Battle of the Atlantic Heroes: Able Seaman William Thomas Harrison

Image Gallery

Battle of the Atlantic Heroes / August 20, 2020

As part of our coverage of 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic, the following story was one of many submitted by Canadians to honour the service of someone they knew in this longest battle of the Second World War.

By David Harrison
Lifetime member Canada’s Naval Memorial Trust

I have story about a young Haligonian. My late grandfather, who passed away in the summer of 2011, served in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) late during the Second World War.

William Thomas Harrison of Halifax enlisted into the RCNVR on June 14, 1944 at the age of 19. He was an Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee (ASDIC) operator, or submarine detector, aboard the Bangor-Class Minesweeper His Majesty’s Canadian Ship Georgian J144. ASDIC was an early form of sonar.

He first trained at HMCS Cornwallis, N.S., which became Canadian Forces Base Cornwallis, and then at HMCS Rainbow in Scotland in early 1945. He was very proud of his time in the navy. For 70 years, he kept several artifacts until he passed away in the summer of 2011 at the age of 86. Included are the files of his service record and a family photo, which was taken during Christmas in 1944 I believe.

His mother pictured in the photo wrote a letter to him talking about life at home. His family supported him by writing letters to him and sending him care packages. The biggest challenge his family had to face was the prospect of him being overseas clearing mines, with the prospect of not coming home. His major challenge was being seasick alongside half the crew.

My grandfather had two reasons for joining the navy, but the biggest one was that his friend from the old Queen Elizabeth High School was killed over in Europe. After hearing about it, he and another friend joined together. The most obvious reason, in his words, was that "it was the right thing to do at the time." He served as an ordinary seaman, then I believe he was promoted to the rank of able seaman (AB).

After he passed away, I joined Canada's Naval Memorial Trust HMCS Sackville, where I put on the uniform of a Second World War sailor and educated the younger generations about his experiences during the war.

I asked him when he was alive if he had seen any combat during his time in the navy, and he said he hadn’t but that he was seasick half the time. He did say that on some occasions he had escort duties when he went to England.