A Winnipeg Family that Served the Navy Well
On 31 December 1930, Lieutenant-Commander Hilary George Nares, who had joined the unit on 20 September 1923, was appointed as the Commanding Officer of the Winnipeg Company. Hilary Nares was born and raised in Winnipeg. In civilian life, Hilary Nares was the Manager of the Bond Department at the firm Osler, Hammond & Nanton. Hilary and his family lived at 112 Gerard Street, only three blocks away from the old #5 Fire Hall on Gertrude Avenue where the unit made its home.
Hilary Nares’ father was Llewellyn Arthur Nares, who was the second son of The Rev Owen Alexander Nares, of Haverford West in Pembrokeshire, England. Hilary grew up with the sea in his blood. In fact, his great uncle Admiral Sir George Nares was a renowned arctic explorer, who, in 1875, sailed HMS ALERT the farthest north of anyone in his day. Today, Nares Strait, which lies between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, marks the apex of his journey.
Hilary Nares had originally joined the navy in 1915, in a group of 30 Manitobans who had ventured overseas on the hope of joining the Royal Naval Air Service. He was one of the lucky candidates that passed the tests and was accepted as a probationary flight Sub-Lieutenant in the RNAS. He was taught to fly and earned his wings, becoming a full flight Sub-Lieutenant. Then he was given instruction as to the piloting of seaplanes. His first posting was to the Isle of Grain, located in the estuary of the Thames River, flying anti-submarine patrols in the mouth of the great river.
On 24 December 1916 he was attached to HMS MANXMAN, a ferry boat which had been converted into one of the first aircraft carriers in the Royal Navy. The MANXMAN was part of the First Battle Cruiser Squadron which included HMS LION and HMS TIGER.
The MANXMAN, which displaced 2,048 tons, carried 8 seaplanes and could steam at about 19 knots. But when her boilers got dirty her top speed would drop to near 15 knots. She was always steaming well back of the main force, but she would keep up just the same. Her purpose was to launch and recover seaplanes which would do reconnaissance patrols ahead of the fleet.
While serving in the MANXMAN, Lieutenant Nares was ordered to fly in search of German forces that were plying the North Sea. Once airborne, Hilary knew that he wouldn’t be able to land back on the ship, as this was not possible at the time. He either had to return to dry land or put it down “in the drink” next to the ship, and hopefully be recovered back onboard. This was typical duty for any naval pilot serving in this time. Hilary Nares thought nothing of going solo with his Sopwith biplane out over a grey sea, armed with a Colt 45, nary a landing strip in sight, and looking for enemy forces.
While flying one particular patrol, in search of a German zeppelin that had been sighted off the coast of Denmark, his luck would run out. He was forced to land his plane in the North Sea when the single engine of his Sopwith caught fire. The plane sank below him and he floated in the cold water for nearly two hours before a British destroyer picked him up. Under the circumstances, he was lucky to be rescued.
After the first war, Hilary returned to Winnipeg, married Hazel Florence Muldrew, and had two sons, Ramsay Arthur Nares (born in 1917) and George “Peter” Nares (born in 1923). Both of his sons would also serve in the Navy.
Hilary would be Commanding Officer of the Winnipeg Division twice, once from 1931-1933 and again for a year during WWII. He went on to become Canadian Naval Aide in Washington and Liason Officer to the US Navy Pacific Command. He received the “Legion of Merit” award from the US consul at Vancouver for his wartime work with the USN.
After WWII, Hilary lived in lived in Kelowna and Penticton (BC) from 1948 until he passed away in February 1974.
Ramsay Arthur Nares served in the Winnipeg Company as a midshipman, even while his father was the Commanding Officer. Ramsay had attended school at Gordon Bell High School and at St. John’s College. Originally, he joined the Winnipeg Division as a sea cadet and then later served as an RCNVR Officer for several years before the war. When war broke out, he was employed by C. S. Gunn and Company. As an eager young Sub-Lieutenant, in September of 1939 he was one of the first to be mobilized from the Winnipeg Division. Ramsay Nares would volunteer to serve with the Royal Navy, just as his father did in the last war. In June of 1941, and now a Lieutenant, Ramsay Nares was onboard the RN destroyer HMS FEARLESS when she helped sink U38 west of Cape Trafalgar. His job in the FEARLESS was to stand by the torpedoes until they were fired, then he was to take charge of the after gun.
