Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
Our lovely barque rigged sailing ship, now at sea approaching the Azores with a great gang of young mariners sailing on a voyage across the free Atlantic was once know as HMS Picton Castle. Just before open hostilities commenced in the second World War in 1939 our ship was conscripted into the British Royal Navy and fitted out as an Armed Mine-Sweeper Trawler and Convoy Escort. Throughout the war she swept for mines, was strafed by fighter planes, blown clear of the water by a mine and was deployed as part of the task force that effected the first land assault on Hitler’s Europe in the Raid on St Nazaire.
This commando raid took out the largest drydock in western Europe capable of docking Germany’s largest battle ships. The raid was a success but a great cost and a followed by a dictate issued by Hitler that all future ‘commandos’ would be simply shot if captured and were not to be treated as POWs.
The Picton Castle, like her sister trawlers were about the most prosaic naval vessels one could imagine, yet they did their work steadily and on and on clearing mines and escorting convoys in the Western Approaches of the English Channel and North Sea. Many times German fighters and bomber flying low while returning to bases in Germany, Holland and France would attempt to use up their extra bombs and bullets on these tough little warships, really just fish boats. These little vessels were a proud and motley lot, manned mostly by fishermen with a RNR skipper and a couple navy crew to look after the 3” gun on the bow and the depth charges. Well protected armoured navy ships they were not. We have read that the loss rate of HM Trawlers was second only to the astonishing loss rate of German U-Boats. Winter and summer, fair weather or foul, these little ships would head to sea and do their business.
In May of 1945 the war ended. But not for PICTON CASTLE. There were mines everywhere which had no notion that the war was over. They needed to be swept and removed. Mines still pop up in these old battled waters from time to time. The ‘CASTLE’ swept for mines until December 1945 when she was mustered out of the Royal Navy and returned to Consolidated Fishing, her owners, re-rigged for trawling and went back to fishing.
On this day we think of those brave souls who went to sea on the great waters in these little ships to do their bit. We think of their families ashore in vulnerable ports who suffered along with these seafarers, many of whom never returned home. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest battle of WWII lasting the entire duration of that almost 6 year war. We dedicate our wreath at today’s Remembrance Day memorial in Lunenburg to all who sailed in the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy and put to sea in this conflict on the Atlantic and may it never happen again.
Capt. D. Moreland, November 2015