Reginald William Vose was monitoring the radar screen aboard River Class Frigate HMCS Port Colborne in the North Atlantic in 1944 when he spotted something.
He was part of a six-vessel hunter-killer group, with the line of ships 2,000 yards apart, searching for German U-boats.
A blip showed a large object that made for a good target.
As the other ships on the line were called in, Port Colborne fired her hedgehogs – contact-fuse mortar bombs that were more effective over a wide area than depth charges.
The explosion was tremendous, practically lifting the frigate out of the water.
Light bulbs blew out and much of the ships internal equipment was damaged.
“It had quite an effect on us,” recalls Vose, 89.
The Port Colborne was damaged enough to need months of repairs in Belfast, Ireland.
When Allied naval crews inspected the damage to their target, they discovered such things as a General Motors technical manual.
It would take some time, but naval officials concluded the explosion came from the ammunition magazine of HMCS Blackwood, a Canadian frigate – not a German submarine – that was sunk by a U-boat the day before the Port Colborne arrived on the scene.
Such was the fate of war.
Photo: HMCS Port Colborne.
Vose remembers growing up enthusiastic about ships. On some weekends, he would bike with his father from White Rock to New Westminster and Vancouver just to look around the docks.
He joined the navy in July 1941 at the age of 17.
“I was a boy. But I got all patriotic and thought I’d join.”
He took pride in that he wasn’t in the Navy Reserves, but the full-fledged Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). The only stipulation was a promise to stay for seven years – a contract he went on to renew.
He trained in Vancouver and then Esquimalt, and passed through the Panama Canal on Christmas, 1943 on his way to war.
Stationed in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, he would spend months doing escort duty on convoys, U-boat hunting, and training on electronic equipment that was becoming more important on the military ships.
In mid-1945, he was transferred to “the latest thing,” HMCS Ontario, a Minotaur Class light cruiser.
Boarding on Malta and passing through the Suez Canal, “we were going out there with visions of fighting the Japanese, but then the A-bomb was dropped.”
By the time the shipped reached Hong Kong, the war was over.
But it wasn’t to be his last.
On 30 July 1950, three Canadian destroyers, HMCS Athabaskan, Cayuga and Sioux arrived in Sasebo, Japan, under orders to sail for Korean waters.
Vose would spend the next year on the Tribal Class HMCS Athabaskan “living out of a kit bag,” supporting the United Nations effort in the war against North Korea, which had invaded the south at the end of June.
The Athabaskan, with a crew of 206, would participate in escort, patrol and short bombardment duty on both sides of the Korean peninsula, at times being the “errand boy,” as Vose describes it, to the Mighty Mo – the USS Missouri, the legendary Iowa Class battleship on which the Japanese surrender took place in Tokyo Bay a few years before.
Vose says being beneath the curtain of fire from the Missouri’s 16-inch guns – which bombarded the Korean coast several times – sounded like being under a freight train.
The destroyer’s duties included night patrols among fishing junks on the Korean coast.
Five other Canadian destroyers (HMCS Crusader, Huron, Iroquois, Nootka and Haida) replaced the Athabaskan and her two sister ships for the remainder of the war, which ended in 1953.
Among the 26,000 Canadians participants in the Korean War, the were 1,558 casualties, including 516 dead. There were no combat-related naval fatalities for Canada.
Vose would stay with the RCN until 1968, making him a navy man for more than 27 years.
He would train on radar and other electronic equipment in both Canada and the UK, and served onboard ships including HMCS Niobe, Huron, Cornwallis, Nootka, Niobe II, Bonaventure, James Bay and Naden.
He doesn’t get too philosophical about his military career or the nature of war, but admits that he did his job well.
Although he moved from base to base over the decades serving, he had the time for a family (his wife Phyllis passed away in 2005), and has one granddaughter.
Vose lives in North Delta with his daughter Anne-Margaret, a Surrey school administrator.
In 1951, Vose’s destroyer, the HCMS Athabaskan, was the last of the three-ship flotilla to return home to Esquimalt.
By the time he arrived, the cheering crowds had departed.
But 62 years later, there would be new recognition of his service.
In January 2013, Vose received the Korean Peace Medal from (former) Consul General Yeon Ho Choi and the Korean War Veterans Association of Canada at the Korean Consulate in Vancouver.
Vose is speaking to students Goldstone Park Elementary school (6287 146 St.) today (Nov. 7) at 9 a.m. during a Remembrance Week assembly.
For a list of local Remembrance Day ceremonies being held in Surrey and North Delta on Monday, see page 18.