Protecteur’s cruise ship director loses battle with cancer: Harry Marshall – December 17, 1963 – June 16, 2016

Leading Seaman (Retired) Harry Marshall died June 16 after a battle with cancer.

Leading Seaman (Retired) Harry Marshall died June 16 after a battle with cancer.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Hundreds of Royal Canadian Navy sailors rallied alongside the longest serving member of HMCS Protecteur in his fight against terminal cancer.

Leading Seaman (Ret’d) Harry Marshall spent 13 years aboard the now decommissioned supply ship and according to all accounts the lovable boatswain was no “ordinary” Ordinary Seaman.

Perhaps it is the proud Newfoundlander’s unwavering positivity about life that explained why Marshall amassed so much support in his unwinnable fight against stomach and esophageal cancer.

“I don’t believe in bad days,” said Marshall during an over-the-phone interview from his hospital bed in St. John’s, NFLD, weeks before his ship sailed to his final port of call. “For me bad days don’t happen and I try to instill that belief in every person I meet.”

But there were tough days for the sailor when his suffering heightened from the relentless and intense throat pain, persistent cough, and loss of feeling in his legs. He was given up to six shots of Morphine a day to cope.

He was first diagnosed in August 2014 and although doctors thought they had stopped the cancer’s spread through surgery, it was re-discovered Jan. 20, 2016. He was admitted to hospital for a final time on April 10 after the stomach cramps and vomiting returned.

As word of his condition spread, there was an overwhelming show of support for Marshall from the naval community. A Facebook page called ‘Friends of Harry’ generated more than 400 followers who wrote daily messages of support to Marshall, while dozens of family and friends travelled from afar to be at his side.

“He wasn’t the type of guy that would go out drinking or partying, but was the one who would be there to drive you home from a bar, volunteer to take your duty watch shift, or go without food himself to make sure you weren’t hungry,” said PO1 Boyd Greeley from the Regional Cadet Support Unit who served aboard Protecteur with Marshall for nearly six years.

Marshall’s jack-of-all-trades position required him to do the jobs that nobody wanted to do including heavy lifting and cleaning. But he did them with vigour recalls PO1 Rick Hussey, who served with Marshall for four years.

“He could get away with anything because everyone loved him so much,” said PO1 Hussey, a demolition instructor at Fleet School.

Even though Marshall was unconventional, certainly not a conformist, and sometimes border-line eccentric, those closest to him described the man as always having an unparalleled sense humour, humanity, and duty throughout his career.

“I only sailed with Harry for a couple of years aboard Protecteur but he left a lasting impression. He was a prominent figure to so many of us in the RCN,” says LS (Ret’d) Melinda Urquhart, who started Marshall’s Facebook Page on April 16 and has since been flooded with friend requests and posts.

Marshall also served aboard HMCS Annapolis and HMCS Ottawa during his career.

To most of his shipmates Marshall was affectionately known as “The Cruise Director” and he would always joke that the first four letters in HMCS Protecteur didn’t stand for Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship, but instead “Harry Marshall’s Cruise Ship.”

Marshall not only forged strong ties with the crew but also their spouses and family members, who joined the chorus of support.

“I talked to the cruise director himself this morning,” wrote Sandra Harper, wife of Marshall’s long-time shipmate PO2 Terry Harper on the Friends of Harry Facebook page on May 18. “I could see your antics and smile through the phone this morning Harry Marshall.”

There were countless character quirks that helped elevate him to cult status amongst his peers. Some of them included always carrying books written by famed Western novelist Louis L’Amour. There was also his unwavering desire to wear his trademark faded and beaten up Protecteur baseball cap everywhere he went, despite the best attempts of senior officers to have him replace it with a new one.

Rank seemed to be of little significance and he would often be quick to correct a sailor of superior rank – with no apparent fear of reprisal – telling them the correct way to perform a certain task.

But the thing that summed up Marshall’s character the best for many was a memorable moment in the 1990s when the Admiral of the day and a group of foreign dignitaries were visiting Protecteur. It was another case of that “Vintage Marshall” recalled PO1 Greeley.

“Before they could formally greet the commander and his entourage, there was Harry sticking his head between a sea of arms and extending his arm forward for the first handshake,” he said. “None of us are actually sure how he got away with it, but we knew Harry was the only one who could.”

The beloved Cruise Director eventually retired from the RCN, ending a 24-year career in June 2012. Even though four years have passed since he left, Marshall still referred to Protecteur as “his ship.” He noted it seemed somehow “fitting” that at the moment in time when drew his final breath, the decommissioned vessel he loved so much is in the final stages of  being demolished at a scrap yard in Liverpool, N.S.

“I have circumnavigated the globe in HMCS Protecteur and had life experiences that some people could only dream or fathom about,” said Marshall. “I’ve been to Russia, Asia, the Mediterranean, Hawaii and Australia, and wouldn’t trade in those moments for anything.”

On June 13, Marshall slipped into a coma and was declared brain dead. A month before this decline, he wrote in a Facebook post:

“Full acceptance of this. I know what is going to happen and a stone mason is going to engrave Harry J. Marshall 1963 to 2016 on my father’s headstone following my cremation. Thanks for the well wishes. I’ll be on the other side with a full bottle of Pusser’s Rum, bring your own damn glasses.”

Marshall said he didn’t want a funeral, but rather a cremation with his ashes spread from high atop Signal Hill in St. John’s, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

The prognosis took a heavy toll on those closest to him, including his identical brother Robert Marshall who completed a 15-year career in the Army in 1998.

“Harry and I did everything together while we were growing up,” says Robert. “I just have that physical chemical bond with him, it’s almost like we are two halves of an orange and we are so connected that I wondered when Harry finally passed if I would feel it.”

According to all accounts he wasn`t the only one who felt this moment.

Harry Marshall died in the early morning of Thursday June 16. He was 52.


For those who want to send condolences please join the group “Friends of Harry”


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  1. Jacqueline Cordova says:

    You and I have been best friends for several years. You had always told me, ‘no secrets’. Beautiful because it was always your way of sharing.

    You will always be remembered in my heart. We lost you on the exact same date my late husband died.

    Harry may your heart rest in eternal peace!


  2. Percy Conners says:

    God Bless you Harry, you have been a huge inspiration to all your shipmates and beyond to many others… Rest in peace, Harry…

  3. Thomas Winacott says:

    People like him giving service to our CANADA and working for the good of all people.
    Cancer I understand having had it, sorry for his passing!
    People of Canada thank you for your work and devotion to the service!
    May God look after you!

  4. Steve Cockerill CPO1 (ret) says:

    It was an honour and a pleasure to have known and sailed with Harry. He was the Navy, old school. Fair winds and following seas Shipmate.

  5. Gilles Sabourin says:

    Very article. Harry I’ll see you on the flipside brother

  6. Dave Freeman says:

    You wrote a superb article on the late LS Harry Marshall. BZ.

    Following in his footsteps of correcting senior ratings, may point out that no ship in the RCN IS “decommissioned”. HMC Ships are aways “Paid Off”, a terminology that dates back to the 17th Century and is still in effect.

    Yours aye

    Dave Freeman
    LCdr, RCN Ret’d

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