“To us land is considered an occupational hazard,” said Harold Ferguson of his career in the Canadian Navy.
He signed up in 1953 at the age of 18, “as a way to see the world,” he said speaking to The News at the Parksville Legion, Branch 49 where people were busy preparing for the annual poppy campaign and Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Ferguson signed up just in time to ship off to the conflict in Korea for his first posting after 21 weeks of boot camp at CFB Cornwallis in Nova Scotia.
Modest and quiet, Ferguson has marched in Remembrance Day parades and remembers his time in Korea and friends he served with, but he brushes off questions about the darker side of his time in the service.
Asked about the rough times after spending much of his life at sea he mentioned a few high seas storms, the worst being catching the back of a typhoon off the coast of Alaska on the HMCS Fraser.
“We encountered some good storms,” he said, indicating even the rough parts can take on a romantic glow over time.
“Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning, red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” he said, pointing out there is a lot of truth in the old cliché.
Other than a couple longer training exercises, the longest they were actually out at sea was a couple weeks crossing the Pacific, during which they were also busy training.
Over the years he took additional courses and worked his way up to retire as a petty officer first class.
Though he spent most of his time in the Pacific, he saw much of the world over the years, including a memorable trip through the Panama Canal in March 1963.
Some of his postings where not in places you’d think of as key Navy locations, such as his two terms stationed in Saskatchewan.
“Yeah I was surprised about that one myself,” said the now 73-year-old.
After three years patrolling the high prairie he returned to sea, which he always preferred.
When his time at sea was done in 1985, he spent the next 14 years working security in the B.C. legislature.
He got a bit of a taste of some of the modern luxuries, like modern ships with air-conditioning, but during his years in the service it was a pretty sparse lifestyle.
He was originally posted on the HMCS Cayuga, a Second World War era tribal class destroyer where he admitted “conditions where not great.”
He pointed out, for example, there were no showers, but “the food was always good.”
During their time in Korea their food supplies came from the U.S. military.
In Korea they were mostly conducting peacekeeping work off the coast and his clearest memories are of R&R, or days off in places like Hong Kong.
He was in the navy initially from 1953 to 1977, and was only out a few years before he returned in 1980 for another four years.
“I went right back in every chance I got,” he said, “I would go back today, it was a good life.”