HMCS Labrador veteran donates books to HMCS Shawinigan

HMCS Labrador’s Communications department, circa 1955. Martin Smith is in the back row, sixth from the left.

HMCS Labrador’s Communications department, circa 1955. Martin Smith is in the back row, sixth from the left.

CPO2 Rick Bungay, Sea Training Atlantic ~

Recently I was approached through my HMCS Labrador Naval History social media page by a former crewmember of HMCS Labrador.

HMCS Labrador, a Wind Class icebreaker, was the first warship to transit the Northwest Passage, in 1954. Martin “Smudge” Smith was a communicator onboard Labrador in 1955 during their operations in support of the installation of the Pine Tree line, and as a former RCN member wanted to reconnect with the RCN by donating books from his personal library.

Knowing that HMCS Shawinigan was standing up their ship from a recent tiered readiness program and in need of new books, I accepted the donations on behalf of Shawinigan. Being a former member of the ship’s company who had been to the Arctic on many occasions, I realized the importance of having a diverse ship’s library of books to break up the long days at sea.

I dropped by his home in Cole Harbour with my co-worker PO1 Branton and we presented him with a HMCS Shawinigan ball cap and an Operation Nanook challenge coin that had an image of his old ship Labrador. While we were there, he told me stories of his interesting career in the RCN. Of particular interest is one of the anecdotes about his time in Labrador.

“In HMCS Labrador, all communications waste paper and message material had to be burnt, and as we were the communications vessel for the entire Pine Tree Line Task Force, waste accumulated rapidly. Burning was accomplished by reporting to the bridge and getting permission to hang a ‘do not use’ sign on the ship’s fog horn control. Then you went down into the engine room and climbed up the funnel. A ladder took you up to the very top of the stack, completely surrounded by steel in an area which forced one to crouch while stuffing your waste paper into a potbellied stove. Not a job that was to be envied.”

Today we have specialized lockout procedures and machines for the destruction of messages and cryptographic material. This really demonstrates how the RCN sailor of the past had to deal with such problems. I find that looking at the RCN of the past and talking to sailors who came before us are key to moving forward in regards to the future fleet, and dealing with new and challenging operating areas such as the Arctic.

I would certainly like to thank Martin Smith for opening this sailor’s eyes to this lesser known aspect of the RCN’s past, and also for his generous contribution to Shawinigan. Once a sailor, always a sailor.

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  1. Rick Bungay says:

    Hi, Alison just seen your comments. If possible I would be very interested in obtaining scans of the Labrador pictures for my HMCS Labrador facebook page. There is not a lot of material out there on those trips.

  2. Alison Leeming says:

    My father was the Commander (Mac Leeming) on the Labrador for her voyage through the arctic in 1954. It has been wonderful to see all the pictures of her. We have many pictures from that time period plus the book “The Ice Was All Between”. Her mission was a very influential in my father’s life and as such our lives as his family. How great to see the Communications Department from that voyage. She certainly still lives in the minds of my sisters and I.
    Thank You,
    Alison Leeming

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