Battle of the Atlantic Heroes: William Bruce Wetherall

Battle of the Atlantic Heroes / May 7, 2020

By Garth Wetherall

My father, William Bruce Wetherall, served in the Canadian Merchant Navy from 1941-45. For six long years the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Canadian Merchant Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force were central participants in what was to be known as the Battle of the Atlantic.

He lived on the family farm and with his mother and step-father in Waterdown, Ont., when the Second World War broke out. The only family challenges at the time, he said, where to keep everyone fed and clothed during war time.

When dad was the ripe age of 17, he lied about his age and tried to join the RCN in Hamilton, Ont.

At the time, they seemed to be full to capacity and a family friend steered him in the direction of the Merchant Navy.

He said that he joined up because he felt it would be an adventure.

A few weeks later, he was off to Hubbards, N.S., to the St. Margaret’s Sea Training School. At graduation he attained the rank of cadet officer and joined the Manning Pool in Halifax, where he was assigned to his first ship, the Steam Ship (S.S.) Dartmouth Park, and then later to the S.S. Point Pleasant Park.

They did several voyages to ports all around Africa delivering supplies.

In early February 1945, he was asked to go on wireless operator training, and Dad immediately was sent to Toronto to a Wireless Radio School. 

While my dad was taking his course, his ship sailed toward Africa and on February 23, 1945, about 500 miles northwest of Cape Town, South Africa, S.S. Point Pleasant Park was attacked by the German submarine U-510. A torpedo fired by U-510 struck the ship and killed eight of the 58 crew immediately and another died later in a lifeboat. As Point Pleasant Park began to sink, her remaining crew abandoned ship in three lifeboats at the order of her captain, Owen Owens. U-510 then surfaced and finished sinking the ship with gunfire from her 37-mm anti-aircraft gun.

If it was not for the radio officer training, Dad said he would have been killed as the torpedo struck the area on the ship where he had previously worked.

In his Memory Project interview, Mr. Wetherall noted that many people have little knowledge of Canada’s Merchant Navy and its role in the Battle of the Atlantic. In his interview he said, “And a lot of people to this day don’t know. And our losses, percentage-wise during the war, [were] the heaviest of any service there was.”

Dad was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp, and the War Medal 1939-45.

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