HMCS Montréal honours fallen sailors from Second World War

Navy personnel march in a row through a cement gate.
The ship's company of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Montreal march through the gates of Plouescat Cemetery on September 18, 2017. The cemetery contains remains of members of HMCS Athabaskan that was attacked and sank off the coast of France during the Second World War. Photo: Leading Seaman Dan Bard, Formation Imaging Services

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By Lieutenant(N) Linda Coleman, Public Affairs Officer

Crew members from Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Montréal recently took time from their operation to honour and remember the officers and sailors of HMCS Athabaskan who were lost at sea when the ship was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of France during the Second World War.

The ship’s company and staff members from Canadian Fleet Atlantic embarked in HMCS Montréal for NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-02 laid wreaths at the cenotaph at Plouescat Cemetery, France where 59 of the 128 sailors from HMCS Athabaskan are buried.

The next day, as the ship transited north, crew members laid a wreath at sea over the area where HMCS Athabaskan sank. The wreath was laid by those who served in HMCS Athabaskan III, named after the original ship, as they have a close connection to the ship and its history.

“When I was at the cemetery yesterday, I was struck, as I usually am when I visit a war cemetery, by the age of the fallen,” said Cdr Sherban, Montréal’s commanding officer, during the at-sea wreath-laying ceremony.
“Now imagine that you’re 18 to 20 years old – the same age as many of the sailors in the Athabaskan and indeed all of the fighting ships of the Navy,” he said. “A year ago, you were finishing school, working on your family’s farm, trying to find a date for the next dance and suffering from all of that angst and awkwardness that sometimes afflict those who are young. Now you’re fighting for your life off a foreign coast wondering if you’re going to live or die. Imagine you at that age.”

Cdr Sherban’s remarks served as a reminder of the horrors of war, the sacrifices made, and the importance of why we continue to remember our fallen heroes.

“One of the stories that resonates with me the most is the story of the captain, John Stubbs,” he stated. “Already in the water as his ship sank around him, the Haida spotted and approached him. HMCS Haida’s captain, Harry DeWolf, implored Stubbs to come aboard; however he refused rescue, demanding that DeWolf take Haida back to England before they could be targeted by the Luftwaffe or returning Kriegsmarine units. [He] then swam back to save as many of his sailors as possible. He died and is buried in Plouescat alongside those very same sailors.”

The ceremony concluded with the ship’s company of HMCS Montréal feeling a sense of honour, pride, and relief that we’re no longer sailing in such dangerous times. Following the ceremony, HMCS Montréal continued sailing north on NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-02, conducting operations with partners and allies.

NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-02 is the overarching Royal Canadian Navy deployment ‎which will include participation in FORMIDABLE SHIELD 17. This U.S.-led, joint NATO live-fire, integrated air missile defence exercise will involve eight nations: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States.

HMCS Montréal’s deployment is taking place ‎in the North Atlantic and North Sea from September 8 to December 2.

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