Veterans association holds last reunion at CFB Esquimalt

Members of HMCS Uganda and HMCS Quebec Veterans Association pose for a group shot during a tour of HMCS Ottawa, Sept. 16, 2016. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Members of HMCS Uganda and HMCS Quebec Veterans Association pose for a group shot during a tour of HMCS Ottawa, Sept. 16, 2016. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

They reminisced, raised a tot of rum and then said their heartfelt farewells as members of HMCS Uganda and HMCS Quebec Veterans’ Association held their final reunion at the Base from Sept. 16-18.

Fourteen veterans and 16 of their family members travelled from across Canada for one last weekend to recall their days aboard the Colony-class light cruiser that was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in October 1944 as HMCS Uganda and then renamed HMCS Quebec during its recommissioning in 1952.

Their weekend in Victoria included a tour of the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, lunch at the Esquimalt legion, a tour of HMCS Ottawa, dinner at the Wardroom, a church service at St. Andrew’s Chapel/Christ the Redeemer and then a traditional Up-Spirits where a toast was offered to each sailor.

While aboard Ottawa the veterans marvelled at the evolution of naval warfare.

“It’s surprising how far the level of technology for armaments has advanced,” remarked 91-year-old AB (Ret’d) Hugh Murray of London, Ont., who joined the RCN at the age of 17 and served as a gunner on Uganda from 1944 to 1945. “The 3.5 mm guns aboard Ottawa can fire 220 shells per minute while the guns we used could fire about 14. It’s quite a contrast.”

Uganda was not only the RCN’s flagship but the only one to serve against Imperial Japan during the Second World War.  Murray said the ship took on enemy fire multiple times and was attacked by Kamikaze pilots on three separate occasions. Other moments that stood out for him included the vessel’s participation in the bombardment of Truk Island during Operation Inmate and being at sea for a grueling 140-day stretch from March 24 to Aug. 10, 1945.

With the majority of the surviving crew in their 80s and 90s, reunion co-chair LCdr (Ret’d) Malcolm Butler said the size of the group and other logistical issues has made having their annual reunions more and more difficult each year and the decision to dissolve the group was made, albeit regrettably.

“These surviving shipmates have maintained a camaraderie and friendship many of us would envy and continue to demonstrate the bonds of brotherhood forged at sea under trying conditions,” said Butler.

That message wasn’t lost on the former sailors either.

“The Navy is our extended family and there really is an unbreakable bond between us,” agreed PO 2 (Ret’d) Fred Bradley of Mount Herbert, P.E.I., as the wind blew across the helicopter deck of Ottawa. “It’s great to be back here on an RCN ship because it brings back so many memories for me.”

Also in attendance at the reunion where relatives of crew members that have passed away. Maj (Ret’d) Ken Westrbrook of Colwood, B.C., who retired from the CAF in 2013, attended on behalf of his father, Harold Westbrook, who was the lead signaller aboard Uganda during the Second World War and passed away in 2007.

“I’m here to remember my dad but also to have an opportunity to speak with the veterans in attendance today and learn more about their experiences,” said Ken Westbrook. “I feel so fortunate that this event is in such close proximity to my home because this is the last time they will ever be together as a group.”

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  1. Charles H. Cleaver says:

    I served on HMCS 1953 to 1954 HOW DO I GET IN touch HMCS Quebec VETERANS ASSOCIATION

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