I was very disappointed by the lack of published material on this WWII corvette. So I started to dig, beginning with the local archives at the Quinte West Public Library in Trenton, Ontario. Here I found a collection of letters from W.E. Harrison, Commanding Officer to the community and many newspaper clipping about the ship.
Harrison’s letters were amazing and gave a personal insight into TRENTONIAN and men who served in her. Digging still deeper I visited the Library and Archives Canada, Department of National Defense, History and Heritage and the Maritime Command Museum in Halifax. Eventually I had cases of documentation, detailing all the movements and events of this corvette during the war.
With time I interviewed a survivor from the ship and then another, before long I had tracked down almost 30 men who had served in TRENTONIAN. Each veteran was happy to discuss their time in the ship.
I had long realized that TRENTONIAN’s history was an incredible story that had to be told. Here was a corvette and crew that had protected convoys, took part in the invasion of Normandy, accidentally attacked by the Americans, hunted German submarines and when she was torpedoed on 22 February, 1945, became the last corvette to be lost in action with the enemy during WWII.
Now I faced a huge dilemma, how do I tell the story of this incredible ship and the men who sailed in her. Especially since history has all but forgotten her.
I knew this story could only be told in a book, and I decided to start writing. As the Public Affairs Officer for the local Paramedic Service, I had written articles for the local newspaper, but this was different. I called a couple of publishing companies to see if their was interest and was very quickly brushed off, “Anyone can get published in the local paper.”
I realized to walk into a publisher and say, “Hi, I’m Roger.” THUNK! As I drop a 300 page manuscript on the desk. “I want you to publish this and it’s the first thing I have ever wrote.” Was not going to float.
I needed to develop a portfolio. I attacked this problem from two directions. I started writing a smaller, more general book, Warships of the Bay of Quinte and tried to get published in magazines. I knew the editor of the Legion Magazine, Mac Johnson. Mac had also written Corvettes Canada, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1994.
I took my research and wrote an article on the friendly fire incident between TRENTONIAN and the Americans. I dressed it up, depicting the angle of the story from the War of 1812, when we were shooting at each other. Then explained that this event had tragically occurred between allies in 1944. I spent many hours working on each sentence, choosing my words very carefully. Once I was absolutely satisfied that what I had written could not be turned down, I sent the article to Mac with great anticipation of his reply.
I didn’t have to wait long. I opened Mac’s email and my heart sank. The very first line was “This is crap!”
A true editor, Mac didn’t pull any punches. He went on to explain, “you have a great story, it doesn’t need to be spun into something else. Take your own enthusiasm and passion for the story and reflect that in your writing. The reader will pick that up and enjoy the story.” He finished that email with, You have great material, now just tell the story!”
Realizing my mistake I returned to the keyboard, and rewrote the entire story, included the observations from the men I interviewed, the raw data I had gathered from the archives and combined the information into a new article. When I was satisfied with the work I sent it to Esprit de Corps Magazine.
I waited anxiously for a an answer. When they replied, I was delighted. The magazine was going to use the entire article in the next issue. WOW, I was going to be published!
Mac’s advice allowed me to reach my first goal. I sat down and completely revamped my writing. I always knew I had a great story, the problem was, how do I tell it.
Mac gave me the simplest and most important advice that any new author could learn, “Just Tell The Story!”