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

COVID-19 recovered cases continue to rise in Alberta

69 more recoveries Tuesday, bringing the total to 6,048

Drug trafficking charges laid in central Alberta investigation

Investigation included Ponoka, Brazeau, Leduc counties

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Ponoka County may see big road repair bill

Elkhorn Road could cost upwards of $300,000 to fix

Car slides off flooded Sunken Bridge

Unknown why driver drove over bridge twice

VIDEO: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Trump threatens social media after Twitter fact-checks him

“Interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election”

Calgary bans businesses that claim to change sexual orientation or gender identity

Calgary bans businesses that claim to change sexual orientation or gender identity

Canada outspends Ireland, Norway in new pledging on Venezuelan refugee crisis

Canada outspends Ireland, Norway in new pledging on Venezuelan refugee crisis

‘I can’t live on:’ Daughter of man fatally shot by Regina police seeks answers

‘I can’t live on:’ Daughter of man fatally shot by Regina police seeks answers

Alberta legislature to resume with COVID work, other bills, sitting into July

Alberta legislature to resume with COVID work, other bills, sitting into July

Most Read