Battle of the Atlantic Heroes: John Wall

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Battle of the Atlantic Heroes / September 17, 2020

Major Geoff Wall’s grandfather, John Francis Wall, sailed with His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Illustrious during the Battle of the Atlantic and served until 1945 when he was wounded in action.

“My father was born in 1939 and did not see his father (my grandfather) until he came home after the war. My father was brought up by his grandparents. My grandmother worked on the switchboard for the fire department during the war,” said Major (Maj) Wall. 

“My grandfather passed away at 69 years old when I was only nine-years-old. I didn't have a chance to talk with him often. He was a quiet guy.”

Maj Wall was motivated to share his grandfather’s story to help us all remember the price of the freedoms we enjoy today.

“His service was borne of a sense of purpose against a common enemy, that of opposition to our way of life and freedoms. It is an ongoing battle, recognized but often out of sight of the general public,” he said.

“As we enjoy those very freedoms, it is important to continue to remember their service through recognition of our current serving personnel who serve us today.”

John Wall volunteered for military service and entered the Regular British Forces in October 1939.

He embarked on his training with the Regular Royal Navy (RN) at HMS Raleigh in Devonport, England, on March 19, 1941 moving shortly afterwards to HMS Drake, the main Naval Training Establishment in Devonport. In April 1941, HMS Drake was subjected to bombardment and many people were killed on the base. He survived unscathed and finished his naval training in December 1941. 

On Christmas Eve 1941, Able Seaman John Francis Wall joined the Aircraft Carrier HMS Illustrious as a Loader Gunner.  He spent almost a year at sea in the North and mid-Atlantic manning the naval guns which protected the aircraft carrier during the Battle of the Atlantic.

From October to November 1942, he was drafted to South Africa and was based at HMS Assegai, a naval base near Durban.

Afterwards, he was drafted to HMS Lanka, another naval establishment in Colombo, Sri Lanka, until July 1944.  It was during this drafting that he was based in many Indian Ocean ports including Mombassa.

After landing in Mombassa whilst the ship was undergoing refit, he bumped into his brother 6,500 kilometres from home one evening after leaving a dinner in a local village.

Returning to HMS Drake for more training, he deployed overseas again to Malaya until March 1945.

He was drafted again back to HMS Drake in March 1945 and was wounded in action on March 19.

After almost six years away from home, AB Wall released from the Royal Navy as a Class A on December 21, 1945, returning home to his family in North Shields, England.

Maj Wall’s father also served in the British Army with the Parachute Engineers. His great-grandfather, John Jessup, served in the British Army with the Light Infantry in the First World War. Maj Wall has been serving for the past 30 years, first with the British Army and now the Canadian Army, and as a family, they have over 100 years of service combined.

“The selfless, positive role models set by my grandfather and father have had a great bearing on my decision to follow a military route in my life,” said Maj Wall.

“I am proud to follow in their footsteps and hope that I can set a similar example.”


Maj Wall is currently the leader of the Small Arms Equipment Management Team which manages all of the small arms currently used by the Canadian Armed Forces. He is also honoured to be the occupational advisor for the 438 land-based Weapons Technicians.

With files from Maj Geoff Wall, Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers