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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich teen launches free online tutoring website

School Helpers matches volunteer tutors with students

Name of victims ‘ripped down’ from Victoria display

Organizers feel the act is ‘malicious’

Government Street becomes pedestrian-priority corridor

One block of downtown street closed to cars entirely

‘The face of Belmont’: Custodial staff at Langford school pivot to support parents, students

Staff serve as point of contact for parents, students with school

Greater Victoria transit usage sees gradual rise

Ridership still down 66 per cent compared to last year

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

Cortes Island affordable housing project hangs by a thread

Regional decision makers resort to COVID-19 concerns despite virtual meeting option and push hearing to September

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

North Island recreation camping site closed due to vandalism

Damage happens every year, forcing site manager to reallocate improvement budget to repairs

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

Man found dead in his tent at Island homeless camp

Facebook posts tell of personal struggles and attempts to stay clean and sober

Most Read