Unique ensign gifted to Navy

Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

Peter Mallett
Staff Writer

A white ensign, once flown atop a captured German U-boat, has been returned to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

Second World War veteran Able Seaman Bob Haden of Victoria had kept the ensign as a war trophy for more than 75 years. The ensign was hoisted a top former German U-boat 889 following its surrender in May 1945, becoming HMCS U-889.

On Sept. 13, at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91 in Langford, the 97-year-old presented the ensign as a gift to the Commander Canadian Submarine Force, Captain (Naval) Jean Stéphane Ouellet, and his Chief, CPO1 Paddy McGuire.

“This is truly amazing,” said Capt(N) Ouellet while graciously accepting the flag. “Thank you very much. I promise you we will take great care of it.”

The white ensign consists of a St. George Cross on a white field with a Union Flag in the canton. It was flown on RCN vessels until the Canadian Naval Jack came into use in 1968. 

Haden’s ensign will now be mounted, framed, and displayed at Canadian Submarine Force headquarters in Dockyard.

Capt(N) Ouellet says this ensign was the missing piece to a historical set, the other being an ensign one that once flew aboard captured German U-boat 190. They will now be displayed together. 

The two German U boats worked to disrupt the flow of goods and troops between Halifax and Europe by attacking convoys in Canadian waters during the Battle of the Atlantic. Both vessels came into the possession of the Royal Canadian Navy following Germany’s surrender to the Allies on VE Day. 

U-889 was taken under control by RCN warships on May 10, 1945, and escorted to Shelburne, N.S. The submarine was commissioned into the RCN for eight months following its capture. It was then transferred to the US Navy in Portsmouth, NH, in January 1946 before being scuttled.

“I have had the ensign in my possession ever since U-889 was handed over to the American Submarine Force,” said Haden. “I have been having health problems so I thought it would be a good idea to give it back to the navy today.”

Haden was a Motor Mechanic during the war and served on multiple warships that protected convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic.

He was posted to the U-boat following VE Day and had the rare distinction of having stood watches in the U-boat engine room. He first came into possession of the ensign as a consolation prize.

As Canadian sailors stripped down the ship prior to its handover, Haden had his eyes set on a shiny brass clock. It was attached to the wall of the submarine near a ladder leading to the ship’s bridge. As he was unscrewing the clock an officer also spied it and insisted on having it.

“I had my screwdriver and wrench in hand and was removing it when someone of a much higher authority came along and said he will have the clock,” recalls Haden. “Then he said, ‘But if you would like a souvenir, how about this ensign?’ So I said sure.”

Haden stayed in the navy until 1947. For 26 years, he worked at CFB Esquimalt as a tailor for Base Clothing Stores, which at that time was located at HMCS Naden.


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