On Sunday 2 May 2004, at HMCS CHIPPAWA, Winnipeg, Manitoba, the annual service that commemorates the Battle of the Atlantic was held in the honour of HMCS VALLEYFIELD and the seventeen Manitobans that perished on 6 May 1944.
On the night of 6-7 May 1944, HMCS VALLEYFIELD was lost, as a casualty in the pivotal Battle of the Atlantic. Sixty years later, on 2 May 2004, the Naval Family in Winnipeg paid homage to the crew of the VALLEYFIELD, and especially to the seventeen Manitobans that perished in her.
A Tragic Loss
At the time of her loss, HMCS VALLEYFIELD, a “River Class” Frigate, was a relatively new ship. She was commissioned in December 1943, in Quebec City, She had previously made on round trip as a convoy escort overseas, and in May 1944 she was on the return leg of her second escort assignment.
HMCS VALLEYFIELD was accompanied by two other Canadian frigates and two corvettes. The escort group has just handed off the convoy to another group of escorts, and were returning to the port of St. John’s Newfoundland.
Just before midnight on 6 May 1944, The ships were only 50 miles south of Cape Race, Newfoundland. Small icebergs scattered the area, confusing the radar picture. The ships sailed on, making good way to the safety of their favorite Newfoundland port. Little did they realize that U-548, a German submarine, lay in wait.
HMCS VALLEYFIELD, was traveling astern of the other ships. The Officer of the Watch had just called for the middle watch, when suddenly the ASDIC operator gave a sudden warning of the presence of a submarine. Just as Action Stations were called, a torpedo ripped into the port side of the VALLEYFIELD, causing a tremendous explosion. The ship was broken in two, and she quickly began to settle down into the water.
As the ship was sinking, most of the ship’s crew entered the ice-cold North Atlantic water, which when measured in the last watch, registered a temperature of a mere 32 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, oily water choked the survivors, as they huddled together, helping each other to survive. Some clambered on top of wreckage, or clung to carley floats. Others remained in the water, buoyed by the life jackets.
Now that the ship had completely sunk, they found themselves alone, with their escorts virtually unaware of the deadly occurrence astern. Finally, HMCS GIFFARD, realizing that the VALLEYFIELD was missing, came to the scene to rescue survivors. However, as was the doctrine at the time, the rescue did not begin until she had spent valuable time searching for the u-boat which had caused the tragedy. By this time many men had given up, let go their hold on Carley floats or wreckage and sank from sight. A total of 125 men perished that night, all within the coastal shores of Newfoundland.
Of the 125 Canadian sailors that perished in the VALLEYFIELD, seventeen were Manitobans:
Stoker Gordon William Barefoot, 20 years old, the son of Mr. and Mrs. G. L. Barefoot, of St. James, Manitoba. Barefoot Lakes, in the Nipigon area of Ontario was named after Stoker Barefoot on May 5th, 1960.
Stoker 1 Daniel Cant, V56590, 19 years old, the son of Robert and Janet Cant of Winnipeg. Cant Lake (64 N/13), west of Nueltin Lake was named after him in 1972.
Able Seaman James C. Dawes, V16586, 22 years old, the son of William C. and Laura Dawes of Portage la Prairie and the husband of Jeanie Dawes (née Campbell) of Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, a young woman he met while convalescing in a military hospital in Scotland. Dawes Lake (64 I/13), north east of Tadoule Lake was named after him in 1957.
Leading Seaman Robert M. Guthrie, 4472, 20 years old, the son of Peter and Isabel Guthrie of Brandon. Guthrie Point (63 I/7) on Molson Lake was named after him in 1994.
Able Seaman Frank E. Lee, V57850, 24 years old, the son of Henry and Emma E. Lee of Dickens, Manitoba. East Lee Lake (52 M/4), north east of Wanipigow Lake was named after him in 1986. Nearby, West Lee Lake is named after his brother, Aircraftman 1 Frederick J. Lee, who was also killed in the war.
