Veteran Stories:
Harvey Douglas Burns


  • January 19, 1943. The British destroyer HMS Antelope and the Canadian corvette HMCS Port Arthur sank the Italian submarine Tritone near Bougie, Algeria. This picture shows the Tritone as she sinks, with the HMS Antelope nearby to pick up survivors. The photo was taken from the stern of the HMCS Port Arthur.

    Harvey Burns
  • 1942, dropping depth charges on a submarine in the Mediterranean.

    Harvey Burns
  • Photo taken in September, 1942 at Cornwallis where Harvey trained.

    Harvey Burns
  • Photo taken in October, 1942. Harvey Burns is on an Oerlikon 20 mm cannon. Beside him is Lorne Jackson from Montreal, who was the loader.

    Harvey Burns
  • From Left to Right:
    General Service, Participation Medal from Norway for service with the Merchant Navy, 1939-1945 Star, Atlantic Star with Bar, North Africa Star with Bar, Atlantic Star, Candian Volunteer Service Medal, Normandy Medal, 1939-1945 War Medal
    Single Medal in the front: Participation Medal from Norway

    Harvey Burns
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"Because if you don’t tell a story, they don’t know what we really did sacrifice, and what we’d done."


I was in the merchant service from 1940 to 1942. I joined the navy in 1942 and I was in the navy until 1945. And I was drafted on a Corvette, Port Arthur was her name, HMCS Port Arthur. I was only in the navy seven days and then with six brand new Corvettes in Halifax. And there was about a thousand of them there that was training us. So they need crews for all these ships, so I had just joined where I had a little training and experience of going to sea before. They didn’t have to learn me any seamanship or anything. But I took a gunnery course there and it was seven days and I was drafted on tour and we were on our way, for the basin up in North Africa.

It was quite a difference in the merchant navy. The merchant navy, we had cabins, two men to a cabin. When I joined the navy, we went aboard the ship and I asked a leading hand there was supposed to take us and show us around, where was our cabin at. And he said, do you see them bars up there? And I said, yeah. And he said, that’s your cabin, that’s where you hang your hammock. So we had no cabin. We had no cabin. The ship was made for 85 of crew, that accommodated 85 and there was 105 of us aboard the ship. So it was pretty well crowded after all these electronics …and radar, and extra guns and everything, took more men. So it was a pretty crowded situation between the merchant ship and a Corvette.

You didn’t have any privacy. The washrooms, we called them the heads, that’s what we called the washrooms. And they would freeze up full of slub ice in the wintertime and the stokers used to have to take the blowtorch and heat the pipes and thaw them out, the slub ice would grade up in them and freeze. And then by this time, the toilets were overflowing. It’s about the officers, they were down below in the wardroom. Well, they had their own washrooms and everything but not seamen, we were up on top and there was about 60 of us were using these washrooms and toilets. There was only two, three toilet bowls and three wash bowls. So you had to wait your turn to have a wash or use the washroom. And meal time, counting, there was more meal times than meals. When the weather was bad in the North Atlantic, they just give you a can of strawberry jam and a couple of cans of sardines and that’s what you ate.

Half of this crew was seasick. Along with it, the smell wasn’t all that good, all the portholes were closed and all the doors were closed, you couldn’t have no lights out, so you didn’t get too much fresh air. The life aboard a Corvette was never told. The stories should be told. The North Atlantic was the worst run we had. We had a year of that and we was glad when we went back overseas and preparing for an invasion of Normandy. So when we went over there, all the ports were full of ships, landing craft and everything. After three days, the invasion of Normandy, we escorted big wharfs over there, big cement wharfs and they sank them about a quarter of a mile from the shore and then made docks there. They built docks and they sank old ships for a breakwater. And a day or two after the invasion, they had American ships tied up to them, landing their tanks and the troops and going right ashore.

We were closed up in action stations all the time. From the time we left England, we used to have our breakfast in England and have our dinner in France. We were closed up in action stations all the time. We had a lot of air raids come over, sink a few of our ships and the Germans come out with an aerial torpedo at this time. The planes would just come and, and drop torpedoes and the sound of the motor, the blades of your ship, they’d pick them up and they’d blow the sterns off of the ship. Until they caught on to that. We was one of the fortunate ships, we had a degaussing [minesweeping] gear on our ship.

Yeah, I never talked about it. It’s only these last few years as you get older. I think they should know, the younger people, what we really did. Because if you don’t tell a story, they don’t know what we really did sacrifice, and what we’d done.

Follow us