Canada flag set to fly over Belfast

HMS Belfast alongside in the River Thames with Tower Bridge in the background.

HMS Belfast alongside in the River Thames with Tower Bridge in the background.

Darlene Blakeley, RCN PAO ~

The Canadian flag will fly over Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Belfast in London, England, this holiday season.

HMS Belfast, a museum ship originally built as a light cruiser for the Royal Navy (RN), is permanently moored on the River Thames next to Tower Bridge and operated by the Imperial War Museum.

Tim Lewin, whose late father, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Terence Thornton Lewin, was a junior officer in HMS Belfast. He proposed the Canadian flag fly at the mast of the museum ship over Christmas week to celebrate and commemorate the participation of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in the battle of North Cape for which Belfast was awarded a Battle Honour.

Lewin, vice-president of the Belfast Association, has a deep interest in the Russian convoys that were undertaken during the Second World War. He has introduced a number of initiatives to raise awareness of those operations, and the close ties that existed at the time between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Russia.

According to Michael Whitby, the RCN’s senior naval historian, Canadian warships began escort duties on the Russian convoys in the autumn of 1943, but its sailors were involved before then.

“In fact, hundreds of Canadians sailors served in British ships operating in the north throughout the war,” Whitby says. “Eighty Canadian sailors – about 10 per cent of each ship’s company – fought in the cruisers Belfast and Sheffield at the Battle of North Cape. In the final 18 months of the war, Canadian warships participated in more than half of the Russian convoys.”

In all, 18 Canadian warships were awarded an Arctic Battle Honour for service in northern European waters during the Second World War.

Lewin, recognizing this profound contribution, was inspired to make a gesture of appreciation and the HMS Belfast Association agreed to fly the Canadian flag over the ship.

“My late father served in a Tribal-class destroyer from 1943 through 1944,” he explains. “His ship, HMS Ashanti, was in constant company with the RCN Tribals [former Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Athabaskan, Haida, Huron and Iroquois] and many personal friendships developed. The ship to which Ashanti was particularly linked was Huron, with which they covered the Arctic convoys to Russia and later the dramatic battles between the 10th Destroyer Flotilla and Nazi forces trying to hinder D-Day. When Huron went home to Halifax for a refit, its wardroom presented their prized piano to Ashanti, whose wardroom compensated their Canadian friends with enough beer to see them back across the Atlantic!”

Lewin recently found out about the 80 Canadians who served in HMS Belfast during the Battle of North Cape through his friendship with Whitby.
“In recognition of these Canadians and of the 700 or so in the Tribals covering the nearby convoy, it occurred to me that somebody needed to make a gesture of appreciation for these specific actions and on a wider note, for the war-winning contribution of the RCN to the Atlantic and Arctic convoy campaigns and the landings on D-Day when HMS Belfast had the honour of firing the symbolic opening salvo onto the beaches. We are very proud of our friendship with Canada and our bonds with the RCN, today and yesterday.”

Captain (Navy) Maurice AuCoin, RCN naval advisor with the Canadian Defence Liaison Staff in London, says the gesture “speaks volumes about the close relationship and historical military bond that Canada and the United Kingdom continue to enjoy.”

“In this year of Canada 150, this initiative serves as a strong reminder for both the RCN and the RN of the continued importance of the transatlantic link and the key role Canada played in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Arctic convoys during the Second World War, and of our ongoing naval commitment to the North Atlantic.”

An event to launch the initiative will be held onboard HMS Belfast on Dec. 18. The Canadian Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Sarah Fountain Smith, and Capt(N) AuCoin will be the guests of honour, with nearly 40 international invitees at the diplomatic and military attaché level expected to be in attendance.

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  1. Peter Sellar says:

    The H.M.C.S. Haida is still afloat in Ontario, she is alongside as a museum, keeping memories of all who sailed om her and her participation in the 2nd World War alive.

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