The story of HMCS TRENTONIAN would be “just another history book” if the stories of the men who served in her where not included with the history of the ship.
While researching this magnificent story of TRENTONIAN, Roger has interviewed many of her crew and has included stories from almost forty of the men who served in her. This has given White Ensign Flying a unique perspective of the lives of these Canadian sailors.
Below are several of the interviews and the comments of the men.
Bruce Dunsten KEIR, RCNVR -Stoker First Class, HMCS TRENTONIAN.
Bruce Keir was initially assigned to HMCS VALLEYFIELD for her trails. When she split her tanks on a depth charge trial and sent for repair, Bruce was sent to TRENTONIAN. He joined TRENTONIAN at Quebec City and remained with her until she was lost. He was at his station in the engine room when the torpedo struck; the other man in the compartment was killed in the explosion. I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Keir on several occasions, and his recollections and stories have been wonderful, including a photo album with over 100 pictures of the ship, her crew and her activities.
He speaks of a happy ship, a good crew, and kind officers who looked out for the men. “We were luckier than most ships; Lt. Harrison was a good skipper, always took care of us and helped us out. We helped out the officers as well. Everyone worked well together. We would hear the stories of other ships and how their officers were, and we were so glad to be on TRENTONIAN. The city of Trenton was always so supportive. They sent us so much, mitts, ditty bags, food, we were one of the few ships to have a washing machine, and it did work, right up until the ship went down. They also sent us instruments, a saxophone, squeeze box, drums and a piano. I think we were the only corvette with a piano. It could not fit into the ship, so we had to take it apart and take it to the mess deck flats one piece at a time, then put it together again. No one could play it, but I would spend quite a bit of time trying. It gave us something to pass the time and a great deal of entertainment during those long periods of boredom. We were all so grateful for the people of Trenton. The reunions that were held later, by the Trenton Legion, gave all of us a chance to say Thank You.”
HMCS VALLEYFIELD was herself torpedoed and sunk by U548 off Cape Race, N.F. on May 6, 1944. After only 5 months of service, with a loss of 127 lives and only 36 survivors.
Gordon GIBBINS, RCNVR -Able Seaman, Asdic Operator, HMCS TRENTONAIN.
Gordon Gibbins joined the RCN in 1941 as a boy seaman, and served most of his time in destroyers, HMCS RESTIGOUCHE and KOOTNEY and a brief time in HMCS SOREL. Gord was not ready to return to Canada when KOOTNEY was sent home for a major refit, so he was sent to HMCS NIOBE and later assigned to HMCS TRENTONIAN on October 14, 1944 at Milford Haven.
He joined the ship as an Asdic Operator, and had just finished his watch and was flaked out in the mess deck when the bells sounded for action stations. When TRENTONIAN was hit by the torpedo, he was at his station, port side waist depth charge thrower. He was thrown into the bulk head and down onto the deck, injuring his back. Gordon gives credit to a fellow shipmate for securing the depth charges and setting the fuses to safe, for they were making them ready for an attack, “this saved alot of lives, when the ship went down.
When the order for “ABANDON SHIP STATIONS” was given by Lt. Kinsmen, he proceeded to his station on the bow. Gordon states, “as the ship was settling by the stern, the bow was getting higher and higher. I took off my sea boots and neatly put them under an ammunition locker and waited for the abandon ship order. When the order came the bow had risen so much that I thought the jump to the water would kill me. I jumped from the side and into the water and I kept going down deeper and deeper, knowing I would not come up. Suddenly I started to shoot upward and burst onto the surface like a cork. I made my way to a Carley Float and secured my lanyard to it. We were in the water for more than a half hour, and we were getting quite cold. When the M.L. came for us, I was on the opposite side of the Carley Float and they did not see me. They took everyone off, and I was left behind. As the M.L. motored off, a fellow on the stern spotted me, the M.L. whipped around and before I knew it, it was alongside and I was being lifted out of the water.”
“TRENTONIAN was a good ship with a good crew and officers. We spent allot of time with the piano, even though none of us could play. The meals were normally quite good with flap jacks once a week and as I recall red lead and bacon on Mondays. Stewed tomatoes and bacon, awful stuff, I don’t think anyone liked that stuff.”
