Elsa Lessard, who served in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service as a Secret Listener during the Second World War, lays a wreath during a ceremony commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Sunday, May 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canadians remember Second World War’s long, dark Battle of the Atlantic

Lasting the whole of the war in Europe from September 1939 to May 1945

Canadians across the country marked one of the longest, darkest and most pivotal chapters of this country’s involvement in the Second World War on Sunday: The Battle of the Atlantic.

Lasting the whole of the war in Europe from September 1939 to May 1945, the battle saw Canada and its allies fighting Nazi submarines, planes and ships for control of the North Atlantic seaways.

READ MORE: Spike in Afghanistan-related suicides may be receding: Military

More than 4,600 Canadians would lose their lives, including sailors, merchant mariners and aircrew trying to protect vital convoys as they crossed the cold and choppy waves carrying supplies to England and Europe.

Those supplies kept the British from starving during the early years of the war after the Nazis had taken control of Europe, and then provided the men, ammunition and equipment needed to free the continent.

But it was also a difficult and dangerous environment, with German U-boats lurking beneath the waves and the cold ocean offering a quick death to sailors who weren’t quickly rescued after their ships were sunk.

During a ceremony at the National War Memorial Sunday morning attended by hundreds of people, a ship’s bell was rung as the names of the 33 Canadian naval vessels lost during the Second World War were read out one by one.

The event, held under a cloudless blue sky, also remembered the more than 900 Canadian aircrew and 1,700 merchant mariners who lost their lives during the Battle of Atlantic.

One of those attending was 91-year-old retired captain Paul Bender, who served in the Canadian Merchant Navy and led an ultimately successful effort to designate Canada’s sunken naval ships “ocean war graves.”

Having joined the war effort when he was 15 years old, Bender was only a few days older than 16 when his merchant ship was sunk by the Germans in November 1943.

“It’s not very pleasant having your ship sunk underneath you,” he said. “But that’s one of the challenges of wartime.”

Bender, who would eventually cross the Atlantic with five convoys, said ceremonies like the one in Ottawa are vital to remembering the Battle of the Atlantic and the sacrifices Canadians made for their country and society.

Sunday’s ceremony came one day before the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Valleyfield, which the Germans torpedoed as it returned to Canada from escorting a convoy. It sank off the coast of Newfoundland, killing 123 sailors.

Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd said the Battle of the Atlantic represents an important chapter in the service’s history and heritage, which he admitted isn’t always easy to commemorate.

“One of the challenges for naval engagements is there’s no battlefield to walk, there’s no cemetery where you can go and pay your respects,” Lloyd said. “And so I think in many respects that makes it a little bit more difficult.”

Despite this, Bender was optimistic that Sunday’s ceremony demonstrates that Canadians understand the importance of the battle, and that it will continue to be remembered after those who fought in it are gone.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

City of Nanaimo, Lions club partner to fund mural at Maffeo Sutton Park

Artists asked to submit proposals for mural on southwest wall of Lions Pavilion

Fired senior manager’s human rights complaint against City of Nanaimo can proceed to hearing

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal will hear Brad McRae’s case against the city

Syrian family in Nanaimo rebuilding following house fire

Family displaced by fire on Strickland Street had been planning to move later this summer

Police ask for tips about suspects who allegedly stole from Nanaimo furniture store

RCMP release images from surveillance footage following theft from The Brick

V.I. Raiders build ‘team environment’ at main camp

Nanaimo-based junior football team held camp this past weekend in Parksville

VIDEO: Young couple found dead in northern B.C. had been shot, police say

Chynna Noelle Deese of the U.S. and Lucas Robertson Fowler of Australia were found along Highway 97

Nanaimo tubber sets all-time record at bathtub race

Justin Lofstrom completes course in fastest-ever time

VIDEO: Man found dead near B.C. teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, of Port Alberni

Latest plan is to fly trapped fish by helicopter over Big Bar slide

Multi-pronged plan set in motion to freesalmon blocked by landslide in the Fraser River

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Police ask for help locating missing men last seen in South Surrey

Jeep that Richard Scurr and Ryan Provencher were in has been located unoccupied in Logan Lake: RCMP

Islanders have new cancer screening option with $6.5 M diagnostic suite in Victoria

The Gordon Heys Family PET/CT Suite was unveiled at the BC Cancer Centre-Victoria

Unsealed record suggests U.S. man convicted of murdering Vancouver Island couple left DNA on zip tie in 1987

William Talbott is set to be sentenced Wednesday in the murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Okanagan Air Cadet challenges gender-exclusive haircut policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

Most Read