Essays

Brotherhood

Bill Stewart, Signalman, HMCS Athabaskan.

By Edward (Ed) Stewart

In 1940 I was 11 years old, the kid brother who watched his three older brothers join the Navy and live that grand adventure that would so mark the later lives of those who survived.

Oldest brother Bill became a signalman and joined HMCS Athabaskan at commissioning. He was lost in that final action of April 29, 1944. Brother Jim served on the corvette Eyebright, making those North Atlantic ‘derry runs, later serving on the destroyer Qu'Appelle as an Oerlikon gunner. Jim missed a reunion with Bill when the Qu'Appelle entered Plymouth Harbour (England) on the day of Athabaskan's loss off the coast of France.

My other brother Dave, like so many other kids, lied about his age and became a signalman serving on the corvettes Stellarton and Humberstone.

The home front was a Hamilton neighbourhood that emptied, never to be the same again, losing its own at Dieppe and when the destroyer HMCS St. Croix was torpedoed. Highs and lows of arrivals and departures, tears, leaves that flew too fast, uniforms that fit too tight or not tight enough, kitbags that had a smell of their own. To me, how lucky they were; to them, how lucky I was!

The letters sometimes censored and looking like lace, and filled with lies like, “all's well,”, “don't worry,”, “I hope to be home by Christmas,” sustained the family. Then Mother as she opened those telegrams, quietly praying, relieved to find it a request for money or a homecoming!

Then one Sunday morning, we were at breakfast, came the shock of Earl Cameron's radio announcement of the sinking of the Athabaskan. How to me the lines, “they also serve who stand and wait” ring true.

Perhaps we loved our brothers but didn't know how much until they were taken, so young, from us.

Ed Stewart