Colin S. GLASSCO, RCNVR, Lieutenant, Commanding Officer, HMCS TRENTONIAN.
Lieutenant Glassco took command of TRENTONIAN on January 30, 1945, from A/LCdr. Harrison. His, was a short term as skipper, lasting only 23 days, ending when the ship was sunk, it involved some of the most tragic events in this ships history as well as the most heroic. I have not had the fortune of interviewing Commander Glassco personally, but did have the opportunity to sit down and talk with one of his sons. He has two children and although both could not be present, I had the opportunity to speak with his son Roger Glassco; between them they have a very large collection of their father’s memorabilia, including his salt water laden cap, which he was wearing when the ship went down. He rarely volunteered his war time experiences in the navy to his family, perhaps because of the loss of life under his command, but occasionally he would give out little tidbits of information when asked. This interview is a collection of the information and insight provided by his family and statements and interviews that Commander Glassco made after the tragic event.
When Glassco would speak of TRENTONIAN, he said, “I was lucky in succeeding LT. Harrison, an excellent officer and so I inherited a well-trained crew and a group of excellent officers”. He also states on his previous ship the skipper made it policy that all men on the outer decks are to wear life jackets. LT. Glassco took that and strictly enforced it on TRENTONIAN, while at sea all crew was to have a life jacket on. This was not very popular at first, but the crew came to accept it, and even today when I speak to the survivors they credit LT. Glassco and this unpopular rule as saving their lives that fateful day.
In discussing the torpedoing and sinking of the ship he stated, “We had barely cleared the convoy when we were hit. The torpedo striking the ship at the starboard after depth charge thrower, blowing a large hole in the hull, and flooding the engine room. She settled very quickly and when the Engineer Officer and First Lieutenant said it was beyond repair, I gave the order to abandon ship. The men behaved with great courage and cheerfulness. Fortunately the men in charge of the Depth Charges had set them to safe, otherwise they would have gone off when the ship got down to the prescribed depth and the explosion would have killed most of us. The need for wearing life jackets was borne out by the fact that we lost no one by drowning despite the fact that more than 14 of the crew could not swim. We were in the water for 45 minutes waiting for the Fairmile’s to pick us up, the men sang to pass the time and to keep spirits up. The crew’s biggest complaint was the wasted effort they had just put into giving the ship a new coat of paint. The water was 33 degrees, and the effect on one’s strength was very noticeable when climbing up the scramble net.”
“In all situations of this kind there is always a Court of Inquiry, and this was held at the Naval Base in Plymouth. The Officers and crew were mustered outside the door where the Inquiry was to be held, and along came a Warrant Officer bearing a sword and placed it on the table. My heart sank as in my rather nervous state it looked as if the Court of Inquiry was to be dispensed with and they were going straight into a Court Martial. Happily it was all a mistake and the little Warrant Officer came back saying cheerfully, “Sorry sir, wrong room”.
“To my relief, the President of the Court confirmed the correctness of our tactics, and that we had intercepted a torpedo aimed at one of the 10,000 ton Liberty ships. The first paragraph of Atlantic Convoy Instruction reads; “The safe and timely arrival of the Convoy is the first duty of the escort”; so in this case we really carried out our duty, and in the process lost our ship.” After the loss of TRENTONIAN, LT. Glassco was given command of HMCS STAR in Hamilton, Ontario. He was never again given command of a ship, although his son believes he applied for one. He remained with the RCNVR until his retirement from service many years later as a Commander.
James ERWIN, RCNVR, Petty Officer, Engine Room Artificer 4th Class, HMCS TRENTONIAN.
P.O. Erwin was transferred to HMCS TRENTONIAN in December 1944 after Christmas, from NIOBE in Scotland. Prior to this he served in the aircraft carrier HMS PATROLLER. He joined the RCNVR in 1942 at the Stoker School in Galt, Ontario at the age of 17.
I interviewed Jim at his cottage home in September 2001. His wife Isabelle showed me two paintings she had produced of PATROLLER and TRENTONIAN in a heavy sea. Her art work is wonderful and detailed and an excellent representation of the two ships.
