Monday, May 3, 2010

Commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic — in miniature

Dave Denton pilots his radio-controlled boat at Harrison Pond in Victoria. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 3, 2010


The flotilla included tugs and corvettes, destroyers and submarines, the cruiser Exeter and the battleship Bismarck.

The warships and the working ships shared the still waters of Harrison Pond with ducks and geese yesterday morning.

The Victoria Model Shipbuilding Society gathered to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic on a man-made pond overlooking Juan de Fuca Strait, waters that flow to the Pacific.

The 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War brought more than a 100 people to the waterfront for a parade of model ships.

Armed with six-channel Spektrum DX6i radio transmitters, club members maneuvered their powered replicas of wood and plastic with a surprising nimbleness.

In the past, visitors have asked whether battles were to be recreated.

The question amuses Dave Taylor.

“We can’t afford to sink our ships,” says the 62-year-old marine electrical engineer.

Mr. Taylor, a former petty officer in the Royal Navy, served for 12 years aboard the minelayer Manxman and the frigate Naiad. He skippered a destroyer yesterday, eager to ensure it remained upright on the water.

“The biggest problem for (model) destroyers is they roll like a horror,” he said. He has placed three kilograms of lead in the hull, ballast scrounged from soldering his wife uses in making stained-glass windows.

“You’ve spent the time building it, trying to get as much right as you can. To get it on the water and get it moving provides a sense of achievement.”

Before the ceremony began, the skippers held a meeting. An organizer described contingencies should plans go awry.

He said, “If the boat in front of you craps out ...”

“Ram it!” one of the skippers interrupted.

Happily, there were no rammings, or sinkings. One model lost part of its deck, but slowly pushed the loose piece to shore for quick repairs.

When a boat stalled, Mark Giles announced, “I got to go swimming,” before donning hipwaders.

As a boy growing up in Victoria during the Korean War, Dave Denton thrilled to stories about Canadian destroyers firing at shore guns and enemy trains running on tracks skirting the waterfront. The Canadian forces even formed a Trainbusters’ Club. One of those ships was HMCS Cayuga, based at Esquimalt.

Six decades later, Mr. Denton, a retired shipwright, built a scale replica of Cayuga with a slight alteration. The model destroyer is armed with a water sprayer with which he squirts young children at pond’s edge, to squeals of delight.

The class of the show was Rob Ross’s seven-foot-long (2.1-metres) replica of a Mackenzie-class destroyer escort, a Cold War submarine hunter.

“In its day, it was the Cadillac,” Mr. Ross said.

His overpowered model includes rotating gun turrets, spinning radar antenna, a smoke machine, a water gun, and a whoop-whoop horn. It requires two controllers.

The real-life HMCS Mackenzie was scuttled off Gooch Island, near Sidney, in 1995 to act as an artificial reef. It is now favoured by divers. At least one does not have to get wet to see the model.

The parade was a dry run for an upcoming event. The shipbuilding society will be conducting a six-hour exhibition at the pond on June 13 to honour the centennial of Canada’s navy.

In blue blazer, Mr. Taylor told yesterday’s gathering about the harsh conditions and dangerous circumstances in which the sailors and merchant mariners faced in keeping open the sea lanes of the Atlantic. One in seven who served were casualties, he noted.

The event included with a minute of silence in honour of those who died in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In the quiet, Ken McLeod’s thoughts drifted to his father and the men who served on HMCS Ottawa.

“My father was aboard when it was torpedoed,” he said. “He got off, or I wouldn’t be here.”

Mal McLeod, a leading stoker by rank, was the last man out of the boiler room before the destroyer was split in two after being hit by two torpedos fired by a German U-boat off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942. Only 65 men survived, while 113 died.

The son does not mention it, but a board of inquiry into the sinking cited the “commendable devotion to duty” shown by his father that terrible day.

The son has models of the Bismarck and the USS Missouri at home in a box. He figures he will unpack them on the day when he realizes his golf game has deteriorated for good.

No comments: