Battle of the Atlantic and Me

Trained Telegrapher Nelson "Spud" Bruce
By Alison Bruce

It's Sunday night and I am feeling crispy. I got a little too much sun this afternoon at the Battle of the Atlantic Parade. This is one of several things that happens every year that I attend.

I get sunburned. I am embarrassingly proud of my son who has marched in the parade for five years, as a Navy League Cadet and Sea Cadet. And I remember by Dad and am sorry he's not around to see his grandson in uniform.

My father served in the Royal Canadian Navy. Aboard the HMCS Stratford, a Bangor Class minesweeper. All he has ever said about his wartime experience was that he loved Newfoundland, but was seasick every day he was at sea. He stood (well, sat) his watch in the radio room with a bucket between his knees.

North Atlantic from
The North Atlantic isn't known for its calm waters, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence isn't exactly a mill pond either. Not that I knew anything of that when I first listened my Dad's amusing and self-denigrating stories. I hadn't even heard of the Battle of the Atlantic until the first parade I went to when my son was in Navy League.
The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest campaign of the Second World War and the most important. Canada was a major participant: this country’s enormous effort in the struggle was crucial to Allied victory. While the ships and personnel of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) operated across the globe during the war, they are best remembered for their deeds during the Battle of the Atlantic.
That brings me to the another thing that happens every year. I wonder WHY THE HECK didn't I learn about the Battle of the Atlantic at school? How was it that I learned about the Battle of Britain and the War in the Pacific but not this?

I blame the movies (and the school curriculum of course). Hollywood, I suppose, could be forgiven for focusing on the Pacific. I watched my share of those movies growing up. Operation Petticoat was one of my favourites, and not just because of Cary Grant, but I ran the gamut from the flag waving John Wayne war movies to the more thought provoking Mister Roberts.

Likewise, I don't blame the British movie makers for highlighting the Royal Navy. In fact, if you're interested in men and women in uniform, you can't beat the series of British films about the different branches of the military that came out during the war. Although the ultimate purpose was to encourage enlistment and support of the armed forces, none of the movies downplayed the danger or discomfort involved.

The most memorable of these movies... at least for me... is In Which We Serve. I don't remember how young I was when I watched the movie. My mother was a big fan of Noel Coward and John Mills, so we saw any movie they were in whenever they showed on PBS or TVO.  I do know that the lifeboat scenes haunted me. I also know that ship did not sink in the North Atlantic. They would never have lived long enough in the freezing waters to have told their tale.

My problem is that Canadian film makers haven't stepped up and told the story of the Royal Canadian Navy's shining moment. Churchill called on us and Canada delivered, with the result that, at the end of World War II, Canada had the third largest navy in the world.

Granted, the National Film Board has covered the events in documentaries. (In fairness, I might have dozed off through a viewing and not realized what I missed.) But there is no popular movie that I know of that captures the attention of viewers, and makes them want to know more, like In Which We Serve or even Operation Petticoat.

That's a pity.


Popular Posts