Jim stated when he joined TRENTONIAN she was at anchor in Milford Haven. He was taken by boat to the ship. When he first saw her, he asked the boat crew what she was like in a heavy sea, never having served in a ship smaller than an aircraft carrier. His only response was wait and you will see. He stated it took a bit to adjust to corvette life. “She was always wet and not very comfortable. The food was always cold by the time it got to the Chiefs and P.O.’s mess in the after part of the ship, and sometimes wet. She was a good ship with a good group of fellows, though. After joining there was a rumour about ship that we were going for a refit and then sent north to the Narvik Run. This didn’t happen; we ended out in the Irish Sea on Anti-Submarine duties. The trawlers were supposed to flush the subs out, and we were to depth charge them, but we had no sightings. While we were at Inverness a large Navy Show was in, we had a great time, the entire crew was able to go to it. Half the crew each night. I will always remember that show.”
When TRENTONIAN was hit, Jim was at his station on the after port side “Y” Gun (depth charge thrower). He remembers the explosion and shrapnel flying everywhere. He was fortunate not to be injured, but, his shipmate and friend Bill Baril was not so lucky. He had caught a large piece of shrapnel in the eye and had a large wound. Jim stated he helped Bill to the side and when they abandoned ship the two of them jumped off together. That was the last he saw of him. They were not rescued together and after, the Chief’s and P.O.’s were sent to Weims Bay unlike the ratings who were sent to NIOBE. While at an ERA reunion in Halifax, 50 years later, he was approached by a familiar face who asked if he served in TRENTONIAN. Only then did he know the fate of the man that he had jumped over the side with, on Feb. 22nd, 1945.
After his survivors leave he volunteered for the Pacific War and was to be transferred to HMCS CORNWALIS for Commando School. The war ended and Jim received his release in September 1945.
Max CORKUM, RCNVR, Lieutenant, Navigating Officer, HMCS MOOSE JAW.
I had the very good fortune of travelling to Halifax this spring and spending two days in HMCS SACKVILLE. There I had the opportunity to meet Max Corkum; he was our tour guide while aboard SACKVILLE. Max is currently a trustee with the ship and had served on corvettes during the war. Although he did not serve in TRENTONIAN, his ship, MOOSE JAW, worked in company with TRENTONIAN on a regular basis while overseas. Max was very patient and very helpful during our first day, giving us the grand tour of Canada’s Naval Memorial. He showed us from keel to masthead and stem to stern, explaining all in great detail. He kept asking if he was talking too much and my reply to him was he could not tell me enough. In giving us the tour and his recollections of the time he gave me the chance to better understand and appreciate the hardships, comradeship and monotony that these men who went down to the sea in these “little ships” had to deal with. It is hard to imagine the conditions these men dealt with daily for 6 years and the impossible tasks given to them, especially since I served in a modern destroyer.
While there Max imparted to us this story of MOOSE JAW and TRENTONIAN, concerning her final duty. Both ships returned to port after a long escort duty together, both ships and crews were due for a well-deserved rest and leave. Once secure both skippers were told to report to the Senior Officer (SO) for their escort group. Once there the SO expressed to both skippers a job well done and how he knew both crews were well-deserving of a break and that they both should receive one, but, there was a short escort job to be done. It required only one ship, Convoy BTC 76, from Bristol Channel to the Thames , a small convoy consisting of only 14 ships. The SO stated that because both crews had worked so hard lately he would not assign either ship, but would allow the skippers to work it out between them, who would go and who would stay. Both skippers being gentlemen offered to volunteer for the job, and after much debate back and forth with no resolve to the situation they decided to flip a coin, with TRENTONIAN being the victor. With that she made ready for an immediate turn around for sea and Max Corkum and the rest of his crew made ready for a well-deserved leave in port. That was the last he saw or heard of TRENTONIAN for two days later they were told of her loss. Max states, “We lost a good ship that day, TRENTONIAN was a happy ship with a good crew. We always liked working with them. I lost three friends when she went down, Lt. Gordon Stephen and I spent allot of time together, LS Beck and LS Harvey, we all knew each other from living in the same area. All of them are missed. If the flip of the coin had gone the other way, who knows what would have happened to us and MOOSE JAW.”
I cannot express my appreciation to Max Corkum enough or the others that we met in SACKVILLE, all of them were very hospitable and very helpful. Their encouragement towards me and this project is invaluable.
Discover more of HMCS TRENTONIAN’s incredible story in White Ensign Flying.