For me, White Ensign Flying became a story that I had to tell and quickly became a labour of passion. It has taken me over twelve years of research, interviews, investigation and writing.
My inspiration did not begin wanting to write a book, but to find information. I was the commanding officer of a Navy League Cadet Corps in Trenton, named after the RCN ship HMCS TRENTONIAN and I wanted to teach our cadets about their namesake ship.
With that goal in mind, I started collecting data from existing published sources. All I could find, TRENTONIAN was built in Kingston, took part in the Normandy invasion and was sunk on 22 February 1945 with the loss of six men. A couple of sources mentioned an accidental attack by the American Navy following D-Day.
This was not much material for a history lesson. I then attempted to find one of the naval veterans who served in TRENTONIAN. As luck would have it, I found Bruce Keir in Scarborough, ON. I invited Bruce to attend the cadet corps so the cadets could meet him. During the course of the afternoon, I was able to speak to Bruce and he told me a few stories that were not in the history books, so we made arrangements to meet at his home on another day.
Bruce’s first statement on that amazing day was, “Yes I was there, but it was 60 years ago, I don’t know what I can tell you.” I asked him about his ship, his shipmates, shore leave, food and life at sea. Four hours later, Bruce finished with, “I don’t know what I can tell you.”
Bruce then pulled out a scrap book, as he opened it, my heart skipped a few beats. He had an entire album of photos. He explained the sick bay attendant was an avid photographer and had turned the sick bay into a dark room. He would take pictures of everything they did and then sold copies to the rest of the crew.
Bruce had 180 photos of TRENTONIAN and her crew, ranging from right after commissioning to two weeks before she was torpedoed in the English channel. These photos showed the everyday life of the men, from escorting convoys to runs ashore for leave in the many ports they visited.
It was at this point that I knew this was a historically important story, that had to be recorded, preserved and told! TRENTONIAN was the last corvette to be lost in action with the enemy during WWII and now there is a complete photographic record of the ship and the men who served in her.
Bruce gave me the address and phone number of another member of the crew and I was off to my next interview. With time I interviewed or gathered the stories of over thirty-five Trentonian’s. Some of their stories were remembered by all, while other stories were remembered by only one. The challenge came in piecing the stories together with the official records I had gathered from Library and Archives Canada and Directorate of History and Heritage. Each man could usually remember where they were when something happened and I was able to fit their stories to the places TRENTONIAN traveled.
One of the questions I asked each man was, What was the food like?” All had similar answers, “It was good for what we had, but we had Red Lead and Bacon allot.” This is stewed tomatoes and fried bacon together. Eventually I found one of the cooks, when I interviewed him I changed the question to, “What did you cook?” His answered put the entire story into perspective for me. “I cooked a variety of meals, I didn’t have a whole lot of training. But there was one meal I really enjoyed, In fact I’m having it tonight for supper. I love Red Lead and Bacon!”
I truly hope the readers of my book will find the same passion in the pages as I found telling the story. The men that served in TRENTONIAN are no different than the over 100,000 Canadian sailors that served in Canada’s Navy during the war. But the story of TRENTONIAN and the men who served in her will give all Canadians a glimpse in the life of what has become known as Canada’s greatest generation.
The incredible story of the Canadian sailors who served in HMCS TRENTONIAN was published in 2014 by Dundurn Press and has received many reviews. You can explore White Ensign Flying on my webpage, White Ensign Flying -The Story of HMCS TRENTONIAN. This book is available worldwide from Amazon, Chapters and your local bookstore.