Naval misadventures from a previous coronation

By John Graham

The HMCS La Hulloise was one of over 300 ships to congregate in the Solent for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation review of the fleet in 1953. Photo supplied
The HMCS La Hulloise was one of over 300 ships to congregate in the Solent for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation review of the fleet in 1953. Photo supplied

In June of 1953 the veteran frigate, HMCS La Hulloise, sailed from Halifax to participate in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation review of the fleet. I was a first-year officer training cadet (University Naval Training Divisions) I had the good fortune, along with a number of other cadets, to be on board. However, I experienced some naval misadventures.

The Queen’s review of the fleet was a rare and extraordinary occasion. It was, I believe, the largest ever peacetime congregation of warships. Over 300 ships, most of them warships from a battleship (HMS Vanguard) to submarines and motor-torpedo boats.

Assembled in the Solent off Portsmouth, they presented a spectacular sight in daylight and especially at night. Every ship’s profile was illuminated with strings of light. The review, like the coronation itself, was choreographed to showcase the emergence of Britain from the grim austerity of the post-war years.

Canadian presence

Canada was strongly represented. There was the aircraft carrier Magnificent, the cruisers Ontario and Quebec, the destroyer Sioux and two frigates: the aforementioned La Hulloise and Swansea. Current members of the Canadian navy will be amazed that we could dispatch so many ships, including three major warships, to England while still leaving a respectable number at home. All members of this fleet were veterans of the war and some, particularly La Hulloise, were in serious need of refit.

At that time both frigates had the distinction of preserving a link with Nelson’s navy. Our sister ships which had bunks for the entire crew. However, Swansea and La Hulloise retained hammocks (or ‘micks’, as we called them), for sailors and cadets. Sleeping for cadets was on the lower deck above the magazine and just below the water line.

On boarding the ship, each cadet was given an unassembled hammock with no instruction sheet. The tricky part was ensuring that the thin lines that ran from the ‘grommet’–a steel ring, that was the link between the stout ropes at either end of the hammock–were spaced so that each bore an equal weight. Improperly fitted, the tight lines bore disproportionate weight. When they broke, the other lines, unable to take the strain, also broke. This precipitated the sleeper onto a table or the deck. In my case, it was the table.

Exhaustion and youth helped us sleep in a seldom stationary canvas nest. This was important. Quite apart from the roiling tempest outside, the attraction of the coronation cruise meant that we were packed like sardines. Even turning over sent reverberations through hammocks on either side. As we were under-age, we were not entitled to the anesthetizing balm of a tot of rum available to most of our shipmates.

‘Elements not on my side . . .’

Above deck, the North Atlantic was showing its character. It also did so on our return voyage. Strong winds, some just below hurricane strength, and steep seas. I recall gazing at the waves, great grey, green monsters. I tried calculating how many turns I could make on skis from crest to trough. Keeping the ship on an approximate course was problematic, especially for cadets who were expected take turns at the helm.

My experience was not auspicious. The ship was ploughing directly into the waves. However, the action of waves and wind when one side of the hull was even briefly exposed to the force of the wind would overpower the rudder. When that happened–and it was obvious from the movement of the compass needle–I took corrective action with the wheel.

But the elements were not on my side. Alarmingly, the ship continued to slip off course. Consequently, I gave the wheel another turn. The rudder, pushed by wind and wave, still failed to respond. The needle kept moving in the wrong direction and the ship’s side was increasingly exposed to the gale . . . .

Look for the conclusion of John Graham’s coronation misadventures in the November-December edition of the Manor Park Chronicle.