The memories come hard for Harry Weatherley these days. The war was so long ago and he’s not the young man he was when he joined the Royal Navy in 1942.
But he does remember the screaming.
“It was when we were with the convoys,” the now-elderly Weatherley said. “The U-boats were going after these oilers and you could see the smoke going and you could hear some of the moaning and screams from the poor old sailors. I disliked that, rather.”
Like so very many of his generation, Weatherley joined the fight against Hitler just as soon as he was able, at age 17.
After training as an able seaman torpedoman, he shipped out on a small sloop, HMS Folkston, and began escorting ships from Britain to the turnover point in the mid-Atlantic, where Canadian ships took over for the second half of the crossing.
The Battle of the Atlantic was at its peak at that time and the crossings were rarely uneventful.
“There were all sorts of ships in there and the submarines would come in and we would drop these depth charges on them,” he said. “We got over one of them and he was trying to get away and he decided to send up some clothes and things like that, as if he was sunk. We got a commendation for that, although we weren’t sure if we had sunk it. They gave us a probable.”
After a year on convoy duty, Weatherley signed on to a minesweeper and began the task of making the shipping lanes safe — or, at least, safer — from the passive but deadly mines being laid by the Germans. That, he said, was more to his liking and elicits the fondest memories.
“I had been ashore one time and gone to a movie and in the movie house there was a sign asking all members of my ship to go back aboard immediately,” he remembered with a chuckle. “I hadn’t seen the movie and I’d had a drink or two, so I decided to stay. When I got back, my ship was gone. I was very naughty.”
When the war ended with the defeat of Nazi Germany, Weatherley kept working, as many mines remained to be cleaned up. Even when he moved on from the military and rejoined civilian life, the occasional reminder would pop up unexpectedly to bring it all flooding back.
“I had an insurance business after the war and I had this German fellow as a client once,” he remembered. “He had been in the German navy in the same area, laying mines while I was sweeping them. We went for a drink on it — more than one. He had to pay.”
Weatherley will be on hand at the Battle of the Atlantic service, slated for Sunday, May 1, at the Qualicum Beach Legion, starting at 10:30 a.m. Watch for complete coverage, including an exclusive interview with former CFMETR commander Gerry Powell in Tuesday’s edition of The News.