lies at Cape Verdes Islands
by Michael Erskine
Manitoulin Expositor Reporter
|MANITOULIN-The final resting place of HMS Manitoulin, the Second World War corvette named for the Island, is a warm sunny shoal in the Cape Verdes Islands, off the coast of Africa.
The information on the final resting place of the ship was conveyed by Skip Gillham, in an article he wrote for the Recorder in 1999. Mr. Gillham was vacationing in the Islands when he discovered the ship rusting on a shoal outside Mindelo, San Vincente, in the Cape Verdes. Built as one of 16 Western Isles Class minesweeping corvettes, the ship’s keel was laid in the Midland construction yards in 1941. By 1942 she was fitted with a 12-pounder fore and a plethora of submarine and mine hunting equipment aft and on her way to combat.
The ship first saw service as a Canadian war vessel, patrolling the mouth of the St. Lawrence as part of the Sydney Force from her base in Port-Aux- Basque, Newfoundland.
In June 1934, the H.M.C.S. Manitoulin was transferred to the British navy, where she aided in mine clearing duties, and became known as the H.M.S. Manitoulin.
Like many an old warrior, the H.M.S. Manitoulin retired from service after the war, being sold to Norwegian interests in 1947. Fitted with a dual hold in 1948, she hauled 600 tons of cargo around the Mediterranean as the RAN.
In the late 1940s the ship returned to Canada as the RAN B, and she worked the eastern seaboard until she was purchased by the Blue Peter Steamship and renamed the Blue Peter II.
The vessel was returned to the waters of her birth briefly in 1960 and found herself a new moniker, the Blue Bay, in 1964. Another year came with another name change, this time to the Williams in 1965.
Renamed the Queen Patricia, the hardy little vessel found herself equipped with refrigeration units and reflagged as a Panamanian vessel. As the Queen Patricia, Manitoulin’s former namesake worked the Caribbean until, on a trip to the Cape Verdes, she ran aground on a shoal near Mindelo.
Abandoned by her crew and owners, the vessel fell victim to fire and has rested in her final destination ever since.
It was quite a day for Manitoulin when the ship “in full battledress” sailed into Little Current’s harbour in October of 1942.
“Everybody was very thrilled they named the ship Manitoulin,” said Doreen Marshall of Little Current, who was a young lady in high school at the time of the visit. “People were up from Toronto Star taking pictures. Scads of people came out to see her from across the Island.”
Mrs. Marshall was the envy of her classmates when a picture of her appeared in the paper. They took a lot of pictures,” she said. “But mine was the only one they used.”
A picture of Mrs. Marshall being hoisted in a seaman’s carry ran in the October 15 edition of the Expositor. Mrs. Marshall took a fair bit of kidding over being the only one to get a picture in the paper. “Just the usual of course, we were all kids,” she said.
Chief Joseph Peltier of Wikwemikong brought a huge peace pipe to the ceremony greeting the ship as it arrived in Little Current. A picture of Chief Peltier graced the October 15, 1942 edition of the Expositor, as he and sub-lieutenant Willis of England prepared to light the huge axe- shaped pipe on the deck of the Manitoulin.
Mr. Frank Horsfall, a high school student in Midland remembered working on corvettes near the end of the war, “I was too young to have worked on the Manitoulin,” he said. “My father and brother did though.”
Mr. Horsfall was trained as an electrician, in an apprentice program through the selective service. “We were called improvers at the time,” he recalled.
The Selective Service Office was a war-time innovation which linke4d short manpower to vital wartime production. “Everybody over 14 years of age had to register. They then found you a job and you went there. You could find yourself a job, but you had to go down and register with the Selective Service, so they knew what you were working on.
The Selective Service Office was the harbinger of the Un-employment Office. Mr. Horsfall’s Selective Service number became his Social Insurance Number a number of years later when that program was born. The initial issuing of SIN numbers resisted at the time as an invasion of privacy, another temporary innovation brought about by war which found an initially uncomfortable place in peacetime.
Marine electricians have a different set of specifications and a different way of doing things than their land based counterparts. “The whole ship is made of metal, h said, “So the current would go through the entire ship. If you made a mistake things could catch fire pretty quick.” Mr. Horsfall was fortunate in his posting to the shipyards at that time. “They were bringing over a lot of veterans,” he said. “Fellows with a lot experience.”
An opportunity for the young improvers to sail with the vessels they worked on often came when the engines were being tested during a shakedown cruise. “They would gather up a bunch of us and place one beside each bearing while they took the ships in a figure-eight pattern,” he said. “We would place our hands on the casing every now and then to check if the bearing was heating up.”
On one such test, the ship Mr. Horsfall was on became lost in a heavy fog. “They couldn’t use the radar you see, it was all very hush-hush, top secret. They would fit the radar on later in Montreal. We had just made the triangular frame for it and flew flags from it to disguise it.”
One place on the ship was probably the least favourite, according to Mr. Horsfall. “There was a little ball on the front of the ship where they kept the ASDIC, the anti-submarine sonar. You had to close the door behind you and then pressurize the room. If the seal sprang a leak, you had to let the pressure off quickly to get the door open before you drowned.”
The final ships Mr. Horsfall worked on never made it to the navy. “They fitted them out with special hopper chutes and took them up the Seine River to haul rubble from the bombing into the Mediterranean,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that. With their wheel house they look a lot like a lake freighter.”
The people of Manitoulin took to their namesake with the passion and support they have often since lavished on projects, which have captured their hearts. Letters in the Expositor from 1942 to 1944 thanked the people of the Island for “A shipment of articles designed to bring comfort and cheer to the men of the ship.”
A shipment of 15 knitted Afghans, of the type favoured by sea-faring men, was sent along with Christmas cake and forty individual packages, one for each sailor. The packages contained gloves, books, candy and “many items designed to replace worn out items from ‘ditty bags’. The War Auxiliaries and Red Cross of Little Current, Mindemoya, Manitowaning and Gore Bay all contributed to the packages, which supplemented the cash donation raised by Manitoulin’s “Salvage Company for the comforts of the Ships Personnel.” “We all tried to do our bit of course,” said Mrs. Marshall, who recalled knitting sessions with the Upstream Girls. “Mostly we knitted baby clothes, layettes for children of people in England. Everyone knew someone who was in the forces.”
As the H.M.C.S. Manitoulin steamed out of her namesake’s waters and down the St. Lawrence to her berth in Newfoundland, she took a little of the Island’s rustic wit with her. An old salt’s publication, “The Hawspipe,” reported a story of a chance meeting on the high seas between the H.M.C.S. Mulgrave which was heeling during a violent Atlantic storm, and the H.M.C.S. Manitoulin as they passed a signal came from the Manitoulin’s bridge. “For a modest young lady, you are showing an awful lot of bottom.”