On this day when we remember so many men and women who gave their lives, I wanted to share a story from my grandfather.  I’m particularly interested in capturing this story here because as we commemorate this  69th anniversary of the end of WWII, there are fewer and fewer veterans who can share their first-hand accounts.  I cannot possibly imagine the sacrifices so many made for our freedom.

My grandfather passed away in 2012 at the age of 94 and lived a long, wonderful life with experiences that almost sound like they come for a Jonas Jonasson novel.  In his retirement years,  he set about chronicling many of his travels and life experiences and created somewhat of a family biography.  This particular story comes from his personal book entitled “For King and Country” which provides his own account of his time in the Canadian Navy stationed in Halifax and London, UK during WWII.

My grandfather, Sub-Lieutenant Frank Kelly, Royal Canadian Navy
My grandfather, Sub-Lieutenant Frank Kelly, Royal Canadian Navy

As a 21-year old, very ‘green’ cipher clerk stationed at Halifax Harbour in November 1939:

“Our greatest ‘boob’ was a signal coming from the HMS Furious saying she would arrive “Point of Arrival” (in Halifax) 08:00 that day, Nov 20, 1939.  We were on the 00:00 – 04:00 shift.  The signal was addressed to Naval Service Headquarters, Ottawa, copy to Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast (us).  We misinterpreted this to be a destroyer group taking over the escort of a convoy on its way to Britain.  The Operations Duty Officer in the adjoining office was having what appeared to be some much needed sleep.  The signal was left on Lt. Cdr. Gauvreau’s desk.  We went home and to bed.

Now what actually happened was that at 08:00 HMS Furious, an old cruiser/aircraft carrier, accompanied by two cruisers, HMS Revenge and HMS Repulse, entered Chebucto Bay and headed for Halifax.  Across the mouth of the harbour was an anti-submarine net, fitted with a gate controlled by two ‘gate vessels’ who opened and closed the gate as required.  The harbour is protected by “Sandwich Battery” which had a few 9.2 inch guns.  Nobody told “Sandwich” that British war ships were expected so when Sandwich lookout reported ships, it was assumed they were German.  Sandwich Battery  went to Action Stations – PANIC!!  The RCAF were notified but their planes were open-topped two-seaters which might be able to drop hand grenades.  By God’s kindness one of the officers manning the gate vessel was ex-Royal Navy and he immediately recognized the HMS Furious and her escorts.  On his command, Sandwich withheld its fire.  He opened the gate and let the naval force enter.  They had been approaching at some 25 knots.

Commodore R. Reid, Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast lived in the dockyard.  He looked out his window at a little past 08:00 and lo and behold sees what looks like half the British Fleet steaming up ‘his’ harbour and nobody had even told him that these ships were in waters under his direct command.  HE WAS NOT AMUSED.

When Grant and I reported for duty at 16:00 we were told to see Lt. Cdr Gauvreau immediately.  When he deemed to speak to us, he inferred that we should be shot.  After a long silence, he told us that due to our inexperience, the Commodore will not punish us.  I guess the truth of the matter was that it was up to Ottawa to inform their Commanding Officer and the trouble was at Naval Service Headquarters.  The great secrecy was due to the fact that HMS Furious was loaded with British Treasury gold headed for the vaults of the Sun Life Company in Montreal for safe keeping.”  

I’m kinda glad Lt. Cdr Gauvreau didn’t shoot my grandfather…  Stories like this don’t appear in the history books or in any documentary, but these are the stories we need to remember.  The imperfect stories as seen through the eyes of those who lived it.  My grandfather overcame his inexperience and went on to become an officer in the Canadian Navy and served until 1950 before beginning a lengthy and successful career as an Electrical Engineer.

In uniform in front of the Ottawa Parliament buildings.
In uniform in front of the Ottawa Parliament buildings.

Lest we forget.




Road Trip: Four states in Four Hours

As I eluded to in my previous post, this year I was hoping to cross off at least one state from my Bucket list that I had not yet been to.  So with a work trip scheduled for St. Louis, Missouri my one new state was pretty much in the bag. Then I looked at a map.  Heck, with a wee bit of driving I could knock off three more un-visited states: Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  And thus the road trip planning began!

My work commitments ended mid-day on Wednesday, so I decided to take Thursday and Friday off as well.  My plan: Drive to Joplin, Missouri which is in the south-west corner of Missouri on Wednesday afternoon/evening and stay overnight.  From there, Galena, Kansas is only 8 miles from Joplin.  Heading south from Galena would bring me into Oklahoma.  With a plan to drive to Grove, Oklahoma and then cut east to Bentonville, Arkansas (yup, Wal-Mart territory).   From there, I would head back up in the direction of Joplin, and then hike back on the I44 to St. Louis.  It was a quick trip, but I needed to be back home for the weekend.


Downtown Joplin, on the historic Route 66
Downtown Joplin, on the historic Route 66

Joplin has a beautiful and historic downtown core, but suffers from what a lot of small towns suffer from when industries close and demographics change.  The core was practically deserted on this Thursday morning, but I could feel a sense of pride and a growing commitment to revitalization and an effort to bring travelers and residents back to the downtown.  Building on its history associated with the now defunct Route 66, it seems the town is looking to its past to build on its future.

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Having ‘road-tripped’ various parts of Route 66 over the years, I must say there is something nostalgic about this Mother Road of America.  A small plaza near the downtown pays homage to this vital route in building the United States.

From Joplin I headed east only a couple of miles to border of Kansas.  Yeah, another state off the list!

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Heading into the small town of Galena, Kansas made Joplin look like a metropolis.  Evidenced by the paw-prints painted on the road, the town is very proud of their Bulldogs high school football team.  I stopped into the Streetcar Station for some coffee and was met with a warm welcome and a great cup of joe.  I signed the coffee shop guest book and had a nice chat with the owner (I think) who pointed out that there is a spot not too far from Galena where you can stand in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma all at the same time.  Unfortunately I did find that spot.  But I did take some nice pictures of the small town.

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Like Joplin, Galena, Kansas has a mural paying tribute to the historic Route 66.
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Downtown Galena.
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Naturally this gas station is not operational (I don’t even see any pumps), but someone has kept it in near-mint condition. Even the old Coke machine in the background looks mint.

Next stop: Oklahoma.  I had to get back on the interstate, and naturally with all of the traffic, missed the Welcome to Oklahoma sign, so I stopped into the Welcome Centre for my requisite picture.

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No selfie here! Welcome to the OK state!

I headed south off the interstate towards Grove, OK – and travelled along some of the beautiful back roads of Oklahoma.  It was sunny and approaching 80F, a fine day for a road trip.  I stopped in Grove for a quick bite to eat at Bon Appetit Bakery Shoppe – delicious potato soup – and then headed to Arkansas.

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Welcome to Grove, OK
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Downtown Grove, Oklahoma

I was enjoying the country-side and back roads of Oklahoma so much I almost missed the Welcome to Arkansas sign – and actually had to double-back to get a pic!

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Arkansas: check!

As I approached the town of Bentonville, Arkansas, you could tell things were changing.  The houses started looking a bit (a lot) nicer and bigger, the roads were new and pot-hole free, and there was actual landscaping.  Yup, Wal-Mart runs this town.  It was quite the picturesque little town – almost felt Disney-like in how everything was so well cared for.  Naturally I took a picture of the ‘original’ Wal-Mart, or Walton’s as it was known, which is now the entrance to the Wal-Mart museum, which is free.  I’m not, what you would call an avid Wal-Mart shopper, but since it was free, I did wander (rather quickly) through the museum.

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The original Wal-Mart – opened in 1950.
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Bentonville town square, with the courthouse in the background.

Love or hate Wal-Mart, you have to give the company some cred for starting off in this little town and building to numbers like this:

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These numbers are mind-boggling. If this was an aerospace company I wouldn’t think twice, but these are numbers based on selling things like toothpaste and shoes!

It was late in the afternoon at this point, so I started my drive back to St. Louis.  I had a great and memorable little road-trip, if it was for only two days.

So now I officially have visited 45 US states and have only five more to go.  The ones that remain: Washington, Oregon, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota.  Now that would be an interesting road-trip!