Able Seaman Richard A.A. McDonald, V46463, 20 years old, the only child of Malcolm and Janet B. McDonald of West Kildonan. Richard McDonald joined the RCNVR in CHIPPAWA in August of 1942. Richard, a hockey player, stayed in Winnipeg as a member of the 1943 Memorial Cup winning Winnipeg Rangers. Afterwards, he was sent to join the VALLEYFIELD. McDonald Narrows (63 N/6) in Kississing Lake was named after him in 1995.
Able Seaman Bernard J. McNeill, V15283, 19 years old, was the son of Hugh A. and Angela M. McNeill of Brandon. A defenseman for the Brandon Elks Juvenile Hockey team, he joined the RCNVR at the age 16 by falsifying his birth certificate. He was eleven days short of his 19th birthday when the VALLEYFIELD was sunk. McNeill Lake (63 O/3), west of Setting Lake was named after him in 1967.
Able Seaman William W. Moore, V54554, 20 years old, the son of Wallace Moore of Cypress River. William Moore Lake (63 P/3), east of Sipiwesk Lake was named after him in 1995.
Stoker 1 Daniel Mulcahy, V35412, 27 years old, the son of Kate Mulcahy of Winnipeg. Mulcahy Lake (64 G/3), west of Southern Indian Lake was named after him in 1963.
Stoker 1 Leon J. A. Murray, V41543, 28 years old, the son of William A. Murray of Lac du Bonnet, and his mother Stella B. Rheaume, and step-father Gene Rheume of Flin Flon. Murray Rapids (64 O/16) in the Andrew River was named after him in 1995.
Ordinary Seaman Ronald K. Phillips, V64486, 18 years old, the son of Samuel H. and Mabel M. Phillips of Transcona. Phillips Point (64 K/1) in Big Flat Lake was named after him in 1989.
Lieutenant Lewis John Sanger, 23 years old, the son of John W. and Lauretta A. Sanger of Winnipeg, and was in his second year of university when he enlisted. Sanger Lake (63 N/12), east of Sisipuk Lake was named after him in 1981.
Telegraphist Edward Eloi Strachan, V50046, 20 years old, the son of Mrs. Helen M. Strachan of Winnipeg. Edward was the namesake of his uncle Edward who was killed in the trenches of World War I at St. Eloi in France, hence his second name of Eloi. Edward attended George V School on Grey Street in Elmwood and later Lord Selkirk High School where he excelled in the Manual Arts. After school, he joined the Remington Typewriter Company as a repairman. Later, when he was of age to join the armed forces, Edward met with the Air Force recruiters, but he was turned down because of his eyesight. However, when he went down to the Winnipeg Division to join the Navy, he was accepted. Initially he served in HMCS HALIFAX; however in the spring of 1944, he was later transferred the VALLEYFIELD. Strachan Lake (64 N/14), south east of Kasba Lake was named after Telegraphist Strachan in 1972.
Able Seaman Joseph Stringer, V35344, 20 years old, the son of foster-parents Charles and Caroline Collier of West Kildonan. Joseph “Bill” Stringer, a troubled youth, grew up in the Knowles Home for Boys. He was just one of the hundreds of boys who were given a chance to become good citizens at the school, and when he was old enough, his national pride led him to join the navy, and he was assigned to the VALLEYFIELD. Stringer Lake (64 N/1), north of Egenolf Lake was named after him in 1972.
Leading Stoker Charles J. Topp, V516, 26 years old, the son of Charles R. and Margaret Topp of Winnipeg. Topp Lake (64 N/7), south west of Nueltin Lake was named after him in 1972.
Leading Stoker Stanley T. Willis, 21989, 24 years old, the son of Sidney R. and Dorothy Willis of Dauphin. Willis Island (53 M/12) in Silsby Lake was named after him in 1985.
Able Seaman Robert Harvey Wilson, V599, 19 years old, the son of James and Anne Wilson, of 397 Lipton Street in Winnipeg.