floated nearby, probably released by Allied ships to help survivors. “About 15 or 16 of us got into the lifeboat. We had no oars, so we drifted, like a bunch of dummies.”


A German battleship appeared and prepared to take the men prisoner.


“I had my Magen David (Jewish star) and I ripped it off my neck and tossed it into the water. I also tossed a wallet, with Jewish things and about $40 I won the day before rolling the dice with the money from payday.”


Records show that 129 of the crew, including Captain John Stubbs, died. Hurwitz was among 83 men taken prisoner while another 44 were rescued by H.M.C.S. Haida. The war was coming to an end and the German captors “were very good to us.”


“We arrived in France and we saw two girls completely naked, dead drunk, and they cheered, ‘A way, les bons Canadiens,’ while the Germans commander yelled, ‘schnell’.”


Hurwitz was interrogated at a convent and gave his name as Hurwit – “I took off the zed, to sound less Jewish.”


His interrogator, an officer about 75, turned out to be “a really nice man. I told him I was from Lachine and he told me he had worked for General Electric in Lachine for about 20 years! I lived on 10th Ave. and LaSalle St., and General Electric was on 1st Ave. and LaSalle St.”


The German had immigrated to Canada to work as an engineer, but in 1936 went back to Germany to help his country, Hurwitz recalled.


He pounded the table, denounced the Jews, but Hurwitz said he replied he had worked for Jews and never had any problems.


After 14 days in Brest, the POWs were taken to a camp outside Hamburg. “Every night at exactly midnight, R.A.F. bombers attacked the oil installations there, and at Kiel, Bremen and Hanover. We would sit on top of our shack and had a beautiful view.”


He and a fellow prisoner bribed a guard with 25 cigarettes, worth “$500 on the black market,” and got wire cutters to escape. But when he asked a German woman in his Yiddish-style German in a nearby farm for a glass of water, she called the police and they were rearrested.


A senior British officer among the prisoners at the camp warned the Germans to “release the men immediately” because “the British were only 400 miles away and I will hold you personally responsible if anything happens to them.” They were returned to the general PoW population.


They were told to march to Lubek, and the column was accidentally attacked by an R.A.F. fighter—four men were killed by friendly fire. They returned to the prison camp.


Hurwitz was liberated on April 29, 1945—a year to the day he was captured. Two of his three daughters were born after war’s end—on April 29.


When he lays the wreath, Hurwitz says he’ll be thinking of that day in 1944, and “the guys in the water dying, shouting: ‘Save me, save me’.”

AB Harry Hurwitz and cousin in London, England

From the collection of Harry Hurwitz

Courtesy of Darla Hurwitz Scott

Athabaskan G07 POWs at Marlag und Milag. Harry Hurwitz is in the white shirt

From the collection of Harry Hurwitz

Courtesy of Darla Hurwitz Scott

ERA Leonard Mumford penned a letter home 2 days before his ship was sunk

Sig Donald King McGrath on the flag deck of HMCS Athabaskan G07

Courtesy of Donna McGrath

An oil covered Francis (Frank) Austin Charles Roach stands on the deck of HMCS Haida after being rescued

Courtesy of Garry McFadden

More Ottawa Men Off Athabaskan Now Prisoners-of-War

The Ottawa Journal 11 Aug 1944

Four Montreal Sailors Rescued In Loss of HMCS Athabaskan

The Montreal Gazette, Tue, 02 May 1944

Newspaper article dated 29 Apr 1944 on Missing Athabaskan crew members Lawrence Johnston, Herman Sulkers and Eddie Bieber

Courtesy of Pierre Legacé

Blog  Lest We Forget  //  Lest We Forget II


Letter from OS Berkeley to his parents - dated 02 Mar 1944

Courtesy of Pierre Legacé


Letter from OS Berkeley to his brother - dated 20 Apr 1944 (9 days before Athabaskan was sunk)

Courtesy of Pierre Legacé

Letter sent to OS A.G. Berkely that was returned to sender - OS Berkeley was MPK

Courtesy of Pierre Legacé

Newspaper article on one Athabaskan casualty (OS Berkeley) and one Athabaskan survivor (PO Mancor)

Courtesy of Pierre Legacé

Newspaper article announcing the loss of HMCS Athabaskan G07 - Sunk in action

Courtesy of Pierre Legacé

Newspaper article on two of HMCS Athabaskan G07's casualties - OS Berkeley and AB Barrett

Courtesy of Pierre Legacé

Newspaper article on LCdr Stubbs

Courtesy of Steve Hlasny