Only one month later, on 23 July 1941, while screening HMS ARK ROYAL, the FEARLESS suffered an attack by an Italian torpedo bomber. FEARLESS caught fire, lost all power, and when she was judged too damaged to tow, she was scuttled north of Bone, Algeria. Sadly, Ramsey Nares would perish in the attack on HMS FEARLESS.
Upon hearing of the news about his son’s death, Commander Hilary Nares, flew home to Winnipeg to be with his grieving family. Despite his brother’s sudden death, Peter Nares would continue in his quest to serve his country at sea.
Peter Nares, the younger of the two brothers, recalls that his father would bring him down to the division when he was younger. Eventually, when he was old enough, Peter would join the Sea Cadets, thus embarking on his own naval career. Later, when he was old enough Peter Nares enlisted and trained as an RCNVR Officer. In January 1943, Sub-Lieutenant Peter Nares would find himself in the same waters where his brother Ramsey last sailed. Peter’s ship, HMCS VILLE DE QUEBEC was escorting a Mediterranean convoy just west of Algiers.
The VILLE DE QUEBEC would detect an ASDIC contact just forward of the ship. Conditions were good at the time, and this was surely an enemy submarine. The VILLE DE QUEBEC would cross the path of the submarine contact and lay down a pattern of 10 depth charges. Then she altered sharply to starboard, so that she could continue to prosecute the contact.
This would prove to be unnecessary as the submarine contact, U224, had been hit and damaged by the initial attack and was forced to surface. Once the submarine surfaced, Sub-Lieutenant Peter Nares, the young gunnery Officer of the VILLE DE QUEBEC, had the ship’s Oerlikon gunners open fire on U224.
Nearly every one of the 200 explosive rounds fired hit the target in a flurry of naval gunfire.
However, U224 was not yet finished. The VILLE DE QUEBEC next moved was to ram the stricken sub, and it did this with great force. U224 rolled onto her side and sank, the victim of a Canadian corvette that was not about to quit until the job was done. Only one German officer survived.
The attack on U244 was a textbook operation, only taking ten minutes from start to finish. Later, after visiting the VILLE DE QUEBEC to congratulate the Commanding Officer, the 1st Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Mountbatten, would comment “They’re a tough looking bunch of bastards.”
Peter Nares had proven himself as a capable Gunnery Officer, and shortly afterwards he was promoted to Lieutenant and posted to a brand new frigate, the WASKESIU. HMCS WASKESIU was commissioned on 16 June 1943 in Esquimalt. By July 1943, she had already been brought around to Halifax.
On 24 February 1944, the WASKESIU encountered a submerged asdic contact. After prosecuting the contact with depth charges, the submarine surfaced. On the WASKESIU, the Gunnery Officer, Lieutenant Peter Nares ordered the 4-inch guns and the Oerlikons to open fire. The U-Boat, later identified as U257, sunk stern first. There were some survivors, which were picked up by the WASKESIU and a sister ship, HMCS NENE.
Lieutenant Peter Nares had played a part in the sinking of a second U-Boat. When the news of his actions made it home, his picture graced the front page of the local newspapers.
After the war, Peter Nares worked as an investment banker. After retirement he lived in Kettleby, Ontario. Sadly, Peter died, after a short illness, on 28 Dec 2008.
For More Information about the Nares Family:
Hilary Nares and Ramsay Nares (Naval Museum of Manitoba Collection)
Peter Nares (Courtesy of nares.net)
Special Thanks: To Peter Nares for providing much of the information above, and especially the newspaper clippings that he has kept which were a valuable resource.