Hero Warship: Museum’s latest exhibit

Hero Warship: Museum’s latest exhibit

Clare Sharpe, CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum ~

The story of Victoria’s adopted ship, HMCS Beacon Hill and the courageous young naval hero who commanded her are the focus of a new exhibit at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, opening May 17.

“Hero Warship: HMCS Beacon Hill and Her Daring Commander” celebrates the ship’s strong historical ties to Victoria, and the deep local connections between her Commanding Officer, Edward Theodore ‘Ted’ Simmons, and the city he called home.

‘Ted’ Simmons became a celebrated hero of the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War. Yet he remains relatively unknown in his former home community, and his daring exploits have gone largely unrecognized. Like many Canadians who sacrificed personal security for the uncertainties and danger of wartime service, Simmons displayed genuine bravery in the face of terrible – and terrifying – circumstances.

Simmons was born in Vernon, B.C., on July 6, 1910; he was the son of a police officer. Eventually moving to Victoria, he worked in the textbook division of the Department of Education as a provincial civil servant before taking a sales job with a local company, Standard Furniture, where he was training to be an interior decorator. Simmons was a leading light in Victoria’s amateur theatrical community during the 1930s. He served as President of the city’s Beaux Arts Society and acted and danced in the society’s productions. From many accounts, he was a fun-loving and gregarious man with a lively wit and sense of humour.

In 1939, with war in Europe looming, Simmons registered for service with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR), even before the navy had the authority to recruit him into the strength of the RCNVR. He left civilian life and a promising career for the uncertainties of war and the serious perils of seagoing service in the long-running Battle of the Atlantic.

As a member of the RCNVR, he received a unique combination of gallantry awards for his bravery during the Battle of the Atlantic; he was awarded both the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Cross. His hair-raising exploits, which included boarding a sinking German U-boat in search of ‘Enigma’ code books and equipment, served as the basis for the wartime motion picture “Corvette K-225”, featuring Hollywood star Randolph Scott. He was also featured in the National Film Board of Canada production, “Corvette Port Arthur.”

The new exhibit, timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the River Class frigate Beacon Hill’s commissioning into the Royal Canadian Navy, showcases the link between Simmons, his ship, and the citizens of Victoria. It will also explore his personal development and training as a naval officer in wartime.

The exhibit grand opening takes place Friday, May 17 at 10 a.m. in Museum Building 37 at Naden, and will feature opening remarks from Ted Simmons’ daughter, Deborah Cotton. All are encouraged to attend and help celebrate this remarkable naval leader and the ship he was so proud to command.

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