HALIFAX – Roland Marshall, 80, stood in the sunshine on the deck of HMCS Sackville on Sunday, looking out at the calm waters off Halifax from which he and so many other wartime sailors departed from more than six decades ago.
Marshall, an ordinary seaman during the Battle of the Atlantic, was joined by more than 100 veterans, loved ones and military personnel aboard the historic, blue-and-white corvette to remember the confrontation.
A ceremony was also held in Ottawa to mark the 65th anniversary of the turning point of the six-year battle – the longest running of the Second World War.
“Canadians need to remember the kind of battle that has been fought in defence of Canadian values,” Marshall said while aboard HMCS Sackville, which is usually anchored in Halifax harbour and serves as Canada’s naval memorial.
“We never know when the navy will be needed again in some extreme conditions.”
HMCS Sackville is the only remaining corvette among a fleet built during the Second World War.
The vessels were designed using old technology, making them easy and quick to build almost anywhere.
They were intended to be disposable, and most were scrapped soon after the war ended. A small number were sold to other countries.
“The corvette has become a kind of icon for the Canadian Navy,” said Marshall.
“Whether we liked it or not, this was the ship that Canada could build for the first few years of the war.”
The Battle of the Atlantic began in 1939, after a German submarine sank a Montreal-bound passenger ship near Ireland.
In the years that followed, the Royal Canadian Navy lost more than 2,000 personnel and two dozen ships, including 10 corvettes. The merchant navy lost another 1,700 sailors and over 70 ships in the North Atlantic.
Some 900 air force and army members also perished in the struggle that pitted allied supply convoys against the German submarines that stalked them.
May 1943 is considered the turning point of the battle, when Canadian and other allied ships began to take the upper hand against the U-boats.
Sitting in HMCS Sackville’s mess Sunday, Max Corkum, 88, remembered his time as a lieutenant-commander during the confrontation.
“The sea was rough, that’s the biggest thing, and cold,” he said following the service, which included prayers and a wreath-laying at sea.
“I was on a ship exactly like this one much of the time. It was nice to get down below because it was always nice and warm.”
The ashes of 26 veterans who served in various operations and military spouses were also committed to the waters off the city’s Point Pleasant Park during Sunday’s service.
Kristina Tost, 31, clutched pink flowers she planned to throw overboard in memory of her father, who served in both the navy and the Canadian Coast Guard before his death last May.
The Halifax woman said being aboard the vessel and remembering her loved one alongside the veterans was touching.
“It’s just an honour and a privilege to be here,” said Tost, sitting next to her sister and her mother.
“I know that my dad would be very pleased to be part of this, as well. It’s very special.”
In Ottawa, about 400 veterans, serving members of the armed forces, politicians and diplomats were joined by about 200 civilians at the National War Memorial.
Under leaden skies and chilled by a gusty wind, they read psalms, sang hymns and laid wreaths as Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson, the chief of maritime staff, looked on.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement praising the men and women who served during the Second World War, saying their sacrifices are part of a Canadian legacy.
“During the Battle of the Atlantic we became the guardians of those in need, and today we continue this noble tradition,” he said.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who attended a church service in Pictou Landing, N.S., also issued a statement commemorating the fallen and extolling their resolve in the face of “conditions that many of us can’t even imagine.”
“We will not forget their courageous contributions.”